The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers 
submitted by Rob

“...the war came to me in my dreams and showed me its sole purpose: to go on, only to go on.” - Private John Bartle, Narrator, The Yellow Birds

According to New York Times journalist Chris Hedges and author of What Every Person Should Know About War (2003), there have been a mere 268 years of peace in the roughly 3,400 years of recorded human history, a trend that gives no indication of ending any time soon, if ever. Even if Mr. Hedges’ calculation is somewhat inaccurate, it is clear that the specter of war has shadowed the world for as long as the human has been walking.

The United States as a nation finds itself today in the state of war, something that can all too easily be forgotten in the hectic modern life that civilians lead – there are bills to be paid, careers to be lead, children to rear, etc. This, however, is not the case for either veterans or active duty personnel, as Kevin Powers illustrates in his 2012 debut novel, The Yellow Birds; Mr. Powers served in Iraq with the U.S. Army in 2004 and 2005.

I am a civilian and have never served in any department of the armed services, and I, too, find myself forgetting, at times, that there are Americans who are fighting abroad, but regardless of whether one supports or opposes the war that is being fought, people are dying, and I believe it important to listen to the stories of those involved, and fiction is a powerful means by which these tales can be conveyed.

While the characters and plot of The Yellow Birds are fictitious, the story that unfolds is both believable and moving. Mr. Powers pens impressive prose that provides the reader with a glimpse of what combat in Iraq was like for the American soldier in the mid-2000's and the effects that this can have on the individual long after he or she has returned home.
“To say what happened, the mere facts, the disposition of events in time, would come to seem like a kind of treachery. The dominoes of moments, lined up symmetrically, then tumbling backward against the hazy and unsure push of cause, showed only that a fall is every object's destiny. It is not enough to say what happened. Everything happened. Everything fell.” - Private John Bartle, Narrator, The Yellow Birds

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After the Snow by S.D. Crockett 
submitted by Lynette

Willow is scrappy, stealthy, and smart – and that’s a good thing. His world is in a not too distant future where the Earth is experiencing a new Ice Age. For most of the year the world is blanketed in ice and snow. Just like early humans in the previous Ice Age they must live off of primarily animals while there is snow on the ground, so hunting is a way of life now for anyone not living within the city limits. This is exactly where Willow and his family live; essentially off the grid and under the radar of the oppressive government that is now in charge of the United Kingdom.

Willow comes home from a hunt to find his cabin ransacked and empty. There is no one in sight, no one to answer his calls into the woods, and no note left behind. Their coats and belongings were all still there as if they left, or were taken, in a rush. They always knew it was dangerous to live outside the city. They weren’t supposed to but they hadn’t been hurting anyone out here.

Where are they? Who did this? What is he going to do on his own? Before he can think, he hears someone coming back to the cabin. All he can do is run, and hope to find his people when he can.

On his own he can move fast and undetected but then he meets Mary. She is in a similar situation as him, and all alone. Mary isn’t a hunter, isn’t stealthy, and has a lot to learn about the world.

Will she slow him down?

Can they find their people?

Can Willow and Mary make it through a world where most people have lost their human decency? There are the government, trappers, hunters, cannibals, and a whole host of people only looking out for themselves.

Will the two even survive the winter?

This is a great book for teens that are fans of survivalism and post-apocalyptic stories but with a new twist; it’s no disease or world war causing this breakdown of society but climate change. You can almost feel the cold by the way in which S.D. Crockett goes into detail about the crunching of snow beneath feet, breath hanging thick in the air, the numbness one can get when subjected to too much cold for too long, and the urgency of being alone of the run.

After the Snow is much more realistic than some teenagers may have read before – it is no Hunger Games or The Uglies. Though different, it is no less of a gem of older teen post-apocalyptic fiction.

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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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