Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Burmese adventure: Incident at Badamya

Incident at Badamya by Dorothy Gilman  (F GIL Main)

Reviewed by Jeanne

Most people know Dorothy Gilman for her marvelous “Mrs. Pollifax” series in which an elderly woman becomes a spy for the CIA. The books were popular enough to have had two movie adaptations, one with Rosalind Russell and one with Angela Lansbury. While there are light-hearted elements to the books, they aren’t silly slapstick things.  Instead, Mrs. P. uses her common sense, gut instinct and clear judgment of human nature to carry out missions.  Usually there was some sort of spiritual aspect to the books as well, not connected to a specific religion.

My favorite Gilman book wasn’t one of the Pollifax books, though I enjoyed them greatly. No, my favorite remains Incident at Badamya.  It’s another of those books I return to again and again, picking it up just read a favorite passage and reluctantly putting it down two hours later.

The story is set in Burma in 1950, a time of great upheaval in Asia.  Communist forces were moving in several countries.  Mao had taken over China, while the start of the Korean War was just a few weeks away.  Sixteen year old Genivieve Ferris, orphaned daughter of an American missionary, has decided it is her destiny to go to America, a place she knows only from old magazines and a few letters from relatives.  She’s grown up in Burma.  It’s been the only home she’s ever known, and these people are the only friends and family she’s ever had.  Still, something drives her to gather the last of the money, her passport and the address of the aunt she’s never met and to set out for Rangoon, where the steam ship will come.

But there are other forces abroad as well: a wounded American who may be a spy; soldiers and bandits; and passengers from the steamer, all of whom have secrets of their own: the wealthy, imperious woman in search of her son; the puppeteer; the author, the former prisoner.   They’ll all come together at Badamya, for better or worse, and all will be changed by their encounter.

After all these years I remain charmed by this book and by Gen herself, the waif who wonders if her thamma deva—a guardian spirit—will be able to follow her to America.  Gen is a mixture of worldly and naïve, woman and child, realist and believer, Christian and Buddhist.  As with all her books, Gilman seems to really know the locale, giving the reader a strong sense of place.   I always find Gilman’s books to have food for thought and for the spirit as well as being good adventures. This one has a bit of an otherworldly thread running through it, but it's never intrusive. For Gen, it's simply a matter of faith.

 I find it to be an uplifting book with an underlying gentleness despite some of the threats against characters.  At the end I feel all’s right with the world.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Book News from Nevermore!

For the uninitiated, the Nevermore Book Club meets every Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Main. Participants share what they’re reading, often leading to some lively discussions. It’s very informal and a lot of fun. The library supplies coffee; doughnuts come from The Blackbird Bakery! Director Jud Barry leads the group. Everyone is welcome to show up with a book and join in!

Here are some of the books discussed:

Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World is the somewhat audacious claim of Jane McGonigal (306.487 MCG Main). Director Jud Barry read an excerpt in which the author and her husband race to clean the bathroom because they’re playing an online game in which you earn points by doing real life chores. Book club members immediately saw the possibilities and are anxious to try it out in their own households.

Andrew Johnson by Annette Gordon-Reed (973.81 GOR Main) This brief biography of Johnson is a part of the “American Presidents” series and was written by the author of The Hemingses of Monticello and Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Our reader felt that Gordon-Reed’s view of Johnson was somewhat narrow and not very sympathetic and didn’t really deal with his amazing rise from illiterate tailor to President.

Swan Song by Robert McCammon has another reader riveted! It is a post-apocalyptic novel that follows the lives of a handful of survivors, including a girl called Swan. A devilish figure called The Man with the Scarlet Eye is seeking to destroy her, but a ragtag group is determined to keep her safe. The book is often compared to Stephen King’s The Stand and has won praise for the excellent characterization as well as its plot.  It was a co-winner of the Bram Stoker Award and was a World Fantasy Award Best Novel nominee, and many have commented on the compelling characterization.

Sacrifice by S.J. Bolton (SSB F BOL Main) is a thriller set in the Shetland Islands. When a body is uncovered in a bog, the local police think it’s a prehistoric burial but Dr. Tora Hamilton immediately disagrees—ancient women didn’t wear nail polish. This was the first thriller by Bolton, who now has four novels to her credit and is viewed as an up and coming thriller writer. She creates intriguing, flawed characters and develops her settings so well that it’s almost like visiting the place. Folklore often figures into her work. These aren’t cozies, and there are some rather gritty scenes.

Edie Ernst, USO Singer—Allied Spy? By Brooke McEldowney (741.5 MCE Main) chronicles the World War II adventures of a young singer who falls in love with an American soldier and a German officer. The story is told in comic strip format, but the black and white art is as expressive as a vintage movie. It got raves from one reader and convinced another to check it out!

Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series has captured the attention of another reader! These books are set after World War I when former nurse Maisie uses knowledge of psychology to become a private investigator. The setting is well done, and Winspear has a real feel for the time period. Maisie has had an eventful life, including the loss of a love in the War. The books are a good mix of history, mystery, and a bit of romance. Our reader has completed the first two books, Maisie Dobbs and Birds of a Feather, and is looking forward to the next book in the series.

Bring a book and join us next Tuesday!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Year of Three Kings: The King's Speech & more!

Reviewed by Jeanne
In January, 1936 King George V died.  His eldest son became King Edward VIII but his reign was short-lived:  he wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice divorced American woman and he wanted her to be Queen, an unacceptable condition.   He was forced to abdicate the throne in favor of his younger brother who became George VI. 
Such are the dry facts.  The lives behind the facts have made for riveting books and movies, for each has a dramatic story to tell.  For the most part, it’s been the story of David and Wallis, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, which is either the tale of a Great Romance or a Great Betrayal, depending in part on who is telling the story.
Recently, however, the story has been about George VI, the man who never expected to be King.  Bertie, as the family called him, was afflicted with a stammer which made public appearances difficult to say the least.  It has been said that his wife consented to marry him in part because she felt with such a defect he would never be king.  Imbued with a strong sense of duty and knowing that the country would need a strong monarch in the face of war, he was determined to serve to the best of his ability. 
The movie “The King’s Speech” (DVD KIN Main & Avoca) was thought to be a similar dark horse, since it didn’t feature car chases, explosions, aliens or semi-clothed people, but like Bertie it surprised everyone and became both a commercial and critical success.  The story revolves around Bertie’s struggles to overcome his speech impediment with the help of unconventional therapist Lionel Logue, an Australian with few academic credentials.   At its heart, “The King’s Speech” is about the relationship between the two men, king and commoner, doctor and patient; but it’s also about overcoming adversity and  about a nation under the threat of war.  The movie is inspiring without being preachy or saccharine.  I enjoyed it tremendously on many levels.  The cast was top-notch, from Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush as George VI and Logue to Helena Bonham-Carter as Queen Elizabeth. The excellent supporting cast included Anthony Andrews, Derek Jacobi, Claire Bloom, Michael Gambon and two actors from “Pride and Prejudice”:  Jennifer Ehle and David Bamber. The whole look and feel of the movie reflected the historical period, especially the costumes.  
As often happens when I see a “based on a true story” movie, I’m curious to find out how much is true and how much is artistic license.  Fortunately, the library has a good selection from which to choose.  For information about George VI and Logue, try The King’s Speech:  How One Man Saved the British Monarchy by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi (941.084 LOG Main).  The co-author is one of Logue’s grandsons who quotes from his grandfather’s journals and contemporary clippings, some of which were used in writing the movie’s script. 
As for the Royals involved in the story, there are numerous books from which to choose.  King Edward VIII by Philip Ziegler (941.084 ZIE Main and Avoca) is an in-depth, sympathetic look at David’s life before and after he met Mrs. Simpson.  The Duchess of Windsor:  The Secret Life by celebrity biographer Charles Higham (941.084 Main and Avoca) is a juicy page turner while Michael Thornton’s Royal Feud:  The Dark Side of the Love Story of the Century (941.084 THO Main) examines the rift between the brothers and their wives.  The Reluctant King by Sarah Bradford (941.084 BRA Main) gives George VI his own sympathetic portrait, while The Queen Mother by William Shawcross (941.084 SHA Main) is the official biography of Queen Elizabeth, completed after her death in 2002.

Monday, May 16, 2011

the Signal Mountain Spelling Book of JuliUn Tod

 Reviewed by Nancy

If you enjoy words, word-play and good spelling in general, Wow! Have I got the book for you! "The Signal Mountain Spelling Book of JuliUn Tod" by Jud Barry (F BAR Main & Avoca)  is a book that's all about words. I don't just mean the words in the story that allow the story to unfold. I mean that this is a book that loves words, discusses words, our understanding of words and the way we use them, the impact of words on our lives, and of course, the spelling of words.

The narrator of this book is Juliun Tod, a pet frog who hates bad spelling. In fact, his name is the result of bad spelling:  the book’s main character, Casey, intended to name him “Julian Toad” but couldn't spell Julian or toad, so when he made a name-plate for Julian's terrarium Julian Toad turned into Juliun Tod.  Julian relates to us, not just the story of how he came to be Casey's pet, but also the story of how he became a frog in the first place.

Other characters included are Casey’s brother Dudley (appropriately nicknamed Dud); Solomon, a philosopher pig; Boudiccia, the evil cat; and Rowf, the dog.  Angel, a wild girl of uncertain origins, appears late in the story.

I was on pins and needles through the greater part of the book wondering if Juliun Tod was going to survive the evil machinations of Dud. There were many evil machinations, culminating with JuliUn taking a ride on a science fair rocket. This scared the doo-wah-diddy out of me, but turned out alright in the end.

This story is also a sort of fable in which the author offers his views on religion, the afterlife, and science fair projects, among other things.

As Mr. Barry asserts, "spelling matters." He assures us that after we die we must face what seems to be some sort of judgmental committee called the Iota Subscript Subcommittee of the Hereafter Admissions Review Committee (HARK). Yes, HARK, ha ha. This is immediately followed by a reference to herald angels singing, to help us grab hold of that joke, just in case we were snoozing when we read it and it slipped by us.

In this presentation, one faces the HARK committee after going through the "Winnowing" which seems to be the term for what happens when a soul separates from the body it has been traveling around in since it was born. Somewhere in the author's vision fits a place called "Mezzanine" which I believe loosely equates with Purgatory.

Correct spelling seems to prominently feature in our success or lack of success in the afterlife. As the book states, "In the beginning was the Word; in the end will be - the dictionary." 

By the way, the author of this book, Jud Barry, is the Director of the fabulous Bristol Public Library. What a deal. He directs the library, and writes books to fill the shelves, too.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Volunteers & Events

 First of all, we wanted to mention a special program at the library this weekend.  Dr. Annette Wszelaki from the University of Tennessee will be here to talk about growing your own vegetables in containers. You'll be amazed at how much you can grow in a small space!  The program is Sunday, May 15 at 3 pm and it's free to the public.  For a bit more information (and a link to the wonderful "Homegrown Tomatoes" song) click on the link below.


The new Teen Club at Bristol Public Library needs volunteers!  Under the direction of the dynamic Pam Neal, the club has expanded.  Ms. Neal has an exciting summer program planned, and volunteers would be welcome.  If you think you'd be interested, please pick up a volunteer application at library.

Teen and Children's Summer Reading Clubs will be starting soon!  Information will be available in the Children's Library and in the Teen area.

"I don't know which I like better-- books or doughnuts!"
  Meanwhile, the Nevermore Bookclub meets every Tuesday at 11 am in the Frances Kegley Conference Room.  Doughnuts are provided by the Blackbird bakery!  Come and tell us what you're reading!

Paranormal Fiction Stars: Kim Harrison & Kelley Armstrong

The supernatural/paranormal genre has really taken off in the last few years, fueled in part by the success of Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series.  We have some brochures at reference with suggestions of other authors and series you might enjoy.  Here are two:

 Kim Harrison
Harrison's best known work is  "The Hollows," an urban fantasy series.  Detective and  witch Rachel Morgan solves mysteries with the help of Ivy, a vampire, and Jenks, a pixie. Elves, demons, trolls, and other supernatural beings appear as well.

“Rachel Morgan/The Hollows”
  • Dead Witch Walking
  • • The Good, the Bad, and the Undead
  • • Every Which Way But Dead
  • • A Fistful of Charms
  • • For a Few Demons More
  • • The Outlaw Demon Wails
  • • White Witch, Black Curse
  • • Black Magic Sanction
  • • Pale Demon

She has a young adult series starring Madison Avery whose high school years are made a little more difficult once she's dead.
  • Once Dead, Twice Shy
  • Early to Death, Early to Rise
    Note:  Harrison's real name is Dawn Cook.  She began her writing career under that name, writing romance books.

    Kelley Armstrong
    Armstrong is a Canadian writer, best known for her "Women of Otherworld" series. She began writing at and early age, and her stories had a fantasy twist even then.  She has also written mysteries and is doing a teen paranormal series.

    "Women of the Otherworld"
    The stories are narrated by different characters, including a werewolf, a witch and a ghost.  Armstrong has been praised for her characterizations and imaginative backgrounds for her characters.
    • Bitten
    • • Stolen
    • • Dime Store Magic
    • • Industrial Magic
    • • Haunted
    • • Broken
    • • No Humans Involved
    • • Personal Demon
    • • Living With the Dead
    • • Frostbitten
    • • Waking the Witch
    • • Spellbound

    "Darkest Powers"
    This series revolves around Chloe, a fifteen year old who is able to communicate with the dead.  Her claims get her institutionalized, but it seems that the other teen inmates also have unusual powers.
    • The Summoning
    • The Awakening
    • The Reckoning 

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Unleashed: Melanie Travis Solves Again!

    Unleashed (Melanie Travis Mystery)by Laurien Berenson (F BER Main; SSB F BER Main)
    Reviewed by Susan Wolfe

    This is a charming series.  The stories are like eating potato chips – you will want to gobble them all up.  Each book is a satisfying mystery, linked by the up-and-down career and somewhat normal life of Melanie.   Melanie is a teacher and a divorced single mom.  She loves poodles.  Melanie has another passion too– solving mysteries. 

    In fact, almost all of the characters are connected to the dog show world one way or another. Her Aunt Peg is dogmatic (pun intended).  She is a breeder of championship poodles and is very opinionated and determined to interfere in Melanie’s life.   Although a novice showing dogs, Melanie’s pet poodle is quickly becoming a star. 

    The stories are set in the dog show world.  It’s an interesting and varied backdrop that includes a lot of quirky people involved with dogs in some way.  There are groomers, professional showers, and breeders.  There are also links to canine related topics such as doggie daycare and pet food. 

    In Unleashed, Melanie is planning a wedding – her own.   Her fiancée Sam also raises poodles. Everything is going right in her world, with one exception.  Sam’s ex-wife, Sheila has moved into the area and Shelia has made it apparent that she wants Sam back.  She calls Melanie to bury the hatchet by inviting them to dinner.  To their surprise, Sam’s former best friend is there.  Not only that, but they are starting a National Enquirer type of magazine about dog shows.  Soon afterward, Shelia is murdered.  The police think it was a burglary gone bad, but Melanie and Sam suspect otherwise.  It affects Sam deeply and he asks Melanie to do some checking around.  The list of suspects is long. 

    There are some interesting side plots too.  Faith, Melanie’s poodle is pregnant.  Her son Davey has a bully at school picking on him.  The bully issue is resolved in a funny way with Aunt Peg’s interference.  She calls the kids parents to tell them they won free dog training lessons.  She plans on training not only their dog, but also their son.

    This series is delightful.  The behind scenes look at dog shows is fascinating.  If you love animals, you will be hooked.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Charlaine Harris: More than just vampires!

    Some people really enjoy reading books in series. We're going to be including a list of some popular authors and series on the blog occasionally so that folks can find a list of the series books in order.

    Charlaine Harris is a bestselling mystery author who likes to add a dollop of the supernatural to some of her books. While she's best known for her Sookie Stackhouse series, she already had several books to her credit.

    Southern Vampire Series:
    Sookie Stackhouse is a barmaid in Louisiana. Vampires, shape-shifters and other supernatural beings have come out of the shadows and been granted citizenship, so the bar has quite the varied clientele. Sookie herself is telepathic, a gift—or curse—that has made relationships with humans rather difficult, but she feels quite at home with the “others.” These books are the basis for the “True Blood” TV series. You can read them as standalones, but are somewhat more enjoyable read in order:

    Dead Until Dark
    • Living Dead in Dallas
    • Club Dead
    • Dead to the World
    • Dead as a Doornail
    • Definitely Dead
    • All Together Dead
    • From Dead to Worse
    • Dead and Gone
    • Dead in the Family
    • Dead Reckoning

    A Touch of Dead is a collection of the Sookie short stories, many of which have appeared in other story collections.
    Note: The library also holds DVD copies of the “True Blood” series.

    Harper Connelly Series:
    After being struck by lightning, Harper finds she can locate bodies and know how people died. Together with her step-brother/manager Tolliver, Harper travels the country to help solve murders and missing person cases.
    Grave Sight
    • Grave Surprise
    • An Ice Cold Grave
    • Grave Secret

    Harris also did two very well regarded non-supernatural mystery series. Aurora “Roe” Teagarden is a librarian and true crime enthusiast in Georgia who meets with a group to rehash murders such as Jack the Ripper or Lizzie Borden. When real murders occur, Roe uses her talents to solve those as well. These books tend to be a bit more lighthearted and don’t necessarily have to be read in order.
    Real Murders
    • A Bone to Pick
    • Three Bedrooms, One Corpse
    • The Julius House
    • Dead Over Heels
    • A Fool And His Honey
    • Last Scene Alive
    • Poppy Done to Death

    The second series featured Lily Bard, a martial arts expert in Shakespeare, Arkansas is trying to escape her past. These stories were darker and more serious, and should be read in order because of the way Lily’s characters changes. Harris has said that she is finished with the Lily Bard series and doesn’t plan to write any more. In order, the books are:
    Shakespeare's Landlord
    • Shakespeare's Champion
    • Shakespeare's Christmas
    • Shakespeare's Trollop
    • Shakespeare's Counselor

    Happy reading!

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    Edie Ernst, USO Singer-- Allied Spy

    Edie Ernst USO Singer—Allied Spy by Brooke McEldowney (741.5 MCE Main)
    Reviewed by Jeanne

    Juliette rushes to the hospital after learning her elderly, cantankerous mother, Edna O’Malley, had collapsed. She finds Edna to be her usual irascible self, but then Edna surprises Juliette by asking, “Did I ever tell you how I met and fell in love with your father?” Juliette replies, “I never heard you use the word ‘love’ in the same sentence, for that matter in the same hemisphere, with any mention of Dad.” Edna then proceeds to tell her daughter about her youth. She was Edie Ernst, a young, idealistic USO singer during World War II. She remembers her first meeting with Lt. Bill O’Malley, but not exactly what she said. It was enough to have her summoned to meet a colonel who wants to know if she speaks German. When she says she does, he offers her the opportunity to serve her country—by singing to enemy POWs. She’ll be gathering intelligence information, but to a lot of people she will appear to be a traitor, giving comfort to the enemy. Edie is torn, but in the end decides to risk her reputation for the greater good of service.

    Also, Lt. O’Malley will be her OSS contact, and Edna finds him very attractive. Even more so after he gives Edna her first ever kiss.

    Edie, renamed Eva to sound more German, is sent to POW camps in the UK where the German soldiers are as receptive as were the Americans. All but one: a German officer. The German officer, as Edna describes him. He regards her with disdain, but sings like an angel. Edie is fascinated and infatuated. She asks him to teach her how to sing with such emotion. His response is a “withering look of disdain,” which, of course, only makes her more determined to confront him.

    Thus starts one of my favorite recent stories. It’s nuanced, with well-developed characters and an intriguing plot. In some ways, it’s an old fashioned tale; it deals with loyalty, honor and love.

    I suppose at this juncture I should tell you that this story is told in comic strip form. Not graphic novel, but strips that ran daily for some 11 months, keeping me on the edge of my seat each morning as I waited to read the next installment.These strips have now been collected into a book, so you can read the whole story at one sitting. If you do –and I hope you will—take note how almost every strip ends with a line that will give you pause. I hate to call it a punchline, because makes the whole thing sound cheap. The humor grows out of situation and character and is often poignant.

    McEldowney does a marvelous job of explaining a situation through his characters. For example, Juliette asks if Edna was in any danger. Not from the prisoners she replies, then goes on to explain,” Well, there was this little thing called ‘The War’… and you have no idea how hot feelings can run at such a time. . . . Somehow people knew I had been visiting a POW camp and I could feel their hostility. I consorted with the enemy. . . . There was also the problem with being a Yank. Americans got a reputation for arrogance when we entered the war. We strode in among a population that had been frustrated and battered for years. . . and they quickly hated us more than they did their actual enemy.”

    In those lines, Edna sums up a situation more elegantly and compassionately than many books I’ve read. That’s part of the appeal of this book for me.  There’s a personal view of history, yet it’s viewed with the perspective time gives.  Most of all, it feels real.

    Brooke McEldowney is a man of many talents. His background in both art and music (he was a professional musician for a time, playing the viola) shines through his strips.  They’re literate but accessible.  He has a fluid style and in this series uses shading to grand effect.  It’s like reading a classic black and white movie like “Casablanca.” The appeal is visceral, however.  He engages our emotions. In the forward for the collection, McEldowney reveals his reason for doing this story. He found an item that had belonged to his father when he was a young man, and he decided he wanted to tell a story to remind us that those members of the “Greatest Generation” were that, but were also young men and women first.  He wanted us to look at our parents and grandparents not as icons or crotchety caricatures but as human beings.  By the end of the story, our view of Edna has changed in a profound way, and in a way that can cause us to rethink the way we have perceived some of those we love.

    Coincidentally, not long after I re-read this series I found my father’s own cache of photos and a few letters he had had written while overseas in WWII.  Among them was a note which said there were two things he wanted to do for sure when he got home and nothing should stop him.  One was to get a life time subscription to Reader’s Digest.  I chuckled, but for the first time I pictured him as a twenty something young man, still a bit wide-eyed about the world

    Thank you, Brooke McEldowney.

    (P.S.  If you check for the book in our card catalog, please ignore the description of the book.  The description is for Pipgorn, the second of Brooke McEldowney’s strips.)