Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hosseini's Latest

And the Mountains Echoed begins Abdullah and Pari, a brother and sister who live in a poor Afghan village.  After the death of their mother, Abdullah becomes everything to 3 year old sister Pari; brother, mother, father in essence a touch stone for her own existence.

Their father sells Pari to a wealthy family in Kabul with the two fold goal of providing her with a better life and sustaining his new wife, his son Abdullah and their newly born son.  The rupture of the relationship between Abdullah and his sister Pari creates a chain of events that cross several continents and opens a wound in them both that touches all who connect with them including cousins, caretakers, and extended family  over a span of 50 years.  Secondary and tertiary characters in the story are prey to dreadful misfortunes, seemingly life enhancing good fortune that all of which underscore the fragility of life, predestination in life and the complexity of events that occur at  random with reverberating consequences. 

The themes of self sacrificing love vs. selfishness, privilege vs. sharing and joy with minimum comfort vs. angst amidst opulence makes this an involving and at times a heart breaking read.   Author Hosseini has a gift for engaging the emotions of readers and leading them head first into a different culture from which they emerge with a different perspective.  Please read this one!

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

Review by Karen Harris 


Monday, August 26, 2013

I Want My MTV

VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV's First Wave chronicles MTV's beginnings from the original VJ's (Alan Hunter, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, J.J. Jackson, and Nina Blackwood) point of view. Due to the death of VJ J.J. Jackson, his side is told from interviews he gave and memories from his fellow VJ's.

Each chapter is named with lyrics from songs and an explanation of what the chapter will cover. The VJ's discuss what they were doing before MTV, how they were hired, what the early days were like, and ultimately, how they left MTV.

MTV began as a music station. Videos from artists (mainly rock) were shown with the VJ's introducing the videos, conducting interviews, and sharing music news. MTV was readily available in every cable market, hence the I Want My MTV campaign. As Michael Jackson grew bigger, the pressure to play his music increased, and studio executives began to shift programming to suit different music genres. The VJ's chronicle MTV's humble beginnings, their antics on air, the relationships they had with each other, and their view on different music artists.

This book is a good read for anyone who grew up on MTV and remember the VJ's, or someone interested in the history of MTV.

Please click on the cover or title above to request this item.

Review by Cara 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Where no dolphin has gone before

Startide Rising
by David Brin

Startide Rising takes place on a spaceship crewed by dolphins.

Perhaps some additional background is needed. After humanity’s first encounter with aliens, humans acquired the science of uplift which allows animals to be elevated to full sentience. Dolphins were the second life-form uplifted by humans, after chimpanzees. The Streaker is the first dolphin spaceship, and it is filled with water as you would imagine but also contains an air ring which houses a small group of humans and one chimpanzee who assist the dolphin crew.

After accidentally discovering an ancient derelict space fleet, the crew of the Streaker find themselves on the run from a host of alien species. The aliens believe that the dolphins have uncovered the remains of the progenitors, the semi-legendary race of aliens who are believed to have begun the uplift process billions of years ago and seeded intelligent life across several galaxies.

David Brin is a great storyteller with a gift for extrapolating consequences from wild premises. There is not a lot of character development here, but like many Science Fiction novels this book is about big concepts and is plot driven rather than character driven. Startide Rising swept the major Science Fiction awards in 1984, winning the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards for Best Novel. Its sequel, The Uplift War, also swept the Science Fiction awards in 1987.

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Review by Keith Davis

Monday, August 19, 2013

Meet the man behind the cigarette

As I Knew Him
My Dad, Rod Serling
by Anne Serling

For all his impact on American culture over the past 55 years, not much has been written about Rod Serling. His daughter Anne's book about him is a rare treat and all the more welcome for its lack of company on the bookshelf.

Don't pick it up expecting an in-depth examination of Serling's life and work. Anne, his younger daughter, was not yet 10 when The Twilight Zone was cancelled in 1964 and only 20 when Serling died in 1975. Her memories of her father's early career are understandably hazy and liberally supplemented with material drawn from Zicree's excellent Twilight Zone Companion (a must-read for TZ fans).

Instead, immerse yourself in Anne Serling's nostalgic family history and you will be rewarded with a tale more surprising and more touching than you ever would have imagined. By all accounts Serling was anything but the macabre, tormented personage suggested by his Twilight Zone persona. Rather, he was a non-stop talker and inveterate prankster, a soft-hearted animal lover and a sun-worshiper on a par with George Hamilton. Above all, though, Serling was a devoted family man who loved his parents, wife and children with almost unfathomable exuberance.  

As I Knew Him is, in the end, a story of intense familial love spanning three generations. Read it and you will never see The Twilight Zone or its smoke-wreathed host in quite the same light again.

To request this book click the title or cover above.

Review by Don Beistle

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Depression Era Mystery

Mary Coin
By Marisa Silver

The picture is one that many Americans recognize; an image of a migrant mother during the depression pondering the next move to keep her family alive or simply resting for a moment from the labors of the day. Author Marisa Silver weaves a dramatic enactment of what may have been the relationship between Florence Owens Thompson the woman in the picture and the photographer Dorothea Lange who with one click of her camera fashions the icon of the Depression. Fictionalized characters Mary Coin, migrant mother, Vera Dare, professional photographer, and Walker Dodge, history teacher, alternate telling this tale that weaves the elusive dance between the connections that make up their lives. The reader moves subtly into an engrossing mystery in which the characters illustrate what it takes to keep moving amid staggering obstacles, how to hone a craft which may result in creating the symbol of a point in time, and how finding a link in a family tree can lead to acceptance of the past and renewed hope the future. The author’s writing is replete with beautiful imagery and a tonal resonance that builds tension and relieves; builds and relieves as the story unfolds and moves a satisfying conclusion. 

Do pick up this one! 

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

Review by Karen J. Harris, Norcross Branch 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Laugh it Up

I'd just finished listening to Hilary Mantel's latest book, and despite her excellent storytelling ability I found myself in need of a pick-me-up. (In case you're wondering, Anne Boleyn doesn't fare too well. And beheadings bring me down.)

Fortunately, I had a couple of audio books waiting for me on the hold shelf, and they kept me laughing through my morning commute for a couple of weeks straight. Those books were Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris and Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan.

Sedaris, a regular in The New Yorker and on NPR, is a master of the droll and absurd story. In recordings his soft voice can add a sardonic flavor to the mix, but he points out the flaws in himself just as much as he points out those in others. His general message seems to be that we're all in this together, and we're doing the best that we can. Which often isn't very good at all.

In this book he talks about his obsession with taxidermy, his attempts to learn other languages, his experiences with odd people in the lines at his book tours, and his adventure with colonoscopy. It may sound weird, and it is, but it's also very, very funny.

Gaffigan may be familiar to you from appearances on Comedy Central. One of his more famous bits has to do with Hot Pockets. (You can find the link to his YouTube channel here.) True to his stand-up comedy roots, he tells shorter stories that often aren't much longer than one-liners. He's considered family friendly, which he discusses in the book: "As a parent I know 'family-friendly' is just a synonym for bad. Family-friendly restaurants serve horrible food. Family-friendly hotels have the charm of a water park."

Despite his protestations, Gaffigan is definitely a family man. He has five children and thanks the readers throughout the book for helping him pay for them all to live in New York City. You can even see a video of his oldest daughter interviewing him and the rest of his children about the book here.

Whether you choose the sardonic Sedaris or the garrulous Gaffigan, you're sure to be in for a few belly laughs, whether you read the books or listen to them like I did.

To request these books click the titles or covers above.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Past and Present

The Ashford Affair is the latest book by bestselling author Lauren Willig.

The story takes place in the past and present, from the 1906-1999. It spans England, Kenya and New York City, telling the story of Adeline and Clementine. Adeline (Addie) is Clementines' grandmother  who was born and raised  in England at the turn of the century.

Addie, faced with the death of her parents in London in 1906, is taken in by her much wealthier aunt and uncle. They transport her to Ashford, a sprawling county estate to live with them and her cousins Diana (Dodo), Beatrice (Bea), and Poppy. Shy and very much the poor relation, Addie is fascinated with Bea, who is closest to Addie in age and has declared herself Addie's protector. But loving Bea has its price. Bea is the Deb of her year in London after the First World War, and is courted by many eligible suitors. She settles for the most eligible, but her life quickly turns sour as her new husband has a philandering eye. Addie's life revolves around Bea, but her desire to get a job and be independent clashes with what the family wants.

Clementine, a NYC attorney for a high powered firm, is working hard for a partnership. She has eschewed relationships, friendships, and a life for this goal.  Clemmie adores her grandma Addie, and is distressed to receive a call while working in London that Addie is not doing well and Clemmie needs to return home. While Clemmie was in London for work, she unexpectedly came across some of her family's history. History  that her mother and grandmother have been reluctant to share. Clemmie, encouraged by what she found, seeks the help of Jon, a history professor connected to her family by marriage to find out more about her family. She ends up discovering more than she bargained for.

Willig is known for her past and present style, which she incorporates in her Secret History of the Pink Carnation series. Her stories are well researched and engaging. Readers of historical fiction twined with women's themes will enjoy this.

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

Review by Cara 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Mountain Park Branch Staff Picks

August's staff picks come to us from the staff of the Mountain Park branch, who have four very diverse recommendations for your reading pleasure. Happy reading!

An American Autopsy
by Charlie LeDuff

Readers of true crime and biographical sketches will enjoy Detroit. LeDuff, a former reporter for The Detroit News and The New York Times, chronicles his return home amid his former city's calamitous decline. He takes a job with a Detroit newspaper and pursues stories of corrupt politicians, a spiraling murder rate, and some compassionate firefighters and other underpaid city workers performing their jobs proudly despite everything. The city of Detroit and its suburbs loom large and graphic, while LeDuff, himself fighting demons from the past, gives us a riveting story of the vibrant people who dwell in a distressed world, surviving one day at a time. LeDuff has written a real-life tragedy, sleek and dark but sprinkled with a measure of hope. Reminiscent of HBO series where the city serves as character (e.g. The Wire, Treme, etc.), Detroit will leave readers rooting for one of America's oldest cities to come out on top.

The Light Between Oceans
by M. L. Stedman

Fans of atmospheric, character driven novels will love this great debut. Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia from the horrors of World War I determined to keep people at a distance while he copes with the losses he has suffered. He takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on remote Janus Rock 100 miles off the coast. Before he leaves for his new post, Tom meets lighthearted Isabel and soon marries her. They live in harmony with the place and each other, their happiness gradually marred by Isabel’s despair over two miscarriages and a stillborn birth. Then, to Isabel, a miracle happens: a boat containing a dead man and a healthy baby is washed ashore. This is such a human story. The novel explores the grey areas between absolutes and the consequences of choice. It’s very suspenseful and a great blend of the historical time and place.

Me Before You
by Jo Jo Moyes

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl with an ordinary life until she takes a job as a care assistant for a man who has been paralyzed for over two years following a horrible skiing accident. Will Traynor, used to living large and excelling in business, is now deeply depressed and angry. He does not wish to continue life as a quadriplegic and very much wants to exercise his right to die. Louisa vows to improve the situation and quickly discovers that she enjoys spending time with Will, who in turn begins to encourage her to start doing things that he can no longer do. When Will makes a stunning admission, Louisa hatches a plan to convince Will that life is worth living no matter what. Louisa and Will develop a deep fondness for each other, and when the story takes a turn no one expects it is almost guaranteed to make you cry. Readers will find it hard to put this one down.

by Joe Hill

If you didn't know that Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King, you might guess that this vampire story with a twist was written by King. In fact, Joe writes more like his father than his father does. The vampire protagonist has the unique ability to blend the inner scape of the mind with reality. He kidnaps children and takes them to a place in his imagination where he drains them not just of their sorrows, but also of their humanity and their conscience. This keeps him young but turns the kids into monsters. Then he comes into conflict with another who, like himself, can bend reality and go places in the mind. The two stalk each other, and the ending is certainly satisfying and truly "vintage King." A good read for anyone looking for fresh King material.

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

You'll hate to finish this beautiful book

I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place
by Howard Norman

Fear not: Howard Norman's slim new book is not another deadly earnest, allegedly inspiring tale of terminal illness. Subtitled "A Memoir," it might more properly be labeled a collection of autobiographical essays. Each of its five essays focuses—if that's the right wordon a "rough-patch" in a different decade of Norman's life, from the mid-1960s to the mid-2000s. No matter what you call it, though, I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place is an amazing, one-of-a-kind read.

The title comes from an Inuit folktale about a man transformed into a goose. At summer's end, the man-goose wants desperately to remain home and not join the other geese on their journey south. But to stay would be to die, and he finally bows to necessity, crying "I hate to leave this beautiful place" as he takes flight. It's a sweet fable, and Norman never cheapens it by offering an interpretation or explaining its relevance to his own life story—not even in the title essay.

Therein lies the brilliance of Norman's narrative strategy. His stories do go somewhere, and as much as you would like to savor his prose you end up reading as fast as you can to see how things are going to turn out. But Norman's narratives advance more in the manner of poetry than prose, through allusion, repetition, and accumulation of concrete detail. It's a mode of storytelling more akin to Asian literature or Inuit folklore than Western prose, but it seems effortless and natural in Norman's hands. Certain images, phrases, incidents recur at unexpected intervals: Peter Lorre, sleeplessness, the sum $666, water birds of various sorts, a ghostly Confederate soldier. The overall effect is, as Hemingway said of his own writing, "to make people feel something more than they understood."

This book is fantastically erudite but never in a showy or condescending way. Norman makes casual reference to Urdu poetry and ornithological lore, for example. If you're already in the know, well, good for you; but you'll get the drift even if you know nothing about Asian literature or the Canadian arctic. In fact, you might even be moved re-read Robert Frost or to seek out Kawabata's Sound of the Mountain.

I tore through I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place in a few hours and am more than half-tempted to return to it immediately. If the copy I just read were my own, I would re-read it at once with a sharp pencil and pad of sticky notes to hand. But I must let it pass, no matter how much I hate to see it go.

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Review by Don Beistle