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

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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

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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!