Thursday 19 March 2020

The Library Book

The Library Book - Orlean, Susan
The Library Book
By Susan Orlean

The fire that gutted the Los Angeles library in 1986 was shocking to staff, patrons and the community at large.  This was a library that housed research collections, the largest record of patents in the U.S., a history of the entertainment industry in L.A., a huge collection of maps, as well as popular reading and children’s material.  The L.A. library was very well used at the time, creating a hub of humanity in an otherwise impersonal downtown L.A.  To have a building, or rather an institution like this destroyed by fire was devastating for many.

But how did the fire start?  Susan Orlean delves into the investigation, the witnesses, and the prime suspect to an arson, Harry Peak.  Orlean is clearly fascinated by the idea that someone could burn down a library, and she has extensively researched Harry Peak’s background.  Harry is an enigma, a man who changes his story at every turn, and who is somewhat down on his luck.  He’s a good-looking wannabe actor like so many others.  But how does this translate into becoming an arsonist? 

Chapters on the fire and subsequent investigation are interspersed with a history of the L.A. Library, including its eclectic list of City Librarians.  These include Charles Lummis, a man who walked from Ohio to California and whose favourite accessories included a sombrero and moccasins, and women like Tessa Kelso and Mary Jones who abolished membership fees and began to make the library accessible for children.  Readers learn about the lives of many of the librarians as well, as Orlean asks what drew them to libraries in the first place.

Maybe it’s because I’m a librarian, but I loved this book.  (Actually, my son’s basketball coach recommended it, so I think it appeals to many.)  It’s not just a dry history of a particular library.  Rather, it’s a celebration of the institution we call the library.  It details its evolution from book depository to community gathering place.  It revels in the library’s role in education, democracy and equality.  And it underscores the idea that rather than become obsolete, libraries have matured, and continue to meet their communities’ ever-changing needs. If you love the library for any reason, I highly recommend this book! 

Thursday 12 March 2020

Strange Practice

Dr. Greta Helsing has the most unusual medical practice in modern London: most of her patients are dead. But if you are a banshee with laryngitis, a vampire with a head cold, or a mummy slowly succumbing to the ravages of time, who else are you going to call. Her family has had this practice for generations, and some of her family friends date back that long too. And she will need to learn to rely on those friends for help when a cult begins killing both her beloved monsters and humans across London.

So with her gang Edmund Ruthven (vampire), Sir Francis Varney (vampyre, with a ‘y’), Fastidocalon (ancient and inhuman, but not even Greta is quite sure what he is), August Cranswell (human, working at the British Museum), Greta finds herself unwilling drawn into both the serial killing the newspapers refer to as the Rosary Ripper, whose victims are found eyeless and naked with cheap rosaries stuffed in their mouths, and an attack on Varney by people dressed like monks, using garlic and a dagger poisoned specifically against the undead. And she can’t help but feel there is a connection between the two cases.

As the bodies pile up and Greta gets more involved in the cases, the danger ramps up for herself and her friends, becoming a race to solve the case or die trying. But whoever is behind this has been covering their tracks very well, and it doesn’t leave her, or the police, much to go on. Fortunately, Greta has some very talented and resourceful friends, because it will take all of their combined wits and courage to see this through. After all, it can be helpful to have friends who can become invisible or bend steel bars sometimes.

Through it all she has to maintain those friendships, run her business, and resist the powerful attraction she’s beginning to feel for one of her patients.

This is a good edge-of-your-seat mystery with likeable characters and unexpected twists and turns. This is the first Dr. Greta Helsing novel, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the author, Vivian Shaw, takes these characters next. The mix of action, locations, fantastic situations, mystery, and a hint of romance is a very pleasant combination.

Dethe Elza is a Digital Services Technician at the Brighouse Branch of the Richmond Public Library, where he helps kids learn to write their own computer games.

Thursday 5 March 2020

The Library of the Unwritten

 Image result for library of the unwritten

Join the Library. Raise Hell!

Stories are powerful things. As such, they must be contained.  All unfinished stories go to the Library of the Unwritten, a neutral space in Hell overseen by a Head Librarian.  The Head Librarian is responsible for organizing and repairing the books, keeping them safe, and most importantly, keeping restless stories from manifesting into their characters and escaping! 

Claire, a human soul doing penance for her life on earth and the current Head Librarian, is very good at her job.  She’s cool, works well under pressure, and has a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to rebellious stories.  When Leto, a courier demon, visits the library to inform Claire of an escaped character, Claire, Leto, and her Muse assistant Brevity go to modern day Seattle to retrieve the wayward book.  

Meanwhile, Ramiel, a disgraced angel has been tasked with a mission in order to re-enter Heaven.  He is searching Earth for a book written by Lucifer and, mistaking the escaped character for Lucifer’s book, attempts to reclaim the book by force.  After barely escaping with their lives, Claire, Brevity, and Leto must figure out how to retrieve the actual copy of Lucifer’s book before the angels get to it in order to prevent Armageddon.  
What proceeds is a wonderful adventure through the underworlds of different mythologies with a gaggle of interesting, complex characters.  Claire, Leto, and Brevity, are accompanied by a disgraced demon archivist, and an unwritten book in character form.   All these characters fit into the world Hackwith has created and add context to the main concept of the novel – stories have power.  

I am a sucker for stories about books or libraries; however, this one felt particularly unique. I absolutely love the idea that unwritten and unfinished stories have power.  The entire world in which this story is set is by far the best thing about it. While I will say the main plot can be a bit shaky at times, I loved the concept and really enjoyed exploring this world Hackwith had created. Tons of fun to read, The Library of the Unwritten is a great armchair adventure into a magical world adjacent to our own!