Monday, June 29, 2009

The End of the World!! Maybe

Uh Oh! Here it comes again….the End of the World!! This time, it is due to end in the year 2012. December 21, 2012, to be exact. That is when the Maya Calendar ends and, according to some, we do too.

Now the end of the world is something that gets up everyone’s attention, including writers so there are bunches of books coming out on the subject. Some take it quite literally and tell you to settle up…before it’s too late. The fun ones explore the END as a BEGINNING.

For example, 2012 Awakening: Choosing Spiritual Enlightenment Over Armageddon by Sri Ram Kaa (133.3 KAA Main) is a guidebook that includes exercises and lesson plans. Some books cover the 2012 theories. . . Earth changes. Polar shifts. Pivotal times in human evolution. The book The Mystery of 2012: Predictions, Prophecies, and Possibilities (133.3 MYS Main) features several authors, and covers spiritual and earth changes. It asks if we are coming to the end of a cosmic cycle. Humm. Sylvia Browne’s book, End of Days: Predictions and Prophecies About the End of the World (202.3 BRO Main & Avoca) does a fine job explaining various predictions, including some Maya Calendar theories. Incidentally, she predicts that we will be around at least another hundred years or so.

I had always wondered how the Maya Calendar actually worked. In the book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 (529 JEN Main), John Major Jenkins explains. Kind of. He goes into technical stuff, like the sun’s conjunction with the centre of the Milky Way galaxy. Did you know that there are seasonal alignments that occur once every 6,450 years, but the December solstice of 2012 occurs only once in every 25,800 years?

These books certainly offer plenty of food for thought!! They range from fun and lighthearted to deep thought and Uh Oh!

Over the years, several of us have gotten somewhat cynical about these new “End” predictions. Y2K? Remember Harmonic Convergence? And Heaven’s Gate? And are we going through a Nuclear Winter or Global Warming?

Mark Twain said it best, “The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” Hopefully the rumors of earth’s end in 2012 will be also.

Reviewed by Susan

Monday, June 22, 2009

Yo Ho -- Oh, No!

Water is the greatest defining feature of our planet. Oceans cover three fourths of our world and remain radically free. More than forty thousand merchant ships ply these waters with little or no regulation. Sounds like a freedom-lover’s dream, doesn’t it? Well, you may want to read The Outlaw Sea by William Langewiesche (387.544 LAN Main) for a little reality check.

International shipping is regulated by a United Nations agency called the International Maritime Organization (IMO). It sets the standards for maritime safety. Sounds good, right? Except that the IMO has no enforcement authority, so everybody’s pretty much on the honor system. Whose honor? Well, that’s another interesting question. You see, ships operate under a system known as “flags of convenience,” which means that ships can be registered in countries that sometimes don’t even have coastlines. Owners? Good luck finding those, because they’re lurking behind mountains of paperwork. So who set up this brilliant system? Uh. . . we did. The United States of America, that is. During the chaotic days of World War II, it probably seemed like a good plan. Today—not so much.

And don’t think these freighters are like those shiny new cruise ships in the ads. Nope, these are aging vessels being pushed too hard and too fast, sailing in terrible weather to maximize profits. Their crews are sailors of varying expertise who often don’t even speak the same language. Getting an idea of just how messed up this situation is?

So before you set off on your next idyllic cruise to Europe, do yourself a favor and read The Outlaw Sea. It’ll explain things very clearly, give you a good idea of the current state of international shipping and commerce, relate stories of shipwrecks and piracy, and, oh, yes, stand your hair on end.

You might decide to fly to Europe instead.

Reviewed by Nancy

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

BBL: The Dresden Files

Or, The Story of a Wizard, A Talking Skull, And A Lady Cop Along with Various Friends and Foes, Both Dead, Undead, and State Undetermined

Some people are reluctant to read a book that isn’t part of a series: they don’t want to become attached to characters they won’t be meeting again. Other people don’t like series books, afraid if they don’t read them in order that they’ll be missing out on something important. I’m a middle of the roader on this subject: if there are a lot of books in a series I feel a bit overwhelmed and am not certain I want to start them because I know I’ll be in it for the long haul and if the quality doesn’t hold up, it can be a bumpy road. On the other hand, if I really like the series, it’s wonderful because I know I’ll enjoy the trip.

And with Harry Dresden, you can bet it’s going to be one really strange journey with some peculiar companions because Harry Dresden is just that kinda guy.

I first encountered “The Dresden Files” as a television show on Sci-Fi. I thought the premise was interesting and enjoyed some of the characters but not enough to seek out the books until I began reading about them on a listserv for mystery readers, DorothyL. Intrigued, I started at the beginning; as the song says, “a very good place to start.

Harry Dresden is a private investigator and wizard operating out of Chicago. He’s the one to call if you need supernatural help, though he specifies he doesn’t do love potions or party tricks. In fact, there’s a special investigative squad of the Chicago PD that uses Dresden as a consultant when the latest crime spree seems to have otherworldly connections. The books are narrated in the first person by Harry who owes a bit of his personality to the hard-boiled detectives, albeit updated to twenty-first century sensibilities. Butcher has created a complex world using folkloric creatures such as werewolves, vampires, faeries and fallen angels. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters he introduces, though most of the good guys and gals seem to be variations of Harry, all sharing the same core values and outlook on life: heroic figures who don’t see themselves as heroes, just decent people whose job it is to protect the innocent against whoever or, more often, whatever may come.

Since I’m usually a character-driven reader, what’s the attraction? Fun! These books are action-packed roller coaster rides that keep the pages turning like a Ludlum thriller and are filled with laugh-out-loud tough guy quips: think Indiana Jones as wizard. Butcher is very inventive, allowing Harry to come up with unique solutions to get out of trouble (and Harry is always in trouble!) and puts his own twist on standard fantasy fare.

To read in order or not? It’s not mandatory but it might make it easier to keep track of some of the various beings Harry encounters, whether the vampire is White Court, Red Court or Black Court, or Summer or Winter Fey. Harry usually supplies enough background in his narration, but reading Storm Front first would probably be helpful with any of the others. Main holds copies of all the titles in the series.

Dresden Files the TV series: DVD DRE Main

Storm Front: Meet Harry Dresden, private investigator and wizard.
Fool Moon: When the werewolves come to town, it isn’t exactly a howlin’ good time.
Grave Peril: A local hospital is under siege from a ghost, and that’s just the start of the trouble.
Summer Knight: It’s not a good thing to owe a fairy a favor; it’s worse when the fairy is Queen Mab.
Death Masks: Harry’s meddling has earned him a challenge to a duel with a vampire. Oh, and the Shroud of Turin is missing.
Blood Rites: Given that the White Court vampires are similar to incubi and succubi, it’s not surprising that they’re involved in the adult film industry. Or that someone is out to kill them.
Dead Beat: Harry has to find a book called “The Word of Kemmler.” The trouble is that some zombies and ghouls are looking for it, too.
Proven Guilty: Horror film buffs attending a convention find some of the horror is real.
White Night: Someone is killing women and trying to make the scenes look like suicides-- and a Harry lookalike seems to be involved.
Small Favor: Queen Mab is calling in another favor, which will leave only one that Harry owes her—if he survives this one.
Turn Coat: Morgan, the Warden most merciless in his estimations of Dresden, turns up on Harry's doorstep claiming to have been framed for the murder of another wizard.

Jim Butcher is an American author who fell in love with the fantasy/SF genre while recuperating from a childhood illness. At age 19, he decided he wanted to make writing his profession and wrote the first novel in the Dresden Files series as an assignment in his creative writing class.
Reviewed by Jeanne

Monday, June 8, 2009

This Book Could Save Your Life. Or at Least Your Property. Seriously.

The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout (616.8582 STO Main) Reviewed by Nancy

There’s a lot of psycholobabble going around these days, with people tossing out terms just like they really know they mean. Believe it or not, some of those Hollywood screenwriters don’t actually have a degree in psychology. So let’s start out with the basics: What is a sociopath?

Someone who can stab you in the back, literally or figuratively, and never feel guilty, never look back.

Okay, now try this little fact on for size. According to The Sociopath Next Door, four percent of the population is sociopathic. So, let's see. Four percent. That's one in twenty-five. Hmmmm. How many people do I work with? Fifty? Uhoh. How many people in my extended family? Fifty? A hundred? Whoops! Come to think of it, Cousin Clyde sometimes does have a really weird look in his eye that makes me feel uncomfortable. And what about that boss I had who was always bragging about all the ways he had found to cheat the freight companies? I always wondered how he could sleep at night. Bingo!

So here's the sneaky thing about sociopaths. They act so darn nice. Picture an embezzler's neighbor talking to the police. Some sweet little lady wringing her handkerchief in her hands, an anguished expression on her face, saying, "But he always seemed like such a nice young man."

And it’s not just your neighbors and co-workers you have to worry about. What if you went on a little errand with someone you thought was just a “good ol’ boy” buddy and found out too late that you were not going to buy cigarettes, but were going to drive the getaway car?

Stout's book lists the seven characteristics of a sociopath as outlined by the American Psychiatric Association. The presence of any three of these characteristics in a single individual would raise the eyebrow of any psychiatrist who is paying attention.

Of course, the first thing I did was check the list to see which of these characteristics I possess. Well, there's failure to conform, irritability, and if you count that little spell back in the eighties... but that was so long ago. Well, anyway, moving right along, sociopaths are easily bored, hence they become thrill seekers, willing to put themselves and others at risk. Now here's another factor. Sociopaths are usually quite charming. I have been known to be a sucker for a charming thrill seeker myself, but what if one of these charming thrill seekers gets me in trouble, or even better, gets me DEAD?

I can picture myself ruefully shaking my head as the car I'm in careens over a cliff, thinking, "I knew something about this guy seemed a little off. I should have checked that sociopath characteristic checklist."

I would say this book is “must reading.” Learn to recognize sociopaths and how to deal with them. Of course, running as far as you can as fast as you can is the best way to deal with them, but if the sociopath is your boss, a law enforcement officer, a coworker or your Aunt Tinkerbell, running away may not be an option. Better read the book.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

BBL: A Super Spirited Welcome

Welcome to BBL, the Bookblog of the Bristol Library! The staff will be posting reviews of books old and new that we found especially interesting or noteworthy or possibly even annoying. (I personally would like to have a deep discussion with the “editors” of a few books whom I would like to suggest took money under false pretenses.) We may even sneak in mentions of a few DVDs or CDs or other library goodies. If you’d like to submit a review for consideration, please drop off a copy at the Reference Desk or email it to
Our hope and intent is to post every Tuesday. Of course, there is an old saying about a road paved with good intentions. . . .

For our first BBL post, we take a walk on the fantastical side. One book is by a relative newcomer, the other by an author firmly established in a wide-ranging career, but both bend reality to create an enjoyable tale.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (J GAI Main & Avoca; YA GAI Main) (Reviewed by Jeanne)
When the Harry Potter books were first gaining popularity, some seemed surprised that a "children's book" had attracted adult readers. The truth is that good books attract readers of all ages and rightfully so. The difference was that for the first times large numbers of adults weren't ashamed to admit they were reading such a book for their own enjoyment. In fact, in Great Britain the Harry Potter books came out with two different covers, one for children and one for adults. The content didn't differ: just the covers.
Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book is another book worth slipping into the children's section of a library to read. The story opens with the violent murder of a family by a mysterious man named Jack. Only one person escapes, a toddler who has wandered out into the night. Jack follows him to an old cemetery but is denied entrance there. Meanwhile, the ghostly inhabitants are somewhat taken aback by a living child in their midst. Mr. and Mrs. Owens, a deceased childless couple, decide they want to raise the boy as their own and dub him "Nobody Owens" or Bod for short. Silas, who isn't dead but who isn't human either, procures food and clothing for the child as well as other necessities. Bod grows up and learns about life and love from a community composed of individuals from many times, from the Roman soldier to young 'Liza who died when the first Elizabeth sat on the throne of England, to more recent arrivals. And all the while, a killer searches for the one who got away. . . .
I found the book to be sweet, funny and chilling, sometimes all at once. This meant that The Graveyard Book brought back some of my own memories of playing in the graveyard, petting the stone lambs, studying the photos etched into some stones, wondering about some of the people buried there. Like Bod, we found it good place, not scary or threatening like movie cemeteries, though we didn’t have the benefits of actually speaking to the inhabitants as he does. Gaiman deftly blends folklore, fantasy and history into a coming of age story that you won't quickly forget, and this comes from someone who can’t remember what she did with her car keys ten minutes ago. This is one Newbery Award winner that has the popular vote as well as critical acclaim.
Neil Gaiman is the award-winning author of Coraline, Stardust, Good Omens, American Gods and the very popular The Sandman graphic novels as well as numerous short stories, comics and screenplays.

Karma Girl by Jennifer Estep (F EST Main) (Reviewed by Jeanne)
Supernatural and paranormal themes are now popping up in almost every fiction genre. Just a few years ago, the idea that a detective would solve a crime by psychic means would have been considered cheating at best and total nonsense. Most readers would have cringed at a historical romance where the duke turned out to be a werewolf. Now vampires seem to dominate the best-seller lists and established writers are adding a ghost or ghost or two to their books, if not a vampire, demon or werewolf.
Author Jennifer Estep has put a fresh face on this trend with her Bigtime series, setting her stories in a world where costumed super-heroes and super-villains are a fact of life. Still, it comes as a shock to Carmen Cole to discover—on her wedding day, no less!—that not only is her fiancĂ© a superhero but he’s having an affair with the woman who is supposed to be his biggest foe.
In a classic case of woman spurned, Carmen turns her considerable talents to unmasking those with super-abilities. Her many successes lead her to a job reporting for the biggest newspaper in Bigtime, NY until an unfortunate revelation leads to a death. In an instant she goes from ace reporter to scum. However, her talents haven’t gone unnoticed: now a group of baddies wants her to find the secret identities of their good-guy arch enemies or else they’ll give her a fate worse than death.
Karma Girl is an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek novel filled with fiends, radioactive goo, heroes and spandex—lots of spandex. A spirited heroine, fast pace, romance and snappy dialog combine to make this a great beach book. Other books in the series are Jinx and Hot Mama.
Tennessean Jennifer Estep is a features editor at the Bristol Herald in between writing her own books. She’s working on her new “Elemental Assassins” series.