Hazel Park, Madison HeightsAugust 20, 2012
Local librarians share summer reading suggestions
By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer
MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — Librarians serve the community in a place packed wall to wall with books, which begs the question: What have they been reading this summer? The answer ranges wildly, from the life of a silent movie star’s chaperone to steamy romances involving magical shape-shifters as old as the solar system.
The director of the Hazel Park Memorial Library recently finished “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter. A mix of romance, comedy and tragedy, the story begins in 1962 Italy, with an actress playing a supporting role in the film “Cleopatra.” She falls ill and decides to rest up at a remote hotel owned by a young Italian man who inherited the place from his father. From there, the story jumps to present-day Hollywood. The two characters have each gone their separate ways, but here they reconnect in meaningful fashion — though Keyser doesn’t want to spoil how.
“It’s complicated, but not confusing to follow,” Keyser said. “The characters are very dynamic; they’re not one-dimensional. They have to make some choices in their lives. And they do the best they can, and question themselves as to whether they’ve done the right thing. I felt that was very true to life. There are some characters in the story who are heroic, and some who are villains, but the author does a good job of understanding the motivations for why people do what they do. It’s not black and white.”
Another story Keyser recently finished is “The Chaperone” by Laura Moriarty, a historical novel about the woman who chaperoned the wild child silent movie star Louise Brooks in 1922 New York City. The story imagines the reasons for why Cora Carlisle, the middle-aged married woman in the title role, decided to take charge of this actress. It turns out she’s on a personal quest of her own, but again, Keyser’s not spoiling.
“It’s a really intriguing tale,” Keyser said. “You know she (Cora) has a reason she’s not saying upfront, but it does become apparent soon enough. There’s also a lot of historical context to the story — everything in culture was changing at the time.”
Examples include the clash of racial integration and the Ku Klux Klan, as well as woman’s suffrage, of which Cora is an advocate, and Prohibition’s crackdown on alcohol.
“And then the story of Cora and her personal mission are really interesting,” Keyser said. “It’s just a very well-written book that’s quite addictive.”
The youth service assistant at the Madison Heights Public Library suggests “Grin and Bear It,” written and illustrated by Leo Landry, for children and their parents. The short-chapter book is about a bear with a knack for standup comedy but a debilitating case of stage fright. Fortunately, a comic hummingbird named Emmy takes a shining to Bear’s talent and shows him there’s a way past his fears. Gehrke read it for her family on a recent road trip and recommends other families do the same.
The reference librarian at Hazel Park Memorial Library recently read “Midnight in Peking” by Paul French. So far it’s the best book she’s read this year, she said. The author is a historian and expert on China, and in this true story he endeavors to solve the 75-year-old murder of Pamela Werner, a 19-year-old English woman who lived in China during the last days of colonial Peking. It begins with the discovery of Pamela’s mutilated corpse and then builds suspense as Chinese and English authorities try to find the murderer before the Japanese invade Peking. It reads like a great mystery, Colombo said, and is neither “too dry” nor “too academic.”
The adult services librarian at the Hazel Park Memorial Library recommends “The Family Fang” by Kevin Wilson, a fiction novel about performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang, who set up unsettling situations in public places. Ordinary people become unwitting player-victims in the grand spectacle of their public disturbances, but then the performers disappear; and their children, raised from birth to participate in these stunts, suspect it’s not a murder as it first appears, but another elaborate hoax.
Stocker said her favorite parts of the book were the family performances, described in flashbacks. She said they’re bizarre and hilarious, and despite the abundant humor, the story is touching, tackling hard truths about family relationships.
The head reference librarian at the Madison Heights Public Library has a recommendation for anyone with a penchant for romantic fiction: “The Elder Races,” a series by Thea Harrison that includes such titles as “Dragon Bound, “Storm’s Heart,” “Serpent’s Kiss,” “True Colors,” “Oracle’s Moon,” “Natural Evil” and “Devil’s Gate.”
“It’s just a wonderful series, one I’ve been telling people about, especially people who read romance, but poo-poo the whole urban fiction/paranormal thing,” Arrivee said. “And the books aren’t long — they’re only about 350 pages. It’s very tightly written; every page moves forward.”
The books are set in modern times, but with time folds containing worlds parallel to our own, accessible by narrow passageways. Some of the most powerful people in human society are in fact shape-shifting dragons and other creatures from the medieval otherworlds — and naturally they’re all built like the male strippers in the movie “Magic Mike,” being a fantasy and all.
“The love scenes are so hot,” Arrivee gushed. “I love romance, but I was getting so sick and tired of contemporary romance. Yes, romance always has to end up happily ever after, but these have an edge to them that really appeals to me.”
Characters connect, despite some being otherworldly creatures as old as the cosmos, and others are purely human. They see the world in different ways, but they’re all vulnerable in love. Literally so, in some cases: One race, called the Wyrs, mate for life, and when their mate dies, their death is soon to follow. It’s very dramatic, she said, but avoids being saccharine with strong-willed characters that keep things grounded in a sense of reality.
“It’s a series well worth reading,” Arrivee said.
The Hazel Park Memorial Library is located at 123 E. Nine Mile and can be reached at (248) 546-4095. The Madison Heights Public Library is located at 240 W. 13 Mile and can be reached at (248) 588-7763.
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