Monday, November 30, 2009

Need a good laugh? Get Strangled!

Reviewed by Doris

I have this marvelously comfortable sofa. Next to it is a stack of books that call my name every time I pick up a dust cloth or get out the vacuum. Last Saturday night my husband was quietly watching a football game. I was communing with my sofa and a new book. The author was new to me, but the reviews said she is as funny as Janet Evanovich. I love Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books because they make me laugh out loud. I tuned out the football cheers and opened Laurie Moore’s Woman Strangled-- News At Ten (F MOO Main and Avoca). Move over, Evanovich, you are no longer the only author who makes me laugh out loud. In fact, I laughed out loud so much my husband moved to the other television so he could grumble in peace.

Aspen Wicklow just graduated from North Texas State with a degree in Radio and Television, and she needs a job badly. She has admitted her Alzheimer’s stricken father and her brain injured mother to a care center with the stipulation they must never know they are in the same home because they hate each other. She has $75 left to her name, and a former fiancĂ© who left her for a stripper because Aspen was boring. Fate takes her to WBFD-TV, the lowest rated local TV station in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, where she literally stumbles into the just-opened position of investigative reporter. Without a moment to think about what she has gotten herself into, Aspen plunges into the weird and wacky world of local television with the even more weird and wacky employees at WBFD. While developing a story about the overcrowding in Texas prisons, she meets Spike Granger who is the Dirty Harry/sheriff of Johnson County. Sheriff Granger has a major problem: a jail full of the criminals who should be on their way to the state prison at Huntsville, and a governor and state legislature who have put a ban on transferring prisoners. Granger’s jail is out of money to feed the crooks, and he is determined to make Texas do its duty. In an innovative and hilarious “Adopt a Con” plan, Spike and Aspen bring the plight of the sheriff to all of Texas and CNN. (It was my snickering, giggling, and full belly laughing during this part of the book that sent my husband to seek peace in another room.) I am firmly convinced that if real sheriffs had the guts and swagger of Spike Granger, our county jails would not be full of state prisoners awaiting beds in the state pens.

While the “Adopt a Con” plan makes for most of the laughter, there are several concurrent stories happening in Woman Strangled that will keep you reading. The characters are bigger than life, but, after all, the book does take place in Texas. My favorite is Rochelle the menopausal, conniving assistant to the station manager who has a secret and many ways of making people who cross her pay in spades. She ends up being Aspen’s back-up and mentor with some of the best lines since Stephanie Plum’s Grandma Mazur burned down the funeral home.

Laurie Moore served a police officer in the Dallas area for six years. She is a practicing attorney and a reserve deputy constable in Taggart County. She uses her law enforcement experience to shade her stories with a touch of believability. Mostly she just has a great time entertaining you with her characters and a glimpse into life as big as Texas. A must read only if you want to giggle out loud.
Woman Strangled-- News at Ten is the first book in a new romantic suspense series by Moore. Moore’s other books include The Lady Godiva Murder, her Constable series and her newest, Jury Rigged.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dewey the Library Cat

Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron (636.8 MYR Main & Avoca; SSB 636.8 MYR Main)
Reviewed by Susan

Ahhh! Once in a while, a book comes along with all the “right stuff.” Love. Animals. True life.

On the coldest night of the year, a kitten was dumped in the book drop of a small Midwestern town. Next morning, the librarians found a half dead kitten. Filthy. Little paws frostbitten. From the moment he found a home at the library, he also found a way into the hearts of just about everyone in the community. Tall order for a little orange fur ball!

“Dewey” is short for “Dewey Readmore Books.” OK. That long name came around because everybody in town named him. The young librarian tells the story. She eventually becomes the library director and shares her life story along with Deweys. One thing for sure. She can take you right along with the story. It is obvious that she loves the little town of Spencer. The corn fields of Iowa. The library and people. From the beginning there is a special bond between her and Dewey. They connected and helped each other. She, like Dewey, was a survivor, and her story is as inspiring as Dewey’s.

Now, not every cat can be a good library cat. Dewey seemed to know when people needed him. He would let kids carry him upside down. Invite businessmen to pet him with one hand while holding the Wall Street Journal with the other. When people were suffering, he seemed to have a sixth sense, sitting with them, either in their lap or nearby. Don’t get me wrong…he was all CAT. Had a thing about rubber bands for instance. They kept disappearing from desks. If one was left out, in a tray or an open desk drawer, he would find them and eat em.

This is such an inspirational story. Dewey's story spread across state lines and even around the world. In 2003 Japanese Public Television filmed Dewey. Get out the tissues. Dewey had a long and wonderful life, but pets live such a short time. His obituary ran in well over 200 newspapers. His story will warm your hearts, make you laugh and cry.

The Bristol Public Library has had its share of animal stories. Since moving into the new building, we have had a bird fly into the building. A cat got stranded in the courtyard and numerous dogs have run through the building. And then there is Citrus. He is the beautiful bird that lives in the Children’s Department. We thought he was a he until “he” laid an egg after three years. Since then, she has graced us with eggs several times. Pay Citrus a visit. She is talkative, will sway to soft talk, and almost always squawks hello.

[Note from Jeanne: if you liked Dewey, you may want to check the children's department for a new picture book series staring Dewey. There's also a movie in the works, with Meryl Streep playing the role of Ms. Myron.]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Model Murders

Posed for Murder by Meredith Cole (F COL Main)

Reviewed by Jeanne

Lydia McKenzie is a young photographer in New York who has just landed her first one woman show at a local gallery, featuring her photographs of recreated murder scenes. The celebration is cut short when two homicide detectives show up: one of her models has been found murdered, positioned in exactly the same way as in the photograph. Now Lydia is determined to try to find the murderer and clear her name.

Posed for Murder was the winner of the Malice Domestic Award for best traditional first mystery. The writing flows well, without some of the awkward transitions of some first novels and has a well-constructed plot. The New York setting is not so much the impersonal big city as it the neighborhood aspect, where people still greet one another. Lydia is a sympathetic, believable character; Cole gives plausible reasons for why she would choose such a morbid topic for her exhibit, explaining Lydia’s views on forgotten victims. Lydia’s day job is at a little detective agency run by two brothers, doing the filing, billing, etc. The DeAngelos provide some levity and give the book a lot of color, especially Mama DeAngelo who bosses everyone about with food.

While some of Lydia’s artist friends aren’t fully developed as characters, Cole does a good job of explaining how the artists worked, the mechanics of a photo shoot, the motives behind artistic expression and the different mediums employed. The descriptions of the artwork were good, too-- she really conveyed a sense of the pieces and the feelings they evoked in a viewer. These sections were both interesting and informative and for a brief exciting moment made me want to try to do something artistic. Then I remembered the closet full of arts and crafts supplies in my den—do people still macramĂ©?—and decided perhaps I should just continue to live vicariously.

Meredith Cole was raised in Charlottesville, Virginia and now lives in New York. Her background has been in film but if this book is any indication, she has a career as a mystery writer ahead. I think Cole is an author to watch.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Odyssey of the Heart

Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat by Gwen Cooper (636.8 COO Main)

Reviewed by Jeanne

I need to confess something up front: I am very reluctant to read a real life story about an animal in which the animal dies at the end. I’m sorry, but I don’t like to get emotionally invested and then bawl my eyes out. I did read the wonderful Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World (636.8 MYR Main & Avoca, SSB 636.8 MYR Main) but mostly because I knew about Dewey while he was still alive. I had even bought Dewey’s postcards and the video “Puss in Books,” but reading the book was more difficult because I knew how it was going to end.

So it was with an easy heart that I picked up Homer’s Odyssey and discovered a delightful new feline hero because I knew Homer is still alive and purring.

Gwen Cooper was a newly single girl with two cats when Patty, a local veterinarian, called to ask if she would like to adopt a third cat. No. Definitely not. Not only was she currently living in a bedroom in a friend’s house, but she knew that a single woman with three cats was in “crazy cat lady” territory. No way.

The vet was persistent. This kitten was special. He was only four weeks old, an orphan with a severe eye infection. He’d been brought in by good Samaritans who felt the kindest thing would be to put him down. The kitten was sweet, scrappy, and other than the eye infection, healthy. Patty had decided to take a chance, remove the infected eyes, and find him a home. That was where Gwen came in.

Reluctantly, Gwen agreed to take a look, just for courtesy’s sake. She’d stop by, give Patty the bad news that two cats were enough for her, and leave with a clear conscience. But when the tiny scrap of fur with the plastic cone tried to climb her sweater to rub his face against hers, she was lost. Over the kitten’s purrs she found herself saying, “Wrap him up, I’m taking him home.”

Named Homer after the blind Greek poet who wrote The Odyssey, the kitten turned out to be an adventurer with a zest for life. Gwen’s two resident cats, Scarlett and Vashti, were unsettled and bewildered by the newcomer, but Homer never let that stand in the way of having a good time. Gwen was amazed at Homer’s fearlessness, his boundless love and most of all, his joyful nature.

Life with Homer has been an adventure indeed. The bond between Gwen and Homer has survived numerous changes in households; a cross country move; a burglar; the attack on the Twin Towers, when Gwen was unable to get back to her apartment to retrieve the cats; and even a new romantic relationship for Gwen.

I went into this book hoping it would be entertaining. It most certainly is that, but it’s also a non-preachy lesson in bravery, love and acceptance. It’s heartwarming but not in a sugary way; there are places when I laughed out loud, startling my own cats, and places when I cried. Most of all, I felt uplifted and inspired by Homer. Remember “Our Town? In the final act, Emily the ghost asks the Stage Manager if anyone ever really lives in the moment, ever really appreciates what it is to be alive. The Stage Manager replies, “The saints and poets, maybe—they do some.”

I’d add Homer to that list.

Homer’s Odyssey is well written and a joy to read. Cooper did a wonderful job of selecting quotations from the “The Odyssey” to incorporate as chapter headings, illustrating some of the things this Homer encounters. I was sorry to see the book end.

The good news is that I can keep up with Homer, Scarlett, Vashti and Gwen through Gwen’s blog at www.gwencooper.com. There are also more photos of Homer and the rest of the family.

Highly recommended!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Picture This. . . TVA

TVA Photography: Thirty Years of Life in the Tennessee Valley by Patricia Bernard Ezzell (779.9333914 EZZ Main)
Reviewed by Jeanne

I am fascinated by old photographs. I enjoy seeing these little slices of life from bygone days, wondering exactly what the people were thinking at the time or what became of them, noticing details of everyday life that now seem quaint or exotic. For me, too, there’s something about black and white photos (and movies, for that matter) that commands my attention in a way that color pictures never do.

Author Ezzell provides a very good description of the history of the TVA in her introduction, including information about the men who were charged with documenting the changes being wrought by the coming of dams and electricity to largely rural areas. The heart of the book, though, are the wonderful black and white photos depicting people at work and at play, of crowds gathered for events, or bare, dusty streets. One of my favorites was taken in Blount County, Tennessee: a group of children gathered around an old pickup that serves as a bookmobile. Another favorite depicts a family enjoying the benefits of electricity: the parents are determinedly ignoring the photographer, intent on tasks made possible by light from the electric lamp while their daughter stares directly at the camera, smiling sweetly. I could go on and on about these, but I’ll stop so that you can appreciate them for yourself.

I wonder if Melon would look good in black and white. I think I still have a roll of b & w film. . . .