Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year!

Best wishes (a bit early) from
the Bristol Public Library Bloggers!
(and Melon)

We look forward to sharing more favorite books, films and music with you in 2010!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sneaky Pie, Tucker, and Rita Mae

Animal Magnetism: My Life with Creatures Great and Small
by Rita Mae Brown (813.54 BRO Main)

Reviewed by Jeanne

Rita Mae Brown has said that she likes animals better than people, and in these pages it’s easy to see why after reading this book. Inside these pages there’s a whole host of memorable horses, dogs, cats, birds, foxes and—of course—her favorite feline co-author, Sneaky Pie. Each relationship is unique, just as is each animal. Some loved selflessly, some strictly on their own terms, but all taught lessons about life which Ms. Brown recalls in a non-saccharine way.

So it’s only natural that this book, while a biography of sorts, is built around the people and animals that have had the most influence in her life rather than a linear progression. The result is a series of vignettes that move back and forth in time, highlighting events and emotions. Some are moving, some are amusing, some are thought-provoking and a couple are real thigh-slappers. All are told with the sureness of a Southern storyteller who makes you feel as if you’re with a good friend, swapping stories around a fire. She also offers a few tart observations, and passes on some life precepts, such as PopPop’s admonition: “If anyone mistreats your hound, never speak to them again. If they hurt a hound, bide your time but hurt them back.”

Reading this book is more like looking at photos in an album: rather succinct portraits of this dog, that cat or that human and the role he or she played in her life. Actual photographs are included but I would have enjoyed more. The book’s structure lends itself to browsing; it’s so easy to just open the book at any point and read awhile.

Keenly observed and felt but never maudlin, this book will bring a smile of recognition, a chuckle, and a renewed appreciation of the animals (and the people) in our lives.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's a Wonderful Christmas Carol


I'm going to be very traditional and choose "A Christmas Carol" as a favorite film for the holidays, though "It's A Wonderful Life" and "Amahl and the Night Visitors" are also contenders.

My choice of the particular film versions "A Christmas Carol" may be a little different, though. I love “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.” I remember first seeing it as a very small child; I probably remember it from the first time it aired (no, I am not going to tell you the year.) I don’t know why this particular version appealed to me so much. Part of it may have been seeing a funny character whom I already knew and loved (Mr. Magoo was right up there with Top Cat and Beany and Cecil) doing something so different and serious. I know the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be scared me more than a little. I also liked the catchy music. "Ringle, ringle, coins as they jingle. . . "

Sorry, I told you earlier that I can't sing.

I was utterly delighted this year when a DVD copy of this show was added to our collection. I’ve already watched I once so far, and may view it once or twice more as I address Christmas cards, just to get into the mood.

My other favorite version is the one with George C. Scott as Scrooge. It’s better-rounded than many. The tendency is to cut out large parts of the story to focus on Tiny Tim and Scrooge. This one looks more at Scrooge’s life as a whole: we see the devotion between Ebenezer and his sister, his failed romance with Belle, and – most importantly—the social conditions of the time. The Crachitts aren’t the only ones in need, and Scrooge’s limited outlook isn’t confined to mistreating one employee. It’s his entire life that needs re-evaluating, from his relationship to his dead sister’s son to his view of himself as a clever, practical man who should be respected, not realizing that others see him in an entirely different light.

Although he didn’t physically resemble Ebenezer, Scott managed to make that role his own. The most difficult part of the story is to have a Scrooge who is both believably hard and grasping and believably transformed. The supporting cast was also unusually fine. Edward Woodward is a very robust Ghost of Christmas Present, just as one would expect from “The Equalizer.” He and Scott have a great rapport, and their scenes together almost steal the movie. David Warner is another excellent piece of casting. He gives Bob Crachitt a lot of depth. Crachitt is usually such a colorless character, a total doormat. In this version, we see him as a stronger character, willing to endure dreadful working conditions in order to feed his family. The Crachitts are a devoted couple, still very much in love. Mrs. Crachitt (Susannah York) isn’t the shrew she is in some versions though she still has a bit of a sharp tongue. Instead, she’s a woman who loves her husband and resents the way his employer treats this good man.

Finally, there is Ebenezer’s nephew, a character often overlooked in filmed versions. He’s a sprightly, good-natured fellow, very much like his mother. He shares a name with one of my favorite cats, so I noticed every time Fred was mentioned which was fairly often.

So warm up the DVD/VCR player, make some hot chocolate and gather the family around for a trip back to Victorian London. I would join you, but I’m still working on my Christmas cards from 2005.

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol DVD MR. Main

A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott Video 1944 Family or Video 6169 Family, both Main

Merry Christmas from Melon and the BPL staff!

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Jeanne's Music Picks

Even though I can’t carry a tune in a bucket and people who love me will find excuses to leave if I try to sing, I do love to hear Christmas music. Occasionally I’ll hear a new tune I like, but mostly I favor old standards. I have to say that TV commercials have introduced me to some songs that I might not have heard otherwise, and I’ve used Main’s music CD collection to listen to some of them without being sponsored by a major department store. I recommend Christmas Belles, which offers ten turns by wonderful female singers: “Santa Baby” by Earth Kitt, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Connie Francis, “Silver Bells” by Brenda Lee and other numbers by Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Loretta Lynn, Dinah Washington and The Andrews Sisters.

Another favorite CD is Christmas on the Mountain by Sheila Kay Adams & Jim Taylor. Sheila is a seventh generation ballad singer from Sodom, NC who plays a fine banjo and sings with a distinct mountain rhythm. Her husband, Jim, plays the hammered dulcimer. For some reason, a hammered dulcimer always sounds like snow to me: bright, crisp and shining. This particular CD includes two shape-note hymns, “Sherburne” and “Star in the East.” I wasn’t (and still am not) very familiar with this style, but I think these two songs are beautifully done. Surprisingly, another of my favorite selections on this CD is “Away in a Manger.” I say it’s surprising because this is a song I’ve heard over and over by so many artists that it’s not one I usually look forward to hearings. Shelia reinvents the song for me and makes me appreciate it all over again.

Sheila is also a wonderful storyteller. The last selection is one of her Christmas memories, when her beloved Grandfather told her the legend about the animals talking at Jesus’ birth. The story is a warm and gentle reminder of the special bond between children and grandparents, especially at Christmas.

Christmas Belles CD CHR Main

Christmas on the Mountain CD ADA Main

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Don't Skip Skipping Christmas!

Joyce M:

I’m very picky about the books I read. An author has to capture my attention from the start or I’m not going to finish that book. My favorite Christmas book has to be John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas. I could see all those things happening! I laughed out loud, which I don’t do very often with a book. I own my own copy of it now. This is actually the only John Grisham book I’ve ever read.

If you’ve skipped Skipping Christmas, you can rectify that now! Both Main and Avoca have copies in adult fiction (F GRI), plus copies on CD (CD F GRI. Main also has a large print copy (SSB F GRI) and a cassette copy (CASSETTE F GRI. The movie “Christmas with the Kranks” is loosely based on the book; Main and Avoca both have DVD copies.

Monday, December 21, 2009

When is a Cat Not a Cat?

Jeanne's Christmas book picks

Christmas books. . . there are so many! Some of my favorites are children’s books, so I’ll try to stick just to those and limit it to three.

"Cat on the Doverfell" is a Norwegian folktale and is often included in anthologies of Scandinavian folktales. I first heard it as a child when my mother read it to me, and then had to read it over and over again. There was a scary component in the dreadful trolls who terrorized the Doverfell every Christmas Eve, but relief and humor in the way they got their comeuppance at the hands—or paws—of the big white bear. Even better is the little twist at the end that gives the story its name and this column its title.

I was delighted as an adult to find that one of my favorite illustrators, Tomie de Paola, had done a picture book version, though the title is Cat on the Dovrefell, should you look it up. The text varies just a little from what I remembered but de Paola’s warm and beautiful illustrations make up for that.

Morris’s Disappearing Bag is by Rosemary Wells, another author/illustrator whose work I adore. She’s best known for her “Max and Ruby” books. Morris’ older brother and sisters are having a wonderful time playing with each other’s presents on Christmas but no one wants to play with Morris’ present, a teddy bear. Then Morris finds a gift everybody else has overlooked. . . . This is a delightful tale, especially for the youngest sibling.

Merry Christmas, Thomas!
by A. Vesey is a story to which I could relate, and not just because the characters are cats. Thomas is very excited about Christmas and watches all these mysterious packages arrive. He’s hoping for a bicycle. Then Thomas finds a lot of presents hidden in a closet. . . maybe if he just takes one tiny peek. . . There are so many good things about this book, but one feature that I especially liked was that in Thomas’ family, Santa only brings small gifts for the stockings. Thomas’ parents are the ones responsible for large presents and Thomas was responsible to them for his actions.

Cat on the Dovrefell illustrated by Tomie de Paola J 398.21 KJE Main

Morris’s Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells E WEL Main & Avoca

Merry Christmas, Thomas! by E. Vesey E VES Main

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bah, Humbug?

Susan P.

Tired of the same old Christmas Carol Story? Looking for a way to lighten up the stressful Christmas holidays? Then check out “Scrooged” starring Bill Murray and Karen Allen, directed by Richard Donner. Frank Cross (Bill Murray) is a TV executive trying to secure his position with his company by producing the most epic Christmas Carol TV movie ever. Fate and his old (dead) mentor Lew Hayward (played by John Forsythe) have different plans, however. Lew informs Frank that he will be visited by three ghosts in order to save him from his current path of doom. Thinking that the whole episode is brought on by bad vodka, Frank puts the incident out of his mind and turns his attention to his television production and his new rival Brice Cummings (John Glover). Unfortunately for Frank it wasn’t bad vodka and he is quickly and hilariously visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johansen) who takes him on a trip through memory lane. Here is where the audience is introduced to Frank’s love interest, Claire Phillips (played by Karen Allen). It also gives us a glimpse at the cheerless Christmas of Frank’s childhood. Despite some of the more somber moments each look at Frank’s life is peppered with witty one-liners and funny situations. The next ghost is the Ghost of Christmas Present brilliantly portrayed by Carol Kane. Present’s preferred method of reaching Frank is a little physical violence: “Sometimes you have to SLAP them in the face, just to get their attention.” The give and take between Murray and Kane are some of the funniest moments in the movie. It’s filled with lots of physical comedy and great dialogue. In between ghostly visits, Frank tries to reconnect with Claire, keep his job and produce his movie. Finally, Frank is visited by a very scary Ghost of Christmas Future where he realized he needs to change his attitude much like the legendary Ebenezer. This movie is laugh out loud funny and has come hilarious performance from Bill murray, Robert Mitchum, John Glover, Bobcat Goldthwait and Carol Kane. If you’re looking for a new holiday movie tradition, check out “Scrooged”!


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Grits

By Nancy W.

It was a tradition in my family years ago that every Christmas morning my family and my cousins family would all have breakfast at my grandparents. This was a huge, ridiculous breakfast... grits, bacon, eggs, cheese grits, gravy, ham, biscuits, tomatoes, grapefruit, cheese grits, grits, sausage, cheese grits, garlic-cheese grits, toast, yes! Well, we did like grits, I guess. At one of these breakfasts in my semi-adult years my cousin Cathy made her appearance accompanied by her fiancé Ted. Ted was from New Jersey, and I think we were all pretty jazzed up about this, the idea of having someone from a strange, exotic land like New Jersey marry into our southern family. I imagine many of us at that time had never met anyone from New Jersey. Of course, we all struggled to find a way to converse with this foreigner, rather than just stare at him with our mouths hanging open. Cousin Cathy's sister Madeline took the lead as we bunched up to load our plates. "Ted, do you like grits?" she asked. "Ahhh," he replied blissfully as he took a deep breath. "I can smell a grit a mile away."

So, many years prior to the grits comment the day arrived and we all gathered at Granmamma and Grandaddy's for breakfast. I would guess I was maybe ten years old. The temperature that day was not frigid. Hovering somewhere in the low forties is my guess. Snow was not predicted, but as we were eating breakfast, Lo! The snow began to fall. I, my mother being the woman that she was, was kinda dressed up. This never suited me, but that day I had been bent to my mother's will.

My grandparent's yard had a small hill. And they had a sled. So even though I was dressed up (we're talking dressed up in a dress, likely with bare legs, or at least bare knees), my mother let me go with my cousins Tommy and Joe and play on the hill with the sled.

Due to the much above freezing temperatures, the snowy hill soon became a sloppy, muddy mess, but this did not deter us. We kept at it until the runners of the sled lodged in the mud and would not move. It was one of the best times I ever had.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

O Christmas Tree

By Susan W.

I think all of us have favorite things about Christmas that bring wonderful memories. I love the music and songs. “O Christmas Tree,” simple as it, is will always be one of my favorites. To hear that song, magically takes me back to when I was a child. We had brought home a real Christmas tree and finished decorating it and settled in for a comfortable evening with the family. Then, all of a sudden, we noticed that we were not alone. We had been invaded by hundreds of baby praying mantises! The tree was home to a nest of the little fellows, and they hatched when warmed up in our living room.

One of our staff, Jim P., remembers Christmas in 1969. He was a very young soldier in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Their troop consisted of youngsters, the oldest being 24 and the youngest being 17. They were a long way from home. They had been shot at all week. One of them came up with the idea of having a Christmas tree. There were no plants around there that looked anything like a Christmas tree, so they decided to make one. Twigs, bits of uniforms, aluminum cans, all went into building their tree. They decorated it with buttons, pins, anything and everything they could find. He said it was the strangest looking “tree” he had ever seen, and most would have called it ugly but he still has a picture of that Christmas tree, and remembers it more than any other.

The Library has both music and musical scores of Christmas music. O Christmas Tree is included on these:

CD HIT Main New age Christmas: a tribute to Mannheim Steamroller
786.2172 Main The Definitive Christmas collection
J783.65 SIL Main Silent night : a Christmas carol sampler
CD JFRO HANGING BAG Main Frosty's sleigh ride party 24 songs & stories.
CD J COU HANGING BAG - 2 CDs Main Christmas is for kids!
CD J CHI HANGING BAG - 1 CD Main Christmas with the Chipmunks by Alvin, Simon & Theodore with David Seville.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Staff Christmas: Stille Nacht

By Doris

When I was ten years old, my family moved to Germany for three years. That first Christmas in a faraway country was like a fairy tale in so many ways. The Christmas Fair at Frankfurt, the toys in the windows of the little German shops, the beautiful hand blown tree ornaments, and the luscious pasties all added joy to a holiday for a very homesick child. One memory of that first German Christmas will always be with me—the music of “Silent Night” sounding in a small German church, and my first experience of hearing the song sung in German. All of us have heard the story that in 1818 the organ in a small Austrian church was broken. The priest Joseph Mohr took the words to a carol he had written in 1816 to his friend Franz Gruber and asked him to create guitar music for the carol so the children would have a song to sing for the Christmas Eve service. Thus came about the legend of one of the most poignant of our Christmas songs. Actually, the organ probably was not broken, and Mohr may have just wanted a new carol for the children, but no one can deny the absolute beauty of the gentle carol about Jesus’ birth. Did you know “Silent Night” has been translated into 44 languages and is often sung a cappella? Or that the song was sung simultaneously in English and German by troops during the Christmas truce of 1914? Just imagine being on that terrible battlefield and hearing the sweet sounds of this beloved song drifting out of the trenches. John McCutcheon did a haunting musical presentation of this incident and has a children’s book and CD called Christmas in the Trenches (CD J MCC Avoca) telling more about what happened that cold, frosty night. It reminds us that even in the worst circumstances, the spirit of Christmas lives in all of us.

May each of you have a warm, happy holiday season. Enjoy the music of the season, and remember our service personnel serving in the military all around the world.

Note: “Christmas in the Trenches” is also included on the albums "Water From Another Time" and "Live at Wolf Trap" (both CD MCC Main). Several years later, Garth Brooks recorded a song about the same incident.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Season's Readings!

"Wearing Reindeer Antlers is NOT one of MY favorite things."

Everyone has a personal checklist of things that “make” the holiday season. For some, it may be making gingerbread or latkas or the Christmas pageant; for others, it may be ice skating or football games or “The Nutcracker” ballet; still others will think of the Santa Train or the Christmas parade or eggnog. Check out the bookblog every day or so for some of “Our Favorite Things” in books, videos or music!

Monday, December 7, 2009

See What?

Reviewed by Nancy

How observant are you? In one study, a man in a gorilla suit walked past a group of students while other activities were taking place and only half the students even noticed him. Would you have been one of the ones who was oblivious, or one of the ones who was interrupting everybody saying, "What the heck is that gorilla doing over there?"

Joe Navarro was a special agent and supervisor for the FBI for twenty-five years. His area of expertise is non-verbal communication, or “body language.” His book, What Every BODY Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed Reading People (153.69 NAV Main), is your guide to becoming savvier than those around you.

In his book Mr. Navarro explains the nuances of body language. His theory is that people lie best through the face: it's the other body parts that will give the game away, the twitch of a hand, shifting weight from one leg to another or a change in posture. Through study of this book you can become an astute observer, both of people and your surroundings. You can learn to tell when people are comfortable or why they aren’t. If they’re nervous, is it because they are lying or hiding something? He describes how people employ their facial expressions to conceal emotion but how their arms and legs might betray their real feelings. You’ll learn how to read not just people's faces, but all of their body movements, whether they are jumping for joy, touching their necks or massaging their faces to comfort themselves, or crossing their arms or holding something on their laps to distance themselves from a situation.

Being savvy about body language can assist you both professionally and personally. Learn to know when the boss is really pleased with you, and when he is thinking about giving you the ax. This book could help you to better understand what it is that your family members are or are not saying to you. Are you in business, in sales? Learn to watch for the signs that the deal may be going south, and where the sticking points in the negotiation are. Whether the other guys will tell you or not, you may be able to figure it out for yourself once you've read this book.

Don't be the last one in the group to notice the gorilla passing by. Read "What Every BODY Is Saying."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fire burn and cauldron bubble

Reviews by Jeanne

There are some wonderful cookbooks out there and I'm happy to say our library has quite a number of them. Currently, I'm in a desperate search for some recipes for the holidays. I thought I had it all figured out when I learned that there are some new food restrictions for some family members, others have had all the turkey and ham they want to see until next Thanksgiving, and my plan to go out to eat has a slight flaw: there really aren't too many places open on Christmas Day.

This means I need to find something to cook. Something easy. Something foolproof, although it has been said there is nothing foolproof from a sufficiently talented fool. The kitchen is one of the many places where I over-qualify.

Here are some interesting and possibly holiday saving books:

Wanda E. Brunstetter’s Amish Friends Cookbook Volume 2 by Wanda E. Brunstetter (641.566 BRU Main)
Along with Beverly Lewis and Cindy Woodsmall, Brunstetter is arguably one of the best known authors of Amish fiction. To give Englishers a real taste of Amish foods, Brunstetter has gathered more than 200 recipes from Amish friends across the country. The layout is clean and uncluttered, making it very easy to use this as a real cookbook. Interspersed among the recipes are lovely color photos, some home remedies, and bits of information about the various Amish communities and their customs.

The Cracker Kitchen by Janis Owens (641.5975 OWE Main and Avoca)
There’s a full review of this one elsewhere on the blog but the recipes sounded really good and like something we might actually eat. (Well, not the ‘possum or rattlesnake but Ms. Owens wasn’t keen on those herself.) She helpfully divided her book up by season, two of which are Winter and Football. That covers the interests of most of the family so there should be some very appropriate recipes. I had a very good time reading it because of all the humor, which might improve the cook if not the cooking.

The Cook Book: A Collection of Recipes (641.5 COO Main & Avoca)
This is an absolutely delicious collection of recipes courtesy of the legendary cooks of the Avoca Friends of the Library! I’ve been lucky enough to join them for their luncheons on occasion. (Pause here while I sigh with happiness.) These ladies have dishes for every occasion and taste. I’m partial to spinach, and there is wonderful recipe that is cooked slowly in a crock pot, meaning that it can be made up early and free the rest of the day for other pursuits, such as double-checking the local restaurants to see if one has decided to stay open on Christmas. (By the way, copies of the cookbook are still available for purchase at the Avoca Branch Library. They make great gifts!)

But after all, recipes can only do so much. The last time I cooked, the entire family suddenly developed a taste for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Who would have guessed they didn’t like stir-fried turnips and creamed cabbage? Not me, obviously.

Happy cooking, everyone!

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 fiancé 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 macramé?—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 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. . . .

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

Shades of Grey

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.

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 clichés 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?”

Monday, September 28, 2009

History's Mysteries

Reviewed by Susan Wolfe

The Dance of Death (Roger the Chapman Mysteries) by Kate Sedley

Nothing beats a good mystery. And history is chocked full of ‘em. That’s why I get excited whenever one of my favorite “history mystery” writers hits a home run. Kate Sedley is one of the best. She doesn’t disappoint with her latest – The Dance of Death. (Honestly, they are all excellent)

Set in one of England’s most pivotal times…just before the discovery of America... England was in turmoil. Edward IV is in decline, his treacherous wife and her greedy Woodville family are always up to no good. It’s a dangerous time to live and especially so if you have a curious mind, like Roger. Edward’s brother, Richard of Gloucester, will eventually seize the throne, becoming known as Richard III, Shakespeare’s murderer of the “Little Princes.” Villain? Maybe not. Even today, people either love Richard or hate him. (Believe it or not, there are Richard III re-enactor clubs.) But for this series, Roger sometimes works for him to solve a mystery. Now Roger is a chapman, a peddler of sorts. He can travel all over England and always somehow stumbles over a mystery that needs solving. Sometimes he is assigned to one by Richard of Gloucester, sometimes not.

In The Dance of Death, Roger becomes a reluctant spy. If the rumors are true about the king’s parentage, then Richard is the rightful heir to the throne. The answer appears to rest in France. Roger cannot speak French and he is on vacation with his very pregnant wife. Last thing he wants is to be drafted into finding any evidence about these allegations. Reluctantly, he is assigned with locating an informant in France described as a “former soldier living in Paris”. Plus he must pretend he’s married to an attractive spy who tried to kill him on a previous mission. Both the preparations for the trip and the trip itself are marked by several murders, almost including Rogers. It is a rollicking adventure with a lot twists and turns. Funny, and full of historical detail. These mysteries are like cookies, you just want to keep on reading them.

1. Death and the Chapman (1991)
2. The Plymouth Cloak (1992)
3. The Hanged Man aka The Weaver's Tale (1993)
4. The Holy Innocents (1994)
5. The Eve of Saint Hyacinth (1995)
6. The Wicked Winter (1995)
7. The Brothers of Glastonbury (1997)
8. The Weaver's Inheritance (1998)
9. The Saint John's Fern (1999)
10. The Goldsmith's Daughter (2001)
11. The Lammas Feast (2002)
12. Nine Men Dancing (2003)
13. The Midsummer Rose (2004)
14. The Burgundian's Tale (2005)
15. Prodigal Son (2006)
16. The Three Kings of Cologne (2007)
17. The Green Man (2008)
18. The Dance of Death (2009)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Slice Of Country Life

Reviewed by Nancy

It all started in the spring of 1902 when the Walker family disembarked from the steam train at McMinnville, Oregon. Lured by colorful advertisements posted by the railroad companies, and magazine and newspaper articles lauding the good life to be found in Oregon, the family left their sod house on the Kansas prairie and started a new life.

In A Slice Of Country Life: 1902-1915 (979.5 WAL Main), George F. Walker tells the story of his family's adventures as the owners of the Buell country store and the 27 acre farm they acquired with it. The store was in the rural community of Buell, Oregon, on the east-west route across the state, midway between Salem, the state capitol, and the coast.

George Walker was four years old when this odyssey began. It is to me astonishing how much things have changed in the last hundred years or so, and George Walker's book drives that point home. The water source for his family was a well about 150 feet from the house. Water was drawn up by a bucket on a rope and carried up a hill to the house. As George puts it, "There was no flush." The restroom facility was an outhouse with a crescent cut in the door, usually equipped with a Sears Roebuck Company catalogue from the previous year "often used down to the slick pages of the harness section." Just ponder that for a moment, and the bathroom in your home will look pretty good.

Mr. Walker relates anecdotes regarding daily life in the store and on the farm, detailing how crops were planted, equipment repaired, and medical problems addressed. To write his book George held the pen with a crooked index finger, the crooked finger being the result of a farming accident. George was feeding corn into a cutting box, a box with two blades inside used to cut up corn for cow feed, when he managed also to feed his hand into the box where it was mangled by the blades.

His mother cleansed the nearly severed finger with turpentine and bandaged it without a splint. It healed, but healed crookedly. In these times, this is hard to imagine. What if I half chopped off a finger in the paper cutter at work and then insisted that we just cleanse it with turpentine and bandage it up rather than going to the doctor? The workman's comp people would have a fit. And I imagine library management might want to send me somewhere for mental evaluation.

Mr. Walker relates the story of his first viewing of an automobile and his first ride in that automobile. He also provides details about rural social life, card and parlor games that were played at get-togethers, and the excitement that was brought about when Mr. Nathan Blair, a member of the community, bought a deluxe model Edison phonograph. A date was set for a party at the local school, and Mr. Blair provided music with his phonograph.

When Mr. Walker was twelve years old, advance men for Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show came to Buell to put up advertising posters. In exchange for allowing them to display the posters in the Buell country store, the advance men gave Mr. Walker's father two tickets to the event which was to take place in Salem. Compared to the tiny crossroads of Buell, Salem was a metropolis, located twenty-five or thirty miles away.

George and his older brother, Clarence, rose early the morning of the Wild West Show. By six A.M. they had finished their farm chores. They then rode their bikes twelve miles to the town of Dallas, where they left their bikes at a livery stable (yes, I said livery stable. If you're so young you don't know what a livery stable is, look it up.) After stabling the bikes, they boarded a train for the remainder of the trip to Salem. Not only was this George's first circus and Wild West Show, it was his first ride on a train as well.

Mr. Walker is a great storyteller, and it is fortunate for the rest of us that he decided to write A Slice Of Country Life.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

BBL: Whimsy Were the Borogroves (with apologies to Lewis Carroll)

“As My Whimsy Takes Me” is, according to Dorothy Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey’s family motto and a perfect title for this collection of short reviews. (Let it be added that Lord Peter’s coat of arms features a cat on the crest, watching three scampering mice, which makes it even more appropriate for me to cite it here and not just because one of my felines left a “gift” on the sidewalk.) Today’s reviews are a collection of whimsical items that caught my fancy and I hope you will enjoy them as well:

Gnomeland: An Introduction to the Little People by Margaret Egleton (398.45 EGL Main)
Note: this review is written by a person who has pink flamingos in the garden
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, gnomes seem to pop up everywhere. We expect to encounter one in most garden shops but the Travelocity spokesgnome was a bit of a surprise. That’s nothing beside the diverse denizens of Gnomeland. There are Disney gnomes (think the Seven Dwarves), soccer-playing gnomes, bathing beauty gnomes, naughty gnomes, and even political gnomes. (There are several different George W. Bush gnomes, some sporting a Texas-shaped belt buckle.) Gnomes are a world-wide phenomenon: they can be found all over Europe, North and South America, and even Antarctica. Australia seems to be particularly fond of gnomes, harboring several large gnome gardens and organizations dedicated to preservation and proliferation of gnomes. Beautifully illustrated with color photographs, this book is a delightful look at the history and lore of the “little people.” Even if you think gnomes are tackiness personified (the book says they’ve “been restored to their rightful place of kitsch honor”) you’ll smile at some of the creative ways people have used gnomes. It may just inspire you to add a gnome or two to your own garden. Or not.

I Can Has Cheezburger? : A LOLcat Collekshun by Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami (818.54 NAK Main)
O hai! (Hi!) Once upon a time, a photo of a chubby, hopeful gray cat was posted on the internet with a caption: “I can has cheezburger?” This was part of the inspiration for the website where folks post photos of cats, dogs and other animals and allow others to invent captions for them. If you have email, you’ve probably already received some examples. The phonetic spelling and odd phrasing can be off-putting at first, but as I became used to that particular affectation I found that to be part of the charm. The gray cat, dubbed Professor Happycat, offers lessons in LOL (Laugh Out Loud) speak throughout the book. (In case you were wondering about the title of this column, yes, BBL is also LOLspeak/internet slang for “Be Back Later.” There’s a story behind that as well, but I digress. ) Charming photos and clever captions make this a great way to spend a few minutes, and may inspire some photo sessions with your own pets. (I have visions of my Melon becoming a LOLcat posterkitteh at some point. Melon’s visions may differ. Yes, that's Melon with the bunny ears above.) As this collection proves, even less-than-perfect photos can bring a grin with the right comment. K thx bai. (Okay, thanks, bye.)

The Cats’ House
by Bob Walker (636.8 WAL Main)
Once upon a time, a nice man who liked cats married a nice lady who liked cats. Right after the wedding they went out and adopted a nice cat. However, it turned out that the nice cat was bored at home by himself during the day and amused himself by ransacking the house, especially the kitchen. So the nice couple went out and adopted ANOTHER nice cat to keep the first cat company and the next thing they knew they had quite a lot of nice cats and one nice dog. They decided they would like to make their house a nice place for cats.

The results are for all to see in this amazing book, which I have to say is one of my favorites. If I ever win the lottery, I’m going to use it for a blueprint for my new abode. The house is a rainbow of colors with climbing beams, cat trees, cat stairs, and “mouse holes” in the walls for the cats to move from room to room and, of course, cat themed décor. The Walkers are also avid collectors of Mexican folk art and have painted the house and furniture in vibrant color combinations that simply have to be seen. (Cable viewers may have seen this house on some of the extreme home shows.)

While the text is delightful, it’s the gorgeous full color photographs of cats and house that make this book a visual treat. My favorite sequence has to be the time-lapse photos of the couple sleeping, surrounded by an ever changing assortment of felines. A close second would be the shots, apparently taken from underneath a glass table, of the cats licking milk.

While instructions for making your own cat items are included. The instructions appear very complete and easy for any competent woodworker, which explains why I haven’t attempted any of these. I just admire from afar.

And yes, I own my own copy of this book.

Who the Hell is Pansy O’Hara? The Fascinating Stories Behind 50 of the World’s Best-Loved Books by Jenny Bond & Chris Sheedy (820.9 BON Main)
This is a collection Paul Harvey would have loved! Short, addictive chapters give brief biographies of fifty different authors and some little-known facts about their best-known work. The books are arranged chronologically from Pride and Prejudice to The DaVinci Code in fiction and from Johnson’s English Dictionary to A Brief History of Time in non-fiction. Imagine the fun you’ll have making friends guess which world famous author was so poor he couldn’t afford a telephone so the publisher had to notify him by telegram that he’d sold his first book or which author’s love letters were torn to bits so a jealous wife couldn’t read them—but she did anyway, by carefully piecing the bits back together. (The reconstructed letters still exist.)

As promised in the title, you do find out which heroine was originally named Pansy until the author reconsidered. Thank goodness she did!

Reviews by Jeanne

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Roberts' Formula Equals Satisfaction

BLACK HILLS by Nora Roberts

When you pick up a Nora Roberts book, you know what you are getting. There’s a smart, pretty, feisty heroine. The gorgeous hero will be someone who makes her really mad but for whom she feels this immediate “pull." There will be snappy dialogue, some kind of mystery or adventure, and some scintillating sex that only occasionally gets raunchy. Black Hills continues that formula as only Nora Roberts can.

Remember that old cliché that you never get over your first love? Roberts takes that idea, plants it in the Black Hills of South Dakota on a horse ranch, and lets nature take it course. Coop is an eleven year old New Yorker who is angry that he has been shipped off to his grandparents’ ranch for the summer because of his parents’ messed up relationship. He is also pretty sure no one really loves him. Lil is a wide-open-spaces child of two loving parents who are neighbors and friends to Coop’s grandparents, and she knows an injured critter when she sees one. In one dinner and a game of baseball, these children become inseparable friends.

Through the years Coop returns to visit his grandparents whom he has come to love deeply and the girl who is his best friend. At eighteen Coop and Lil are passionately in love, but that path is more than rocky. A horrible discovery mars their last summer together, and Coop’s strained relationship with a domineering father causes him to break things off with Lil “for her own good.” Lil goes on to become a world-renown biologist and expert on big cats who establishes a nature preserve on her family land. Coop becomes a police officer and then sets up his own security company in the wake of his police partner’s death. Yet, for both of them, something fundamental is missing from their lives.

Twelve years after leaving Lil devastated, Coop comes back to the Hills. Drawn back into Lil’s world and the only place he has ever felt loved, Coop sets out to reclaim her heart. Stalling his efforts is someone tied to that horrible discovery made years ago who may be a serial killer and deadly threats on Lil’s life. Lil and Coop find it is easy to work together to find a murderer, but very hard to get past the old hurts and misunderstandings. Will love triumph in the end? Will our hero save the girl? Come on folks, this is a Nora Roberts book! Of course it all works out: it just takes awhile to get there.

Critics haven’t particularly liked this Roberts romance. Some have felt the story lags and the characters are not up to her usual standards. The question has been raised that perhaps the Queen of Romance is turning out books too quickly to maintain her quality. My feeling is that I read Nora Roberts as an escape. If I want reality, I will watch CNN. While it may not be her best romance, I enjoyed the friendships which Roberts always does well and the animals. I like Lil better than Coop, but I can see in Coop all the reasons Lil would love him. As I said before, it is a Nora Roberts book. If you are a fan, you know what you are going to get, and you like the formula.

Black Hills is available at both the main library and our Avoca branch.

Reviewed by Doris

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thinking Without Thinking

Call it a woman’s intuition…but we all have it. A hunch. First impressions. Making a decision, either right or wrong, takes place within about two seconds. (I sort of met my husband that way, but that’s another story.)

Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is about those two seconds. The kind of thinking that happens within the blink of an eye. Where your mind reaches a series of conclusions, you are indeed thinking. That’s what this book is about. We can also improve on this kind of thinking.

You might wonder how thinking that takes place so quickly be at all useful. Don’t we need time to evaluate data? Not to mention gather the facts. Haven’t we all heard “Don’t jump to conclusions”? But, there are situations, under stress or pressure, when snap judgments make sense. This book explores several situations where this scenario takes place. The Emergency Room at a Chicago hospital is just one. The hospital wanted their doctors to gather less information on their patients. Instead, they were to zero in on just a few pieces of information. Their results have been so successful, to draw international attention about how to successfully diagnosis illness.

Whether we realize it or not, our minds are capable of gathering bits of information simultaneously. It is the unconscious mind at work. He calls it “thin slicing.” Sifting through a situation, throwing out the irrelevant while zeroing in on what really matters. In sports, it’s called “court sense.” One way or another, we all do it. But … we can improve how well we do it.

For example, how do people “read” us? We can hear our voice, but we can’t see our face. Whenever we experience a basic emotion, that emotion is automatically expressed by the facial muscles. It may be only for a fraction of a second, but it is there. Ever heard of someone having a “poker face”? They have tried to control some of these muscles. But guess what … all of our muscles react. Watching and paying attention to these involuntary actions can help you make a good two- second decision.

Can you make bad decisions within two seconds? Oh yeah. In fact, that is why Malcolm Gladwell wrote the book to begin with. He grew his hair long. Looked like a middle age hippie. He got pulled out for profiling at airport security. Police accused him of committing a crime. In fact, the wanted descriptions looked nothing like him.

Did you know that all of the Fortune 500 CEOs are tall? Tall people are not smarter. But they are thought of that way. When Tom Hanks tried out for his first acting job, the director picked him out instantly. Why? He has that look we all can associate with.

is about us. How we think without thinking. And it is fun. It gives so many examples from real life. Hints of what to look for. So whether you want to go speed dating or win a major battle, read Blink. It really makes you think!

Look for Blink at Main and Avoca, call number 155.44 GLA.

Reviewed by Susan Wolfe

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Becoming a Goddess

You will never take anything for granted again after reading Change Me Into Zeus's Daughter by Barbara Robinette Moss (362.292 MOS Main).

This book is her memoir of growing up poor in rural Alabama, one of eight children. The daughter of a raging alcoholic father and a mother who was kind and caring, but powerless to protect herself or her children from the wanton abuses of the father, the author renders her story in a powerfully gripping style. This is one real life cast of characters you’ll never forget.

Meet her father, drunken, but charismatic, loving but hateful. When he woke the children up in the middle of the night, they never knew if they were going to have some bizarre punishment or play poker. Meet her mother, a woman who, despite the desperate circumstances in which they lived, imparted to her children a deep love of art and literature. This is a woman who once taped the children's paint-by-number paintings over the broken windows of the house they had moved into so that the world couldn't see in, saying "This is a wonderful way to display your art."

Meet Barbara, the author. Growing up with an abnormal facial structure due to malnutrition and no dental care, she prayed nightly to become attractive, to wake in the morning a beautiful daughter of Zeus. When this didn’t work, she saved her money and paid for braces and facial surgery. She became an artist, a writer. The story of how this woman rose from these beginnings to become the person writing this memoir is simply astonishing.

If you bother to read the first sentence of this book, you will be compelled to read the whole thing.

Okay, okay. I'll give you the first sentence. "Mother spooned the poisoned corn and beans into her mouth, ravenously, eyes closed, hands shaking."

Now who could read that and not keep going?

It will break your heart. It will make you weep. It will renew your belief in the power of the human spirit. It will make you want to find Barbara Robinette Moss and give her a hug.

And as I said in the beginning, it will make you realize that YOU HAVE GOT IT MADE! You will never take anything for granted again.

Reviewed by Nancy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Wannabe Foodie

Some people gravitate toward books about cooking and baking. I gravitate toward the cooking and baking. Reading about it just makes me hungry, so I tend to avoid such books. Finding three books in a row about food that were all fascinating, entertaining and educational, well, it had to be Fate. (Let's hope that Fate holds onto that "e," else the next round will be diet and exercise books.)

The Cracker Kitchen by Janis Owens (641.5975 OWE Main and Avoca)
While there are a lot of Southern cookbooks and even down-home Southern cookbooks, not many boast an introduction by Pat Conroy. Yes, THAT Pat Conroy, author of Prince of Tides, Lords of Discipline and Beach Music. Pat does have his own cookbook, but I have to say that his isn’t nearly as funny, or maybe Pat just didn’t have a blonde friend who was concerned about dark roots in the afterlife. Anyway, this is one really great cookbook with easy recipes that sound delicious and in some cases familiar. For example, the “Cream Cheese Vanilla Frosting” is pretty much standard but I did enjoy the instructions to “Let a favorite child lick the bowl or if there isn’t a favorite child, lick it yourself.” Made me want to go home and fix up a bowl of frosting right then and there.

Even better is the way the book is divided up partly by seasons (which can be summarized as Church, Dog Days, Football and Winter) with a couple of extra chapters thrown in to cover “Things in a Jar” and “The Cracker Pantry.” There are a few recipes for wild game (including rattlesnake, which the author suggests that you buy commercially raised and pre-deceased instead of risking a trip to either the Pearly Gates or a visit to your local ICU). There’s also a recipe for possum which she admits she doesn’t eat but neither does she look down on those who do and if you’re serving possum, just let her know and she’ll pick up a chicken sandwich on the way over.

I might as well confess that I was too busy laughing over the Cracker Cookbook to try any recipes from it. 'Specially not the ones involving wild game. I'd rather read than cook. Note that I didn't say "read than eat" because that would be a down and out lie. I just want someone else to fix it for me, because some dishes are better when you don't know exactly what went into their making. For example, in one of the Sweet Potato Queen books there was a recipe for garlic bread which involved a pound or two of butter and a pound or two of cheese and given the SPQs and their recipes, and probably a pound or two of bacon. Knowing that would have prohibited me from tasting the finished product, whereas if someone were to offer me a slice I'd take it, figuring, "Gee, it's garlic bread, how many calories could it possibly be?"
This is a mighty fine book for cookin’ and readin’ and the Reference Staff requests that you check this book out quickly so that Jeanne will stop reading aloud from it and annoying them all while they are trying to work.

Janis Owens is a novelist, best known for her Catts Family series.

The Food of a Younger Land edited by Mark Kurlansky (394.12 FOO Main)
In the 1930s and ‘40s, the Federal Writers’ Project had talented writers such as Eudora Welty and Zora Neale Hurtson produce essays on various aspects of American culture, including food. Remember, this was a time before chain restaurants when regional tastes dominated and most meals were made at home with local, seasonal ingredients so that meals were much less homogeneous and more a reflection of local culture. This isn’t a cookbook; a few recipes are given, but most of the text tries to place the food, its preparation and consumption, as part of the social framework. The essays are divided up by region; many are more oral history than analysis, though some authors try to provide an historical and geographical context. Some are little more than notes, such as the paragraph on the “Coca-Cola Parties in Georgia” (which served as an informal social gathering for younger women) or a description of the workings of the “Automat.” I liked the list of New York soda-luncheonette slang (I’m trying to imagine how a “deep one through Georgia” would taste.) Other selections wander farther afield and read like short stories, such as “Alabama Footwashing at Lonely Dale,” in which a most worthy cook hands out her version of justice.

Some ingredients we may find unsettling; some details appear stereotypical or condescending but are accurate reflections of the times and attitudes. Kurlansky thought long and hard about whether to exclude or heavily edit, but in the end he felt to do so would be to misrepresent the time period.
The recipes that are offered lack some details such as cooking temperature or require ingredients not generally found at the local supermarket. They also tend toward – well, let’s just say The American Heart Association might not approve, such as the barbecue sauce which calls for a pint of Wesson oil AND two pounds of butter. Hmmm. Make that “definitely would not approve.” I personally want to at least gaze upon a Sally White cake, with its pound of butter, pound of flour, one and a half pounds of sugar, two pounds of almonds, two coconuts, dozen eggs, two pounds of citron, a glass of sherry and another of brandy—I think I gained a pound just by typing this far. It must be a wonder to behold. On the other hand, I was startled to find that a can of mushroom soup was a standard ingredient even then.
All in all a fascinating look at “the way we were.”

Mark Kurlansky is the bestselling author of Cod and Salt, both of which looked at how foodstuffs affected world history.

The Ungarnished Truth: A Cooking Contest Memoir by Ellie Mathews (641.5 MAT Main)
This book came about as a result of the Online Book Club offered on the Library’s homepage. There you can sign up to receive daily emails containing excerpts from books in various categories: romance, thrillers, science fiction, mystery, non-fiction, etc. Not only is it a good way to test drive a book without commitment, I’ve found new authors and sampled books I would never have picked up otherwise.

Ellie Mathews is a frugal, no-nonsense sort of lady who enjoys experimenting with food and who likes to use on-hand ingredients. Never a flashy sort of cook, she nonetheless begins entering cooking contests with modest success. She finds the experiences interesting and encouraging and so decides to enter the Big One: the Pillsbury Bake-Off. I guess I’d had the vague idea that such contest winners were people who lived to cook, Martha Stewart-type perfectionists who worked in spotless kitchens with expensive gadgets, so discovering that Ms. Mathews was none of these things came as a bit of a surprise. This isn’t an expose of contests, no cut-throat shenanigans or cooking sabotage, nor is it a starry-eyed view, but a down-to-earth description of what goes on. Mathews comes off as almost apologetic that she didn’t react as the over-the-top contest winner, but that simply isn’t her style.

Reading this book made me think I could almost enter a cooking contest. I pop popcorn in olive oil which makes for an interesting flavor but always sets off the smoke alarm. How much do you suppose the judges would deduct for that?

Ellie Mathews is a writer and cooking contest participant. Her “Salsa Couscous Chicken” won the 1998 Pillsbury Bake-Off competition and yes, the recipe is included.

My, that was certainly longer than I anticipated. I think I need a snack now.

Reviews by Jeanne