Monday, December 27, 2010

Genesis Secret is a strong debut!

The Genesis Secret by Tom Knox (F KNO Main)
Reviewed by Susan Wolfe
This debut novel runs two storylines that eventually merge into one.  This technique  works well with this book.

Journalist Rob Luttrell is assigned to cover an archeological dig in Kurdistan, a soft assignment after serving as a war correspondent in Iran.  But this expedition appears to have uncovered a building older than any ever discovered.  It has the potential to change history, and the locals are not happy with it being revealed.  Accidents happen.  The head archeologist is murdered.  The locals practice an ancient religion, unknown outside of the region. 

Meanwhile, sacrificial murders are discovered in England.  Scotland Yard detective Mark Forrester realizes that a murderous gang is recreating human sacrifice at historical sites.  The gang consists of rich kids being lead by a psychotic but brilliant madman who stays one step ahead of everyone.

The stories converge when a connection to the Kurdistan site is discovered.  Forrester and Luttrell join forces to track down a book that has been hidden for centuries, a book that explains ancient secrets, battles, and events and points to Eden and the Book of Genesis.  Not only do they race against the gang with more murders, but also against the waters of a modern dam that will shortly cover the site with water. 

There are plenty of twists and turns.  The author is an experienced journalist using the pseudonym of Tom Knox.  His second book, The Marks of Cain, has recently been released.

The plot is solid.  The characters are well defined.  A little murder and mayhem is usually expected in most thrillers, but Knox tends to overdo it.  His detailed and vivid descriptions of the murders were gory and numerous.  It was almost as if he had done a research paper on human sacrifice and was determined to reproduce every kind known to man.  The book could have been good, but there is too much of a YUCK factor for me.  Only for those with strong stomachs!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy holidays to all!

Alas, we did not have this grand and glorious idea; it belongs to the University of San Francisco's Richard Gleeson Library.  It's apparently one of their traditions.  This one is nine feet tall.  They have a couple of smaller book trees around.  For more photos, including one of the tree with its lights on, click on the link below:

This will be the last post before Christmas, so we'd like to wish all our patrons a happy and healthy holiday season! 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Temple Grandin: Overcoming Autism

Reviewed by Jeanne

I watched the Emmy Awards a few weeks ago and discovered one of the nominees was a film about Temple Grandin called (fittingly) “Temple Grandin.” I’d heard about Grandin for years and had read parts of her books as well as the essay by Oliver Sacks, “An Anthropologist on Mars”—a phrase which summed up the way Temple felt about living among non-autistic people. She took notes on how others behaved, observed their actions, but somehow couldn’t interact with people as others did. She was one of the first autistic persons to be able to express what it is to be autistic and certainly one of the first to achieve a high level of social integration. When Temple was diagnosed back in the 50s, the suggestion was that she be institutionalized. It was believed that she could not learn anything, much less go to school and on to college. If it hadn’t been for her mother’s fierce determination that Temple could learn, could achieve, and could be independent, her fate would have been far different.

There were other mentors along the way, most notably a teacher who encouraged her interest in science and her aunt and uncle who owned a ranch. It was there that Temple found a connection to animals that was to set her life on course for a successful career in animal sciences.

But ultimately, Temple is the hero of her own life. Time after time, she picked herself up and tried again. In some ways her autism became an asset as she tried to move into the male dominated world of cattle ranching and slaughterhouses: she didn’t always realize how the men were mocking her or setting her up for failure.

Having an amazing story to tell doesn’t always translate into a good movie, however. The main character is a person most of us wouldn’t warm up to immediately. Temple is abrupt, both in her speech and movements; she doesn’t make eye contact; she’s very blunt, even abrasive. Her mind works differently from most. To make things more difficult, she works in an industry most people would find upsetting: the meat industry, where animals are taken to slaughter. These are hardly the ingredients for a successful film.

Remarkably, the filmmakers have overcome these difficulties while remaining true to the facts. Claire Danes does a magnificent job of portraying Temple, showing her tantrums born of frustration, her extreme awkwardness with people and her many idiosyncrasies while making her a sympathetic character. While we may not be able to fully relate to the way she sees the world, we can still root for her to succeed. The supporting cast is also fine, from Julia Ormond as Temple’s mother, Catherine O’Hara as Aunt Anne, and David Strathairn as Professor Carlock. The filmmakers also tried to show us how Temple thinks and why she sometimes reacts the way she does: it’s an amazing effort to let the viewer inside the head of an autistic person.

The movie was so intriguing that I did something I don’t often do: I decided to watch the commentary track. Most such tracks are fairly boring, I’ve found. I don’t really care about the lighting or that an extra walked through the scene incorrectly, and things I did want to know weren’t addressed. To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement! This is one commentary track that really does illuminate and enlighten. Temple herself does the bulk of the talking, explaining what we were seeing, what was really happening at the time and even correcting a few liberties the writers had taken with her story. I found out what had happened to a couple of the characters in real life.

Temple Grandin” won an armload of awards, including “Best Made for TV Movie” and “Best Actress.” It deserved every one of them.

The library owns the DVD version of “Temple Grandin” (DVD TEM Main) as well as a number of books by Dr. Grandin:

Emergence: Labeled Autistic (616.89 GRA Main) was Temple’s first book. It remains a milestone in the study of autism as being one of the first books by a severely autistic person trying to describe what it is like to be autistic.

Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from my Life with Autism (616.89 GRA Main) is her second book, and she tries to explain further about sensory differences as well as the way in which autistics process information. She also discusses the relationship between humans and animals.

Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals (636.0832 GRA Main & Avoca; CD 636.0832 GRA Main) is Grandin’s look at the relationship between human and animals. Unlike most books which limit themselves to companion animals, Grandin look at animals we use as food sources or for labor as well. She challenges some conventional wisdom about animals, making us re-evaluate some assumptions. She also has some tips and ideas on interpreting behavior and training animals.

Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior
(591.5 GRA Avoca) is a reflection of Grandin’s belief that animals think in pictures much as autistic people do. She uses examples from her own research to bolster and explain how animals perceive the world, and gives readers some insight on how to see the world as animals do.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

For the King's Favor: Henry II 's Royal Romance

For the King’s Favor by Elizabeth Chadwick (F CHA Main)

Reviewed by Susan Wolfe

Like a medieval tapestry, this novel is beautifully written. Elizabeth Chadwick weaves together a captivating story of real people and events. She has the ability to breathe life into history and make it feel like yesterday.

Set in the medieval period of Henry II and Richard the Lionhearted, Ida de Tosney is a royal ward who becomes Henry II’s mistress at a young age. She bears him a son, but wants freedom and finds it in Roger Bigod. Roger is a young knight fighting for his inheritance. His father had defied the king in a revolt and Roger has to prove himself to be the king’s man. Ida and he meet at court and there is a spark between them. After Ida gives birth to Henry’s child, the king starts to lose interest in her and she knows that she will need a plan to protect herself. Henry will marry her off but she wants happiness. She eventually does marry Roger, but is subject to the king’s command and must sacrifice her son.

The story shifts between Ida and Roger, keeping it fresh with their duel perspective. The attention to historical detail is sublime, never intruding yet creating the background of court intrigue, crusades, a king’s kidnapping, and plotting of the royal brothers.

Basically this is a biographical love story. Although fiction, Chadwick has done her research. The characters are authentic and you get to know their habits and likes, such as Roger’s craving for fine hats and Ida’s love for embroidery. Chadwick lists her historical resources. But she goes further, including an Akashic record search (the records of an individual life’s energy) It added more perspective and was also fascinating reading.

It is a poignant story of real people with real problems. Artfully done.

Friday, December 10, 2010

United Cakes of America

United Cakes of America :  Recipes Celebrating Every State by Warren Brown (641.8653  BRO Main)

Reviewed by Jeanne

This book is a feast for the eyes as well the stomach!  Brown, the author of Cakelove, gives clear and concise directions for making all these marvelous cakes.  Although he ties the cakes to individual states (Apple Butter Cake to West Virginia, for example), these are for the most part all-American cakes, enjoyed the nation over.  Brown also provides a bit of background on the cake’s origin and offers tips along with the recipes. While the selections are, for the most part, based on traditional recipes, Brown and his staff have occasionally experimented and tweaked recipes.  I found the instructions to be some of the most complete I’ve ever seen, and I need complete.  To give you an idea of what I mean, for “Tennessee Stack Cake” he not only explains why applesauce can’t be used in place of the dried, reconstituted apples in the layers, he describes how to dry apples and which varieties are the best for this purpose. The photos are mouthwatering, as you might expect, and Brown offers up some fun bits of trivia, such as Martha Washington’s “Great Cake” recipe.  (Great as in large:  the recipe begins “Take 40 eggs. . .”)

This is a wonderful book for the inexperienced baker, especially if you want to try a scratch cake. I almost think maybe I might perhaps consider trying to bake one. Of course, I’d prefer just to sample the finished product. . . .

Monday, December 6, 2010

Meet Cleo, the Cat Who Mended A Family

The Cat Who Mended a Family by Helen Brown (155.937 BRO Main)

Reviewed by Jeanne

New Zealander Helen Brown was a young wife with two growing boys, a husband and a dog. Life was good.Nine year old Sam, the elder boy, was lively, affectionate and had a tender heart for animals.He was excited about his upcoming birthday: the only present he wanted was a kitten. He’d already picked one out, a runty little half Abyssinian/ half alley cat he’d dubbed Cleo.She wasn’t ready to leave her mother yet, so the kitten would be a belated gift. Helen wasn’t quite sure about the cat. She was a dog person, she thought. However, Sam was emphatic that he wanted a kitten, so a kitten it would be.

Then the world fell in. Sam found an injured bird. In his rush to get it to a vet’s, he stepped out in front of a car. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

A nightmare of grief and anger followed. Helen had fantasies about confronting the woman who killed her child but couldn’t face going to the trial. She wanted to cover her younger son Rob in bubble wrap to keep him safe from all the dangers of the world. The marriage, already on shaky ground, threatened to unravel.

Then one day just a few weeks after the accident, there’s a knock on the door. The kitten is ready for her new home. Through the fog of pain, Helen is amazed—how on earth could the woman believe they would still want this kitten? Then Rob sees the kitten—Sam’s kitten—and there’s no way she can say no. She promises herself it will only be for a few days. After that, she can send the kitten back, saying they’d tried and it just didn’t work out.

Thus begins a journey of recovery, of discovery and re-discovery.

The book covers twenty five years of sorrows and joys, and does so with honesty and humor.Many reviewers have said it will rip your heart out, but I would add that it will also make you smile and believe in the resilience of the human spirit. She doesn’t minimize the pain, but neither does she wallow in it. Brown is a well-known columnist and journalist in Australia and New Zealand, and she is good at her craft. She has a sharp wit, self-deprecating humor, and an eye for detail. She writes with refreshing honesty, yet refrains from bitterness over some situations.

Unlike some animal stories, Cleo is indeed at the heart of this tale as guide and healer. Her feline approach to life encourages her human family to open up to possibilities and to embrace change and love. She’s feisty, loving, and adventurous, an ugly duckling who turns into a sleek black feline goddess.>Her sense of timing is impeccable as is her judgment of character.She has a special bond with Rob, and gives the family a living link with Sam. There’s even a touch of the mystic, which I won’t spoil by divulging, but as with the rest of the book, Brown draws the lessons lightly, never hammering home a point that can be made more gently.

I found this book to be a delight. I admit some trepidation at starting it as I wasn’t in the mood for a three hanky experience. Instead, I found a very human (and feline) story of love, loss and learning to live again. At the end of the book, you feel as if you’ve known Helen Brown for years, that you’ve grown up with her children and that Cleo has played a part in your life as well. Rather than a tear-jerker, I’d count this as a warm and friendly chat with a strong, funny, inspiring lady who has a wonderful way with words.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Andrew Gross is Reckless in New Thriller

Reckless by Andrew Gross (F GRO Main & Avoca)
Reviewed by Susan Wolfe

 “The planes are in the air,” chillingly whispered over the telephone by a mid-eastern businessman initiates a plan to bring down the U.S. economy.   

Reckless is such a fitting name for this book.  Fast paced.  Straight from today’s headlines.   It reads as a stand-alone book, but it is part of a series featuring Ty Hauck, a former police investigator turned private security executive.  When a friend and her family are brutally murdered, his detective skills reawaken.   Wall Street reels.  He catches the whiff of murder behind the mysterious deaths of two investors and discovers that the boyfriend of a high powered socialite is not who he appears to be.

The trail leads through a maze of lies and terrorism.  The protagonists are well developed.  Hauck is a complex character with both gentleness and toughness.  Naomi Blum is a tenacious agent from the U.S. Treasury Department, young and anxious to prove her worthiness.  Politics and betrayal, along with financial terrorism flow smoothly in the hand s of Andrew Gross.  As a writer, he has co-written 5 books with James Patterson.  His characters are a nice cross between Patterson's Alex Cross and Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt.  The action jumps out of the pages of this book. 

Expect twists and turns.  It's a race through a Fun House.  The story starts with a bang.  A nice family brutally murdered.   The action races through Wall Street, the mid East, London and Serbia.  Conspiracy is built upon conspiracy.

  It is an exhilarating thriller by a well grounded author with a frightenly believable story.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hiaasen's Scat: It's Not Just for Kids

Scat by Carl Hiaasen(YA HIA Main; J HIA Main)
Reviewed by Nancy

So how did this happen? Why am I reading teen fiction? Same old story, I guess. I saw it so now I'm reading it. My thought line went something like, "Oh, hmmmm. A teen book by Carl Hiaasen. Gee, well, Carl Hiaasen writes great adult books. I guess I'll give this a try."

For the first many pages I was on the edge of putting it down, because the voice in my head kept saying, "Teen fiction? Teen fiction? Why are you reading teen fiction?" I guess now I realize I was reading it because it's good.

The book is Scat by, as I mentioned before, Carl Hiaasen. The plot involves a wonderfully zany cast of characters in South Florida, a locale which is a completely believable setting for zany characters.

Some are what we might call "normal" characters: Nick, the teenage boy, as well as his mother, his friend, and his father. But then there's Mrs. Starch the biology teacher who disappears during a field trip to the black vine swamp, Wendell Waxmo the whacked out substitute teacher who takes her place, Duane Scrod, Jr. who bites a pencil in half and eats it when Mrs. Starch waves it in his face, and Duane Scrod, Sr., a depressed husband whose wife has run away to Paris to operate a cheese shop.

There's also Drake McBride the native-Floridian wannabe oil baron who wears cowboy hats and cowboy boots talks Texan and takes riding lessons in an effort to appear to be a Texan, but can't remember the word "stable" (the place where they keep the horses). Other characters central to the plot are a Florida panther and her cub, members of an endangered species, Horace, a bloodhound, and Nadine, Duane Scrod, Sr.'s macaw. Nadine can shriek in three languages.

Wow. All these zany characters and not a vampire or werewolf in sight. Can this be true? Yes! It's true. No vampires and it's still a good book.

In the end, the bad guys get what they deserve, the good guys get everything straightened out, and the reader has a fine time. With no vampires.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fred Sauceman & Southern Food

Mention country ham, sawmill gravy, soup beans or fried apple pies and Appalachian natives will snap to attention. Food is an important part of Appalachian culture, as distinctive as the region’s music, and born of the same blending process.

Fred Sauceman has spent much of his life exploring the wonders of Appalachian food and the people who create it.He’s produced two wonderful documentaries that highlight local delicacies.“Red Hot Dog Digest” (DVD 647.95755 Main) takes the viewer down Lee Highway, stopping at locations such as The Corner Dog House to talk about this regional treat. People in this area love their red hot dogs.  (I have to say I was a bit taken aback the first time I saw a hot dog that was NOT red! I thought there was something wrong with it.) Now I want to go visit the Dip Dog, too.

The second film highlights a Greeneville treasure, “Beans All the Way” (DVD 647.95768 BEA).  In 1946, Romie and Zella Mae Britt opened a little eatery serving good down-home food. The film tells their story, including the invention of their signature pinto bean dish.

We’re VERY pleased to say that Fred Sauceman will be at the Main this Sunday, November 21, at 3 pm to show “Beans All the Way.”  There will also be a food tasting!  This is a free event.  Fred will have a selection of books for sale that he has written, edited, or otherwise contributed to.  Some of his works include:

The Place Setting: Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South, from Bright Hope to Frog Level (641.5 SAU Avoca) is a wonderful collection of essays about regional foods. Most of the essays are interviews about one eatery or cook, letting him or her tell the story with minimal interference from the author. Places include The Burger Bar, Ridgewood Barbecue, and the Snappy Lunch. The essays are warm and informal, like chatting over a kitchen table. Some recipes are included as well. There are actually three volumes in the series and, like potato chips, it’s hard to stop at just reading one.

Cornbread Nation 5 (394.12 COR Main & Avoca) is a wonderful compilation of essays about Southern food, from Barbara Kingsolver’s thoughts on being a locavore to the joys of country ham as discovered by a Yankee.

The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook is brand new! In it you’ll find sections devoted to all the foods dear to a Southerner’s heart: gravy, chess pie, chicken and dumplings. It would make a fine gift for anyone, even yourself.

We hope you’ll join us on Sunday! (And did we mention a food tasting?)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Out of the Dawn Light: Mystery in Olde--Really Olde--England

Out of the Dawn Light by Alys Clare (F CLA Main)
Reviewed by Sue Wolfe

Out of the Dawn Light is the first in the “Aelf Fen Mysteries” series by Alys Clare. She created the entertaining “Hawkenlye” mystery series set during the time of Richard the Lionhearted. This new series is set in 11th century England in the village of Aelf Fen. It was a time of cosmic upheaval in society. There was a clash between the old pagan ways and Christianity. The old ruling class had been elbowed out by the Norman conquerors. This is a captivating story about the common folk and the magic still abroad in the land.

The main protagonist is Lassair, a 14 year old with special gifts. She has all the issues of a young teen, with a crush on two young men. She also has a talent for finding lost items and is studying healing skills from her aunt Edid, who is skilled in the ways of the old gods. She can’t resist when the two young men she likes ask her to help locate a hidden treasure, especially since she has been helping her obnoxious pregnant sister.

They unearth a 500 year old gold relic with mystical powers that can cause great harm. However, some people want to use it as a pawn. Romain, one of the young men, is murdered and the other man framed. Lassair along with the killer are the only ones who know the truth, and it takes all of Lassair’s courage and abilities to help prove the young man innocent.

This is a charming, high-spirited adventure and clever mystery with a tad of romance and mysticism thrown in. The times and people are brought vividly to life. The characters are well fleshed out and likable. It has a comfortable love of family and friends with charismatic characters.

The 2nd book, Music of the Distant Stars, is due to be released in December.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Joe Tennis Haunts the Friends on Veterans Day!

Sort of reviewed by Jeanne

I would very much like to review Joe Tennis’ new book, Haunts of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands, but the sad truth is that Bristol Public Library doesn’t have a copy for me to check out—yet. It is on order. However, I believe I can safely say that this is going to be a shivery, wonderful book with tales you’ll remember not just because of the spooky content but for the way they’re written. I can say this because I’ve enjoyed reading Mr. Tennis’ column in the Bristol Herald Courier and his occasional feature articles. He has produced some marvelous books,too.

Take Southwest Virginia Crossroads (917.557 TEN Main & Avoca) for example. It’s a wonderful piece of local research. Joe not only gives a brief history of places around the area, but he talks about specific sites to visit and things to do. He dispenses a wealth of fascinating facts and tidbits of trivia with both humor and pride in the region. I learned quite a lot about places I thought I knew and discovered a number of others I’d like to visit. If I were to recommend one Southwest Virginia guidebook to someone, this would be the one.

Unless, of course, the person was traveling Hwy. 58 across Virginia, in which case I’d give them Beach to Bluegrass: Places to Brake on Virginia’s Longest Road (917.55 TEN Main & Avoca). Joe does his usual wonderful job of finding interesting places and telling us all about them. He has an eye for uniqueness and the talent to tell about it.

It’s not just Virginia, either. He wrote the text for Sullivan County (976.896 TEN Main & Avoca), one of the books in the “Images of America” series. Most of the books in this series consist of photos with little information: nice, but sometimes they raise more questions than they answer. Joe does a great job of putting each photo in context, of giving enough background so that you can appreciate what you’re seeing. He also gives each part of Sullivan County (Bluff City, Blountville, etc.) an introduction, making this a handy little reference book as well as a charming source of photos from ‘way back when.’

I even know how well he does with ghost stories, thanks to The Marble and Other Ghost Tales of Tennessee and Virginia (133.1 TEN Avoca; GEN 133.1 TEN Main). It’s definitely a notch above the usual ghost tale book, and not just because they’re local. He gives us a clear sense of place, for one thing; for another, he manages to find the human element in the story. While the stories are rooted in a specific place, he avoids using dialect or making the characters look foolish. It’s the human aspect that gives these little ghosts their power, though: we can identify with the characters in the story.

So I’m sure that Haunts of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands will be a real treat, even sight unseen. If you’d like to check my surmise, you can put a copy of the book on reserve at Main.

If you prefer to hear your tales from the source, you are in luck! Mr. Tennis will be presenting a special selection of ghostly tales for the Friends of the Bristol Public Library in the Henry Kegley Meeting Room on Thursday, Nov. 11 at 7 pm. Since it’s Veterans’ Day, the stories will all involve veterans. The program is free and open to the public. Books will be available for purchase. (Note: Main & Avoca will actually be closed that day in observance of the holiday, but Main will open the large meeting room for this event.)

EDIT: I found my very own copy of Haunts and have been enjoying it. I especially liked the story involving the Crown of Feathers. If you haven't heard of that, it's a strange formation found inside feather pillows, usually after someone has died. I saw some in a museum once, and thought them wondrous strange. I hadn't thought of them for years, until Joe's story conjured them up again for me. And yes, the book is as good as I thought it would be!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tey Takes the Case: An Expert in Murder

Reviewed by Jeanne

As a rule, I don’t like novels that use real people as characters. I find it distracting. I keep trying to second guess the author, wondering if this or that bit of dialog is true to the person. I think my antipathy dates from a thriller I read back some years ago which had the Duke of Windsor as a shrewd, brave man feigning sympathy for the Nazis in order to gain their trust. Unfortunately for the author, some papers had been released not long before which indicated that the Duke wasn’t exactly the most trustworthy of subjects.

I overcame my reluctance to try An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson (F UPS Main) which features one of my favorite authors as a character: Josephine Tey aka Elizabeth MacKintosh. Tey is, I think, one of the most underrated of the Golden Age mystery authors. Her best known book is Daughter of Time, in which she undertakes to prove that Richard III was really a good king, not the monster the Tudor historians proclaimed him to be. My personal favorite Tey novel is Brat Farrar, about a young man who is pretending to be the lost son of a family as he unravels the truth about the real son’s disappearance.

Tey was an extremely private person, so not a great deal has been written about her life.Her real name was Elizabeth MacKintosh; she wrote mystery novels under the name Josephine Tey but her plays were under the name Gordon Daviot. One play, Richard of Bordeaux, was very successful and ran for over a year. This is the setting for An Expert in Murder. As the play prepares to close, Tey is on her way to London by train for the final performances. A shocking murder on the train involves her in a real life investigation which may or may not be tied to Josephine herself.

This book was a pleasure to read on many levels. Upson somehow managed to write with the feel of the old classic mysteries I loved—Tey, Ngaio Marsh, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie—yet the writing is fresh, not staid. There’s a sort of modern feel to it, yet the setting and characters seem very true to their times. Most of the action revolves around the people involved with the play: producer, actors, set designers, etc. Upson uses real people as models for other characters but makes it clear that she’s not being biographical: some characters meet untimely ends, for example. It gave the whole feel of a play within a play for me. At the end, I half expected all the characters to come out and take a bow.

I especially liked the way that Tey’s involvement was handled. She doesn’t bully her way in, doesn’t try to take charge or claim expertise by virtue of writing mysteries. Detective Inspector Archie Penrose is a friend of Tey’s and is a competent policeman, rather like Alan Grant. The supporting characters are well done and the plot reminds me a bit of some of Christie’s works: suffice it to say that the past can have a profound effect and some acts are never forgotten.

If you like Golden Age mysteries, I think you’ll love An Expert in Murder. Further books in the series are planned. I hope they’re as good as this one, but Upson has set the bar pretty high.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Scary books and movies, Part Three: Son of Scary Books!

Susan's picks:

At this time of the year, remembering scary books and movies, I would have the say the Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King is one of the best. It is a chillingly narrative of a town with a monster that kills monthly. King doesn't waste a single word.It is a short, to the point book. Tense and with an unexpected hero in Marty Coslaw, a wheelchair bound small boy. I couldn't put the book down and the movie was just as good.

Another horror book that made a great movie is Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin. Chilling. The plot centers around a happily married young woman, living in New York, that awakens to find herself pregnant. Slowly, through subtle details, Rosemary becomes suspicious of her loving husband and seemingly supportive neighbors. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read it, but there’s an especially chilling line near the end. Let’s just say that the phrase “has his father’s eyes” will never sound quite the same again.

Watch these movies with someone. Or read them alone - if you dare.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Scary Books & Movies, Part 2

Nancy's Picks:

When I was in my twenties I read "The Stand" by Stephen King. It is an apocalyptic tale in which survivors of a world-wide plague are caught up in a battle between the forces of good and evil.

Mr. King scared the doo-wah-diddy out of me with this book. I give him credit for being an excellent writer, but confess I never again read one of his books. My psyche is too fragile and impressionable for his genre.

You would think this experience would have constituted a complete lesson for me, but, no. I actually completed the lesson a few years later by seeing the movie "The Omen." Ever seen this gem? It's a good movie to see if you're interested in feeling slightly uneasy FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.

"Personally, I prefer The Birds." 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Favorite Frights!

Melon votes for Godzilla as favorite movie monster.
Since it is the season for ghosties and ghoulies and long legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, we thought we’d talk a bit about scary books and movies. Horror like beauty is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.

First up is Jeanne:

I don’t read a lot of horror books any more. I did while I was in high school many, many years ago. There was this new guy, Stephen King, and he did some good books like Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot. I read Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin and The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. I read a lot of Shirley Jackson, like We Have Always Lived in the Castle (still a favorite) and The Haunting of Hill House. I read a lot of forgettable books, too; so forgettable that I have forgotten them. Then a neighbor recommended that I read Richard Matheson’s Hell House (also known as The Legend of Hell House) because it was the scariest book he’d ever read.

The plot was fairly standard. A group of researchers go to an allegedly haunted house. It’s a diverse group, of course, with skeptics mixed in with believers, mediums and scientists. The house in question belonged to an eccentric millionaire who disappeared after some murders; no one knows how he was involved, victim or perpetrator. Naturally—or unnaturally—things start to happen after the researchers move in. I’m sketchy on the details. I do remember finishing the book and thinking, “Well, that wasn’t so scary.”

Pride goeth before a fall.

I hadn’t been asleep for more than a few minutes when I began to dream about the book. I was so badly frightened I sat up the rest of the night and only dozed off after the sun came up. It took several nights for me to be able to sleep without dreaming about a particular scene. I don’t know exactly what it was about the book, but it’s the one that sort of weaned me away from horror. I never wanted to be afraid to go to sleep like that again.

That was the first Richard Matheson book I ever read. He’s one of those wonderful underrated authors who can write stories that linger in the mind. Sometimes this is a good thing, and sometimes it is a bad thing! His stories were adapted for film: he wrote a number of the Twilight Zone episodes, including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” about the demon on the plane’s wing that only one passenger sees. Or is the man simply hallucinating? He also wrote Bid Time Return, which was made into the movie “Somewhere in Time” with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour and was a sweetly romantic story. Possibly his best known work is I Am Legend, a vampire tale that has been made into a move three times and had a graphic novel adaptation, but for all that he remains an author that few people seem to know by name.

There are scary non-fiction books, too. There are at least two non-fiction books that kept me tossing and turning as well as turning pages. The first was Helter Skelter : the True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi, which isn’t surprising: killers are scary, especially ones who are just plain nuts. Just as scary, though, was The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, which was the first time I had ever heard of the ebola virus. I learned more than I ever thought I wanted to know about deadly diseases and he made it fascinating and exciting. I found myself holding my breath when the investigators went into a cave where it was suspected the virus could be found. I also used a lot of hand sanitizer and worried a bit when I had a headache. The Hot Zone is a book as thrilling as it is terrifying, and a great reminder that not all monsters come in large packages.

I would tell my scariest movie, but it’s too embarrassing. I found it on a list of the most ridiculous movies ever made. Somehow it seemed really scary when I watched on “Chilller” very late one night, back when I was twelve. Suffice it to say, there was a creature locked up behind a door for most of the movie and all the audience could see was an arm attempting to grab the mad scientist. Perhaps I’ll settle for the more respectably scary “The Birds.”

What would your picks be?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dancing Naked in the Mind Field (and no, that's not a typo!)

Reviewed by Nancy

Are you interested in the opinions of a Nobel Prize winning chemist? In his book, Dancing Naked In The Mind Field (081 MUL Main),  Dr. Kary Mullis offers his views on extraterrestrial life, brown recluse spider bites, the use of paid expert witness in judicial proceedings, intuition, your ten thousandth day, astrology, margarine and cholesterol, LSD and other illegal drugs, and HIV and HIV drugs.

In the first chapters of his book Dr. Mullis describes the “eureka moment” when he figured out polymerase chain reaction (PCR). It was the discovery of this process that won him the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993.

To vastly simplify this concept, PCR is a process by which a strand of DNA can be replicated many times for study.

In my first reading of Dr. Mullis' account of his discovery I confess that about the only thing I understood was the moment when the concept became clear to him and he exclaimed, "Holy shit!" After that I was lost, but it was still interesting reading (sort of).

I am happy to report that the rest of the book was not too much over my head and I really enjoyed it.

Dr.Mullis covers a lot of subjects, and I am glad of that, because this man has an interesting and enquiring mind. He says, "I knew, maybe from birth, where the circuit breakers were." Mullis developed an interest in astrology after three complete strangers guessed correctly that he is a Capricorn. Being a scientist, Dr. Mullis did the math. The probability of these correct pronouncements occurring by chance was 1 out of 1,728. Wow.

I point out the astrology thing as an example of what's going on in this book. This guy's mind is all over the place. His curiosity is not limited to his specific scientific field. He is interested in everything. Furthermore, Mullis seems to be a pretty down-to-earth individual with a great sense of humor.

What is your opinion regarding the presence of aliens on this earthly plane? Dr. Mullis relates an experience he had at his remote cabin in the woods of Mendocino County, California in 1985. It involved a glowing raccoon, and several hours of "lost time." Around midnight Dr. Mullis was on his way to the outhouse which was about fifty feet from his cabin when he saw the raccoon. It was sitting under a fir tree and it glowed. Mullis speculates that this could have been a hologram projected from who knows where. He pointed his flashlight at it, it said "Good evening, Doctor," and the next thing our good doctor knew it was the next morning and he was in a different location in the woods, walking along a dirt road headed back to his cabin.

Some time later he discovered that his daughter, Louise, had had the same experience in the same location, except that she didn't remember any glowing raccoon. Ah, maybe Dr. Mullis saw the raccoon because he experimented with LSD in the sixties before it was made illegal.

See, I told you he has an enquiring mind. Dr. Mullis has been described as one of our more controversial and flamboyant Nobel laureates. Actually, some people think he's a total kook which, I suppose, accounts for why this kook so thoroughly enjoyed his book.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ghosts of Bristol will haunt the library!

Fans of ghostly lore and Bristol history should be sure to come to Main on Sunday, October 17 at 3 p.m. to hear spooky tales from Bud Phillips!  After the stories he will be signing books and yes, there will be copies of the book for sale!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Low Country Summer Makes for Great Escape

Reviewed by Doris

I was hooked on Low Country Summer by Dorothea Benton Frank in the first paragraph. It is the forty-seventh birthday of Caroline Wimbley Levine and she reflects on her life. She is the daughter of Miss Lavinia Wimbley , the Queen of Tall Pines Plantation, who was a force of nature, a doyen of manners, and the iron ruler of Caroline’s and her Tripp’s lives. She is the doting the mother of Eric, a college freshman and all around delightful young man. She is the ex-wife of a crazy New York, Jewish psychiatrist whom her mother told her not to marry. She has two lovers, one of whom is the sheriff. And, she has a drunken, hateful sister-in-law who spawned four nieces from Hell. As you can see, Frank is continuing her tradition of dysfunctional, larger-than-life characters settled in the low country of South Carolina, and she is doing so with her usual mix of humor, attitude, astute looks at life, and characters you just grow to love. Throw in all the descriptions of food and pitchers of sweet tea, and you have a perfect summer afternoon book.

Caroline’s musings during her birthday party are halted by the drunken sister-in-law she hates. Frances Mae (who is from so far on the wrong side of the tracks there are no tracks) is married to Caroline’s younger brother Tripp who has left Frances Mae and their four wretched daughters for Rusty, the love of his life and happiness. Frances Mae has reacted to his desertion by getting even more drunk and leaving the girls to rampage their way through life. When Frances Mae puts the life of youngest daughter Chloe at risk by driving drunk and wrecking, Caroline realizes she has to step up and take control of her family. Reluctant at best to take on the challenge, Caroline knows Miss Lavinia would expect nothing less of her so she sets the course for a family intervention.

From the point when Caroline and Rusty step in to tame Tripp’s daughters and send Frances Mae to her fifth adventure in rehab, the story covers such a huge range of emotions. At times almost slap-stick and at other times heart-wrenching, Caroline deals with bringing a new generation of Wimbley women into the family fold while juggling her men and watching her beloved Eric leave the nest. You know the old cliché, “I laughed. I cried.” Well, I did laugh and I did cry because it is finally a tragedy that turns things around for the Wimbleys. The ending will give you a little surprise, but it makes perfect sense. And, it shows that life does not always work out quite the way you think it will, but it does work.

I love the richness of Frank’s characters. In this book she gives you a look into family relationships whether the family, be it blood or chosen. I love Frank’s smart mouth comments and asides that nail a character or situation perfectly. I love the talk of sweet tea, peaches, strawberry short cakes, and biscuits that are so light they could float away. I love Caroline’s relationship with her son, and I identify so strongly with her concerns as he leaves the nest because my baby is headed to college in two weeks. I just hope I am as wise in my handling of my son’s first serious love affair as Caroline is. Frank gives her books a warmth and humor I love, and under the fluff is a life perspective that is worth viewing.

Look for copies of Low Country Summer at Main under F BEN. It's proven very popular so you may have to reserve a copy. It's worth the wait.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

If Trouble Don't Kill Me: Bluegrass, War and Remembrance

If Trouble Don’t Kill Me: A Family’s Story of Brotherhood, War and Bluegrass by Ralph Berrier, Jr. (782.421642 BER Main)

Reviewed by Jeanne

"Oh, a book about a band."  That was the reaction I had when I offered this book to a co-worker.  At first glance, this book looks to be yet another tale of obscure bluegrass musicians. There have been a number of them lately as bluegrass becomes more widely known and accepted. Most are run of the mill, sincerely written books, even those about well-known musicians. They tend to be very earnest books which paint the past in sentimental, homespun terms in which times were hard but folks were all good, honest and hardworking.

This is not one of those books.

This is no rags to riches story, no angels with dirty faces tale. Twins Clayton and Saford Hall were two of ten children born to a never-wed mother; they never knew who their father was. Mamo never seemed to have much use for a man, though obviously she had had a certain number of dealings with them. They grew up in a holler, where people eked out a living with subsistence farming. Sometimes the younger children were chastised by older brothers not for playing hooky but for going to school when hands were needed in the field. It was a hard life, sometimes made harder by Saford’s penchant for mischief—or worse. Even as children, people tended to refer to the two as “Clayton and Satan.” This was a rough and tumble clan, and Berrier tells their story with humor, respect and a wonderful way with words that make one want to read sections aloud to other people. For example, he writes about Mamo:

“Mamo played banjo, too. She could do it all! Except find a suitable husband, perhaps.“ He goes on to note, “Banjos were better than husbands. True, both laid around the cabin all day, but a banjo never wore long legged britches that needed ironing. Plus, if you never liked what you heard from a banjo, a twist of a peg here, a tweak there, and you could make it say whatever you wanted.”

The “Big Bang of Country Music,” when Ralph Peer came to Bristol and made the recordings that changed popular music, had a ripple effect throughout the hills. Hillbilly music was suddenly all the rage and musicians from East Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky and the surrounding area were taking center stage. Clayton and Saford Hall were among this group. Not only were they fine musicians and singers, but they had stage presence and an assortment of comedy routines. They opened for the Carter Family and the Sons of the Pioneers, they played the Grand Ole Opry, their songs were played on the radio—in short, the twins were well on their way into another world of rough-living and colorful characters but with a few more bright lights along the way.

December 7, 1941 changed all that. The boys were drafted and sent overseas.

What follows next is an account of the boys’ experiences in service, though Berrier says there are some incidents which can’t be verified: “Separating truth from myth is messy work. Tall tales and lies come as easy to country boys as howling does to a beagle.” The stories for the most part have the ring of truth: country boys suddenly shoehorned into unfamiliar circumstances, with strange rules and regulations, trying to understand foreign ways—and not just those of other nations.

If you have any interest in Appalachian culture, I highly recommend this book. Berrier has done a wonderful job of opening a door on the past and letting the readers experience a time, a place and a family. The writing is honest, peppered with quotable descriptions and phrases (Granny Hall is “as old as a Confederate veteran and no bigger than a bobwhite”) but it never becomes cutesy or overdone, and avoids the “faux hillbilly” cornpone trap. I laughed out loud several times, because some of the retelling reminded me of stories I’d heard told by older relatives. Some incidents are fairly grim; some are laugh or cry. People drink, cheat, love and sacrifice—in short, they’re very human. I appreciate too that Berrier makes it clear that the stories are family stories, subject to embellishment or the whims of memory.

Like the recent autobiography of Ralph Stanley (Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times by Ralph Stanley with Eddie Dean, 781.642 STA), this is a book that deserves a wide and devoted readership.

(To read the review of the Ralph Stanley biography, click here.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mary Sutter, Civil War Nurse

My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira (F OLI Main; CD F OIL Main)

Reviewed by Susan Wolfe

This is a debut novel that deserves attention.

Mary Sutter wanted to become a physician.On the eve of the Civil War, the idea was preposterous. Nursing had been revolutionized in Europe by Clara Barton, but only men could become doctors.

This is a tale of determination and Mary is a compelling character.Brilliant and headstrong, she is a skilled midwife, descended from several generations of midwives and very strong women. At the start of the Civil War, her fraternal twin sister has snagged the man that Mary is interested in. Refused by medical school and denied an apprenticeship by a local physician, at 20 she is too young to join the new nursing corp.

Set against the butchery of the Civil War, this story has an unexpected love story.There are three men who enter Mary's life, and unwittingly fall in love with her courage, will and stubbornness in the face of suffering. Dr. James Blevins, the young doctor who refused her apprenticeship. Thomas, her brother-in-law, widowed when Jenny, her sister died in childbirth. And William Stripp, an older physician who apprenticed Dr. Blevins and learned to depend on Mary, both emotionally and professionally, giving her a chance to become a surgeon in the battlefield hospital.

The characters are well fleshed out.Dr. Blevins is interested in research, determined to discover why infection and disease ravage the soldiers.Having forced Dr. Stripp to apprentice him by dissecting a dead cat on his desk, he becomes a hero but has secrets that keep him and Mary apart. Thomas Feld, Mary's brother-in-law, who realizes that he made a mistake in his marriage. Dr. William Stripp, who thought he could never love again.

There are wonderful depictions of historical people. President Lincoln, sharing his weariness of war and attempting to minimize the pain of the people around him and the nation. John Hay, his secretary, who respects Mary and gives her unknown help in her struggles. Another headstrong woman, Dorthea Dix, who established the need and the guidelines for an American nursing corp.

Make no mistake.This book is not for the faint of heart. The battle scenes and surgeries are realistic and graphic. Medical knowledge and hygiene were primitive at best, but the depiction is appropriate for this book.

This is rich historical fiction with a satisfying conclusion.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Caught is Captivating!

Reviewed by Doris

Caught by Harlan Coben (F COB Main; SSB F COB Main; and CD F COB Main)
Harlan Coben creates plots that twist, turn, take your around corners, and drop you on your head. His stories tend to dash along, pulling you head over heels with them and leaving you a bit breathless at the ending. Caught certainly lives up to that pattern.

Do you ever watch that MSNBC series where the sexual predators are caught when they respond to emails from what they believe are underage girls? Coben takes that premise and develops it into a story that grips you from the beginning. Haley McWaid is a great kid. She has a great family and parents who are involved and devoted. She disappears one night, and three months later no one still has a clue what happened to her. Wendy Tynes is the TV host of “Caught in the Act,” and she is driven to bring down the predators who feast on the kids in her community. Dan Mercer is a youth counselor who works with troubled kids, but he may not be the caring, outstanding citizen he seems. Is Dan connected to Haley somehow? Is Wendy doing the right thing setting up the predators and outing them to the public? What if she is wrong and the “predator” is really innocent? Coben puts all the possibilities into play, and you question every move made by every character.

Dan Mercer shows up at the house where Wendy and her film crew wait for him. There have been a series of emails to Wendy from an anonymous source accusing Dan of being a predator. When taken down by the police Dan says he came to the house to help a troubled young woman who approached him at the youth center where he counsels teens. He denies he has done anything wrong, but there is evidence to the contrary. Wendy has to go by the evidence as do the police, but Wendy’s gut is telling her something just doesn’t click. The more she investigates, the more she questions. Cyber sabotage, old grudges, new methods of tracking predators, a grieving father bent on “justice,” and threats on Wendy’s life and that of her son all factor in to the mix.

Harlan Coben is one of the best of the contemporary thriller authors at creating tension and Caught builds tension with each chapter. It will have you questioning everything. His characters are engaging—some good, some nasty—but all of them keep you tied in knots. Who are the good guys? Are the bad guys even scarier than you thought? Is there a conspiracy? Has Wendy brought a predator and possible murderer to justice or destroyed the life of a good man? You will not know until the very last page of the book, so don’t read ahead! This one is a winner—my favorite so far of the new books from late summer and early fall.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

After Olympus, It's The Red Pyramid!

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (J F RIO Main)
Reviewed by Susan

This book will be made into a movie. And if it follows the book, it will be a blockbuster.

Although it is listed in the juvenile collection, it is over 500 pages.It's a riveting story packed with adventure, humor and interesting characters. Riordan has recently completed the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, with the first book made into a movie. Each of the books in that series were entertaining and well written, but The Red Pyramid is by far the best. His writing has progressively improved, and I'm looking forward to the next book already.

This is book 1 of "The Kane Chronicles", but it could easily be a stand-alone novel with a satisfying conclusion on its own. Like the earlier series, it pulls heavily from ancient mythology, in this case Egyptian.

The protagonists include 12-year-old Sadie Kane and her 14-year-old brother Carter. Separated since their mother's death six years before, they are reunited on Christmas Eve for a rare visit. With little in common, including appearance - Carter is African American, while Sadie takes after their British mother. They accompany their Egyptologist father to the British Museum where he blows up the Rosetta Stone trying to summon an Egyptian god, unleashing a lot more than anyone bargained.

Totally unaware of this magical world, they escape, planning to save their father from his spell bound entrapment.  They discover their common heritage - they are descendants of the pharaohs and have magical powers of their own. An unknown secret order is determined to either control or destroy them. Meanwhile a vengeful god plans destruction and other mythical forces have their own plans.

Along the way, the siblings are both helped and hindered by Egyptian deities. Bastet, the cat goddess, has been sworn to their protection by their father. For many years, she has been Sadie's pet. Accidentally, they release her to her other form, an acrobatic woman defender who loves kibbles and cheese, and somehow always lands on her feet. But, she too, has a secret that slowly is revealed.

The narrative shifts between Sadie and Carter, keeping the story fresh with good natured kidding between brother and sister.It is a duel perspective that works well and would make a wonderful audio book. The imagery and the characters pull directly from Egyptian mythology, painting a complex background that displays a world that is both realistically fresh and educational (Don't tell the kids.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Photo Snap Shot: A Nifty Crafty Cozy

Photo Snap Shot: A Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery by Joanna Campbell-Slan (F CAM Main)

Reviewed by Jeanne

Some would say Kiki Lowenstein has life easy. She lives in a nice house, drives a BMW, has her daughter Anya enrolled in an exclusive private school.

Once all of that would have been true, before Kiki’s husband George was murdered. Now it’s an illusion. The house is a rental; the BMW is old, and the school is courtesy of Kiki’s mother-in-law who extracts her pound of flesh in return. She has managed to find a part time job at a scrapbooking store but they’re living paycheck to paycheck. To make things worse, the only man Kiki’s attracted to is the police detective who investigated George’s murder. . . the very much married police detective. Kiki’s not that kind of a girl, especially since her husband played around. The only solution is to avoid Detective Detweiler.

Not to be flippant, but it’s indicative of the way that Kiki’s life is going that a teacher at Anya’s school is murdered and Anya and her friend may be witnesses. Not only might Anya’s life be in danger, but Detweiler is part of the investigation. He’s devoted to Anya, which is another thing Kiki loves about him, and she knows he’ll keep her informed. She just has to keep reminding herself that he’s taken already.

But Kiki is not the sort to sit around passively and wait to be rescued, especially when the safety of her only child is at stake. She’s going on the offensive.

It turns out there’s a lot to investigate. The dead teacher had quite a reputation and was apparently having an affair with another staff member – if not more than one. The secrets start to pile up, prejudices crop up in some unexpected places and soon Kiki herself may be in danger.

Kiki is a lively, likeable character facing some of the same problems many of us face: trying to make ends meet, struggling to raise a daughter, dealing with a mother-in-law who makes it obvious that Kiki is only tolerated because she’s Anya’s mother, and feeling as if she doesn’t fit in with the upper crust of St. Louis Society. The writing flows very naturally, especially Kiki’s commentary on life and events. Kiki has a sense of humor which stands her in good stead with all the insults, both great and small, that she endures. She’s very easy to relate to, what with her sullen co-worker and snobbish moms. Having once “had it all” so to speak, it’s hard for her to adjust to pinching pennies and going without. She’s tired of that, and hanging around with the privileged prep school moms grates on her nerves.

Besides, one of them might be a murderer.

The city of St. Louis was almost a character in itself. St. Louis is one of those cities that straddles North and South in personality, giving it a complex set of social rules. Campbell Slan’s explanations and descriptions are very helpful, giving me a clearer picture of the place. I was especially interested in the “Veiled Prophet.” I was pleased that the author provided some very useful notes at the end.

There are some "hobby mysteries" which are more hobby than mystery.  In other words, there are many pages devoted to a topic that may do littler to further the plot.  This isn't the case with this book.  If scrapbooking isn't your thing, don’t worry. I’ve only done a page or two and was unfamiliar with some techniques, but that didn’t slow the story down. There are tips for those who are scrappers, though, and they sounded very creative.

The book is very character driven, which is why I would recommend that this series be read in order. I was distracted occasionally by trying to understand something, such as the relationship with Detweiler or some parts of Kiki’s marriage to George, things that I'd have known had I read them in order. I’d recommend this series to someone who likes modern mysteries with a dose of humor but who doesn’t want pure slapstick or fluff.

The first two books are Paper, Scissors, Death (F CAM Main & Avoca) and Cut, Crop and Die (F CAM Main). Paper, Scissors, Death was a finalist for an Agatha Award.

Joanna Campbell Slan lived in St. Louis for several years before relocating to Virginia. She has written several nonfiction books on scrapbooking. Her work has also appeared in the best selling Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Roberts Rebounds: The Search

The Search by Nora Roberts (F ROB  Main & Avoca)
Reviewed by Doris

The last couple of Nora Roberts' romance novels have disappointed me. She has slipped into a pat formula format that has gotten predictable, boring, and stale. I did not really want to read The Search, but I knew I would review it for the blog so I took it home, mostly because there are dogs in the story. I am a total sucker for dogs.

Fiona Briscoe is like Césare Milan: she knows dogs. She trains them; she runs a search and rescue team. She has three wonderful labs, Peck, Bogart, and Newman. She lives on Orcas Island off the coast of Washington, and she has a past that has taken a long time to overcome. At the age of twenty when she was a college track athlete, she was kidnapped by a serial killer who had already killed twelve women. By her strength, cunning, and some luck, Fee manages to escape. The serial killer is eventually caught but not before he kills Fiona’s fiancé—a K9 officer—and his dog as punishment for Fee’s escape. Building on her love for dogs, the things she learned about handling them from her fiancé, and much hard work, Fee has found peace and built a good life on her island sanctuary. Then one fine day while she is running a training exercise for her search and rescue team, Simon Doyle shows up with his puppy so aptly named Jaws. Cranky and at his wit’s end with the rambunctious pup who has almost destroyed his house, Simon demands Fee’s help. Drawn to the irascible, sexy man (and the adorable puppy), Fee takes on training both the owner and the pup.

Soon the peace of her island and the inner peace she has fought so hard to achieve is shattered when a copy cat begins to kill young women exactly as did the killer from whom Fee escaped. From his prison Fee’s tormentor has found a disciple and set him on a path to kill the only woman who escaped. Terrified that the killer will not only come for her but for all she loves, Fiona Briscoe does not run. With Simon’s help and that of her dogs and other friends, she sets out to take down a murderer.

I liked Fiona Briscoe very much. Of course she fits the formula of the heroine—smart, beautiful, capable, a little afraid of commitment. I found Fiona to have dimensions beyond what usually turns up in a Roberts’ romance. I liked her approach to the dogs (she gives some great training tips). I like how she chose to rebuild her life by doing something as remarkable as search and rescue with her boys (the dogs), and I liked her prickly relationship with Simon and how that pulls her in falling in love again.

I also liked Simon. While he is handsome, sexy, and brilliantly talented, he is also cranky, fussy, ridiculously private, and exasperated with people most of the time. He keeps telling Fee she is not his type and he has no intention of getting involved. He is fully aware that Fiona is training him as much as she is training his pup, but somehow he finds that endearing instead of off-putting. His developing relationships with Fee and with his wild puppy are touching and humorous. In the end, he demands to be the hero, but Fee stands up to him and right beside him. Along with the boys, they make an appealing and lasting team.

The serial killer story is one that has been done a bunch. While there is still a lot of the Roberts formula in this book, the romance is very sweet and fun. The secondary characters, including Fee’s team mates, her stepmother, and her best friend Mai, are colorful and entertaining. The banter at which Roberts excels brightens the book and characters. And, of course, the dogs are just perfect!

Note: The puppy pictured above was at a local animal shelter. Looking for a new friend?  Our local animal shelters have all breeds, colors and ages of dogs, cats, puppies and kittens.  Go to and enter in a zip code to find adoptable pets in our area.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Can ANYONE come to bookclub? Can a Pawn Come to Bookclub?

Good question!

Find the answer by clicking here!

The Nevermore Bookclub meets Tuesdays at 11:30 am. You never know just who might show up. . . . and did we mention doughnuts from Blackbird Bakery?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Beyond Left Behind: Luke's Story

Luke’s Story: By Faith Alone by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (F LAH Main & Avoca; SSB F LAH Main)
Reviewed by Susan

If you like stories in Bible School, then this book is for you. Third of the “Jesus Chronicles,” it re-constructs Luke’s life from childhood up to his old age. Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins authored the wildly popular “Left Behind” series. They are trying to hit another one out of the ballpark with mixed results. So far, they’ve done Mark’s Story (super-good) and John’s Story (not their best). Luke’s Story makes you nod your head, thinking, “Yeah. It could have been this way.”

Curious. Compassionate. Luke helps another slave in a serious accident, saving his life. This draws the attention of their kindly owner, Theophilius. I had to smile when Theophilius realizes Luke has potential and asks him what field he likes best, and Luke replies, “The bean field.” Working with the family’s physician, Luke is groomed until a plague hits. So many slaves die, including the physician and Luke’s parents. Luke is given more and more tasks, with the plan of eventually sending him to a university to study medicine.

It is there that he meets Saul (Paul), another first year student. Saul, being Saul, is hard to get along with. Saul whips up a marathon race and sweet-talks other first year students to join. Several do, but only Luke & Saul finish, walking across the line together. Foreshadowing.

They become friends. Sort of. Saul admits that when they are older, with his Jewish and Pharisee connections, they will not be able to continue as friends. Luke, of course, feels used, but they kind of work it out.

Fast forward. Luke goes on to become a physician. He hears tales about a murdered Judean carpenter who preached a philosophy heretical to Judaism. Saul went on to root out these heretics until he is converted and becomes a faithful believer. They eventually meet and Saul converts Luke, who diligently studies these new teachings. He has dialogues with Paul and an elderly Mary. Visiting Paul in a Roman prison, Paul predicts that Luke will write the Acts of the Apostles.

LaHaye weaves a pretty good story. He fills it in with things that could have happened, making Luke and Saul multi-dimensional. Where it bogs down is that there is a lot of reproduction of Luke’s Gospel. Also, it’s unlikely that Saul would have been schooled anywhere other than in Judea under a Pharisee rabbi.

So, enjoy it but remember to give it plenty of literary license.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

End of the Line: Frequency of Souls

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

Reviewed by Nancy

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

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

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

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

So, here we go. Nuggets:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 23, 2010

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

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

Reviewed by Jeanne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Flora Snicklefritz awaits Fishie Treats from a safe distance.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Universal Truths: The Day We Found the Universe

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

It was January 1, 1925, to be exact.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Girl Who Reads Stieg Larsson

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

Review by Nicki

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gayle Trent aka Amanda Lee at Main!

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

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

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Just Desserts: Murder Takes the Cake by Gayle Trent

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

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

I also read the book.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dig Deep: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Reviewed by Jeanne

Recently, I read a question posted online that asked readers which they preferred, a writer or a storyteller. I didn’t respond, but if I had, I would have said that it depended: if I wanted to escape for a couple of hours, give me a storyteller who would make the time fly by. If I were on a desert island and had but one book, I think I’d prefer a writer, one whose phrases would make me stop and ponder or delight me with wordplay.

For me, The Sweetness in the Bottom of the Pie fulfills both requirements. This first novel by Alan Bradley has memorable characters, an intriguing plot and a fine way with a phrase. I found myself chortling over line after line, hoping that I would remember to use some of these at some point in the future. Perhaps I should have taken notes.

The story is narrated by Flavia de Luce, a precocious eleven year old with a passion for chemistry, especially poisons. She has two insufferable older sisters, Daphne and Ophelia, and an emotionally distant father who spends his days with his stamp collection. They live in Buckshaw, an aging manor house in a village in 1950s England where things are not so much dull as ordinary. The first hint that something is amiss is the discovery of a dead bird on the doorstep, a postage stamp stuck on its bill.

The next morning, Flavia arises early and slips out to the garden only to find a man dying amid the cucumber vines.

Flavia is thrilled.

So begins one of the freshest, wittiest mysteries I’ve read in quite some time. While some reviewers have complained that Flavia is far too sophisticated for a child, I found her to be a delight. She has an impressive vocabulary and wide knowledge of literature and music, but she reacts as a child. Certain subtleties elude her, such as the nuances of romance. She concocts elaborate plots to extract revenge on Feely and Daffy, goes for long and glorious rides on Gladys (her bicycle), and pokes her nose into everybody’s business. She’s a British version of Harriet the Spy, albeit with murder. I don’t know that I’d like Flavia for a relative or a neighbor, but I certainly enjoyed her antics from afar, and I have no doubt she would object to the word “antics.” Most of the other characters are seen through Flavia’s filter, but the author still gives them the room to surprise his heroine. There is also a definite old- fashioned feel to the series; I actually would have thought earlier than the 50s if the author hadn’t given some dates to the contrary.

I hated to see this romp come to its exciting end, and am awaiting my turn to read the sequel, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (F BRA Main).