What We Saw from the Cheap Seats by Regina Spektor

I’ve been listening to Regina Spektor for four or five years now and love her quirky, whimsical lyrics and her lovely piano work. Her new album, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, is another wonderful addition to her oeuvre.  Some of the songs on this album are a bit more mellow and serious than those included on her previous albums, but her signature oddity and ability to look at things from an unexpected perspective still appear in spades. I particularly enjoyed “All the Rowboats” in which the rowboats in museum paintings are trying to row away. “Violins in glass coffins” and “Masterpieces serving maximum sentences” fill museums and galleries. Her frustration with politicians (one I think we all share, no matter which side of the aisle) can be heard in “Ballad of a Politician.”

None of the songs on What We Saw from the Cheap Seats are “throw away” songs, in each song Spektor’s beautiful voice and piano playing and interesting use of percussion and changes in tempo hold interest and bring the album together as a whole.

The Man Who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins

We know very little about what trees do for the environment and the impact they have on the natural world. As trees disappear, we learn what they did from their absence, a poor way to manage our environment. The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet is nominally about David Milarch, founder of The Champion Tree Project. The project is an effort to save what are known as the Champion Trees, the most impressive specimens of each species of tree found on the planet. Milarch’s story really just pulls together all the amazing information we do know about trees and what they do in the world. Robbins explains such things as how trees are great at cooling the area around them as water evaporates through their leaves. They are also awesome filtration systems for waterways and have the potential to save thousands if not millions of dollars when strategically planted to filter fertilizer and toxins from rivers, streams and ponds rather than treating water with modern conventional technology.

Many of the largest, most successful trees in the world have been harvested for lumber, paper production, etc. and the Champion Tree Project is an effort to clone the most successful trees left in the world to make sure their genes continue to live on. We still aren’t sure what role genetics plays in the success of trees, but this project ensures that when the technology is there to sequence tree genes, these trees will still be around to test. Some of the species the project has cloned include sequoias, redwoods, black walnut, willows and others that have well-documented environmental benefits. The project has never had as much funding as it needs, but Milarch and others who believe we need to reforest the earth in order to help mitigate climate change and keep the environment healthy for future generations are dedicated and continue to do what they can to spread Champion Tree genetics.

Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress

Science fiction has a long history of struggling with complex philosophical ideas through elaborate “what if?” scenarios. Science fiction novels ranging from 1984 to The Lathe of Heaven to The Postmortal address a range of moral and ethical quandaries and allow problems to play out in worlds both similar and different to the one we know. Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress is one such work that addresses serious ethical questions about genetic modification, the rights of the individual versus the needs of the community and the questions of how community is defined.

In Beggars in Spain, genetic modification has become a reality. Parents can select for physical traits, certain behavioral traits can be encouraged if not yet selected for, and things like enhanced intelligence can also be chosen. One possible modification is eliminating the need to sleep. Leisha Camden’s father, a firm believer in individual effort, elects to have his daughter be a Sleepless. Other affects of this genetic modification include increased intelligence, a tendency toward having a pleasant disposition and, apparently, a much slower aging process.

The Sleepless change the way the world works. They come to dominate the business world very quickly after some Sleepless reach age 18. The possibilities for normal people who can’t compete against the Sleepless disappear quickly. First rhetoric against Sleepless becomes prevalent, and after the murder of one of the first Sleepless, the Sleepless remove themselves to an orbiting space station they call Sanctuary. The economy segments itself into those who live on the work of others (livers), those who work as politicians and businesspeople (donkeys), and those who pay for it all (the Sleepless). This delicate balance begins to fall apart when the demands of the United States become too great for Sanctuary to continue to comply. But the Sleepless have modified their own children to be even more intelligent than they are, and questions of what the Supers owe to the Sleepless and how they interact recall the way the Sleepless treat unmodified people.

Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs

After contracting tropical pneumonia on a family vacation to the Dominican Republic and getting a taste of his own mortality, author A.J. Jacobs decides to go on a two year quest to become the healthiest man alive. Jacobs decides to go about this by tackling one body part per month. He starts with the stomach and finishes up with the skull. Along the way, he focuses on everything from the adrenal gland (lower his stress levels) to the skin to the hands. Throughout the book, Jacobs shares interesting studies that have been conducted about health and we learn how many health claims by “experts” are dubious at best. Jacobs approaches the topic of his own health with skepticism, humor, and a willingness to try new things in the name of trying to become the healthiest man alive. He obviously doesn’t make his goal, but he learns a lot along the way (and shares it with his readers). This isn’t a how-to-manual, but the quirky story of Jacobs’ experiences and the many people he meets along the way as he tries to improve his health.

Drop Dead Healthy is for people who have read and enjoyed Jacobs’ previous book, The Year of Living Biblically, and for those who are interested in self-improvement and health and fitness.

Vertical Vegetables & Fruit by Rhonda Massingham Hart

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For people with small gardens, planting food crops that climb can greatly increase yield. This book is a great resource for recommending which types of structures are best for each type of climbing plant. Part I of the book includes information about the why’s and how’s of vertical gardening. Hart includes illustrations of different types of garden structures and helpful tips for how to best assemble these structures.

Vertical Vegetables & Fruit also contains information about container gardening for those who don’t have a yard at all. The library has many books specifically about container gardening that cover that topic in more depth, though.

Part II and Part III of this book cover which varieties of fruits and vegetables are best suited to vertical gardening. She includes specific varieties, their properties and disease resistance, and information about which USDA Hardiness Zones each variety is best suited to.

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows

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For the past 5000 years, one million souls have inhabited Range, reincarnated in a new body each time they die. Ana is the first newsoul in all that time, and her existence raises questions others don’t want to think about. Her own mother calls her a nosoul and removed her from civilization to raise her in the woods away from people. After years of abuse from a woman who denies her ability to experience emotions, she sets off for the city to search for answers.

Ana is not necessarily welcome in the capital, Heart, either. Her curiosity and impulsive nature don’t endear her to the many people who have lived thousands of years and are unsettled by the change she represents.

One man who finds her fascinating and welcomes change is Sam, the most well-known musician on Range. Her own love of music draws the two of them together, and she enlists him in her mission to find out why she suddenly appeared and what happened to the soul her’s replaced. Others are not as pleased about her rejoining civilization and her search for answers. When she was out of sight, those who were disturbed by her existence could forget about her.

In a hard world filled with dragons, sylph, trolls, centaurs and other dangerous creatures, Ana must also worry about humans who see her as a threat to be eliminated.

Incarnate is Jodi Meadows’ debut novel and the first book in a planned trilogy.

Quiet by Susan Cain

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Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a fascinating look at introversion and what having that personality type actually means. Cain is very effective at taking a lot of disparate psychological research and forming it into a cogent picture of introversion and how introverts relate to the world around them. Cain uses illustrative examples from scientific research, case studies and extensive interviews she performed during the course of her research for this book.

Between one third and one half of the population are introverts, so this book has the potential to be very useful to people with personalities on opposite ends of the introvert-extrovert spectrum relate to each other in work situations and in personal relationships. Cain presents many tips for introverts trying to function in a world that values extroversion, as well as tips for everyone to try to work against the psychological inclination to listen to those who are good presenters (even if the idea they are presenting isn’t very good).

Cain also gave a wonderful TED Talk called The Power of Introverts.

Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan

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Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan is a benefit CD that celebrates both the 50 years of Bob Dylan’s music career and 50 years of Amnesty International. The four discs of the collection contain 75 tracks by over 80 artists. And there is something for nearly everyone in this collection.

The artists represented in the collection range from old favorites like Patti Smith, Diana Krall and Sting to newer artists such as Miley Cyrus, Adele, and State Radio. The styles run the gamut from Irish punk (Flogging Molly) to alternative metal (Queens of the Stone Age) to country (Dierks Bentley) and international (Ximena Sarinana). Most of the artists have managed to make Dylan’s songs their own, so listening to each interpretation is a pleasure and new experience of some old favorites.

One of the strengths of this collection is that it doesn’t just include Dylan’s most well-known songs, though. At 75 songs, some of them obviously had to be a bit more obscure. Ke$ha’s version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” is wonderful and raw, but hearing Raphael Saadiq’s interpretation of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” not only introduced me to Raphael Saadiq, it introduced me to a new, more playful version of Dylan I had never before encountered.

Definitely don’t expect to love everything in this collection. Most people’s musical tastes aren’t quite this varied. But do expect to hear Dylan in a new way from some very talented artists.

Custer in Kansas: Breaking in the Boy General

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By John Pecoraro, Assistant Director

George Armstrong Custer is one of the most iconic figures in the history of the American West. Colorful and controversial, he was brevetted a general at age 23, a Civil War hero, and dead on the plains of Montana at age 36. Most people know the story of his and the 7th Cavalry’s defeat at the Little Big Horn, but perhaps fewer people realize that Custer spent several years in Kansas.

From November 1866 until 1871, while posted to Fort Riley, Kansas, Custer found some of his greatest success and failure as a commander. Custer’s years in the state are the focus of author Jeff Barnes’ program, “Custer in Kansas: Breaking in the Boy General,” which he will present at the Manhattan Public Library on Wednesday, March 7, at 7 p.m.

Barnes is the author of the newly published “The Great Plains Guide to Custer.” In this historical travel guide, Barnes pinpointed 85 forts, battles and other sites west of the Mississippi associated with the legendary general. A former newspaper reporter and editor, Barnes writes and lives in Omaha. He is a Nebraska native, a journalism graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a frequently requested speaker with the Nebraska Humanities Council.

There is a wide range of titles and resources available to Custer history buffs. Websites of interest include www.garryowen.com, featuring Custer’s genealogy, a photo gallery, and a list of curious questions and topics. Jeff Barnes’ website, http://fortsofthenorthernplains.com/, includes links to historic sites associated with Custer.

Manhattan Public Library has dozens of titles about Custer’s life and the Little Bighorn battle, and hundreds of titles about the history of the American West. In The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, author Nathaniel Philbrick sketched the two larger-than-life antagonists: Sitting Bull, whose charisma and political savvy earned him the position of leader of the Plains Indians, and George Armstrong Custer, a man with a reputation for fearless and often reckless courage. Philbrick reminded readers that the Battle of the Little Bighorn was also, even in victory, the last stand for the Sioux and Cheyenne Indian nations.

A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn by Jim Donovan explored the disastrous battle and the finger-pointing that was its aftermath. Custer, conveniently dead, took the brunt of the blame. The truth, however, was far more complex, and this book related the entire story, bringing to light details of the U.S. Army cover-up.

In The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn, Joseph Marshall revealed a picture of the battle previously available only in the Lakota oral tradition. He explored the significance of the battle to the Lakota, and considered the consequences it had for all Native Americans.

Louise Barnett investigated the life, death, and mythic afterlife of Custer in her book Touched by Fire. Barnett traced the complexities of Custer’s personality and attempted to understand how this famed military tactician waged an impossible attack at the Little Bighorn.

Evan S. Connell’s Son of the Morning Star is part study of Plains Indian life, part military history, and part character study. This author used meticulous research and a novelist’s eye to tell a story of heroism, foolishness, and savagery.

Elizabeth Bacon Custer remained a devoted widow for fifty-seven years after her husband’s death. She was an outspoken advocate for her husband’s legacy. The myth of Custer, his place as an iconic figure in American history, is largely due to her efforts. Elizabeth Custer, or Libbie as she was known, wrote two books about the experiences and hardships she shared with the General. Tenting on the Plains concerns the Custers’ experiences immediately after the Civil War in Texas and Kanas. In Boots and Saddles, Libbie wrote about their final years on the plains at Fort Abraham Lincoln in Dakota Territory.

Finally George Armstrong Custer also wrote a book about his experiences, My Life on the Plains: or, Personal Experiences with Indians. In this collection of his magazine articles, Custer recounted his life in the years immediately following the Civil War and revealed his often ambiguous attitudes towards the Indians.

If you’re interested in George Armstrong Custer and Kansas, you won’t want to miss “Custer in Kansas: Breaking in the Boy General,” presented by Jeff Barnes at the Manhattan Public Library on Wednesday, March 7, at 7 p.m.

Same story, different cover

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By Emilyn Linden
Adult Services Librarian

It’s a popular belief that there are no new stories, only different ways of telling them. And sometimes that isn’t such a bad thing. The old myths and fairy tales became popular for a reason. They are stories that tell us about people’s deepest desires and fears. Retellings of the old myths and fairy tales go in and out of style periodically. This is one of those periods of popularity, and there have been some recent imaginative, worthwhile retellings.

If you’re interested in reading retellings by some of the best writers currently writing fantasy, horror, and young adult fiction, you’ll want to pick up Happily Ever After, an anthology of 33 myth and fairy tale retellings from the past two decades. Some of the authors included are Susanna Clarke, Gregory Maguire, Kelly Link, Garth Nix and Holly Black.

A new book that came out in February of this year that has received a lot of attention is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. The novel is based on the Russian folk tale, transplanted to 1920s Alaska. Jack and Mabel are a childless couple who move to Alaska from Pennsylvania to start over after a heartbreaking miscarriage. After two years they are each slowly succumbing to despair. To distract themselves from their worries one evening, they build a girl out of snow. The next day the snow girl is gone and Jack sees a real, seemingly feral, child running in the woods.

Another book set in the winter but meant for middle-grade readers, is Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. Jack and Hazel have been best friends for five years, so when Jack suddenly stops talking to Hazel, she’s devastated. We find out a shard of magic mirror has made its way into Jack’s heart, and he later disappears without a trace. Hazel must brave the cold Minnesota winter and enter the woods to find her friend. This imaginative tale contains many allusions to beloved children’s stories from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to A Wrinkle in Time.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer is meant for teenage readers, but it’s proved very popular with adults, too. This may be because the title character, Cinder, is a cyborg mechanic who has a hopeless romantic of an android for a sidekick. Cinder is a second-class citizen, as are all cyborgs, in this futuristic retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale. Cinder lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters and supports her family through her work as a mechanic. Her reputation reaches Prince Kai, the heir to the throne, who brings her an android to repair.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman is not a new novel. It originally came out in 2001, but a new, enhanced edition came out in 2011. This is a novel about the complex religious and mythological heritage of America and is, therefore, complex and meandering itself. Shadow is released a few days early from prison when his wife dies in a car accident. He accepts a job from Mr. Wednesday, a former god, and embarks on a trip across America, where he encounters the old gods and creatures of myth immigrants brought with them to the United States. If you’ve read American Gods before, it’s probably worth it to pick it up again, since the 10th Anniversary edition has a new introduction and contains Gaiman’s preferred text.

The end of the world seems like a good place to end this list. In Norse mythology, the end of the world comes with the deaths of the gods and the world being squeezed by a serpent that has grown so large she encircles the world and crushes it. Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt takes this story and presents it through the eyes of a young girl living through World War II who has been presented with a book of the Norse myth Asgard and the Gods.


					

Love in a Nutshell by Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly

>I must confess, I read One for the Money a few years ago and I didn’t like it. I decided to give Janet Evanovich one more try, though, so I picked up Love in a Nutshell and was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it.

Kate Appleton has had a horrible year. She found out her husband was cheating on her, got a divorce, lost the custody battle over her poodle, and then she lost her job. She really needs a break. Her plan is to fix up her parents’ lake house and turn it into a bed and breakfast. This would be easier if it weren’t in horrible shape and she hadn’t lost most of her savings in the housing market crash when she and her husband’s house lost a lot of its value.

Enter Matt Culhane, owner of a successful restaurant/brewery in town who needs someone to find out who has been sabotaging his business. Matt offers Kate $20,000 to find his saboteur, which she accepts as pretty much her only option for saving the house (did I mention her parents were behind on house payments?).

Kate has a lot on her plate with trying to find out who is sabotaging Matt’s business, meet new friends in Keene’s Harbor, fix up her parents’ house, and try to resist her growing attraction to Matt.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

>“Dear You,
The body you are wearing used to be mine.”
So begins the wonderfully imaginative debut novel The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. Myfanwy (pronounced like “Tiffany”) Thomas opens her eyes to find herself standing in a park in the rain surrounded by bodies wearing latex gloves. She finds two letters addressed to herself in her coat pockets containing instructions for how to either slide herself into the life of the old Myfanwy Thomas, the previous owner of the body, or how to run and begin a new life for herself with a new name. Myfanwy obviously chooses to stay and take up the responsibilities and life of Thomas (as she calls the old owner of the body), which turn out to be complicated and very surprising. Thomas was a “Rook,” one of eight heads of the organization known as the Checquy that protects the United Kingdom from supernatural threats. Someone was obviously trying to remove Thomas from the picture and Myfanwy is saddled not only with the challenge of quickly learning how to run a secret organization and control the supernatural powers she inherited along with her body but also with the task of sussing out the conspiracy behind her memory loss and how the increasing number of supernatural attacks since she woke up in the park is related to her existance.

This is a totally enthralling, complex, and darkly humorous debut that should appeal to readers who enjoy Jim Butcher or Neil Gaiman.

The Drops of God, V. 1 by Tadashi Agi

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Shizuku Kanzaki works in sales for a beer company and has never tasted so much as a sip of wine in his life. This was his act of rebellion against his famous wine critic father, Yutaka Kanzaki. When his father unexpectedly passes away, Shizuku finds that his estate and world-renowned wine collection will not pass to him as a matter of course. To inherit, he must compete against a young wine critic prodigy to identify twelve wines described in rich detail in Yutaka Kanzaki’s will, as well as a wine known as “The Drops of God,” that “stands above them all.”

If you are a wine lover or enjoyed the movie Sideways for its wine references, this is the manga for you. The Drops of God series was a huge hit in Japan and in France and is only now being released in English six years after its original publication. All the wines written about in the series are real, so you can learn about wines that cost a month’s worth of an average salary or some hidden gems in the $20-30 range.

Legend by Marie Lu

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The United States of America no longer exists. The western states are now known as the Republic and the east is known as the Colonies. The two have been fighting for as long as anyone in the Republic can remember and all resources are devoted to the war effort. June was born into privilege and had all possible advantages growing up. She is a military prodigy and will likely achieve a high military post when her training is completed. Day was born into the slums of Los Angeles and is now a wanted criminal for his activities hindering the military.

June and Day are thrown together when June’s first assignment is tracking and catching Day. June may be certain she wants to catch Day in the beginning, but as time goes on, it becomes less and less clear to her that the Republic is always right and Day is the one committing the most serious crimes.

Legend is Lu’s debut and is a taut dystopian thriller, the first in a planned trilogy. The book has received positive reviews from The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. This one will appeal to readers who liked the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. Definitely a series to watch. Fast-paced, exciting, and has the potential to make a great trilogy.

Marzi: A Memoir by Marzena Sowa

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This simply but beautifully illustrated graphic novel tells the story of Marzi, a young girl coming of age behind the Iron Curtain. Marzena Sowa was born in 1979 in Stalowa Wola, Poland. The majority of this graphic novel, written as a series of vignettes, takes place in the years leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Ms. Sowa manages to demonstrate both the uncertainty of the time and the joys and wonder any child can find in the world. She and her friends often act out the visit the Pope made to Poland. She talks about her anxiety when her father is away from home for days at a time when he and his fellow factory workers go on strike. She also describes carefree summer days visiting her grandmother and playing with her cousins in the country. Presenting this story as a series of vignettes is very powerful. These snippets of a childhood spent in a country with stores filled with empty shelves and celebrations where people only show up and cheer because that’s what’s expected provide a unique perspective of a country that was shrouded in secrecy for decades.  

Some other wonderful memoirs told in graphic novel form are Persepolis and Vietnamerica.