Monday, April 29, 2013

Joshilyn Jackson

Review by Kristin

Joshilyn Jackson first caught my attention though the recommendation of a librarian friend in small town Georgia.  I was a Yankee newly transplanted to the South and was enjoying learning about my new environment through books, as well as “real life” in a town of about 4,000 people.  Jackson writes in a way that shows her love of the South, as cracked and damaged as the characters in her stories may be.

I have heard Jackson speak a couple of times, and the most significant thing I heard was that her books are all about redemption.  Sure, people mess up, hurt other people, lie, cheat, steal, and even kill.  In Jackson’s books, the road may be long and her characters may have a whole lot of life thrown at them, but the plot is always resolved with the redemption of those characters that the readers have come to love.

Jackson may also be the queen of first lines.  A Grown-up Kind of Pretty starts with:  “My daughter, Liza, put her heart in a silver box and buried it under the willow tree in our backyard.”  And I’m not sure there is any topping gods in Alabama’s beginning line: “There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus…”

That brings me to the PG-13 warning.  While the books are not full of gratuitous violence and sex, Jackson is not shy about telling life like it is.  I would not recommend these books for younger teenagers or for my Pentecostal grandmother, were she still living.  (Your grandmother might like them just fine; just be aware that they are not totally G-rated.)

If you enjoy audio books, Jackson’s books are entertaining.  She reads most of them herself, and I enjoy her dramatic expression.

Jackson is also entertaining in her blog, where she might post once a month or three times a week.  She’s busy writing more novels, so her faithful blog followers seem to understand.  Check out her “Faster Than Kudzu” blog at:

gods in Alabama
Arlene Fleet left the small town of Possett, Alabama with the intention of never returning.  In fact, she promised God that she would never again lie, fornicate, or go home, as long as He kept the body hidden.  Arlene went north to Chicago, became Lena, and kept her promises for ten years, despite her mother and aunt calling every week to ask when she was coming home.  Matters come to a head when Burr, Lena’s African-American boyfriend (who respects her “no lying and no fornicating” policy) wants to meet her Southern family.  Lena and Burr hit the interstate and the last decade fades away as they get closer and closer to the small town she left behind.

Between, Georgia
Nonny Frett knows two families, the one who gave her up and the one who claimed her as their own.  In the town of Between, Georgia (population 90), everyone knows everyone.  Nonny was born to fifteen year old Hazel Crabtree, unbeknownst to the rest of the Crabtree clan.  Stacia Frett, a deaf artist who is gradually going blind, saw that unwanted newborn baby and said, “Mine.”  Bernise, Stacia’s twin sister, helped make that “Mine” come true with her influence in the tiny town.  Nonny’s Crabtree grandmother is on the fringes of her life, always looking in jealously and wanting Nonny’s love and attention.  Nonny is all grown up and still pulled in many directions:  between the Fretts and the Crabtrees; between her cheating almost-ex-husband, Jonno, and her best friend, Henry; between big city Athens and tiny town Between.

The Girl who Stopped Swimming
Seeing ghosts is nothing new to Laurel. Uncle Marty used to come visit, usually on nights when a storm was coming.  When Laurel awakes to the vision of a drowned teenage girl, she thinks she is still asleep, seeing the shape of a body in her pool.  First feeling relief that it is not her daughter Shelby, then guilt that someone else’s child has drowned, Laurel realizes that the dead girl is Molly, Shelby’s best friend.  Although the drowning was ruled an accident, Laurel senses there is more to the story, and she attempts to discover what led to the drowning.  This path takes her back to her hometown, the impoverished DeLop.  With help from her feisty sister Thalia, Laurel digs through the present and the past, finding perhaps more than she ever wanted to know.

Backseat Saints
Rose Mae Lolley put in a brief appearance in gods in Alabama, but it turns out she had her own story to tell.  “Ro” Grandee listens to an airport gypsy who tells her she has to kill her abusive husband before he kills her.  Ro gets a gun and sets out to take matters into her own hands.  Not everything goes as planned, (of course,) and Ro begins a journey with her dog, Fat Gretel, that takes her from Amarillo, Texas, to Fruiton, Alabama, to Berkeley, California.  Having lived with her abusive father, who drove her mother off while Rose Mae was young, Ro goes back to confront her childhood fears.  Along the way she discovers more about her mother and herself, finally reinventing herself one more time.

A Grown-up Kind of Pretty
Mosey Slocumb is fifteen years old.  Her mother, Liza, and grandmother, Ginny, are determined that Mosey will not follow their example of having a baby at age fifteen.  This has been drilled into Mosey’s head her whole life, so she has no intention of getting anywhere near a boy, despite her family’s fears.  Liza has had a stroke, and Ginny is determined to put a swimming pool in their back yard to help with Liza’s therapy.  On the day that they pull up a willow tree to make room for the pool, secrets are unearthed along with the roots.  With the discovery of a silver chest containing tiny bones, the Slocumb family is thrown into a panic.  Who buried the box?  If those bones are human, then who is it?

Someone Else’s Love Story (November 2013)
A sneak peek of the cover can be found at:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Staff Picks: Poems

Nancy W. likes“Some keep the Sabbath going to Church” by Emily Dickinson for the lines,

“God preaches, a noted Clergyman – /And the sermon is never long
.” The poem itself can be found here.

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poems appealed to a number of the staff.  Joan chose “First Fig” as a favorite, while Laurie went for “Second Fig” because “there’s nothing like being short and sweet.” Neither has anything to do with figs, by the way, but the first deals with a candle burning at both ends and the second offers interesting construction advice to two lines.

Jeanne liked both of the above and added “Receurdo,” which begins, “We were very tired, we were very merry/We rode back and forth all night on the ferry.” All of these poems can be read here.
 Nicki says,   “My favorite poem is a little strange.  I didn’t think I liked poetry when I was a teen, because the ones we read in school were dry and boring. Then I read Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer.  It had this poem in it that is an old prison rhyme that starts, “Deep in my dungeon/I welcome you here/Deep in my dungeon/I worship your fear.” It was like nothing I’d ever read, and I thought, “Wow!  That’s really dark. Maybe I do like poetry.”

Jud said that “Nonno’s Poem” from the Tennessee Williams play Night of the Iguana “is one that has been meaningful to various members of my family, including my parents.”

Christy H. chose Walt Whitman’s “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” Here’s her favorite passage:

Come my tan-faced children,

Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,
Have you your pistols? have you your sharp-edged axes?
Pioneers! O pioneers!

For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

O you youths, Western youths,
So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship,
Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

The poem can be read in its entirety here.

Remember we're having three poets here on Sunday, April 28, at 2 pm! For more information, click here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Fun verse

Comments by Jeanne

In an earlier post, I wrote about poetry being a thread woven through our lives, whether we realize it or not.  Song lyrics, nursery rhymes, jingles, all of these can be poetry.  We know a lot of poems without really believing they ARE poems.  Another semi myth is that poetry is always Serious Stuff.

Let’s have a show of hands:  how many people know the Ogden Nash poem, “Reflections on Ice Breaking”?

No one?  Really?  Not even if I tell you that the ‘ice breaking’ means social ice breaking?

How about if I tell you that it's just seven words and the first three are "Candy is dandy"?

Nash is one of the great humorist poets in my book.  I am especially fond of his animal poems, such as “The Panther.” It begins this way:

The panther is like a leopard,
Except it hasn't been peppered.

The last two lines left a co-working giggling helplessly. You can read the poem in its entirety here.


Shel Silverstein is another author celebrated for his humorous poems.  His sense of humor was on display in books such as A Light in the Attic  and Where the Sidewalk Ends, but he also wrote the songs “A Boy Named Sue” and “Marie Laveau” aka “Another Man Done Gone.

Dorothy Parker is known for her one liners, but she had a fine way with a poem as well.  Judith Viorst is probably best known for her children’s books such as Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, but she has a wonderful series of poetry books for adults built around ages.  How Did I Get to be 40 and Other Atrocities has one of my favorite poems, “True Love,” which lists all the ways she knows that she and her husband are still in love, including
When he is late for dinner and I know he must be either having an affair or lying dead in the middle of the street,
I always hope he's dead.”

Even “serious” poets write poems that can induce a smile.  Sure, T.S. Eliot wrote “The Wasteland,” but he also wrote all those wonderful feline poems that were set to music and became the play “Cats.” Want the lyrics?  Just check out Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

Jud says one of his favorite bits is from a Jefferson Airplane album, spoken between songs:
 [Voice 1] No man is an island! No man is an island!
[Voice 2] He’s a peninsula.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Poetry Month

This collection includes a number of my favorites.
Comments by Jeanne

April is National Poetry Month.

I know in some quarters that news will be greeted with a yawn or a shrug, the unspoken question being,  “Does poetry matter?”  Many people seem to equate poetry with high-falutin’ incomprehensible lines that have no relevance to everyday life or experience.  Poets are stereotyped as pale intellectuals who doen’t live in the real world, depressives who seek to spread gloom and doom or else air heads with lines about fragility and posies and, yes, doves and love—a cliché even in Shakespeare’s time.

I think a better question is, “What is poetry?”  and I can think of no better answer than to paraphrase Emily Dickinson who said that when the hair on the back of her neck rose, then she knew it was poetry.  Poetry speaks a profound truth that we can feel. Poetry says things we can all feel or know.  It may tell a story or express an emotion.

My mother loved poetry—a good thing, because she was an English teacher.  She had her students memorize poems back in the day, which they all professed to dislike.  Years later when we’d encounter a former student, most would start to recite some favorite they still recalled, decades later.  Mom believed in the power of poetry to express everything, albeit sometimes with a touch of exaggeration; or to at least cause a smile.  It was a sort of shorthand speaking.  When exhaustion would stop her labors in the garden, she would invariably quote, “I will lay me down and bleed awhile/And then rise to fight again.”  We knew she meant she was going to take a break and rest, and then would be at it again.  That same garden and the woodland would cause her to recall lines from her favorite poem, Thanatopsis:  “Go forth, under the open sky, and list/To Nature’s teachings.” An especially onerous task would begin with, “Into the Valley of Death/Rode the six hundred.”  The memory of a difficult decision might evoke lines from Robert Frost’s poem,  The Road Less Traveled:  “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--/ I took the one less traveled by, /And that has made all the difference.” Poetry in some fashion was woven into our lives just like cornbread and green beans, walks in the woods, or visits to grandparents.

I think my first favorite poem other than a nursey rhyme would have to be The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes.  It’s the tale of a robber and his sweetheart, the innkeeper’s daughter Bess. I could hear the horse’s hooves clopping in the beat of the lines, see the moon as a “ghostly galleon tossed on cloudy seas,” foreshadowing the fate that awaits.  It was heartbreaking, heartstopping, and thrilling all at once.

I still shiver at the thought of those last lines of the poem.  I’m not going to quote them here.  If you don’t know the poem, you should discover it for yourself rather than have it spoiled by a hack blogger.
Most of us, if we think about it, have our own personal bits of poetry we think about at certain times.  The older I get, the more often have occasion to think of lines from Emily Dickenson:  “Parting is all we know of heaven/And all we need know of hell.”

Poetry even bursts onto the national consciousness at times. When many of us think of the Challenger disaster, the words we remember are from the poem High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. which opens, “Oh! I have slipped the surly  bonds of Earth” and ends with “Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”

Yet I have to admit that I’m not a great reader of poetry. I’ve thought on this and my conclusion is that for me poetry is meant to be be HEARD.  Sometimes words on a page just don’t capture the imagination and heart as do those same words read aloud.  Most of the poems I have taken to my heart are ones I’ve first encountered by listening to someone else read or recite. When I read them myself later, it’s still those lines that captured my ear that resonate the most.

If you’re the same way, you may want to plan to come to the library on Sunday, April 28, at 2:30 pm to hear some fine local poets read their work. Chrissie Peters, Rose Klix, and Nancy Fisher are all scheduled to appear, and they will have copies of their work for sale. You may come away with a new favorite poem of your own.

Update: The Sunday Bristol Herald Courier had an article about Chrissie Peters which you can read here.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Grey Dawn by Clea Simon

 Reviewed by Jeanne

Grad student Dulcie Schwartz is back, still working on her thesis—or trying to amid many distractions.  For one thing, her department is searching for a new director and while Martin Thorpe, her advisor, is in the running, the university is bringing in some big name scholars for interviews as well.  It’s hard to know what to hope for:  on the one hand he isn’t particularly enamored of her topic, but if he leaves, she’ll have to start over with a new advisor.


A more enticing distraction are the pages of a manuscript that Dulcie believes might be a new, undiscovered work by the anonymous author of the somewhat obscure 18th century Gothic novel entitled The Ravages of Umbria.  Since Dulcie has pretty much staked her thesis on this author, this find could make or break her academic future.  She’s so involved in transcribing the text from the original handwritten version that she’s even dreaming sections of the story, especially those parts involving a coach trip with a mysterious stranger in a dark, wind-swift night with unearthly howls filling the air.

She’s so caught up in the tale that she’s only vaguely surprised when she thinks she hears a wolf in downtown Cambridge as she heads home that evening.  She knows that’s quite unlikely, but then she catches sight of her advisor looking disheveled, disoriented and—well, WILD. He rushes off into the night and Dulcie runs in the other direction.  The next morning she hears that an undergraduate was attacked, possibly by some sort of beast.

  Was Dulcie an ear-witness to a crime?  Could her advisor be a werewolf?  Could Dulcie have read a few too many Gothic tales? Can Dulcie resist investigating this mystery?

The answer to the last question is an obvious and resounding “No!” Aided once again with cryptic advice from her late beloved feline Mr. Grey and her new kitten Esme, Dulcie rushes in where angels fear to tread. 

Why do I like these books?  Because I can understand the rarified academic world Dulcie inhabits.   While most of us read books for entertainment or enlightenment, for Dulcie each turn of phrase in a book can have another meaning entirely and interpreting them can make or break her academic career.  She searches for scraps of writing as diligently as a forensic investigator looks at blood spatter. (I have vivid memories of nitpicking phrases from Shakespeare for my own college paper and trying to make them fit my objective.) She careens back and forth between the insular academic world and the more or less real world, albeit a real world where Dulcie can believe in communications from her cats (living and otherwise) yet scoff at her mother Lucy’s  premonitions as being products of an overactive imagination and too many hallucinogenic drugs during Lucy’s younger days.  In this book, which I see as a tour de force of the genre, Simon juxtaposes all those florid images from early Gothic novels with Dulcie’s everyday experiences.  Dulcie could be the very model of some of those Gothic heroines, yet would be appalled if you were to suggest this to her.  I find her disconnect to be funny, a sort of English major version of the physicists on “Big Bang Theory” but without a laugh track. Sure, other books have done something similar, but I appreciate Simon’s subtlety in the matter.  I’ve seen this sort of thing done in other books, but most feel they need to point out what they’re doing--wink, wink, nudge, nudge. I’ll admit that sometimes I’m not the most astute reader, but honestly I don’t need to be hit over the head more than once.  Okay, maybe twice.

I also enjoy the way Simon brings the setting to life.  I've never been to Cambridge, MA but she almost makes me feel as if I have visited "our fair city," as the Magliozzi brothers might say.

But what I liked best of all about Grey Dawn is the way that Dulcie solves the mystery through her deep understanding of academic studies. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Dulcie explains her reasoning to a somewhat bemused police detective (who had reached the same conclusion through less esoteric means.) It's that bit delicious insider humor that still makes sense to someone who hasn't done Literary Analysis in over 30 years.

As might be expected, I found all the scenes with cats were delightful and true to the feline spirit.  I have given up on a couple of mystery series with cats because the cats seem so generic. One cat is not the same as another, nor is a cat a dog.  (I can’t believe I have to actually say that, but apparently I do.)

If all you want is a cozy book with a single linear plot to solve, this may not be the book for you.  If, on the other hand, you like multiple stoylines, an academic sleuth who is less practical than she likes to imagine, and some slightly otherworldly felines, then Grey Dawn is a definite winner.  I suspect Garrison Keillor would recommend it to members of POEM (Professional Organization of English Majors) for their delight and amusement. 

Full disclosure:  I received a preview copy of the book but that did not influence my review.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

Reviewed by Kristin

Shine Shine Shine is a first novel by a promising young author.  The story centers around Sunny and Maxon, a married couple who have known each other since childhood.   Sunny was born during a complete solar eclipse to missionary parents in Burma.  Returning to rural Pennsylvania, Sunny and her mother meet neglected Maxon and he quickly becomes part of their lives.  Flash forward twenty years and Maxon is a genius astronaut working in space on a project to put a robot colony on the moon while Sunny is back on earth about to give birth to their second child while being with their autistic son, Bubber, and her dying mother.

Sunny has been trying to keep up the appearance of a typical family in Norfolk, Virginia, but the pretenses start to fall away as she has a minor car accident.  As the other vehicle hits Sunny’s van, her blonde wig flies off and out the window, landing in a puddle.  Suddenly, Sunny decides she doesn’t want to hide behind the wig anymore.

Maxon has always been socially awkward.  In fact, he and Sunny have made up formulas for him to understand how to communicate with other people.  Maxon is brilliant, but not comfortable in social situations.  He seems to understand his robots better than people.  When an accident damages the spacecraft, Maxon and the team must work to save the mission and save their lives.

All of this sounds fantastic and strange, but Lydia Netzer weaves the characters together and shows what it means to be a family.  At its heart, this book is about people feeling different from the world around them, but being accepted by others and understanding that those differences are a normal part of life.

Lydia Netzer has a very unique voice and I look forward to reading more of her work.  You can read more about the author at .

Monday, April 15, 2013

Authors at the Library!

Happy National Library Week!  In celebration, we’re having some local authors in to sign their books and meet with readers.  Here’s the schedule:

Monday, April 15   4:30 PM- 6 :00 PM
Dr. Craig McDonald, long-time professor in the King College English Department, writes historical fiction about characters whose faith is real, and is woven into their lives.  Otherwise, the characters and setting vary widely.  In His Right Mind takes up the story of man from whom Jesus cast out demons.  Now healed, what can he make of his life?  How can he carry out the mission Jesus gave him? McDonald has two other historical novels, both set in Scotland during the Middle Ages:  An Early Fall and Among His Personal Effects.

Tuesday, April 16  4:30 PM- 6:00 PM
Lisa White is an area native who spends her time gardening, spending time with family and friends, practicing law and, of course, writing.  Her first novel Laws of Love is contemporary romance.  Livi Miller has built her life around her job as general counsel for Hampton Steel, enjoying the challenges of negotiating deals and aiming her way up the corporate ladder.  Then an unexpected takeover at work  and the reappearance of an old flame throws her life into chaos, and Livi finds herself caught between love and responsibility.

Wednesday, April 16  4:30 PM-6:00 PM
It’s an author double feature when Tim Rouse and Lightnin’ Charlie visit the library.  Tim is the author of the “Me and Delmer Green” series, sure to delight Western fans.  Tim believes in the classic Western stories, like those told by Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour.  Lightnin’ Charlie is well known to area music fans for decades.  He tells his story in the book Lightnin’ Charlie Off the Record:  The Trials and Tribulations of a Travelin’ Troubadour.

Thursday, April 17 4:30 PM-6:00 PM
Kathy Shearer is an oral historian who specializes in telling the stories of the people and places of our region.  Her most recent book is Tales from the Moonshine Trade, which has stories of those who made the illegal liquor and those who chased them down. 

She says, "I came to realize that making moonshine was actually very hard work and many men and even a few women engaged in it to put food on the table during the Depression. This was a part of their heritage, going back to a time before whiskey was taxed, and distilling was a normal part of the farmstead activities."

Kathy is currently is gathering stories and pictures from people who worked for the Stuart Land and Cattle Company, once the largest family-owned farm east of the Mississippi.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Nevermore: Neuroscience

The Nevermore Book Club picks ran to non-fiction this week and to neuroscience in particular. Library Director  Jud Barry is very intrigued with The Universal Sense:  How Hearing Shapes the Mind by Seth Horowitz.  Horowitz is both a musician and a neuroscientist who specializes in the study of sound and how it affects us.  One of the first things to note is that ears are individual, and the way we hear is determined in part by the precise shape of the ear and its parts. Sound can alter moods, attract or repel, and influence our health.

Jud read aloud a section on how to use sound as a merchandising tool to entice someone to buy a particular product. Another interesting tidbit involved how certain frequencies repeated over and over can cause someone to more or less lose the ability to think rationally.  Remember the last time the smoke detector went off accidentally in your house?  Remember how desperate you were to make it SHUT UP?  Do you think you could have solved a math problem before cutting the darn thing off? Jud commented that while others talk around him, he finds it very difficult to follow any one conversation.  There’s simply too much other noise, just like the smoke detector.

Jud said that while the book can get a bit technical at times, for the most part it’s very approachable and readable.

Another member had just finished Oliver Sacks’ new book Hallucinations.  The neurologist continues his exploration of unusual mental states and conditions with this collection of essays examining people who sense things that the rest of us do not.  One may see something that isn’t there, or still feel pain from an amputated limb, or hear voices.  Sack looks at the science behind these occurrences, using actual cases to illustrate his stories.  Our reader said she had trouble buying into some of the ideas, and didn’t believe that these things could exist as reality for some people.  Sacks is known for his articles and essays about subjects such as autism, Tourette Syndrome, sleeping sickness, and other atypical disorders.  The movie Awakenings was based on one of his books.

Finally, another member had picked up the anniversary edition of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.  The book was first published in 1979 and was an instant classic. Edwards contended that the different sides of the brain process things differently, with the right side handling the visual and emotional, and the left managing verbal and analytical. The book has a number of exercises to train the artist to use the right side of the brain.  We’ll be getting a report next time as to whether or not he found it effective.

The Nevermore Book Club meets every Tuesday at 11 AM in the Frances E. Kegley Meeting Room. Members bring whatever books they’re reading to share with the group.  No registration is necessary. Doughnuts are provided by the fabulous Blackbird Bakery and coffee is courtesy of the library.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bad Blood by Dana Stabenow

Reviewed by Kristin

Dana Stabenow is always on my “must-read” list, and I eagerly awaited her newest release, Bad Blood. This is #20 in the Kate Shugak series. Kate is an Alaskan Native, an Aleut, who lives within a fictional national park in Alaska.  The books are rich with stories of Kate’s family connections reaching back to previous generations in earlier titles in the series. Currently, Kate is romantically involved with Alaskan Trooper Sergeant Jim Chopin (“Chopper Jim”) and is also the guardian of a teenage boy, Johnny. The author paints a vivid picture of the Alaskan landscape as well as unique characters that her fans have come to know and love.

 Bad Blood starts with Sergeant Jim Chopin investigating the death of a young man found in the river between two feuding villages, Kushtaka and Kuskulana.  Due to geographical advantages, Kuskulana has always flourished while Kushtaka has grown smaller over the years.  The differences in the villages have spurred a feud lasting almost a century.  When the body of a young man from Kushtaka is found caught in a fish wheel, where do you think the natives go looking for a suspect?

Despite Chopper Jim’s investigation, one body is not enough for the feuding villagers.  Payback is demanded and the body count escalates.  Kate Shugak is involved as the community of the “Park” closes around their own.  Add a pair of Romeo and Juliet style star-crossed lovers, and the battle between the villages grows hotter.

This book seems a little shorter than the previous ones in the series.  Dana Stabenow has started publishing Kate Shugak short stories as e-books only, so perhaps this has carried over into her full length novels.  Very little interaction between old, familiar characters is included.  Even Mutt, Kate’s wolf/dog hybrid, gets only perfunctory mention, as people comment “Is that a wolf?” repeatedly.  While I enjoyed the book, the cliffhanger ending had me almost yelling, “You can’t end a book like that!”  On her website, Stabenow states that the next book in the series will be available in two years.  Don’t read the comments on her website ( ) unless you want spoilers of what happens at the end of this book.

While you can read Bad Blood without reading any of the previous titles, this series is best read in order due to the major life changes that the characters have had over the years.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Book into Film: Fiction

The summer movie season is heating up and as usual a number of the films are based on books.  Here are some of the most anticipated books-to-film:

“The Host” is based on the book of the same name by Stephenie Meyer—yes, THAT Stephenie Meyer, author of the immensely popular Twilight series books which spawned the equally popular movie series.  The Host  isn’t about vampires, though, but an alien invasion in which the aliens take over human bodies. Melanie isn’t about to let her consciousness go so easily.  Can she fight back and save those she loves? The movie opens March 29.  In pre-movie interviews, Meyer has said she’s writing a sequel.

Of course, there if aliens aren’t your thing but zombies are, then you’ll want to pick up World War Z by Max Brooks.  Brooks, author of The Zombie Survival Guide, sets the book up as an oral history from survivors, giving him a chance to give many different views of the disaster.  The movie stars Brad Pitt as a UN employee going to various places around the world as different areas try to hold off the undead and is scheduled for a June release.  (By the way, Max Brooks is the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft.)

If you’d rather have a story about non-alien, non-zombie characters, there are some interesting choices available.  “Admission” stars Tina Fey as a college admissions office at Princeton who is challenged by a young man who shouldn’t quite measure up to Princeton standards, but who makes her question some of her past choices.  Paul Rudd also stars.  The movie is based on the book Admission  by Jean Hanff Korelitz.

Hollywood isn’t neglecting the classics, either.  A new version of “The Great Gatsby” is scheduled for a May 10 release.  Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jay Gatsby and Tobey Maguire is Nick.  If it’s been awhile, this might be a good time to pick up F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original novel just to get in the mood. I have to say that the costumes and automobiles look fabulous!

James Thurber’s story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, was first made into a movie starring Danny Kaye back in 1947, so it’s no surprise some think it’s due for an update.  Ben Stiller will be starring in the new version, due out in December 2013.

If thrillers are more your genre, look for Paranoia by Joseph Finder.  A young man is caught manipulating his company’s system.  He’s given a choice:  go to jail, or spy on a competing corporation.  He chooses the latter option and soon is on the fast track at his new place of employment, living the life of his dreams in a job he loves—and soon he’s going to have to betray everyone there. The movie "Paranoia"stars Liam Helmsworth, Gary Oldman, and Harrison Ford, and is scheduled for an October release.

Other anticipated films from books are:

  • "Catching Fire," the second installment of Suzanne CollinsHunger Games trilogy, scheduled for November 2013
  • "Divergent", another YA dystopian adventure, based on the book of the same title by Veronica Roth, due out in 2014
  • "City of Bones", adapted from the first book in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, in which a teenage girl suddenly develops the ability to see demons
  • "The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug," the second movie in the Hobbit trilogy, is from J.R.R. Tolkein’s book The Hobbit and is scheduled to be out in December 2013.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Mercedes Lackey and the land of Valdemar

Reviewed by Holly White

Note:  this is an overview to introduce readers to the series.  Holly will be reviewing the books in published order.

Long ago, a good man named Baron Valdemar lived in a land with a tyrant for a king. For a time, Baron Valdemar was content to use his magic  to merely protect his people from the tyrant, but the day finally came when he knew that the only way for the people to survival was to go to a new land which they called Valdemar.  He ruled over them wisely and well until he was old. The day came when he realized he needed to create a safeguard for his people to ensure that no matter what happened, the land of Valdemar would never have a tyrant king like the one they had escaped.

As Valdemar thought these thoughts about the future, three silvery-white horse-like creatures, called Companions, appeared from a grove. Mercedes Lackey says in her book Arrows of the Queen, that Companions, " … transcended horses in the way that panthers transcend alleycats, or angels transcend men." These Companions immediately bonded, one each to Valdemar, one to Valdemar’s son, and the third to the Valdemar’s closest adviser, the Chief Herald.  This set the pattern from then on: only those Chosen by a Companion could rule.

Because the Companions, who were not only sentient but also wiser than humans, were also good and kind, and would only Choose someone who had a pure heart. The Companions never Chose someone unworthy to bear the name of Herald. The Companions never made mistakes. To be Chosen by a Companion means to be bonded for life to a being who knows every thought you’d ever had, every action you’d ever done, every motive you’d ever acted on, and but still loves you anyway with that incredible acceptance. You can hear each other’s thoughts.  The bond is so strong that if one of you died, the other would likely die as well.

The Heralds responsibilities included serving and protecting the Monarchy, being the Monarch’s messengers, fighting the wars, sometimes judging the people, and even doing some healing when a regular Healer could not be found. One Herald is The Monarch’s Own, Chosen by a special companion, and this Herald is the confidant and advisor of the reigning Monarch, the one person with whom the Monarch could be completely honest, and more importantly, the one person who would be completely honest with the Monarch.

Those chosen as Heralds are taken to the Heraldic Collegium, a training school which teaches history, languages, mathematics, logic, and other traditional academic topics, in addition to weaponry training, training in fighting and battle, and training in your special Gift. Most or all Heralds have at least one special Gift, such as telekinetics, skill with a particular weapon, or fire-starting. One Gift is Mindspeech, a kind of extension of the mind-speaking a Chosen does with his Companion, only a Herald or Trainee with this Gift can mindspeak to anyone he chooses, the same way he does with his Companion.  Then the Herald in training spends one year on circuit with a full Herald, a kind of internship, after which, if all else went well, you would usually earn your Whites, the costume instantly recognizable from anywhere in the Kingdom as that of a Herald of Valdemar.

There are other collegia in Valdemar, such as the Bardic, for those with musical talent, and the Healers’, for those with that Gift. Some wealthy, aristocratic families sent their offspring there for schooling, but these students took the classes they chose and were not affiliated with any of the three Collegia, hence were called the Unaffiliates. They were not Chosen by Companions, and so could not necessarily be counted on to be pure in heart. This distinction occasionally presented problems. Indeed, often the Unaffiliates often resent and felt superior to those Herald trainees who were peasants, uneducated, poor, or different in some other way.

This is the life of a Herald Trainee in Valdemar. It has its wonderful points, not the least of which is the lifelong love and acceptance you can now forever count on from your Companion, but also includes the free training, good food (for some the first truly good food they’ve had in their lives), warm comfortable rooms (again, a first for some), and the companionship of others being trained for the same thing, who are of like mind. This life also has its rough points, including light (and not so light) hazing, straining to learn what your Gift is and how best to use it for the Kingdom. In many cases there are feelings of guilt because you were Chosen and this or that family member was left behind, and as often as not, being put into a position where you have to use your newfound Gifts and abilities before you are fully trained in their use in a situation with very real consequences- for yourself and for others.

This is the life of a Herald Trainee in Valdemar. Think you’re up to it? Join me as I begin a series of book reviews on over twenty of Mercedes Lackey’s books set in the Valdemarian world. My first review will be on the book Arrows of the Queen, which begins the tale of Talia, who is Chosen by the Companion Rolan.

Look for the review of Arrows of the Queen on the first Friday in May!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Karen White: Southern Living with the Dead

 Reviewed by Jeanne

Karen White has been making a name for herself as a writer of Southern romance/mysteries with a ghost or two thrown in.  After having several different people request her books, I decided to give one a try.

The Girl on Legare Street opens with realtor Melanie Middleton trying to turn down a big sale. The purchaser is Melanie’s estranged mother, Ginnette, a renowned opera singer who left seven year old Melanie to be raised by her alcoholic father.  Melanie sees this as a ploy by her mother to try to insinuate herself back into her daughter’s life, and she’s not willing to play along.  To make things even more uncomfortable, the house she wants to buy is their old family home which has a lot of memories attached—among other things. 

You see, Melanie is psychic.  She’s always had the ability to see ghosts, but has learned that many people don’t react well to that sort of thing. Her father certainly didn’t.  His life as a soldier didn’t include supernatural entities or events.  So Melanie learned to conceal her talent, even though some spirits refuse to be ignored—the ones in the house on Legare Street, for instance. At least one of the ghosts seems friendly enough, but another has a definite vicious streak.  It’s up to Melanie to try to uncover family secrets before another tragedy strikes.

There are several romantic subplots, along with a number of plot twists and some chills.  White does a good job with the Charleston, SC setting, giving readers a bit of history without weighing the story down. Similarly, she throws in bits about the restoration of historic houses, genealogy, and the real estate business without being tedious.  Characters are generally well developed, and there are some genuinely creepy scenes.

The only problem is that I didn’t realize this book is actually a sequel to The House on Tradd Street.  I wouldn’t say that you wouldn’t enjoy this book without having read the first, but I did realize fairly early on that I probably would have been more impressed with some events had I known some of the history of the characters. The book can be read as a standalone, but I think it would be more enjoyable if read in order.

White has now produced a third in the series, The Strangers on Montagu Street. Her other novels are not part of a series.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Evolution of Useful Things by Henry Petroski

Reviewed by Nancy

Have you ever started to zip up your jacket and wondered, “Who came up with this idea of a zipper? The fork, the paper clip, the hammer... how did these items develop?  How did they come to be? Who thinks this stuff up, anyway?”  The answers to these questions and many more are to be found in Henry Petroski's book, The Evolution of Useful Things.

Mr. Petroski, Professor of Civil Engineering at Duke University and the author of many other books on engineering, seems to be compelled to share his knowledge by offering it up in books, and that is very fortunate for the rest of us.

This tome is definitely not for everyone, but if you have ever experienced that passing curiosity, you might want to read Dr. Petroski's book.

Saws, shoes, silverware, nails, napkins, paperclips, keys, bottles, fast food packaging… information on the development of all of these items is to be found in The Evolution of Useful Things. We are so used to having these things that sometimes it seems they have been with us always, like death and taxes. Other things we are sure are new inventions.

Who would have thought straight pins were in use five thousand years ago? The Sumerians made them out of iron and bone, employing them as clothes fasteners. Straight pins eventually were used to hold pieces of paper together, as paper clips were not developed until the mid-eighteen hundreds.

Sometimes there is a real time lapse between the invention of one thing and the invention of something else that would seem to be essential.  Peter Durand was the first person to figure out how to preserve food by putting it in a can. Despite the fact that he came up with this in 1810, the first can opener was not patented until 1858, and can openers did not come into common usage until some years after that. People were so accustomed to whacking their cans open with chisels and axes they saw no reason to be bothered with the early, cumbersome can openers.

The author includes information on patents, the patent application process, patent attorneys, patent royalties, etc., as well as information on the history of engineering.

Perhaps it’s time for you to discover your inner engineer. Or if you don’t have an inner engineer to discover, perhaps your regular old self might enjoy reading this book.

Why is it important that while buttons were in use in Roman times, the buttonhole did not develop until the thirteenth century? Beats me, but it is fun to know.