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Book Review | Witch King by Martha Wells

From the publisher: After being murdered, his consciousness dormant and unaware of the passing of time while confined in an elaborate water trap, Kai wakes to find a lesser mage attempting to harness Kai’s magic to his own advantage. That was never going to go well. But why was Kai imprisoned in the first place? What has changed in the world since his assassination? And why does the Rising World Coalition appear to be growing in influence? Kai will need to pull his allies close and draw on all his pain magic if he is to answer even the least of these questions. He’s not going to like the answers. I love Martha Wells. It is not an exaggeration to say that her Murderbot Diaries series helped me get through the pandemic with my sanity intact. The Murderbot Diaries series is science fiction; Witch King is fantasy. But it is Read more »

Book Review | Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer

From the publisher: Years ago, a reclusive mega-bestselling children’s author quit writing under mysterious circumstances. Suddenly he resurfaces with a brand-new book and a one-of-a-kind competition, offering a prize that will change the winner’s life in this absorbing and whimsical novel. Be careful what you wish for. . . you might just get it.

This lovely little novel will appeal to any reader who wanted to escape into a children’s book. If you wanted to attend Hogwarts, or visit Narnia, or live in a boxcar, or travel space and time with Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, you might want to check out The Wishing Game.

At its heart, this book is the story of a foster kid and the teacher’s aide who wants to adopt him. Christopher found his parents dead of an overdose; Lucy doesn’t even qualify to foster him, much less adopt him. As an unhappy child, Lucy ran away to the reclusive island home of Jack Masterson, author of the entrancing Clock Island series. She was not alone in wanting to live on his island; his 60-book series appealed to many children. The books featured unhappy children who wished for something and were willing to do the work to make their wishes come true.

Now an adult, Lucy is one of four lucky contestants invited to Jack’s home. After a long barren stretch, he has written one last novel. The four contestants have a chance to win the sole copy and do whatever they want with it. Each of the four contestants has a wish they hope they can fulfill by winning the contest. Also on the island is Hugo, the handsome artist for the series book covers.

Jack, middle-aged, single, childless, and gay, has his own regrets as he realizes that “the amount of sand in the top of my hourglass is far less than the sand in the bottom” (chapter 15 of the advance reader copy). He is mysterious and a bit mad. He has had tragedies in his life, and he has always felt the deepest connection to the children most in love with his books.

This story moved me, touched me, made me laugh, made me cry. Ultimately it is an uplifting read and a story of found families. It reminded me of the best parts of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. In the right hands it will make a terrific movie. I’m definitely putting it on my list to read with the library’s book club after it comes out.

 I read an advance reader copy of The Wishing Game from Netgalley. It is scheduled to be released on May 30 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Book Review | Blighted Stars by Megan E. O’Keefe

From the publisher: Stranded on a dead planet with her mortal enemy, a spy must survive and uncover a conspiracy in the first book of an epic space opera trilogy.

The Blighted Stars is an enemies to lovers story, although it takes a bit of patience to get there. It’s the future. Earth and many other habitable planets have been “shrouded” by a lichen that consumes everything in its path, turning green worlds into grey ones. Humans have developed technology that allows them to die and be reprinted (like on a 3D printer – yeah, I found this concept hard to wrap my head around).

Powerful families rule humanity. Family members have guards, called Exemplars, who are printed with extra pathways that give them strength and skills. Humanity needs a rare substance called relkatite to enable the current way of life. A rebel group believes that the search for relkatite is tied into the ruination of the habitable planets.

Tarquin Mercator, the son of one powerful leader, goes on a mission to claim a planet for humanity, but upon arrival he and the other crew members find the planet is already shrouded. Guarding Tarquin is an Exemplar who appears to be a woman named Aera Lockhart but who is in fact Naira Sharp, his father’s former Exemplar. A member of the rebellion, she was caught, tried, and “put on ice” so she can’t be reprinted – but who has been printed in the body of another for reasons unknown even to her. Although she served Tarquin’s father for many years, she now has reason to hate the whole family.

It’s actually hard to summarize the plot of this book. There is a lot going on, and it goes on for too long before the real action begins about halfway through the book. I found the first couple hundred pages very slow moving. The 3D printing thing is weird. Depending on when you were backed up, you may or may not remember what happened lately if you die. So if, for example, you fall in love with your enemy and are killed before you are backed up, you won’t remember that. Also, if you are killed violently, your neural map “cracks” and you lose your mind and cannot be reprinted. Stuff about the reprinting doesn’t make sense to me (like how a violent death can cause you to crack, and how you can be reprinted in someone else’s body).

I found the plot confusing but also intriguing. There’s a lot of vocabulary that helps with the world building but that needs figuring out. Naira Sharp is a very confident woman. Tarquin Mercator is a bit of a naïf, kept in the dark by his family, an academic who blindly has faith in things he shouldn’t have faith in, but he’s attractive and a nice guy. Their relationship is definitely the highlight of the story, and I’ll probably continue the series just to see what happens there.

I read an advance reader copy of The Blighted Stars. It will be published in late May and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook.

Book Review | To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose

From the publisher: A young Indigenous woman enters a colonizer-run dragon academy—and quickly finds herself at odds with the “approved” way of doing things.

Harry Potter meets Temeraire in this magical-school-with-dragons series launch.

Anequs lives with her people on a remote island, living a life her people have lived for many generations. They have an uneasy relationship with the Anglish, conquerors who see Anequs and her people as uncivilized barbarians. To have a dragon is a rare thing, and there has been no dragon among her people for many years. She finds a dragon egg, and the hatchling bonds with her. Her brother, who has left the island, tells her, “There’s a ministry for dragons. The Anglish have a ministry for everything. Dragons are supposed to be registered, and dragoneers need to be tested to prove they’re competent, because dragons are dangerous. There’s going to be trouble with the law if you don’t enroll in an academy.” (p. 27 of the advance reader copy)

An Indigenous person with a dragon is not something the Anglish dragoneers approve of, but there are some individuals working to change perceptions of the Indigenous people, and Anequs is reluctantly enrolled in an Anglish dragon school. Only one other girl is enrolled, and only one boy from an Indigenous people.

The world building is slow. You might even say languorous. We see what life is like on the island for Anequs and her kin. We hear about their food and drink. We hear their stories. We watch their dances.

Once Anequs makes it to school, the world building is also slow. She is hot tempered and often says and does things that are not wise. Most of her teachers and fellow students don’t want her there. They invent rules for her and the Indigenous boy. Everyone assumes she knows things about Anglish school that she does not. But she is also smart and clever, and she learns despite the odds against her.

I enjoyed To Shape a Dragon’s Breath very much, while also finding it a bit slow. Its strengths include world building, character development, and diverse representation. But there is also virtually no action until the end of the book, there are a LOT of new words/altered words to figure out, the author is fond of telling instead of showing, and some of the ideas she is trying to get across are repeated over and over. Still, I recommend it and look forward to the sequel.

I read an advance reader copy of To Shape a Dragon’s Breath. It will be published on May 9 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in multiple formats.

From the Children’s Room — April 2023

Check out these awesome new science books that just arrived in the Children’s Room! Put one on hold today. Then join us on Wednesday, April 19 at 6 pm for Get Charged! Family STEM Night. We’ll learn about electricity and circuits through fun hands-on activities. Recommended for kids ages 5 and up accompanied by an adult. Advance registration is required. You can drop by the Children’s Room to register, call (309) 343-6118, or email children@galesburglibrary.org

The Monkey Trial: John Scopes and the Battle Over Teaching Evolution by Anita Sanchez

Revealing little-known facts about the fight to teach evolution in schools, this riveting account of the dramatic 1925 Scopes Trial (aka “the Monkey Trial”) speaks directly to today’s fights over what students learn, the tension between science and religion, the influence of the media on public debate, and the power of one individual to change history.

Arrested? For teaching? John Scopes’s crime riveted the world, and crowds flocked to the trial of the man who dared to tell students about a forbidden topic—evolution.

The year was 1925, and discussing Darwin’s theory of evolution was illegal in Tennessee classrooms. Lawyers wanted to challenge the law, and businessmen smelled opportunity. But no one imagined the firestorm the Scopes Trial would ignite—or the media circus that would follow.

As reporters, souvenir-hawking vendors, angry protestors, and even real monkeys mobbed the courthouse, a breathless public followed the action live on national radio broadcasts. All were fascinated by the bitter duel between science and religion, an argument that boiled down to the question of who controls what students can learn—an issue that resonates to this day.


How Old is a Whale? Animal Life Spans from the Mayfly to the Immortal Jellyfish by Lily Murray, illustrated by Jesse Hodgson

We are all on Earth but for a fleeting moment, yet no two lives are the same. From the delicate mayfly, which lives for just a few precious hours, to the death-defying immortal jellyfish, this book about animal life cycles is a celebration of creatures big and small.

Beautifully written by best-selling children’s author Lily Murray, this book explores life spans across the animal kingdom, beginning with the very shortest and ending with the longest. Learn about the lives of the incredible monarch butterfly, the mysterious axolotl, the grand Galápagos tortoise, and many more in this uplifting and eye-opening book. Discover creatures who are born within a day of their mothers and others who stay infantile for almost one hundred years.


The Egg Book: See How Baby Animals Hatch, Step by Step! by Robert Burton

Learn about the remarkable beginnings of life with this adorable book of baby animals hatching from their eggs.

Find out all about how eggs hatch step by step in this fascinating baby animal book for children. Many animals start life inside eggs and this book explores these magical capsules in detail, with stunning photographs of the moment the creatures emerge.

Featuring more than 20 animals – including a penguin, a tortoise, and even a slug – this book documents the moment of hatching in detail. Children aged 5-7 can learn how birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates hatch from their eggs, as well as what happens inside an egg’s shell.


Eat Your Rocks, Croc!: Dr. Glider’s Advice for Troubled Animals by Jess Keating, illustrated by Pete Oswald

When animals have problems, they call on Dr. Sugar Glider to help!

Help me, Dr. Glider. My stomach is killing me! I eat all the same food as my family, but I’m the only one that feels sick. What’s wrong with me?

Dr. Sugar Glider travels around the world to help animals (and, on occasion, plants!) with all sorts of problems. Whether it’s a crocodile with a sick stomach, a creeped-out krill, a stressed meerkat, or a male praying mantis trying to date, Dr. Glider is ready to offer advice!

From powerhouse duo Jess Keating (Pink Is for Blobfish) and New York Times bestselling illustrator Pete Oswald (The Bad Seed), Eat Your Rocks, Croc! features hilarious stories, charming illustrations, and awesome true facts that will leave young readers enthralled by the real world of the animal kingdom. Robust back matter, featuring a glossary and a list of the featured creatures, makes this the perfect fit for the school curriculum.


Okapis by Joyce Markovics

This high-interest narrative nonfiction title introduces young readers to okapis–rare giraffe-like animals that live in African forests–and an amazing scientist who studies them. This book is packed with exciting wildlife encounters, basic facts about okapis, and first-hand accounts from a scientist at work in the field. Each book includes a table of contents, sidebars, glossary of key words, fast facts, index, and author biography.

All book descriptions courtesy of the publisher.

Book Review | Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee

From the publisher: Ester’s family was torn apart when a manticore killed her mother and brother, leaving her with nothing but her father’s painful silence and an overwhelming need to kill the monsters that took her family. Ester’s path leads her to the King’s Royal Mews, where the giant rocs of legend are flown to hunt manticores by their brave and dedicated ruhkers. Paired with a fledgling roc named Zahra, Ester finds purpose and acclaim by devoting herself to a calling that demands absolute sacrifice and a creature that will never return her love.

This is a delightful little morsel of a tale, an entire story arc in less than 200 pages. I love fantasy, but so often a series is such a commitment, hundreds if not thousands of pages to get the whole story. Untethered Sky delighted me because it’s short, immersive, and complete.

This is a woman telling her personal story, not an author laying the foundations for her fantasy world, so everything is not spelled out, every element of the world is not detailed. There is grief, loss, growth, acceptance, friendship, love, all laid out in what feels slower than seems possible in a short novella. The most significant relationship the main character has with another human is not with the handsome and powerful prince but a gruff and awkward fellow ruhker.

I like how the author evokes both dragons and falcons in her depiction of rocs and their handlers:

“A bird as large as a roc is not elegant in takeoff or landing. Minu was a maelstrom of feathers and mad exertion as her massive wings pummeled the air. Darius had chosen this spot for its higher elevation, which made it easier for her to get airborne. Minu spread her wings and rode the downslope of the land, gaining speed, nearly skimming the ground. She pumped hard, once, twice, three times, flattening the grass below with the wind, and caught an air current that lifted her up and away from us in a straight line. When she was far enough to be a small silhouette, she curved in a long arc and circled back toward us. Darius watched her with one hand shielding his eyes. I watched too, my heart in my throat at her beauty.”

I have not read Fonda Lee before, but I will certainly seek out other titles by her based on this novella. If you are looking for a short immersive read that will probably make you wish a whole series will follow, I recommend Untethered Sky. I read an advance reader copy from Netgalley.

Untethered Sky is scheduled to be published on April 11, 2023 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in multiple formats.

Book Review | Return to Satterthwaite Court by Mimi Matthews

From the publisher: A reckless Victorian heiress sets her sights on a dashing ex-naval lieutenant, determined to win his heart as the two of them embark on a quest to solve a decades-old mystery in Mimi Matthews’s sequel to her critically acclaimed novels The Work of Art and Gentleman Jim.

Return to Satterthwaite Court is an unexpected sequel by Mimi Matthews. She wrote two romance novels set in Somerset, England that took place in the same decade. She hadn’t intended to write a series – then she got the idea to write a novel set 20 years later involving the children of the original pairs. For fans of The Work of Art and Gentleman Jim, this is a fun chance to revisit two charming couples with complicated (and even scandalous) courtships.

I got about a quarter of the way into Return to Satterthwaite Court before I decided I needed to set it aside and reread The Work of Art. After I finished that book, I read another quarter of Satterthwaite Court and decided I needed to reread Gentleman Jim. Both were as good as I remembered.

Return to Satterthwaite Court is sweet and satisfying, but considerably less fraught than the first two books. There just really are (spoiler) no obstacles to a happily-ever-after for Kate Beresford and Charles Heywood. She’s a little wild; he’s a little staid, with a touch of trauma from his service in the Navy. The title of the book itself is a spoiler, as the lost family estate of Satterthwaite Court plays a large part in the plot. The book opens with a delightful scene involving a stray dog that is a nod to Georgette Heyer. Dogs and other animals can really brighten up the plots of historical romance, and Matthews does a good job modeling the incomparable Heyer. I also enjoyed her Author’s Note containing additional historical information about some of the things that happen in the book.

The heroine of The Work of Art is known for having one blue eye and one brown eye, and in Return to Satterthwaite Court, her daughter is revealed as having the same. This seemed an unnecessary addition; heterochromia is extremely rare and it’s a condition that is unlikely to be passed down to a child. It certainly didn’t seem necessary for the child to have the same arresting physical characteristic as her parent. But that’s a minor complaint.

Now that one sequel has been written, it’s clear that a number of young people introduced in this novel have romance awaiting them in future books. I’ll read them all.

I was given a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

The book is scheduled to be published April 11, and the Galesburg Public Library will own it. The library already owns the first two books.

NEA Big Read Returns for 2023!

This April, the Galesburg Public Library will host its 15th National Endowment for the Arts Big Read!

The Big Read annually provides support to selected libraries and nonprofits around the country to host community-wide reading programs, each designed around a single NEA Big Read title. Organizations apply for funding through a grants program managed by Arts Midwest, and can receive a grant between $5,000 and $20,000. This year, the Galesburg Public Library was 1 of 62 organizations to be awarded a grant. Every year, the Galesburg Public Library gives out free copies of the Big Read title, as well as free copies of the teen and children’s tie-in titles, and hosts book discussions, cultural and musical events, and craft programs, all designed around the themes in the Big Read title. The NEA Big Read in Galesburg is presented in partnership with the Galesburg Public Library Foundation and the Galesburg Community Art Center, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The 2023 Big Read title is Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. Yu is a Taiwanese American writer and screenwriter. Interior Chinatown tells the story of a young Asian American man trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood, and the discrimination he faces and he is continually relegated to the bit character of “Generic Asian Man”. The book, written as a screenplay, tackles themes of race, stereotyping, and pop culture. In addition to Interior Chinatown, we have a teen tie-in novel, Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao, and a children’s tie-in book, Front Desk by Kelly Yang. A limited number of free copies of both books are available, and we will have discussion of each of them in April.

We will launch our National Endowment for the Arts Big Read program with an improv comedy show at The Orpheum Theatre on Saturday, April 1 at 8:00 PM. The kick-off event will feature Stir Friday Night, the longest-running Asian American comedy team in Chicago. Alumni of Stir Friday Night include Danny Pudi from Community, Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead, and Mary Sohn from AP Bio. The group will perform their newest show, the Improvised Martial Art Movie, a 60 minute completely improvised fight choreography experience. The show is free, and is rated PG-13 and geared towards adults. Free copies of Interior Chinatown will be given away, as well as copies of the tie-in books while supplies last.

The Big Read will run the entire month of April, and will feature many other exciting events. On Thursday, April 27 at 6:30 PM, join us for a presentation by Dr. Ada Cheng, an educator-turned artist, storyteller, and creator. Dr. Cheng will weave personal stories to highlight the myth of the model minority, the negative impact of stereotypes on Asian Americans and their mental health during the pandemic, and the various laws and regulations that have contributed to the construction of Asian Americans as the “other”. The event is free and open to all ages. For adults, there will be several craft events, all led by the Galesburg Community Arts Center. These include a clay workshop and an ink bonsai tree class. Each week during April, Xiaoqi Wu of Eastern Therapeutic will lead four sessions of her intermediate tai chi routine upstairs at the library. The classes are free and open to anyone, but aimed toward people who have done tai chi before. There are also several opportunities to discuss Interior Chinatown with others who have read it.

For teens, there will be a paper lantern making craft night, as well as a discussion Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao. Children can check out the Standish Park Storywalk to read The Ugly Vegetable by Grace Lin, and read and discuss Front Desk by Kelly Yang. There will also be a Big Read kids kickoff event on Tuesday, April 11 at 6:00 PM, where children will be able to taste Chinese treats made by a local Chinese restaurant, and will read stories about Chinese food and do themed crafts.

If you’ve never participated in the Galesburg NEA Big Read before, we hope you’ll pick up a copy of Interior Chinatown, and attend a book discussion or craft event! If you are a regular Big Read attendee, we can’t wait to show you what we have in store for this year. If you have any questions about the Big Read, contact Eileen Castro at eileen.castro@galesburglibrary.org or 309-343-6118 ext. 6. The NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

Book Review | Play the Fool by Lina Chern

From the publisher: A cynical tarot card reader seeks to uncover the truth about her friend’s mysterious death in this delightfully clever whodunit.

Play the Fool is a screwball comedy/mystery about a new adult trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life in the Chicago suburbs. Katie True has a mysterious and fascinating friend, a throwaway job at a Russian tchotchke shop at the mall, and a family with normal family issues. When she accidentally sees a photo of her friend, dead, and starts investigating, an attractive cop enters her life as well.

As a suburban Chicagoan myself, I enjoyed the setting. The main character even mentioned one of my favorite places, the Bristol Renaissance Faire on the Illinois/Wisconsin border! The library plays an important part in Katie’s investigation, always happy to see props from authors. The narrator is most definitely too stupid to live at times, as she is careless with her safety as she tries to figure out who killed her friend. Her relationship with her autistic brother is sweet and her rocky relationship with her sister believable.

Katie reads tarot cards, taught by her Aunt Rosie as a child, and is constantly both dealing and consulting her tarot cards and comparing situations to them. I’m not familiar with a tarot deck, so this meant less to me than it might to some readers, but they are a winsome touch that help define Katie. The book cover is very eye-catching.

The mystery is not terribly mysterious, and there is never any real sense of danger, but the cast of characters is fun. I sense a sequel in the future. I read an advance reader copy of Play the Fool from Netgalley.

It is scheduled to be released on March 28 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Pi(e) Day!

On March 14, library staff enjoyed a pie bake off to celebrate Pi Day.  Pi Day, a celebration of the mathematical constant π, is observed on March 14 since 3, 1, and 4 are the first three significant digits of π.

Four tasty pies were presented and circulation services assistant, Kaitlin, prevailed as winner with her blackberry pie! Upon winning the coveted traveling cooking contest trophy, Kaitlin explained that she’s learning the family tradition of pie making – her grandmother baked two pies a day while working the family farm, feeding all the farm hands at lunch! Enjoy the pie recipes below.

Marilyn Batali’s Blackberry Pie

baked by Kaitlin Hutchcroft *winner*

Opa’s Apple Pie 

baked by Lila Johnson
Crust:
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup cooking oil, preferably olive oilMix together and add:
1/2 – 3/4 cup of water (this is the tricky part, start with 1/2 cup then add sparingly until dough can be rolled; not too sticky to roll but not so dry that it won’t stay together. This will vary based on humidity and the quality of the flour).

Divide the dough. You will use a little more than half to line a 9″ pie pan. Roll it out (easier to do between 2 sheets of waxed paper), then line the pan.  Cut off excess, but leave enough on the edges to crimp. Add leftovers to the remainder of the dough and roll out for the top of the pie.

Filling:
5 cup peeled and sliced tart apple (I used granny smiths, approximately 6 small apples)
1 cup of sugar
1 tbsp of cinnamon

Mix together and put into the bottom crust. Dot with butter.
Top with crust, crimp edges, then slice a couple of vent holes. Sprinkle the top with a little sugar.
Bake at 425 degrees fahrenheit or until golden brown.
Enjoy! We recommend either serving with vanilla ice cream or a slice of sharp cheddar.

Chocolate Cream Pie 

baked by Meghan
from the cookbook Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook: 2,000 Recipes from 20 Years of America’s Most Trusted Cooking Magazine – available through interlibrary loan

Chocolate Pie

baked by Jane Easterly
1. Bake a pie crust.
2. Make a box of pudding (the kind you cook) following the directions on the package.
3. Pour the pudding in the pie crust.
4. Serve with whipped cream or whipped topping.
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