Sunday, September 20, 2015

The 1920s in Fact and Fiction

“The Roaring Twenties” has captured the imagination of many people.  The decade prior to the Great Depression seems to offer a rich and exciting tapestry of booze, flappers, and jazz.  The reality, however, was much different than what we imagine or even what we see in period photos.  Recently, many non-fiction and fiction books have taken the 1920s as their subject or the setting for their stories. 

The following are a small sample of the books available through the library.  If there is another topic or subject that interests you the librarians will be more than happy to help you choose your next book.

First here are some recent fiction books set during the 1920s:

Libba Bray, The Diviners (2012) YA
Evangeline Mary O’Neill, Evie to all of her friends, has a special power that allows her to see the secrets of people whose personal items she holds.  When she uses this power during a party and reveals the hidden secret of the son of a wealthy and powerful townsperson, Evie is exiled by her parents from her hometown of Zenith, Ohio to live with her Uncle Will in Manhattan.  Along with her pen pal and friend, Mabel, Her Uncle Will, and his assistant and ward Jericho, Evie is drawn into the search for an elusive killer stalking the streets of 1920s New York City. This book is the first of an anticipated triology.  The second book, Lair of Dreams, has recently been released and picks up where the firstbook left off.  

Although marketed for a YA audience this book has plenty for adults to like.  If you enjoy mysteries and supernatural/paranormal thrillers this book will definitely interest you.  Occasionally the 1920s-era slang can be a little much, but fortunately its usage doesn’t derail the storytelling to any serious degree.

It’s the summer of 1925.  Thirteen year-old Emily Stewart discovers she has a unique gift.  Without any noticeable movements she can produce a distinct knocking noise from her ankle.  Along with her twin brother, Michael, they begin to convince neighborhood children that they can speak to the dead.  Soon, news of these “spirit knockings” leaks out to the adults.  From there Emily and Michael discover that this game of theirs gets too close to real grief and family secrets.

These non-fiction books examine different aspects of the 1920s and are sure to include stories to interest readers with many different tastes.

Karen Blumenthal, Tommy: The Gun That Changed America (2015) YA Karen Blumenthal has written an entertaining and fact-filled account of the gun that came to symbolize the 1920s.  Designed by the Auto-Ordnance company to be used in the trenches of Europe during WWI it came too late to see service.  After the war, the gun was marketed to foreign governments and police departments as a way to control striking workers and rioters.  Its high rate of fire along with its compact frame soon drew the attention of criminals, who saw the gun as a way to gain a competitive edge against their underworld rivals.  In response to the murder of an Illinois Assistant State Attorney, and the robbery of a mail truck carrying company payroll money the Federal government, along with state governments, such as New York, began passing the first federal and state laws regulating the carrying and ownership of firearms.
A footnote of interest to local readers will be that the Thompson submachine gun was designed and tested primarily in Cleveland in a two-story house on Euclid Avenue, near Millionaire’s Row.  The book is full of period photos and illustrations, which adds nicely to the text.  Although, designated for Young Adults, readers of any age should find this an interesting read.

Hollywood has never been a stranger to scandals and salacious stories involving its stars. This was particularly true of Hollywood in its infancy. William J. Mann has written a fascinating history of Hollywood centered on the murder of William Desmond Taylor, president of the Motion Picture Directors Association.  This murder had remained unsolved since 1922, until Mann unraveled all of the details and discovered the identity of the murderer.  Besides the glitz and glamor one would expect in a book on Hollywood, the scandals, violence, drugs, and booze of the era are all laid bare for the reader. This book won the 2015 Edgar award for Best Fact Crime Book of the Year.  NPR called it, “one of the best books of the year.” 
Eric Burns, 1920: The Year That Made the Decade Roar (2015) Many of the same concerns we have today concerned Americans in 1920.  The economy seemed to be faltering, many Americans wanted closed and secured borders, and acts of terrorism were a constant threat.  As Burns believes 1920 not only set the stage for the Roaring Twenties, but also for the remainder of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century.

Burns’ new book, tackles the year 1920 in a piecemeal fashion.  Each chapter discusses separate subjects and could be read individually without the reader losing the main thrust of the argument.  Despite these reservations Burns has put together a readable and interesting look into how one year laid the framework for the rest of the 20th century and beyond.
If one of these books piques your interest, or if you'd like other suggestions, please see one of our helpful and friendly librarians for assistance and other book recommendations.
Good Reading!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Urban Fantasy: Zombies, Wizards, and Pyromancers! Oh My!

As the summer slowly approaches it's end, kids start going back to school, and the days start to be come shorter many people start gearing up for the fall and winter months. Some try to squeeze in their last minute vacations, some people start gearing up for Halloween already, and some are just trying to hang on to that last bit of summer before the temperature drops on us.

Not me. This time of the year means one thing: AMC's The Walking Dead is coming back. And since its fresh in my head, its reminding me that over the past year I have really fallen in love with a new subset of narrative that has really become one of my favorites in recent readings: Urban Fantasy. Urban fantasy is for the most part exactly what it sounds like; The fantastical and unbelievable in the current day modern setting as opposed to High Fantasy where the world and its rules are completely fabricated. In preparation for the return of one of my favorite programs, I wanted share some of the tidbits I've been nibbling on to hold me over.

The Walking Dead: By Robert Kirkman

Well let's just get this one out of the way. This is comic and graphic novel series that started of the flag-bearers of the the zombie boom. Written by Robert Kirkman (who you might remember from my Marvel Zombies review), this series lays the groundwork for what fans of the show will remember. But if you came into this series of comics expecting to see the same story from the show, you will be very much surprised. 

As the show takes liberties to this source material, reading through you will find that the story moves at a much faster pace than its television counterpart, You will find that some of the characters aren't the same the first time around, some of the characters were created specifically for the show, in the comic a number of them develop differently and have very different personalities, and some scenes that I thought were highly memorable sometimes didn't even happen in the comic series. 

Arguably you can consider the zombie genre to be more dystopian than it is urban fantasy, but since you are dealing with monsters I feel it fits here. It is always interesting to me to see how when a book or comic series gets translated to more visual medium like TV or Movies. The Walking Dead is a great example of both of them can sustain life and maintain an interesting level of involvement of each other without feeling like one is doing an injustice to the other. There are two Compendiums of the comic series available and I suggest you give them a read if like me  you are bitten by the zombie bug. 

The Dresden Files: By Jim Butcher

This series... THIS SERIES..  Man. My friend at my local game night started recommending when I explained to them how much I liked Hold Me Closer, Necromancer as one of my first real entries of urban fantasy genre. As explained to me, Harry Dresden is a private eye working in Chicago, but he is also the city's only practicing Wizard (you can find him in the yellow pages). So along those lines, I expected to read murder mysteries with an occasional splash of magic in some of the hairier moments.

What I wasn't expecting was some of the funniest and cleverly written dialog between an incredibly lovable cast of characters spanning through pretty much every single realm of fantasy I can think of. Seriously, this series has everything: Wizards, necromancers, teens who turn into werewolves, evil fairy godmothers, pixies with an uncontrollable affinity for pizza, three different families of vampires, holy knights, fallen angels, archangels, living temple dogs, mobsters, Valkyries, Greek gods, Santa Claus, and one poor diminutive police sergeant just trying to do her job. 

I ate this series up. I think in the span of like 3 months, I read all 15 released volumes of this series, all of the available graphic novels, a series of side stories from compilation books, and even gave a few episodes of the failed TV show a try. Fans of this series tend to be pretty ravenous about it, and it didn't take me long to see why. The first few kind of set the stage but when the main narrative starts to roll, it was next to impossible for me to put this series down. If you are a fan of fantasy in any capacity, this series has a little bit for everyone. 

Firebug: By Lish McBride

This YA novel is what I am currently reading.  It is set in the same universe as the previously mentioned Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. Written by Lish McBride, this story focuses around Ava, a young girl who is half Human and half Firebug. This gives her innate ability to control pyrokinetic powers. Quite simply, she is able to form a massive fireball to the tiniest wisp of a flame using only her thoughts.

After losing her mother, Ava finds herself under the control of a vampire named Venus. Venus is a major player of Boston's "magical mafia" called the Coterie, and she has been working Ava as the Coterie's reluctant personal assassin. That is however, until they charge Ava to kill someone incredibly close to her. Ava refuses, effectively signing her own death warrant, and is forced to go on the lam to try to evade capture against a very powerful supernatural organization.

Much like her previous books, a little bit of everything in fantasy comes into play in her series. McBride has always been very good at tongue-in-cheek dialog and has some great moments of tit-for-tat verbal sparring among the characters. I am currently in the early stages of the story but it already seems to be promising what I loved about her previous books and I'm looking forward to pressing on when I get home. 

Many of these titles can be found in our very own Kirtland Library and all of them can be found in the Clevnet catalog. So if you are a fan of fantasy, or perhaps put slightly off by classic fantasy, give the urban fantasy genre a try. It's a very entertaining way to try to fit the fantastical into modern mundanity.