Slade House by David Mitchell

slade houseEvery nine years someone disappears inside sinister Slade House, a house no one but its intended victims seem able to find. The quest to solve the riddle of Slade House will lead several innocent characters to their doom, while a final confrontation with the evil that resides there threatens to unleash its malevolent force upon the world…

Slade House is a recent book from David Mitchell, author of such epic, genre-warping works as Cloud Atlas (adapted into a film in 2012) and Black Swan Green. This novel expands upon characters and situations first introduced in his The Bone Clocks, although it is not necessary to have read that work in order to understand this one.  As in his earlier works, Mitchell uses time as a structuring device, with each chapter narrated by a different character in a different time-period.  The author’s careful attention to period-appropriate slang and pop-cultural references in these sections helps plant the reader firmly in each character’s milieu, and the sympathy generated for otherwise unlikable characters through this technique is one of the major achievements of this book.

While Slade House is described and marketed as a “haunted house” tale, it reads more like a straightforward fantasy/speculative fiction novella aimed at a Young Adult audience. The villains of the book are revealed at the end of the first chapter as a set of telepathic twins who have mastered the occult arts and then created Slade House as a sort of immersive mirage to lure victims into their “time-bubble” where their souls can be drained by the psychic vampires. Their efforts eventually run into a snag which, in the interest of keeping this column spoiler-free, the readers will simply have to discover for themselves.

Ultimately, Slade House is a quick, well-written read that touches on the classic theme of good versus evil with a cursory examination of the ethics of revenge thrown into the mix. Those in search of scares, however, might find themselves disappointed.

(Chris Fox, Central Library)

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Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Hector Tobar

In 2010 a mine in the desert region of Chile collapsed, trapping 33 miners for 39 long days.deep down dark  Why?  In order to make the mine profitable, its owners had neglected safety precautions.  Although the miners, at least to some extent, realized the risks, they chose to work there because the relatively high salaries made it possible for them to have middle-class lifestyles.

Tobar, who bases his story on extensive interviews, helps the reader to know the individual miners.  These were ordinary men, varying greatly in age and personality.  They did not think of themselves as heroes.  Often they worked together well as a team, but sometimes they argued among themselves or acted against the best interests of the group.  In their daily prayer meetings, they confessed to a variety of sins.  Yet somehow they found the strength to survive with almost no food, usually sharing the morsels fairly, enduring almost unbearable heat and humidity.  For seventeen days, they had no contact with the outside world and did not know if anyone would ever reach them.

The chapters alternate among the miners, their rescuers, and the miners’ loved ones – wives, mistresses, ex-wives, parents, siblings, and children.  These people camped outside the mine, pushing the rescuers not to give up and hoping against hope that the miners could return home alive.

When the rescuers made contact with the miners, the ordeal was far from over.  The rescue effort was long and difficult.  Even after the rescuers supplied food and met some of the miners’ needs, the men continued to suffer psychologically.  Then, amid the joy of return to their loved ones, they faced the totally new – and often disturbing – experience of being celebrities.

If you enjoy stories about ordinary people surviving against all odds, you’ll want to read Deep Down Dark.

Helen Snow, retired from Information Services

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

in the heart of the seaIn the 19th century, almost everyone knew the story of the whaling ship Essex, just as most people today have heard of the Titanic.  The Essex left Nantucket for the Pacific Ocean in 1819.  When it was in the middle of that ocean, about as far from civilization as it was possible to be, a huge sperm whale attacked the ship.  To the crew, it seemed like a deliberate act, perhaps of revenge for their killing its fellow whales.  The gripping story of the ship’s destruction and the crew’s long voyage to civilization (almost 4,500 nautical miles of rowing in whaleboats outfitted with sails) is a real-life thriller that you won’t forget!

The tale served as an inspiration for Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick.  When I read Melville’s novel during my college years, his descriptions of life on a whaling ship fascinated me, and Philbrick’s book also provides a vivid picture of the world of whaling.

Philbrick bases his story on extensive research, including his study of the memoirs by the ship’s first mate and its fourteen-year-old cabin boy.  The movie version, directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth, is now in theaters.

Caution: at times, I found it hard to read about the great suffering of the crew.  You may want to skim some of the more dreadful parts of the book!

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

Amazing Place: What North Carolina Means to Writers edited by Marianne Gingher

When I read a novel or short story with a North Carolina setting, one of my greatest pleasures is that I’m familiar with the amazingregion, if not the exact place, where the story occurs.  Every familiar street name or landmark, every insight into what makes this place special, makes a good book even more enjoyable.

This book of personal narratives by twenty-two North Carolina authors attempts to answer questions such as “We seem to have a lot of writers here.  Why?  How does living in North Carolina matter?  How has some specific ‘where’ in North Carolina served as muse?”  The writers include Fred Chappell, Lee Smith, Marianne Gingher, Robert Morgan, Clyde Edgerton, Michael Parker, and Jill McCorkle, to name only a few.  They share autobiographical tidbits, descriptions of places they love and the connection of these places to their writing.  Their narratives may make you laugh aloud or nod your head in agreement.

Here are two selections from the section by Marianne Gingher, who grew up in Greensboro and settled there as an adult:

“Greensboro, North Carolina, dubbed the Gate City.  Greensboring we teenagers called the place. Grimsboro.  Gate to nowhere.  I didn’t know anybody whose dream was to stay.  There wasn’t anything wrong with the place; it was just such a normal town.  Normal was like average and average meant C.”

“Long live Greensboro, land of…a pretty downtown library, a glorious symphony orchestra…the glossy Civil Rights Museum in the renovated Woolworth’s…five four-year colleges…same as any place, and just enough different, too.”

Read the entirety of Amazing Place – only about 200 pages – or focus only on your favorite authors – but do take a look at it!

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass

I recently learned about the speech that Douglass delivered on the Fourth of July, 1852.  This great orator, a former slave, narrativepraised the founding fathers – and then talked about the denial of American freedoms to the slaves.  After reading the speech online, I looked for books about Douglass’ life and discovered this autobiography.

It gives a chilling view of slavery as Douglass experienced it.  When he was a tiny child, his master sent his mother to another plantation, leaving Frederick to the care of women too old to work in the fields.  He only saw his mother a few times, always in the dark of night, when she could slip away to see him and then rush back to be in the fields by daybreak.  Although Frederick heard rumors that his master was his father, he never knew if this was true.  He was almost always hungry.  In the cold Maryland winters, he had no clothing but a long shirt and only a cloth sack to provide a bit of warmth as he slept on the ground.

Fortunately, he learned to read, although it was illegal to teach a slave in that time and place.  Eventually, he escaped, went to New England, and became a key figure in the abolitionist movement.

The book, a short, quick read, offers a first-hand view of slavery by a highly intelligent and literate former slave.  Douglass’ story, as told in this book, ends soon after his escape from slavery.  Published in 1845, it became an instant bestseller.

He wrote two later autobiographical works: My Bondage and My Freedom  (1855) and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881 – revised in 1892).  The library also owns Escape from Slavery, a book for children, told through excerpts from Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

Pawnee : The Greatest Town in America

If you are a devotee to the TV show Parks and Recreation, this book needs no introduction, and will only allow you to wallow inpawnee all things Pawnee.  If you’ve no clue and still could use a laugh, treat yourself (quoting Donna and Tom) to this hilarious send up of the fictional Indiana town.

Find out what makes Pawnee tick – from its turbulent history to its present day glory (as it were), as seen by its biggest advocate Leslie Knope, the deputy director of the Parks and Recreation department of Pawnee.  You’ll learn about the earliest settlers of the town, local legends, the infamous Pawnee/Eagleton rivalry, the hot spots to eat, drink, and dance, and the nefarious background of the Sweetums empire, the largest employer in Pawnee.

Leslie’s co-workers make guest appearances here as well.  Read about Ron Swanson’s commune with nature (think whiskey and venison) and April Ludgate’s take on what is cool about Pawnee (something to do with the airport).

Approach this book with an open mind and be ready to laugh.  As mentioned above, if you are familiar with Parks and Recreation, this book will be a sweet indulgence.  If not, it’s a great introduction to the world of Pawnee.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

The 3 Little Dassies

The 3 Little Dassies by Jan Brett, a retelling of The Three Little Pigs, features three dassie sisters (cute little squirrel-like rodents) dressed fetchingly in the traditional garb of the Herero women of Namibia, the setting for this story. Leaving home to make their way in the world, they encounter a hungry eagle that makes short work of one dassie’s grass house, another’s driftwood house but is defeated by the third’s secure home-made of rocks. There is a very happy & violence free ending to this tale, with many additional story elements to be found in the detailed and colorful illustrations.  An entertaining story with sideline stories on the borders that will keep readers going back to reread the borders themselves. Jan Brett has made a strong effort to portray a partnership of true animal behavior within the story. A nice change from her earlier works. 

Brandon Bensley -Children’s Librarian