Friday, August 30, 2013

A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen

Reviewed by Jeanne

In 2007, James Bowen was a down and nearly out street musician in London, getting by on tips from passersby.  He had no real direction; he was just scraping by, living in government subsidized housing, and with a drug habit he hadn’t been able to break.  Then one day he rescued a sick cat and his life hasn’t been the same since.

He dubbed the cat Bob, and fully expected him to return to wherever he came from once he was better, but Bob had other ideas.  He started following James to work, drawing a crowd who couldn’t believe the cat wasn’t really part of the act.  Before long, James and Bob were inseparable, and James’ need to be able to take care of his feline buddy gave him the strength and purpose he needed to try to get his life in order and to reunite with his estranged family in Australia.  It wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of setbacks along the way, but it’s no secret that James and Bob triumph in the end. 

The pleasure of this book is in the plainspoken honesty with which James tells his story, and the wonderful relationship between man and cat.   This isn’t a slick, packaged tale but a heartfelt account of what it means to have someone who depends on and believes in you unconditionally.  I understand that James had some help composing his book, but if he did the helper was careful to let James' personality shine through.

I also really enjoyed the description of London and the other buskers who ply their trades there; as might be guessed, there are a number of turf wars over prime spots.  I’ve seen street performers in many places but had never thought much about what it was like to earn one’s living that way.  I was most struck by the sense of isolation James conveys:  how often people are reluctant to even acknowledge the presence of a performer, never making eye contact, or exchanging a word.  Having Bob accompany him was a breakthrough, because people were more likely to interact or at least respond in some way—even if some of the responses were negative.

Later, as James tries to straighten out his life, he begins selling Big Issue, a project whereby the homeless and unemployed are encouraged to become vendors.  It's a bit much to explain in a review, but basically they are set up with issues of the magazine to start them off earning their own money so they can take control of their lives.  (There is an American version as well.) Having Bob as his selling partner drew customers, but also drew the ire of some competitors.
Best of all, this feel good story has a happy ending that just keeps on going:  not only is Bob still alive, but he and James are thriving.  A Street Cat Named Bob came out in the UK in 2012 and became an international best seller.  The American version is out now.  A second book, The World According to Bob, has just been published in the UK.  James and Bob have a very active Facebook page, where fans post pictures of the book in settings from all over the world, or as James calls it, “Around the World in Eighty Bobs.”   So here is Bob in Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee:

Bob visits the state line marker NOT in the middle of the street.

Bob at Bristol Public Library

And of course, Melon "meets" Bob!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hot August Books!

Summer always brings out a slew of highly anticipated books. Here’s a list of the most requested titles at Main & Avoca:

17. Zero Hour:  A Novel from the Numa Files by Clive Cussler has Austin and the team on the trail of a scientist who has invented a machine to tap into “zero point energy”—un unlimited energy supply.  There’s just one small problem:  it also causes massive earthquakes.

16. W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton is the newest entry in the Kinsey Milhorn series.

15. Unseen by Karin Slaughter follows Will Trent as he goes undercover to infiltrate a drug and prostitution ring, while girlfriend Sara Linton deals with the shooting of her stepson.

14. Tell Me is the latest romantic suspense novel by Lisa Jackson. True crime author Nikki Gilette finds a story close to home when the woman convicted of killing Nikki’s childhood friend is freed from prison after a witness recants his story.  Eager to know the truth, Nikki starts asking questions but soon finds that someone is keeping her from finding answers.

13. Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky tells the story of two former childhood friends who reunite to write a cookbook, but secrets from the past may come between them. Delinsky is known for her stories of romance, friendship, and vivid New England settings.

12. Second Watch by J.A. Jance is the newest entry in her J.P. Beaumont series. Beaumont is having knee replacement surgery and begins dreaming of a cold case and his time in Vietnam.

11.The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Neil Gaiman’s first book for adults in several years, even though I’d argue that Gaiman’s “children’s books” are books anyone can enjoy.  A middle-aged man returns to the place where he grew up, triggering a memory of an event that nearly destroyed his world.  The reviews are glowing!

10. Never Go Back is the title of the new Lee Child novel, and from the plot description it sounds as if it’s advice Jack Reacher should have taken.  Instead, he’s back at the HQ of his old unit where he finds his contact in the brig and Reacher is accused of a crime committed 16 years earlier.

 9. James Patterson and David Ellis have re-teamed for Mistress, a standalone novel about a man who becomes obsessed with finding the person who murdered a woman outside her apartment.

8. Hunting Eve, the second in Iris Johansen’s new trilogy, is on the August hot list.  The final book, Silencing Eve, is scheduled for October and will probably be on that month’s hot list as well!

7. The Highway, a thriller by C.J. Box, is described as both harrowing and riveting.  When two sisters go missing in a remote section of Montana, former policeman Cody Hoyt sets out to see if he can find them—and maybe find some redemption for himself.

6. Duck Dynasty fans are lining up to read Happy, Happy, Happy:  My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander by Phil Robertson.

5. First Sight by Danielle Steel has glamorous locales, high fashion, and romance, so no wonder it’s doing quite well on the list.

4. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith jumped onto our lists after “Robert” was revealed to be J.K. Rowling.  Private investigator Cormoran Strike is asked to investigate the apparent suicide of a supermodel.

3. Bones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs has forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan investigating deaths in Afghanistan and in North Carolina.

2. Bone Tree by Greg Iles

And the most requested book is: 

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, which is another stunning novel by the author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.This story is set in Afghanistan, where a father has to make a heartbreaking decision about one of his children.  The decision and its consequences plays out over the years, retold in a series of stories.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Edwardian Etiquette

 Reviewed by Jeanne

The series “Downton Abbey” has a number of local fans, people who enjoy not only the story lines but the quaint customs and formalities among the upper class of that era in British society. This is a time when class lines were beginning to break down just a bit and the hierarchy between servants and masters were beginning to be a bit more flexible.   Even so, some critics have noted that certain familiarities between the classes are shown in the series that aren’t necessarily backed up by any facts; but without them, many modern viewers would be unable to accept the show. Too rigid, too formal, and too ritualized:  surely people didn’t really live like that!

I found an interesting little book among the library’s collection that answers some of those questions.  It’s entitled A Book of Edwardian Etiquette, but is really a reprint of a 1902 book, Etiquette for Women:  A Book of Modern Modes and Manners by “One of the Aristocracy.” I found it to be one of those books one can start reading at any point and then it’s a toss-up as to whether I’m going to laugh hysterically or shake my head in disbelief.

After reading just a few pages, it’s obvious that the Earl of Grantham and his family are libertines, flouting the rules of good society at every turn.  Perhaps it’s because they live in the country and not London, but still I’m sure the author of this tome would be shocked and dismayed at how lax they are. For example,  ladies are admonished not to accept any attentions from men in large towns, and men are told to offer none, except perhaps to open a carriage door or hail a cab if the lady is unable to do so, but then he must raise his hat and leave immediately.  The author notes that some gentlemen are reluctant to do even these things, but the man in question "probably" regrets his inability to give aid. In other words, women are to make no eye contact, pass no pleasantries, nor ask help from anyone and men aren't supposed to offer.

I won’t attempt to go into the dress code!

The “At Homes” and “Teas” are to our sensibilities formal events but fortunately females only have “but to look your best and be your pleasantest.”  Men, on the other hand, have a “more onerous post.”  Not only are they required to carry the refreshments to everyone but they also must be amusing, tactful, rise when a lady enters, open a door for her to depart, and to escort her wherever she wishes to go. Onerous indeed!

I can hardly wait to find out if the Grantham family will follow the mourning customs of the era.  At that time, widows were expected to wear black for two years—or as this book puts it, is the “regulation time,” but offers helpfully that some widows wear it for three or even longer.  The cap and veil are worn for a year and a day, and widows are not supposed to accept invitations or go into society for a year.  And widows aren’t the only ones:  the entire family should wear mourning for six months to a year, depending on the relationship to the deceased.  Even infants should be dressed in mourning clothes for at least three months. I’m betting that will fall by the wayside as well: everybody loves the costumes and I just can’t see the designers limiting themselves to black or gray for very long.

(And by the way, there are strong rumors that Julian Fellows is working on a “prequel” series about Lord Grantham and Cora’s courtship, which means this book would be fairly timely, although I don’t recall reading anything in there about how to behave when an American is involved.  On second thought, since there are entire sections on how one is to enter a room, perhaps this book was actually written with Americans in mind, hoping they would read it and behave accordingly.)

In case you can’t tell, I enjoyed this little book a great deal—almost as much as I enjoy “Downton Abbey.”  I will say that it is fun to read aloud to an audience because then you’ll have someone else to react when you come to the pages about the mother of the bride being deserving of “much pity” because the “house is upset, the servants grown wildly excited and out of hand,” and it is up to this poor woman to see that everything gets done properly. 

There’s so much more to this very slim volume, from advice on what to wear to what occasion to the appearance of a calling card and the correct number of servants to have waiting in the cloakroom.  Still, it may keep you busy until January, when the fourth season of “Downton Abbey” arrives.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book News: Craig Johnson, Pat Conroy, Margaret Maron & More!

Catherine Coulter is teaming up with writer J.T. Ellison for a new thriller series about a British agent with the FBI.  The first title is Final Cut and is due out in September.  Coulter is best known for her FBI series with Savich and Sherlock, while Ellison has had a successful thriller paperback series featuring an FBI profiler.

Paranoia, a nifty thriller by Joseph Finder, is now a movie starring Liam Helmsworth, Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman and Richard Dreyfuss.  Finder spent part of his childhood abroad (including some time in Afghanistan) and majored in Russian studies at Harvard and Yale, so it should come as no surprise that his books move in international circles.  If you haven’t read Finder, give him a try—preferably before you see the movie!

Craig Johnson, author of Longmire series, will have a novella out in October which will involve Walt’s predecessor, Lucian Connally. We’ll also get a look at a young Walt.  The title is Spirit of Steamboat and it’s described as a holiday-themed book.

Pat Conroy has a new memoir coming out in late October!  It’s called The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son. According to Conroy’s blog, his father loathed the novel The Great Santini—so much so that he became a changed man and a beloved one to his son.  It sounds like an incredible book.  You may want to re-read The Great Santini before you read this one, or at least watch the DVD version.  Robert Duvall was excellent as usual as Santini.

Lee Smith’s new book, Guests on Earth, features none other than Zelda Fitzgerald in a supporting role.  It’s the story of a young girl from New Orleans who is sent to live in a mental hospital in North Carolina where Zelda is a patient. It’s due out in October.

Margaret Maron’s 19th Deborah Knott mystery is tentatively titled Designated Daughter, and will be out in 2014.

Spider Woman’s Daughter is new book with Navajo policemen Leaphorn and Chee, but this one is written by Anne Hillerman, Tony's daughter.  She uses Bernadette Manuelito, Chee’s girlfriend and a policewoman in her own right, as the central character.  The book is due out on October 1, and Hillerman is under contract for a second book.

Finally, we bid a sad farewell to Elmore Leonard who passed away this week.  He was a former advertising copy editor who started writing Western short stories and then novels before turning his pen to mystery and crime.  Some of the stories became well-known movies, including Hombre, 3:10 to Yuma, Get Shorty, The Big Bounce, and Killshot. The TV show Justified is based some of his stories. Leonard was known for his gritty stories, realistic dialog, and memorable characters.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Reviewed by Jeanne

Jacob Portman was an ordinary kid living an ordinary life.  He was very close to his grandfather, Abraham, who’d lived a life of adventure.  Grandfather Portman had been born in Europe, fought in World War II, and traveled a good deal.  The best stories, though, were the ones about the children’s home in Wales, where he’d been sent to escape the monsters that infested Poland.  The monsters were horrible, but the home was an enchanted place where it was always sunny, the children all had incredible talents, and they were cared for by a bird. He even shows Jacob old photos of odd and amazing things: a baby floating in the air, a boy covered in bees, one girl with two reflections. It wasn’t until he grew older that Jacob began to doubt the veracity of some of these stories, and his skepticism drove a bit of a wedge between the two.

Then his grandfather is killed in a horrifying incident, causing Jacob to wonder if he is losing his mind—or if his grandfather could possibly have been telling the truth.

This is a YA book, but as I’ve said before, I never let a label get in the way of a good book.  Besides, the reviews were strong and it popped up on the NY Times Bestseller lists for many weeks in a row.  I was quickly caught up in Jacob’s story and wanted to know what happened next.  A good part of the appeal for me was the use of actual vintage photographs to illustrate parts of the story: I’ve always loved old black and white photos and all of these are worth a second or even third look.  (As an aside, I’d love to know which came first:  did Riggs create a scenario and look for photographs or did he find the photos and create a story around them?)  The characters are well done and the plot is imaginative and suspenseful.  It’s a fairly quick read and I certainly enjoyed it. 

 If I hadn’t already heard that a sequel was planned, I would have suspected that it was the first of a series.  It’s not that you’re left hanging, but it’s obvious the strong possibility is there for future adventures.  I’m more curious how the attraction between Jacob and a teenage girl will play out.

Update:  the second book is entitled Hollow City:  The Second Book of Miss Peregrine’s Children and is due out in January 2014.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Nevermore: Zealot, RIddle of the Labyrinth, Engingeers of Victory

Zealot:  The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan is one of the highly anticipated books for the members of the Nevermore Book Club.  Aslan is an Iranian-American professor with degrees in Religion and Fine Arts.  He’s written numerous articles and several books, including No God But God:  The Originis, Evolution, and Future of Islam.  In this new book, he examines the story of Jesus from an historical perspective, putting his life and those of his followers in the context of the times.  Reviews for this book are sharply divided, so we are anticipating a lively discussion in Nevermore as members have a chance to read it.

While awaiting Zealot, some readers tried another book connected to antiquity, Riddle of the Labyrinth:  The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code by Margalit Fox.  Fox tells the fascinating story of how a single woman came close to deciphering the mysterious Linear B, the earliest known form of Greek script.  Alice Kober was a classics scholar who devoted years to solving the puzzle, using scraps of paper to compile her notes during the shortages of World War II.  Kober’s sudden death in 1950 at age 43 put an end to her research, leaving others to finish the job.  Fox had access to Kober’s papers at the University of Texas, including some 180,000 note cards, and argues that Kober should receive more recognition for her efforts in translating Linear B. This book has been recommended by several Nevermore readers.

Engineers of Victory by Paul Kennedy looks not at the troops on the ground nor the great leaders, but at those who took the strategies and made them work, who overcame technological difficulties and found solutions.  Even if you’re an avid reader of WWII books, you’ll find something fresh in this one.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

Reviewed by Kristin

Tara Martin believed that she had been lost in the Outwoods, some kind of enchanted forest in central England, for six months.  Imagine her surprise when she found that twenty years had passed in the “real world”.  Her parents are shocked when she shows up on their doorstep on Christmas Day.  Tara’s parents are older, silver haired, and traumatized by the loss of their teenage daughter.  Tara, however, looks like the 16-year-old who disappeared twenty years before.

When Tara disappeared, her boyfriend Richie was under suspicion, but eventually cleared.  Richie and Peter, Tara’s brother, were good friends but grew apart after Tara’s disappearance.  Richie has continued to play guitar but has become bitter and isolated.  Upon her confusing return, Tara turns to Richie for comfort outside of her family.

Peter is shocked and relieved by Tara’s reappearance.  Now a 40-year-old father, he becomes Tara’s confidante, even though she says no one will ever believe her story.  Peter’s wife Genevieve and their three children are confused, yet interested in this “new” member of their family.

Tara claims to have been lost in the bluebells and taken off by a fairy to a different world.  Hiero, as Tara called him, took Tara by horseback to a magical land where the inhabitants lived with different laws of nature.  The people (they did not care to be called “fairies”) interacted with each other and with the natural world in an entirely different way than that which Tara was accustomed.

Tara is perfectly willing to have her identify verified and to see a psychiatrist to try to figure out what has happened to her.  As the psychiatrist makes his reports in an attempt to explain why Tara is telling such a fantastical story, other narratives are interspersed suggesting that perhaps the story of a fairy world is true.

The book flips back and forth between the present and the past mystery world where Tara believes she has been.  Other minor storylines run throughout the book and are drawn together expertly by the author.  Also, a few surprise twists are thrown in near the end.  This is a quick and enjoyable book.

Note:  After Kristin submitted her review, we had another patron come to the reference desk to recommend the book.  In fact, this person (who reads a variety of genres) went back and checked out several other books by Joyce.If you have any interest in fantasy, this is an author you may want to try. Who knows? You may find a new author!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ali Brandon's Black Cat Bookshop Mysteries

Melon approves of books with cats.

Reviewed by Jeanne

Darla Pettistone left Texas for the Big Apple after her Aunt Dee passed away, leaving Darla her apartment and her book shop.  Oh, and she also left her large black cat, Hamlet, who seems to take a dim view of Darla and some of the bookstore’s customers.   Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series by Ali Brandon feature good puzzles with a likeable (if occasionally a bit slow on the uptake) heroine and some interesting supporting characters. Police detective Reese is pretty standard issue (handsome, irritates heroine) but Darla’s friend Jacqueline “Jake” Martelli, an ex-cop turned private investigator, and some of the book store staff make up for that.  I appreciate that there’s more emphasis on mystery and less on soap opera than in some cozies. Darla would like to have a romantic relationship but there’s no whiff of desperation about her.

Most of all, there’s the enigmatic and somewhat surly Hamlet, who doesn’t talk but who has a way of getting his point across and being very smug while he does it.

In the first book in the series, Double Booked for Death, Darla is musing over her foray into the book trade.   Despite ebooks, chain stores, and internet shopping, business isn’t bad for Pettistone’s Fine Books—and it may be about to get a whole lot better, because sizzling hot teen author Valerie Baylor is coming to do a book signing for her latest vampire book and kids are starting to line up in the street.  Unfortunately, there’s a protester claiming Baylor stole her book and a bus-load of Texas “Bible thumpers” who think that books about supernatural beings are giving impressible young readers a one way ticket to Hell.  Darla’s misgivings seem to be unfounded as the event gets off to a rousing start, until the star author is killed in what appears at first to have been an accident but then starts to look more like murder.

In the second outing, A Novel Way to Die, Darla is trying to hire a clerk but finding one that meets Hamlet’s approval isn’t easy.  It’s not that she’s asking the cat’s opinion:  he merely frightens off the ones he doesn’t like, which is proving to be a lot of them.  Meanwhile, cute new neighbor Barry has stopped in a few times to flirt and keep Darla up to date on the building he and his best friend Curt are renovating. He also mentions seeing Hamlet around the building.  When Barry takes Darla over to see how things are progressing, they find Curt dead—and what looks suspiciously like bloody feline footprints around the body.

I broke one of my own rules with this series by reading the second book first, so I can say with some assurance that they don’t have to be read in order. I admit to being a bit vague on some of the other characters because there are some cast changes, but I’d rather the readers discover that themselves.  Hamlet is a delight—he’s cool, he's aloof, and he keeps his own counsel, but he doesn’t really take center stage.  The detecting part reminds me more of Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who Series, with Hamlet being a less friendly version of Koko.  A reader doesn’t have to think the cat helps solve the mystery at all; just because Darla thinks he helps doesn’t mean he does and the author makes it easy for readers to believe or not.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the name-dropping of authors throughout the books, a nice nod to old favorites.

 It’s a bit hard to judge, having read them out of order, but I think I liked A Novel Way to Die just a bit better than the first one, partly because I thought the clues were very clever. I knew whodunit fairly early, though I’m not sure how I knew; it wasn’t because of specific clue.  I also liked the addition of a new cast member.

I’ve already recommended this series to others, especially those who like a good old-fashioned mystery with books and cats.  (In fact, I wanted to go back and check some names and facts, but my copies are out on loan!)

Book three, Words with Fiends, is due out in November. I’ll be looking forward to reading it.

Nuit thinks a mystery with a black cat is an excellent idea!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky

Reviewed by Nancy

Do you stay in hotels? Whether the answer is that you visit hotels constantly, or that you only find yourself in a hotel every few years, you might want to have a look at Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky.

A veteran of the hospitality industry, Mr. Tomsky has written a memoir of disgruntled customers, outrageous circumstances, unreasonable managers and head spinning advice as to how to successfully negotiate the hotel landscape.

Mr. Thomsky, who has worked in luxury hotels in New Orleans and New York, provides the answers to many questions that have long been swirling around in my head.

For example: When you stay in a hotel, is your room likely to be scrutinized by hotel employees when you are not present? Oh, yes, definitely!

When you arrive at your newly assigned room and the room card works once, but then refuses to work again, is this just an accident or is something sinister afoot? Oh, Baby! It’s no accident, believe me. Review in your mind the interaction you had with the desk clerk. Was it pleasant? Were you nice? Was the clerk nice? Or did said clerk seem to be in a malevolent mood?

Do the valet parking employees abuse your car when out of your sight? Well, I’ve always liked to park my own car anyway.

Are the drinking glasses in the room cleaned properly? Is it really okay to use them? Our author suggests that you use the plastic glasses instead of the glass glasses. (There is a good reason for this.)

If you book your room on the internet will you be likely to get one of the desirable rooms in the hotel or will you end up next to the ice machine or the elevator?  Well, do you enjoy the convenience of being near the ice machine or the elevator? Then go ahead and use the internet.

Is it wise to tip the desk clerk upon check-in? You bet!

Become a savvy traveler able to impress and awe desk clerks and bellhops the world over.  Get the best deals, the best service and the best rooms. And always, always remember: those desk clerks and bell hops might not make very much money; they might not enjoy prestigious occupations; they likely work really terrible hours; AND they have the power to make your hotel visit nice or miserable.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Elizabeth Peters-Barbara Michaels 1927-2013

An Appreciation by Jeanne

Mystery fans are in mourning today after learning of the passing of Barbara Mertz, aka Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Michaels.  As Peters she had three series: one with librarian/author Jacqueline Kirby, a second with art historian Vicky Bliss, but her most popular series was about the intrepid Victorian archaeologist Amelia Peabody and her husband Emerson as they uncovered Egyptian artifacts.  Mertz had a doctorate in Egyptology herself but finding the job market tight in that field, had turned to writing instead.

Almost from the first book, Crocodile on the Sandbank, Amelia took readers by storm.  Eighteen more books followed, with the most recent being 2010's River in the Sky.  Writer Paul Theroux wrote in the NY Times article that between Indiana Jones and Amelia Peabody, "it's Amelia--in wit and daring-- by a landslide."   Grounded in history and archaeological fact, the thrills, romance,  and tongue in cheek humor delighted readers.  Amelia tells her stories using Victorian style phrasing but her daring and forthrightness take center stage, as does her adoration for her husband, Emerson.

Under the name Barbara Michaels, she wrote standalone gothic style suspense books with a touch of the supernatural.  Ammie Come Home was probably her best known and the only one which had sequels (Shattered Silk and Stitches in Time) but House of Many Shadows was another popular title.
I was introduced to  Elizabeth Peters when I was working on my library degree.  An older student who liked mysteries told me that Peters had three series for all ages: one about young Vicky for me, the Jacqueline Kirby for older folk like her, and Amelia for everybody. I liked all three series, actually, and then discovered that I did know Peters already-- my mother was an avid reader of the Barbara Michaels books, which were the more popular ones at the time.  It wasn't long until Elizabeth Peters' Amelia took over, though, and fans were clamoring for more adventures with the parasol wielding adventuress. In fact, I had someone ask just a week or two ago if there would be any more in that series.

Sadly, unless Dr. Mertz had a work in progress, the answer is apparently "no." CBS news posted an article about her passing here; The Washington Post has an article about her here. Her website has a lively account of her birthday party from last year, which was a grand affair with (of course!) an Egyptian theme here.

We'll miss you, Barbara Mertz, in all of your incarnations.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley

Reviewed by Jeanne

Gus Carpenter grew up in the town of Starvation Lake, escaped to become a reporter at the Detroit Times, and now with has journalist career in tatters he’s editing the hometown paper.  His out of town bosses aren’t fans of hard-hitting news stories or even medium hitting: they want the social news, local sports, and stories that will encourage advertising.  The rest of the town isn’t really welcoming either, since they hold Gus responsible for missing that one goal that would have won the state high school hockey championship.  It was the town’s one shot at fame, and things have gone downhill ever since.  If they could, they’d even blame him for the death of Jack Blackburn, the coach who almost took them all the way, only to die in a snowmobile accident on the lake.

Now pieces of that old snowmobile have turned up—in the wrong lake.  What really happened that night? And what other secrets lie hidden in Starvation Lake?

When this book came out in 2009, it received a lot of praise from the mystery readers on the DorothyL list.  They talked about the good writing, the strong characterization and clever plotting.  One even said that she never thought she would read and enjoy a book about hockey.  I didn’t think I would either, which is why I put off reading it this long.  On the other hand, one patron I recommended the book to didn’t like it so as penance I decided I had better read it before I suggested it to anyone else.

The verdict?  I enjoyed it. I will say that the book started a bit slowly, but much of it was letting the reader get a feel for the town and the people. The town is almost a character itself:  it reminded me of so many of the little towns here in the mountains where jobs are few but the people keep trying to hang on with steely determination and sometimes just sheer cussedness. The plot, like the town, has its share of grit and its share of shady business deals and political maneuvering.   There is a lot of hockey action but understanding or even caring about the game isn’t required; he does use it to good advantage in revealing certain aspects of personality.

Gus, the narrator, is a wholly believable creation; we may not always agree with his choices but we understand why he makes them.  Most of the rest of the cast are people from Gus’ past, his friends and his enemies. These are people he’s known his whole life, which means there’s a lot of personal baggage associated. In a few places the reader may spot things before Gus does simply because he’s too close to parts of the story.

Despite the slow start, the story gained steam and I raced through the last 150 pages to see what would happen.  There were some good twists and turns in both plot and action, and a mostly satisfying resolution.  I’m already reading the second book, The Hanging Tree, and so far I would say that you wouldn’t have to read the books in order. I just prefer to do so.  The third book is The Skeleton Box and, according to his website, he’s at work on a fourth.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Oversize II: Cakes, Faeries, Quilts & More!

Reviews by Kristin

Here's another assortment of some of the wonderful things to be found in our oversize book collection!

The Great Encyclopedia of Faeries by Pierre Dubois  OVERSIZE 398.21 Dub
Pierre Dubois, self-proclaimed “elficologist”, has created a whimsical book containing illustrations and the history of the faerie world.  Beyond the story of each fantastical entry, in the sidebar there are descriptions of the size, appearance, dress, habitat, food, customs and activities of each particular type of faerie folk.

Cakes & Cake Decorating by Angela Nilson, Sarah Maxwell and Janice Murfitt
From basic cake and icing recipes to fancy children’s cakes, this book presents mouth watering pictures.  Do you need to make a cake in the shape of a telephone?  How about a coconut cake with ducks on a pond of gelatin?  Living in the birthplace of country music, you just might be called upon to make a banjo cake.  If any of these cakes sound appealing, then this is the book for you.

Architecture by Neil Stevenson  OVERSIZE 720 Ste
This Doring Kindersley book takes readers on a journey from ancient Rome and Egypt to the creations of Frank Lloyd Wright and beyond.  Double page illustrations and attention to building detail make this a book appealing to adults and children alike.  Where else can you visit the Empire State Building, Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Tokyo Olympic Stadium in one trip?

Quilts by Ljiljana Baird  OVERSIZE 746.46
Grandmother’s Flower Garden, Mennonite Joseph’s Coat, Log Cabin, Dove at the Window, Whig’s Defeat, Amish Bear’s Paw:  these are only a sampling of the many quilts covered in this colorful volume.  Each quilt has a brief provenance and a history of when and where that particular pattern was popular.

The Joy of Art: A Creative Guide for Beginning Painters by Serge Clement and Marina Kamena
Beginning with the basic elements of color and shape, the authors describe and draw a history of painting while also offering practical instructions for the budding artist.  Each oversized page is crowded with hand-printed text and drawing, allowing the reader to flip through and be inspired by a wealth of techniques and examples.  From simple brush strokes to drawing the human form, this truly is a creative guide for beginning painters.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey

Reviewed by Holly White

The Oathbound is the first book of the “Vows and Honor” trilogy, which is set in the Valdemar world created by Mercedes Lackey

In The Oathbound, we meet two women with personalities so different, that you would never expect them to be able to work together, much less to become blood sisters (like blood brothers, but female).  We follow their adventures as they each face one of the greatest adjustments of their lives, and have to begin all over again, almost from scratch, with little but their wits and their skills to aid them.

Tarma is part of the Shin’a’in people, but the last of her Clan.  One of the Swordsworn, Tarma had sworn herself to the service of the Warrior Goddess, in order to exact vengeance upon those who had killed off all her other Clan members.  Skilled with the sword, Tarma’s dark, angular features and lack of figure made her look more like a man than like the woman she was. 

Beautiful and delicate-looking, Kethry is a powerful mage of the White Winds school, but with a past she dared not face.  Kethry’s sword is called Need, and is bound to her.  It draws her relentlessly to help women in need of aid, not letting her rest until the woman is helped or avenged. 

Having fulfilled her vengeful goal, Tarma now craved a new purpose in life.  Returning to the place where her Clan had once camped, she realized she could never find a home without a Clan.  And how could she, sworn to celibacy, build up her Clan anew?  Or was she destined to live and die alone, the last of her once-proud Clan?

Kethry, skilled in swordplay with Need’s aid, sought also to become an adept level mage.  But in order to do that, she must go to the one place she has avoided assiduously to face her most deadly and haunting fears.    Also, when Kethry swore the blood sister oath to Tarma, she did so without compunction, but over the course of the book, she learns what that oath will truly cost her.  Will she be willing to fulfill her oath and pay the price?

Oathbound follows these two women as they face the greatest fears they have ever had, and some new ones they never dreamed they would have to face.  This book is definitely for adults- some of the situations in it (eg., rape, demonic powers, sexual ritual worship, human sacrifice) are inappropriate for children, although I would classify Mercedes Lackey’s Arrows of the Queen series (that I previously reviewed- see links below) as child-appropriate. 

Another difficulty I found with Oathbound is that even though it’s part of the Valdemar series, it was not actually set in Valdemar. The two women travel near the Valdemar and the country and its Heralds are mentioned briefly, but they never cross into Valdemar itself making the connection to the Valdemarian world is tenuous at best. I am hoping that Tarma’s and Kethry’s journey takes them into Valdemar in later books, and they will interact with some of the characters I have already come to know. 

According to my books-compared-to-food rating system (chick lit books are  Cheetos and classics are steak), I would place Oathbound squarely in the roast beef and potatoes category. For one thing, its plot was darker than I like.  I enjoyed reading Oathbound, and it held my interest, but I didn’t find it to be an “I-can’t-put-it-down” book.  However, if you enjoy dark fantasy with lots of magery and sorcery in it, I highly recommend this book.

For an overview of Valdemar, click here..
Previous reviews:
 Arrows of the Queen
Arrow's Flight
Arrow's Fall