Monday, January 22, 2018

Once Upon a Spine by Kate Carlisle

Reviewed by Jeanne

Brooklyn Wainwright is a bibliophile and bookbinder in San Francisco, so it’s a good thing that she’s also independently wealthy.  She’s engaged to handsome British security expert Derek Stone and they have an adorable cat named Charlie.  The only bump in the road is that Brooklyn is getting ready to meet Derek’s parents for the first time and she’s getting a little stressed out about it.  Will his English parents approve of a prospective daughter-in-law who has a habit of getting involved in murder investigations?  Whose parents are Deadheads and live in a commune?  Whose mother is a Wiccan? 

Brooklyn tries to keep her spirits up, but an early morning foray to Sweetie Pies  to get a dessert for Derek’s folks takes her past a store . . . and, of course, a dead body.

This is the second Bibliophile Mystery I’ve read and have enjoyed both.  I usually read all of a series in order but for this one I just picked up ones that appeared on the new fiction shelf.  Once Upon a Spine is the eleventh in the series, but I had no trouble following along.  Carlisle does a nice job of introducing new readers to characters without dragging it out so that fans don’t get bored. 

There’s a good bit of humor, but it isn’t slapstick.  This time the murder took a backseat to the domestic drama, but I found myself enjoying it all. Brooklyn is a down to earth, friendly character who doesn’t flaunt her wealth and who has strong family ties.  Derek is pretty much thestock wonderful boyfriend, but both sets of parents are lots of fun.  The upcoming nuptials promise to be amusing, since the occasion should include Brooklyn’s many place-named siblings (China, Savannah, Austin, Jackson, and London) and commune leader Guru Bob.

The appeal for me is Brooklyn’s knowledge of books, bookmaking, and book repair.  Part of the plot involves early editions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and as a result I learned some interesting tidbits about that book.  Brooklyn also described how she makes paper using a blender for a card project; in an earlier book, readers learned a bit about rebinding a book. That’s the sort of little extra that brings me back to a series. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Artemis by Andy Weir

Reviewed by Kristin

Andy Weir dazzles with Artemis, which hit the bestseller charts instantly upon publication in November, deservedly riding on the coattails of his earlier sensation The Martian.  Humans in the near future have migrated to the domed lunar city called Artemis.  With five huge spheres (named Armstrong, Aldrin, Conrad, Bean and Shepard,) Artemis was built and is controlled by the Kenyan Space Corporation—KSC for short.  It’s a relatively small place and there isn’t much crime.  Exactly how many hiding places could there be on the moon?

Artemis is all that Jasmine Bashara really remembers.  She was born in Saudi Arabia, but came to the moon when she was only six.  Now she’s an adult and has wriggled out from under her Muslim father’s control, but she’s still trying to figure out exactly how to get what she wants out of life.  Jazz doesn’t necessarily want to be rich, but she’d really like to make enough money to pay back a few old debts and buy her own quarters with a little bit of space and her own bathroom.  Just a little more square footage would be so much better than her coffin sized sleeping space located 15 floors underground in the Conrad bubble.

Jazz works delivering packages to and from incoming and Earth-bound cargo ships.  Officially she’s a porter; unofficially she has a side business greasing officials’ palms and smuggling contraband to people who will pay her well for the pleasure of a good cigar, pornography, or other illicit goods.  When a chance to make big money for a little act of sabotage comes her way, how can she refuse?  Soon in over her head, Jazz draws upon her friends and family, not to mention a little arm twisting and deal-making with law enforcement and KSC corporate officials, just to make it out alive.

Once I started Artemis, I couldn’t put it down.  I read this book in barely more than a day, wishing that I had more time in the lunar city.  Jazz is a refreshing character, different from many of the usual tough cookies in science fiction.  She has goals and not that many scruples about how she will act to achieve them, but she is very likeable.  Even though she’s supposed to be about twenty-six years old, her attitudes remind me more of a younger adult, perhaps about eighteen.  She’s fierce about her independence, but she still cares what her father thinks of her even though she has rejected his religion and chose specifically not to follow him into the family welding business.

Artemis’ film rights were bought by 20th Century Fox and New Regency six months before the book was even published.  Even before I knew that, I could imagine the wide shots of the lunar landscape with Jazz bounding across the terrain in her EVA space suit.  (For which she has not yet passed the certification, but would that stop Jazz?)  I can only hope that the producers will choose an appropriate person of color for the lead role and several other key characters, rather than whitewashing the cast.

With a touch of lawlessness ( a la space western,) this latest novel by Weir may be an excellent match for fans of sci-fi authors Robert J. Sawyer, Becky Chambers, and James S.A. Corey, as well as enthusiasts of the short lived television show Firefly.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Nevermore: Triple Agent, Sam Houston, Kristin Lavransdatter, more

Reported by Kristin

Nevermore began with a serious book: The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA by Joby Warrick.  Humam Khalil al-Balawi was a Jordanian who had worked his way to the inner circles of al-Qaeda as well as into the CIA.  Published in 2012 by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Warrick, this chronicles a betrayal of the CIA at a time when they were most focused on avenging 9/11.  Our reader was very surprised by the façade that al-Balawi was able to maintain, fooling even his own father.

Another reader was currently enjoying the story of Sam Houston: The Life and Times of the Liberator of Texas, an Authentic American Hero by John Hoyt Williams.  With only about a year of formal education, Houston read law and passed the bar to become an attorney.  A military man and politician, he held such titles as the Governor of Tennessee, the 1st and 3rd President of Texas, a United States Senator from Texas and the Governor of Texas.  Our reader exclaimed about Houston, “What a conman!” and also “A fascinating life.”  Another history buff in the room responded, “You have been too kind to him.”

Kristin Lavransdatter, a classic trilogy written by Sigrid Undset, is about a 14th century Norwegian woman.  Kristin, a devout Catholic, nonetheless falls in love with Erlend, although she has already been promised to Simon.  Our reader loved the imagery presented in the prose; the snow and the sky seemed so vivid.  Although written in the 1920’s, the books have had periodic resurgences and are popular still today.  Undset received the 1928 Nobel Prize in literature, partially for this Middle Ages saga.  The trilogy is sometimes published separately as The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross.

Continuing in fiction, another reader enjoyed The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka.  Private investigator Roxane Weary is digging fifteen years into the past to when teenager Sarah Cook’s parents were brutally murdered, and Sarah disappeared the same night.  Sarah’s African-American boyfriend Brad Stockton was convicted of the murders and is still awaiting his sentence of execution.  Our reader said that it was a very good book and that it fooled her because it didn’t end the way she thought it would.

October Sky (aka Rocket Boys) by regional author Homer Hickam has been read and enjoyed by several readers, and also was a BPL Book Club pick in October.  A story of a young West Virginia boy dreaming of space in 1957, Hickam decided that he wanted to build rockets.  He eventually became a NASA engineer, fulfilling his childhood dream.  Our reader said that she loved this book and that there were many poignant moments.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne duMaurier is the BPL Book Club’s pick for December, but our reader found the classic novel exhausting.  Set in 1832, young lady Mary Yellan is traveling to live with her Aunt Patience at the titular Jamaica Inn in Cornwall.  However, the crossing of the moors with everything black and raining distressed our reader.  Not every book is for every reader!  For a new selection every month, join the BPL Book Club on the 3rd Thursday at 6:00 p.m in the Frances E. Kegley Conference Room.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

Reviewed by Jeanne

It’s the clichéd dark and stormy night when Cass decides to take the shortcut home, even though her husband, Matthew, had warned against it.  It’s a desolate stretch of road, heavily wooded, and a terrible place to have your car stop, but it is a much quicker way.  Part of the way down the road, Cass is startled to see a car pulled off to the side.  A woman sits inside. Cass hesitates, unsure if the woman is in trouble or just waiting for someone.  The woman gives no sign—doesn’t flash her lights, blow the horn, do anything to indicate distress—so Cass drives home.

The next day she learns the woman was murdered there.

And Cass knew her.

B.A. Paris won rave reviews for her debut novel, Behind Closed Doors, and she’ll pick up even more fans with this taunt, suspenseful novel.  Cass is a character almost anyone could relate to: she’s just returned to teaching after her marriage, having spent years caring for her mother who suffered from early onset dementia. She feels terribly guilty that she didn’t go check on the woman and is frightened that a murder took place so close to where she and Matthew live. Even worse, she seems to be having some memory loss.  She’s terrified that she might end up like her mother, but she can’t share that concern with Matthew.  They met and married after her mother died, and she’s never told him the details of her mother’s illness.

The characters are all well developed and the tension steadily increases as the pages turn.  The ending is both shocking and satisfying.

I confess I did not make it all the way through Behind Closed Doors.  I took an intense dislike to one of the characters early on and after four chapters decided I did not want to spend any more time with that personality.  However, I read the ending (don’t judge!) and liked it well enough that I decided to try her second book.  I’m glad I did.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Reviewed by Ambrea

In her memoir, The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls tells of her and her siblings’ remarkable story of survival and resilience in a family that was unique as it was terrifyingly dysfunctional.  Jeannette’s father was an intelligent, charismatic man with a drinking problem; her mother was an artist and a “free spirit” who chafed at the idea of taking responsibility for a family.  Jeannette and her siblings learned to take care of themselves, even during the most trying—and frightening—moments of their lives.

I have to admit, I had a difficult time starting Walls’ memoir.  It took months of coaxing and quiet motivating, before I finally gave in and picked up The Glass Castle.  I was firmly entrenched in my romance novels and fantasy stories, and I didn’t want to burst my own bubble by reading about the real world.  Moreover, I’d never read anything by Walls and, if I’m being honest with myself, I wasn’t sure I wanted to start reading her now.  I mean, what if she was awful?  I hated the idea of slogging through a poorly written memoir.

However, The Glass Castle is anything but poorly written.  Walls is a phenomenal writer.  As I settled in to read, I discovered she had an insightful, compelling voice and an incredible story to tell.  Her memoir tackles difficult subjects—such as neglect, abuse, mental illness, homelessness, etc.—but Walls treats these things delicately.  She recounts her life in such a way that you are able to see it through her eyes as she grew from a child into a young woman.  Walls’ memoir is an unexpectedly compelling and hopeful story about survival.  It’s a tragic, but ultimately satisfying read.

While I did enjoy The Glass Castle, I will note that this book also infuriated me and often made me want to chuck it across the room.  According to the back cover, The Glass Castle is a memoir about “the intense love of a peculiar family.”  Except I didn’t see it that way.  I mean, when I was reading, I didn’t see loyalty (unless it was between the Jeannette and her siblings) and I didn’t see love and I didn’t see this quaint, peculiar family; I saw intense neglect, if not outright abuse, and child endangerment and alcoholism.

I understand Walls loved her father and I understand that her father, as much as he was capable, loved his children.  However, I thought both her father and her mother were selfish, neglectful, and thoughtless to the health, well-being, and safety of their children.  I have only to point out that the first chapter that Walls was severely burned as a child while trying to cook her own food.  She was hungry and her mother wasn’t going to make her anything, so she did it on her own.  She couldn’t have been more than five.

Or then there’s the incident where she was flung from a moving vehicle.  Accident or not, that’s just reckless endangerment and it could have killed her.  Or there’s also the chapter where she speaks about digging old food out of the trash cans at school, so she wouldn’t starve.  All the while, her mother was squirrelling away food for herself and not bothering to feed her children when she obviously could.

I couldn’t stand it.

I liked The Glass Castle, but I was honestly disgusted by this book on so many levels.  I couldn’t stand reading about how much Walls adored her father, only to have him disappoint her time after time.  It’s heartbreaking as she comes to realize that the glass castle—her and her father’s shared dream—will never, ever become a reality.