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.