Friday, April 23, 2010

Thanks, Mr. Parker

An Appreciation by Doris

Years ago I picked up my first Spenser novel by Robert P. Parker, and I fell in love. Spenser is the bad boy every woman secretly wants. He is strong, protective, gentle with those he loves, and he can quote poetry even in the deadliest situations. He is totally dedicated to the love of his life, Hawk—uh, I mean Susan Silverman. And, he is funny. I added the Jesse Stone novels and the Sunny Randalls, and, while they are not Spenser, they do very well. It doesn’t matter that the last few novels showed Parker’s plotting skills were fading a bit. It is the characters I love, and Spenser, Hawk, Jesse, and Sunny are still intriguing and fun. Now, with the death of Parker, comes the end of that era. I grieve not only for the author who gave me so many pleasurable hours of reading but for my characters left in limbo. Will Hawk and Spenser—no, no, I mean Spenser and Susan—finally marry? Will Pearl the Dog continue to be the perfect child? Will Jesse finally get over his ex-wife and deal with his alcoholism? Will Sunny and Jesse decide they have found what they need in each other? Those questions may now never be answered except in our hearts, but that is okay. It has been great just getting to know them.

Split Image is the newest Jessie Stone outing. It is a book about love, letting go of old loves, obligations, and understanding what makes us do what we do. Jesse is joined by Sunny Randall who also has relationship issues. Jesse and Sunny are both in therapy to deal with their issues, and the cases they are handling provide a nice framework for some telling therapy sessions. (Sunny’s therapist is the ever-gorgeous Susan Silverman, Spenser’s girlfriend.) Jesse is looking for the killer of a Russian mob enforcer. Sunny is looking for the 18 year old daughter of a high society couple who has ditched the family for a New Age cult. Of course there is more to the cult than meets the eye, and the dead Russian is soon joined by other dead mob people. While discovering if there is a possibility of a healthy relationship for them, Jesse and Sunny work through the separate cases in their laconic and often amusing ways.

Split Image has three plots in motion, but it is the characters that really drive the book. Jess has Suitcase and Molly. Sunny has Spike who, contrary to the implications of the name, is not a Doberman. There are also the Bang Bang Twins who are called such for good reason and the leader of the cult who just might turn out to be rather pathetic. To me the plots have always been secondary to the play of the characters, and Parker has never disappointed me with them.

Rumor has it that there may be another Spenser book in the pipeline. I hope so because I would love to see that Jesse and Sunny, Spenser and Hawk live happily ever after—uh, and you too, Susan Silverman.

Note: Painted Ladies: A Spenser Novel, was completed a year before Robert B. Parker's death. It is scheduled for release in October, 2010. Mr. Parker was at work on another Spenser novel when he died.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Weight of the World . . .

Nice Girls Finish Fat: Put Yourself First and Change Your Eating Forever by Karen Koenig (613. 25 KOE)

Reviewed by Susan Wolfe

OK. This started out as just another annual resolution…but it is such a darn good book! It deals not only with eating – but about how we put too many things on our plate, literally and figuratively.

Karen Koenig is a psychotherapist with other books to her credit. She writes with both humor and understanding to the layperson…. Thank goodness. This is a fun and interactive book.

• Take the “How Nice Are You?” quiz. See if you are sabotaging your weight by being a Nice Girl.

• Then the “Grab Your Thinking Cap” exercises. Oh yeah. Ouch. Is fulfillment in the frig instead of in other aspects of life?

• The “Nice Girl Recovery Tips” are practical strategies for saying NO.
So often, most of us put ourselves last after children, work, family, etc. Way too busy taking care of everyone else, we don’t take time for ourselves. Most of us gals are guilty, and we don’t even realize that we are doing it. It is so ingrained.

After all, it’s the nice person who puts everyone first, isn’t it? It is selfish to put yourself first.

Sound familiar?

But there is a link between being nice to others and neglecting yourself. We too often reward ourselves with food. We stuff down anger and frustration with food. It’s there, but we ignore it or try to move past it. Who has time to address negative thoughts?

I guess the word is really neglect. We then punish ourselves. We sabotage diets. There is usually a reason behind why we do the things we do. We are just used to reacting in a certain way. It is hard to even recognize those traits.

What is nice about Koenig’s book is the descriptions and various people profiled in the book. (Time to get nailed.) It helps you take a good look at yourself. She gives ideas for becoming more self-focused and assertive.

So did I lose any weight? I’m a work in progress. Put I now try to put myself on my list of things to do each day and take better care of myself.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ghost Fixer

The Devil You Know by Mike Carey (F CAR Main)
Reviewed by Jeanne

Felix Castor—Fix, to his friends—makes his living as a freelance exorcist in London. It’s not an easy living, though not for lack of spirits: some years earlier the dead started showing up in vast quantities for no reason anyone can tell. Ghosts, zombies, and. . . things. . . abound. Most are harmless, just lost souls or perhaps parts of souls. “Ghosts are reflections in fun-house mirrors,” Fix tells us, “distorted echoes of past emotions, lingering on way past their sell-by date.” They’re not really sentient, though sometimes they can give a sort of response from whatever shred of consciousness remains and usually they’re harmless. Still plenty scary, though.

Anyway, after a near disaster, Fix retired from the ghostbusting business. Unfortunately, there’s the little matter of rent past due, food to buy, all the things that affect the living. As the book begins, he’s so desperate that he’s willing to try a gig as a magician at a child’s birthday party.

It’s not a pretty sight.

So Fix reluctantly takes a call about a recent haunting at the Bonnington Archive. A veiled female ghost has been haunting the premises for about a month without incident, but now has turned violent. All Fix has to do is get rid of her.

But to do this, he has to have a sense of the ghost: who she is, why she’s there. That’s the way Fix’s brand of exorcism works. Like the Pied Piper, Fix catches a ghost with music, weaving a tune on his tin whistle that is the essence of the spirit, calling and entrapping it before sending it to. . . wherever.

Fix is more a British Sam Spade than Indiana Jones; there’s a sorrow about him, a hint of weariness, but he’s a decent human being. The supporting characters are also well developed, particularly Nicky, the conspiracy theorist who is obsessive about keeping a very low profile lest someone track him down. Nicky is also dead, but he doesn’t let that stand in his way. He just keeps the air conditioning turned way up high.

The plot, while fantasy, also harkens back to the hardboiled detective tradition. There’s a very real mystery to be solved in the middle of the supernatural shenanigans and Carey keeps the motives very human. Unlike some fantasy works, there’s no pat explanation for everything. At this point, no one knows why the dead suddenly became active; Fix wonders about it, and wonders uneasily where the spirits he sends away are going.

The gloomy London setting, with its gray skies and ghosts, the dark and maze-like Bonnington Archive and Fix’s own rather dank apartment give the book a definite sense of atmosphere and mood. It’s almost like a ghostly presence itself, a miasma of fog and spirit, that lingers in the air after the book is shut. Carey also knows the value of showing rather than telling, so that there are scenes that linger in the mind and emotions. For me, THE scene of the book is when Fix sees a young woman watching a group of small children. A bit closer and he realizes she’s one of “the returned,” a zombie. She’s still waiting for the children, she tells him. She told them she’d be here when they got back. But there was a car. They didn’t get the number. And she goes back to her waiting.

That sent a genuine shiver up my spine.

Don’t think it’s all gloom and doom, though. The book is atmospheric, not depressing. There’s a good deal of understated humor and Fix himself has enough bon mots that I should have been taking notes. (One personal favorite: “Clearly, this was a man who recognized the importance of good diet, regular exercise, and unremitting moral superiority.”)

There’s a satisfying ending with a zingy twist, enough intriguing hints about things in Fix’s past that still haunt him (literally and figuratively) and likeable characters to make me quite ready for another visit with Fix and friends. Luckily for me, there are four more books in the series.

And I really want my own tin whistle. (Sadly, I have a tin ear already.)

Mike Carey is an award-winning writer of comics and graphic novels who lives in London.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Stuff of Legend

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory (F GRE Main; SSB GRE Main; CD F GRE Main)
Reviewed by Susan Wolfe

It begins like a fairy tale and ends, well, not so happily ever after.

This is a true story. First and foremost, it is a love story. It’s historically accurate. It’s sizzling. A King of England, married in secret to a woman from a traitor’s household who will become Queen of England.

The story begins on the day that Elizabeth Woodville meets Edward IV. He is a handsome young prince who has just been crowned King of England. She is a beautiful young widow but penniless, having lost her lands along with her husband, who died battling this same prince. She patiently waits for Edward IV along the road to plead for her lands. Based on historical tradition, it is love at first sight. It is an enduring love that lasts throughout their lives.

It’s an amazing story that long needed to be told. Philippa Gregory does a magnificent recreation of their story. Gregory is an historical fiction writer, noted for The Other Boleyn Girl. She paces the story in the present tense (a rare treat for a historical novel). It draws you into their lives, from one cliff hanger to another. This is a tale with something for everyone’s taste.

It is an historical novel, based in an era known as the “War of the Roses.” This is the first of Philippa Gregory’s new “Cousins” Series. Actually, this “War” was a series of wars between cousins for the throne of England. One is The House of York, of which Edward is head. Elizabeth is from the House of Lancaster. This is an excellent account of a complex period, spanning two decades of intrigues and shifting loyalties.

It is a novel about family and strife. There is jealousy between royal brothers which leads to murder and attempts for the throne. One of Edward’s brothers drowned in a barrel of liquor. Edward is rumored to not be the son of the former king, but the offspring of a tryst between the Queen Mother and an archer. The Queen Mother hates Elizabeth and her family. Elizabeth’s Woodville family grabs for power and influence which will span generations. This makes Elizabeth Woodville one of the most hated and admired Queens in British history.

It is also an intriguing mystery. Their sons are the lost little princes. In recent times their bodies were found hidden under stairs in the Tower of London, again raising the age old question about who murdered them. Was it Edward’s brother, Richard III? Or was it Henry Tudor, who founded the Tudor dynasty by marrying their sister and daughter of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV?

It is a whimsical tale. Elizabeth’s family traces their descent from the water goddess Melusina, a beautiful myth that is woven throughout the story. There is also an element of witchcraft. Her mother actually accused of being a witch. (Historically true.) There were rumors of Elizabeth being a witch too, bewitching the king. There is a scene where Elizabeth curses the house and lineage of the murderer of her sons which makes an interesting twist that may have come back upon her own descendants.

It is also a story of courage and loyalty. This novel has it all. But at its core is the story of Edward and Elizabeth. In many ways it is a fairy tale, but it is based on true history. Believe me, you can’t just make this stuff up.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Bogged Down in the Shetlands

Sacrifice by S. J. Bolton (SSB F BOL Main)

Reviewed by Jeanne

What would you do if you discovered a body? Would you check for a pulse? Faint? Run? Call the police? Tora Hamilton has said she didn’t know what she would do.

She gets the chance to find out.

It’s already been a dreadful day. Rainy, which isn’t unusual in the Shetland Islands, but also the day she has to bury Jamie, her beloved horse. She could wait, but she can’t bear the idea of what the scavengers will do to his body.So she gets on the mini-excavator and starts digging down through the peat when she sees a linen wrapped bundle. . . and a human foot. The local police chief thinks they’ve found another one of those ancient burial sites in which the peat has preserved the victim.Certainly the whole site has that feel to it, especially when it’s discovered that the victim’s heart has been removed from her chest and three runic symbols have been carved into the body.He’s all for calling in the archaeologists.

Tora begs to differ.It’s not based on her training as a consultant surgeon.It’s just that she doesn’t believe ancient peoples wore lacquer nail polish.

Thus begins one of the better thrillers I’ve read lately, filled with twists and turns that builds to a stunning conclusion.Along with Tora, I wasn’t sure who was to be trusted: just when I thought I knew I was proven wrong.

The setting is extremely well done; Bolton manages to make you feel you really are in the Shetlands, describing the people, the place and the history in painless bites. You can almost see the wild beauty of the Islands along with a sense of the glorious and somewhat frightening isolation, feel the waves pounding against the shorelines and see the puffins and Arctic Skua.

The characters are also well developed, especially Tora who isn’t your standard beautiful damsel in distress type so beloved of most thrillers. She is one of those prickly, no nonsense sorts whom you might not like at all in real life, though to her credit she realizes she’s not exactly a “people person.” She’s just not certain what to do about it. How do other people manage to create an instant rapport? She also has a strong sense of justice and objects to it being subverted, making her prone to challenging authority. She does take some risks, but she does so with a full realization of the danger involved—a refreshing change from some characters who rush in where angels fear to tread and then wonder how they ended up in such a precarious situation. Other interesting characters; Kenn, Tora’s boss who can charm people and horses with equal ease; Duncan, Tora’s handsome and adored but often absent husband, who was born and raised in the Islands;and the equally prickly Dana Tulloch, one of the police investigators who seems to suspect that Tora knows more than she’s telling.

I was fascinated by the folklore of the area, when I wasn’t hastily turning pages to find out what happened next. The fact that it’s a first novel makes it all the more impressive. I’m already anxious to read her next book, Awakening (F BOL Main).

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happy Easter from the BPL staff and Melon!  The library will be closed on Sunday, April 4, but will reopen at 9 am Monday, April 5.