Monday, April 29, 2013

Baldacci's Innocent

The Innocent
By David Baldacci

Sometimes people do monstrous things, and when they need to be eliminated the American government calls on the one person who can do so efficiently and quietly: Will Robie. Robie never questions his assignments until one day when a hit that is unusually close to home is botched and Robie himself becomes a target. In the chaos that ensues, Robie partners with sassy and smart fourteen-year-old Julie Getty, who is trying to escape the men who murdered her parents.

Ron McLarty and Orlagh Cassidy narrate the audiobook and do an excellent job. At the beginning of the audiobook, the transitions between the two narrators are a bit stilted, but they quickly become comfortable with each other and the narration smooths out evenly. The plot keeps a fast pace and I soon felt as though I was navigating the streets of Washington, D.C. with Robie and Julie, who are both well-rounded protagonists. There were several cliffhangers that left me tense, because I knew I needed to leave my car and go to work, but I wanted to stay and see what was going to happen next.

The final showdown is exciting and impressively complex, tying up all of the loose ends in a realistic fashion.  Will Robie find out who singled him for assassination, or will he die trying to protect Julie? Read David Baldacci’s The Innocent to find out, available at your local public library.

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

Review by Allison Grubbs

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Don't Miss This One!

Sage Singer works through the night as a baker. She enjoys the opportunity to both express her creativity and avoid the pain of her mother’s death and her own disfigurement from an auto accident.

When Josef Weber, a 95 year old former German teacher walks into the bakery one day, slowly but surely an unlikely friendship develops.   The relationship undergoes a radical shift when one day Josef confesses a disgraceful secret; one that would shock the entire town and asks Sage for an unusual favor.

There are ethical ramifications with any decision she makes, but as she slowly delves into the mystery startling truths about her own familial history emerge.  With her life changing before her eyes with each alarming discovery Sage begins to question her motives, her values and the entire meaning of her life.

The Storyteller grips the reader from the first page to the last, a shocker that forces us to ask how well do we really know anyone and what are we truly capable of doing to get our own brand of justice.     

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Review by Karen H.      

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Heaven for Animals?

The Divine Life of Animals
One Man's Quest to Discover Whether the Souls of Animals Live On

by Ptolemy Tompkins

First, please pretend not to notice how much the cover of this book looks like an ad for toilet paper. The paperback edition has a much better cover, but the hardcover is what you'll find in our collection. Second, yes, "Ptolemy" is the author's real, given name, not some New Age nom de plume. Now, with that out of the way let's consider why this is a book worth reading.

Tompkins' line of inquiry runs something like this: If humans have immortal souls, and humans are animals, then might non-human animals also have immortal souls? The question, of course, suggests its own answer. But even if you're not inclined to believe that animals (or humans for that matter) have souls, Tompkins' argument is as edifying as it is entertaining. It won't convince anyone not already predisposed to buy it, but that's almost beside the point.

Tompkins draws his evidence from a Joseph Campbell-inspired grab bag of elements of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. His case is hardly scientific, but it is erudite and compelling. He argues that the animals we love—whether because we bring them into our homes live with us or because we go into the wild to hunt them—have always seemed to have something special, something powerful about them. Whatever that quality may be—Tompkins calls it "soul"—it allows them to appear to us in dreams, causes us to feel their presence when we cannot see them, and seems to bring them back to their favorite places even after we have seen them die. 

Mary Oliver's poem "The First Time Percy Came Back" from A Thousand Mornings perfectly encapsulates the mystery Tompkins describes. Every animal lover should read Oliver's poems about her dog Percy. And since April is National Poetry Month, there's no better time than now to read them. Oliver's poems are guaranteed to put a lump in your throat and leave you in the perfect frame of mind to consider The Divine Life of Animals.

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Review by Don Beistle

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What is the Definition of Insanity?

Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall is the story of Iris Dunleavy. Set in the Civil War, Iris is sent to a mental institution after being convicted of being a lunatic.  Her wealthy plantation husband has sent her to Sanibel Island in Florida to Dr. Cowell to be turned into a reasonable woman once again. 

Iris arrives on the island intent on being released once someone understands the situation. She is not crazy. She has been placed there by her husband after she disgraced him by attempting to flee the plantation with slaves.  Iris must convince Dr. Cowell, a leading "expert" on women's maladies, that she is sane. Dr. Cowell's son, Wendell, is drawn to Iris and her claim of sanity. Wendell, convinced he is mad himself, struggles with being an adolescent and his love for a former patient.  Ambrose, a fellow patient, is a former soldier battling PTSD. Ambrose becomes a companion for Iris, and they fall in love.  

Iris decides she must plan her escape or die on the island. Will she succeed? 

In less than 300 pages, Hepinstall paints the story well.  Readers can imagine the island and the asylum, and the desperation of all the island inhabitants. Hepinstall has created a story on the outskirts of the Civil War, but asks the questions relevant to that era. What rights are afforded to people living during that time? Who can judge what is in a person's mind or heart? 

Click on the title or picture above to request this title.

Review by Cara 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Post-Apocalyptic Nonfiction

A Woman in Berlin
Eight Weeks in the Conquered City
by Anonymous

Seeing Kersten Lieff's Letters from Berlin among the Grayson Branch Staff Picks earlier this month reminded me of another firsthand account of the fall of Berlin and the savage free-for-all that followed. A Woman in Berlin is officially an anonymous work, but its authenticity has been verified and its author posthumously revealed to be journalist Marta Hillers. If you want to know what the end of civilization looks like, here it is.

Alone in a doomed city of women, children and men either too old or too infirm to fight, the author resolved to record Berlin's destruction. ("All these gifts of the modern age—they're nothing but dead weight if the power goes out. At moment we're marching back in time. Cave dwellers.") She was a magazine writer in her mid-thirties, wry, well educated, cosmopolitan and self-sufficient. Her account is devastatingly candid, without histrionics or self-pity.

Her description of what the women of Berlin had to endure in order to survive are clear-eyed and dispassionate, a blend of journalistic precision and utter physical and emotional exhaustion: "I think our men must feel even dirtier than we do, sullied as we women are.... [O]ne woman told me how her neighbor reacted when the Russians fell on her in her basement: he simply shouted 'Well, why don't you just go with them, you're putting us all in danger!' A minor footnote in the Decline of the West."

For all that, what's most moving about A Woman in Berlin are the flickers of humanity amid the darkness: the weak tea and black humor with which the women comfort one another, the surprising decency of some Russian officers, the childlike homesickness of teenaged infantrymen.

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Review by Don Beistle

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Rummaging in the Kitchen Drawers

Consider the Fork
A History of How We Cook and Eat
By Bee Wilson

If I told you I just read a fascinating book about forks and spoons, you probably wouldn't believe me. But I assure you it is the truth. This, my friend, is that book. More than forks and spoons, however, it's about the entire history of kitchen utensils, which ones we used once upon a time and how we came up with the ones we use today. If you've ever spent time in a kitchen, even just to stir a pot of spaghetti with a wooden spoon, then this is a book for you.

You'll learn how even a humble wooden spoon is the product of "countless decisions--economic and social as well as those pertaining to design and applied engineering." You'll discover how cooks used to have to put their hands into ovens, conducting a pain test, to see if it was hot enough. And you'll probably not be surprised to learn that in the kitchen technology sometimes follows the taste buds: "Whereas refrigeration was neglected for centuries, the technology of ice cream was extremely advanced." The book is filled with anecdotes like these that will make you smile as you remember your own adventures in front of the stove. If nothing else it will make you happy that we no longer have to grind our own sugar from solid blocks, or have ice shipped from frozen lakes in the North.

Far from academic, the information is relayed in a readable and flowing style, and you're sure to enjoy the experience.

Request this book by clicking the title or the cover above.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fairy Tales Come True

Some Kind of Fairy Tale
By Graham Joyce

Tara's family thought she was dead. Twenty years ago she went for a walk in the woods and never came back. When a woman who looks almost identical to Tara shows up, looking the same age as Tara when she left, people don't know what to believe. If it is Tara, then where has she been? If it isn't, then what does this woman want? As they try to piece together this new Tara's story, her family must deal with the sins of the past. They must make amends to Tara's old boyfriend, suspected of killing her two decades before. When Tara finally comes clean to her brother with a fantastic tale that logic tells him can't be real, he knows he has to make a choice. Could Tara be telling the truth, or is this woman a changeling trying to take her place?

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
By Susanna Clarke

Mr. Norrell is a fusty old magician living in an alternate version of 19th century England where they are still fighting Napoleon and magic is real. Or at least it used to be. Most magicians these days have forgotten the practical application and do not believe that Mr. Norrell can do the amazing things he claims. That is, they don't believe until he brings a number of statues to life to prove his point. When Jonathan Strange meets Mr. Norrell the old man agrees to be his tutor. Strange has a knack for magic and a personal flair that poor Norrell lacks. Strange also has a wife who, due to some magical meddling, begins meeting a strange man who steals her away at night to a ballroom filled with strangely beautiful people. As the history of this alternate England progresses, Strange and Norrell find themselves at odds about the use of magic for warfare and their relationship is strained to the breaking point. Who will prevail when the two greatest magicians of the age do battle?

Written as a popular history, complete with footnotes detailing the history of magic, this book is no small undertaking. It took ten years before the author submitted it for publication, but when she did it won best novel at the 2005 Hugo Awards. It's a hefty tome, but it's well worth the read. It's also a great book to listen to if you prefer audio books.

To request these books click on the titles or covers above.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Sue Grafton As Never Before

Kinsey and Me is the latest offering from Sue Grafton. The book is divided into three distinct sections. The first section is nine short stories featuring Kinsey Millhone, Grafton's famous private eye. The middle is a brief explanation of Grafton's love for private detectives and what they represent to her. The last section is a series of short stories based on a character named Kit Blue, who is younger version of Grafton herself. Both sets of short stories are prefaced with an introduction that gives detail about the stories and the characters. 

As a Sue Grafton and Kinsey fan, I was thrilled to read the short stories featuring Kinsey. They were sharp and smart, and I wished there were more of them. The stories featuring Kit Blue were deep and touched on the themes of children and parent role reversal, alcoholism, and family relationships. If the stories were autobiographical, as Grafton as indicated, I have compassion for Grafton as the child of alcoholic parents. The novel is a juxtaposition of light and dark, with the Kinsey stories being light and Kit Blue being dark. 

Fans of Sue Grafton will enjoy this book, though it is not necessary to know Kinsey and her history. A recommended read for all private eye fans. 

If you have never tried Grafton's Kinsey Millhone series, the first is A for Alibi.  Grafton introduces Millhone, a tough female private eye that is naturally nosy. Her short tenure as a police officer has led her to a private eye career. Millhone lost her parents at an early age and was raised by her Aunt Gin, who was not very maternal. The story focuses on Nikki Fife, who has hired Kinsey to track down who actually killed her husband. Nikki has served her time, and the trail is eight years old. What will Kinsey find? 

To request these titles, click on the names above. 

Review by Cara 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Grayson Branch Staff Picks

This month we hear from the staff of the Grayson branch, who share some of their favorite reads in the hope that you might enjoy them as much as they did.

Letters from Berlin
by Kerstin Lieff

Margarete Dos once led a charmed life in Berlin, but as the Allies bomb the city around the clock and the Russians move to take it she does not recognize herself in the mirror because her life has become filled with terror and scarcity. World War II was a nightmare that millions of German civilians suffered simply because they were German. That Margarete survived to tell her daughter her story sixty years later is a miracle. A harrowing and moving true account of the fall of Berlin and the plight of German refugees under the Soviets.

The Life and Exploits of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain
by Stephen Taylor

Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, was a frigate captain in the Royal Navy during
the American Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Chronologically formatted, this biography begins with Pellew’s childhood and continues with his early years at sea, his fighting in America during the Revolution, and his eventual rise to the rank of admiral. The narrative is engaging and the reader will be eager to learn what happens next. A thorough and well-balanced biography based on previously unavailable sources; very well done.

The Power of Habit
by Charles Duhigg

A 2006 Duke University study concluded that “more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.” Author Charles Duhigg delves into the science of habit
specifically, how they are formed, how they become ingrained, and how they can be changed. Duhigg's focus ranges from habits in our personal lives to those of businesses, organizations and social movements. If you are looking for inspiration to help increase your productivity, form new habits or break destructive ones, this book is definitely worth a read.
After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story
by Michael Hainey

I had a “just can’t put the book down” experience as I read Michael Hainey’s account of his search for the truth about his father’s death at age thirty-five. Hainey's memoir is as intriguing as any fiction title you might want to read. I will not spoil the ending, but be assured that no part of this book is disappointing.

by Rachel Maddow

Though author Maddow clearly leans to the left in political matters, her book is solidly non-partisan and presents the case that American military power has drifted from its core mission in recent decades. No one administration holds the blame; instead, a series of decisions since Vietnam has led to an incremental shift away from our values. Maddow is not pessimistic, however, and believes that there is a way forward if we have the strength to make hard decisions.

An Apple for the Creature
by Charlaine Harris & Toni L.P. Kelner

Editors Harris and Kelner serve up a collection of paranormal stories with an educational twist. You can enjoy a new story about a favorite character such as Sookie Stackhouse or Remy Chandler or experience a great stand-alone like Mike Carey's "Iphigenia in Aulis," a sad, haunting story of a young girl who just longs for human contact. If you have exhausted your usual authors, a short story collection like this is a great way to find a new favorite. 

Speaking from Among the Bones
by Alan Bradley

The fifth volume in Bradley's Flavia de Luce series returns to the small English town of Bishop’s Lacey just after the Second World War, where preteen chemistry whiz Flavia de Luce once again uses her great uncle’s chemistry lab and plain nosiness to get to the bottom of a local mystery. Along with her trusty bicycle, Gertrude, and household handyman, Dogger, Flavia earns the grudging respect of the local constables as she strives to save the family home from creditors and learn more about the mother she never knew.