Behind the Novel: Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Moby-Dick is perhaps the quintessential “Great American Novel”.  And yet so many people I talk to still haven’t read it, or have tried to read the abridged version, only to come away confused. I often tell people that reading the abridged version of Moby-Dick is rather like reading a mystery novel with every left hand page and the last chapter removed. You can read such a book, yes, but it is more fun and satisfying to read the uncut work.

As usual when I read books like Moby-Dick, I want to learn more. I was able to find two great works about the story of the whale ship that inspired Herman Melville. The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex was written by the Essex’s first mate Owen Chase and is a gripping account of the Essex’s doomed voyage.  In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick is a longer account of the wreck of the Essex, and is well researched and presented. Both books are excellent alone. However, when read together, they are astonishing in their depth.

Floating Gold by Christopher Kent, is a Floating Gold book coverhistory of ambergris, which was one of the reasons everyone was out hunting whales in the first place. It is a humorous and interesting look at something which was a complete unknown for me. I had no idea ambergris had a distinctive foul odor that belies its use in perfume making.

Why Read Moby-Dick book coverLastly, I would recommend Why Read Moby-Dick, also by Nathaniel Philbrick. It is a charming slip of a book, but also quite rich in detail. Philbrick places Moby-Dick in its historical context, explores how Melville wrote and re-wrote his masterpiece, and shows us thatit is still quite relevant in our time.


Behind the Novel is a new feature that gives a full, examined look at the historical, social, and cultural context of a particular novel by reviewing other books on specific topics and issues.  This feature is written by Claudette and will be reoccurring monthly.


The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer

First ImpressionsThe Impossible Lives of Greta Wells book cover
I love, love, LOVE to read a book’s first line.   Some authors underestimate the power and importance of this first passage, but not Andrew Sean Greer.  My favorite first line of all time is from his 2004 title The Confessions of Max Tivoli:  “We are each the love of someone’s life.”  Swoon!  That line pulled me, and has obviously stayed with me, nearly 10 years later.  Of course, when I saw The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells on the table of possible books to read and review for this blog, I immediately grabbed it and flipped to the first line.  Greer did not disappoint! (I will share later.)

Drive-by Summary
31-year-old Greta Wells is enjoying 1985: she has a loving boyfriend and twin brother for a best friend.  And then, one day, she doesn’t.  Following her brother’s haunting death and her boyfriend’s betrayal, she spirals deep into sadness and darkness.  Her doctor’s solution:  Electroconvulsive Therapy.  However, this set of shock procedures do more for Greta than she thought possible:  it transports and cycles her through two alternate lives: one in 1918 and 1941, in addition to her 1985 reality.  Her friends and loved ones are all present in each life – how could that be?  Can she change her destiny and her loved ones’ destinies in her alternate lives?  Does she dare attempt to?

My Favorite Character
I really enjoyed 1918 Greta.  This sounds strange as they are all Greta, but not really.  (You’ll have to read the book to understand this).  1918 Greta is a woman who, rather than being a victim, understands that she alone is responsible for her happiness, and goes to great lengths to find, and keep, happiness and love.

Words to Live By
I have two favorites:

1. “The impossible happens once to each of us.”  (The novel’s first line!  Great, right?)

2. “When you were a little girl, madam,” he said, gesturing to her, “was this the woman you dreamed of becoming?”  (Such a snarky, yet glaringly wonderful question!)

Recommended For
I loved how clever this book was.  Recommended for readers who enjoy a good, “what if?” story that begs for some reflection and consideration.  The character development is great and the writing is beautiful; lines just need to be re-read and savored.  While there is time travel involved, it is more realistic and/or historical in nature than “sci-fi.”  Think more along the lines of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Final Say
I think we’ve all from time to time wondered if we couldn’t just up and plop ourselves into another life at another time.  I know I have!  What if we could actually land in our own lives, with our own friends and family, at another era in history and in different circumstances?  Would our fates be the same?  Overall, I found this book quite an enjoyable read.  I would give it four out of a possible five Electroconvulsive Therapy shocks.

You can find The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells in this life time at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Bethany

Doctor Sleep Book Trailer

Stephen King has always been prolific.  That fact is not news to librarians, book sellers, or King aficionados.   But it is always pleasant surprise when he releases a new book, Joyland, and a book trailer for his new fall title on the same day.

Doctor Sleep is the unexpected sequel to The Shining. It is due out September 24 and follows a grown-up, beleaguered Danny Torrance as he deals with all the demons he can’t leave behind.


As a Stephen King super-fan, I can’t wait.  But I am also a bit nervous about getting a sequel to my favorite King novel (and movie!).  But, much like everyone else, I will have to wait until September.

What say you?  Does this look like a worthy successor to The Shining?

Not Just for Kids! Wonder by R.J. Palacio

First ImpressionsWonder book cover
If we are lucky, we encounter a MUST READ or two in our lifetimes. These books are game-changers that transcend and appeal to children, teenagers and adults alike. In 2012, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, one of these rare treasures, was published. While it didn’t win any major awards (think Newbery Medal), it won a place on my bookshelf, my recommended reading lists, and my heart.

Drive-by Summary
10-year-old Auggie Pullman has been home-schooled his entire life. Due to being born with severe facial abnormalities, home has just felt safer, more stable and less judgmental. However, life is about to change as Auggie takes his parent’s recommendations and enters 5th grade at a local private middle school. Being the new kid in school is always difficult, but so much more so for Auggie as he cannot blend in. Told through rotating narrators such as Auggie, his family and schoolmates, this is a story of prejudice, judgment, friendship, acceptance and ultimately love for the human spirit.

My Favorite Character
While I love Auggie, I have to say I really enjoyed Auggie’s older sister, Olivia (Via to her family). Via is fiercely protective of Auggie, but as she enters high school, she tries desperately to figure out who she is and how she can define herself as someone other than Auggie’s sister.

Words to Live By
I have a hard time just choosing one. So here are a few:

“I think the only person in the world who realizes how ordinary I am is me.”

“Shall we make a new rule of life…always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?”

Recommended For
Everyone. I’m serious! I highly recommend this for parents to read with their upper-elementary and middle school child, and for book clubs to read and discuss together. And then when you finish, just randomly leave it on the bus, or in a waiting room for someone else to discover. This book is written in a very honest, straight-forward manner that resonates with everyone who reads it.

Final Say
Wonder is just “one of those books.” You know the ones! Their characters never venture far from your thoughts or emotions. Their lives become entwined with yours and they are now your best friends, family members even. Wonder is a book that will break your heart, and at the same time, give you hope. It is a book that acts like a mirror in the most awful, uncomfortable ways, but does so with such grace and empathy that every reader finishes the book a better human being. It reminds us that we are all in-fact human, and in that we have the ability and choice to either love or hurt; to accept or reject; to be genuine or false. A true gem.

Fall in love with Wonder today at Bellingham Public Library!

— Bethany

Fire and Ice: Summer Treats

Summer is finally starting to heat up!  These books will help you make the most of your summer months and all the great, fresh food we have in Bellingham.

The Gardener & the Grill book coverThe Gardener and the Grill: The Bounty of the Garden Meets the Sizzle of the Grill
By Karen Adler





Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home book coverJeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home
By Jeni Bauer







Home Made Summer book coverHome Made Summer
By Yvette van Boven






Ice Pop Joy book coverIce Pop Joy: Organic, Healthy, Fresh, Delicious
By Anni Daulter






The Deen Bros. Get Fired up book coverThe Deen Bros. Get Fired Up: Grilling, Tailgating, Picnicking, and More
By Jamie Deen






Ice Cream Sandwiches book coverIce Cream Sandwiches: 65 Recipes for Incredibly Cool Treats
By Donna Egan






Bobby Flay's Barbecue Addiction book coverBobby Flay’s Barbecue Addiction
By Bobby Flay






Green smoothies and protein drinks book coverGreen Smoothies and Protein Drinks
By Jason Manheim






Make your own soda book coverMake Your Own Soda: Syrup Recipes for All-Natural Pop, Floats, Cocktails and More
By Anton Nocito






The Book of Burger book coverThe Book of Burger
By Rachael Ray






Grilling Vegan Style book coverGrilling Vegan Style: 125 Fired-Up Recipes to Turn Every Bite into a Backyard Barbecue
By John Schlimm





Everything Ice Cream, Gelato, and Frozen Desserts Cookbook book coverEverything Ice Cream, Gelato, and Frozen Desserts Cookbook
By Susan Whetzel





Grill This, Not that! Backyard Survival Guide book coverGrill This, Not that! Backyard Survival Guide
By David Zinczenko






Looking for books? You can always find this list and many others at our online catalog under Staff Picks!

When David Lost His Voice by Judith Vanistendael

First ImpressionsWhen David Lost His Voice book cover
This is a lovely and well-crafted book that is written and drawn by Belgian comic artist and children’s book illustrator, Judith Vanistendael.

The art is fairly a-typical for a graphic novel.  It is flowing, blurry, and not confined to regular comic panels.  This lends it a more lyrical feel and draws the reader deep into the book quickly.

The story is realistic and heart-felt.  It is also, at times, gut-wrenching.  I cried more than I would like to admit while reading this story.

Drive-by Summary
David is diagnosed with throat cancer just minutes after his granddaughter is born.  The story follows David, his wife, and daughters as they deal with the knowledge that David will never recover.

Each chapter is devoted to a member of David’s family and how they confront the reality of losing him and the frustrating fact that David does not want to talk or dwell on his impending end.

My Favorite Character
I loved, loved Tamar, the only daughter of David and his second wife Paula. She is inventive, curious, and strangely practical for a young child.  She, of all the members of the family, seems to understand that David’s death is close—much closer than anyone would like.

Her care and concern for her father is obvious throughout the book. In each chapter you see Tamar and her friend, Max, trying to come up with ways to save David.  Ultimately, and bizarrely, they decide the only way to save him is to mummify him.  This leads to an adorable (yes, adorable) scene of Max and Tamar removing the “organs” of their stuffed animals and prepping them for mummification.

Words to live by
“Before my hands give out on me entirely, I love you… I love you, I love you, I love you.” ~ David

Recommended For
I would recommend this book to people who are ready to jump into graphic novels, but don’t necessarily want to read superhero tales.

Final Say
This book was so unexpectedly beautiful.  I am still telling people about it weeks after I read it.  I am also having a hard time returning it to the library…

You can find When David Lost His Voice at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Katie

Not Just for Teens: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

First Impressions5th Wave book cover
Wow, this teen book is long; over 450 pages. But I’ve heard it will be the next “Hunger Games”  (which I’ve only heard said about roughly two hundred titles since Suzanne Collins’ book became the next “Twilight”). All the reviews I’ve read about “The 5th Wave” have been stellar and the most recent, from Entertainment Weekly, was downright brilliant, so I thought I would give it a go.

Drive-by Summary
The aliens came. For ten days they floated above while we tried to make contact. Ten days. And then…

The first wave: Lights out – communication fails; planes fall from the sky

The second wave: Surf’s up – giant tsunamis take out all coastlines

The third wave: Pestilence – weeks of plague wipe out billions

The fourth wave: Silencer – they are among us

Cassie escapes the city filled with death with her father and little brother in search of hope and safety. They find neither. They find war. They find they can trust no one.

And no one knows what the fifth wave will bring.

My Favorite Character
Zombie: “Zombie is hardcore. Zombie is bad ass. Zombie is stone-cold.” But Zombie also takes five year old “Nugget” under his wing, protecting him as best as he can, as they train for combat against an unknown enemy.

Words to live by
“Because we will die, but at least we will die unbroken.” — Zombie

Recommended For
Older teens and adults who like character-driven science fiction.

Final Say
A new take on dystopia, this time with aliens. Grittier and more suspenseful than a lot of current books in the genre, but peppered with (just enough) romance and teen angst for it to fit right in. Highly recommended.

You can hunt for the 5th Wave at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Jennifer

Cinnamon and Gunpowder: A Novel by Eli Brown

Cinnamon and Gunpowder book cover

What happens when a red-headed, female pirate kidnaps a famous chef and demands that he pleases her with his culinary skills?

Pirates, escapades, food!  Oh, my!

What else could capture my interest and cause me to want to read this swashbuckling adventure other than the thrill of all things I love?  This book promises to be a can’t-put-it-down read.  It definitely begs for a closer look.

You can find Cinnamon and Gunpowder from the Bellingham Public Library today.

Books, what are they good for? Everything!

Each year, libraries across the country put together summer reading programs to promote reading in all ages.   We want people to get excited about reading because it is fun.  But it is also beneficial to individual readers, their communities, and even the nation.

Don’t believe me? Check out this fun (and informative!) Buzzfeed article:

Divergent book at the library

More importantly,  help the Bellingham Public Library celebrate summer with our 2013 Summer Reading Program for all ages.

The reading and prize-winning starts June 15!

Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbric

First ImpressionsBunker Hill book cover
Military history is a recently new field for me to explore, especially American military history. I was pleased to come across a book titled Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Drive-by Summary
Bunker Hill is about more than just the battle of Bunker Hill. It includes Lexington and Concord as well as briefly touching on the Tea Party.

Favorite Character
Henry Knox. With no engineering experience except for that which he’d gained from the books he read, he successfully leads an expedition to Fort Ticonderoga to bring back sorely needed artillery for the Continental troops.

Words to Live By
“It is not rank or titles, but character alone which interests posterity.”

Recommended For
Readers of military history, students of American history, and anyone else who is curious about how the out manned, outgunned and under-supplied Continental troops beat the British during the War of Independence.

Final Say
Philbrick once again delivers a superbly researched book. I cannot wait to see what he writes about next.

You can find Bunker Hill at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Claudette