Monday, July 29, 2013

The Flying Dream

The tail end of July always rekindles my dream of flying.

I grew up 60 miles due south of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and this time every year the traffic overhead would pick up dramatically as pilots of small sport and experimental aircraft began making their way to the huge Experimental Aircraft Association Fly-In there. All kinds of strange little craft would pass buzzing over my parents' house after stopping to rest and refuel in Hartford or West Bend. But it was the warbirds, the roaring World War II-era fighters and occasional bomber, that would freeze me in my tracks, awestruck, staring skyward like some extra in a Steven Spielberg movie.

I never shook that fascination and continue to find myself drawn to books by or about pilots. Having read plenty, I notice a definite theme emerging in the life stories of former military pilots. Manyif not mostmilitary pilots turn out to have volunteered not out of patriotic fervor, penchant for destruction or family tradition but simply to pursue their dream of flying. Of that number, no few wrestle with their conscience after coming to realize just how much horror and suffering their planes carry in their bellies or slung beneath their wings.

Richard Bach's Bridge across Forever, a New Age hymn to Bach's then-wife actress Leslie Parrish, introduced me to this theme ages ago. For Bach, falling in love with a beautiful antiwar activist at the height of the Vietnam War dulled the hard edge of joy he felt while learning to fly F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers. Clyde Edgerton recounts a similar passage from full-bore enthusiasm to crisis of conscience in Solo: My Adventures in the Air. Edgerton's conscience was pricked not by a beautiful woman but by the evening news and his fellow pilot trainees. All he ever wanted to do is fly (that's a picture of him on the cover), but pursuing that dream during the war in Vietnam involved a kind of moral acrobatics he hadn't anticipated.

A recent book offers a unique twist on this theme. A Higher Call tells the story of German fighter ace Franz Stigler, who escorted a crippled American B-17 bomber out of Germany to the open waters of the North Sea just before Christmas 1943. A civilian pilot before the war, Stigler was drafted into the Luftwaffe as a flight instructor but volunteered for fighter duty after his brother (also a pilot) was killed early in the war. Stigler's recollections of the air war in Africa and the Mediterranean are especially interesting because that theater is so little known in the US and because by all accounts the fighting there was fierce but almost bizarrely chivalrous. (Roald Dahl's delightful Going Solo offers similar testimony but with a wry British accent.) For Stigler, the turn back to his essential nature is gradual, as his desire for vengeance and for glory is exhausted by endless, ultimately hopeless combat.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dead Men Cook no Meals

Cinnamon and Gunpowder
By Eli Brown

The year is 1819 and Mad Hannah Mabbot is the terror of the seven seas. On her ship, the Flying Rose, she sails a bloody path from port to port, leaving sunken vessels and wrecks of men in her wake. After she kills his former employer, she kidnaps Owen Wedgwood, a chef and loyal British subject. Wedgwood finds himself living on a pirate ship, surrounded by ruffians and forced to cook for his life. Each Sunday he must provide Mabbot with a gourmet meal that meets her approval. If she enjoys it, he lives. If not, well, he can only imagine.

The story is told from Wedgwood's perspective. Every time he sees a chance he attempts escape, but even when he does manage it his situation only seems to get worse. At the same time he is gathering ingredients for the meals that may save his life. He quickly discovers that a pirate ship's galley is not nearly as well equipped as the kitchens he's used to. After resorting to using a cannonball instead of a rolling pin, he declares, "I have to admit it works well enough for pirate pasta."

Distressingly for pious, loyal Wedgwood, the longer he spends with the pirates the more things he finds to admire about their lifestyle. Not the murder, of course, nor the thievery. But these are not the devils he took them for. And even Mabbot, with her flaming red hair and bloodthirsty demeanor, can sit down and have a civilized meal once a week. It may be that Owen Wedgwood has a little of the pirate in himself as well.

To request this book click the title or cover above.

Review by Danny Hanbery 

Monday, July 22, 2013

So that's why they're called Coppers

The Gods of Gotham
By Lyndsay Faye

It's 1845 and New York city crackles with life and the occasional fire. Bartender Timothy Wilde is saving up money so he can ask the woman of his dreams to marry him when an explosion in his neighborhood leaves him penniless and scarred. In need of new employment, Timothy finds himself a member of the copper stars, New York's first police force. Met with derision and hostility, the copper stars must try to maintain order in a city where racial and religious tensions are on the rise. 

The potato famine in Ireland is causing an influx of immigrants who many New Yorkers consider to be less than human. These immigrants are largely Catholic, to which the Protestant majority also objects. The streets are filled with violent mobs, shouting newsboys, prostitutes, and every manner of outrageous debauchery. When the body of a child is discovered, the melting pot of the city threatens to boil over. Since there have never been police in New York City before, Timothy must invent his job as he goes along. Interviewing those connected to the case, gathering evidence, and piecing it all together, he finds that this may be the job he was born to do.

This is a historical novel filled with drama and is an excellent source for entertaining examples of old-fashioned slang.

To request this book click the title or cover above.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mistakes Have Been Made

Three Graves Full
By Jamie Mason

We all make mistakes. Who doesn't have a few skeletons in the closet, or maybe a body buried in the yard? Jason has been living with a body in his backyard for over a year, but he's finally trying to get past all that. When he hires a landscaping company to spruce up the place he leaves specific instructions for them to stay in front of the house. There's no reason to take chances. Unfortunately, the landscapers do find a body. When the police show up they find one more, making two bodies in total. But they still haven't found the body Jason put there. How many bodies are there in Jason's yard? And when will the police find the one he's responsible for?

This is a tense ride through the mind of an accidental killer. As a reader you must decide if you'll feel sorry for Jason, or if you'll root for the police to find that third grave. Of course, murder is a crime. "But," as Mason writes in the book, "even the law resides in that sloping space between truth and lies ... The law also marks, in shades of gray, the difference between reasons and excuses."

To request this book click the title or cover above.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Monday, July 15, 2013

New Novel by Elizabeth Strout

If you haven't read Elizabeth Strout's Puliter Prize winning novel, Olive Kitteridge, the library has copies available.

In her new book, Strout tackles Maine in a different way. The Burgess Boys is about the Burgess family. Jim, Bob, and Susan were raised by their mother in Maine after a horrific accident killed their father. Bob and Susan are twins, but the family is overshadowed by Jim, the popular, successful New York City lawyer who can do no wrong. Susan is the Burgess who chose to stay in Maine to live her life. When Susan's son Zach gets into a bit of legal trouble, Bob and Jim return to Maine to help. The family has grown apart in recent years. Long scabbed over scars rise to the surface as the Burgess family come together to deal with a crisis. 

Divided into four smaller books, Strout portrays the hurt, anguish, and triumph of an ordinary family from a small town thrust into the national spotlight.  

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

Review by Cara 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Teen Reading

Blood Wounds 
By Susan Beth Pfeffer 

This is a heart-wrenching novel about a teenage girl with a blended family and deep family secrets. She is a likable character and despite having spoiled stepsisters, she cares equally about everyone. Then she finds out the truth about her biological father. She hasn't seen him since she was very young and knows nothing about his current life until he kills his family and starts driving up toward Willa's new home.

When Willa finds out that she had two little sisters she knew nothing about, she insists upon going to their funeral. A family friend takes her down to small town Texas so she can find out about this other part of her family.

The blood wounds in this story are both real and metaphoric--while her sisters and their mother died bloody deaths, Willa was left with the aftermath of how her blood family wounded her emotionally.  A lot of ghosts come out of closets and Willa's decision making becomes extremely important. Willa's pain and the twisted family dynamics were fascinating.  This is one of those sad yet hopeful realistic reads that actually does deliver.

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

Review by Anni 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Richard Matheson remembered

Richard Matheson died the week before last. You might not recognize his name, but you know his work:

William Shatner gaping at a shaggy gremlin standing on the wing of his airliner in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"; Dennis Weaver dodging a murderous tanker truck in Duel; Christopher Reeve willing himself physically back to turn-of-the-century Mackinac Island and Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time; Robin Williams going literally to hell to save his wife's soul in What Dreams May Come; Will Smith alone, the last living human being in a world of vampires, in I Am Legend — Matheson stories all.

Matheson was prolific, versatile, visionary. Over a six-decade career he wrote scores of short stories, novels, screenplays for film and television—even a treatise on metaphysics. He is known mainly as a science fiction and horror writer but was in fact an all-around master of genre fiction. In addition to his better-known work, Matheson wrote noirish crime fiction, Westerns and romances (e.g. Somewhere in Time) as well or better than anyone.

Some of his most memorable stories were written or adapted for The Twilight Zone, which showcased his genius for conjuring characters and situations of such perfect, everyday ordinariness that the intrusion of the uncanny was at once absolutely believable and absolutely terrifying. Stephen King, whose best work shares these virtues, acknowledged his debt to Matheson: "He fired my imagination by placing his horrors not in European castles and Lovecraftian universes, but in American scenes I knew and could relate to."

Matheson's death brings nearly to a close that chapter in American cultural history written by a generation who grew up during the Great Depression, fought in the Second World War and returned home with an urgent need to write. Having seen and experienced the worst of human fecklessness and inhuman savagery, Matheson—like Kurt Vonnegut, Rod Serling, Gene Roddenberry, et al.—nevertheless retained a potent faith in humanity and in the power of art to edify and to inspire. Their passing diminishes us; may they rest in peace.

To request Matheson's books, click the photo or titles above.

Review by Don Beistle   

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Meet the Author Series - Karin Slaughter

The library's latest Meet the Author Series features Karin Slaughter. The international best selling author and library advocate will conduct a book talk and signing at Barnes and Noble at The Forum on Peachtree Parkway Saturday, July 6th at 3 PM. Customers who mention the library at checkout will benefit the library with their purchases.

The author will feature her newest novel, Unseen , which is being released July 2nd.  Slaughter is known for her fast pace, gripping stories that draw the reader in immediately. The latest in the Will Trent series, Unseen is no exception. GBI agent Will Trent is undercover in Macon, GA. The case he is working on hits too close to home when his girlfriend Sara Linton is called to Macon for a family emergency.  Sara, unaware that Will is undercover, is confronted with facing demons in her past, namely Detective Lena Adams, now married to Sara's step son Jared. Lena is once again wreaking havoc in Sara's life, conjuring up questions and opening old wounds. Will, trying to bring down a big time drug dealer, is trapped in a vicious web of lies, loyalties, and duty to which Lena is connected.

Unseen is a thrill ride full of twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Buckle up. Unseen has arrived.

To request this title, please click on the title or cover above.

Review by Cara 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Lilburn Branch Staff Picks

This month's staff picks come to us from our friends at the Lilburn Branch.

Balance of Power
by James W. Huston

A terrorist organization has captured an American cargo ship, and it’s up to the US government to get the crew safely home. Like current events, many prominent politicians have different viewpoints on how they want to rescue the American crew. It will pit all three branches of government in a war of words and interpretations of the US Constitution's Article I Section 8: "The Congress shall have Power…To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water." You won’t see the US Constitution the same way again after reading this book.

Finnikin of the Rock
Book One of The Lumetere Chronicles
by Melina Marchetta

A curse was put on the kingdom of Lumatere, separating it from the outside world and trapping others inside. Finnikin, his guardian Sir Topher, and Evanjalin, a young woman who can walk the dreams of those in Lumatere, set out to find Prince Balthazarthe lost heir to the throneand break the curse. They will meet other very valuable characters along the way. The story is fantastic but the characters seem real, well developed and very likable. If you love a good fantasy with lots of adventure and a terrific ending, you should read this book.

The Little Stranger
by Sarah Waters

In post-World War II England, a young doctor from humble origins is drawn to a gracious manor house and its ill-fated, financially strapped aristocratic family. A satisfying haunted house tale set in a time of great social change, The Little Stranger is beautifully written and beautifully imagined.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette
by Maria Semple

Where’d You Go, Bernadette takes a wry look at one very modern, slightly quirky family in latte-loving, Microsoft-worshipping Seattle. Loving wife and mother Bernadettewho is a gifted architect but extremely agoraphobicdisappears on the eve of a family trip to Antarctica. It is up to her precocious teenaged daughter to puzzle out why Bernadette left and where she has gone. Those familiar with the Emerald City will understand Bernadette’s rants about angle parking where you have to back into the place and celebrating birthdays atop the Space Needle. For the most part, this tale is told in 21st-century epistolary style through e-mails, tweets and memos. If you get a kick reading about slightly eccentric but NOT dysfunctional families (think Little Miss Sunshine), then this humorous, offbeat book is for you.

Winter’s Tale
by Mark Helprin

Winter's Tale is a fantastical retelling of the history of New York City from the mid-1800s to the modern day. The main part of the tale is an epic love story and includes a dozen characters that could have their own novels. Helprin does not spare his words, so readers who like to get to the point or prefer to have words flow over them like gentle rain may struggle to enjoy this book. For those who love gorgeous metaphors and rich imagery, this novel is like a twelve course gourmet meal.