Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
Review by Steve Thomas

The short description of this book is "Jane Austen with magic" and it's an apt one, if overly simplistic. Kowal tells the tale of Jane Ellsworth, the model of an Austen heroine, who at age 28 believes herself to be destined for a life as an old maid while her beautiful younger sister Melody has no problem attracting suitors. Jane has a quality Melody does not, however, and that is an advanced ability to create glamour, the key manifestation of magic.

At its core, glamour is like stumbling into a work of art. Creating it involves manipulating folds in the fabric of reality to produce realistic representations of other sights, sounds, and smells capable of completely immersing one in its reality. The word “hologram” didn’t exist in the 19th century, but if it did, that is precisely the word people would use (for Star Trek: the Next Generation fans, the effect is comparable to that of the Holodeck). Manipulating glamour is considered an art, much akin to high society women learning to play the piano or paint, but Jane shows an uncanny ability to do so, especially after she encounters, interacts and learns from a leading glamourist of the day, Mr. Vincent.

The story follows the basic regency romance structure, with love found, love lost, love betrayed, and ultimately, love triumphant. Kowal keeps the pace slow but consistent, and her scenic descriptions are brief but superb, especially when describing elaborate glamour. The tone is light but adroitly conveys the gamut of emotions through which the characters are run. Her characterizations, with the notable exception of Jane, tend toward caricatures but since they have matching counterparts in the regency structure, it rather adds to the atmosphere of the overall work. Though hinted at, magic shows no manifestations other than glamour, so readers not normally at ease with the fantasy genre can comfortable immerse themselves in this world where duels are still fought with pistols rather than magic wands.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Magic and Mayhem

Magic Words by Gerald Kolpan

Two young men travel from Europe to America just after the end of the Civil War. Each intends to take an apprenticeship, one as a magician and one as a shopkeeper. The story of their successes and failures is the glue that binds this book together. The narrative charges wildly across continents and cultures as author Gerald Kolpan gives us characters filled with ambition, madness, and life.

While Alexander Herrmann becomes a celebrated magician, his cousin, Julius Meyer, has less luck. Instead of spending his life as a shopkeeper, he finds himself held captive in the wilderness. Soon, he becomes a translator for the chief of a small Indian tribe trying to survive in a time when the American Government seeks to eradicate them. From the prairie around Omaha to the stages of London theaters, the cousins make their way in the world using whatever tricks are at their disposal.

This is a historical adventure novel that gives you a preview of the excitement to come in the evocative subtitle: The Tale of a Jewish Boy-Interpreter, the Frontier's Most Estimable Magician, a Murderous Harlot, and America's Greatest Indian Chief.

If you don't like the post-Civil War era, maybe you'd prefer a similar story set around World War II? Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay tells the tale of another pair of Jewish cousins making their way in America. Joe Kavalier is sent from Prague to stay with his cousin in New York, thereby escaping the rise of the Nazis. The cousins discover a mutual love of drawing and break into the comic book industry. It's an excellently written book which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

Click the titles of the books above to request them.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Spellman Files

Two of my friends have been telling me to read this. They weren't wrong.

The Spellman's are a family of private investigators who work and live together. Family interrogations are commonplace, and personal privacy is not an option. The book is told from Izzy's (Isobel's) point of view. Izzy is the eldest daughter of the Spellman clan. Her life is chronicled by a list of misdeeds, ex-boyfriends, and surveillance techniques not approved of by her parents. When Izzy decides that she doesn't want to pursue the family business after all, her parents relent, on the stipulation that she take one more case to solve. This fifteen year old cold case will take all of Izzy's wits to solve.

I think of this book as a mashup of Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton's PI) and Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich's bounty hunter - the early books, when they were good). If you enjoy either of those series, you will enjoy this. I can't wait to read the next in the series. There are currently five books in the Izzy Spellman mystery series, and the book has been optioned for a movie currently in development. Request it here.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Anyone Can Start A Blog!

Constance, an English housewife that lives a pretty comfortable life, has started a blog. While she is not very familiar with how blogs or how Facebook works, she gamely shares her life (which centers around her church and family) with the world. She is preoccupied with the bell ringing championships coming up, finding her single son a suitable mate, wrangling work out of her live-in house helper, and trying to decipher her university bound daughter's behavior.

In the space of a year, Constance learns many things about herself and those around her. Will it make her wiser or encourage her to keep things status quo?

I enjoyed this book. For me, it was similar to Bridget Jones Diary (which I throughly  enjoyed), only it would be written from Bridget's mom's perspective. Constance's frequent (and unwanted) advice to her daughter reminded me of Pam Jones calling up Bridget in August to ask her what she wanted for Christmas. Constance is a good woman whose life view is limited due to her circumstances. Take those circumstances away, and see what happens. Constance is oblivious to many things around her. I found myself talking to the book - saying things like "Duh! Don't you know such and such is happening?" 

Read this is you like women's fiction and want a few good laughs. Request it here.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, Papa!

Ernest Hemingway was born July 21st, 1899, which makes this Saturday his 113th birthday. Even though he died 51 years ago (three weeks shy of his 62nd birthday), Hemingway remains a potent literary presence. A new edition of what is arguably his best novel, A Farewell to Arms, was published earlier this month, and Hemingway himself keeps popping up all over the place both as the subject of serious nonfiction and as a character (leading or otherwise) in a flurry of books and films.

The first volume of his collected letters was published last fall, and it offers a fascinating firsthand glimpse into EH's boyhood in Illinois and Michigan as well his experiences in the First World War and as a cub reporter right before and after the war. Also published last year was Paul Hendrickson's excellent Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961. T. A. Mort took a narrower view in The Hemingway Patrols: Ernest Hemingway and His Hunt for U-boats, a sympathetic examination EH's claim that his frequent fishing trips off the coast of Cuba in the early 1940s were actually undercover sub-hunting expeditions. Hemingway aside, Mort's book offers a gripping depiction of submarine warfare in the Caribbean during the Second World War.

In fiction, Paula McLain's The Paris Wife, a novel about Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson, was a book club sensation last year and reportedly will be made into a film. With any luck, it will be better than Hemingway and Gellhorn, HBO's 2012 melodrama about EH's wooing of his soon-to-be third wife, Martha Gellhorn, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War.

Diane Gilbert Madsen's mystery Hunting for Hemingway considers what might happen if the suitcase full of EH's unpublished manuscripts that was lost in a Paris train station in 1922 were to turn up three-quarters of a century later. (Answer: big trouble) And if your taste runs to stronger stuff, Michael Atkinson's Hemingway Deadlights and Hemingway Cutthroat both offer well-drawn portraits of a thirty-something Hemingway at the peak of his fame getting caught up in the dirty business of smuggling, politics and murder in Key West and Spain.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Learning from a Crisis

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey 
by Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD
Review by Louise Baskin

The author says, "I was, by anyone’s standard, no longer normal. In my own unique way, I had become severely mentally ill." But eight years later she wrote a book about her stroke at age 37.

I must admit I skimmed the first part, which delves into the science of the brain, but then was totally hooked when the author described her own stroke. Aware she was in serious trouble, she couldn’t remember how to call 911 for help but slowly figured out how to call her work number. She had to relearn how to sit, stand, and read. In year four of her recovery, she became capable of multitasking, such as boiling pasta and talking on the phone. She is still recovering after eight years.

Read this to find out symptoms of a stroke, how it feels to have a stroke, and what a stroke victim needs from others to recover. Most valuable to me was the last section about how our brains work and what we can do to lead a more peaceful, happier life by becoming aware of right brain/left brain functions.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Secret Identities of Classic Characters

Would you have read Gone with the Wind if it was about a woman named Pansy O'Hara?  Or the Lord of the Rings if the wizard was called Bladorthin the Grey?

We may not think that the names of the characters in our books matter that much. After all, they're not real people. But if you're a reader, think about all the time you spend with these characters. It may be more time than you spend with many of the real people you know! Not to mention that these iconic names filter through our entire culture. Who's never heard of Nancy Drew, even if you've never read one of the books? Now imagine the Nancy Drew mysteries if the plucky crime-solver was called Diana Dare. Not bad, but definitely not the same.

Head over to the Mental_Floss site to discover what some of the most recognizable names in literature were nearly called. Their article is 17 Famous Literary Characters Almost Named Something Else.

After that, if you find yourself in the mood to revisit some of these classic characters, click here to go to the Gwinnett County Public Library Catalog.

Or, if you'd like more trivia, click here to see a list of all the books published by Mental_Floss in the GCPL collection. Our branches also carry Mental_Floss magazine. It's a great way to discover something you probably didn't know before.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Audio: Heaps of Adventure

The Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage
Review by DeAnna Espinoza

If you're looking for something to keep the family entertained in the car or still looking for a Harry Potter replacement, then Septimus Heap may be what you're looking for. Better than Jim Dale, reader of the Harry Potter series, is Gerard Doyle, reader of the Septimus Heap series (books 2-6) by Angie Sage. In Magyk, the first book of the series, a boy and girl are switched at birth to protect them from a great evil who would prevent them from fulfilling their important birthrights to become a great wizard and queen, respectively. Although Magyk is narrated by Alan Corduner, I highly recommend continuing on with the adventures of Septimus, Jenna, and Beetle as they battle against evil through the audiobooks Flyte, Physik, Queste, Syren, and Darke, which are narrated by Doyle. The last installment of the series, Fyre, is expected to be released in February 2013. Sure to fulfill the Harry Potter void within, if you find yourself wanting more from this reader, Doyle also narrates the kid friendly audiobooks How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell and Eragon by Christopher Paolini.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

In the Absence of Apocalypse

Rumor has it that there's a Mayan Apocalypse coming in December. But just in case the world doesn't end, it might be worthwhile to wonder what's going to happen in the future. Today we're looking at some speculative fiction that imagines the world as it exists a few years down the road. Or a few hundred years as the case may be.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson jumps forward three hundred years to a time when humans have spread out into the solar system. It includes the hard science and philosophy elements of classic science fiction, while also exploring the effects new technology has on human relationships. Because of the broad range of subjects pondered in its pages, it may be a good idea to keep a dictionary handy. (While I was reading it, I looked up the words "parthenogenesis," "widdershins," and "Goldsworthy." Just to give you an idea.) But don't let that stop you from picking it up. The deep thoughts are interspersed with mind-blowing imagery, pulse-pounding action, and a whodunit mystery to top it off. If you've ever imagined walking on the sun-scorched surface of Mercury or floating in the vastness of space, this is a book for you.

2030 by Albert Brooks doesn't go quite as far forward in time, but the changes imagined may be even more jarring because they hit so close to home. Brooks imagines that in eighteen years medical advances have cured cancer, which leaves all the Baby Boomers living well into their 90s. This puts a huge strain on the economy due to increased numbers of people tapping into Social Security. Young people, feeling bitter about the difficulties they're having making ends meet, begin thinking about revolution, which turns to violence. Meanwhile, America's first half-Jewish president is dealing with the catastrophe of the biggest earthquake ever to hit California. Los Angeles is leveled, and America can't pay to fix it. To tell his story Brooks bounces back and forth between common people and the mega-rich, the "olds" and the young, those with power and those without. It's unsettling, but interesting. While it's not the brightest future, who can say it's not the real one?

Review by Danny Hanbery

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Austen Summer Read

I read a ton of Jane Austen related fiction. Not so much the sequels, but modern day women who love Austen and connect with her in their daily lives. Some of it is horrifically bad, but some are good. 

This is one of the good ones. 

Dr. Katherine Roberts looks forward to the Jane Austen Conference held every year. She's a presenter, and this year her anticipation is heightened because she believes that her favorite racy romance author, Lorna Warwick, will make an appearance. Katherine loves Warwick's books, but due to their racy nature, doesn't declare her love openly. On a chance, she writes a fan letter to Warwick, who responds. A pen pal friendship is started, and Katherine can't wait to meet her friend.

Robyn, another Janeite, can't wait for the conference. When her troublesome boyfriend invites himself on her trip, she doesn't know what to do but to agree. Things have been lackluster between them for a while, but Robyn (for some reason) can't release him.

This book was fun and filled with Austen. Austen quotes, talks about the movie adaptations, a trivia quiz, and visits to her home in Hampshire. If you like Austen and fun, quick, romance reads, this is for you. 

Request it here

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Have You Heard of This Patterson?

Fall from Grace by Richard North Patterson
Review by Kathleen Richardson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Martha's Vineyard resident Richard North Patterson has written a thrilling story of suspense and family intrigue that shouldn't be missed! You know, sometimes I think people forget that James Patterson isn't the only author with that surname. That the two men write the same genre of fiction makes it even more difficult for some folks to tell them apart. There's nothing wrong with reading James Patterson.  Almost everyone I know has read at least one of his bestsellers. The difference to me is that Richard North Patterson's characters are emotionally complex and multidimensional.

Fall from Grace is the story of the death of Benjamin Blaine, wealthy patrician and celebrity. It has broad based appeal with a celebrity mistress character, a gay character, and a son that is the athlete and prime physical specimen that his father was. There is a love triangle, and a sibling triangle. There is intrigue. Ben Blaine's son is a CIA operative stationed in Afghanistan and he uses his spy tricks to find out about the case and to understand and protect others. It is a story of family plots and also a whodunit. We're not sure if Benjamin Blaine was murdered or fell to his death. So, for people who like a quick read with good characterization or for those who want a beach read that reminds them of the TV series Dynasty, this is a green light book.

Request it here