Tuesday, June 25, 2013

An Irish Treasure

If you are not familiar with Maeve Binchy, the Irish author wrote over twenty books. Most are fiction novels set in Ireland in varying time periods.  Her books are gentle snapshots of  the lives and times of ordinary people.

A Week in Winter  follows the same vein as her previous offerings. Set predominately in Ireland, it tells the tale of Chicky, an Irish born woman who leaves Ireland to be with her love in NYC. Abandoned and betrayed, she returns to Ireland unsure of what her future will bring. Unable to tell the truth about her life back in NYC, she lies about the ending of her relationship but is determined to move on. 

Chicky is drawn to the Stone House (the big house in her Irish town by the sea) and begins to refurbish it with the plan of making it into a bed and breakfast. Despite the nay saying of others, Chicky begins forming her small community to help her with her dream, taking in an old friend's ne'er do well son and her niece who has returned from Dublin. 

Chicky's first guests are to stay for a whole week. The guests are a wildly varying group who each have a something to work out. Each guest has an experience that shapes the path their life will take. 

Binchy's characters read like friends - people that you know and care about. Her beloved characters are woven together in her later novels, to give readers an idea of how her former protagonists were doing. This book is no exception, with guest appearances from some characters from Whitethorn Woods and Heart and Soul

A Week in Winter is Binchy's last novel due to her death last July. If you enjoy non demanding stories about real people, give her books a try. 

To request this title, please click on the picture of title above. 

Review by Cara

Monday, June 24, 2013

Husband and Wife Craft a Story of Fairies and Magic Set in NYC

Black Swan Rising is the first in a series of fantasy novels by husband and wife team Carol Goodman and Lee Slonimsky.  Our heroine is Garet James a jeweler and adventurer into the magic realm and her nemesis is the alchemist of old, John Dee.   Garet stumbles upon her special power and is trained by Oberon, the actual Oberon Shakespeare immortalized, who works in a hospital by day.  Puck is here and a fire fey called LOL because she is credited with creating the term on the internet.  There is also a dragon and an enchanted fish. The story is full of magical creatures throughout the book.  Garet finds a silver jewelry box emblazoned with the exact symbol the ring her mother gave her bears.  The mysterious jewelry box is found in a jewelry store that has disappeared the next day, run by an alchemist who has been making our world a miserable place everytime her comes into a bit of power.  He is blamed for everything from Hitler, deadly weather, and the suicide attempt by Garet’s friend. By opening the jewelry box Garet has unknowingly unleashed Dee’s power once again on the world and changed her life forever. Garet must be initiated into the world of magic by Oberon and a vampire named Will, a hedge fund manager, to use her new powers.  Her training must be done quickly to stop the demons of mayhem transported into the city by a deadly fog.

The plot line moves smoothly from a burglary in the art gallery owned by Garet and her Father, Roman,  Garet meets Oberon at the hospital as he cares for her Father who has sustained an injury during the robbery.  The robbers have stolen valuable Pissaro paintings and to make it all worse Garet and her Father are in the throes of financial ruin.  With Oberon’s training Garet quickly learns to see the aura of everyone she meets and he introduces her to different creatures who parade as mere mortals to the unknowing eye.  Garet is a Watchtower, destined to protect the world from danger, destruction, and dark magic.  Her mother died in a car accident and had never passed on her legacy to her daughter. The book has been labeled urban fantasy but the only thing urban about it is the setting.  Readers of traditional fantasy will be pleased with the tale.  I see an especial appeal to young adults.  Garet is a young 20 something heroine and her friends are members of an alternative rock band.  It is a satisfying story and there is a sequel, The Watchtower which the library owns.

To request this book, click on the title or the picture above. 

Review by Kathleen Richardson

Thursday, June 20, 2013

North Korean Noir

The "Inspector O" novels
by James Church

I forget exactly how I stumbled across Inspector O but it was while searching for something else entirely. A mystery set in North Korea was intriguing enough, but a North Korean police detective protagonist was altogether too interesting to resist.

O is a detective in the Ministry of People's Security. He's loyal but apolitical, proudly North Korean but as indifferent to the cult of the Dear Leader as he is to Communist dogma. Too conscientious for his own good, his inability to look the other way inevitably leads O into the Byzantine depths of the North Korean security apparatus: "I knew, knew absolutely, that somebody didn't want the case solved. . . . Until Min actually ordered me off, formally, I had to keep following footprints leading nowhere. At least I had to hope they led nowhere. If by accident I stumbled on a real clue, it would be nothing but trouble." Of course, O always runs smack into the clue he doesn't want to find and it sends him tumbling headlong into a pressure cooker of international intrigue and domestic chicanery.

Curiosity and independence are by no means assets for a North Korean security officer, and O takes more beatings than Sam Spade and Jim Rockford combined. There's a strong noir flavor to O's world, and the erudite inspector some times sounds suspiciously like a hardboiled American detectiveespecially when a femme fatale enters the fray: "She walked over to me, on high heels that accentuated her height. She was tall and slender, maybe younger than I first thought. . . . There was nothing wispy or slender about her manner. She was rude like a hammer before it comes down on a nail." Anyone else hear Bogart and picture Bacall there?

The Inspector O novels are no pastiches or cheesy mash-ups, though. James Church (not his real name) is a Californian, a former intelligence officer with decades of experience in Asia and special expertise in Korean matters. He claims to have created the character O as a way to explore how someone smart, capable and skeptical might choose not to escape his homeland's grinding hardships but rather to remain steadfastly loyal to a system he never had faith in. It's thisO's stubborn, Hemingway-esque refusal to live life on anyone's terms but his ownthat makes O such a compelling character. Having made O's acquaintance, North Korea will never look quite the same to you.

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Review by Don Beistle 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Hit the road with Harry

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure
The True Story of a Great American Road Trip
by Matthew Algeo

Sixty years ago this week Harry Truman, 69 years old and fresh out of office, did something no other former president has ever done. He packed up his car, climbed behind the wheel and hit the road like any ordinary private citizen. No aides, no press, no security detail, just the ex-president and former first lady on a cross-country trip from Independence, MO to New York and back again.

Unbelievable? Crazy? Publicity stunt? No, no and no. It really happened, and Matthew Algeo does a remarkable job both of bringing this little-known episode in presidential history to light and of making the case that it was not lunacy but rather a quintessentially American gesture. Harry Truman, you see, was the last American president to leave office without an executive pension, paid staff or round-the-clock security detail. Truman had to pinch his pennies in retirement, but he enjoyed a degree of freedom unimaginable for any ex-president since.

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure is really two books in one. One recounts Truman's wild 1953 ride, the other Algeo's retracing of Truman's path by driving the same roads, eating and sleeping at the same places, and even visiting some of the same people Truman met on the road. Of course, the original trip makes for more exciting reading, but Algeo's wistful review of the lost world of pre-Interstate, small-town America will put a lump in your throat.

If you're looking for serious history, grab a copy of David McCullough's magisterial Truman, the book that singlehandedly rehabilitated the reputation of America's 33rd president. But if you're looking for something lighter but not fluffy, Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure is a perfect summer read. Slip a copy into your overnight bag when you hit the road this summer; you'll find Harry Truman a surprisingly enjoyable travel companion.

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Review by Don Beistle   

Thursday, June 13, 2013

From Chopping to Chewing

A Natural History of Transformation
By Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan would be appalled that I listened to his book while driving down the road and eating fast food. In my defense, I was in the middle of moving to a new house and had neither the time nor the energy to cook. Pollan, of course, would argue that cooking is something that we must make time for and find the energy to do. Because it's important. It's vital. It's...tasty.

I do not disagree with him, and he makes interesting points about the ways that we've outsourced our food preparation to the detriment of our own health. But the real joys of this book are in his descriptions of the cooking he participates in. He apprentices himself to several chefs, dedicating a part of the book to cooking with a different primordial element: fire (roasting), water (braising and boiling), air (baking), and earth (fermentation). If you don't come away from this book thinking about crackling pig skin or fresh baked sourdough bread or vegetables sizzling in a frying pan, then you are a stronger (and possibly less hungry) person than me.

If you're less interested in the cooking, and more interested in the digesting, then perhaps this next book will interest you.

Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
By Mary Roach

If you've never read a book by Mary Roach, I beseech you to do so. She takes books about popular science and makes them not only interesting, but hilarious. Be warned: one of her favorite things to do is to try to gross you out. And because this book starts in the mouth and ends at, well, the other end, there are plenty of opportunities for her to make an easy joke. I will admit the one she put in about the windbreaker jackets sporting the logo of Beano made me chuckle.

But in between the laughs and the groans you will learn something. She writes with an obvious passion about her subject and a thirst for knowledge. And you will be a hit at parties with all of the fun facts she gives.

Did you know that dish detergent includes many of the same enzymes that inhabit your digestive tract? The detergent digests your food off of the plates!

Did you know that you don’t actually salivate when you smell good food? Scientists say you just become aware of the spit already in your mouth! (Ewww...)

And Elvis fans may find interest in the section that delves into his enlarged colon.

It may be icky, but it's still a wild ride from the esophagus to the intestines.

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

Review by Danny Hanbery

Monday, June 10, 2013

Entertaining Read for Fans of Downton Abbey

Habits of the House 
By Fay Weldon

Fay Weldon has credibility in this genre as the author of the pilot for the original Upstairs Downstairs and it shows. She is very much at home with seasons in London, mistresses and mayhem, family secrets and marital emergencies.

The book is set in 1899 at the end of London’s season and the Earl of Dilberne and his wife Isobel are searching for a suitable betrothed for their eldedst child Arthur who is more interested in the new steam engine automobiles than the conquest of a wife. That is made more evident because of the courtesan he supports, a young lady that unbeknownst to him also served as his father’s mistress in the early days of Lord Robert’s marriage. Grace, Isobel’s lady’s maid, knows all about this transgression of course.

The young lady selected for Robert is Minnie, a quite lovely heiress to a Chicago meat baron and his tasteless, loud, and outspoken wife. Minnie has been living with an artist in the stateside and has left to save her reputation when the relationship ended. She is also on the prowl for a husband. The Earl of Dilberne is in financial ruin, so a wealthy heiress may just be the ticket he and his wife decide, to rescue the family and their estate. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

"The letter that changed everything would arrive on a Tuesday.”

One day seems very like the next to Harold and Maureen.  Married for decades, they have grown apart into a life that leaves them both empty, lonely, and unsatisfied.   One day, Harold receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy, a woman who he has not seen or spoken to in twenty years.  She has written to say her goodbye as she lays in hospice waiting to die from terminal cancer.   Harold, a shy, insecure, and nearly invisible sort of man, pens a typically tepid and colorless reply which doesn’t reflect his inner emotions at all.  While on his way to post the letter, he meets a young girl who tells him that her aunt was saved from cancer by hope.  Seized by a sudden conviction that he can give Queenie hope, Harold sets off at that very moment, completely unprepared but full of purpose.  His mantra becomes “I will keep walking and she must keep living.”  Given that he lives in southern England and Queenie is 500 miles away in the north, this quixotic journey strikes a chord with many of the people he meets along the way.  As Harold walks, he reflects on his life and ponders past regrets and disappointments, but also remembers long forgotten moments of joy.  He interacts with all kinds of people and learns many things that surprise him.  For fans of character driven novels, novels about reflection and inspiration, or gentle contemporary British fiction.  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was a contender for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.

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Review by Amy Billings 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sing Me a Love Song

Jonny Valentine (or rather, Jonathan Valentino) is two months shy of twelve. However, unlike most 11 year olds, Jonny is a teen singing sensation. Having gotten his start on YouTube, Jonny is now touring the country with his mom and manager Jane, his bodyguard Walter, and his vocal coach Rog.

Jonny's days are a whirlwind of practice, meet and greets, shows, and video games. His diet is strictly monitored, his clothes picked out for him, and his main companion is his mother, who lives through him. What 11 year old knows about market shares, how a music label operates, and what endorsement deals are needed? Jonny understands that you don't pick a pretty girl from the crowd, because the fat ones will get jealous, and that interviews are full of lies and deception. Due to his age, the need to transition from a "tween" star to a "teen" star is paramount. Will he become more like Tyler Beats, the current reigning teen heartthrob or will Jonny choose to give it all up and have a normal life?

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is a scathing portrayal of the music industry seen through the eyes of an 11 year old boy who is fighting burgeoning hormones and a mother/manager.

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Review by Cara