Thursday, March 29, 2012

Nevermore: Lone Wolf, Glock, Hare With Amber Eyes, and That's Disgusting!

Lone Wolf was the top fiction pick at the Nevermore Book Club.  The new novel by Jodi Picoult follows her successful formula of using a family drama to illustrate a contemporary moral dilemma.  In this case, a young man who left his family years ago is called back when his domineering father is involved in a devastating car wreck. Luke, the father, was obsessed with studying wolf behavior to the point where it broke up the family; now his two children are left to wrestle with whether or not to continue life support. 
A real life family drama is told through an art collection in The Hare with the Amber Eyes.  When Edmund de Waal inherited a collection of Japanese netsuke, including the hare of the title, he begins to trace the history of the objects and in so doing, discovers a great deal about his family’s past as a wealthy Jewish family in Western Europe. They interacted with artists, writers, and the cream of society during this amazing period of intellectual achievement. It came to a crashing halt with the rise of the Nazis. Family members were imprisoned or fled, their homes and property confiscated. 
Glock:  The Rise of America’s Gun by Paul M. Barrett recounts the fascinating history of the Austrian semi-automatic revolver which seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the most recognizable firearm brands.  Gaston Glock knew very little about firearms when he set out to design one as part of a competition.  His expertise was in polymers, which he used to construct the lightweight gun. A combination of events, from the movie “Die Hard 2” which featured the gun, to the FBI’s search for a new weapon for their agents, conspired to make the Glock a global weapon of choice.
According to Rachel Herz, only one emotion needs to be taught:  disgust.  In her book That’s Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion, Herz tries to determine the source of the emotion. Things that are repulsive to one culture may be perfectly acceptable to another, such as drinking animal blood. Even within a culture, acceptability may change with time. Using an outhouse or butchering a pig would have been a common occurrence just a few decades ago; now many people would find the same actions to be – well, disgusting.  What has wrought such a change?  And how do these changes affect our society and us as individuals?
The New Republic is the latest novel from Lionel Shriver, author of the intense novel What Shall We Do About Kevin?  This one is described as “a droll, playful novel” but the topic is terrorism.  Are we ready for a funny novel about terrorists? We await reviews!

Bristol Public Library's Nevermore Book Club meets at  Main every Tuesday at 11:00 AM.  Doughnuts are provided by The Blackbird Bakery--'nuff said!

Monday, March 26, 2012

What's Hot for March!

Once again, we're going to highlight the most requested books at the Bristol Public Library.  These are the ones with the most reserves for Main and Avoca, not for the system as a whole so that we're listing what local folk really want.  As usual, there are some repeats from last month's listing, but most are new-- with at least one surprise entry. Here's the countdown:
11. Unnatural Acts:  A Stone Barrington Novel by Stuart Woods has Stone being hired to help steer a billionaire's son toward a better path.  Naturally, things don't go quite as planned.  This book will be released in April.

10.  Stay Close by Harlan Coben is a standalone thriller by one of the best writers in the genre.  A seventeen year old murder comes back to haunt the cop who failed to solve the case, and a woman who thought she'd left her past in the past. 

9.  Rainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas is the first in a trilogy by this up and coming contemporary romance writer. Lucy was doubly betrayed:  not only did her fiance dump her, but his new lover is Lucy's own sister.  Sam, a local vineyard owner, strikes up a friendship with her but just as Lucy begins to believe she has feelings for Sam, she makes a devastating discovery.

8.  Unwritten Laws by Greg Iles is now slated to be published in December, 2012.  This sequel to The Devil's Punchbowl was delayed when Iles was injured in an accident.

7.  Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James continues the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy.  Austen fans and James fans are lined up for this one!

6.  The Adventures of Tintin is a collection of three of the comic books by Belgian artist Georges Remi who wrote under the name Herge.  Tintin has been a European star for decades--the stories began in the late 1920s and continued until Remi's death in 1986-- but many Americans weren't aware of his existence until the recent Spielberg film. Tintin is a young reporter who travels the world with his dog, Snowy, and becomes involved in numerous exotic adventures.

5.  11th Hour by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro is the newest title in the Women's Murder Club series. It's due out in May.

4.  Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult is the latest best selling book from an author who takes contemporary issues and frames them as unforgettable family dramas.

3. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins is the third and final volume in the enormously popular "Hunger Games" series.  You do need to read these in order, so start with Hunger Games and then Mockingjay before reading this one.

2.  Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris is the newest book in the Sookie Stackhouse series.  It will be out in May.

And the number one book on reserve is:

1.  Guilty Wives by James Patterson and David Ellis is a non-series thriller.  Patterson's winning streak continues unabated!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Defending Jacob by William Landay

College sweethearts Andy and Laurie are living a quietly satisfying life in Newton, Massachusetts with their fourteen year old son, Jacob.  Andy is an Assistant District Attorney, so he’s one of the first called to the scene of the murder of a schoolboy.  While Andy first suspects a local pedophile, a fingerprint links the murder closer to home—to Jacob who, as it turns out, had been bullied by the victim.
While this book seems at first to be a standard courtroom thriller, albeit a well-written one, the characterizations, strong domestic drama, and the provocative questions raised take this novel to a higher level. At first, both Andy and Laurie are totally focused on proving Jacob’s innocence. Old secrets come to light,and strains their formerly idyllic marriage.  Laurie begins to doubt whether or not Jacob is actually innocent while Andy remains steadfastly convinced that he is not the killer. The uncertainty takes a physical and emotional toll on both parents, especially  Laurie who goes from a cheerful, loving wife to a shadow of her former self. Andy, desperately seeking to save his son, has to revisit some portions of his past.  The book tackles a number of difficult themes:  how far do you go for someone you love?  Can you ever really know someone?  How does society react to a person charged with a horrific crime, guilty or not? Is a propensity for violence genetically determined?
The court room scenes are expertly done and quite believable.  Landay is a former ADA himself, so he knows whereof he speaks.  Parts of the book are in trial transcript form, which is an interesting technique: flat testimony, stripped of emotional context, makes one re-evaluate a situation. It allows readers step outside the characters we think we know and view the situation as a stranger might.
The plot has enough twists and turns to satisfy mystery fans and enough substance to satisfy general readers.  This review was suggested by a member of the Nevermore Book Club, who thinks this is one of the best books she's read lately and highly recommends it to everyone.
Note:  This is actually Landay’s third novel, but is his most critically acclaimed.  Many seem to believe it will be his breakout book.  The book has been praised by writers as disparate as Lee Child and Nicholas Sparks, and has drawn comparisons to Grisham and Turlow.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Death of a Kingfisher

Reviewed by Doris
The twists and turns of Hamish Macbeth’s love life are almost as interesting as the twists and turns of his brain as he solves crimes.  M. C. Beaton’s Highlander police sergeant is always struggling with either the overabundance or the total lack of love in his live. Death of a Kingfisher opens with the line, “It is a well-known fact that just when a man reaches his early thirties and thinks he is past love, that is when love turns the corner and knocks the feet from under him.” This time the winsome and luscious Mary Lerinster has Hamish in a dither as he tries to solve several murders and decide if Mary is part of the mayhem or just the gorgeous innocent she seems.
The Faerie Glen is a beautiful section of land left to the town of Braikie. Inside its boundaries are breathtaking views, peaceful meadows and-- some believe-- the magic of the faeries. Mary has been hired by the town council to turn the glen into a tourist attraction to bring money and jobs to poor Braikie.  With Mary’s beauty and marketing flare the Faerie Glen is a great success. Playing upon the highlanders’ superstitious beliefs and being willing to use her beauty to manipulate susceptible men, Mary has convinced people she has “second sight” and the blessings of the faeries. Tourist buses filled with people pour into the glen to catch a glimpse of magic. But, someone is not pleased with the successes of the Faerie Glen and havoc descends.  Hamish enters the fray to solve the murder of a kingfisher. Along the way more murders will occur and Hamish will find himself trying to stay in the mix to solve the crimes while trying to sort out how he feels about Mary.
The latest outing of Hamish Macbeth—Death of a Kingfisher-- by M. C. Beaton is a good, easy read. As always Hamish is in a pickle over women and trying to solve crimes while avoiding too much scrutiny from Inspector Blair. He is also very worried that his outpost in Lochdubh will be closed as many of the northern outposts are being shut down. Enter into his world a gorgeous woman to whom he is instantly drawn, a wealthy widow who has an acid tongue and strange superstitions, and two children who will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Think The Bad Seed times two and you will have Olivia and John!  As the plots all merge into the finale and Hamish’s saving the day, Death of Kingfisher delivers a surprise or two for both Hamish and the readers.
I have always enjoyed Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series and this one is one of the faster, better paced reads. I also like the blending of Hamish’s new constable Dick Fraser into the scene.  Hamish and Dick make a good combination of investigative styles, and Dick brings more than a little humor and aggravation into Hamish’s life. Beaton’s descriptions of life and the people of the Highlands is such a strong part of the series and lend credibility to the stories.  I hope Beaton will continue the exploits of Hamish for many books to come.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nevermore: Angel, Mermaid Chair, Red Families v. Blue Families, Poe Shadow, Monuments Men

The Nevermore Book Club had a lively meeting on February 28 with an intriguing mix of books being pitched!  Angel by Mary E. Kingsley is a coming of age story set in “a small Southern town.”  Thirteen year old Angel has always wondered why her father left when she was just a baby, but her emotionally distant mother refuses to discuss the subject and the rest of the family is not much more forthcoming, except for her Aunt Patsy who is in a mental institution.  Then the family receives the call that will change Angel’s life:  her father is coming home for Thanksgiving. Jud found the book to be well written, with believable characters.  While the book doesn’t specify the real setting, the author is from Kingsport and Jud recognized some places and people.  Mention was made that some publishers and reviewers seem to lump all “small Southern towns” into one stereotype, while there are some considerable regional differences.
Another club member mentioned that Stephen Hunter used this area as a setting for one of his novels, Night of Thunder. She had just read his latest thriller, Soft Target which has Ray Cruz facing terrorists who have taken over the largest shopping mall in America on Black Friday.
Red Families v. Blue Families by Naomi Cahn and June Carbone offers the premise that some areas of the country are redefining the meaning of “family values” based in part on new economic realities while other areas are resisting such changes.   The authors believe this trend is behind the current polarization in politics and offer suggestions as to how to relieve some of the conflict.
The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd has it all:  romance, mystery, a great South Carolina island setting and interesting characters.  Jessie, a middle aged Southern housewife, returns to her childhood home after an incident involving her estranged mother.  While trying to mend their relationship, Jessie begins to question her own life, aided by a former attorney who is in the process of becoming a monk. Our reader wasn’t sure it would be his kind of book, but he recommends it to anyone who enjoys a good story.
In what would seem like a “ripped from the headlines” moment, right on the heels of an announcement that more of Hitler’s stolen paintings had been found there was a recommendation for the book The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel.  The men of the title were art historians, museum curators, and others with an interest in art who went in search of the looted art treasures in the waning days of World War II.  Hitler had commanded his men to seize paintings, sculpture, scrolls, any and all items of artistic and cultural importance.  It makes for a riveting read, even if you don’t remember all that much from art class.
Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl was also a top pick.  In this fascinating historical mystery, young lawyer Quentin Clark is troubled by the inconsistencies surrounding the death of his favorite author, Edgar Alan Poe.  Determined to follow through with his own investigation, Quentin seeks out the real man who was the model for Poe’s famed fictional detective to find the truth.  Pearl is known for his mysteries involving famous authors, and this book doesn’t disappoint.
Although it wasn’t discussed, another club member put in a plug for Burnt Mountain, ranking it among Anne Rivers Siddons’ best books—if not the best.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Night Circus

 Reviewed by Jeanne
There is a magician who is not an ordinary magician who uses sleight of hand and misdirection but a genuine magician.  He calls himself Prospero the Enchanter and he makes real magic on stage, but convinces the audience they are watching an illusion—a most excellent illusion, but an illusion nonetheless.  One day he receives a letter-- actually a suicide note --and along with it, a child whom he is told is his daughter.
He is not pleased.
Then after a disparaging remark about her mother, the child shatters a teacup without touching it.
“You might be interesting after all,” he tells her.
Soon he contacts another man, also a magician, to propose that they restart their competition.  The other man agrees, but warns Prospero that he must be prepared to lose—and that means losing his daughter.
So begins The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, a mesmerizing story of love, loss and magic. It’s been called “Hunger Games meets Harry Potter” in an effort to convey the competitive storyline with magic, but that does a severe disservice to this beautifully written book.  The descriptions appeal to all the senses, but especially vision; it’s no coincidence that the first time author is also a visual artist.  Each magician has chosen a champion, but neither contestant knows the other. The weapons are not psychic punches or bolts of lightning but creations.  The field of battle becomes the Le Cirque du Reves, the Circus of Dreams.  The tents are black and white striped; the confections like nothing you’ve ever tasted; and the circus is only open at night.  There is no advance warning, no advertising.  The circus is just there one morning, and then one morning it is gone. Sometimes it’s hard to remember if it was really there or if it was just a half-remembered dream.
It is here that the game is staged.  Marco and Celia are the players, though at first neither knows the other nor do they know the rules of the game.  Their task is simply to create something wonderful within the confines of the circus, each seeking to outdo and delight the other. There are a number of fascinating supporting characters, including Isobel the fortuneteller who loves Marco; Bailey the farm boy who longs for the day when the circus will return;  the red-haired twins who were born just as the circus opened and who seem to have absorbed some its magic; the enigmatic contortionist who may know much more about the circus and the game than do Marco and Celia; and all the others who help make the circus happen for reasons they don’t quite understand and who are sometimes unwitting players in the game.
The book brims with imagination and lyrical language. It’s playful, romantic without being soppy and, frankly, enchanting.  The story shifts about in time a bit, but the atmosphere remains firmly rooted in the late Victorian/Edwardian era with gas lights, fog, and a sort of Art Nouveau vibe.  I didn’t find it to be at all pretentious but rather playful and elegant at the same time.   
I have compared this book to another of my favorites, Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, even though the plots are very different. Both books show me a world slightly outside the real one, with people I like in a world dusted with magic. Both pull me in and while I’m satisfied at the end, I’m a bit sad because I’m going to miss these people and places. Best of all while both are light and sweet confections, I don’t gain a pound.  Well, except for all those chocolates I ate while I read them.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Cozy Scottish Mystery Trio

 Reviewed by Jeanne

Many cozy mystery series now have a theme to draw folks in, such as a particular hobby, recipes, or occupation.  It’s a way of quickly drawing readers in to a shared world.  The quality varies, depending on the author; some of these series are ideas from the publisher instead of the author, too.  Here are some with a Scottish or Scottish American theme:

If things Scottish intrigue you, try the “Liss MacCrimmon Mystery Series” by Kaitlyn Dunnett.   Liss was a professional dancer in a troop that traveled about performing traditional reels, Highland flings, jigs—“Like Riverdance, only Scottish” as Liss explains it.  The first book is Kilt Dead, in which Liss is trying to comes to terms with the loss of her career after a devastating knee injury. She agrees to go back to her home town of Moosetookalook, Maine to manage her aunt’s Scottish store while her aunt takes an extended trip. She thinks that will give her time to decide what to do with her life, now that dancing is no longer an option. She doesn’t count on finding a dead customer under a bolt of plaid material.  The writing is even and entertaining, and a genuine love of things Scottish comes through.  There’s a touch of romance with a former classmate who always loved Liss but thought her out of reach. My trouble was remembering that the setting was Maine, since I kept thinking of the Grandfather Mountain Games and all the Scottish shops in Linville.  Other books in the series include Scone Cold Dead, A Wee Christmas Homicide, The Corpse Wore Tartan and Scotched.  You don’t have to read these in order.

If you would prefer a real Scottish mystery, try the Hamish McBeth series by M. C. Beaton.  Hamish is the village policeman in Lochdubh, a village in the Highlands known for its fishing.  Hamish keeps some livestock, grows some vegetables, and occasionally poaches a salmon to supplement his wages.  He’s unambitious but his curiosity more than makes up for that.  His goal is to keep the peace.  The books are a bit off- beat and quirky, so it may take more than one to adjust to the tone.  The first title is Death of a Gossip and while you don’t have to read them in order, there is a bit of character development that makes it a bit more enjoyable if you do.  There are 28 titles in the series so far, with the latest being Death of a Kingfisher.  (Note:  Beaton also writes the Agatha Raisin mysteries; under the name Marion Chesney, she writes historical novels.) Doris has just read Kingfisher and her review will be posted soon.

Highland Laddie Gone by Sharyn McCrumb is an older title with a Scottish theme, but it remains a personal favorite.  Before the Ballad series, McCrumb wrote a series of mysteries with Elizabeth MacPherson, an anthropology student and Anglophile.  The series was light and fun, though the tone gradually grew more serious. The settings were usually in the southwest Virginia area.  In Highland Laddie Gone, Elizabeth and her cousin Geoffrey are attending a Scottish Heritage festival, an activity which Elizabeth embraces wholeheartedly while her cousin is less enthused.  Add to the mix a real Scotsman who finds the whole thing bewildering at best and insane at worst, and you have one very funny mystery.  It's been several years since I read it, but the memory lingers on delightfully as one of the few mysteries that made me laugh aloud.  McCrumb did another Scottish book, Paying the Piper, which was set on a remote Scottish island and was more serious. McCrumb has apparently ended the series in favor of the Ballad books and novels about NASCAR. She may have earned more acclaim for these latter books, but I still miss the early MacPherson style.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Nevermore February 21: Nazis, Sybil, Violence & Oscars!

Jud read the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows and liked it.   A young author seeking a subject for her next book starts a correspondence with the residents of Guernsey, in which she starts learning about events on the island during the German occupation.   The book is set in 1946, as everyone is starting to put their lives back together.  The book has delighted most readers, many of whom knew nothing about the occupation before reading this book.  (Note for Nevermore members:  the names “Guernsey” and “Jersey” are of uncertain origin; the “ey” ending is Old Norse for “island” but the first parts may be personal names or else derived from the Norse words for “green” in Guernsey’s case and “earl” or “earth” for Jersey.  Both islands were known for their cattle, and each gave its name to the resulting breeds.)
Sybil Exposed:  the story behind the famous multiple personality case by Debbie Nathan re-examines  the case, questioning how much was truth and how much was due to a suggestible patient, a sensation-seeking reporter and a psychiatrist who wanted to explore new theories about personality.  This is a fascinating book for anyone who ever read the book or saw the TV movie.
Death in the City of Light by David King is the true story of a serial killer in Paris during the Nazi occupation.  The police begin to suspect a charming physician of being a serial killer, but how can they prove it? Will justice become another causality of a society in chaos?
The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker takes a look at the violence in human history and concludes that violence is actually on the decline.  He offers some theories as to the reasons why violence has become less acceptable as a solution to a problem.
Since the Oscars were due to air soon, the discussion turned to some of the nominated films.  While “The Tree of Life” wasn’t liked, “The Descendants” had some favorable comments.  The favorite film, however, was “The Artist.  Obviously, the Academy agreed!