Thursday, August 26, 2010

End of the Line: Frequency of Souls

The Frequency of Souls by Mary Kay Zuravleff (F ZUR Main)

Reviewed by Nancy

There are so many reasons to read a book:
--someone suggests it to you and simply will not leave you alone until you read it;
--you're in school, it's an assignment and you have no choice;
--it covers a subject that you are interested in;
--it's by an author you have enjoyed in the past;
--the cover looks cool and so you can't resist it (this happens to me; I am sometimes a real sucker for slick packaging - books or food.)

Then there’s the crazy notion reason. I sometimes get these ideas in my head, and this one began to overtake me recently. What is the last book in fiction? In the alphabetical A to Z arrangement in our library, what is the last Z?

I traveled to the end of the alphabet where I discovered The Frequency of Souls by Mary Kay Zuravleff. The plot centers on George Mahoney, an engineer who has spent his professional life designing and redesigning refrigerators. George is bored with his job and complacent about his life. This sets him up perfectly for a mid-life crisis which begins when his new office mate, Niagra Spence, moves into his cubicle.

I love a good story, and this IS a good story, but there's an additional factor here. Mary Kay Zuravleff is an editor of books and exhibition texts for the Smithsonian Institution and she really knows how to turn a phrase. Her book is full of gems and nuggets.  In offering this review, I don't want to give too much away and spoil the plot for you, so I thought I might just offer you a sampling of some of the wonderful phrases:

So, here we go. Nuggets:

". . . the one story he enjoyed telling, which George remembered like an earache."

".  . .extracted a filament of hair from the temple of her glasses, where broken strands often hung like fishing line"

"George was lulled by her quiet percussiveness, the tapping and flapping of her flyswatter hands accompanied by the jingling of her earrings."

". . . his mother's eyes, baggy and sad as her ironing pile. . ."

". . . shoe-polish eyeliner he so adored. . ."

Maybe it's because I've read the book already, but even just the snippets without the benefit of the plot make me want to laugh out loud, especially that thing about the fishing line.

If you're in the mood for a good story with some great laughs try "The Frequency of Souls." It will give you a lift.

I'm also hoping that this review gets posted fast, just in case someone whose name starts "Zz" writes a book and unseats Frequency of Souls. I'd like it to retain its distinction as the last book for awhile.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cats in Space: Catalyst, a Tale of the Barque Cats

Catalyst: A Tale of the Barque Cats by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

Reviewed by Jeanne

I’m a long time Anne McCaffrey reader, though I admit it’s been awhile since I read one of hers.  As with most fans, the Pern series was my favorite, but I also enjoyed the Crystal Singer books. I was lucky enough to hear her speak at a convention in Atlanta many years ago and found her to be as delightful as her books. I hadn’t read any of the novels by Ms. Scarborough, but I knew she was a respected fantasy author in her own right, a Nebula winner for The Healer's War (F SCA Main). I wasn’t sure who the “Barque Cats” were, but since I’m intrigued by cats in general I thought I’d give it a try.

In the future, when space travel is a given and humans have spread to other worlds, it’s a lucky ship that has a Barque cat. Not only do these cats hunt down vermin that can damage cargo and equipment, but they also warn the crew of air leaks and other dangers. These specially bred cats bring high prices among spacers, and usually have a crewperson assigned to them to insure their health. Such a pair are Chessie (the cat) and Janina (Cat Person, though Chessie calls her Kibble). Chessie’s bloodlines go back to the original Barque Cat, Tuxedo Thomas, so her kittens are especially valuable. On a visit to the vet’s, pregnant Chessie is catnapped. While Janina is frantic to find her, she’d be even more frantic if she knew that Chessie’s kittens were going to be even more extraordinary than their mother: they’re able to form psychic bonds with humans.

Meanwhile, word of an epidemic may mean the end of all livestock—and that includes the Barque Cats.

You don’t have to be a science fiction fan to enjoy this book. In fact, I knew a person who argued that McCaffrey isn’t a science fiction writer at all and shouldn’t have won the Hugo. I’d disagree with that but I would say that she’s a writer for readers of all tastes due to her emphasis on character over mechanics. You don’t have to understand physics or quantum theory to read and enjoy her books; the hardware is just the set dressing for the play.

Also, as in many McCaffrey books, there’s a pretty clear line between good guys and bad guys, albeit with some chance of redemption. As with other books, McCaffrey seems to believe that some people can change or else show a different side to their personalities. In this book, the best developed characters are the cats, especially Chessie, son Chester and the enigmatic and imperial Pshaw-Ra who doesn't especially like humans but who does love Fishie Treats. There’s a touch of grit to the tale—not everybody lives to happily ever after—but the authors sweep you along. I was chewing my nails by the end and totally disconcerted one of my feline companions, Flora Snicklefritz, by scooping her up for a reassuring hug. Flora, who didn’t need reassuring at all, took it with good grace and a dollop of condescension, leading me to suspect there’s a bit of Barque Cat in her as well. There’s some humor along the way, especially for those who love cats and their idiosyncrasies. The ending mews--er, cries out for a sequel, but it’s not a cliff-hanger. A second book, Catacombs, is due out in December.

At this point, I’d add that several reviews said this was more like a Young Adult book and I’d agree it could well be in the YA section. Several of the main characters are young humans and cats, but that doesn’t mean adults wouldn’t enjoy it as well. I’ve found some excellent YA books that I’d put up against adult books any time. Judging from the number of adults who are avidly reading Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, others are discovering the same thing.  Sometimes I have the suspicion that some adult authors pad their books, while YA and children’s authors are free to just tell the story as it needs to be told.

I would write more, but suddenly I feel compelled to go to the store and buy Fishie Treats.

BPL doesn’t have a copy of Catalyst but thanks to our ILL system I was able to borrow this book and enjoy!

 Flora Snicklefritz awaits Fishie Treats from a safe distance.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Universal Truths: The Day We Found the Universe

The Day We Found The Universe
by Marcia Bartusiak (520.9 BAR Main)
Reviewed by Susan Wolfe

It was January 1, 1925, to be exact.

What a great book! It is funny, historical and true. Normally, you think that scientists and astronomers are all serious, no-nonsense types, with little or no personality, but, oh, you would be so wrong. Modern astronomy was full of quirky, odd-ball characters who would make SyFy shows like “Eureka” seem tame.

The first modern observatory was built in the late 19th century by eccentric millionaire, John Lick, who also planned to build a pyramid in downtown San Francisco. At that time, scientists were mostly convinced that the galaxy was actually the universe with the sun at its center. This is the story of how that view was changed with the explosion of discoveries, lucky guesses, contests of will, and wrong turns made by the scientists.

It was a unique and exciting time. “Canals” had been discovered on Mars. War of the Worlds had just been published, with Martians invading earth. Observatories were being hacked out of mountaintops came giant telescopes. Ironically, it was James Keeler toying around with a small reflective telescope (which was despised by most scientists) who discovered little pinwheels of light. Some scientists thought these pinwheels might be other galaxies, others were certain that they were within our own galaxy. Some other scientists were just busy counting stars. It was during this time that a young Einstein appeared out of left field with his new theories. It set off a flurry of estimates of how to measure distances between stars.

Fast forward to January 1925. That was when 35 year old Edwin Hubble announced findings that the universe was a thousand trillion times larger than previously believed.

Hubble was an odd character too. He was often called an Adonis. Handsome. Athletic. His greatest nightmare was being caught in a scientific error and he had to be convinced to submit his research to the 1925 American Association for the Advancement of Science. Raised in Missouri, he went to England as a Rhodes Scholar, where he completely reinvented himself, adopting a British accent that he maintained throughout his life. He added dubious credentials to his resume, like practicing law, which he never did. Hollywood loved him. As you can tell, he wasn’t popular with most astronomers. But, hey, the “Hubble Telescope” was named after him.

I’ve often heard that truth is stranger than fiction. It is certainly true with this Wild West ride through science. It is funny, cleverly written, and you will chuckle while you read. I would highly recommend this book.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Girl Who Reads Stieg Larsson

The BBL bloggers are pleased to have a guest column written by Nicki from our Children's Department. Nicki is from Sweden originally so we couldn't think of any one better to review these very popular books of Larsson's Millennium Trilogy: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. All are in Fiction under the author's last name at both Main & Avoca. . . unless they're checked out again. In that case, we'll be happy to reserve a copy for you.

Review by Nicki

I will say at the start that I love Stieg Larsson’s books.I’m originally from Sweden, and he really captures the country and its people and some of their habits.The first two books (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire) I read in Swedish.When  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest came out, I couldn’t get a copy in Swedish so I read it in English. That one was harder for me to get absorbed in the story, because the translator used British English and I think his translation loses some of the fluency.  I wondered about some of his choices:  there were things he did not translate, like subway.  He used the Swedish word for subway instead of translating it into English.  We don’t have a special word for it, not “The Tube” or any slang name. He also had some of the characters use cuss words and expressions that we don’t have in Sweden and I would stop and wonder what the original Swedish said. That was distracting. In the end I really enjoyed it, because it was an awesome read. Some time I want to read it in Swedish, though.

I love all the intense characters. They’re fun, but they’re also true to people I know. The Swedes are very upfront about things, and these characters are the same way. They don’t go sneaking around but are open about what they are doing, like it or not. I really love Lisbeth Salandar. She dresses like a Goth girl, with tattoos and piercings. People think she’s stupid because she doesn’t communicate. If you ask her a question, she won’t answer unless she wants to.In reality, she communicates very well, but she does it through the internet. She is an expert in computers and hacking. She has an absolutely brilliant mind, except when it comes to interacting with people. She has no borders; she will do exactly what she wants and needs to do.

The other main character is the journalist, Mikael Blomkvist. He is out to get the story, the true story. He is part owner of a newspaper that specifically focuses on corruption in all forms. He is very driven and will go the whole distance to get the story out.To do that, he teams up with Lisabeth and some others.

Larsson knows how things work in Sweden and it shows in these books.He knows police procedure, and the way the society and the system work. I’d read sections and say, “Yes!That’s the way it is!”

You really need to read these books in order to understand some of the characters and how all the events unfold.It would not make a lot of sense unless you knew what had gone before.In the last book, Blomkvist takes on a powerful secret organization, sex criminals and some other criminal associates that appeared in previous books.

I’m only sorry that he died so soon and there won’t be any more books, unless that partly finished fourth one shows up.I heard that he had planned to do several books in the series.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gayle Trent aka Amanda Lee at Main!

Gayle Trent will be at Bristol Public Library on 
Saturday, August 14 starting at 2 pm!

She'll be reading from her latest book, The Quick and the Thread, and regaling us with stories about adventures in publishing.  A limited number of copies of The Quick and the Thread will be available for purchase. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Just Desserts: Murder Takes the Cake by Gayle Trent

Murder Takes the Cake: A Daphne Martin Mystery by Gayle Trent (F TRE Main)
Reviewed by Jeanne

I had seen the book Murder Takes the Cake several times, but it was being checked out by other people. I wanted to read it, but that cover with its photo of luscious-looking frosting, topped with a maraschino cherry made me terribly hungry. I craved cream cheese every time I saw that book. However, when I heard that Ms. Trent was going to appear at our library, I gave in to temptation.

I also read the book.

Daphne Martin is a young divorcee who left an abusive husband to start her own cake baking company, not an easy thing to do. She’s hoping that if she can impress prickly Yodel Watson with a cake that her business will take off—after all, Mrs. Watson is one of the biggest gossips in town. The downside is that if the cake doesn’t suit, she’s afraid the whole town will hear about that, too. Armed with her latest offering, Daphne goes to Mrs. Watson’s house, only to discover that her client is dead and the circumstances seem to be a bit suspicious.

While Daphne isn’t exactly a suspect, the police aren’t sure she was just a bystander. People seem more than a bit leery of her cakes, but at least Mrs. Watson’s out of town daughter doesn’t seem to blame her. In fact, she enlists Daphne to retrieve her mother’s diary as soon as possible. Daphne complies but can’t resist reading a bit. It turns out that Mrs. Watson knew a lot of secrets—including some that will rock Daphne’s view of her own family and leave her wondering which secrets are worth killing for.

Trent writes with great attention to character, always a plus in my book. Daphne is a very appealing character and the supporting cast is well done. Trent manages to make them feel familiar, like folks we all know. We can relate to Daphne, her friends and family.

If the fact that the book has a Tri-Cities setting is the icing on the cake, then Trent’s sense of humor is the garnish. She treads that fine line between slapstick and comedy easily, using some humor but not descending into silliness. Also, some of the little touches are things I can identify with, such as the names of Mrs. Watson’s siblings: I’ve known of families who did similar things, so that makes it all the more amusing. Daphne is a reluctant sleuth but her involvement comes about in a believable manner: it’s her interest in finding out if there’s any truth to some of Yodel’s gossip that draws her in, not any burning desire to solve a murder. Tips on cake decorating are included but aren’t intrusive. I have no idea what a #5 tip is or how to do piping, but those sections don’t bog the story down. It did make me pause a moment and think about those lovely decorated cakes I’ve seen. Next time I promise to take a moment to appreciate the artistry involved in a cake before I go straight to the slicing and consuming.

Murder Takes the Cake is a fun book for a summer afternoon. Just be sure to have a nice slice of cake nearby: you’re going to want some after spending time with Daphne.