bhbFormed when stars collapse, black holes are a phenomenon that has intrigued scientists since they were predicted in 1915 by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Black holes have infiltrated pop culture as well, appearing as plot points in dozens of books, tv shows, movies, and even video games. Difficult to study because they are so far away and because they so powerful they can literally suck in light, black holes are a great mystery of science.

Janna Levin introduces these phenomena with the fact that, if two black holes were to collide, they would produce a sound. The universe is full of sound, she tells us, we just can’t hear it. But what if, science asks, we could? This question led to a quest over two decades old.

Officially begun in 1994 by the National Science Foundation, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is actually two observatories working together to seek out whatever sounds the universe might be making. The research that led to the foundation of LIGO came from an international team of dynamic scientists.

Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss, Ronald Drever, Rochus E. Vogt, and Barry Barish are not household names. They are, however, some of the scientists whose research created the basis for LIGO. Drever, for instance, used mirrors in his Scottish backyard to detect Earth’s movements, leading to the mirrors used at the LIGO institutes. They are, if you’ll indulge me, the bad boys of astrophysics. Strong personalities and fighting fueled by mistrust and lack of scientific progress nearly ended LIGO before it began.

Levin provides intimate biographies of the major players in this quest to hear the sounds made by the universe. These biographies serve not only to provide a look at who is involved, but they also give depth to the story, showing how these scientists are connected to the likes of Galileo, Einstein, and Oppenheimer. Each of the LIGO scientists were independently brilliant, all unknowingly working on the same problem from their locations around the world.

Perseverance has proved a powerful force for LIGO. The team, plus or minus founding members, survived and has been listening to the universe since the mid 1990s. Upgrades were made to the stations over the years. Most recently, upgrades were completed in 2015, making the observatories more sensitive than ever before. Future upgrades are planned, and a there is talk of building a third observatory in India.

The punchline to “Black Hole Blues” is that in February of this year, LIGO announced that they had detected the waves created by the collision of two black holes. There are strict guidelines in place for analyzing any data collected by the observatories. The discovery was actually made shortly after the most recent upgrades were made, but the results had to be confirmed. Goal achieved, the team has helped prove Einstein’s 101 year-old theory about what happens when black holes merge.

Levin’s book is less about black holes than humankind’s quest for answers about them. Black holes were only recently proven to be real. They are thousands of lightyears away from us and we’ll most likely never be able to study them up close. What drives a person to devote their life to research this unknowable phenomena? Like black holes, we may never have all the answers to the questions that surround them.

The end of school and beginning of summer is upon us. For some, this time may include road trips and extra time spent in the car. What better way to utilize these otherwise boring times than to jump into other universes, times and places with an audiobook?

Audiobooks are great for all ages. One of my first experiences with them came in a cross-country trip with my husband and three young children. As we were camping our way across the United States, the time in the car could have become a challenge with the kids and their typical “He’s touching me!” type interactions.

That trip, I tried my first audiobook. Our vehicle didn’t have a cassette deck (yes, it was that long ago), so we made do with the kids’ plastic toy cassette player. We’d play a section of the book after lunch each day and before settling down for the evening to sleep.

It worked like magic. We’d stop the story at an exciting place, and the kids couldn’t wait to pick up the tale the next day. I figured out audiobooks are brilliant!

So, today, I’m going to highlight some of my favorite audio series for different ages that would be great for a road trip, or just to enjoy at home.

For youngsters, I love C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Even pre-school children love these tales of princes, princesses, talking animals and evil queens. Younger children enjoy the stories on a basic level, yet older children begin to pick up on the theme of good versus evil and the eternal love of the Creator.

Joplin Public Library has all of the Chronicles in audiobook as well as print. Only the first title, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is available in downloadable audio through MoLib2Go, however.

Another good children’s series which I won’t elaborate on here is Lloyd Alexander’s classic Chronicles of Prydain series. It, too, is full of adventure and the saga of good and evil.

For teens, I have thoroughly enjoyed the Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson. Our former Teen Services librarian, Cari Rerat, introduced me to this series.

Elisa is the chosen one. The younger of two princesses, she is very average and unremarkable, and filled with self-doubt, though she bears a Godstone, a holy gem imbedded in her stomach and marking her for great service.

On her sixteenth birthday, she marries a handsome and worldly king who wants to keep their marriage a secret. Her life becomes filled intrigue and mystery as she is kidnapped and becomes the key to political alliances and, essentially, world peace.

The trilogy is not only adventure and escapades in a strange and primitive world, but a coming-of-age story in which Elisa matures into a strong and capable woman.

I hesitate to begin on my adult list of favorites. It will be hard to stop.

Jodi Picoult is a master story-teller. Although I’ve not listened to everything we have available in audio by her, I’ve enjoyed all I’ve read or listened to. I tend to learn from them as well.
House Rules deals with murder where a boy with Asperger’s becomes the main suspect. Leaving Time is a suspenseful story interwoven with different times and viewpoints that deals with elephant conservancy. I kept thinking back to the information in it when I visited an elephant camp in Thailand this spring.

Another of my favorite authors is Francine Rivers, an inspirational author. She has a fascinating book, The Last Sin Eater, that highlights an Appalachian tradition of which I was completely unaware before reading the book – that of a person being chosen by a community to “eat” its sins, becoming an outcast in doing so.

She also writes historical, Biblical and contemporary fiction as well. She’s a multifaceted author, and I enjoyed getting to meet her at the American Library Association convention last summer.

If you have any road trips this summer, consider using audiobooks to help pass the time. Joplin Public Library has many selections in CD or MP3 disk format, as well as a good selection of digital downloadable titles through MoLib2Go.org.

Purely by accident, my literary theme of late has been “girl power.” Many of the graphic novels that I’ve recently picked up focus on young women and female friendships. Below is but a sampling of what I’ve been reading.

“Lumberjanes. Beware the kitten holy, volume 1,” by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis

This graphic novel, found in the library’s Teen Department, is set in Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Girls, aka Hardcore Lady Types, where the unofficial motto is “Friendship to the max!” It features the adventures of a group of five friends who consistently find themselves in perilous situations as they try to earn badges and unravel a mystery. They battle magical, three-eyed foxes, fight off river monsters, explore secret caves and encounter boys from a neighboring camp who might not be what they seem.

I have to admit, I was slightly bored by “Lumberjanes,” perhaps because I feel much older than the target demographic. But the strong bond between the girls is sweet, and they’re prone to uttering cute things such as “What the junk?” and “Math and science and logic to the max!” My favorite was probably Ripley, the smallest member of the group. She bursts out with comments such as “I like kittens!” and her specialty move is the “fastball,” when she cannonballs into and then karate-chops the supernatural beings threatening the group. The bright, energetic artwork brings Ripley and the other girls to life, as if “Lumberjanes” were an animated cartoon leaping off the pages.

My co-workers loved “Lumberjanes,” and you might, too, so check it out for yourself. The library also has volumes 2 and 3, with 4 on order.

“Ghost World,” by Daniel Clowes

This cult classic, found in the adult collection, follows the daily lives of best friends Enid Coleslaw (an anagram of the author’s name) and Becky Doppelmeyer. They’re smart but cynical young women who pass the time wandering around their cultural wasteland of a town, hanging out in a local diner and mocking the people they encounter. Although the two are long-time friends, as the novel progresses, their bond becomes strained when both develop a crush on the same boy and Enid half-heartedly attempts to get into college, a move that would result in her leaving Becky behind.

The focus is on Enid and Becky, but they share space with plenty of characters, from an alleged Satanist couple to a local astrologer-psychic. No one is exempt from the girls’ judgment and sharp tongues, including each other. The tension that forms in their friendship is sad but familiar, even bittersweet, as growing apart is often an inevitable part of growing up.

The artwork fits “Ghost World” perfectly. In consistent shades of black and pale blue, it seems melancholy and is as cool and blasé as the female protagonists themselves.

If you like the graphic novel, you might consider checking out the film adaption, starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson and Steve Buscemi, also a part of the Joplin Public Library’s adult collection.

“Giant Days, volumes 1 and 2,” by John Allison

When my Comics and Cocktails book club read “Giant Days, volume 1” in April, I fell in love with it, so I promptly purchased volume 2 at my local comic book shop. These clever, easily read graphic novels depict the exploits and mishaps of three college-age friends.

Outspoken Susan, dramatic Esther and sheltered Daisy just started university a few weeks earlier but are already inseparable. Together they experience romantic tribulations, seek revenge on sexist bro types, battle an epic flu, save one of their own from a vengeful fake faith healer and, oh, yes, sometimes tend to their schoolwork.

The artwork is colorful and reminiscent of Walt Disney animation, the writing witty, and the stories familiar without being clichéd. I connected with “Giant Days” in a way that I haven’t with a book in a while, most likely because it brought back vivid memories of my freshman year of college, from the immediate dorm friendships, to a painful crush, to a raging case of strep throat.

If you want to read “Giant Days,” good news! Both volumes have been ordered and are on their way. If you’re impatient, I recommend getting on the reserve list now, as each one already has holds on it.

Sometimes you find a book that is just a perfect read — entertaining and uplifting without being too saccharine or sickeningly sweet. I read a lot (meaning I go into withdrawal if I finish a book and don’t have another one within grabbing distance), so I’m always on the lookout for interesting titles to pick up. To help with that I subscribe to a couple different sites for e-mail recommendations and jot down titles that catch my interest. “The Wedding Bees” by Sarah-Kate Lynch was one of those titles that made it onto my list.

The Joplin Public Library didn’t own it so I requested it via our interlibrary loan system. If a book has been out for at least a year, our Reference Department can see if another library system has the book available for borrowing. Soon enough “The Wedding Bees” had come in and I was ready to give it a read. I started it while waiting for my daughter during her dance lesson. The opening pages quickly caught me, and by the time my daughter finished her lesson I was so engrossed that I hated to stop reading long enough to drive her home. In fact, I ended up finishing the book before bed that night.

“The Wedding Bees” features Sugar Wallace, a displaced South Charleston belle who finds a new home every spring based on the location her prized honeybee queen chooses on a map. Year 15 finds Sugar and her honeybees landing in New York City, in a small, East Village, walk-up apartment. Sugar believes that good manners and some of her honey can solve just about any problem. This seems to be the case so far, for all of them except Sugar’s problems.

Even before Sugar has seen her new apartment, she runs into two intriguing characters. George is a doorman without a door and Theo is a Scotsman who sets off quivers of excitement in Sugar that she’s determined to squash. While she may have decided to avoid Theo and those quivers, Sugar’s bees seem to have other plans.

Sugar’s honey is put to work helping the people who reside in her apartment building. From Nate, her next door neighbor, who hides from the world, all the way down to single mom Lola struggling to provide a good life for her always squalling child, the inhabitants all find a magic in Sugar and her bees. Sugar wants to fill her neighbors’ lives with love and honey but Theo’s pursuit of Sugar pushes her farther and farther away from her own thoughts of love, no matter how charming a Scotsman he is.

This book was just a delight from page one. Filled with interesting and unusual characters, a sweet plot, dashes of humor mixed with romance and bees weaving their way through the pages, “The Wedding Bees” was a book I couldn’t put down. When I finished the last page, I had a smile on my face from how perfectly it wrapped up. I enjoyed the book so much that I immediately filled out a suggestion for purchase the next day, feeling that this would be a good addition to the library collection. Come by the Joplin Public Library to read this book and see if you agree.

Alcatraz Island may seem a peculiar setting for Juvenile Fiction but in the hands of author Gennifer Choldenko, the infamous island becomes a fascinating backdrop in which to come of age.

As Mr. Flanagan begins his job as Associate Warden, his son Moose is struggling with his role in keeping his father safe. Complicating matters is Natalie, Moose’s 16 year old sister, who, “views the world through her own personal kaleidoscope.”  Although Moose and Natalie’s Mom insists Natalie try to blend in, Moose is more accepting and willing to allow Natalie to explore her own limitations.

When a fire breaks out in the Flanagan apartment, Natalie is blamed. However, Moose isn’t so sure Natalie set the blaze. As Moose and his friends investigate what might have happened and decide to ask the Cons imprisoned on Alcatraz, the reader is treated to how notes may have been passed in Alcatraz via cockroach messenger and the backstory of how some prisoners received their nicknames.

Things heat up when a butcher knife goes missing from the kitchen, worrying Moose more. He suspects his Dad is the next target in a Points game targeting prison employees. Al Capone may be the only one who can provide inside information to stop an attack, but will he talk and how will he choose to communicate?

Throughout the book, the personal growth of Moose becomes a secondary story line as he learns who can be trusted, that not everyone who acts nice is trustworthy, and that he is not responsible for the actions of everyone in his world.  “One time is gone, and the other has not yet begun,” for Moose.

The author’s notes on her experience at Alcatraz Island and research for the book may be as compelling as the book itself. The notes provide a glimpse into the thought processes and work that accompany good writing and also provide interesting factoids about “America’s Roughest Prison,” a place that has long captured the imagination of the public.

This Mark Twain Award Nominee book will be voted on during the Missouri Association of School Libraries conference late April, 2016.  Good luck Al Capone!

Death must seem like a strange topic to review on a warm Sunday in early April. Spring brings birth and new beginnings and here I am talking about death or rather the customs of death.

First I encourage you to come to the library for a fascinating display. Historically it was customary to memorialize the dead in a photograph or charcoal drawing called a mourning picture.

Cheryl Smith has generously shared her collection of charcoal drawn Victorian Mourning Pictures. They date from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century and are compelling. They will be in the glass display cases through the end of April.

My next offering is not so much compelling as memorable.  Kate Mayfield brings her family, friends and the people of Jubilee Kentucky to life for us in her memoir The Undertaker’s Daughter.

Her story is not about death but the revelation of a life lived through death. On December 31, 1959 Frank Mayfield moved his family to Jubilee and opened Mayfield and Son Funeral Home. The business was on the first floor and the family lived upstairs.

Kate learned at an early age that ‘we’ve got a body’ meant you stayed out of the way and stayed quiet. She grew up with death and silence. The business of death fascinated her and the silence became easier as she grew older.

Kate grew up comfortable with death. She remembers the first time she touched a dead body but not when she first saw a dead person. She says “I recall no first viewing because from the time I entered the world there were always dead bodies”.

During the times when a viewing or a funeral was not being held, Kate had free reign in the funeral home. Her father, whom she calls the Beau Brummell of morticians, answered every question.  When there was a funeral or viewing, Kate would watch from the landing. The way her father conducted a funeral and the different ways people mourned fueled her interest.

While the business of death was central to Kate’s life, this book is about the living. Kate adored her father when she was young but Frank Mayfield was not a perfect man. Kate’s acceptance of that continued throughout the book.

Her relationship with her mother, Lily Tate, followed a different trajectory. Her mother was the enforcer of silence and quick to discipline. But she was the protector of the family which included brother Thomas, sister Evelyn, and later the baby, Jemma.

The other member of the household was Belle.  Belle was the hired help but to Kate she was family. Kate wanted to share things with Belle that society frowned upon.  Kate grew up during the end of segregation. She writes of the time with the confusion of the child she was and a matter-of-factness of the era in which she grew up.

The color of one’s skin didn’t make a difference to Kate. She was bewildered when someone cried because of desegregation. “I couldn’t understand why Paulette was so upset about her children going to school with black children. Belle was black and I thought she was exquisite.”

While family is the focus of this memoir, Jubilee offered many other colorful characters that influenced Kate’s life. None more so than Miss Agnes Davis.

Miss Agnes was a shrewd woman who built her own thriving fertilizer business at a time when women didn’t own fertilizer businesses. She always dressed in red, owned the biggest house in town, and never let in the people who turned their back on her when she was down. Miss Agnes liked Frank and Kate and became a reclusive member of the Mayfield family.

This memoir reads like a novel. Mayfield’s portrayal of family, the citizens of Jubilee, and the era will remain vivid long after you read the last word.

I was a little disappointed when I first glanced at Simply scratch : 120 wholesome homemade recipes made easy by Laurie McNamara only because I had thought perhaps it was going to be a book on preparing things for the pantry for later use. Well, there’s some of that, but not as much as I had expected. Her stated goal is to get back to basics, cooking like her mother did, making healthy food with ingredients she could pronounce. In 2010, feeling she had gotten a firm grip on cooking just about everything from scratch, she started a blog, Simply Scratch, devoted to “from scratch” cooking. This cookbook is a compilation of some of the best advice and recipes she has shared online so far.

Chapter One, “Basics,” covers what McNamara thinks we all should have in our kitchens, from three kinds of flour to 3 kinds of solid fats and various oils and applesauce (which she uses to replace fat in some baked goods). Next up, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, citrus fruits, and onions and garlic. These cover all the day-to-day staple ingredients and are followed by tools and equipment she finds indispensable, like a garlic press, box grater, kitchen scale, mesh strainers, etc.  She doesn’t eschew power equipment—food processors and blenders make the list, as well. She includes a rice cooker, acknowledging that lots of people can prepare rice without one, but she isn’t among them. There are also some basic and frequently used techniques outlined here. Aside from her enthusiasm for various vinegars, which I do not share, everything here seems right on track for those trying to get back to basics or just beginning to find their way around the kitchen.

Next comes the “Basics from Scratch” chapter which, again, I had thought would be the bulk of the book. There are some very good sounding (haven’t made any of these) recipes for mayonnaise and aiolis, ketchup and barbecue sauce, three pestos, six seasoning blends and chicken and vegetable broths. What caught my eye, though, having become rather more a “convenience” cook in my later years, are the recipes for “from scratch” creams of mushroom and chicken soups intended as ingredients in casseroles, etc. with each recipe making one “can” of soup. Both are essentially light veloutes (soups made with dairy and stock) and sound reasonably time-effective, particularly if you made double or triple batches and portioned and froze the extras for later use, although the recipes don’t mention that.

The next chapters include baking (including making your own seasoned bread crumbs and graham crackers); a slew of sauces, dressings and dips; breakfast/brunch foods;  soups, salads, and sandwiches including a chicken chili and a lentil salad; a nice selection of side dishes, including glazed carrots, parsnip fries, a broccoli cheddar gratin, twice baked sweet potatoes, a “fried rice” style farro,  and some yummy sounding baked beans.

The next chapter covers mostly meat-based main dishes including a very nice looking baked chicken dish using dark meat pieces, chicken and rolled dumplings, a turkey meat loaf, skirt steak fajitas, spaghetti and meatballs, and a cottage pie.

The book wraps up with, naturally, a chapter on desserts leading off with a fabulous sounding fudgy chocolate toffee-topped brownie which I fully intend to try. There are also mini French coconut tarts, a Mississippi mud pie (really a sheet cake that I remember from my youth), and a glazed butter rum bundt cake that sounds just right for the holidays.

All in all, not perhaps exactly what I anticipated, but a very sound collection of recipes truly made from scratch, with nary a processed box or can in sight and I think most of us could use a bit more of that in our kitchens. Stop by the library and check out this (or one of our other nearly 1,000 cookbooks) for your reading (and perhaps cooking) pleasure.

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