Monday, December 31, 2012

In the future, the Eighties never end

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline

In the year 2044 the United States is a bleak wasteland of collapsing cities and third-world poverty, but most people spend their lives in a completely immersive virtual world called the OASIS.   In the anonymous world of the OASIS you can be anyone you want to be, travel to other planets, go on fantasy adventures, and play endless games. When the billionaire creator of the OASIS passes away he sends a message to the world that he is leaving his entire estate and control of the OASIS to whomever is the first person to find an Easter Egg he has hidden within the game. What follows is sort of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World meets Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory by way of the Quest for the Holy Grail. 

Ready Player One is the first-person narrative of a teenage boy named Wade (online handle Parzival) who goes from poverty to worldwide fame when he becomes the first to solve one of the Easter Egg clues. Wade falls in love with Art3mis, his chief rival in the quest and a person he has never met in real life. Wade, Art3mis, and their allies compete against a giant evil corporation that wants to take over the free OASIS and make it a paid service.

If it all sounds a bit like an Eighties teen movie, it is because the whole novel is an exercise in Eighties nostalgia. The OASIS creator was obsessed with the decade of the Eighties and based his puzzles and games on Eighties trivia. As a result the world of 2044 is a giant Eighties flashback with no culture of its own. Everyone involved in the Egg hunt becomes an expert in Eighties movies, TV shows, popular music, and video games in order to solve the puzzles that lead to the Egg.

Ready Player One is a first novel and it shows in some plot twists that involve events so unlikely that even Dan Brown would have been embarrassed to use them. Still, the novel is a lot of fun, particularly for readers with lots of useless Eighties trivia stuck in their heads. For readers who enjoy audio books, the audio version  is narrated by former child actor Will Wheaton of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame. Narrator voice and character have rarely been so perfectly matched.

Review by Keith Davis

Request this book by clicking the title or cover above.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Wheel of Time Turns

The Eye of the World
By Robert Jordan

If you're in the market for an epic fantasy series, but you don't want to start one that's currently unfinished (looking at you, George R.R. Martin), may I suggest Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time?

Not only is it an excellent entry in the world of high fantasy, but it's finally coming to an end in January, 23 years after the first book in the series was published. Jordan, who died in 2007, left behind copious notes which fantasy author Brandon Sanderson used to finish writing the series. Though fans were worried about how the new books would turn out, Sanderson's efforts have continued the story without any major bumps. The 14th, and final, book in the series will be A Memory of Light, and I am excited to see how it all ends.

Like a lot of high fantasy, the story is set in a world filled with strange countries and colorful characters. There's a man born to fight against an evil encroaching from the north. He has courageous friends to help him, and a woman with mysterious powers to guard his way. There are monsters sent to attack them and anyone they meet could be working for the wrong side. They travel across a huge continent on a world that once enjoyed an Age of Legends, but has since been broken by madmen seeking power.

I stumbled across the books in middle school, and over the years have spent many late nights reading and re-reading the series. Recently I decided to listen to the whole thing on audiobook, which is a great way to do it if 1,000-page books aren't your thing.

The Wheel of Time series provides a richly detailed world filled with characters who will delight you, amaze you, exasperate you, and convince you to keep reading. The first book in the series, The Eye of the World, is available as a book, a book on CD, or a downloadable audiobook.

Click the title or the cover above to request this title.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Laughing your way through Modern Art

What Are You Looking At?
The Surprising, Shocking, and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art
By Will Gompertz

"There are times when those of us involved in the arts talk and write pretentious nonsense." -- Will Gompertz.

If you've ever been moseying through the modern art wing of a museum and wondered what any of it could possibly mean, then this is the book for you. Gompertz cuts straight through the perception that modern art is impenetrable and explains how we got where we are today. Writing with clarity and wit (he once did a stand-up comedy act based on art history) he guides you through Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, Conceptualism, and all of the other "isms." If you get lost along the way, just check the subway map printed on the inside of the cover. From Bauhaus to Pop Art, and from Georges Seurat to Jeff Koons, Will Gompertz is your guide.

If you'd rather have a fictional take on the mysteries of art, then keep reading.

Sacre Bleu
A Comedy d'Art
By Christopher Moore

Someone is killing the artists of Paris! Slinking around the creative underbelly of Montmartre is someone called the Colorman, always accompanied by a beautiful woman. Where they go, tragedy follows. Who are they, and why do they seem so fixated on the color blue?

This is a comic novel with overtones of mystery and art history. I did actually laugh a few times (and smiled pretty often) and learned more about the artists of Paris (from Van Gogh to Pissaro) than I expected.

Click on the titles or the covers to request these books.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reach for the Sky

Hattie Big Sky
by Kirby Lawson

At war with foreign powers, dark elements of American society emerge: people of certain nationalities are marginalized and those who aren’t public enough with their support for the troops are degraded as “unpatriotic”. Sound familiar? This is the world of Hattie Big Sky: 1917. America is at war with Germany, and Americans of German descent are paying a heavy toll of discrimination on the homefront.

Sixteen year old Hattie Brooks comes to find all this as she struggles to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim in Montana, Big Sky Country. “Hattie Here-and-There” has been passed from family member to family member since the death of her parents, and when her late uncle leaves her his claim in his will, she jumps at the chance to take control of her life. Hattie throws herself into frontier life whole-heartedly, dealing with both deep friendships and complex enemies on her path. Throughout her journey, Hattie keeps in touch with her old friend Charlie, who is fighting in the war in Europe, and through their correspondence, the reader finds that together, Hattie and Charlie are each fighting their own wars for the best of the American spirit.

Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series will find a familiar tone here and a colorful cast of neighboring frontier characters to rival Wilder’s. Hattie’s unabashed optimism is put to the test, but her hard-working spirit and strong friendships pull her through and keep her reaching for the sky.

To request the book above, please click on the title.

Review by Steve Thomas

Monday, December 17, 2012

Don't fret! You have some time to read the Best Books of 2012

Every year, I wait for the Best Books lists to come out to compare my reading list with the "experts". Usually I have read one on the list, and I get puffed up. I read a "best book"! What excellent book selection skills I must have. Ha!

Click here to view Library Journal's Best Books and Media of 2012.

Click here to view Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2012.
I haven't read any of them.

Click here to view the Huffington Post's Best Books of 2012.
I'm proud to say that Further Reading has reviewed some of the books on this list.

Click here to view the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2012.
Further Reading featured Behind the Beautiful Forevers in June.

Click here to view NPR's list of Best Books of 2012: The Complete List.
Further Reading reviewed Heft earlier this year.

Click here for the 10 Best Books of 2012- Fiction from The Christian Science Monitor.
Gone Girl! We reviewed it in September.

Click here for GQ's Best Books of 2012.
Further Reading has reviewed some of these as well.

Of course, there are many, many good books published that do not make the list. Keep reading this blog and we'll do our best to help you find them.

What books would make YOUR Best Books of 2012 list?

To request these titles, please click on the book covers.

Review by Cara Karnes

Friday, December 14, 2012

Some neglected holiday gems

Looking for something a little different this Christmas? Same old holiday stories got you down? Have I got some some holiday treats for you!

Truman Capote wrote a pair of excellent Christmas stories: "A Christmas Memory" and "One Christmas," both of which were made into award-winning television specials in the 1960s but have fallen into undeserved obscurity since then. Thankfully, these stories are widely anthologized and may be found in several of his books, including three here at GCPL. First, there's the slim holiday collection A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, and The Thanksgiving Visitor, which presents all three of Capote's tales about seven-year-old Buddy and his elderly cousin Miss Sook Faulk in one neat package. Buddy, the boy abandoned by his mother and sent to live with her dirt-poor relatives in Depression-era Alabama, is a fictionalized version of Capote himself. Fans of To Kill a Mockingbird probably know that the  character Dill in that book is also based on young Capote. Unlike the comic Dill, though, Buddy will break your heart with his sensitivity and his utter devotion to his childlike, much-older cousin.

All of the Buddy and Sook stories also may be found in The Complete Stories of Truman Capote, a thick Modern Library collection with a marvelous introduction by Reynolds Price. And "A Christmas Memory" is the third story included with Capote's famous novella in Breakfast at Tiffany's: A Short Novel and Three Stories. No matter which of these volumes you choose, Capote's writing will dazzle you and his Christmas tales are guaranteed to bring a lump to your throat.

Pete Hamill's semi-autobiographical Christmas tales are about as different from Truman Capote's as is humanly possible, yet they are packed every bit as full of familial devotion and heartbreaking nostalgia as are Capote's. Hamill's latest book, The Christmas Kid and Other Brooklyn Stories, hit the shelves just in time for the holidays. The title story is surprisingly warm and comic considering that "The Christmas Kid" is a young Polish-Jewish boy, a Holocaust survivor whose sole remaining relative is a bachelor uncle in Brooklyn. What happens when his doting uncle dies unexpectedly is a kind of roughneck Christmas miracle complete with a trio tough-talking wise men from the East.

The Gift, Hamill's short Christmas novel from a few years back, is thinly veiled autobiography, telling the story of a jilted and homesick teenaged sailor home on leave during the Korean War. It is wonderfully evocative, perfectly conveying the bewildering combination of restlessness and dislocation that accompanies a young person's first visit home after entering the adult world. And hanging over it all is the mortal threat of combat on the other side of the world. The conclusion of Hamill's moody Christmas novella is absolutely unique in holiday literature will not be to everyone's liking. But even if the Christmas Eve reconciliation of the story's protagonist and his n'er-do-well father seems forced or disturbing, there is an unmistakable joy to it. In any case, Hamill is a master of dry-eyed nostalgia and worth reading no matter the season.

Click on the title or the cover of any book mentioned in this review to find it in our catalog.

Review by Don Beistle

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A fantasy series worth listening to

Beautiful Creatures
by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Audiobooks, like their print counterpart, have the ability to transport you to another world.  When the production has paired a good story with a good reader, you have an instant escape from your morning and afternoon commute.  When the production adds in a surprise element, like music, then there is no comparison.  It was the surprise of music and sound effects that hooked me in to my most recent listen, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margie Stohl.  Within the story, the 15 year old Lena Duchannes shares a psychic connection with Ethan Wate through a haunting song (16 Moons) which foretells what is to come on her 16th birthday.  The song that keeps playing within Ethan's dreams and on his iPod is actually sung within the audiobook making the story that much more appealing.

Be sure to download the entire Beautiful Creatures series to your mp3 player or iPod from our Overdrive collectiontaking care to download as music and not spoken podcast so you can enjoy the music and other sound effects throughout the performance.

Review by DeAnna Espinoza

Request this book by clicking the title or cover above.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

In Case of Apocalypse

A few weeks ago we looked at some books about the future of humanity, assuming that the world isn’t going to end anytime soon. But what if it we got it wrong and the end is right around the corner? Fortunately, there are plenty of books about that too. Whether it’s robotsnuclear war, the Mayan calendar, zombies, or the Rapture, someone has written a book exploring the possibilities of civilization's downfall. Today we’re looking at one of these titles and pointing the way toward a few more.

The Last Policeman
By Ben H. Winters

When astronomers discover an asteroid headed for Earth, no one worries at first. Surely it's just a close call like all the other times. But as the rock hurtles closer, people come to accept the truth. The asteroid is destined for a collision with the planet. Scientists agree the affects will be devastating. Billions could die. We've got six months.

For Detective Hank Palace the news produces a different realization: "the end of the world changes everything, from a law-enforcement perspective." As he investigates the apparent suicide of an insurance salesman, he wonders if he's the last one who cares about finding the truth. Most of his fellow officers want him to drop the case. Solving crimes seems like a waste of energy when everyone is doomed.

The first in a planned trilogy, this book reads like a classic Noir, with the addition of an apocalyptic pall over the proceedings. The book describes not only the crime and the suspects, but the atmosphere of a planet in crisis. Some people have given up, some people are chasing their dreams, and a few are still doing their jobs. Detective Hank Palace is one of the latter, and he has no patience with those who are letting the world fall apart.

If you'd prefer a look at some of the different options for our planet's destruction, you might try Megacatastrophes: Nine Weird Ways the World Could End. Of course, there are several titles that can give you the scoop on the rumored Mayan Apocalypse. Or if you'd like to browse for something else that tickles your post-Apocalyptic fancy, scroll through our list of End of the World Fiction.

Click on the title or the cover of any book mentioned in this review to find it in our catalog.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Monday, December 3, 2012

Collins Hill Branch Staff Picks

This month the staff at the Collins Hill Branch offers up some of their favorite books for your consideration.

By Ann Aguirre

Why you should read it: This book is set in a future dystopia where the world has been ravaged by a disease and freaks often attack the surviving pockets of humans. Deuce is a newly minted huntress for her small underground enclave when she is suddenly banished from their group for committing the ultimate sin—hoarding a book for herself. Along with her partner Fade, she makes the difficult journey to the surface enduring many hardships to hopefully reach a far-flung outpost of humans. Many of the hardships and Deuce’s strength of character are reminiscent of The Hunger Games. The smooth writing style and the likability of the characters makes this book a quick and enjoyable read.

Like Water for Chocolate
By Laura Esquivel

Why you should read it: In turn-of-the-century Mexico, youngest daughter, Tita, is in love with Pedro. Her mother, however, expects Tita to follow tradition and stay single to care for her in her old age. Each chapter begins with a recipe, and Tita's feelings pour through her cooking and affect those around her in surprising ways. Richly detailed with elements of magical realism, this is an excellent suggestion for fans of Sarah Addison Allen or Alice Hoffman.

The Art of Racing in the Rain
By Garth Stein

Why you should read it: It is a tearjerker but did end up having a happy ending. I love the way it was written, from the perspective of a dog. This story helped me cope with the loss of my recently deceased childhood dog. Definitely five stars.

A Discovery of Witches
By Deborah Harkness

Why you should read it: It is unlike any book I have ever read and I’ve read many. The author is a history professor at USC and her use of historical facts and figures breathes life into a world of witches, daemons, vampires and humans. The story is so well told that the reader is caught up in a world of creatures and warm bloods that is almost believable. This is not your typical vampire story; it is mystery, fantasy, romance and history all rolled into one.

700 Sundays
By Billy Crystal

Why you should read it: This book is short, but packs a punch. If you're looking for a good laugh (I laughed until I cried) and a good cry, you will enjoy this book. Family, love, respect, community, and acceptance are at the heart of Billy's memories. There are many lessons from this book, about how when all is said and done it is our relationships that make life worthwhile.

We'll be back next month with another library branch and another list of favorites. Until then, let us know in the comments if you have any books you recommend!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rowling's Latest Offering

The Casual Vacancy
by J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling is back! The author of the beloved Harry Potter series has written an adult novel that has nothing to do with magic.

Meet the residents of Pagford, a small English town that believes itself to be an ideal English village. The sudden death of Barry Fairbrother, a member of the Pagford Parish Council, throws Pagford in a tailspin. The Pagford Parish Council had been at war over "The Fields" - a housing estate located outside of town. The Fields, and who is responsible for it, is the controversial issue at hand. Old Pagford would like to pretend it doesn't exist, and hand off responsibility to the nearby town of Yarvil. Others in Pagford believe that The Fields and its residents deserved an equal chance in life, and why should Pagford help them?

Barry's death means there is a spot open on the council, and the opposing factions begin clamoring to have their candidate elected.

Under the idyllic surface of Pagford, the residents are motivated by their own agendas. The story is dedicated to delving into their thoughts and following the consequences of their actions, for better or for worse.

Cara's thoughts:
I still can't decide if I liked this or not. I never felt the urge to put it down, but many of the characters are unlikable and have few redeeming qualities.

To request this title, please click on the titles above. 

Review by Cara

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tantalizing Literary Debut

Tell The Wolves I’m Home 

by Carol Rifka Brunt
Review by Kathleen Richardson

I listened to the audio recording of this book which was flawlessly narrated by Amy Rubinate.   It is an engrossing love story about the coming of age of June Elbus.  June loves her Uncle Finn more than anyone else in the world because he truly understands her and helps her grow.  They go to Renaissance fairs together, listen to every recording of Mozart’s Requiem they can find, eat at the Cloisters in NYC, share tea from an ornate Russian teapot, and have exciting adventures in the city.  Usually it’s just the two of them unless it is a family birthday trip to a chic restaurant.  Both June and Finn are pure to the point of naivete.  Finn is her Godfather and best friend.  June’s parents are busy CPA’s and June’s older sister Greta is equally jealous of and repulsed by the relationship between June and Finn.  It is one of the more interesting triangles in the book.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is full of nostalgia but not of the best kind.  Ronald Reagan is President and AIDS doesn't yet have a name.  Finn, a world class painter of some renown has AIDS.  So does his partner Toby.  June’s mother is extremely jealous of Toby and refuses to let him have contact with her family.  And that is even before Mrs. Elbus realizes the gentlemen are terminally ill. She and Finn were extremely close as children and she kept Finn’s secret of being gay from the rest of her family.    When Finn dies the Elbus family keeps Toby from attending the memorial services but June spies him lurking nearby.  Toby and June inevitably begin a clandestine relationship to help them grieve Finn and they find in each other a worthy replacement for Finn.  They feel like old friends because Finn has told each one all about the other.  At first June is jealous of Toby, because of the things and times he shared with Finn that she wasn't a part of.  She discovers it was Toby who bought the special black and white cookies from the bakery before each of June’s visits and she finds that many possessions she thought were Finn’s were in fact Toby’s or were shared possessions.  June cares for Toby as he becomes more ill hiding her whereabouts from Greta.  Her parents are too busy with their accounting business to even notice June’s absences.  Unbeknownst to the other, Finn has put it in writing for each of them to care for the other.  He tells June poignantly that Toby has no one else and it seems to be true.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Kind of Thanksgiving

Visiting Tom
A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace
By Michael Perry

When we last heard from Michael Perry, he was settling into his new life as a husband, stepfather and amateur farmer. By the end of Coop (2009), Perry had finally finished the mobile chicken coop of the title, learned to outwit his resourceful pigs, and generally gotten a handle on the business of running a family farm. And then his wife gave birth to their first child.

Visiting Tom picks up two years later with Perry and his family growing ever closer to their octogenarian neighbors on the farm next door. Tom Hartwig is a character from Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon come to life, a crusty old farmer as eccentric as he is wise. He's the kind of self-taught handyman who won't just make a working replica of a 19th-century cannon, he'll build the oversize lathe needed to bore out the barrel as well. The focus of Perry's book is not Tom's eccentricities but rather the "roughneck grace" that has enabled him to weather indignities great and small with a kind of sly stoicism. Foremost among these is the interstate highway that sliced his farm in two nearly 50 years ago. Perry admires Tom's refusal either to give up or to give in to easy bitterness, and he strives throughout the book to live up to the example set by his outwardly unremarkable neighbor.

Visiting Tom is a kind of thanksgiving, a hymn to families born and families made. It is sure to appeal to readers of Perry's previous books, though it is not necessary to have read them to enjoy this one. Lake Wobegon fans, too, will be on familiar ground in Perry's quirky Wisconsin backwater. And if you grew up among folks who never used the front door because everyone knew to come in the side door and go straight to the kitchen, well, Visiting Tom will feel like going home.

Review by Don Beistle

To request the books mentioned above, click on the titles.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Defrosting a Feast

The Adventures of a Curious Man
By Mark Kurlansky

Though next week many Americans will be sitting down to a home-cooked meal, frozen food has long since become part of our way of life. Whether we're hungry for fish sticks, pizza, spinach, or waffles, we love the convenience of the refrigerated aisle at the grocery store. And though you may not know it, if you've ever popped a TV dinner into a microwave oven you owe a debt of gratitude to Clarence Birdseye. (There's a reason his name is on so many packages of frozen peas.)

Birdseye revolutionized the frozen food industry, and this book tells his story. Though it's light on biographical detail, the author ably puts his subject within historical context, illuminating the world at the time from the perspectives of science, government, economics, the food industry, and the spirit of invention.

Birdseye, argues the author, would be perplexed at our modern concerns about species depopulation and our emphasis on eating locally instead of shipping food around the world. The ability to eat a little bit of everything from everywhere was part of the reason Birdseye wanted to improve the food-freezing process in the first place! Of course, the world moves on, and it's good to know where we came from when we consider where we'd like to go.

If you'd like to read a book about how we eat from a different perspective, one that might have given Birdseye something to sink his teeth into, try The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan.

Review by Danny Hanbery

To request the books mentioned above, click on the titles.

When a Blog Becomes a Book

When a blog becomes a book some very good things can happen. Someone who doesn’t have the patience to sit before a computer and scroll through pages of blog posts can actually get the opportunity to cuddle on the sofa, cup of tea in hand, and read an edited, easy to hold, well-formatted version of the blogger’s online antics in the form of a book. I once read a quote, “A book is a convenient package.” This continues to ring true. I found that reading Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was a much more enjoyable experience than scrolling through her blog. Well, perhaps sitting poolside at a resort hotel colored my perception.

Lawson is certifiably wacky. Her antics are hilarious. Her book includes the most outlandish tales from her childhood, adolescence, and marriage that include everything from sharing her childhood home with baby raccoons to exhuming her deceased pet’s body before the scavenging birds did. As I sat poolside enjoying this book, my poor spouse sat with a towel over his head trying to read an iPad for his poolside relaxation. I was laughing out loud as I enjoyed reading about Lawson’s purchase of a giant metal chicken. My husband was struggling to read an iPad on a brilliantly sunny day.

For my vacation reading I had also grabbed another silly little book, just for fun. I was enticed by the snarky allure of Allie Hagen’s Suri’s Burn Book: Well-Dressed Commentary from Hollywood's Little Sweetheart, a good-natured parody on the alleged musings of Suri Cruise. Only after I read the entire book, did I realize that it was spin-off of Hagen’s blog of the same title. So, when I chose to read just for the crazy fun of it, I coincidentally picked up two books that had begun as blogs. I enjoyed both of them quite a bit.

I have come to realize that there are lots of talented writers posting blogs. With today’s easy access to self-publishing and the publishing industry’s interest in taking advantage of the audiences that these amateur authors have engaged, I know that we can expect to see more blogs morph into full-fledged books. And, since books really do make a convenient package…and are easily read by the side of a pool, you may want to check them out. Then, when convenience isn’t the issue, or when you are sitting at your computer on your work lunch break, you might want to pop over to visit some blogs. There are lots of talented writers out there, perhaps with books in their futures. You can decide whether you want to spot the up and comers or wait for their books to hit the library shelves.

Review by Pat

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In Honor Of Those Who Have Served

The library has many, many books about our armed forces and their experiences in addition to military history. In honor of Veterans Day, here are two that have recently been published.

Those Who Have Borne the Battle 
by James Edward Wright 

Summary from our catalog:
At the heart of the story of America's wars are our "citizen soldiers"--those hometown heroes who fought and sacrificed from Bunker Hill at Charlestown to Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, and beyond, without expectation of recognition or recompense. Americans like to think that the service of its citizen volunteers is, and always has been, of momentous importance in our politics and society. But though this has made for good storytelling, the reality of America's relationship to its veterans is far more complex. In 'Those Who Have Borne the Battle', historian and marine veteran James Wright tells the story of the long, often troubled relationship between America and those who have defended her--from the Revolutionary War to today--shedding new light both on our history and on the issues our country and its armed forces face today.

American Veterans on War: Personal Stories from World War II to Afghanistan 
by Elise Forbes Tripp

Summary from our catalog:
The United States is embroiled in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan -- wars that seem as far from Americans understanding as the countries are distant from our shores. With 'American Veterans on War,' Elise Forbes Tripp brings our current wars and their predecessors home in the words of 55 veterans aged 20 to 90. The veterans raise questions about when wars are worth fighting, what missions can and can't be won, and the costs and benefits of US intervention, both around the world and domestically. Recent veterans tell wrenching stories of coping with hostile forces without uniforms, of not knowing who is friend or foe, and of the lasting traces of combat once they've returned home. 

Thank You Veterans For Your Service 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Centerville Branch Staff Picks

This month the staff at the Centerville Branch is offering up some of their favorite books for your consideration.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
By Jonathan Safran Foer

Why you should read it: Oskar Schell lost his father in 9/11, and in an effort to connect with him, Oskar decides to undertake an epic “scavenger hunt” across the city. Oskar's story is tied to that of his mute grandfather, whose path eventually intersects with Oskar's in a truly unforgettable way.

Let Me In
By John Ajvide Lindqvist

Why you should read it: If you like traditional vampire novels then you must read Let Me In. It is a well written vampire thriller which will have you reading through the night.

Caleb’s Crossing
By Geraldine Brooks

Why you should read it: This story, set in the 1600s in what is now Martha’s Vineyard, is narrated by Bethia Mayfield, a minister’s daughter and good friend of Caleb. Caleb crosses many cultural barriers to become the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College.

Low Pressure
By Sandra Brown

Why you should read it: A woman tries to understand and bring closure to her feelings about the murder of her sister when she was a child.

A Walk in the Woods

Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail 
By Bill Bryson

Why you should read it: This delightful and comical book takes two middle age men on a journey of hiking the Appalachian Trail. They are not prepared physically, mentally or provisionally. The first part of the book is the beginning of their hike and the characters and events along the trail. The book finishes with a nice history of the AT.

Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong
By Paul Chaat Smith

Why you should read it: This book, by a curator of the National Museum of the American Indian, is a collection of essays on topics ranging from art, to identity, American Indian history beyond the nineteenth century, and the problems of flattering stereotypes. Funny and thoughtful it is a surprisingly fast read; it is an especially good follow-up for anyone who has enjoyed the works of author Sherman Alexi.

We'll be back next month with another library branch and another list of favorites. Until then, let us know in the comments if you have any books you recommend!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Must Love "Dog"

By Michelle Herman

"The dog, the dog, the dog—the dog had taken over her life. But this was not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps she had needed to have her life taken over."

So begins Michelle Herman's delightful little novel, Dog. A dog can provide the push to make us genuinely human, it argues, when we cannot or will not make the effort on our own. The protagonist is one J. T. (Jill) Rosen, 44, single, poet, former New Yorker now professor of creative writing somewhere in the snowy midwest. Picture Julia Louis-Dreyfuss's Elaine in Seinfeld, but twice as prickly and utterly devoid of her goofy good humor. Someone who doesn't realize her colleagues refer to her as "Her Royal Highness" and wonders why her students "so often found her funny" when she didn't mean to be.

Surfing the web late one night, after maybe one glass of red wine too many, she succumbs to a maternal pang and casually Googles "adoption." To her surprise, the search results point overwhelmingly to animal rescue organizations. Dismissing cats as "too stereotypical" for a single middle-aged woman, she lands on a dog rescue operation not far from where she lives. A sweet looking puppy with intelligent eyes moves her, and before the next day is through she has brought him home and named him "Phil."

The dog up-ends her cloistered and carefully calibrated existence. He forces her out of her house and out of her head. Before long she is talkinghowever uncomfortablywith neighbors, opening up to her students, making tentative overtures of friendship, and even thinking about the possibility of love and romance for the first time in ages.  

Dog could easily have been Hallmark-Hall-of-Fame saccharine but is instead honest and true to life. It struck a real chord with me, and it will with you, too, if you've ever found yourself swept off your feet by a dog more human than yourself.

Review by Don Beistle

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Monday, October 29, 2012

That's some catch!

By David Abrams

It's always a little off-putting to hear a new bookespecially a first novellauded as "an instant classic" and compared to some old favorite. Reviewers have been fulsome in their praise of Fobbit, David Abrams's dark comedy about the Iraq War, invariably likening it to M.A.S.H., Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five. So, I picked it up fully expecting to be quickly disappointed. But the first paragraph grabbed me so firmly that I hardly put the book down until I reached the end.

"Fobbit" is a put-down, military slang for someone stationed in the relative comfort and safety of a Forward Operating Base during the "Global War on Terror." Fobbits are not "door-kickers" or "trigger-pullers"; they are the "supply clerks, motor pool mechanics, cooks, mail sorters, lawyers, trombone players, logisticians" who work and sleep in air-conditioned comfort. "They were," the narrator sneers, "all about making it out of Iraq in one piece."

Abrams himself was a Fobbit, having done a yearlong tour in Iraq as a Public Affairs Officer. The book clearly springs from his experience and some passages seem to have been lifted straight from the author's diary. Fobbit is set in 2005, when "Mission Accomplished" was giving way to a merciless insurgency and the American casualty count was climbing daily toward 2000. The war that was supposed to be a cakewalk was turning into a meatgrinder.

Abrams name-checks Catch-22 in Fobbit, and the influence of Joseph Heller's sardonic masterpiece is unmistakable. The character names in particular are pure Catch-22: Specialist Blodgett, Sergeant Gooding, Captain Shrinkle, Colonel Harkleroad and so on. The Iraq War is just as absurd and the bureaucracy that feeds it just as impenetrable for Abrams as the Second World War was for Heller. 

Fobbit is sure to join Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five on required reading lists some day. But do yourself a favor and read it now.

Review by Don Beistle

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Haunted Houses

It's the end of October, which means Halloween is just around the corner. I decided to prepare by looking through our horror section for something scary. What I came up with was a couple of ghost stories that might be just the thing to send a tingle up your spine.

By Bentley Little

The Perry family is looking for a better neighborhood. Someplace they can raise their kids. Though they finally agree on a two-story home near the city's historic district, it's not long before they start to have doubts. As soon as they move in their daughter, Claire, starts receiving threatening text messages. James, their son, is beginning to act strangely. And no one in the family likes going into the basement, for reasons they're afraid to discuss. Soon they notice that they hardly ever see their neighbors, and stories about their house's deadly history start to pop up. When they try to contact the real estate agent who sold them the house, she clearly doesn't want to talk about it.  Just what have they gotten themselves into? And how can they get back out?

This is a classic American haunting. An average family moves into an average house and begins a not-so-average descent into terror.

By David Annandale

According to local legend Gethsemane Hall is host to the benevolent spirit of Saint Rose. But after the death of a ghost hunter the house becomes embroiled in controversy. Lord Richard Gray, tired of all the attention, invites a group of skeptics and believers to research the house's spiritual inhabitant. There's a team  who believes that ghosts are inherently good, a team that believes ghosts are imaginary, and a couple of folks with their own agendas. It's soon obvious that something unnatural is going on at the house, but is it also unholy? Even the true believers are left quivering in fear as they learn more and more about the presence that inhabits this place. The residents of the village nearby could have told them to stay away. Every one of them dreads going to the Hall, just as they are drawn to it. They know that if they travel down the tree-lined drive they might never come back.

The language in this book is more florid than that of The Haunted, but the scares are just as potent. There's plenty of blood and gore in this dank horror story set in scary old England.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Click the covers or the titles above to request either of these books.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Americans in Paris

Have you ever wanted to move to another country? Today we're looking at stories of Americans living in Paris. Whether you want tips on what to do when you move there yourself, or just want to live vicariously through the authors, these books are entertaining tours through one of Europe's most famous cities.

Lunch in Paris
A Love Story, With Recipes
By Elizabeth Bard

Elizabeth Bard knew she wanted an international life. A native New Yorker, she was already living in London when she met a Frenchman during a conference. She began crossing the Channel to visit him in Paris on weekends, and then she took a leap of faith and moved to Paris full-time. While trying to find a way to live in a city where she barely spoke the language, she discovered that there are a lot of things that just don't translate. How does one find friends in France? How do you start a business, or at least find a job? What about an apartment? The pace of the city is slower than New York or London, and the social cues are complex. But one area where she definitely found her way was the food. Bard describes many mouth-watering meals throughout her international adventure. She also provides recipes at the end of each chapter if you'd like to try your hand at the cuisine.

Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down 
By Rosecrans Baldwin

Like Elizabeth Bard, Rosecrans Baldwin is a New Yorker. He was still living stateside when he got offered a chance to move to Paris and work for an advertising agency. He had no experience in advertising, and didn't really speak French, but who says no to a job in Paris? Baldwin is a novelist (find his novel here) so he's  good with words. Being surrounded by French speakers, however, made that difficult. He writes, "Living in another language and speaking defectively, I could not be clever. At best, I was genuine." As he bumbles his way through French office culture, supermarkets, and parties filled with fellow temporary expats, he is indeed genuine and candid. You'll laugh along with him as he tries to learn how to exist in Paris, how to communicate without saying something offensive, and who to kiss hello in any given situation. By the time he makes it back to New York, he's a changed man.

Review by Danny Hanbery

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ireland in WWII

By Patricia Palvey

Beautiful, 18-year-old Sheila McGee works in a linen mill in Northern Ireland where she lives with her manic mother, her drunken uncle and sanctimonious aunt. Her only desire in life is to flee the country as soon as humanly possible. World War II breaks out and everything changes for her, most importantly her own character and values. While the story is set in a dreary Irish mill town controlled by the British Crown and occupied by some pretty horrible characters, the landscape is beautiful and Sheila's story is both heartbreaking and triumphant.

Review by Anita

Monday, October 15, 2012

Books Made Into Movies

We've all heard the phrase "don't judge a book by it's cover". "Don't judge a book by the movie" is becoming increasingly apt. The following is a list of current or upcoming movies that were adapted for the big screen.

Cloud Atlas
By David Mitchell

From Goodreads: "A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified “dinery server” on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation—the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other’s echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small."

The movie, starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, will be in theaters shortly.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
By Stephen Chbosky

From Goodreads: "This is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite."

The movie stars Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame), Logan Lerman, and Ezra Miller.

Life of Pi
by Yann Martel

From Goodreads: "Life of Pi is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe."

The film is directed by Ang Lee and stars Suraj Sharma as Pi.

How will these tales fare as movies? I guess there is only one way to find out. Read the book and then watch the movie or vice versa. In my experience, the book is almost always better.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A back-to-school kind of mystery

Gone Tomorrow
By P. F. Kluge

Gone Tomorrow is a mystery of sorts. When a famous colleague is killed in a hit-and-run accident after having been forced into retirement, thirty-something writing professor Mark May is surprised to learn that the victim had named him his literary executor. The colleague is George Canaris, a renowned writer who was "compared to Faulkner ... at the start of his career" but "resembled Harper Lee" in the end. And when May discovers a manuscript in the dead man's freezer, it turns out not to be Canaris's long-promised magnum opus but rather a memoir of three-and-a-half decades spent teaching and writing at their small Ohio college. May dubs the manuscript "Gone Tomorrow," and the more he reads of it the more he comes to suspect that Canaris may have been the victim of foul play.

But the central mystery of Gone Tomorrow is not whether Canaris's death was accident, murder or suicide. The driving question is whether Canaris actually wrote anything during his 35 years in Ohio and, if so, why he published nothing in all that time. He claimed to be laboring all the while on "The Beast," an ever-expanding epic sprung from an anecdote recounted in the last of his published books. The heart of "The Beast" is a man's final lonely walk through the nighttime streets of Karlsbad (a famous spa town once part of Austro-Hungary, now known as Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic). It is a prelude to exile first performed by German-Jewish film star Kurt Gerron, then by Canaris's father with his infant son in his arms, and finally by Canaris himself. Kluge offers no direct answer to the question of why Canaris evidently could not bring himself to stop working on the Holocaust-haunted story of his birth city, but the reasons will reveal themselves to an attentive reader.

Gone Tomorrow is a Whitman's Sampler of literary delights. Canaris himself is a near-caricature of a mid-20th century writer: cultured, formal, reserved and absolutely repelled by today's verbose and self-indulgent writing. Canaris's frequent offhand swipes at the contemporary canon ("Oh, God, not Dave Eggers or David Foster Wallace!") are guaranteed to bring a wry smile to serious readers of a traditional bent. Kluge's depiction of teaching is spot on; anyone who has ever stood in front of classroom will recognize the bittersweet voice of experience here. And through it all a Romantic sense that something important has been lost without our ever having grasped it. But maybe, just maybe, Art can preserve some faint glimmer of the evanescent wonder of a world that is here today, gone tomorrow.

Review by Don Beistle

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Monday, October 8, 2012

"Caine Mutiny" Free Onstage Thursday

The Caine Mutiny Court Martial
Thursday, October 11
8:00 PM
New Dawn Theater
3087 Main Street
Duluth, GA 30096

"The Caine Mutiny Court Martial" is a play in two acts based on Herman Wouk's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Caine Mutiny.

Duluth's New Dawn Theater will be presenting "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial" throughout the month of October. Admission will be free for the 8:00 performance this Thursday, October 11 as part of Fall into the Arts 2012. Seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

If Wouk's classic tale of wartime mutiny on the high seas leaves you hungry for more, look for the following nonfiction titles at your local Gwinnett County Public Library branch.

The Color of War: How One Battle Broke Japan and Another Changed America by James Campbell (2012).

Mutiny: The True Events That Inspired "The Hunt for Red October" by David Hagberg (2008).

Troubled Water: Race, Mutiny, and Bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk by Gregory A. Freeman (2009).

Request any of these books by clicking on the titles above.

Friday, October 5, 2012

What it Means to be American

The American Bible
How Our Words Unite, Divide, 
and Define a Nation
By Stephen Prothero

As we head into the final month of this election season, it can be hard to remember that we're all really on the same side. No matter how heated the debate, most Americans want what they think is best for the country. And according to Stephen Prothero, it's our differences that unite us. In his introduction he writes, "To be an American is not to agree with your fellow citizens about a set of propositions. It is to agree to argue with them, and to argue passionately."

Prothero's aim in this volume is to bring together a number of texts central to America's idea of itself. He notes that while we don't often agree on how to run the country, "Americans agree to a surprising degree about which symbols and ideas are central to our national life." He therefore offers excerpts of many quintessentially American speeches, songs, books, and aphorisms. Inside you'll find snippets of Thomas Paine's Common Sense and Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. "The Star-Spangled Banner" is right beside "God Bless America" and "This Land is Your Land."

Prothero, a professor of religion, uses the Bible as a template, explaining that his book "began as an effort to construct an American Talmud." Like the Talmud, he offers the original texts surrounded by commentary and discussion from many voices. Is Huckleberry Finn the most American novel, or is it Uncle Tom's Cabin? What did George Washington really mean in his farewell address, and how should we interpret Ronald Reagan's most famous political speeches?

It's the interplay of arguments from different sides of the political aisle that makes the book useful. It can remind us what we're trying to do, and even give us some hope. If the size of the book seems daunting, you might try listening to it. It's available as a downloadable audiobook.

Review by Danny Hanbery

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Poet Laureate Visiting Gwinnett on Sunday

The 2012 Gwinnett Reads author is Pulitzer Prize winner and Poet Laureate of the United States, Natasha Trethewey. Her work combines free verse with more traditional forms like the sonnet and the villanelle to explore memory and the racial legacy of America.

Born in Gulfport, Mississippi, Trethewey is the author of four collections of poetry: Domestic Work, Bellocq's Ophelia, Native Guard, for which she was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, and her newest book, Thrall. She is also the author of a book of creative non-fiction, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Join us on Sunday, October 7, at 5:00 p.m., in the Student Center at Georgia Gwinnett College to hear Trethewey discuss her work. Light refreshments will be served and music will be provided by Joyce Parks, director of the B.J. Chorale.

Click on any of the above links to request any of the books mentioned, or click here for a full list.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Buford-Sugar Hill Branch Staff Picks

This is the beginning of a monthly feature. We'll pick a branch of the Gwinnett County Public Library and the staff of that branch will offer some books they've truly enjoyed. Any genre, any subject, any author. Maybe you'll find your new favorite book!

By Daphne Du Maurier

Why you should read it: Rebecca is a classic Gothic romance imbued with mystery and psychological intrigue. An unnamed protagonist marries a widower and moves to Manderley Estate where she begins to feel unwanted and unloved thanks to the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, and her fierce loyalty to the first Mrs. DeWinters.

The Informationist
By Taylor Stevens

Why you should read it: You'd like this book if you liked The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It's a fast paced thriller with a memorable heroine.

Catering to Nobody
By Diane Mott Davidson

Why you should read it: If you like cozy mysteries, you will love the first title in the Goldy Bear culinary mysteries series. And be sure you eat before reading. Not only is it a fun read, it contains delightful descriptions of the food Goldy caters. Recipes included!

By Veronica Roth

Why you should read it: If you liked The Hunger Games series, you will love this first book of the Divergent Trilogy. It is set in a futuristic society where people are separated into five factions, each dedicated to their own beliefs. Upon their sixteenth year the characters must make choice and be initiated into their new faction.

Unfallen Dead
By Mark Del Franco

Why you should read it: It's a smart and engrossing paranormal mystery with characters you will love. For fans of Jim Butcher and Simon R. Green.

We'll be back next month with another library branch and another list of favorites. Until then, let us know in the comments if you have any books you recommend!