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.