Thursday, December 29, 2011

Explosive Eighteen is a dud!

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich, reviewed by Doris
Did I say after reading Janet Evanovich’s Smokin’ Seventeen that I was done with the series? Well, I lied. I suckered myself into reading Explosive Eighteen.  Yes, I was on pain meds for a sore knee, but that is no excuse for such a dismal waste of time.
In the first few books of the Stephanie Plum series, there was humor. Grandma Mazur made me laugh, and her obsession with attending funeral home visitations reminded me of my dearly loved aunts who like to discuss who died this week. Stephanie’s struggles to learn the bail bond apprehension business were also amusing and flaunt with misadventures reminiscent of Lucy and Ethel gone bad. Lula the ex-hooker as Stephanie’s sidekick was always good for a laugh for no other reason that her clothing. And, of course there were Ranger and Morelli.  Ranger is the gorgeous mystery man who may or may not be totally on the side of law and order who calls Stephanie “Babe.” Morelli is the gorgeous neighborhood bad boy who grew up into the homicide cop who definitely is one the side of law and order and who calls Stephanie “Cupcake.” Stephanie’s eternal dilemma—which gorgeous man does she want in her bed and her life forever after?  Since this series has continued long past its expiration date and we have discovered that Stephanie has the brains of a deranged poodle, I no longer care which of these men she wants. I just want to know why they want her! (Just on a personal note here: I would much rather be called “Babe” than “Cupcake.”)
Explosive Eighteen follows the formula Evanovich established in the first book. Stephanie and Lula go to apprehend some miscreant. Along the way they have to eat twelve times and always at least once at the Cluck-in-a-Bucket. Then their car gets blown up or burned up or stolen. Stephanie calls Ranger. He comes and saves her worthless hide and gives her a new car to destroy. It’s kind of like eat chicken, tazer someone, Lula tries to shoot someone, the miscreat escapes, Stephanie whines, everyone goes over to Stephanie’s parents’ house for dinner, her mother drinks (so would I if this were my child), Stephanie pouts her way into to bed with one or the other of the gorgeous men available and then feels great guilt, yadda, yadda, yadda. There’s always some meandering mystery that really is not a mystery but which gives Morelli something to do besides be exasperated with Plum. Comments are made about Stephanie’s cousin and boss Vinnie who had a romantic encounter with a duck, buses explode, cars burn up, and Stephanie’s mom looks longingly at the bottle of Scotch. In this case, the man seated next to Stephanie on the return flight from an ill-fated vacation in Hawaii turns up dead. Everyone thinks he gave Stephanie something of great value, so she has Russian mob people, a really bad hairdresser, and various and assorted other criminals after her. While she tries to muddle through her latest romantic disaster and avoid getting killed for the valuable object she really doesn’t have, it is of course Ranger who comes to her rescue time and time again.
It is time for Evanovich, Morelli, and Ranger to move on. Stephanie Plum has to be one of the most incompetent, sniveling, whinny so-called heroines in current fiction. Whatever humor there was is the series died a slow, painful death on the plain of beaten to death. Unless you too have a sore knee and are pain meds, find something better to read over the holidays. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Nevermore Economics & Cut

Finances tend to be a bit of a topic around December, as folks decide what their budget for gifts should be and whether or not to blow those budgets.  The Nevermore Book Club went one better by taking a look at national global economics, courtesy of the books Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World and The Big Short:  Inside the Doomsday Machine, both by Michael Lewis.  The latter book examined the background of the 2008 economic downturn in the U.S., while Boomerang has more of a global perspective.  Lewis is one of those authors who can take complex subjects and make them not only understandable but readable. . . and even funny.  He’s also the author of The Blind Side, basis for the Sandra Bullock movie of the same name, as well as Moneyball, which was made into a movie with Brad Pitt.
Thomas Friedman’s That Used to be Us discusses the challenges the United States faces in order to remain a world leader, including globalization, deficits, and the information revolution.  This book was considered a good one, but not exactly riveting. 
Of course, this wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea; or as one club member put it, “Who needs Ambien when we have economics?”
The antidote to that was a recommendation for George Pelecanos’ new book The Cut, the first in a new series of thrillers about Iraqi war veteran Spero Lucas who specializes in recovering stolen property, no questions asked. The only requirement is that Lucas gets a flat 40% of what is recovered.  He accepts an assignment from a marijuana dealer to recover some missing shipments of product, but soon learns that the personal toll may be too great to pay.   Pelecanos was a writer on “The Wire,” where the city of Baltimore was so vividly portrayed that it was almost a character itself.  The Cut is set in Washington, D.C., another city Pelecanos knows and describes well.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Traditions: Bagpipes??

By coincidence, our director Jud Barry had just uploaded a holiday video about an album which intrigued him as a child.  It's a bit hard to explain, so just watch the video.  I will say there are bagpipes, stone carvings, and a dog involved.  Enjoy!
Christmas Pastoral

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Traditons: The Night Before Christmas

Comments from Jeanne

For many families, part of the Christmas celebration includes a reading of the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” or as it’s more popularly known, “The Night Before Christmas.”  There are dozens of versions available, done by a wide variety of artists.  Some are more naturalistic

Tasha Tudor illustrated this version
While others are bit more whimsical.
This verson was illustrated by Bruce Whatley.
So popular is this poem that it has spawned a host of imitations.  There’s a Cajun version in which St. Nick’s sleigh is pulled by alligators while in the hillbilly version, it’s drawn by bears. There’s an African American version, a Texas version, an Irish version and many more.  There are even versions that employ familiar characters, such as Sesame Street’s Elmo or Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter.
African-American version retold and illustrated by Melodye Rosales
Hillbilly Night Afore Christmas with illustrations by James Rice, text by Thomas Noel Turner.
Needless to say, there are also video adaptations that expand on the poem, including one which tells the story of how Clement Clark Moore, known as a dour classics professor and theologian, came to write light verse for children. This brings up a recent controversy:  did Moore really write the poem? Or was it the work of another?  In one chapter of  Author Unknown:  On the Trail of Anonymous, Don Foster makes the case for another author.  Foster is a professor at Vassar whose work has included identifying a previously unknown poem by Shakespeare and testifying in the Unabomber case. His evidence on “The Night Before Christmas,” while circumstantial, is pretty convincing and makes for fascinating reading.  The part that really won me over had to do with the names of the reindeer.  Have you ever wondered why all the reindeer have names that really mean something except for two?  If you buy into Foster's explanation, then the name DO mean something.  Don't take my word for it:  read the chapter and decide for yourself.  Plus there are other fascinating mysteries in the book-- including one that involves a murder.
No matter who wrote the original or what version you prefer, “The Night Before Christmas” is definitely a holiday staple. You could say it's the poetic counterpart to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Traditions: Charlie Brown

Christy likes "A Charlie Brown Christmas." She watches it every year!
Viewers first saw "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on CBS in 1965. It was considered quite a risky show at the time, and the low budget meant shortcuts in animation and in voice actors.  Reportedly, some of the children who recorded the voices had never done that sort of work before and at least one child couldn't read, so she was repeating lines from a coach.  Of course, it turned out to be warmly received and widely loved. Perhaps one of the most unusual outcomes is that one can now buy an artificial version of Charlie Brown's sad little tree that no one wanted. The network wasn't sure about some of the elements in the show, but Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and animator Bill Melendez stood firm. Time has proven them right.

 One aspect I hadn't thought about until a friend brought it up is the music. Jazz musician Vince Guaraldi did the score, and the results are so distinctive and such an integral part of the show that just hearing a few notes will make one think of the Peanuts characters.  Guaraldi did the music for 17 of the Peanuts shows before he passed away at age 47. The library has two CDs of Guaraldi's music.  Just listen and you'll know what I mean!

For some, it wouldn't be Christmas without Charlie Brown and the gang. If you missed the special on television this year, there are copies of the DVD available at both Main and Avoca.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Traditions: Amahl and the Night Visitors

Every holiday has its traditions.  Some are unique to a particular community, like the Easter Egg fights at Peters Hollow, while others, like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, are national.  Families have their own traditions as well, so this year we thought we’d list some of the staff’s favorite holiday traditions.   Feel free to join with your favorite book, video, recipe, event or memory! This one is from Jeanne:

“Amahl and the Night Visitors”
Some traditions fall by the wayside.  When I was a child, my mother always looked forward to the then-annual showing of “Amahl.”  This was, believe it or not, an opera that was run in prime time on a national network.  No, my mother was not an opera aficionado—her musical tastes ran more to Big Band and folk, and as far as I know she never watched or listened to another opera in her life—but there was something about “Amahl” that she dearly loved.  For those unfamiliar with the opera, it’s the story of the lame boy Amahl and his impoverished mother who meet the Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem.  Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti wrote the opera as a commission from NBC and it was first televised as a live performance in 1951. (It was also the debut of another tradition:  it was the first production of the Hallmark Hall of Fame.) The program was performed live for over a decade, then in 1963 it was taped and rerun until 1966. Of course, this is all from hindsight and Wikipedia.  At the time we weren't keeping track.

I do have a hazy memory of my mother’s disappointment when “Amahl” didn’t come on one year.  At first she thought we must have just missed it, but several years went by without a sign of it. This is a time before DVDs, even before VCRs, when there were few channels and holiday specials were just that:  they were only shown at the holidays and were special. If you missed “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” then you had to wait until next year and hope it was shown again. Still, on any occasion in which someone asked about a box, Mom would chant, “This is my box, this is my box, I never travel without my box” as Kaspar sings in “Amahl.”
Some seven or eight years ago I found a copy on video and bought it. My first surprise was to find out that it was an opera.  I thought it was just a musical, like "West Side Story" which I knew not from the theaters but from ""NBC Monday Night at the Movies." This video was from a later version—from the 1970s, I think—but it was pretty much as I remembered.   The biggest difference is that it was in color. My mother was delighted!  On Christmas Eve, she insisted that we all sit down and watch “Amahl.”  My older brother seemed vaguely puzzled at first, and then all at once he remembered it too.  If I’d remembered more about it, I would have had tissues at the ready.
Even if you don't like opera, give "Amahl" a try if you come across a copy.  If you're curious there are excerpts of various performances on youtube. There’s a book adaptation in the Children’s Department in the fiction section under Menotti.
Just keep some tissues handy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

Reviewed by Nancy W.

In Wishful Drinking Carrie Fisher tells some really wild tales. She assures the reader, however, that even though many of the stories she’s telling are “way over the top,” she is leaving out plenty that are even farther past “way over the top.” This makes me want to sit down and have a conversation with her just to see if I could get her to tell me some of the parts she left out.

Carrie Fisher is the daughter of Eddie Fisher (famous crooner) and Debbie Reynolds (iconic actress). As Ms. Fisher puts it, her parents were “the Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston of the late 50s." And like Brad and Jen, they did not stay married. 

So, here’s what happened: Eddie and Debbie were close, close friends with Mike Todd and Elizabeth Taylor. About a year after Mike Todd married Elizabeth Taylor, he was killed in a plane crash. 

Carrie Fisher’s father, Eddie, flew to Elizabeth Taylor’s side to console her, “gradually making his way slowly to her front.” In short order Eddie’s involvement with Elizabeth Taylor made his marriage to Debbie Reynolds “awkward.” Divorce followed. Ms. Fisher makes this simple for the reader to grasp by offering these instructions, “think of Eddie as Brad Pitt and Debbie as Jennifer Aniston and Elizabeth as Angelina Jolie. Ms. Fisher provides us with a chart (including pictures) of her parent’s marriages, divorces and children.

Of course, there are two ways to approach this. One can be horrified at the sad shenanigans of the rich and famous, or one can turn it into some really dark humor and laugh it off as Carrie Fisher does. I must say I have enjoyed Ms. Fisher's approach.

If you can't quite place Carrie Fisher, think of the young woman in the movie "Star Wars" who had the funny hair. Ms. Fisher offers a few comments on the hair style in her book.  She also opines that the star wars movie gave her an identity that will follow her to her grave "like a vague, exotic smell."

 Ms. Fisher's book is chock full of tasty informational tidbits. I especially savored the one regarding a special talent of former president George W. Bush that is revealed on pages twenty-one and twenty-two.

You might not expect a philosophical observation about immortality to have a punch line, but Ms. Fisher's does. It is put forth in the last two paragraphs of page twenty-two.

Come to think of it, page twenty which covers the period long ago when she dated Senator Chris Dodd is pretty interesting, too.

If you think you don't have any time to fritter away reading a celebrity memoir, just drop by the library and read pages twenty-one and twenty-two. I would hate for you to miss them. Of course, you'll probably get hooked and want to read the book in its entirety.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Genetics, Prodigal Summer, Flavia, Birds, Ex Libris and The Hogfather

The November 22 Nevermore Book Club readers were enthusiastic about their selections, which were fairly evenly balanced between fiction and non-fiction.
Genetics for Dummies by Tara Rodden Robinson was the first book discussed.  Our reader was thoroughly enjoying it.  The author explains a complex subject in relatively simply fashion.  If you want to feel a bit less important, just note the number of genes in corn (maize) verses the number in a human being.  Along the way one learns about the history of corn, information about European royalty, gene therapy, gene splicing and how DNA is revolutionizing crime solving. 
Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer was next up.  This novel weaves three storylines together as a female forest ranger, a young widow, and two elderly neighbors redefine the concepts of home and family.  One aspect that everyone enjoyed was the amount of information about the environment, ecology, culture and wildlife was woven into the story.  The setting is local, which made it all the more appealing. 
Ex Libris: Reflections of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman enchanted our next member.  The book is a collection of essays by a woman who is passionate about reading and books.  Witty and thoughtful, Fadiman covers language, books and the moment she finally felt married: when she and her husband merged book collections.
Eleven year old chemist and sleuth Flavia de Luce has acquired a devoted following since her debut in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  In I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, the delightful fourth entry in the series, Flavia’s father has rented out the family home during the Christmas holidays to a movie company in hopes of raising some badly needed cash to keep the family solvent.  Flavia had been quite involved in her latest project—capturing Father Christmas—but finds the newcomers to be a bit of an intriguing distraction.  Series fans will be glad to know that the sisters are as spiteful as ever and that Dogger has a good role.  You don’t have to read the series in order.
Another holiday title of sorts is The Hogfather by Terry Prachett.  In Discworld, presents are delivered by The Hogfather, a jolly man in a red suit who rides in a sled pulled by pigs.  Due to some unfortunate meddling, the Hogfather is not in a state to do his job in that he is. . . um, sort of dead. Since there must be a Hogfather, the role is assumed by another immortal of sorts, only this one usually carries a scythe.  Let’s just say that Death is not the life of the Christmas party, though his grasp of the concept of a commercial Christmas is one to celebrate. If you like satiric British humor and word play, by all means put The Hogfather  on your holiday reading list.
January 1st is not only New Year’s Day, it’s the kick-off date for an annual bird-watching competition. On that day, a number of bird-watching enthusiasts will decide to embark on a “Big Year” which when a birder spends an entire year trying to see as many bird species as he can throughout North America.  The Big Year:  A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik chronicles the year 1999 when three highly competitive men set out to beat the record.  Even non-birders will enjoy this entertaining and true story, and come away with a bit more interest in what goes on at the backyard feeder.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

New Books in Favorite Series!

There are several popular series authors who have new books out in November.  Many of these will be on reserve, so if you want to read these you may need to get your name on the list!
Sue Grafton fans, rejoice!  Kinsey Millhone is back, though she ‘s a little worse for wear after a punch in the face leaves her with two black eyes and a broken nose.  That’s just the start of the complications in V is for Vengeance, the long awaited new entry in the series that started with A is for Alibi.  Reserve it today!
Before Catherine Coulter became famous for her FBI thrillers, she wrote some wonderful historical romances.   The Prince of Ravenscar is her newest book and a sequel to the Sherbrooke Twins. In fact, the author suggests you reread the latter before reading the new book.  Where can you find a copy of The Sherbrooke Twins?  Why, your local library! We have copies in large print, paperback and on CD!
Did you love Wicked?    Out of Oz is the fourth and final book in Gregory Maguire’s inspired re-imagining of the Land of Oz.  Maguire brings back some  of his beloved characters and gives us a good look at that Kansas girl, Dorothy Gale.
When ships suddenly begin exploding, Kurt Austin is called to investigate and uncovers a dictator’s plan to use an incredible weapon to extort tribute from the world’s governments.  Devil’s Gate by Clive Cussler is another thrilling chapter in the Numa Files series!
For Harry Bosch, time is ticking down.  He only has three years before he’ll have to retire from the force, and he’s anxious to solve as many cases as he can before then.  Harry should know to be careful what he wishes for, when two cases suddenly show up on the same day, both with horrifying implications. Best-selling author Michael Connelly is in top form with The Drop.  Reserve it today!
Fall means it’s time for a new Margaret Maron book! In Three Day Town,  Judge Deborah Knott and her deputy sheriff husband are visiting the Big Apple,  but their hopes for their long delayed honeymoon are dashed when their doorman is murdered and a box is missing.  Maron fans will be delighted to know that the investigating officer is none other than Sigrid Harald, who was featured in Maron’s first mystery series.
Flavia is back!  Everyone’s favorite eleven year old chemist /sleuth has an ingenious plan to ensnare Father Christmas, but first she has another murder to solve.  Alan Bradley has concocted another winning tale with I Am Half Sick of Shadows  A Flavia de Luce Novel.
James Patterson’s new book is Kill Alex Cross.  Need we say more?
Eragon fans, the wait is over!  Inheritance, the fourth and final book in the saga, is out this month.  Christopher Paolini became a media sensation as a nineteen year old best-selling author.  Now 27, his books have been licensed into 49 different languages!
If you like off-beat—and we mean really offbeat—mysteries, then Tim Dorsey may be the author for you.  His protagonist is Serge Storms, a psychopathic serial killer with a strong sense of justice, sort of like a gregarious and outgoing Dexter.  The new book in the series is When Elves Attack, A Joyous Christmas Greeting from the Criminal Nutbars of the Sunshine State.