WA Secretary of State Blogs

Border Songs, by Jim Lynch

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 Posted in Washington Reads | No Comments »


U.S. Hardback Knopf - CoverBorder Songs. By Jim Lynch (New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. 291 pp.)

Recommendation submitted by:
Will Stuivenga, Cooperative Projects Manager, Washington State Library, Tumwater, WA.

Jim Lynch’s second novel, Border Songs (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009), follows his enormously popular debut novel, The Highest Tide. In Border Songs, we follow the adventures of a zany and seemingly dysfunctional cast of characters, of which the foremost is Brandon Vanderkool, a dyslexic, six-foot-eight U.S. Border Control guard who keeps a running daily bird watch count in his head, while intuitively ending up in exactly the right spot at the right time to repeatedly catch people crossing the border illegally.

Another unlikely character is Brandon’s barely competent dairy cow farmer father, Norm, who is building a yacht in his garage, but spends most of his time up to his knees in mud , manure, and mastitis, worrying about his wife’s memory loss (it it Alzheimer’s?) while suffering the daily taunts of his Canadian neighbor across the border.

Brandon harbors a crush on the neighbor’s daughter, Madeline, who herself is becoming increasingly caught up in a major marijuana kingpin’s smuggling and growing operations. This naturally makes us (the haplessly amused readers) wonder if Brandon’s border sensitivity and his wished-for girlfriend’s smuggling activities aren’t headed for a catastrophic confrontation of some sort. Will it be a romantic conclusion, or the seemingly inevitable police action?

This seriocomic novel truly takes us to the ultimate Northwest, both in physical location (the NW corner of the NW region of the U.S. lower 48) and its cultural implications. The book is a highly entertaining must-read for anyone even remotely interested in the contemporary NW literary scene.

ISBN: 9-780-30727117-4

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.6 LYNCH 2009
Available as an eBook, as a Braille edition, and as a talking book.

The Hamlet Trap

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013 Posted in Washington Reads | No Comments »


HamletThe Hamlet Trap. By Kate Wilhelm. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.)

Recommendation submitted by:
Will Stuivenga, Cooperative Projects Manager, Washington State Library, Tumwater, WA.

For the mystery fan who is also a theater buff, this is the perfect book! Set in Ashland, Oregon, not in the famous Shakespeare Festival proper, but in another nearby theater that specializes in anything other than the Bard, two people end up dead, and police suspicion falls on Ginnie, the talented set designer, who also just happens to be the theater’s owner/producer/impresario’s niece. A retired New York City detective and his Ph.D. psychologist wife are sent in to find the true culprit, and save the day. Well written, with great character development, as per usual with author Kate Wilhelm, this NW mystery is just the ticket for anyone who might have overlooked it back when it first came out.

ISBN: 0-312-94000-9

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.6 WILWELM 1987
Available as an eBook, or as a Braille edition.
Not available as a talking book.

Intrigue and Adventure in the Cave of Secrets

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 Posted in Washington Reads | 1 Comment »


Cave of Secrets. By Hal Burton. Lilliwaup, Washington: Hal Burton Publishing, 2002. 224 p.

Recommendation submitted by:
Will Stuivenga, Cooperative Projects Manager, Washington State Library, Tumwater, WA.

Place, specifically the Olympic coast “north of Grays Harbor County, where US Highway 101 turns inland and most of the coastal region along the shores of the Pacific is accessible only by old logging roads and hiking trails” plays a major role in this regional novel. According to the book’s Prologue:

It is speculated, though never proven, that the first explorers to the coastal region of Washington were monks from China. Several accounts have been found in Chinese court records that tell of missionary trips to the Aleutian Islands and as far south as Baja, California.

And on one of those mythical accounts, dating from 499 AD, hangs this tale of adventure and treasure. First off, the story briefly recreates the actual expedition, and what it might have been like for those early intrepid travelers from another continent. Then we shift rapidly to 1981, as Chuck Coolridge, UW PhD student in ancient Chinese history, having found some tantalizing historical records in Taiwan, mounts an expedition to try and locate any possible remnants of the original expedition these many hundreds of years later.

Further complicating the story is the mystery, never solved, of a young man who went missing on the very same stretch of Olympic Peninsula coastline back in the late 60’s. Two of his friends from the time, being familiar with the area, are recruited to help with the current search. Throw in a nosy Seattle newspaper reporter, and a spy working for the current Chinese government (!), and these disparate factors combine for a fast-paced adventure story.

Libraries and librarians often tend to look down their collective noses at self-published books such as this one, and not entirely without justification. While the writing in this book does not always measure up to sophisticated reader’s expectations, the intriguing nature of the story line soon draws the reader in, and the action and suspense carry you on through.

ISBN: 0-9725707-0-5

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.6 BURTON 2002.
Available in an eBook edition
Not available as a talking book, or as a Braille edition.

Paranormal mystery surrounds tragedy in Gregg Olsen’s Envy

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012 Posted in Washington Reads | No Comments »


Envy: An Empty Coffin Novel (Book 1). By Gregg Olsen. New York : Splinter, 2011. 285 p.

Recommendation by:
Rand Simmons, Acting Washington State Librarian, Tumwater, WA.

It begins with a suicide. A young girl, Katelyn, depressed and lonely, slips into a tub of water. Or, was it murder?
Katelyn’s childhood friends, Hayley and Taylor Ryan suspect the latter and set about to prove it so. The twins are the children of a true crime writer and a psychiatric nurse. But, they have gifts beyond those they have learned from dinner table conversation.

Set in Port Gamble, Washington author Gregg Olsen explores the dark side of this company town. The first in Olsen’s Empty Coffin series this is a good read for teens, especially girls ages 15-16. It may well appeal to a wider audience of murder mystery lovers.

Once you’ve read Envy you will hunger for the next in the series, Betrayal.

Editor’s Note: This book was selected by the Washington State Library for the 2012 National Book Festival, held in Washington D. C.

ISBN-10: 1402789572

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.6 OLSEN 2011
Available as an eReader edition and as a downloadable talking book.
Not available as a Braille edition.

High desert hardships and romantic conflict in Little Century

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012 Posted in Washington Reads | No Comments »


Little Century: A Novel. By Anna Keesey. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. 336 p.)

Recommendation by:
Carolyn Petersen, CLRS Project Manager, Tumwater, WA.

18 year old Chicago born Esther Chambers found herself entering a different world when she accepted her cousin’s offer of help after her mother’s death.  The vast emptiness of the high desert of Oregon where her cousin’s cattle ranch is located challenges her.

Even though the year is 1900 a range war between the sheep men and the cattlemen still divides the tiny settlement of Century.  Esther finds herself drawn to two men, each on a different side of the conflict.

Anna Keesey’s debut literary novel paints a lyrical picture of the settling of Eastern Oregon.  Readers will find the characters fully realized and the story compelling.

ISBN-13: 978-0374192044

 

Eli and Charlie ride from Oregon to dispatch a miner

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 Posted in Washington Reads | 2 Comments »


The Sisters Brothers. By Patrick deWitt.
New York: Ecco, 2011. 328 p.

Recommendation by:
Carolyn Petersen, CLRS Project Manager, Tumwater, WA.

In The  Sisters Brothers author Patrick deWitt has produced a darkly comic tour of the Old West. Brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters are hit men who work for an enigmatic boss.  The story begins in 1850’s Oregon City when the brothers receive orders from the “Commodore” to kill a man who is working a mining claim outside of Sacramento.

As they journey to find this man, they encounter a witch, a bear, a parlor full of drunken floozies, and a gang of murderous fur trappers.  These encounters allow deWitt to explore the human costs of the clichés of the Old West. This revisionist and subversive western tale received much critical acclaim.

ISBN-13: 978-0062041265

 

Available at WSL, NW 813.6 DEWITT 2011
Available in talking book or Digital Book editions.
Not available in a Braille edition.
Title contains adult themes.

Arson, cursed bones, and an old fridge make for intrigue in Breach of Duty

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 Posted in Washington Reads | No Comments »


Breach of Duty: A J.P. Beaumont Mystery. By J.A. Jance. (New York: Avon Books, 1999. 384 p.)

Recommendation submitted by:
Will Stuivenga, Cooperative Projects Manager, Washington State Library, Tumwater, WA.

This is mystery writer J.A. Jance’s 14th Seattle-based J.P. Beaumont police procedural. In it, Beaumont is investigating the arson murder of a woman whose death would not have been particularly noteworthy, if $300,000 had not been found hidden in an old refrigerator in her garage.

Meanwhile, a Native American woman, who happens to be a professor of physics at the University of Washington, shows up and warns Beaumont and his partner of a powerful curse. It seems that someone has stolen the bones of an important shaman and bad things start happening to those who handle them, as predicted.

Meantime the chief of police retires, and his replacement is a co-worker of Beaumont whose dislike for him is heartily reciprocated. Oh, and did I mention that Beaumont’s current partner, Sue Danielson by name, divorced mother of two, is worried because her deadbeat ex is coming to town?

Talk about a plot with lots of complications and disparate story lines! Jance weaves all of these lines together throughout various seedy locations of the greater Seattle area. For those who enjoy well-written – if slightly superficial – police-procedural style mysteries set in Seattle, J.A. Jance and J.P. Beaumont could easily become a habit!

 

ISBN: 0-380-97406-1

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.6 JANCE 1999.
Available in eReader, Braille, Large Type and Audiobook (Cassette, Digital Book) editions

“A most peculiar book”

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 Posted in Washington Reads | No Comments »


The Clear Cut Future. Edited by Clear Cut Press (Astoria, Oregon: Clear Cut Press, 2003. 528 p.)

Recommendation submitted by:
Will Stuivenga, Cooperative Projects Manager, Washington State Library, Tumwater, WA.

This is a most peculiar book, to misquote singer songwriter Paul Simon. First off, there’s its unusual size: 5 ¾ inches by 4 inches, and about an inch thick. Second, the contents. The book is a wild mélange of essays, criticism, short stories, excerpts from novels, poetry, photo essays, and the like by a variety of authors, whose only commonality appears to be that they are mostly from the Pacific Northwest, although that is never stated, and may not even be true. But many of the items contained in the book have NW settings, themes, or connections.

The quality of the various components arbitrarily concatenated here also varies wildly. The most entertaining and thought provoking include the title piece, which is a photo essay by Robert Adams, Corrina Wycoff’s short story “The Adjunct” and Pravin Jain’s essay “Capitalism Inside an Organization.” The latter provides an insightful glimpse into the workings of the Enron Corporation and some of its NW connections. “The Adjunct” describes the nightmarish existence of an instructor of first-year college writing courses who has to shuttle from campus to campus with never enough hours to complete her work, all to earn a barely subsistence-level “living.” The “Clear Cuts” photography consists of photos depicting exactly what the title says.

Also rich in NW verismo is Casey Sanchez’s “As Bad as It Comes, as Good as It Gets: Canning Salmon in Alaska,” which describes the social and economic phenomena, as well as the actual day to day rigors of traveling to the north country and working in a fish packing plant. The least readable, for me personally, were the academically absurdist writings of The Office for Soft Architecture.
If you are a fan of anything and everything NW, or if you like experimental writing and the good old fashioned avant-garde, you’ll definitely want to check out this book. Otherwise, you needn’t bother.

ISBN: 0-9723234-1-4

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.5408 CLEAR C 2003
Not available in eReader, Braille, or Audiobook editions
View other works by Clear Cut Press

Criss-cross the Pacific Northwest with Charley and Lean on Pete.

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011 Posted in Washington Reads | No Comments »


Lean on Pete.  By Willy Vlautin. New York : Harper Perennial, c2010. 277 p.

Recommendation by:
Carolyn Petersen, CLRS Project Manager, Tumwater, WA.

Vivid character development distinguishs this latest book from novelist Willy Vlautin.  15 year old Charley Thompson just wants the normal life of a teenager.  He longs for the opportunity to play football and go to high school.  When his father moves him from Spokane to Portland, he hopes for better luck than his down and out dad has had previously.

After Charley’s dad more or less abandons him, Charley lands a job working with horses at a nearby racetrack.  There he develops a strong bond with a broken down racehorse with the improbable name of Lean on Pete.   When Lean on Pete is threatened with destruction, Charley decides to save both of them.

He and Lean on Pete will travel to Charley’s only living relative in Wyoming.  Individuals who appreciate a spare and intense writing style will find it in this book.  As one critic puts it “Willy Vlautin plumbs the depths of despair but finally rewards you with redemption.”

ISBN-13: 9780061456534

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.6 VLAUTIN 2010
Available as an eReader edition.
Not available in Braille or Audiobook editions.

Many become one in an experiment at the Hotel Angeline

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011 Posted in Washington Reads | No Comments »


Hotel Angeline: A Novel in 36 Voices. New York, NY : Open Road Integrated Media, 2011. 256 p.

Recommendation submitted by:
Sean Lanksbury, NW and Special Collections Librarian, Washington State Library, and as a first foray into eBook reading . . . on a 9 cm smartphone screen, no less!

Thirty-six Pacific Northwest writers stepped into the Cabaret at Richard Hugo House to contribute a single chapter during The Novel: Live! – a week-long onstage writing event in front of a live audience and writing overlord/librarian Nancy Pearl. All the profits from the event benefited nonprofit organizations making a difference through literacy programs and support of the local arts.

In the end, Seattle’s Capitol Hill District plays canvas to this exquisite corpse of a novel, Hotel Angeline.  The story follows fourteen-year-old Alexis Austin, the daughter of an absent matriarch to a band of misfit progressives in a former mortuary converted into low-income apartments, and the trouble that they face after uncovering a plot to sell the hotel. As the plot progresses, the whorl of intrigue surrounding Alexis’ mother and long-gone father deepen and the heroine battles her own identity issues while she is forced to faster than she had anticipated.

You can sense that the deadline, structure, and subject matter forced many of the authors outside of their comfort zones. In the end the characterizations are pretty consistent and a solid and engaging – if sometimes overreaching – storyline emerges. There is plenty of each writer’s style present, while from chapter-to-chapter the narrative voice stays surprisingly consistent.  Not all chapters are created equal, and understanding the conditions surrounding the storytelling provides the reader insight necessary to appreciate the story’s many charms. Quite a feat, really.

One caution:  Despite the coming-of-age themes, this book is not necessarily intended for children or young teens, as there is plenty of adult language and subject matter in the story.

Chapter 1 / Jeannie Shortridge — Chapter 2 / Teri Hein — Chapter 3 / William Dietrich — Chapter 4 / Kathleen Alcalá — Chapter 5 / Maria Dahvana Headley — Chapter 6 / Stacey Levine — Chapter 7 / Indu Sundaresan — Chapter 8 / Craig Welch — Chapter 9 / Matthew Amster-Burton — Chapter 10 / Ed Skoog — Chapter 11 / David Lasky and Greg Stump — Chapter 12 / Kevin O’Brien — Chapter 13 / Nancy Rawles — Chapter 14 / Suzanne Selfors — Chapter 15 / Carol Cassella — Chapter 16 / Karen Finneyfrock — Chapter 17 / Robert Dugoni — Chapter 18 / Jarret Middleton — Chapter 19 / Deb Caletti — Chapter 20 / Kevin Emerson — Chapter 21 / Kit Bakke — Chapter 22 / Julia Quinn — Chapter 23 / Mary Guterson — Chapter 24 / Erik Larson — Chapter 25 / Garth Stein — Chapter 26 / Frances McCue — Chapter 27 / Erica Bauermeister — Chapter 28 / Sean Beaudoin — Chapter 29 / Dave Boling — Chapter 30 / Peter Mountford — Chapter 31 / Stephanie Kallos — Chapter 32 / Jamie Ford — Chapter 33 / Clyde Ford — Chapter 34 / Elizabeth George — Chapter 35 / Susan Wiggs
Available at WSL, NW 813.6 Hotel A 2011
Available as an eBook.
Not available in talking book or Braille editions.