Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nevermore: Obituary Writer, Midwife of Hope River, and My Own Country

Two fiction books and a non-fictional account about this area dominated a recent meeting of Nevermore.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood intertwines the lives of two women separated by place and time.  In 1919, Vivien is still searching for the love of her life, an already married man who disappeared years earlier in the San Francisco earthquake.  She now writes obituaries to help others cope with their own losses as she continues to grieve her own.  The second part of the story is set in 1963, where wife and mother Claire is fascinated by Jackie Kennedy, who seems so glamorous.  Claire is restless, feeling that she wants more from life—and from her marriage to a man she’s no longer sure she loves.  Our reviewer was quite taken with this book and with the way the lives of the two women converge.  She highly recommends this book, and compares it to The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.

The Midwife of Hope River is set in Depression-era West Virginia, where Patience Murphy works as a midwife, delivering babies for poor families no matter their race or ethnicity.  Patience is hiding secrets of her own, however, and is afraid that her past may catch up with her sooner rather than later. Author Patricia Harmon, a midwife herself, has written a riveting and uplifting book that employs the social conditions and mores of the time to good effect:  striking miners, segregation, the Ku Klux Klan, etc.  While the details are authentic, Harmon doesn’t resort to writing in dialect to give the flavor of the place. This novel has been read by several Nevermore members, earning praise all around. Fans of Call the Midwife (both memoir by Jennifer Worth and the PBS series based on the book) might enjoy this one, which has many of the same themes in a different setting.

A modern, non-fictional book about medicine in Appalachia also caught the attention of a Nevermore reader. My Own Country:  A Doctor’s Story by Abraham Verghese tells of his experiences as a doctor in Johnson City, Tennessee when a strange disease begins showing up: a peculiar and frightening auto-immune disease that will become known as AIDS.  Verghese writes beautifully, with a discerning eye and compassion toward both his patients and toward his new home in Appalachia, which carries a bit of culture shock.  This is another book that has received near universal praise and recommendation for its insights and sensitivity. My Own Country first came out some years ago, but the library continues to have to buy replacement copies due to the book’s popularity. Verghese has continued to write, most recently producing an acclaimed novel entitled Cutting for Stone.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Bryant and May on the Loose by Christopher Fowler

Reviewed by Jeanne

Having stepped on a few toes too many, the Peculiar Crimes Unit has been disbanded and its members scattered hither and yon—at least until a headless corpse is discovered in a politically sensitive area at a politically sensitive time.  The Powers That Be grudgingly decide to let May reassemble the team-- not an easy task when some have gone on to other jobs and Bryant has taken to his bathrobe and books. They have less than a week to solve the case, and they have to do so without any real authority, no access to official channels and an office without a working toilet but with a rather large pentagram.While May and most of the others spend their time following the money trail, Bryant gets sidetracked by a report of some crackpot wearing antlers made of cutlery who may or may not have anything to do with the case.

Such is the premise for Bryant and May on the Loose, the seventh in Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May series. This was the first time I’d tried a book in this series and I harbor the very strong suspicion that if I had deliberately set out to pick the worst possible place to start, it would be this book.  There are too many characters I’m supposed to know about already and I had trouble keeping them all straight.  There were a number of scenes which I knew were probably Very Significant but I didn’t know why.  On the other hand, I did keep reading because I enjoyed the writing and the fascinating bits of London history that were constantly being dropped.  I don’t recall ever hearing about the Saint Pancras Old Church before, but it plays a major role in the story; if I ever get to London, I want to pay a visit.

By the end I was admiring the way that Bryant and May both reached a conclusion through very different routes:  one from the realm of superstitions and strange forces and the other from very solid, non-mystical means, and no way to saying which one was right.  In fact they were both a bit right and both a bit wrong:  that’s quite a balancing act.

If you like your mysteries to be very British, with large dollops of history, folklore, clever observations and humor, this series might just be the ticket for you.  Personally, I’m intrigued enough to try another in the series and would recommend the series-- though I'd suggest starting with an earlier book.

Friday, July 26, 2013

August Big Books

Summary by Jeanne

The summer book season is still going strong!  Here are some August highlights:

•    Debbie Macomber new series continues with Rose Harbor in Bloom, a spin-off from her popular Cedar Cove books

•    Kelley Armstrong, best known for her Otherworld novels, starts a new fantasy series with Omens. Olivia Taylor Jones has lived a papered life as the only child of wealthy parents, not knowing that she was adopted and her birth parents are serving life sentences for serial murders.  Now she’s out to uncover the truth about her family, which may include some supernatural connections.

•    J.A. Jance has Second Watch, a J.P. Beaumont mystery

•    Thomas Keneally, best known for Schindler’s List, returns with an engrossing story set in World War I.  Sisters Sally and Naomi are serving as nurses and facing horribly injured soldiers even as they struggle with personal traumas.  Reviewers say that once again Keneally has humanized a sweeping and complex historical event in The Daughters of Mars.

•    Readers who enjoyed Gap Creek by Robert Morgan will be glad to know that there’s a sequel, Road from Gap Creek, which continues the story of the Richards family as told by their youngest daughter, Annie.

•    James Patterson and David Ellis (Guilty Wives) re-team in Mistress, a standalone novel about a man with obsessive tendencies determined to find out who murdered the love of his life.  (Note that Ellis has a new book of his own out this month.)

•    And while it may not be a “Big Book,” I’m looking forward to Love Potion #10 by Betsy Woodman, which is the second in the Jana Bibi series. Jana is a Scotswoman by heritage who has lived in India for years.  I found it to be utterly charming.  My review of the first book is here.

More highly anticipated books:

Bowen, Rhys  Heirs and Graces  (Her Royal Spyness series)
Box, C. JThe Highway (Cody Hoyt)
Cain, Chelsea Let Me Go (Archie and Gretchen)
Cook, Thomas Sandrine’s Case
Doiron, Paul  Massacre Pond (Mike Bowditch mystery)
Ellis, David  Last Alibi (Jason Kolarich)
Fairstein, Linda Death’s Angel (Alex Cooper)
Fisher, Suzanne Woods The Letters
Garwood, Julie  Hotshot (Buchanan-Renard)
Gregory, Philippa White Princess (The Cousins’ War series)
Hurwitz, Gregg  Tell No Lies
Jance, J.A.  Second Watch (Beaumont)
Kellerman, Faye  Beast (Peter Decker & Rina Lazarus)
Penny, Louise  How the Light Gets In (Inspector Gamache)
Reichs, Kathy  Bones of the Past (Temperance Brennan)
Robards, Karen  Last Kiss Goodbye (Charlotte Stone)

Next August will have another long awaited book: Anne Rivers Siddons returns with Girls of August, the story of a group of friends who get together at the beach each August, starting when they are in their twenties and ending after one of the group dies.  Now they’ve reunited and are about to make some startling discoveries about each other—and themselves. (

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Series & Short Stories: Baker Street, Irish County, Victorian Magic & Evil Geniuses

Reviews by Jeanne

Baker Street Translation by Michael Robertson is the third in the “Heath and Heath” series about two brothers who rent offices at 221 B Baker Street in London, and thus fall heir to answering all the letters sent to Sherlock Holmes.  This time around, the brothers find themselves involved with an earnest translator who wants to prove he made no errors, but ends up dead for his troubles, a Texas lawyer who wants to know why his client was told to make a will leaving her vast fortune to Reggie, Reggie’s romantic rival kidnapped, and a whole load of toy ducks. I found the book to be a lot of fun, with some Sherlockian references thrown in.  You don’t have to read all the books in the series, but you might want to read The Brothers of Baker Street before this one just to learn about the romantic triangle.

An Irish Country Wedding by Patrick Taylor continues the story of Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly and his young protégé Dr. Barry Laverty as they minister to the good people of Ballybucklebo in the early 1960s.  In this entry, O’Reilly is planning his wedding to old flame Kitty when his loyal housekeeper, Kinky Kincaid, is stricken with a serious ailment.  In the meantime, there are the usual village problems to be sorted and perhaps the start of a new romance.  I have thoroughly enjoyed all the Irish Country series, which just seems to get better and better.  If you like the stories of Miss Read, James Herriot, or even Alexander McCall Smith, this might be a series for you.  The stories are gentle but there’s a practical, no nonsense feel to them. Some things work out as expected; others don’t. The Irish setting is absolutely delightful, though the author makes sure that it isn’t seen as purely idyllic.  He avoided Irish politics for the most part, but does start to address the question a bit in this book.  Here’s an earlier series review: Irish Country Series

Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terry Wilding is a collection of fantasy stories in a Victorian setting.  As usual with these editors, there’s a strong collection of stories and excellent selection of authors, including Gregory Maguire (Wicked), multiple award winning novelist Tanith Lee, and Ellen Kushner (Thomas the Rhymer.)  A number of the stories feature magical takes on real people such as Queen Victoria and the Brontes, real events (the phosphorous strike) or well-known literary creations (Scrooge and Frankenstein.) If you like the era and enjoy a bit of the fantastical, there’s sure to be something you like in this collection.

On the other hand, if you prefer something more futuristic, try The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination:  Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius edited by John Joseph Adams.  This collection features contributions from authors such as Diana Gabaldon, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove.  The stories range from amusing to tear-inducing, and all are clever.  “Professor Incognito Apologies:  An Itemized List” by Austin Grossman is the sort of story I expected in this collection, but the twists made it memorable.  “The Executor” by Daniel H. Wilson read a bit like one of the old hard-boiled mystery stories, while “The Angel of Death Has A Business Plan” by Heather Lindsley explains that evil geniuses need a coach to get those threats just right.

Monday, July 22, 2013

War Nevermore: War is a Force, Cavaliers and Roundheads, and Sarah's Key

"Ain't gonna study war no more" isn't a phrase used at Nevermore, because war is a frequent book topic both in non-fiction and fiction.  Here are some of the books about war which were discussed recently:

Foreign correspondent Chris Hedges has covered conflicts all over the world, from the Sudan to the Balkans to the Americas.  He’s studied accounts of historical warfare (including Shakespeare’s portrayals) to compare with contemporary wars, looking the ways they differed and were similar.   The resulting book, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, is a fascinating look at “the virus of war,” a disorder to which human beings seem all too susceptible.  War brings a complete breakdown in morality, and makes for a black and white world in which soldiers on our side are not only good, they’re all heroes; those fighting for the other side are all evil. Battles are glorified; dissenters, even artists or musicians, are silenced. This seems to be true through both time and place. Jud Barry, our director, felt this was definitely a book for reading and reflection.

Speaking of conflicts, there was a lot going on during the English Civil War, none of it good.  Christopher Hibbert’s book Cavaliers and Roundheads does an excellent job of presenting the war on a more personal and intimate level. Communities and families were divided; collateral damage was enormous.  Hibbert highlights the personalities involved, including some of the minor players whose names aren’t as well known as Charles I or Oliver Cromwell.  The religious component was enormous, but it was more nuanced that a simple matter of Protestant against Catholic. This well-written, revealing and well-researched account is highly recommended.

World War II is the catalyst for the novel Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. In 2002, journalist Julia Jarmond is writing a 60th anniversary piece on the round up of Jews in Paris, which were done with the complicity and sometimes active participation of the French authorities.  As Julia does her research, she discovers that the apartment where she lives once belonged to the family of a young girl named Sarah who was taken along with most of her family by the Nazis. Left behind is Sarah’s younger brother, who is hidden in a locked cupboard. The novel alternates between past and present, as Julia learns more about the fate of Sarah’s family and of a very dark period of French history.  Jud found the book to be a well-written, plot driven book with good pacing which drew him in quickly and kept the pages turning.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Spotlight on Oversized Books!

 Reviewed by Kristin

Bristol Public Library has a very nice selection of books that are too large to fit on the regular shelves.  You might imagine large coffee table books of Monet paintings or the 100 most scenic golf courses of the world.  In addition to books like these, you can see beautiful pictures of the crown jewels or dollhouse miniatures.  Find these special volumes in the oversize section, just beyond the new non-fiction.  Ask at the reference desk if you need directions!

Southern Appalachian Celebration Photographs by James Valentine, text by Chris Bolgiano
Valentine is well-known for his photographs of the southeast.  This volume spans the mountains of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.  Stunning forest and floral views make this a photographic showcase to remember.

A Day in the Life of the United States Armed Forces Created by Matthew Naythons and Lewis J. Korman
Civilian and military photographers documented life throughout all the United States Armed Forces on October 22, 2002.  Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard members all over the world were photographed during training, active duty and leisure time activities. From Special Forces training in the Philippines to bedding down at night on Ky Thuong Mountain in Vietnam, this book presents a view of the daily lives of our armed forces.

The Crown Jewels by Anna Keay
Along with full color pictures of the British crown jewels, Keay includes a history of these valued artifacts.  Many craftsmen’s design drawings are reproduced alongside the finished products.  Also included is a complete inventory of the crown jewels kept in the Tower of London.  It’s not just crowns, rings and sceptres; we can’t forget the “Ladle for the Grand Punch Bowl” made for Queen Victoria in 1841 or the “Spurs” made for Charles II in 1660-61.

Tennessee: A Homecoming edited by John Netherton
From turtle races in Ducktown to Rock City signs in Greene County, this book encompasses a wide variety of sights around the Volunteer state.  Using both color and black and white film, twenty-four of Tennessee top photographers traveled the state and took thousands of pictures to be considered for this compilation.

Virginia 360 by Mark Benjimen Carey
Written for the 400 year anniversary of Virginia’s settlement, Carey presents wide, panoramic photos arranged by geographical sections of the state.  Each page has interesting information about the subject and an address, GPS coordinates, and/or a website related to the location.  In addition, readers can play hide and seek while searching for the author’s Jack Russell Terrier, Chester, in most of the photographs.  (Chester was respectful and stayed out of view for historic cemeteries and military tributes.)

The Dollhouse Book by Stephanie Finnegan
Shaped like a house, this volume includes primitive dollhouse styles as well as an elaborate Palace of Versailles.  For every child (or adult) who enjoys dollhouses, this book is a peek into a wide variety of miniatures found round the world.  The attention to detail will amaze you, and leave you wanting a closer look.

The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World Photographs by Guillaume De Laubier, Text by Jacques Bosser
We might be biased, but this is a beautiful book about beautiful libraries.  From the Vatican Library to the New York City Public Library lions, (named “Patience” and “Fortitude” and made from Tennessee marble), these institutions have immense cultural value.  Classical paintings abound in many of the libraries featured, as well as intricate carvings and sculptures.  Of course, the central feature of each of these places is the book collection.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Shunning Sarah by Julie Kramer

 Reviewed by Jeanne

Riley Spartz is a TV news reporter working for a station in Minneapolis, trying to scoop the other stations in a very competitive market.  The station has just taken on a new manager after a horrific incident, meaning that Riley doesn’t yet have a good sense of how things will be run.  Still, when she gets a tip from her mother about a child trapped in a sinkhole, Riley figures that’s a no-brainer and probably a ratings bonanza. As it turns out, there’s much more to it than that: not only was the boy trapped in a sinkhole, but he was sharing it with the corpse of a murdered woman.

What doesn’t play out as expected is the new boss’s reaction:  he takes a dim view of covering events outside of the immediate market area.  He also has some other ideas about station economics that make life miserable for anyone actually trying to cover news. Riley stubbornly pursues the story, discovering that the deceased was a member of the close-knit Amish community.  Close-knit also means closed mouthed, especially to English (i.e., non-Amish) television reporters.  Soon Riley realizes that her investigations may not only be jeopardizing her job, but her life as well.

This is the fifth in Julie Kramer's popular Riley Spartz series, but the first one I’ve read. I noticed a blurb from James Patterson on the front cover, and the structure of the book did remind me of his work:  short, punchy chapters designed to keep the reader turning pages.  The plot has enough twists and turns to surprise, and there are some strong action scenes.  One in particular is a standout. There’s even a bit of romance in the background as Riley tries to decide whether or not to rekindle the flame with an ex-boyfriend or to move on. If there’s a weak point for me, it’s the characters don’t seem to have a lot of depth. I enjoyed the book but didn’t feel compelled to find the others immediately and catch up get any background I might have missed. There’s also one part of the book I had a quibble with but I can’t discuss it without giving away a part of the plot that I definitely don’t want to spoil.

My favorite parts of the book had to do with the insider’s view of how television news: not just the reporter’s tricks of getting the good shots, but what determines the stories that are covered and the ones that aren’t. There’s no sugar-coating about the public’s need to know; for the most part it all comes down to advertisers and money.

Shunning Sarah is a good solid thriller which I’ll be recommending to our readers who like well-written action-oriented books.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles de Lint, illustrated by Charles Vess

Reviewed by Jeanne

Orphan Lillian Kindred is being raised by her Aunt on a farm near the Tanglewood Forest.  Lillian dreams of finding fairies there someday but so far she’s never even glimpsed one, no matter how hard she looks.  On one of her expeditions, she falls asleep and is bitten by a venomous snake. The cats she’s befriended want to save her, but the only way they do that is to make her into something that isn’t dying: which is why when Lillian awakens, she’s no longer a girl but a kitten. Desperate to become a girl again, she’s sent to seek the help of Old Mother Possum who resets time—but Lillian has no idea what a dreadful price there will be to pay.

This is considered a juvenile novel, but I never let a label keep me from a good book:  some of the best books I know are allegedly written for children or Young Adults. Besides, I was familiar with an earlier version of this book under the title A Circle of Cats. They both begin the same way, but in this new edition expands Lillian’s story.  Both Vess and de Lint love folklore and it really shows through in this work. Most of the book is taken up with Lillian’s journey to find answers and a way out of her predicament.  The characters are both stock folktale and yet individual enough that it was hard to tell who could be trusted and who couldn’t.  My favorite characters include Old Mother Possum who is part human, part possum, and all witch; and T.H. Reynolds, a fox who may be helping Lillian or else leading her into trouble.

There are many allusions for those who look for them (Huck Finn, Mother Holly, Alice in Wonderland) but the story stands firmly on its own.

Vess’ artwork both complements and extends the story, which is exactly what a good artist should do.  His details on Old Mother Possum really bring the character to life, and his wonderful renditions of the wild terrain give the book a strong sense of place.  Between de Lint’s writing and Vess’ art, the book has a dark, untamed, dreamy feel to it. Then ending doesn’t tie up all the loose ends in a neat little package, either.  This is one of those books with a deceptively simple feel, but there’s power underneath.  When I finished the book, I found I kept thinking about certain scenes and wanting to know more. Besides, there’s the question of the unpaid debt. . . .

If I had any disappointments, it was that there really wasn’t a strong cat character despite the title of the book, except for the Father of Cats who appears briefly but memorably at the end. The cats are indeed the catalyst for the story (no pun intended—well, okay, maybe pun intended!) but the cats didn't figure as prominently as I would have thought. This is the most minor of quibbles in an otherwise enjoyable and memorable tale.  I hope there will be a sequel or even a series of sequels, letting Lillian explore more deeply into the mysteries of Tanglewood Forest.  It’s such an intriguing world that I hated to leave it. 

I recommend Cats of Tanglewood Forest to anyone who loves fantasy, folklore, and coming of age stories.

Charles de Lint is best known for his urban fantasy novels.  Charles Vess is a modern fantasy master artist who has racked up a shelf-load of awards, including a couple of World Fantasy Awards for Best Artist.  Locals may know him best for the wonderful fountain in Abingdon or the special posters he’s done for local events such as Rhythm and Roots. Also, I highly recommend the book Drawing  Down the Moon:  The Art of Charles Vess to anyone wanting to see more of Vess’ work.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Reviewed by Christy Herndon  

     Flappers! Speakeasies! Jazz! A murderous dead man hell-bent on bringing on the Apocalypse! The Diviners by Libba Bray is a nice little something different in the Young Adult genre. Although, yes, fantasy YA seems to be the biggest trend at the moment, the summary for Bray’s book caught my eye more than most. Maybe because it combined my teenage-interest of the 1920s and my forever-interest of the supernatural. Either way this book had my name all over it.

    The book centers on Evie O’Neill – the quintessential 1920s vamp. After getting into repeated trouble in her hometown, Evie is shipped off to New York City to spend time with her uncle Will, curator of the the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult (or as it’s more commonly known around town: the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies). Pretending to be devastated at this news, Evie can hardly contain her excitement at the chance to be in the Big City where she can drink, dance, and generally be her fabulous flapper self. Soon after she arrives, however, strange murders begin happening. The murderer’s MO points to something occult-related so Will (and consequently Evie) are brought in to help the investigation. But something even more sinister than serial murders is taking place, and it’ll be up to Evie to help stop it before it’s too late.

    The very first thing I noticed about this book was how atmospheric it was. It does a wonderful job of introducing Evie and her almost dizzying approach to life in the Roaring ‘20s. Writing an historical fiction is not easy, I’m sure, but to do so in a way where the reader feels like she’s smack dab in the center of it all must be even more difficult. But Bray seems to do it effortlessly. This goes for the creepy sections as well. On one page we’re feeling the giddy after effects of Evie’s move to the Big Apple and the next we’re in a dark basement with a terrible sense of foreboding. It’s enough to give you whiplash! (But fun whiplash!)

    I also enjoyed that the protagonist wasn’t necessarily a “Good Girl”. I’ve noticed in many YA books female protagonists are generally well-behaved and quiet, and their only apparent faults are their clumsy feet. This is not the case with Evie. She’s rowdy and sarcastic and, although she has a good heart, she can sometimes be selfish and unwittingly hurt her friends. It was quite nice to have such a three dimensional character.

    I do have a few nitpicks, however. While I enjoy slow burn stories there were times where I felt it was just a little too slow. Not enough to turn me off, just enough to notice. However, the major thing I disliked was the hinting at an ever present YA trope: the Love Triangle. While it’s not fully fleshed out in this first novel, I’m sure it’ll be explored further on in the series. I just don’t see the point. I’m sure most people like a little romance thrown in for fun (including myself) but why must it be a triangle? There are plenty of other things going on in this novel to capture a reader’s attention. It’s a tired concept in general but it has exploded in recent Young Adult fiction.

    That being said, I loved this book. I highly recommend The Diviners to anyone who is a fan of historical fiction, horror, crime novels, or young adult fiction. It’s got a little something for everyone.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Don’t Go by Lisa Scottoline

Reviewed by Kristin

Bestselling author Lisa Scottoline is known for her strong female characters and gripping suspense stories.  In Don’t Go, Scottoline tackles a male protagonist, Dr. Mike Scanlon.  For the most part, I found the main character to be believable, although there were a few spots where I didn’t believe he would act in a particular manner.

On military duty in Afghanistan, Mike receives word that his wife Chloe has died in a household accident.  He is granted a very short leave to come home to arrange her funeral, and then must return to the frontlines, leaving his baby daughter with his wife’s sister and brother-in-law.  With an extreme shortage of doctors, Mike is asked to extend his service in Afghanistan.  Mike is pulled in both directions, feeling that he needs to be home for his daughter, but also feeling that military casualties will rise if he does not stay in Afghanistan to support his unit.  His remaining time overseas is fraught with danger, and he returns home with a whole new set of challenges.

His medical practice has been changed with the addition of new partners and he has trouble finding his place within the medical field as well as within his own family.  Because Mike has been away from his daughter Emily for an extended time, she does not recognize him and is scared of him.  Although Mike tries his best, he knows next to nothing about caring for a baby.  Additionally, many questions have popped up about Chloe’s death, although Mike seems to be the only one suspicious enough to investigate.  He goes blundering about like the proverbial bull in a china shop, risking his professional and family life.

In the end, Mike discovers many things about himself and about his co-workers and family.  The book takes a couple of twists and turns that I found hard to believe, and perhaps all the story lines are tied together a little too quickly and neatly at the end.  But overall, this was still a worthwhile story to read.

Lisa Scottoline is the author of twenty novels and also has a column entitled “Chick Wit” in The Philadelphia Inquirer, which she writes with her daughter, Francesca Serritella.  Their humorous stories have been turned into a series of non-fiction books entitled Best Friends, Occasional Enemies, Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog, My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space and Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim.  These stories, which only take a couple of minutes to read, are laugh-out-loud funny.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Nevermore Nonfiction: Better Than Fiction, Willie Nelson, and The Vatican

The June 25th Nevermore Book Club started with reminiscences of favorite books stores past and present:  Burke’s in Memphis, Kemball-Cochran in Bristol, and Malaprop’s in Ashville.  Of course, this brought up another favorite place for books—the public library, where you can test drive a book or author for free, and then decide if you want to buy a copy. 

Better Than Fiction: True Travel Tales from Great Fiction Writers edited by Don George  is a wonderful collection.  Some of the authors are well known (Peter Mathiessen, Alexander McCall Smith, Joyce Carol Oates, Isabel Allende) but all are masters of the craft.  The settings cover the globe, from the United States to the Solomon Islands to Luxemburg to Mumbai, and offer unique perspectives, entertainingly told.  This is a compilation from the good folks who bring us the wonderful Lonely Planet travel guides.

If you think the title Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die sounds like something Willie Nelson would say, then you’re probably ready to read this collection of thoughts from one of the original country Outlaws.  Willie mixes one liners, comments on politics, reminiscences of career and boyhood, along with insights on his writing and the occasional dirty joke in this entertaining collection.  If you’re looking for a straight-forward biography, this isn’t it; if you just want to feel you’ve had a wide conversation with an incredible performer and Texas icon, then this is the book for you.

John Thavis spent more than 25 years covering stories at the Vatican.  The Vatican Diaries:  A Behind the Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church certainly lives up to its title but journalist Thavis tends not to insert his own perspective, leaving it up to the reader to draw conclusions.  He does tackle the difficult issues and does so in a readable style.
On a similar topic, Garry Wills examines the institution of priesthood in the Catholic Church in his book Why Priests?  He asks whether or not having a priesthood has benefited the Church or been a detriment.  He attempts to lay out the arguments for and against the priesthood, though the subtitle of the book (“A Failed Tradition”) pretty much sums up his conclusion. Reviewers found his book to be thought-provoking and controversial but disagreed as to whether or not he made a compelling case.  Wills is a professor of history and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose other titles include Why I Am a Catholic and What Jesus Meant.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Arrow's Fall by Mercedes Lackey

By Holly White, guest reviewer

Arrow’s Fall is the third and final book of the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy, after Arrows of the Queen and Arrow’s Flight and is the culmination of the story of Talia, the Queen’s Own Herald.

In Arrow’s Flight, the Weatherwitch gave Talia the following prophecy: "You WILL reclaim what was yours, and no one will ever shake it from you again. You will find your heart’s desire, but not until you have seen the Havens. The Havens will call you, but duty and love will bar you from them. Love will challenge death to reclaim you. Your greatest joy will be preceded by your greatest sorrow, and your fulfillment will not be unshadowed by grief."  In Arrow’s Fall, we learn if the prophecy will be fulfilled.

Talia has returned from her internship circuit journey is now a full Herald. Her new responsibilities sometimes seem more than she even has time to accomplish in a day. Added to that, the Kingdom of Valdemar is facing a new threat:  bandits on the borders are attacking and massacring men, women, and children. Can someone in the Queen’s council be passing information about which villages are least protected?

Also, Talia’s protégé, the Queen’s daughter and Heir, Elspeth, is about to be forced into a political marriage. Talia continually experiences a vague feeling of uneasiness about Elspeth. Although Talia knows this feeling has nothing to do with the impending marriage, she can’t identify just what it IS about.

Meanwhile best friends Kris, Talia, and Dirk are also having a crisis. Talia is in love with homely Dirk, but Dirk thinks she loves handsome Kris. Dirk is in love with Talia as well, but, he is torn between his best friend and the woman he loves and he is fearful of rejection. Kris doesn’t realize that Dirk thinks Talia’s heart belongs to Kris. Also, Kris can’t see why Dirk and Talia don’t trust his uncle Lord Orthallen. Things come to a head when Lord Orthallen creates a rift between all three of them, causing each of them to be angry at both the others. This leaves all three of them bereft of their favorite two confidants in a time when each of them sorely needs a confidant.

Regardless of events in her personal life, Talia is still a Herald with duties to carry out. The Queen sends her on a state visit to a neighboring country to look over Prince Ancar, the intended of Elspeth. Talia leaves on the heels of an unresolved argument with Elspeth. To make matters more complicated, Dirk is sick in bed, with no visitors allowed so Talia must leave that situation unsettled as well as she leaves on another assignment . . . with Kris of all people.

When Kris and Talia arrive in the land of Prince Ancar, they find that something is not as it should be. By the time the truth dawns on Talia and Kris, they are trapped by an enemy who has an ominous ally in possession of a power like none they’ve ever seen. And before it’s over, Talia will give up all hope.
Will the bandits finally be defeated once and for all? Will Talia be able to mend her fences with Elspeth, Kris, and Dirk? Will Elspeth be saved from a political marriage? Will Kris and Talia escape Ancar’s country in time to warn the Queen and prevent an all-out war? Will the Heralds be able to defeat this new form of evil in the land of Prince Ancar? And how will the prophecy from the Weatherwitch be fulfilled?

Find out by reading Arrow’s Fall by Mercedes Lackey where the author expertly answers all these questions and brings the trilogy to a moving, but satisfying conclusion. If this kind of book intrigues you, please also see my previous reviews (Arrows of the QueenArrows Flight)  and/or my overview of the land of Valdemar. My next review will be on Oathbound, the first in Mercedes Lackey’s Vows and Honor trilogy, also set in the land of Valdemar.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Big Books for July

Round Up by Jeanne

Every month has its share of eagerly awaited books, though it must be said some months get more than their share as publishers try to bring out the best in beach books or Christmas gifts.  In publishing as in most endeavors, timing is everything.  We’re going to start posting a list of book highlights for the month just to let folks know what they have to look forward to that month—plus maybe some hints of things to come later and other book news.

First of all, fans have been saddened to learn of the death of Vince Flynn on June 19 after a three year battle with cancer.  He was 47 years old.  He leaves behind a wife and three children.  His thirteen Mitch Rapp political thrillers kept readers on the edge of their seats. Reportedly, there will be one more book released in October, entitled The Survivor.

Mystery fans have much to look forward to in July! Donna Andrews has another entry in her very popular Meg Lanslow series, all of which mention some sort of bird in the title.  With names like We’ll Always Have Parrots and Owl’s Well That Ends Well, you know the author has a sense of humor.  The new book is Hen of the Baskervilles.

I enjoyed Blaize Clement’s Dixie Hemingway series.  Dixie is a pet sitter and former cop who lives in Siesta Key, Florida, and who ends up involved in more than her share of mysteries.  I was saddened to learn of Ms. Clement’s death in 2011 and assumed that would be the end of the series, but her son John Clement has picked up the torch. I’m looking forward to reading  Cat Sitter’s Cradle.

Not only do Mike Lawson fans have the new Joe Demarco book House Odds to look forward to, but Lawson is starting a whole new series! All we know so far is that the first title is Rosarito Beach and it will be out in January, 2014.

Iris Johansen is putting out a new Eve Duncan trilogy.  The first book, Taking Eve, came out in April; Hunting Eve will be out in July; and the grand finale, Silencing Eve will be out in January, 2014.

Margaret Coel’s new book, Watching Eagles Soar, is a collection of short stories featuring Father John and Vicky.

Other mystery & thriller picks:
James Lee Burke Light of the World (Dave Robicheaux)
 Linda Castillo  Her Last Breath
Catherine Coulter  Bombshell (FBI series)
Jo Nesbo The Bat
Alex Kava Stranded
James Rollins Eye of God
Daniel Silva The English Girl
Karin Slaughter Unseen
Brad Taylor Widow’s Strike
Brad Thor Hidden Order

Historical fiction fans have treats in store as well!  Philippa Gregory continues the “Cousins’ War” saga with The White Princess.  Elizabeth of York, mistress to the late Richard III, sister to the boys in the tower, is sought as a bride by Henry Tudor even though she’s still in love with the man he deposed.   

Sara Dunant has already earned kudos with her stories set during the Italian Renaissance, but now in Blood and Beauty she takes on one of the great families of history:  the Borgias.

 Later on in the year will be the new Dexter book by Jeff Lindsay, a new Bridget Jones by Helen Fielding, and at long last a sequel to John Grisham's first novel A Time to Kill! Stay tuned to the BPL bookblog for more book news!

Happy reading!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Red Rover: Robots in Space

Red Rover: Inside the Story of Robotic Space Exploration, from Genesis to the Mars Rover Curiosity by Roger Wiens

Reviewed by Kristin

On July 21, 1969, Americans were glued to their television sets to see Neil Armstrong take the first steps on the moon.  On August 6, 2012, people all over the world were glued to their television sets and computer screens to see the landing of the unmanned Mars rover, Curiosity.

Roger Wiens takes his readers on a journey though the modern era of space exploration.  While he doesn’t go as far back as the first moon landing, he writes of the exciting advances in astronomic knowledge over the past decade.  Wiens also writes of the budgetary and political crunches that exerted their forces on the projects within the scope of this book. 

Wiens starts with the NASA unmanned probe, Genesis, which collected solar wind particles from 2001 to 2004.  Wiens played a large role in proposing the mission, as well as planning and designing the spacecraft module and the solar wind collectors.  Every component was designed, tested, and tested again.  From the delayed launch of Genesis, to the unexpected crash landing, Wiens provides an insider’s look at the largely successful solar wind collection mission.

After Genesis, Wiens and his colleagues turned their attention to Mars.  Wiens devotes a large portion of the book to the ChemCam, or Chemistry and Camera.  The ChemCam consists of the Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) and the Remote Micro-Imager (RMI).  To oversimplify, the LIBS directs a laser beam at something in order to analyze it, and the RMI takes a picture.  The ChemCam was placed on the Mars Curiosity rover with great expectations for scientific advancement.

While written for the non-scientist, Red Rover still covers a lot of detail.  Several pages of full color, glossy photographs help the space-enthusiast visualize the space missions described.  The book was published in 2013, soon after the landing of Curiosity, so we can expect much more information on that mission as time passes.

In 2013, look up in the night sky and you might see the International Space Station moving from horizon to horizon.  We have come a long way from looking up at the stars in centuries past; we also have so much more to explore.  Wiens takes the stargazer on a journey from the solar winds to the red rocks of Mars.