Book Review – Thirty Rooms to Hide In

Book Review
Thirty Rooms to Hide In
Luke Longstreet Sullivan

“‘The Shining… but funnier.’

That’s about the best way I can describe Thirty Rooms To Hide In. It’s the story of growing up with my five brothers in a big house in Minnesota. Yet even with winters raging outside and our father raging within, our mother’s protection allowed us to have a wildly fun, thoroughly dysfunc-tional time growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s.” 

~ Luke Longstreet Sullivan

I rarely enjoy memoirs, so it was with no little amount of reservation that I began reading Thirty Rooms to Hide In at the suggestion of one of my Facebook Friends, who mentioned that it was her book club’s current selection and that she just “couldn’t put it down.”  Probably I would’ve let the suggestion go at simply that – a suggestion – but then she mentioned that it was not just a memoir; but the memoir of a child who’d grown up in Rochester and who’s father was a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon.  And then I realized:  the family had lived in one of those gorgeous homes that so many of the Mayo doctors lived in!  Wow!  What would it be like to live in one of those homes?  What would it be like to grow up in one of those homes?  With that, I was sold.  I had to read this book just to satisfy my voyeuristic nature, if nothing else.

To my surprise, this book was very well-done and much like the author had tagged it – “The Shining…but funnier.” But, unlike my expectations, it wasn’t “funnier” in a comedic way; but “funnier” in the way that sometimes you simply have to laugh to survive, kind of way.

Thirty Rooms to Hide In is a memoir by the 5th son of a well-respected 1950s Mayo Clinic surgeon (Dr. Roger Sullivan) who, while brilliant, suffered from severe alcoholism and mental instability.  The onset of his disease was subtle but, once engaged, grabbed ahold of the young doctor and changed the lives of his wife and children forever.

In a time when alcoholism and chemical dependency were not fully understood, and domestic abuse was “between a husband and his wife,” there was no safety net to catch the family as the bottom fell out from beneath their feet at their father and husband’s loss of sanity.

Thirty Rooms to Hide In is a gripping memoir that takes the reader back to the 1950s and ’60s when the rules of society were more repressed, the Cold War was a daily threat, and “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” were just beginning to hit the landscape…but not so much in the small and conservative town of Rochester, Minnesota.

Throughout the book, the author vacillates between the rebellious antics of he and his five brothers as they struggled to understand and cope with their father’s behavior, and on their mother – Myra Longstreet Sullivan – who deserves a great deal of credit for the love she brought to their home in spite of the fear and oppression that was their daily lives.  As a reader, I found her to be an inspiration to all mothers on how to not only survive, but to persevere against the most insurmountable odds.

Thirty Rooms to Hide In is a fantastic, though sometimes painful, read; and one I would recommend especially to Rochester readers as it tells the story of “one of our own.”

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library and through SELCO interlibrary loan.  For more information about this book, visit the author’s website dedicated to this book at  There you can find more information about the author’s life, video footage from their youth, letters and diary entries from that era, audio sound bytes of the two oldest brothers’ band, photographs from the author’s youth and the grown men he and his brothers have become today.

~ Catherine H. Armstrong

Whisky Tasting

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“May you live as long as you want and never want as long as you live”
A special tasting and seminar of Laphroaig as a fund raiser for the Rochester Public Library will be taking place on Thursday, March 8, 2012 from 6:00 – 9:00 pm at the Plummer House (1091 Plummer Lane SW, Rochester, MN)

StacyBorn in Tallahassee, Florida this true Florida native now calls the Midwest her home.  Well-known in the Minnesota/Wisconsin market Stacey has represented many of the leading Scotch brands in the spirits industry.  Today however, her true passion for the Islay region has paved the way to her present position  as  a Laphroaig Brand Ambassador and Official Minnesota Protector of the Peat.

For more than 10 years Stacey has lead hundreds of presentations for consumers and now focuses her area of expertise in Scotch whisky tastings for bartenders, social organizations and novice scotch enthusiasts alike.  Both informative and entertaining,  her presentations have made her an in-demand speaker and spokesperson.

Stacey’s love of Laphroaig  will not be mistaken as she walks you thru the fascinating and seductive world of Scotch whisky.


David McCullough – Nonfiction

If you are fan of American History, you probably know David McCullough from his books, his PBS specials, his commentary, and narration (notable documentaries include The Civil War and Seabiscuit). McCullough is also a presidential biographer, the winner of two National Book Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, and one of the best-selling historians. He learned about presidential politics early and in raised voices: “My father was totally against FDR. My mother thought FDR could do no wrong. They were both quite hard of hearing … the decibel level at our dining room was high.”

McCullough wanted to be a painter. However, at Yale he decided to major in English influenced by John O’Hara, John Hersey, Brendan Gill and Thornton Wilder. Wilder inspired McCullough to become a writer. Wilder told him how he chose a subject: he would find something he wanted to know more about, learn what was written about it, and if there wasn’t much or it wasn’t good, he would write it himself. The success of McCullough’s first book The Johnstown Flood (1968), enabled him to write full time. He then wrote a book The Path Between the Seas (1977), on the Panama Canal, which President Jimmy Carter used as a key reference book in negotiating the Panama Canal treaties. McCullough wrote three biographies about U.S. presidents. The first, about Teddy Roosevelt” called Mornings on Horseback (1981) won the National Book Award. The second, on Harry Truman, took him 10 years to research and write. Truman (1993) won the Pulitzer Prize.

The third (also Pulitzer winning) presidential biography concerns founding father John Adams. There were no interviews or photographs to help him with his research, but McCullough read all of Adams’ diaries and the letters (over a thousand) between John and Abigail. McCullough wanted to try to get inside the head of John Adams, not just to read what Adams wrote, but also to read what Adams read for pleasure in the 18th century. He read the English classics of Swift, Defoe, Samuel Johnson, Smollett, and Pope. These books allowed him to “marinate” his head in John Adams’ thoughts and vocabulary. He said: “You can make the argument that there’s no such thing as the past. Nobody lived in the past. They lived in the present. It is their present, not our present, and they don’t know how it’s going to come out. They weren’t just like we are because they lived in that very different time. You can’t understand them if you don’t understand how they perceived reality.”

Recently McCullough published a book on Paris, the City of Light, one of my favorite places: The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. Yet again McCullough has artfully written about many Americans who went in search of themselves, noting “Not all pioneers went west.” This wonderful book is a series of vignettes, placed in broad categories during an incredibly productive, mesmorizing, exciting era (1830s-1900s). Many of the people you will recognize from Mark Twain to Samuel Morse, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hawthorne and Emerson. New faces and names were vividly brought to life (Elihu Washburne, Charles Sumner, Henry Bowditch and Thomas Gold Appleton). This history incorporates the cultural dynamics and innovative era which was crucial to and had a profound effect on the development of the American nation. Paris was the place to be for Americans from every state (24+) and from many other countries, in nearly every profession (artists, doctors, writers, politicians, architects, scientists, etc). It was four times the size of NYC and the cultural center of Europe. Our nation owes France much for their timely support during our Revolution, subsequent recognition and trade (the Louisiana Purchase also made our westward expansion possible) and their cultural exchanges. McCullough brilliantly captures the essence of 1800s Paris, from the simple joys of living in the city to the cultural delights to the cultural changes and improvements. We can’t physically travel back in time, but his books are a banquet experience. The Greater Journey is well researched, well paced (riveting even!) and always interesting.

One of the joys of reviewing a book is that I get to revisit, re-reading the pages, the quotes, the emotions which so often lead me on to further books, works, people or adventures. I can’t believe I have never been to Saint-Gaudens Memorial Garden National Park in NH. I will rectify that this summer. I have already made a separate trip to see the Farragut Monument in Madison Sq Park, NYC. The extensive Bibliography has given me wonderful treasures for further exploration.

It seems we will always have Paris. Read on and make it your own.

Opening Line: “They spoke of it then as a dream of a lifetime, and for many, for all the difficulties and setbacks encountered, it was to be one of the best times ever.”
Closing Line: “What the new century might hold for them and their generation, there was no telling. For now it was enough just to be in Paris.”
Great Quotes:”It is a queer feeling to find oneself a foreigner.” Nathaniel Willis
“Good Americans when they die go to Paris” Thomas Gold Appleton (quoted by Oliver Wendell Holmes)
“We had no money…but we wanted for nothing.” Isadora Duncan

~ Helen McIver

Winter 2011 Newsletter is Now Available!

Have you seen the most recent edition of the Friends of the Library newsletter?  If not, what’cha waiting for?  There’s tons of great information in there!  Just follow the links below to see the newsletter you want to read.  Take a look today!

An Invitation! – Book Talk with Friends

Featured author, Ken Allsen
will discuss his book on March 8th
Join us March 8th

Book Talk
with Friends

1:00 pm

Plummer House
1091 Plummer Lane SW
Rochster, MN  55902

Friends of Rochester PublicLibrary invites you to join us for an afternoon of conversation, coffee and cake atPlummer House. Popular local author andhistorian Ken Allsen will talk about his booksand will feature his most recent work,  OldFrontenac Minnesota.

In addition, the Friends’ Bookstore will have a selection of books for sale by MinnesotaMystery writers and books of regional interest.

Cost is $10.00 and reservations can be made online by following this link or by calling (507) 328-2341.

Mark your calendars and confirm your attendance today!  Remember: Thursday, March 8th at 1:00 PM at Rochester’s Plummer House.  Don’t miss it!

Presidents’ Day! "How to" download eBooks

by Catherine H. Armstrong

It’s Presidents’ Day and libraries across the nation – including the Rochester Public Library and those in the surrounding communities – are closed to celebrate!  But just because you can’t physically walk into the library doesn’t mean you need to be denied the opportunity to check out that book you’ve been dying to read!  If you have an e-reader or computer, you can still go to Rochester or SELCO’s digital libraries and get that book you’ve been wanting and download it in just seconds.  It’s really quite easy!  All you need is an active library card and either a computer or an e-reader.

To begin, you will want to determine which format you need.  The most popular e-readers are the Nook, the Kindle and the iPad.  If you’re using a Nook, then the format you need is the “Adobe EPUB eBook.”  If you’re using a Kindle, then you’ll need the “Kindle Book” format.  If, however, you’re using an iPad, you have the options of downloading the free apps for both Nook and Kindle, as well as a variety of other options, so you should select whichever format you prefer or for which you have the corresponding app.  For me, I prefer the Kindle app and almost always download the “Kindle Book” option for the simple reason that I don’t need to have my iPad handy to download the book, nor is there any other software required other than the Kindle app on my iPad.  From my computer, I can simply use the option to “Get Book” after I’ve checked out the title, and it automatically takes me to my Amazon account and gives me the prompts to send it to my iPad from whatever computer I’m on.  Easy peasy!

If you still don’t know which format you require, don’t despair!  The Overdrive program is the liaison of sorts between your digital device or computer and the library’s e-book collection.  To determine which format you require for your device, follow this link and look for the option to “Get Started With…”  There you will see a list of devices necessary to view or listen to the library’s e-books.  Included in this list is the Kindle and Nook, but also the Sony Reader and other e-book readers, as well as information on Mac computers and PCs running Windows.  And that’s really just the beginning.  Just go to the page and select the device you prefer to use to read your book.

Once you’ve selected the format you require, you may or may not need to download additional software to your device.  If you do, however, require further software, the Overdrive Media Console and Adobe Digital Editions are the two most commonly required software downloads.  To download either of these software programs, you can follow this link.  Still feeling a bit unsure of what you need and how to get the appropriate software?  Don’t worry, Overdrive offers a wonderful step-by-step tutorial to help you.  Just follow this link for a guided tour.

Once you’ve selected your format and have any necessary software downloaded to your device, you’re ready to go!  It’s time to browse the library’s e-book selection. You can access the Rochester Public Library’s online digital catalogue by following this link.  If you don’t find something that grabs your interest there, you can also check out SELCO’s digital catalogue by following this link.

For most “readable” versions (versus audio versions) of books, you’ll want to look for those books that are offered as “Adobe EPUB eBook” or “Kindle Book.”  These are easily labelled just below the book title.  If the book is currently available to be checked out, you can “Add to Cart” and you will be taken through the prompts to either continue browsing or immediately check the title out.  If the title is currently in use, you can choose the option to “Place Request” and you will be prompted to submit your e-mail address to be notified with the book is available.

Once the book has been checked out, you can either download it to your device immediately from the check-out confirmation page; or you can wait to download it at a later time.  If you choose to wait until later, simply go back to the library’s digital catalogue, choose the tab for “My eAccount,” followed by the tab for “My eShelf” and type in your library card number and PIN to be taken to the page that shows all of the ebooks you’ve recently checked out.

Books from the library’s e-book selection are typically checked out for 14 or 21 days.  While the default is set at 14 days, you can use the prompt to change the check-out period to 21 days.  And the best part is that you don’t have to worry about returning it and paying overdue fees if you forget.  Once your loan period has expired, the book just “disappears” from your collection.  If you haven’t finished the book, then go back in to the library’s digital collect and check it out again.  It’s that easy!

If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll try to answer it for you.  Enjoy your Presidents’ Day and Happy Reading!

Author Spotlight and Book Review – Kristin Cashore

Author Spotlight / Book Review
Kristin Cashore
by Helen McIver

Graceling and Fire are two young adult fantasy series by Kristin Cashore, both of which I read one weekend. Graceling won several awards and was shortlisted for so many others that it was on my list to read for some time (2008). I even had the hard cover. Somehow it disappeared under the pile. But then a 99 cent Kindle deal rectified my error; although I still waited until I had read 12 other newly downloaded books. I was absolutely hooked from the second paragraph (why did I wait so long?!). I was utterly grateful the library had the second (Fire, which is actually a prequel of sorts) as an ebook which I instantly downloaded for my planeride home. I impatiently await the third installment, Bitterblue due 1 May 2012.  Could I please have an advance review copy someone?!!

These books have strong female characters in original, innovative, fascinating coming of age stories. And while the characters are 15-17, the books will also appeal to this age group while other readers will be attracted to the vivid story telling, romance and intriguing new world (NB I have been bereft while waiting for the next installment of GRRMartin’s The Song of Fire and Ice, although these are not teen material; Cashore however gives her readers a heady mixture which is well written and will further their readings.) Given the topics of atrocities of war, cruelties of mankind (and nonhuman creatures), independence and sexual freedom, these books are not for preteens. However, there are great discussion points relevant to our times.

Katsa, the main character of Graceling, has the power to kill with her bare hands, and has been a trained assassin since the age of 8. She has, however, spent grueling years learning to control her ‘grace’, and while under command to her king, also begins to develop a moral sense of right and wrong, forming a secret council to create justice.

Fire is half human, half creature (so beautiful that she is in constant danger from man and beast (who would preferentially eat her). The Kingdoms are in the turmoil of war as she wages personal battles and private grief. I found her tale particularly moving.  I am also sure I will be saying “Rocks!” as an exclamation of surprise or delight for some time to come.

Check out the trailer of this book on YouTube

Book Review – Winter Garden

Winter Garden
Kristin Hannah

I love a book that not only makes me want to turn the pages, but inspires me to want to know more about a true event in history.  Winter Garden is exactly that type of book.
Written by Kristin Hannah, Winter Garden is the story of two young women who have grown up as strangers to their own mother.  An immigrant from Russia following WWII, Anya Whitson has deliberately removed herself from the day-to-day joys of motherhood and has entirely deferred the position of nurturer to her husband.
When their father suddenly dies, Meredith and Nina Whitson are left to care for the mother they’ve never really known. Their only real connection to her has been through a fairy tale she created and occasionally told her daughters when they were small children, and never in its entirety.  As their father takes his final breaths, he demands a promise from his wife and daughters:  his wife is to tell the fairy tale to his daughters one last time to its full completion, and they are to listen to the entire story.  Thus unfolds a story so heartbreaking and shocking that it shakes the very foundation of everything Meredith and Nina thought they knew about their family and, most especially, their mother.
Winter Garden is a riveting story about the love between parent and child, and the strength of the human spirit.  The “fairy tale” Anya tells her daughters focuses on her life before she met their father and moved away from her homeland.  She tells the tale of her life in Leningrad, Russia, and of the 900-Day siege of the city by German troops during WWII that left more than 600,000 civilians dead, as they literally starved and froze to death when their provisions and outside communications had been entirely cut off by Nazi soldiers.

With much research, Hannah has recreated the events of Leningrad to provide an accurate historical perspective to a work of fiction.  As a result, Winter Garden should appeal not only to those who enjoy a good page-turner, but also to those who have a keen interest in historical fiction.

This book is available at the library in traditional format and on audio compact disc, as well as through the library’s digital catalogue in a downloadable audio version.  For more information about this book or the author’s other wonderful works, visit her website at
~ Catherine H. Armstrong

Author Spotlight – Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris

Author Review – Charlaine Harris
by Catherine H. Armstrong

Just yesterday someone asked me to name my favorite book.  Well, I was stumped!  I really don’t have a favorite book.  I’m not even sure I could name my top ten favorite books, though there are a few titles that I know would be right near the top; like To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance.
No, for the most part, I don’t have a favorite book.  I do, however, have a lot of favorite authors.  Right now, one of my favorite authors is Charlaine Harris.  It seems that everything she writes pulls me in and makes me want more.  No, she’s not succeeded in writing “The Great American Novel,” but she tends to have a way of telling a story that makes the reader want to know more about the characters and simply just want…more.
Harris is most recently known for her Southern Vampire Mysteries, also known as the Sookie Stackhouse Series, about a telepathic young waitress in Louisiana.  This series works under the premise that the Japanese have developed a blood substitute that has allowed vampires to “come out of the coffin” and live alongside humans without being a threat to the human population.  Yes, it stretches the imagination and readers do need the ability to suspend reality for a little while, but somehow Harris makes these books work.  In fact, they work so well that HBO has developed a very successful television program, True Blood, which uses the foundation of Harris’ books to create the television program’s storyline.
Another fun series by Harris is the Harper Connelly series of books about a young woman and her step-brother who travel the country helping people understand how and why their loved ones have died, and even where the bodies can be located.  Similar to the telepathic Sookie Stackhouse, the main character – Harper Connelly – has an unusual gift in that she’s able to sense the location of dead people, and can even tell you how they’ve died.
For those who are less able to suspend reality and prefer something a bit more believable, Harris also has a couple of more “normal” series under the mystery genre: The Aurora Teagarden Mysteries, and The Lily Bard Shakespeare Mysteries.  Both of these series are more mainstream  and enjoyable for those who prefer something a little less…bizarre.  Aurora Teagarden is a librarian who has a knack for discovering dead bodies and solving crimes.  She’s smart and witty, and an all-around enjoyable main character.  She’s the kind of character you can enjoy and then pass along to your mother or grandmother and know that either of them will enjoy it, too.
The Lily Bard Shakespeare series is also a more realistic series of mysteries about a young woman in the small town of Shakespeare, Arkansas.  Lilly has had a difficult past and has moved to Shakespeare to become a different person with a new life.  Like Aurora Teagarden, Lily Bard has a knack for finding dead bodies and solving crimes.  As much as she tries to escape the violence of her past, it seems to be that it’s her past that makes her best equipped to solve the crimes of the present.  
As with most books in a series, it’s always best to start at the beginning.  While Harris does a good job of bringing new readers into the fold, there’s just nothing like getting to know a character from the first pages of the first book and seeing how that character evolves with each new book release.  With that in mind, readers should consider starting each series with the first books in each as listed below.
Southern Vampire Mysteries:  Dead Until Dark (Book 1)
Harper Connelly Series:  Grave Sight (Book 1)
Aurora Teagarden Series:  Real Murders (Book 1)
Lily Bard’s Shakespeare Series:  Shakespeare’s Landlord (Book 1)
For more information about Charlaine Harris or her many enjoyable novels, visit the author’s website at
What do you like to read?  Do you have a favorite author and, if so, who and why?  Leave a comment below and help me (and other readers) discover our next favorite authors.