Entries from blogs tagged with “Lawrence”

‘Gold Fame Citrus’ is a dry read, literally

“Punting the prairie dog into the library was a mistake.”

Not exactly “Call me Ishmael,” but enough of a first sentence to intrigue this Kansas librarian. I had heard good things about the new book by up-and-coming author Claire Vaye Watkins and was eager to read it.

Watkins was born in Death Valley and raised in the Nevada desert. Her previous book, “Battleborn,” is a prize-winning collection of powerful short stories that echo that inborn interstate tension, tales struggling between boom and bust, hope and despair, action and ennui.

The atmosphere throughout much of “Battleborn” is like that in the classic old Western, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” life (and death) moving slowly through sweat and shimmering white light. The feeling continues in Watkins’ new book, “Gold Fame Citrus.” Like Paolo Bacigalupi’s “Water Knife,” which I reviewed a few months ago, it’s a “cli-fi” (climate fiction) novel that takes place fairly soon in the increasingly dry American southwest. Unlike “The Water Knife,” though, the story is not so cutting-edge.

The title should have warned me. First, the commas seem to have blown away in the Santa Ana winds. Call me persnickety, but these things matter. Second, it gets the chronology of the California mirage (as one character calls it) inside-out. These minor quibbles lead to others. In the first pages, right after the prairie dog gets punted, Watkins explains that a desiccated L.A. has “gone reptilian” and mammals are no more.

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Hmm. Having just re-read Frank Herbert’s epic “Dune,” I hoped to discern some wisdom within the desert of “Gold Fame Citrus” akin to the that of the Zensunni Wanderers, or ecological knowledge like that of “Dune” planetologist Liet-Kynes; instead I found errors, California clichés, familiar characters, and literary tropes.

Exhibit one: a damsel in distress. Protagonist Luz is a needy young ex-model “born with a golden shovel in her hand,” with no direction or purpose. Exhibit two: her partner, Ray. A capable vet out of Leavenworth, nice enough, but not the hero type. Three: Levi, the charismatic mystic/hero/guru guy. And Four: the predictable west coast gypsy caravan of drugged-out “burners and gutter punks,” including an Earth Mother, buses, sweat lodges and tents.

You get the idea. Add experimental writing that includes computer questionnaires, changing typefaces, lists, abrupt shifts from third person to first person plural, and entire sections that contribute nothing to the story, and the trip is not as enjoyable as it could be.

It’s too bad, for Watkins obviously knows the Southwest land and its history, and strives to get some of it across. Sometimes her writerly devices work. Often her writing truly does shine, usually in phrases and sentences, though the first dozen pages of Book Two are great. The purpose that shows up for Luz (a waif named Ig) is charming, and a few surprises await to keep the reader intrigued, including this: just as the clichés and listless plot were prompting me to consider reading something else, I found tucked in the middle of the book an illustrated bestiary! Imagine that — ecological literacy, lessons being passed from teacher to student, who then carries the field guide everywhere she goes. “The world was made of unseen wonders, which we might call miracles,” says the teacher. Maybe Liet-Kynes is here after all. Book One read like a Southern California young-adult love story in a much-changed future (later on it’s not so YA), but with the prodding of the “Neo-Fauna of the Amargosa Dune Sea” that turns the seemingly lifeless desert into “a land of could,” I forged on to the end of the book. But it remained lifeless. Luz, which might mean light but sounds like loose or lose, personifies the difficulties of the book itself. Bestiary notwithstanding, she drifts without initiative, lacks spark, and is largely removed from the world. Countless forms of fiction of course exist, but for a story to resonate it ought to in some way address our hopes and dreams, or at least our expectations. “Gold Fame Citrus,” like the sands of the spreading Amargosa dune field, instead ignores them and marches blithely on.

''— Jake Vail writes for the Lawrence Public Library.''

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Singer-songwriter Kelley Hunt to perform Saturday in benefit concert for Just Food

When musician Kelley Hunt was growing up, her mother could always be counted on to bring cheer to those who needed it most. She’d offer her humor, a few kind words and, perhaps most strikingly, her soulful, bluesy voice, at the drop of a hat to anyone who needed it.

Anywhere, too, Hunt recalls. Mary Sue Wade, who still sings at age 86 — though not professionally, as she did for years at church and various Emporia venues — once sang in their neighborhood’s tiny grocery store for the proprietor, who was battling a serious illness at the time. People were moved to tears by the performance, then went on with their business.

“Even when she was a housewife with four kids, if she could lift somebody up by singing to them, she’d do it,” Hunt says of her mother, whom she regards as her earliest musical influence. “She’d go to that person who wasn’t well or whatever, and she’d sit by them and sing to them. And I thought, ‘That’s how you serve somebody with what you got.’”

It’s how Hunt plans to serve her community Saturday, when the Lawrence-based, internationally touring singer-songwriter makes a hometown appearance at Liberty Hall to benefit Just Food. All proceeds from the “Valentine’s throwdown,” appropriately dubbed “Dance of Hearts,” will support the Douglas County food bank. Guests are also encouraged to bring donations of food items.

Kelley Hunt will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St. The concert will serve as a fundraiser for Just Food, the Douglas County food bank. Tickets range from $25 to $40.

Kelley Hunt will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St. The concert will serve as a fundraiser for Just Food, the Douglas County food bank. Tickets range from $25 to $40. by Ann K. Brown/Contributed Photo

The gig — which will also feature special guests The Fat Brass Horn and The Mighty Kel-Tones — is Hunt’s first Lawrence performance in “quite a while,” says the roots and R&B singer. For nearly two years now, she’s spent most of her time on the road promoting her critically acclaimed 2014 release, “The Beautiful Bones.”

Saturday’s set list should be “a big chunk” of that album, she says, along with old favorites, a generous dose of love songs and a handful of new tunes she’s been trying out for audiences lately. Now, after a slew of shows in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last month and yesterday’s gig in Omaha, Hunt says she’s excited to return to the town — and the venue — that has served as “home base” for so many decades.

“There’s so much talent and creativity in this town. There really is,” says Hunt, who came to Lawrence as a teenager to study music composition at Kansas University. “But it’s a good place for me to come home to, and I don’t play here as often as I used to. I’m glad to be home.”

Growing up in Emporia amid a musical family, Hunt’s education began long before her college days. Her parents, both musicians, would bring her along to traveling performances (classical, Broadway, whoever happened to be in town) at Emporia State University. In the summer, she’d ride her bike down to outdoor concerts. As a high schooler, she’d often sit in on her older sister’s gigs at area clubs — after her parents talked it over with the owners, of course.

But Lawrence, Hunt says, was something else entirely. It was here that Hunt saw Bonnie Raitt perform live for the first time — or rather, she heard Raitt, sitting outside Hoch Auditorium during sound check because she couldn’t afford tickets — and began applying Raitt’s “strong, graceful” presence to her fledgling career.

“They took you there because they went there,” Hunt says of the female vocalists, among them Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson and Ruth Brown, whom her mother seemed to embody back home in Emporia.

Mary Sue Wade taught her daughter: “Be generous with your gift.”

It’s what she’s choosing to do now for Just Food, because, as far as Hunt’s concerned, “In lieu of writing a personal check, which I would love to be able to do, I can do a lot more for more people where I live with my music.”

Tickets for "Dance of Hearts" range from $25 to $40 and can be purchased at www.libertyhall.net or at the Liberty Hall box office, 644 Massachusetts St. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show starts at 8 p.m.

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Annual Mardi Gras parade marches up Mass Street

The 10th annual Lawrence Mardi Gras parade marches on Massachusetts Street, Tuesday.

(Video by Journal-World photographer Mike Yoder)


Photo gallery

(Photos by Journal-World photographer Richard Gwin)

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‘We Are the Ants’: Coming of age, aliens and the end of the world

“Your entire sense of self-worth is predicated upon your belief that you matter, that you matter to the universe. But you don’t. Because we are the ants.”

Imagine one day you are taken from your home, your backyard, or your favorite coffee shop, and you wake up disoriented and paralyzed in a sterile and dark environment surrounded by technology unfamiliar to your world. You are approached by giant slug-like creatures, lacking any human features — a scream freezes in your throat — is this real? You are presented with a red button. The slugs shows you clips of the planet Earth exploding, over and over again. If you press the red button, you can save the world. But if you don’t press the button, the world ends. So the question is: If you knew the world was ending, and you had the chance to stop it, would you?

The protagonist in “We Are the Ants,” by Shaun David Hutchinson, is a nihilistic and caustic young man named Henry Denton, or Space Boy as he has been so lovingly nicknamed. Henry has been frequently abducted since he was 13 by aliens he refers to as “sluggers” due to their slug-like appearance. During one of these abductions, the sluggers communicate to him that the planet Earth will be destroyed in exactly 144 days, and he has been chosen to either save the planet or let the world as he knows it end. What seems like a straightforward decision turns out to be much more complicated as Henry’s judgment is entangled in the lives around him, as well as his own inner turmoil.

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On the surface, this book appears to be a science fiction survival story about aliens and saving the planet — but it is much, much more than that. The sluggers’ main purpose in the narrative is to bring about Henry’s existential crisis, while also randomly abducting him at the most inopportune moments only to leave him stranded and partially naked in a field (which Henry frequently grumbles about). Beyond these glimpses, the aliens don’t play a large part in Henry’s life — the characters surrounding him do:

The popular boy who openly bullies and terrorizes him in class, but makes out with Henry in secret. The former boyfriend who committed suicide about a year prior to the story beginning — a death that Henry feels personally responsible for, for not seeing the signs. The former best friend Henry has avoided since losing his boyfriend — a girl who has secrets of her own. The nerdy science teacher who desperately tries to protect Henry from bullying and encourages him to see a life beyond high school. The new boy at school, who immediately draws Henry to him with his charm but proves to be more mysterious and guarded than he presents himself. The older brother who drops out of college to provide for his pregnant girlfriend and his unborn child, who finds it difficult to connect with his younger brother. The mother who never followed her dreams and instead relies on alcohol and cigarettes to get her through the day, though not once does her faith in Henry waver. And finally there is the grandmother, who is slowly losing parts of herself to Alzheimer’s, but still manages to make Henry a school lunch.

These separate pieces written by any other author could come across as melodramatic or overdone, but somehow Hutchinson creates an entire group of three dimensional side characters, all equally important for Henry’s transformation throughout the novel, as well as influencing his ultimate decision. Emotionally, I connected with each and every one of them (even Henry’s deceased boyfriend, whose personality was revealed through flashbacks). I especially connected with Henry himself, who is complex, acerbic, and deeply, deeply fractured. It was easy to read this book so quickly with the accessible and poignant writing style, but I often found myself reading as much as I could because I needed to know that Henry would be okay. I needed to know what would happen next.

“We Are the Ants” is heartbreaking, thought-provoking, and incredibly real. Henry’s actions are never contrived or dramatic — he is humorous, self-deprecating, and generally an impressive human being. This is a book that will stay with me for many days to come — a truly unique coming-of-age story.

''— Kimberly Lopez writes for the Lawrence Public Library.''

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KU alumna to star in Comedy Central’s ‘Not Safe with Nikki Glaser,’ premiering Tuesday

Scot Pollard, whose "Survivor" stint kicks off Feb. 17 on CBS, won't be the only Kansas University alumnus to grace our TV screens this month, it seems.

Tuesday night marks the premiere of Comedy Central's newest outing, "Not Safe with Nikki Glaser," hosted and executive-produced by the titular 2006 KU alumna, comedian and close personal friend (!) of Amy Schumer.

Comedy Central - Comedy Central's Photos | Facebook

Comedy Central - Comedy Central's Photos | Facebook by Comedy Central

Described by Comedy Central as a "free-form venue where comic and curious perv Nikki investigates the issues the rest of us are too timid to ask about through a mix of panel discussions, field pieces and social experiments," the show airs Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.

If that doesn't pique your interest, we've got an interview lined up with Glaser this week and a story set for Sunday. So, stay tuned.

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Boy Scouts troops’ handcrafted planetarium now open at library

Stargazers, particularly those of the small variety, should appreciate the latest addition to the Lawrence Public Library’s atrium.

In honor of the library’s space-themed Read Across Lawrence teen series, which blasted off earlier this week, a pair of local Boy Scouts troops have built a miniature planetarium fashioned out of cardboard and binder clips, now open to astronomical enthusiasts of all ages at the library.

A young boy peeks inside the Icarus planetarium in the atrium of the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St. Boy Scouts of America Troops 55 and 61 constructed the project out of cardboard and binder clips. From inside the structure a light display of several constellations is projected on the ceiling.

A young boy peeks inside the Icarus planetarium in the atrium of the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St. Boy Scouts of America Troops 55 and 61 constructed the project out of cardboard and binder clips. From inside the structure a light display of several constellations is projected on the ceiling. by Mike Yoder

The whole thing fits up to six adults comfortably, says teen librarian Miriam Wallen. Plenty more if we’re talking about little kids.

“Overall, it’s been really enjoyed,” Wallen says. “Some people go in for a bit and take a quick glance at the stars, and some people stay for a while and watch it slowly rotate.”

The stargazing structure arrived in pieces Tuesday night, when Boy Scouts troops No. 55 and No. 61 assembled the 40 triangular pieces into a geodesic dome and stationed it in the atrium with help from library staffers.

It’s since become something of a fixture there and even has its own nickname: Icarus, after the fictional spaceship in “These Broken Stars,” this year’s official Read Across Lawrence selection for teens.

The cardboard creation will remain in the library atrium through the end of the month – or possibly sooner, “depending on how many people fall on it,” Wallen says.

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Dueling Dukes sing-off puts local men in the spotlight for Theatre Lawrence

More than a quarter century has passed since Jason Edmonds and Matt All last shared the stage together, when the two then-students tied for the big prize (it was something along the lines of “best male vocalist” or “best male performer,” though neither can remember for certain) at Kansas University’s annual Rock Chalk Revue.

Trouble was, only one trophy had been made. The young men “jokingly” engaged in a tug of war for a few brief seconds, but then All grabbed hold of the trophy and that was that.

“I never let go of the trophy and still have it today,” says All, who has found himself drawn into competition with his former classmate again, this time at Theatre Lawrence’s sold-out Dueling Dukes, slated for 7:30 p.m. Saturday. “I should probably give it to him and let him have it for another 25, 30 years,” he jokes.

Edmonds and All are among the eight Lawrence-area men selected to battle it out, “American Idol”-style, in the twist on Theatre Lawrence’s popular Dueling Divas event, which in previous years has enlisted local women to perform in support of the community theater.

Matt All, front right, grabs the arm of Jason Edmonds to push him out of the way as they perform during a dress rehearsal for the upcoming Dueling Dukes on Thursday evening at Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive. The benefit show runs on Feb. 6, 2016 at the theater.

Matt All, front right, grabs the arm of Jason Edmonds to push him out of the way as they perform during a dress rehearsal for the upcoming Dueling Dukes on Thursday evening at Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive. The benefit show runs on Feb. 6, 2016 at the theater. by John Young

The basic premise is the same this time around.

Each contestant sings two songs, in addition to a group number, and the audience members vote for their favorites. Each vote equals a dollar donated to Theatre Lawrence. Folks can also pledge support before the performance at www.theatrelawrence.com.

The evening begins at 6:30 with an hors d'oeuvre buffet, wine and cocktails, with the "dukes" taking the stage at 7:30.

“We just wanted to shake it up a bit,” Kay Traver, Theatre Lawrence marketing director, says of the gender switch.

“We try to choose contestants, some who are closely tied to the theater but also some who are community members who the general public may not realize have singing talent,” she says. “It’s always nice to see your friends and community members strut their stuff.”

Edmonds, 46, and All, 44, did their fair share of musical theater growing up. Though, with the exception of the occasional wedding and funeral over the years, it’s been decades since they sung for an audience of Theatre Lawrence proportions. Family, career and the general obligations of adulthood put performing on the back burner.

“I’m mostly excited about it,” says Matt All, now senior vice president and general counsel at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, of his return to the stage. “With occasional fits of wanting to vomit,” he deadpans.

Nerves aside, he and Edmonds both say they’ve enjoyed the experience so far. Theatre Lawrence’s musical director, Mary Baker, is providing musical accompaniment and direction, but the competition largely leaves contestants to decide how much time and effort to put into the show. Aside from a handful of “formal” rehearsals since October, Edmonds says his preparation has mainly been limited to singing in the car. (He does it every day, though.)

“It’s hardly competition. We’re all genuinely having fun,” says Edmonds, a founder and partner at Lawrence’s Edmonds Duncan Registered Investment Advisors. “It’s a much more talented group of guys — I am the rank amateur of the group, as much as I’m looking forward to it.”

He’d like to win Dueling Dukes, of course, but Edmonds has his eye on another prize too: the much-coveted Rock Chalk Revue trophy from all those years ago. Edmonds says he has instructed his old friend to bring the award to Theatre Lawrence on the night of the show.

“I met my wife (Michaela Edmonds) that year,” he concedes of the Rock Chalk Revue snub. “There are three young people who have that silly show to thank for their lives, I guess.”

Still, Edmonds says, good naturedly, “I think it’s my turn to keep the trophy, Matt.”

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Lawrence Libations: The Lieutenant Dan at Java Break

If my Twitter feed is any indication, award season is upon us, with the king of award shows, the Oscars, slated for Feb. 28.

So, in honor of Hollywood’s big night, we thought it only appropriate to highlight 1995’s Best Picture winner — and the creativity of the folks at Java Break — with this month’s Lawrence Libations: the Lieutenant Dan.

The Lieutenant Dan at Java Break, 17 E. Seventh St.

The Lieutenant Dan at Java Break, 17 E. Seventh St. by Joanna Hlavacek

If you’re having a hard time picturing Gary Sinises’s prickly Vietnam vet downing one of Java Break’s sugary lattes, it’s probably because the drink, like several others on the coffee shop’s menu, is actually named for a former Java Break employee. Manager Brandi Bradfield isn’t sure of the details, but knows his name was Dan and that he was, in fact, a lieutenant in some unspecified branch of the military.

We’re guessing he must have been a super sweet guy or — in a nod to the “Forrest Gump” character of the same name — so abrasive that his coworkers decided to honor him with an ironically sweet blend of espresso, caramel and house-made chocolate and vanilla syrups. Oh, and a heaping swirl of whipped cream (we went with chocolate) on top.

Either way, his namesake latte lives on.

Order yours hot, or go with Bradfield’s suggestion and get it iced, like we did.

The hard stuff: No alcohol in this one

Where it’s served: Java Break, 17 E. Seventh St.

What you’ll pay: $4.05 for a regular-sized portion

Other libations at this location: Plenty of coffee options, from the standard (cappuccino, et al) to more Java Break originals like the cinnamon-laced Sarina’s Sin-a-Bun and the minty Jenny’s Julep. For the coffee-averse, Java Break offers hot chocolate, house-made chai and other tea options, plus several varieties of Italian soda.

— Drink up. Stay classy. Don’t forget to tip your bartender. And let us know if you want to suggest a libation for this feature — email jhlavacek@ljworld.com or Tweet her at Twitter.com/hlavacekjoanna. Cheers.

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Mardi Gras parade set for Tuesday

Time to bust out the beads, baubles and general "freaky" attire, Lawrencians. The 10th annual Mardi Gras parade returns Tuesday, with local musician Mike West and his family again at the helm.

The fun starts about 11:30 a.m., when folks are invited to gather in front of Aimee's Coffee House, 1025 Massachusetts St., before continuing north on the street beginning at noon.

The whole thing — which usually draws between 100 and 300 people, including spectators who join in as the parade meanders in and out of downtown businesses — should last no longer than two hours, West says, before ending at Free State Brewing Co., 636 Massachusetts St.

Don't forget to dress up and bring musical instruments if you've got them, West says. Even if you don't know how to play, noise-making is encouraged.

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Prepare for the worst, and enjoy every moment of it

Let’s say that a sudden accident has left you stranded and alone on a faraway planet. (Does this scenario ring some bells? If not, come by the library to check out a copy of this year’s Read Across Lawrence pick, Andy Weir’s “The Martian”). How on (off?) Earth are you going to get out of this predicament?

Between you and me, if you find yourself in this situation, you’re going to wish you had spent some time at the library, because it’s knowledge and know-how that can you a fighting chance. Want to study up in case you find yourself involved in an interplanetary mishap? I’ve got a few reading suggestions to get you started!

Being able to predict the consequences of your actions will be crucial, so you’ll probably want to know something about chemistry and physics. One fantastic place to start is with Randall Munroe’s “What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.” A former NASA roboticist, Munroe is perhaps best known for his webcomic, xkcd.com. (Another possible claim to fame: a potentially planet-destroying asteroid has been named after him). “What If?” is a compilation of answers to questions posed by xkcd readers.

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Through the window of improbable situations — What would happen if you tried to fly a regular airplane over various entities in our solar system? Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns? What would happen if you built a model of the periodic table using bricks made of each of the elements in the periodic table? — Munroe offers insight into science concepts with wit and humor (not to mention a pinch of weird).

While you’re preparing yourself for survival in a high stakes situation with very little room for error, it couldn’t hurt to pick up Jordan Ellenberg’s “How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.” Were you the kid who asked your math teacher, “But when am I ever going to use this?” Ellenberg, a research mathematician (and novelist!), contends that “math is like an atomic-powered prosthesis that you attach to your common sense, vastly multiplying its reach and strength.” Not a bad addition to your toolkit when you find yourself averaging 139 million miles from your home planet.

When you’re readying yourself for an out-of-the-ordinary situation, it can be helpful to get some advice from someone who’s been there. Check out Chris Hadfield’s riveting “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” for the lowdown on the nuts-and-bolts of preparing for life in space. (Need some inspiration for facing your fears? Hadfield — a jet pilot and veteran of three space missions and two spacewalks — is afraid of heights).

Now, is it a coincidence that the Dewey decimal system ends up situating accounts of space explorers like Hadfield (check out call number 629.45) right next to books about small area gardening and self-sufficiency (that’d be the 630s)? I don’t think so (and if you're reading “The Martian” I suspect you’ll agree with me).

For tips on preparing soil, propagating a wide range of herbs and vegetables, tying knots, making baskets and the basics of keeping warm and erecting shelter, you can’t go wrong with John Seymour’s charmingly illustrated “The Concise Guide to Self-Sufficiency.” And while we’re on the subject of vegetable propagation, let’s not forget a biography of NASA’s gastronomic factotum, the potato. John Reader’s “Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent” will tell you everything you need to know about this versatile (and delicious!) life support unit.

So read up, folks — the red planet awaits!

''— Melissa Fisher Isaacs is the info services coordinator for the Lawrence Public Library.''

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‘Jay’s Dinner’ to honor late Hank Charcuterie chef Juan Carlos Tovar-Ballagh, benefit Just Food

When Hank Charcuterie chef de cuisine Juan Carlos Tovar-Ballagh passed away last November, he left behind a small library of notebooks brimming with recipe ideas that he would never make.

“Jay,” the quietly ambitious, imaginative young man who started his culinary career as a line cook at Pachamamas and later helped transform Hank Charcuterie from a small artisanal butcher shop into a “full-fledged restaurant,” was just 27.

On Thursday, a group of Tovar-Ballagh’s friends and colleagues will finally bring some of his notebook musings to life in “Jay’s Dinner,” a six-course meal benefiting Just Food.

Hank Charcuterie chef de cuisine Juan Carlos 'Jay' Tovar-Ballagh, pictured in this 2011 Journal-World photo at the former Pachamamas kitchen, died last November at 27, leaving behind several notebooks of recipe ideas. "Jay's Dinner," a six-course meal inspired by his notes, will take place Thursday at Sarah's Upstairs, 927 1/2 Massachusetts St., benefitting Just Food.

Hank Charcuterie chef de cuisine Juan Carlos 'Jay' Tovar-Ballagh, pictured in this 2011 Journal-World photo at the former Pachamamas kitchen, died last November at 27, leaving behind several notebooks of recipe ideas. "Jay's Dinner," a six-course meal inspired by his notes, will take place Thursday at Sarah's Upstairs, 927 1/2 Massachusetts St., benefitting Just Food.

Slated for 6:30 p.m. at Sarah’s Upstairs, 927 ½ Massachusetts St., the event will feature several high-profile members of the Lawrence dining scene, including Ken Baker and Brian Strecker of the now-closed Pachamamas, Rick Martin of Limestone Pizza Kitchen and Bar, Zach Thompson of 715, and Vaughn Good and Jamie Everett of Hank Charcuterie.

“We took our dish and tried to make it as close to what we thought Jay would do,” says Good, chef-owner of Hank Charcuterie. “How he would plate it, how he would cook it.”

The resulting menu includes such delicacies as beer-brined chicken confit and kimchi-wrapped beef neck dumplings.

Despite his late friend’s introverted nature, Good suspects Tovar-Ballagh wouldn’t have minded the big, fancy dinner in his name — “I think he’d like it,” Good says. After his death last year, the Tovar-Ballagh family asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Just Food.

“Jay was an insanely creative person,” Good says. “He had a ton of thoughts and ideas that he just didn’t get to do yet, and I think that was the best way that we could remember Jay or pay tribute to him — to let some of these things come to life that he didn’t get to do.”

Tickets to “Jay’s Dinner” cost $75, or $45 for those who work in the restaurant industry, and can be purchased at www.justfoodks.org/jaysdinner.

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Female-led ‘Women in the Field’ dinner to benefit Sunrise Project

A handful of female chefs and restaurateurs are teaming up for a night of dinner, dancing and entertainment to benefit the Sunrise Project next month at Abe & Jake’s Landing, 8 E. Sixth St.

“Women in the Field,” slated for Feb. 18 from 6:30 to 10 p.m., will feature the culinary talents of Meg Heriford of Ladybird Diner, Melinda Roeder of Café Beautiful, Hilary Brown of the now-closed Local Burger, Raven Naramore of Raven’s Table Catering and Bubbly Love Ferments; caterer Kendra Marable; Layla McEniry of Layla’s Got Sweetcakes; and Cait Curtis of Terrebonne Café.

The women will prepare a six-course meal, including drinks, benefiting the Sunrise Project, a Lawrence nonprofit that provides community cooking and gardening programs.

Tickets are $100 and can be purchased at www.sunriseprojectks.org or by sending checks to Sunrise Project at P.O. Box 1454, Lawrence KS 66044 (write “Women in the Field” in the memo line).

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‘The Hateful Eight’ and the books you’ll love

Influenced by “The Thing,” “Clue,” and Sergio Corbucci’s nihilistic spaghetti western “The Great Silence,” Quentin Tarantino’s new film “The Hateful Eight” takes place in post-Civil War Wyoming, where eight sadistic strangers seek shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery during a whiteout blizzard.

Filmed in Ultra Panavision 70mm, “The Hateful Eight” was first shown as a limited roadshow engagement at 100 theaters prior to its widespread digital release on Dec. 30, 2015. This exclusive two-week presentation featured an overture, an intermission and an extended cut of the film shown in a much wider and vibrant 2.76:1 aspect ratio.

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I had the fortuitous opportunity to see the roadshow version twice, and it was an experience that captured the magic of going to the cinema from my childhood. If you’re like me and love to get lost in a book after viewing an impactful film, then you’ve come to the right place for some literary companion pieces to “The Hateful Eight.”

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“The Six-Gun Tarot” by R. S. Belcher

“The Six-Gun Tarot” is a fantastical, genre-bending work of fiction that is equal parts “A Game of Thrones” and Lovecraftian horror (with the visual steampunk aesthetics of Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes”). Author R.S. Belcher provides a refreshing re-imagination of the western genre that is surprisingly thought provoking as it follows a diverse group of mysterious ragtag individuals who must band together to stop a force of evil that threatens to destroy the world.

Tarantino excels at blending genres and relies on influences from a variety of sources to create an original film. For “The Hateful Eight,” what starts out as a snowy, cinematic western turns into a claustrophobic, Agatha Christie-inspired whodunit with Samuel L. Jackson as a gunslinging detective Poirot. It defies conventional expectations and has an unpredictable ending as conflicts simmer to a boil and blood is spilled. If you like your westerns with a bit of flair and excellent character development, like “The Hateful Eight,” then “The Six-Gun Tarot” is a good place to begin.

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“The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick deWitt

Set during the California Gold Rush, this literary western follows the misadventures of the infamous Sisters Brothers — a couple of sharp shooters hired to kill a man who may have stolen a valuable artifact from their employer. It’s told from the perspective of the more sensitive of the two, Eli, who hopes that this will be their last job so he can settle down with the next girl he finds in his arms. In contrast, his cold-blooded brother Charlie is only driven by three things: money, alcohol and the thrill of the hunt.

As they travel to San Francisco to kill a man, everything goes awry in this brutal dark comedy that could easily exist within Tarantino’s cinematic universe. Along their journey they leave a trail of corpses and broken hearts behind as they come to a much deeper understanding of their humanity or lack thereof.

Similar to “The Hateful Eight,” “The Sisters Brothers” relies on deadpan dialogue riddled with subtle nuances that become increasingly important as the story progresses. With each reading, you gain a new perspective on character motivations or intentions, which can also be said for repeated viewings of Tarantino films.

Much of the conversations are introspective and philosophical in nature. By the end of the novel, the characters have undergone personal transformations that blur their pasts and futures together in a way that forces you to think about how your own experiences have shaped the person you have become.

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“The Winter Family” by Clifford Jackman

“The Winter Family” is a sweeping western noir that, over a period of three decades, follows a gang of merciless outlaws led by the baddest of them all: the fearless, golden-eyed Augustus Winter. The book is divided into four distinct vignettes that explore the evolution of this barbarous gang of killers from their role in Sherman’s March to the Sea to their work as ruffians hired to rig an election in Chicago.

It is brutal, gritty and features hateful, unsympathetic characters who commit heinous acts of atrocity in the name of frontier justice. However, in highlighting the harsh reality of the Wild West, author Clifford Jackman is able to explore the ways in which a world of impunity predicated on violence can impact conceptualizations of the self.

As malicious as Augustus Winter behaves, he sees the world as it is — a place where men who do bad things go unpunished — and thus has a perverted sense of justice that he enacts against those who stand against him. In fact, the Winter family would give Daisy Domergue and her ruthless gang in “The Hateful Eight” a run for their money. If you like the pervasive and realistic violence that Tarantino wrangles into each of his films, then this book will satisfy your craving for more.

''— Fisher Adwell writes for the Lawrence Public Library.''

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Percolator’s ‘Group Love’ show to open Friday

“Group Love,” the Lawrence Percolator’s fourth installment of its annual amore-themed exhibit, opens Friday — just in time for Valentine’s Day, conveniently enough.

But the show isn’t merely a valentine to romance. Love of all kinds — love for family members, friends, for one’s self — is celebrated in the multimedia effort, says Percolator board member and exhibiting artist Rachael Perry.

This year’s work — the exhibit is open to artists of all ages and skill levels — includes everything from painting and printmaking to mixed-media sculptures and assemblages made with found objects.

Lawrence artist Karen Eager created a iron face, seen here, for the Lawrence Percolator's annual love-themed art show, this year titled "Group Love." The exhibit opens Friday with a reception from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Percolator, 913 Rhode Island St.

Lawrence artist Karen Eager created a iron face, seen here, for the Lawrence Percolator's annual love-themed art show, this year titled "Group Love." The exhibit opens Friday with a reception from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Percolator, 913 Rhode Island St. by Richard Gwin

“The pieces are really diverse and really fun this year,” she says. “People are really looking at love in all its complexity and not just through one single lens.”

Perry, whose Lawrence Inside Out project saw the installation of hundreds of black-and-white photographic portraits around the city in 2015, has fashioned a collage out of old photos she discovered in the dumpster behind the Social Service League, 905 Rhode Island St., which is near the Percolator.

Comprising mostly professional and amateur snapshots of children from 1950s-era Garnett, the photographs portrayed kids in class portraits and dressed up with friends on Halloween.

“It reminded me of how it felt to be in elementary school,” Perry says of her creation. “You have this whole dynamic of group love and group hate and all the social aspects of being alive when you’re that age.”

Lawrence artist Liza MacKinnon created a 3-foot-tall, papier-mache human heart for the Lawrence Percolator's new show "Group Love," which encourages artists to explore the theme of love. The show opens Friday at the Percolator, 913 Rhode Island St.

Lawrence artist Liza MacKinnon created a 3-foot-tall, papier-mache human heart for the Lawrence Percolator's new show "Group Love," which encourages artists to explore the theme of love. The show opens Friday at the Percolator, 913 Rhode Island St. by Richard Gwin

This year marks Liza MacKinnon’s third showing at the Percolator’s love exhibit.

A sort of artistic jack-of-all-trades, MacKinnon works in a variety of mediums, including printmaking, painting, textiles and ceramics. But she’s never done anything — at least not with papier-mache — on the same scale as her “Group Love” submission, a 3-foot-tall, anatomically correct replica of a human heart covered in pages taken from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM.

Alternatively titled “My Lumpy Heart,” “A Broken Heart is a Beating Heart,” and “Love Letter to Bert Nash,” the papier-mache sculpture pays tribute to the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, where MacKinnon has been a client for nearly all of her eight years in Lawrence.

Collages by Candice Davis hang at the Lawrence Percolator, 913 Rhode Island St. The Percolator's annual love-themed art show, "Group Love," opens Friday.

Collages by Candice Davis hang at the Lawrence Percolator, 913 Rhode Island St. The Percolator's annual love-themed art show, "Group Love," opens Friday. by Richard Gwin

She credits the facility’s dialectical behavioral therapy program (the approach is geared toward recognizing and ultimately regulating harmful behavior, such as self-harm, substance abuse and suicidal thinking) with helping her “navigate the world better.”

“The people who work there, even the bookkeepers and receptionists, I feel like they go above and beyond taking care of humanity. They’re spreading love outward,” MacKinnon says. “They do this for a living, but it’s more than just having a job.”

Between her teaching at the Lawrence Arts Center and a part-time gig at the Lawrence Public Library, MacKinnon’s schedule doesn’t leave much time for art shows. But honoring love — especially the compassion and empathy she’s experienced at Bert Nash — make the Percolator's show worthwhile.

“It’s hard to use language without sounding cliché,” she admits. “But, really, love and the way it’s expressed and the way people take care of each other…really, that’s the currency to be alive.”

“Group Love” runs through Feb. 21 at the Percolator, 913 Rhode Island St., with an opening reception slated for 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday.

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Off the Beaten Plate: The Drunken Chicken at Fat Freddy’s

Off the Beaten Plate is no stranger to the creatively named and often wildly indulgent pizzas at Fat Freddy’s. Remember the Wake n Bake from September 2013? Or the similarly themed Stoner Pie, which we’ve never featured but will probably make its way into my gullet at some point in this column’s lifetime?

Well, the lineage of pizzas-named-for-intoxicants continues this week with Fat Freddy’s Drunken Chicken: “Will that chicken ever lay off the booze? He’s already sauced!” reads the Fat Freddy’s menu.

The Drunken Chicken pizza at Fat Freddy's, 1445 W. 23rd St.

The Drunken Chicken pizza at Fat Freddy's, 1445 W. 23rd St. by Joanna Hlavacek

This hefty pie is sauced, which in this case carries double meaning because of the very generous amount of “Sticky Whiskey Sauce” dripping from every slice and the fact that said sauce is made with actual Jameson Irish Whiskey.

The alcohol is cooked off in the oven, of course, but the pizza still has a sort of, shall we say, zest, that’s reminiscent of whiskey. Or it could be that “hint of blue cheese.”

The Drunken Chicken, of course, also contains lots of chicken, plus smoked ham, red onions, green peppers, mozzarella and various spices, all served on a garlic-butter crust.

It’s a lot of food for most occasions, though perhaps one has to be in a certain “mindset” to truly appreciate its gluttonous majesty.

Where to get it: Fat Freddy's Pizza and Wings, 1445 W. 23rd St.

What you'll pay: $14.99 for a medium

Try it with: Like a hangover, this pizza goes well with a nice nap.

Also on the menu: To quote my colleague and Off the Beaten Plate predecessor Sara Shepherd, "complete and utter food debauchery, basically." That includes more wacky pizzas like Whole Herd ("Everything that walks, nothing that flies, and absolutely NOTHING that grows in the sun," the menu says) and the Bacon Cheddar CheeseBurger, which essentially is a burger piled onto a pizza. Aside from pies, Fat Freddy's also makes chicken wings, calzones, stromboli, salads, appetizers such as "Jody's Cheesy Balls" and a half dozen versions of "Hokey Pokey Stix," which are all some variation on garlic-buttered cheesy bread.

— Off The Beaten Plate highlights some of the more exotic, oddly named or inventively concocted dishes from local menus. Know of an offbeat item we should check out? Email reporter Joanna Hlavacek at jhlavacek@ljworld.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/hlavacekjoanna. Check back weekly and monthly, respectively, for more Off the Beaten Plate and Lawrence Libations.

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Read Across Lawrence for adults, kids launches this week; teen program to follow early next month

Read Across Lawrence 2016 is “Out of This World,” with plenty of space-related programming to prove it. Expanding on this year’s theme, the Lawrence Public Library is hosting several astronomical events beginning this week through February.

Read Across Lawrence for Adults (the annual program also caters to kids and teens) “blasts off” (credit to the library for that bit of space-y humor) Thursday at 7 p.m. in the library auditorium, where participants can snag free copies of this year’s official Read Across Lawrence selection, Andy Weir’s “The Martian,” and enjoy an evening with science fiction authors and Kansas University professors James Gunn and Chris McKitterick as well as experimental particle physicist Philip Baringer. The topic at hand: “the marriage of science and technology throughout the history of the science fiction genre,” the library teases.

The 2016 Read Across Lawrence event will feature, from left, "These Broken Stars," by Amie Kaufman (for teens), "The Martian," by Andy Weir (for adults) and "The True Meaning of Smekday," by Adam Rex (for children).

The 2016 Read Across Lawrence event will feature, from left, "These Broken Stars," by Amie Kaufman (for teens), "The Martian," by Andy Weir (for adults) and "The True Meaning of Smekday," by Adam Rex (for children). by Mike Yoder

On Saturday, the library (rocket) launches Read Across Lawrence for Kids with a pizza party provided by Papa John’s from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the auditorium. Lawrence’s littlest readers will receive free copies of “The True Meaning of Smekday” by Adam Rex and watch as library staffers reveal a time capsule to be filled throughout February and sealed at the Read Across Lawrence finale.

This year’s Read Across Lawrence selection for Teens, “These Broken Stars” by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner, “enters Lawrence’s orbit” on Feb. 3 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the auditorium with a book giveaway and testing of a homemade planetarium.

More intergalactic activities — including a 12-hour, library-organized “space camp” for a very lucky group of 25 sixth- through 12th-graders — are slated to follow throughout February. For more information, visit www.lawrence.lib.ks.us.

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The Once and Future Read: T.H. White’s Classic in 2016

Last year, Helen Macdonald’s “H is for Hawk” was released to tremendous praise (our own Eli Hoelscher considered it his book of the year). It’s a true story that examines the intersections between isolation, solace, civilization and wildness. In an attempt to exorcise her own rage and desperation, a grieving Macdonald, long a practitioner of falconry, decides to train a ferocious young goshawk after her father’s sudden passing.

Having never trained this particular species before, she relies upon T.H. White’s “The Goshawk” as a manual of sorts. In a rave review for “H is for Hawk,” Kathryn Schulz of The New Yorker describes the work as “one part grief memoir, one part guide to [goshawks], and one part biography of [author] T. H. White.”

White’s best known work is “The Once and Future King.” It is bar none my favorite book. It is an all at once hysterical, beautiful, silly, philosophical, joyous, heartbreaking and ultimately glorious retelling of Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur.” All this talk of “H is for Hawk” and “The Goshawk” inspired me to revisit it.

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“The Once and Future King” is actually a compilation of four separate works, and odds are you’re familiar with at least some of its content. “The Sword in the Stone” (1938 and adapted by Disney in its 1963 classic of the same name), “The Queen of Air and Darkness” (1939), and “The Ill-Made Knight” (1940 and the inspiration of Lerner and Lowe’s award winning musical “Camelot”), were released separately as stand alone novels. In 1958, they were released together in The Once and Future King which added a fourth book, The Candle in the Wind. A fifth standalone volume titled “The Book of Merlyn” was published posthumously in 1977. The book has been tremendously influential, inspiring among others, J.K. Rowling, Gregory Maguire and Neil Gaiman.

As for the story, it begins with a young “hero worshipper” called “the Wart, because it more or less rhymed with Art, which was short for his real name.” Young Arthur is a sweet, unassuming boy blissfully unaware of his destiny to become Britain’s greatest and most tragic king. The early book is primarily concerned with his “eddication” by Merlyn and is literally and figuratively magical. White can be remarkably funny, and he deftly employs humor to create a whimsical (and often anachronistic) alternative to the historical “dark ages” with which we are acquainted. The idyllic quasi-historical setting first serves as a backdrop where the Wart and Kay, his foster brother, can explore, scrap, and get into as much trouble as possible. Later, the picturesque castle of Forest Sauvage is left behind, and the wide and often brutal kingdom of Gramarye is laid before us as the plot advances.

Arriving at Camelot, White bittersweetly retells the stories of the Round Table, the confused childhood of the Orkney clan, the love affair between Lancelot and Queen Guenever, the holy trials of the grail quest, and the wars and feuds of noble houses. All the while, he philosophizes over themes of education, governance, war, pacifism, faith, and love without ever losing his particular joie de vivre.

White was a complicated man. He had a troubled childhood, and lived through both World Wars. He was an agnostic as well as a conscientious objector of the second World War, moving to Ireland to avoid it completely. A closeted homosexual in early twentieth-century Britain, he once wrote to a friend, “It has been my hideous fate to be born with an infinite capacity for love and joy with no hope of using them." Born into a society that rejected him, White never found someone with whom he could share his life, but that “infinite capacity” for love and joy can be felt in the humanity he infuses into each of his tremendously flawed characters.

At its heart, “The Once and Future King” is the story of a simple man’s attempt, however naive, to make the world a better place. On this journey, White surrounds Arthur with a marvelous supporting cast that becomes entangled in his legacy. And as affairs, betrayals, murder, and war become commonplace, Camelot tragically never reaches Merlyn’s and Arthur’s high ideal. “The Once and Future King” is a beautiful tragedy lovingly interpreted by someone intimately acquainted with grief. And for me it’s absolutely unforgettable.

— Ian Stepp is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.

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Kansas Craft Brewers Exposition returns to Lawrence March 5

Here’s a bit of cheery news on a dreary Monday, at least for those of us who appreciate a good beer: The wildly popular Kansas Craft Brewers Exposition has set a date for this year’s event in Lawrence, slated for March 5 at Abe & Jake’s Landing, 8 E. Sixth St.

(“Wildly popular” is not hyperbolic newspaper speak here: Downtown Lawrence Inc., a co-sponsor of the expo, reported that 500 tickets were purchased in a single minute during last year’s sales.)

The fifth annual event, which attracts craft breweries of varying sizes from across the region, will offer two sessions this year, from noon to 3 p.m. and 4:30 to 7 p.m. Also on the roster: food, music, merchandise, informational and educational displays, and beer samples galore.

John Bourneuf, left, of Lawrence, and Maria Vopat, of Mission, have a taste of the Kansas Craft Brewers Exposition on Saturday, March 3, 2012, at Abe and Jake’s Landing, 8 E. Sixth St., among hundreds of other beer enthusiasts.

John Bourneuf, left, of Lawrence, and Maria Vopat, of Mission, have a taste of the Kansas Craft Brewers Exposition on Saturday, March 3, 2012, at Abe and Jake’s Landing, 8 E. Sixth St., among hundreds of other beer enthusiasts. by Richard Gwin

The Kansas Craft Brewers Guild, along with Downtown Lawrence Inc., sponsor the annual event with help from organizer and Free State Brewing Co. owner Chuck Magerl.

Tickets are slated to go on sale Friday. The expo's website claims tickets have already sold out, but a representative from Downtown Lawrence Inc. has assured us the website simply hasn't been fully updated since last year's event, hence the premature "sold out" notice. Tickets will go on sale Friday as planned.

Details, including ticket information, are available at www.kscraftbrewfest.com.

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2016’s new book club services

It’s Thursday, you’re counting down the hours until the workday is done, and you have book club tonight. Not only do you have book club, it’s YOUR TURN to host. You’ve got cheese dip to make, pinot to purchase, and you still don’t know what book to suggest to your group for next month. Under pressure, you google what’s big on Amazon right now and throw a metaphorical dart. (Besides, your club never seems to agree on a book, so you figure it really doesn’t really matter anyway.)

What if there were something better? Book clubs have a special place in our heart, and The Book Squad is developing a suite of services to help make being a member more fun and book clubs less stressful to run. First, many of you may know that we offer a Book Club in a Bag service — 10 to 12 copies of a book are available for your club for six weeks. Each bag also comes with discussion questions to assist clubs that want to take the conversation deeper. You may not know we have over 175 titles to choose from, and we have KitKeeper, software that gives users a quick, easy way to see the availability of all of our bags in one place. You can place reservations by title or choose based on what’s available in the month you need it. Another service we’re launching is a newsletter chock full of bookish news, local book clubs highlights, great reads for groups, updates on programs of interest to book club members and more. If you’re interested in receiving The Book Club Hub, sign up here and we’ll keep you up-to-date.

And lastly, if you’re interested in working with a member of our Book Squad to create and reserve picks based specifically on your clubs tastes and interests, you can contact us about a one-on-one consultation at rs@lawrencepubliclibrary.org. We’d love to help you figure out what to read next!

The Book Squad is busy planning programs that will help strengthen your book club experience. Mark your calendars for April 14 at 7:30 p.m. for our Book Club Happy Hour. Bring your book club and “speed date” multiple books, enjoy Mocktails and snacks, and leave with a list of books your club is excited to read. If you don’t currently have a book club, never fear. The library has several to choose from and we welcome new members.

Genre Book Club: Learn more about a variety of genres and subgenres. We compile the reading list, you pick a title from it that interests you and come to discuss at the library on the fourth Sunday of the month starting in April. (February and March are a little different — check our calendar!) Contact Readers’ Services to sign up.

YA for Adults Book Club: YA books aren’t just for teens — there are great titles that adults will enjoy, too. Meetings take place out and about town on the second Thursday of the month. Contact Kimberly for details.

Lit Lunch: A brownbag discussion group (drinks on us) on the first Wednesday of the month at noon. Bring what you’re reading and gab about what everyone else if reading, too, plus get the low-down on new books from William. Contact William to sign up. Starts March 2.

Last Wednesday Book Club: Primarily reads popular and more recent titles, meets (you guessed it) on the last Wednesday of the month at the library. Contact Kate for more details.

Lit Lounge: If you like to get lit…erary, we’re starting a new book club for adults. You can raise a pint and your bookish IQ at the same time! Third Thursdays at Decade Coffee at 7 p.m., starting March 17th. Contact Kate for more details.

Coming this summer, we’re working to bring the community a book club that focuses on diverse voices through partnership with local thinkers. Stay tuned for details!

So wrap up that expense report, swing by the liquor store, and get ready to talk to your group about the new services at LPL. You’ll be a book club hero.

— Polli Kenn writes for the Lawrence Public Library.

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Lawrence women to compete for charity in Saturday’s Transformations pageant

Throughout her childhood and well into high school, Carrie Combs lit up the stage as a competitive dancer. Now, at 27, Combs is dusting off her dance shoes for the first time in a decade to perform in Saturday’s sold-out Transformations pageant.

Slated for 6 p.m. at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St., the fifth annual event will feature 10 women from the Lawrence community each competing for a charity of their choice. The prize: $10,000.

But Transformations, of course, isn’t your typical beauty pageant. Created and directed by Lawrence resident Brandon Eisman, the event pairs each contestant with a female impersonator (or drag performer, for the uninitiated) to serve as a consultant throughout the competition.

Transformations - Photos from Transformations's post in... | Facebook

Transformations - Photos from Transformations's post in... | Facebook by Transformations

“The contestant is made over, or transformed, by their consultant to basically alter them into their diva self,” says Eisman, who performs onstage under his alter ego, Deja Brooks.

That transformation includes everything from styling to stage presence, and it begins several months before the big night.

Last year, at the encouragement of her boss and original Transformations contestant Dr. Amelia Rodrock, Combs bought herself a ticket to 2015’s pageant.

“It was so much fun. I was standing up and dancing with everyone — I couldn’t even sit in my seat,” says Combs, who is competing for the Lawrence Humane Society. “I was so inspired by all the women competing and their bravery, and I wanted to do it.”

After being selected for the pageant in September, Combs began prepping around Thanksgiving. Lately, the office manager has taken to twice-a-day rehearsals, even enlisting her husband to build props for her talent segment.

Her consultant, who goes by the stage name Mulan, has been there every step of the way, Combs says — critiquing her choreography (Combs, a longtime Britney Spears fan, is planning a song-and-dance medley of the pop queen’s hits), coaching her on public speaking, and even designing and handcrafting her entire stage wardrobe — “I feel very lucky to have (Mulan),” Combs says.

She hopes to stay in touch with Mulan long after the pageant ends, and has become friends with her fellow contestants.

Carrie Combs

Carrie Combs by Transformations

Thanks to Transformations, Combs and her husband recently welcomed a new addition to their family, a two-legged cat named Steven. Combs adopted the “awesome” and “crazy” little critter after visiting the Humane Society to discuss her plan of representing the charity at the pageant.

“It just took me going in there and chatting about animals, and they just happened to mention this two-legged cat,” she says. "I met him after he had one of his legs removed, and I adopted him a week later."

Combs was told Steven wouldn't be able to jump onto the kitchen table. But, against all odds, he can — and he does, Combs says.

"He’s able to do everything that a 6-month-old kitten would be able to do," she says.

Talk about a transformation.

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