WA Secretary of State Blogs

Beautiful Ruins: A Novel, by Jess Walter.

September 21st, 2016 WSL NW & Special Collections Posted in Washington Reads No Comments »

Beautiful Ruins: A Novel, by Jess Walter. New York: Harper, 2012.

In 1962, a young American movie actress shows up at the remote, obscure, Italian “Hotel Adequate View” thinking that she is dying of cancer. Pasquale, the hotelier, naturally falls in love with her. 50 years later, Pasquale travels to Hollywood, in hopes of finding her again. That’s the story in a nutshell, but there’s so much more!

Beautiful Ruins is Spokane author, Jess Walter’s sixth novel. The story spans 50 years in time, and the novel took 15 years to write, according to the author. The primary venue is a tiny seaside hamlet in Italy, but the story makes brief detours to Hollywood, Seattle, and near the end, Sandpoint, Idaho.

What is the book about? Relationships, of course. Chances for new beginnings, starting over, trying again. Unrequited love, regret, happiness (the pursuit of), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The book bounces back and forth between then and now, and hops around the world, even spending a brief sidebar in Edinburgh, Scotland, of all places. The eventual cast of characters is much broader than we have time to delineate here, but it includes a jaded Hollywood producer and his bright young assistant, a failed rock singer, and a would-be screenwriter, who is trying to sell a script based on the story of the doomed Donner party, of all things, and more.

There is just something about the mood of the book:  wistful and sweet, enigmatic and hopeful, always yearning for something more. And yet at the same time, it’s a complicated story with more characters and moves than a chess game, which it not in the least resembles. Warning: start reading this book, and you’ll be drawn in, in spite of yourself.

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Unattended Death, by Victoria Jenkins.

June 22nd, 2016 WSL NW & Special Collections Posted in Washington Reads No Comments »

An Unattended Death.
By Victoria Jenkins. (Sag Harbor, NY: The Permanent Press, c2012. 214 pp.)

Recommendation submitted by:
Carolyn Petersen, Assistant Program Manager, Library Development

Set in Shelton, WA, the first book, in what may be a new police procedural series, does a good job of capturing the ambiance of this lumber mill town.

When a body is found floating in the Puget Sound slough the investigation of an “unattended death” falls to Irene Chavez. Irene had moved back to Shelton from her job as an LA police detective as she felt Shelton would be a better place to raise her son. As it is August, the county sheriff’s department is short staffed so Irene gets the case. Irene’s  instincts tell her that the death of Anne Paris is a homicide instead a sailboat accident. The more Irene investigates Anne’s upper crust East Coast family and house guests, the more she realizes that many folks had reasons to feel wronged by Anne Paris.

Excellent character development, a strong sense of place, and a well crafted mystery with a totally believable solution make this reader hope that the author will add a second book in this series.

ISBN-13: 978-1579622848

Available in the Pacific Northwest Collection at NW 813.6 JENKINS 2012

Avaialble as an eBook. Not yet available in Talking Book or Braille format.

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Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, by Sunil Yapa.

April 21st, 2016 WSL NW & Special Collections Posted in Articles, Washington Reads No Comments »

your heart is muscle the size of a fistYour Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. By Sunil Yapa. (New York, NY: Lee Boudreaux Books/Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group, 2016. 312 pp.)

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

This is not a nice book. This is not a pleasant book. But it may be an important one. Parts of it are quite horrific, just plain awful. The descriptions of police brutality will curdle your blood, at least they did mine. This novel tells the story of the protests that accompanied the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in Seattle in 1999, and the violent police efforts to clear the streets of what began, at least, as a peaceful demonstration.

Most of the reviews and blurbs I encountered prior to reading the book, tend to focus on one main character, a teen who gets caught up in the protest almost by accident. But the story is actually told from the perspective of several individuals, including two or three of the protesters, several of the cops, including the Chief of Police, who turns out to be the teenager’s father (!), and one of the diplomats, hailing from Sri Lanka, who plans to attend the meetings. We get right inside their heads, and experience what they were thinking and feeling as the events unfold.

The book is well-written–the prose is poetic, even beautiful in many instances. You have to admire the author’s skill and his dedication, and his willingness to tackle a topic of this kind, even if reading it was an effort, and not something I would willingly put myself through again. But for anyone who wants to really experience this important episode in Seattle history, and can tolerate graphic descriptions of violence to get there, it is a powerful read, and one you won’t soon forget.

ISBN: 978-0-316-38653-1

Not yet available at WSL Northwest Collections or Washington Talking Book & Braille Library.

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Portlandtown by Robb De Borde

April 13th, 2016 WSL NW & Special Collections Posted in Articles, Washington Reads No Comments »

PTWN_Movie Poster_815x1200Portlandtown: A Tale of the Oregon Wyldes. By Robb De Borde. (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012. 375 pp.)

Recommendation by Carolyn Petersen, Assistant Program Manager, Library Development

What does a reader get when a writer combines gunfights, zombies, circus freaks, and a Portland pioneer family named the Wyldes?  The reader is rewarded with a crackling good read—if the reader’s brain is able to blend westerns, steampunk, sci-fi and historical fiction.  This story begins in 19th century Astoria when Joseph Wylde goes to bring his father-in-law, the town sheriff, back to Portland with him.  Unfortunately the powers Joseph’s father-in-law had disturbed in Astoria by digging up their graves follow the Wyldes back to Portland—and all hell—well the zombie part of it anyway—breaks loose.  Hopefully this is the start of a series.

Available in the Washington State Library’s Pacific Northwest Collection at NW 813.6 DEBORDE 2012
Digital Book editions available for Washington residents unable to read standard print through WTBBL.
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My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni

September 9th, 2015 WSL NW & Special Collections Posted in Articles, Washington Reads No Comments »


My Sister’s Grave. By Robert Dugoni. (Seattle: Thomas & Mercer, 2014. 410 pp.)

Recommendation by Carolyn Petersen, Assistant Program Manager, Library Development

Tracey Crosswhite became a detective with the Seattle Police Department as a result of her younger sister’s murder. Tracey never was convinced that the man convicted and serving time for her sister’s murder was the true perpetrator. When Sarah’s remains are at last discovered, Tracey thought justice would be served at last.  Instead the repercussions for the small town in the Cascade Mountains where Tracey and Sarah grew up are not at all what Tracey expected.   This title is an engrossing cross between a murder mystery and a legal thriller. If you like books by Scott Turow and Nelson DeMille, then author Robert Dugoni is an author you should investigate.

ISBN-13: 978-1477825570

Available in the Pacific Northwest Collection at NW 813.6 DUGONI 2014
Braille and Digital Book editions available for Washington residents unable to read standard print through WTBBL.
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Wilderness, by Lance Weller

June 23rd, 2015 WSL NW & Special Collections Posted in Articles, Washington Reads No Comments »

wildernesspaperbackcoverWilderness: A Novel. By Lance Weller. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2012. 293pp.)

Recommendation by PNW & Special Collections

April 9, 1865 was the day that General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at the McLean House in the village of Appomattox Court House. This is often cited as the official date of the end of the Civil War between the Confederate and Union States, but when Brigadier General Stand Watie of the Trans-Mississippi Department surrendered his Confederate Indian battalion, a mix of Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, and Osage Indians, on June 23 1865, at Doaksville in Indian Territory to Lieutenant Colonel Asa C. Matthews, the ground war was finished. A straggling and uninformed Shenandoah continued to wage an unwanted naval mission until surrendering in London, England on November 6.

As the commemoration of 150 years since the War of Secession winds down, it is important to note that many Union and Confederate veterans headed northwest at the end of their duties, returning to their homes and families or to new lives beyond that terrible time. Lance Weller‘s Wilderness is a fictional account of what one of those lives might look like. The story follows Abel Truman, a soldier badly wounded in the titular battle of 35 years prior, as he and his elderly dog travels inland from his beach homestead near the Quinault into and over the Olympic Mountains. In his travels he encounters natives, scattered settlers, and wanderers — people of both the generous and the violent sort. While there are moments of the pastoral, there are also moments where the reader is flung into the maelstrom.  The story flashes back and forth between Truman’s heroic trek of 1899 and through the Field of the Wilderness of 1864, bearing witness to Abel’s reckoning throughout the ordeal.

Weller’s descriptions are vivid, verging on purple prose at times, but beautifully evocative of the sensual charms of the Pacific Northwest coast. The story is hard-bitten, but specked with lovely and tender passages.

ISBN-13: 978-1608199372

Available in the Pacific Northwest Collection at NW 813.6 WELLER 2012

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The Impersonator, by Mary Miley

March 3rd, 2015 WSL NW & Special Collections Posted in Washington Reads No Comments »

miley impersonatorThe Impersonator: A Mystery. By Mary Miley. (New York: Minotaur Books, 2014. 320 pp.)
(A Roaring Twenties Mystery, Book 1)

Recommendation by:
Carolyn Petersen, Assistant Program Manager, Library Development, Tumwater, WA.

Mary Miley’s Impersonator deserved to win the Minotaur Books/Mystery writers’ of America First Crime Novel competition.  The murder mystery begins with the heroine of the book, vaudevillian Leah Randall approached by a man who greets her as his long lost niece, heiress to a timber fortune. Beckett invites her to impersonate his niece and split the fortune due when the absent Jessie Carr turns  21.  Circumstances force Leah to accept Beckett’s offer. After  being tutored in the family history, Leah journeys to the Oregon coast to meet the family and begin her impersonation. A murdered woman’s body is discovered by the side of the road as Leah drives in the from the railroad station to the family mansion.  This is the first of several and Leah realizes that if she doesn’t uncover the serial murderer, she may well fall victim to him.

Descriptions of vaudeville, the life in a privileged family, and the vivid characterizations of life in a small Oregon coastal town as well as life in Portland in the 1920’s were accurate and fascinating. I’m hoping that this is the beginning of a murder series featuring the resourceful and independent Leah Randall

ISBN-10: 1250051371

ISBN-13: 978-1250051370

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Songs of Willow Frost. By Jaime Ford

December 10th, 2014 WSL NW & Special Collections Posted in Articles, Washington Reads No Comments »

ford-frostSongs of Willow Frost. By Jamie Ford. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2013.)

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

Our protagonist is William Eng, a 12-year-old living at the Sacred Heart Orphanage in 1930’s Seattle. He’s been there since he was seven; no one is interested in adopting a Chinese boy. Only, he remembers his beloved mother, a singer and a dancer, and he remembers finding her slumped in the bathtub, and how she was carried off to the hospital, and he never saw her again.

But now he sees her on the screen in a vaudeville show preview down at the local movie theater—he’s certain it’s her—and he sets off, together with the blind girl, Charlotte, fellow outcast, and his best friend, to find Liu Song, aka Willow Frost, his mother.

The book recounts this seemingly impossible quest, as well as Liu Song’s own tragic story, and how she came to give up her precious child. Will they be reunited to make a life together? We’re kept in suspense until the final page.

Full of old Seattle scenes and images, this poignant tale will tug at your heart-strings, while filling in a chapter in our nation’s regrettable history of the prejudice suffered by its people of Chinese heritage.

ISBN: 978-0-345-52202-3

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.6 FORD 2013
Available as an eBook.
Downloadable talking book available through NLS and WTBBL.
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Truth Like the Sun By Jim Lynch

November 12th, 2014 WSL NW & Special Collections Posted in Articles, Washington Reads No Comments »

Truth-Like-the-SunTruth Like the Sun. By Jim Lynch. (New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.)

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

Jim Lynch’s third novel, Truth Like the Sun, set in Seattle, bounces back and forth between 1962 and 2001, telling us a story that revolves around the Seattle World’s Fair and its fictional chief mover and shaker, one Robert Morgan, a.k.a. Mr. Seattle, a high-flying, entrepreneurial city booster, who maybe loves wine, women and gambling a little more than is good for him, but is largely responsible for building the iconic Space Needle, and for much of the success of the fair. Through his eyes, we witness the excitement of the fair, and its famous visitors, including Elvis Presley, President Kennedy, Ed Sullivan, John Glenn, and many more.

Back in the more recent present era, we follow the efforts of Helen Gulanos, would-be hotshot reporter, who’s recently arrived in town, and who hopes to secure her career with a hard-hitting, fully researched exposé of Mr. Morgan, who has just decided to run for mayor, after all these many years. Helen’s life is complicated by her single mother status, and the fact that she finds her target to be oddly compelling, and begins to develop a grudging respect for the guy, still charismatic after all these years, even as she strives to dig the dirt on him.

Native son author Lynch seems to be moving ever closer to main-stream fiction with each new novel. His first effort, The Highest Tide, a remarkable coming of age story set in the Olympia area, had an other-worldly almost SciFi aspect to the natural wonders it depicted.

His second attempt, Border Songs, still had more than a hint of the fantastic with its larger-than-life primary character, and its chain of slightly off-kilter, not-quite-believable series of events.

Now, in this third literary foray, the Space Needle itself seems to be the most fantastic element, as we move ever more firmly into the realm of big-city politics and finance as they are in real life. Truth Like the Sun is a great read, but misses some of that element of the fantastical that was so central to Lynch’s earlier novels. Nevertheless, strongly recommended, especially for those who enjoy fiction set in the Pacific NW.

ISBN: 978-0-307-95868-6

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.6 LYNCH 2012
Available as an eBook
Downloadable talking book and Braille editions through NLS and  WTBBL.
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A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

October 31st, 2014 mschaff Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public, Public Services, State Library Collections, Washington Reads No Comments »


Washington Reads – A Sudden Light by Garth Stein (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. 416 pp.)

Recommendation by Mary Paynton Schaff, Reference Librarian, Washington State Library

Fall means ghosts, creepy old houses, and stories about families scarred by tragedy. So now’s the perfect opportunity to gather up your afghan, sit by the fire with a cup of hot cider, and dive into Garth Stein’s newest book, “A Sudden Light.”

Fourteen-year-old narrator Trevor is brought to crumbling Riddell House in north Seattle by his father in the summer of 1990. Trevor’s father Jones has a lot on his plate: settle the Riddell family estate, get his father into a nursing home, make amends to his sister Serena who has spent the better part of her life nursing their father, and make his peace with the untimely death of their mother. Last but not least, Trevor is hoping his father can find a way to repair his marriage to Trevor’s mother, despite the fact they are currently separated by thousands of miles. As Jones begins to wrestle with these issues, Trevor is drawn into the history of the storied Riddell family and the monumentally fascinating but literally decomposing Riddell House. Trevor is aided in his exploration of the house, and his family history, by an unlikely guide who reveals to him further betrayals, tragedies, and opportunities.

The Washington setting of “A Sudden Light” plays a crucial role in Trevor’s coming of age story. The Riddells make their fortune in logging, as many Northwest pioneers did. Each of Trevor’s ancestors has a relationship to the trees; cutting them, climbing them, or building something out of the wood. As the profits from the trees roll in, the Riddells became the fashionable aristocracy of Seattle society. Lumber barons make deals with railroad magnates. And when Trevor’s guide steers him to John Muir’s “The Mountains of California,” Trevor begins to wonder what costs might have incurred as the family chopped and bargained its way to the top.

There’s an enjoyable gothic overtone to “A Sudden Light.” Exploring an old haunted house has been a favorite literary device from Jane Eyre to Rebecca to Scooby Doo. The library, ballroom, locked trunks, and secret stairways you hope Trevor will find are all there. Adding to this reading satisfaction, Stein further layers in a generational family saga, lost journals in leather bindings, the relationship between fathers and sons, pairs of doomed lovers, conflicting promises, and the sublime joy that can be found in nature. (This librarian experienced such joy simply reading Stein’s description of historical research undertaken in a pre-internet public library, using microfilm no less!)

So rest your bones and dig into this satisfying Northwest work of fiction.

ISBN-10: 1439187037

Available at the Washington State Library
Audio book available through the publisher.

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