In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters 
submitted by Katy

Mary Shelly Black was just 16 years old, in 1918, when her father was dragged off to jail accused of treason, because of his German heritage and the fact that he doesn’t believe in the war. While the Spanish Flu epidemic raged around the world, she was sent to San Diego to live with her Aunt, while her father awaits his trial. She is in love with Stephen, a young photographer, who is heading off to war torn Europe. They will briefly meet, one last time, as she poses ungraciously for his brother Julius, a spiritual photographer. Friends since childhood, Stephen shares his mistrust and dislike of the fake photography in which his brother Julius is involved. He leaves Mary Shelly with two of his own precious photographs, for fear Julius will destroy them, and a cryptic message.

Mary Shelly’s photo with a ghostly figure beside her in the background, taken on an earlier visit to her Aunt, has brought in a good deal of business for Julius. Wanting to add another photo of her to his display, thereby proving he can capture a deceased loved one for a price, Julius tries to pull Mary Shelly into his schemes, bilking those who have lost loved ones to the flu or war. As the months pass, Mary Shelly tries to make sense of all that is happening around her: people dying, reading to veterans, missing limbs and wits, at hospital, while corresponding with Stephen and her father. When Stephen’s letters stop, he comes to Mary for help. He tells her they are killing him. But can she solve the mystery and help the young man she so loves …one last time.

Historical fiction at its richest, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters takes you into the trenches of Europe, the hospital wards of the recovering and dying veterans. You can almost taste the terror of a country flooded with the fear of death and feel the pain of loved ones no longer of this Earth. You can almost smell the onions and garlic used to fight off the flu, see the blood splattered fields of the war torn earth and hear the crying of pain from the sick, maimed and dying. The emotional impact of those who are so desperate to bring back a loved one that they will believe that an image of the spirit can be captured by a camera or hear a voice in a séance; it can make your heart ache. There is mystery and romance as well in this tale that will have you curled up in a corner somewhere back in time.

Interspersed throughout the book are actual photos of the time period and further historical information at the end of the story.

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He Was America 
submitted by Tommy

I first got into Carl Sandburg when reading a Bob Dylan bio years ago. A 22 year old Dylan paid an unannounced visit to the great poet in early 1964. Dylan brought the 86 year old poet a copy of his new The Times They are A-Changin’ album and they talked a while on the front porch.

I decided to visit that same Sandburg house October before last. It has been a National Monument since 1967, when Sandburg died. If you are ever passing through Flat Rock, NC (about 30 miles south of Asheville), I highly recommend it.

In school, I had read the poems Fog and Chicago, and somewhere along the way, Grass. Those are the three poems that are usually anthologized. After visiting his house, I decided to read all of his Chicago Poems (1916).

In them, I discovered the real Carl Sandburg. He was an anarchist. These poems have a bite to them that I had not seen in any modern poet, except maybe a few like Woody Guthrie, Kenneth Rexroth, Charles Bukowski, or Bob Dylan. Sandburg’s poems tell the working person’s side of the story. The poem Masses captures this best. Ready to Kill is my second favorite. You can access the entire book without leaving your desk by clicking here.

Recently, LFPL ordered The Day Carl Sandburg Died (DVD), and it is wonderful. If you like documentaries, I promise that you’ll like this one. He is better known for his biography of Lincoln, and lesser known for his Folk singing, but this man did it all!

Sandburg thought his greatest poem was contained in one book: The People, Yes (1936). So I decided it was time to see if I agree. There are so many gems in Chicago Poems that it would be hard to top it. The People, Yes has 107 numbered poems, each like a portrait or still life of post-depression America. Sandburg was in his late 50’s when this book was written, but there is no mellowing here. For me, Sandburg is just a continuation of what Whitman started in American poetry. L.B.J. thought so too.

I like Chicago Poems better, but both books are vital to American Poetry.

Here are a few of the poems/lines that I liked best from The People, Yes:

#9: This is my favorite poem. It concerns a father preparing a son for manhood and all the paths ahead.

“Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come.”

“Get off this estate.
What for?
Because it is mine.
Where did you get it?
From my father.
Where did he get it?
From his father.
And where did he get it?
He fought for it.
Well, I’ll fight you for it.”

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Julia Child 
submitted by Debbe

With the plethora of cookbooks and cooking shows today it is hard to imagine a time when one woman alone was the face of cooking on American television. The host of the public television show, The French Chef, which initially aired from 1963-1973, Julia Child, became an American cooking icon. In 1961, Child and her friends and associates Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, both of France, had co-authored a cookbook of traditional French recipes adapted for Americans. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was an immediate success and Child, the American author, was sought after for book signings and interviews.

I became interested in Julia Child after I saw the movie Julie and Julia. The movie is based on Child’s memoir My Life in France, coauthored with her nephew Alex Prud’homme, and Julie Powell’s memoir Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. Powell’s book is focused on her blog The Julie/Julia Project detailing her efforts to cook all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Last year on the centenary of Child’s birth Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz was published. I recently listened to the audiobook, read by Kimberly Farr, who did an excellent job bringing the story of Julia Child to life. Spitz recounts Julia McWilliams’ childhood in Pasadena, her collegiate life at Smith College, her aimless early years of adulthood and her work for the OSS in Asia during World War II. It was during this time that she met Paul Child whom she married in 1946. It was her husband’s assignment to Paris with the Foreign Services that opened up the world of French cooking to Child, an avocation that led to her career as author and television personality. Many other books and television appearances followed.

I cannot think of a biography that I have enjoyed more than Dearie. Julia Child truly had a “Remarkable Life.” I highly recommend. “Bon Appétit.”

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Midnighters Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld 
submitted by Tony

The Midnighters series by Scott Westerfeld, author of the popular Uglies series, is composed of three works. They are The Secret Hour, Touching Darkness, and Blue Noon.

The trilogy begins with high school student Jessica Day moving to Bixby, a small town in Oklahoma, because her mother has landed a job with a local aerospace company. Jessica soon is befriended by four other teens with which she shares two special attributes. They were all born at the stroke of midnight and are able to move around the world during the mysterious “blue time,” a secret hour which exists between the stroke of midnight and the first second of every new day. Each Midnighter also has a special talent that is individual to them.

Throughout the series, the five struggle against ancient shape-shifting monsters (called “darklings”) that live in the blue time. The darklings quickly target Jessica as her talent threatens their ultimate goal - to escape the secret hour in order to hunt humanity for food. Jessica and her friends also have to face down a fifty year old conspiracy by humans in the area who have been working with the darklings over the years.

Like the Uglies series, these books straddle the line between the science fiction and young adult genres. Two big differences are that Midnighters is set in the present rather than in an imagined future and the central conflict is against an ancient evil rather than the policies of a dystopian government. The feel of the tale falls much more strongly on young adult side in the first book and tilts to the science fiction side by the third.

My one major quibble with the series is more a quibble with how many books of genre fiction are being marketed these days - in multiple volumes. Many will stretch a story out to achieve a certain number of titles, most often a trilogy. In order to pump up the page count, unnecessary fluff at the start of subsequent books is inserted to catch the reader up on the story.

In some authors’ hands, this technique can feel awkward and even kill a reader’s interest. To his credit, Westerfeld does keep the recap to a minimum. As the characters are consistent, the time frame covered is reasonably short, and the story as a whole is well-paced, these three works could have easily have been published as one book.

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The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey 
submitted by Rob

“Illness isolates; the isolated become invisible; the invisible become forgotten. But the snail…the snail kept my spirit from evaporating. Between the two of us, we were a society all our own, and that kept isolation at bay.” - Elisabeth Tova Bailey

When Elisabeth Tova Bailey was struck with an illness of uncertain origin, her life dramatically changed, as she was left almost completely incapacitated, and all those daily motions that we take for granted, from rising in the morning to brushing one’s teeth, became, in all practicality, impossible. As a result, Ms. Bailey was forced to leave the familiar surroundings of her home for a studio apartment that was easily serviced by a professional care provider.

As one can imagine, this situation left Ms. Bailey significantly challenged and overwhelmingly distraught, but then one day, a friend of Ms. Bailey’s dropped by for a visit with a peculiar gift – a pot of violets taken from the local woods that included a wild snail, and it is from this deceptively simple present that Ms. Bailey experiences a sublime sense of renewal in her life as a convalescent.

Through close observation afforded by her confinement, Ms. Bailey comes to admire her new roommate and to realize that once one takes the time, whether by choice or force, to examine life from a different perspective, that of a snail’s in this case, modern life for the human being begins to seem entirely too fast in its pace, and that, just perhaps, it might be warranted to ponder why it is we all run about in such a frenzy.

And peppered throughout Ms. Bailey’s frank prose concerning a single year of her illness and the ruminations sparked by a single snail, were scientific sections about the snail as an animal, based on the extensive research that Ms. Bailey conducted, and I must admit that I had no real idea how truly amazing the snail is, regardless which of the roughly forty thousand types is being referenced. In the words of Ms. Bailey in a letter she wrote to her doctor:
“I could never have guessed what would get me through this past year – a woodland snail and its offspring; I honestly don’t think that I would have made it otherwise.”

With so many demands on our time and attention, it would be wise to remember the myriad details of life that are so easily missed, lest we forget the wonder that surrounds us always.

You can reserve a copy of her memoir, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by clicking here.

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