Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween from the Bloggers at BPL!

(Momcat is one of our circulation staff and today she brought in her kitten!)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Let’s Return to Those Days of Yore……

By Doris

When you were a kid, did you read the Nancy Drew mysteries or the Hardy Boys? I never did. I did not like Nancy Drew, and my experience with the Hardy Boys was Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy in their teeny bopper Hardy Boys TV series. So why have I developed a new interest in the Hardy Boys now? It originates with one of our patrons, of course!

Mr. F. is a charming older gentleman with a resoundingly deep voice and twinkling eyes. You can just imagine him as one of those radio announcers in the 30’s or 40’s whose voice filled the night as he spun marvelous tales. A few months ago he brought me a list of all the Hardy Boys books and asked me to find the first four for him. I made some comment about a grandchild visiting and wanting to read the books. He blushed just a tiny bit and confessed the books were for him. He decided to re-read all the books because he had loved them as a child. We laughed and talked about “second childhoods,” and I found his books for him at the Mosheim branch of the Greene County Library. Soon he was knee deep in the adventures of Joe and Frank as they solve the mysteries of The Footprints Under the Window or another of the more than one hundred titles in the series. Every couple of weeks Mr. F. would come in and request the next three or four books on the list. This week he requested the last four books. Both of us are sad. He has really enjoyed reliving a part of his youth, and I have enjoyed talking with him about the books. We both have enjoyed discovering which library in our consortium will be sending the books. Evidently the Mosheim Library has a complete set, and they have been very generous in loaning them to us.

Pause here for a commercial, please. Being able to borrow books from the other libraries in the Watauga Regional Library consortium is a real benefit for our patrons. If we do not have a requested item, chances are one of the other libraries will. Always ask us to check and see if a book is available from another library if we do not have it. The service is FREE!

Edward Stratemeyer who also created Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, the Rover boys, and dozens of other characters created the Hardy Boys in 1926. He outlined the stories and hired Canadian writer Leslie McFarlane to write the books. McFarlane wrote the books under the name of Franklin Dixon.

In case this piques your interest, I’ll tell you that the first three books are The Tower Treasure, The House on the Cliff, and The Secret of the Old Mill. These were released originally on May 16, 1927, by publisher Grossett and Dunlap.

Did you know the Hardy Boys is the best-selling and longest running series of books for boys in the world? They have been translated into more than 25 languages.

The book series morphed into comic books, television series, movies, games, video games, and all types of collectibles. Original editions of the books can be quite valuable.

Wondering what to put in a child’s stocking this Christmas? How about a vintage Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mystery?

Or, if you have been very good, maybe Santa will bring you one of these great classics to enjoy all by yourself.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Goat of a Chance

Reviewed by Nancy

Picture this:
• An army general trying to walk through walls (unsuccessfully)
• supersoldiers trained in acute powers of observation and the ability to make decisions intuitively (psychically)
• an army master sergeant who has the ability to stop the heart of a goat, just by thinking about it

These are just some of the things you will learn about when you read The Men Who Stare At Goats (355.3434 RON Main) by Jon Ronson.

I guess this book got my attention because I have spent some time envisioning the atoms, the molecules, the electrons, neutrons, the protons, and the spaces between them. I have conceptualized being able to work the spaces in between all those minute particles in my body into the spaces in between all the minute particles in a wall and, thus, to walk through the wall. Unlike Major General Albert Stubblebine III, I never got so carried away with all this conceptualizing that I actually walked into a wall and banged my nose. If I ever did get anywhere with this I am sure it would be my luck to just half-way pull it off. There I'd be, extended leg and face in one room, other leg and rear end in the room I was attempting to exit, internal organs somewhere in the middle. At any rate, General Stubblebin didn't pull it off, and neither have I.

Who knows what the military is up to? It might be better to float along in a state of blissful ignorance, but if you'd like a clue, try this book on for size. It seems that modern warfare has gone well beyond the fundamental concept of popping up out of a fox hole and firing a gun in the direction of the enemy. Now we're trying to learn to "think them to death." On the one hand, it all seems pretty crazy, but on the other hand, I guess we'd darn well better learn to do it before our enemies do.

In The Men Who Stare At Goats, Jon Ronson, a documentary filmmaker and journalist, takes us on a journey through all this madness, starting way back in the seventies and bringing us to the present with accounts of the shenanigans at Abu Ghraib Prison and Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. So if you want to know, if you think you have the heart to know, here it is. And by the way, there was one guy who did actually learn to kill a goat just by staring at it, so they say. Rest easy. Your tax dollars are at work. A LOT of your tax dollars are at work.

And just when you think it can’t get any stranger, the book is made into a movie starring George Clooney as one of the soldiers and Ewan McGregor as the reporter who stumbles onto the story. According to the movie poster, it also stars “Goat,” presumably as the goat.

What is “a psychospiritual dimension” anyway? I've been psycho, and I've been spiritual, but I'm not sure I've ever been psychospiritual.

Maybe I should work on it. And that wall thing too.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

plus ca change. . .

First-Person America edited by Ann Banks (973.91 FIR Main)

Reviewed by Susan Wolfe

Wow. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

This is an old book. But boy, oh boy, is it ever appropriate for today. I ran into it earlier this year because a local book club chose it as their read. I patiently (sort of) awaited for it to become available, and then couldn’t put it down.

People are people regardless of their surroundings and times. Last fall the stock market crashed. People have been concerned how (or if) they can survive this economic downturn. That is the magic of this book. It reminds us that hard times may appear on the horizon, but it has all happened before. That this nation is a mosaic of survivors who have seen change shape and guide their lives. We survive. We can both live and enjoy our lives regardless of the larger environment.

This book chronicles 80 life histories of men and women who lived during the late 1800s and through the 1930s depression. In fact, this book is a creation of the Federal Writer’s Project, which was created to help young writers survive during the economic disaster of the 30s. Some of these writers went on to become famous themselves – Jack Conroy. Ralph Ellison. Some of these oral histories became the basis of characters in their later writings.

The plan of the Federal Writer’s Projects was to provide a portrait of the country by interviewing people from all backgrounds and occupations. This book is a wonderful collection of life stories. Some of which span a lifetime, others cover only a short period of a life. There is a whole section devoted to workers. Armor foods at one time would fire their workers after they turned 40. People would lie about their age. “Momma” was fired because she gained 15 pounds. She cussed ‘em, and was told that they were doing her a favor because she would die otherwise because of her weight. Others chronicle their role in the beginnings of organizing labor. Several stories come from tobacco farmers. Stone workers. Musicians. Even a prostitute down on her luck. Hardship. Happiness. Devotion. They are stories of both good and tough luck. In other words…life. You will see yourself in some of their stories. I certainly found shared feelings and thoughts.

Several of these oral histories are developed around what they considered the most important events of their life. Like Mrs. M.F. Cannon. She grew up on an Eastland County, Texas stock farm and was interviewed at the Masonic Home for the Aged. She shared her youth, falling in love and starting life with her new husband. Another good story is about Bernice Gore. He told about the hard economic times in New York City. How when the rent was due, neighbors were invited to a get-together with music, food and corn liquor and charged an entrance fee of fifteen cents. He recalled “You couldn’t walk down Lenox Avenue without hearing music from a dozen rent parties.”

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom has been a blockbuster book recently. It is about one old man sharing his wisdom with a young man. A dynamite book. First-Person America is every bit of that but multiplied by 80.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Birds of a Feather

The Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson
F DRA Main
Reviewed by Jeanne

For years, Mr. Malik has gone to the meeting of the birdwatchers group, dutifully noting the various species of birds. For years, too, he has longed to get up the courage to ask Rose, the group leader and guide, out on a date. This year, the quiet widower has made up his mind: he will ask her to the most important social occasion in Nairobi, the Hunt Club Ball. Just as he is ready to make his move, his childhood rival drives up in his flashy car, wearing his expensive clothes, smiling that white toothed smile and in general being everything Mr. Malik is not. Naturally, the suave and sophisticated Harry Khan decides that he will ask Rose to the Ball. Thus begins a competition, a gentleman’s agreement: whoever spots the largest number of bird species in one week’s time will earn the right to escort the lady to the dance.

Fans of Alexander McCall-Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency should also enjoy this gentle, romantic tale seasoned with humor and a very British sense of social standing and proper behavior. Characters wrestle with very human dilemmas, with temptation and with honor, but most of all, with love and longing. They also hold some surprising secrets, which gives the book depth. You don’t have to know anything about birds (or East Africa, for that matter) to enjoy delightful novel!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Grey Ghost

Shades of Grey by Clea Simon
Reviewed by Jeanne

It’s a sensation known to many who have loved and lost a pet: a glimpse out of the corner of the eye of a familiar furry shape, the scratch of claws walking down a hallway at night when there’s no one left to walk, the sudden weight of something jumping on the bed, only there’s nothing really there but memories.

That’s the situation for Dulcie Schwartz, still grieving the loss of her beloved cat, Mr. Grey. The rest of her life isn’t going any better. She’s a struggling graduate student at Harvard, trying to come up with a topic for her dissertation. She’s working as a temp at an insurance company, doing endless data entry. Her best friend and roommate Suze has taken a job out of town, so Dulcie is having to share space with Tim Worthington, a spoiled rich kid.

Things are about to get worse.

On her way home, Dulcie is startled to see a cat resembling her late pet and seems to hear a voice say, “I wouldn’t go in if I were you.” She turns, but sees no one except the cat who is now placidly washing its face.

Whatever the source, it turns out to have been good advice, because once inside she finds Tim has been murdered—with Dulcie’s mother’s second best carving knife, no less.

What follows is well-crafted mystery with numerous suspects and several intriguing (and topical) subplots that dangle in front of the reader like ribbons teasing a kitten. Readers who enjoy an academic setting will have a field day with Dulcie’s struggle to find some new reading of an early novel that might keep her grant money flowing, not to mention the wonderfully atmospheric library, nicely juxtaposed against modern computers which hold key clues.

Then there’s a hint of the paranormal with the mysterious messages from someone, offering cryptic advice. Is it the ghost of Mr. Grey, still looking out for Dulcie? Or is it only her subconscious, desperate to hold on to some part of her beloved pet? Or has the stress and strain finally gotten to Dulcie, and she’s losing her grip on reality, just like a heroine in a gothic novel?

There are some interesting secondary characters as well. My favorite is Lucy, Dulcie’s flower child mother who advises burning sage to clear out the bad vibes from the apartment and offers tarot readings but whose love is unconditional. Let me amend that: Lucy is my favorite human, because Mr. Grey, alive or deceased, is also quite the star. (Tidbit: Mr. Grey is based on Simon’s beloved Cyrus, who crossed the Rainbow Bridge some years ago.)

One observation I am compelled to make: Dulcie obviously has not been reading the BPL Bookblog. If she had, she would have read Nancy’s review of Behind Bars, Surviving Prison by Jeffrey Ian Ross and Stephen C. Richards (365.6 ROS Main) and she would have known to KEEP HER MOUTH SHUT. (Dulcie’s best friend, a law student, repeats this information but too late.)

The only real complaint I have is that the print is a bit small for my taste. A sign of my advancing age, I know. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be a large print version available as yet. Let’s hope the publisher takes the hint. However, my plus sized feline supermodel Melon wished to lodge a complaint about the lack of scenes with cats eating. I pointed out to him that Mr. Grey is deceased, but he considered that quibbling.

This is the first in a new series for Simon, who also writes the Theda Krakow mysteries, reviewed here in July (look for “A Muse Named Musetta” in the archive). She knows her setting, her English majors and music, and her cats, which gives the books an authenticity that some mysteries lack. There are a few comments about modern scholarship and the desperate quest to find something fresh about a topic that brought back memories of college papers past.

Grey Matters, the second book in the series, has been written and is due out in March 2010.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sandra Brown Delivers a "Smash Cut!"

Reviewed by Doris

John Sandford does it with his Prey series of thriller mysteries. Thomas Harris does it with Hannibal Lector and Red Dragon. Sandra Brown does it in Smash Cut, her newest novel. What do they do? Create a villain who makes my skin crawl and the hair on my neck stand up. And you don’t even have to wait for the end of this book to know you have a sociopath at the center of the plot—he’s right there in the opening pages. A smash cut in movie idiom occurs without warning in the middle of one scene and transitions abruptly to another scene. It is used to startle the audience. Brown uses the same technique in her writing, and Smash Cut is one of her best outings.

Sandra Brown is very popular for her romantic, contemporary crime thrillers. Like Nora Roberts and a dozen other writers she has a sexy, handsome guy; the sassy, smart, beautiful woman; and, a mystery that brings them together. There’s sex, there’s conflict between them, and then everyone lives happily ever after. What sets Brown apart from her colleagues is her ability to lay down a plot. They are taut, never ordinary, and in Smash Cut, she throws in some stunning twists. Her characters also set her apart: they are rarely the clich├ęs often used in contemporary thrillers.

The opening is a murder that occurs in an elevator in an Atlanta luxury hotel. Paul Wheeler is a powerful CEO who meets a young woman every week at the hotel. As they are leaving, a gunman enters their crowded elevator, demands money and jewelry from everyone, and then shots Wheeler in the head. When the doors open onto the lobby, the killer calmly walks away from the ensuing chaos. Robbery soon appears less a motive than a hit. Who wanted Paul Wheeler dead? Who is the young woman with whom he seems to be having a long term affair? Why does Paul’s brother Doug hire the best defense attorney in Atlanta “just in case,” and why does he think his son Creighton will need to talk to the attorney immediately?

Derek Mitchell is the hottest lawyer in town. He agrees to talk to Creighton Wheeler about his Uncle Paul’s death, but Creighton has an ironclad alibi so why does he need a lawyer? Julie Rutledge is cultured, sophisticated, and beautiful, and she was devoted to Paul Wheeler. She is convinced Creighton Wheeler—handsome, rich, obsessed with films, and very used to having his own way—killed his uncle. She is also lying about too many things, and Derek needs to know why.

Lots of questions and Brown lays down her plot fast and furiously as she answers them. Just when you think you have all the answers, she smacks you awake with another twist. I never expected the last one in this book, but it made for a very satisfying conclusion.

*Warning: As an animal lover I found a brutal detail of this plot very unsettling. I understand why the incident was there to move the characters and plot, but it was painful, and, from my perspective, not necessary.

Smash Cut by Sandra Brown is available at Main and Avoca. Main also holds a large print copy. If you don't find a copy on the shelf, we can reserve one for you.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My Germany

Note: We decided we would post some short reviews (which we've nicknamed "Bookblips") in addition to the the longer staff reviews. Some will be from the new book shelf but others will be old favorites. Check back during the week to see what's new!

My Germany: A Jewish Writer Returns to the World His Parents Escaped by Lev Raphael (940.53118 RAP Main)

Growing up as a child of two Holocaust survivors, Lev Raphael was haunted by Germany and all things German. He used to imagine Europe without a Germany at all, with a coast and beaches where Germany should be. He refused to read books by German authors. He and his brother grew up without grandparents or family heirlooms, with few relatives, and the feeling that nothing they could ever do could possibly match their parents’ achievement: surviving.

Lev was one of the first writers to address what it meant to be a child of Holocaust survivors. Since then, an entire literary genre has sprung up. No matter how hard he tried to avoid it, Germany and the Holocaust appeared as themes. He couldn’t escape them.

After his mother’s death, Lev began to write her biography. He realized he needed to break his vow never to visit Germany, because he needed to see all the places she had seen: the city in which she lived as a child, the labor camp, the displaced persons camp where she met his father. It was a first step at challenging some of his long held fears and assumptions. The second came when a publisher wanted him to do a book tour of Germany.

The resulting book is described as part memoir, part travelogue and part healing journey. The central question is one asked of Lev by a German woman: “Can there be forgiveness?”