My Last Continent by Midge Raymond

Find in catalogA trip to Antarctica usually starts from Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. It’s motto, “fin del mundo, principio de todo” – “end of the world, beginning of everything” – becomes a recurring theme in Oregon author Midge Raymond’s new novel, “My Last Continent.”

Part love story, part wild adventure, the book skips forward and back in time through the events leading up to the irresponsible and harrowing wreck of a large cruise ship in the inhospitable, iceberg infested, waters of Antarctica.

Raymond takes on the challenge of writing from the first person point of view of an extreme introvert with mixed success. The intended story line follows a penguin researcher, Deb, in her rocky romance with fellow Antarctica enthusiast, Keller, which is echoed in the marital breakdown of a tourist couple on board their ship.  But the real protagonist of the story is Antarctica itself.  It’s in her vivid descriptions of the eerie, isolated beauty of the last continent that Raymond’s book really comes alive.  And the scenes elsewhere are dreary and boring in comparison, such as when Deb returns to her off-season job at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

Raymond also spends a fair amount of time on the ecological threats of increased tourism. In one memorable scene, Deb tells a passenger, “There are two kinds of people who come to Antarctica. Those who have run out of places to go, and those who have run out of places to hide.” – Connie Bennett, Library Director

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Avenging the Owl by Melissa Hart

Find in catalogA couple of years ago, I enjoyed reviewing the memoir “Wild Within,” in which Melissa Hart tells of being transplanted from California to Eugene, then working as a volunteer at Cascade Raptor Center while falling in love and creating her family. Her new offering, “Avenging the Owl,” covers similar territory in a lively, well-crafted book for middle graders.

Our protagonist is seventh grader Solo Hahn. (As he constantly has to explain, his mom was a big time Star Wars fan.) Solo, an aspiring film writer who loved surfing the California waves with his buddies, is now stuck in a stuffy trailer in Oregon. His parents are attempting a life reset due to his father’s mental illness and attempted suicide. Even worse, the one saving grace of his new home – his pet kitten – is killed by a wild owl. Now he’s stuck doing community service at the raptor center.

Hart’s writing, in Solo’s first-person voice, rings true. It’s perfectly paced for this multi-layered coming of age story. The lessor characters – Solo’s parents, the neighboring family, the raptor center staff – are realistically flawed, and generous, and human. Even Solo’s sworn enemy, the owl, has something to teach him. Though the Oregon town is never named, the detailed descriptions of streets, raptor center – and even the public library – will be well familiar to anyone who knows Eugene.

In the end, Hart’s intense and moving tale of redemption and hope satisfies readers with a surprisingly moving conclusion. Or as Solo would say, in one of his screen plays, “Fade Out.” – Connie Bennett, Library Director

Breadcrumbs by Anna Ursu

Find in catalogBreadcrumbs is a hopeful, voice-driven narrative that wraps itself up neatly in a bundle of happy endings. (Thank you Anne Ursu, for saving the little–well, I shouldn’t spoil it, now should I?) Best thing? All the relatable real-life tidbits in fairy tale form. Things like the parents that attempt to keep their “children” safe by turning them into flowers. What could be better? There’s a few words that seem to be thrown in just to boost the vocab level and don’t fit the voice. Plus a large helping of adverbs as well as some similes that detract from rather than add to the image. Still. Those critiques don’t detract from the fact that overall, it’s an uplifting, enjoyable narrative.

Fragile Beasts by Tawni O’Dell

Find in catalogUpon the death of their father, teenage brothers Kyle and Klint face the unhappy prospect of living with a mother who abandoned them years earlier, or staying with Candace Jack, an eccentric elderly woman who breeds bulls for bull fighting. Miss Jack is a stranger, but the boys distrust their mother and they want to stay in their hometown, so they move into the Jack mansion. Miss Jack and her farm hand Luis are steeped in the culture of Spain and the art of bull fighting. This unlikely group of people come to love one another and form a family of sorts. This book is written with a great deal of humor and heart. The audio version is especially enjoyable. It is the best work of fiction I read this summer.

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

Find in catalogSet during the Nazi reign, this story depicts the struggling friendship of two young women taking refuge in a traveling German circus. Astrid is Jewish, and Noa brought a Jewish infant with her, rescued from a boxcar of babies being shipped to a concentration camp. Astrid and Noa both have secrets from their past, but must learn to trust one another, trying to stay safe in the air as they practice their aerialist act, and safe in the circus family. They each have chapters in the book, telling their stories of danger, romance, sadness and hope. I found Kristin Hannah’s novel of this period, “The Nightingale,” more moving emotionally, and perhaps more memorable. This author, Pam Jenoff, is a lawyer, past diplomat, mother, and teacher – very accomplished. The book is well-researched and sometimes engaging, but doesn’t fully convey Jenoff’s passion for her subject material, as described in her notes at the end.

Approaching Winter by Floyd Skloot

Find in catalogSubdued and almost melancholy, this collection of poems feels more like a collection of short stories. Each one of Skloot’s poems opens up a bit of world, character, or memory; or leads us into a future unafraid, but wary. I quite enjoyed reading these poems, even though I’m not regularly a poetry reader. I also liked the fact that the poet was from Oregon. (And his name is pretty neat too!)

Wonder by E.J. Palacio

Find in catalogWonder is about a boy who was homeschooled during his childhood due to numerous corrective surgeries for a rare facial deformity. The story kicks off when he starts attending middle school and centers on his and his family adjustment to school. Overall, it is about how different people deal with different people. I’m happy to hear about this book becoming a movie, since I think it is important for everyone to learn the wonder is our differences.

Say No to Joe? by Lori Foster

Find in catalogAs is the case with most Lori Foster books, I devoured it in no time and didn’t want it to end, and found that I had yet again read a series out of order. Sometimes names run together and I don’t realize until I am into the book that this has characters I already know and like. Foster is a reader’s dream writing rich complex characters and fun dialog. She must have a large board in her office just to keep characters relationships straight. I like the way you get to know a whole town and then more about various professions as you peek in the personal lives of the citizens of whatever town she is enveloping. In Say No to Joe? the reader is rooting for ladies man Joe Winston who trades barbs and passion with Luna who tries to steer clear of his charms while still needing his professional help as a body guard of sorts. He has met his match and his life is about to change in every way possible and he’d have it no other way. Good read. Adult with sweet family moments.

Cruel Winter by Sheila Connolly

Find in catalogThe story line was interesting, but the dialog was way over done. During the heart of the story, about every 5 pages would repeat the information. It annoyed me to the point of not enjoying the book… and yet I finished it. Cold case murders are always hard to let go!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Find i catalogThis book was an incredible reflection on an important part of civil rights and medical research and development. This is a unique combination of subjects; on one side the very heart of humanity and equality and on the other a supposedly objective and clinical scientific approach to the improvement of life. I think the light this author was able to shed on depths of racial inequalities is critical to understanding how racial and gender tensions affected so much of life. I have never before thought that transparency is so important in science. While I was studying science in college, I was always taught that science (and medicine) was empirically objective; that facts aren’t tainted by race, gender, etc. I’ve learned since that that is not so; science and medicine are performed by humans who are flawed with their own prejudices to their work. Henrietta’s life was dramatically affected by the color of her skin; she got second rate treatment at a second rate hospital. She deserved better from her doctors and the society that she was an honest and hard worker for. Her case brought up the facts of medical transparency and honest medicine as well; her doctor took tissue samples from her for profit without her knowledge and consent. Her incredible cells from that sample live on making amazing leaps of scientific discoveries and have been a priceless additional to medical research, but what about the person behind those cells, behind those discoveries? Her story and that of her family deserve a place of respect and integrity, and this book does that. It makes an attempt to even out the balance of scientific improvement and making the civil aspects of our society better.