Thursday, January 31, 2013

Action Adventure in Audio!

by James Rollins

Even though this is the eighth installment of the SIGMA Force series, it is the first James Rollins book I have read, and I must say, it will most certainly not be the last. Narrated by Peter Jay Fernandez, this action-packed book ping pongs through time and space, combining elements of science, medicine, and political intrigue with a skillful hand. I will admit that I was skeptical that I would even finish the book while listening to the prologue and first few chapters. Violence, blood, and gore do not appeal to me terribly much when I am making my commute home and trying to relax after a long day at work. However, that did not set the tone for the rest of the novel, and I soon became engrossed in trying to untangle the knot behind the kidnapping of the president’s pregnant daughter, the secret society known as the Guild, and the science behind immortality.  

As this is my first foray into the SIGMA Force world, I feared I would be lacking a connection to the characters, but found that I was not missing any information or background on the characters and quickly grew to cheer on my favorites: Commander Gray Pierce, Kat, Kowolski, and the war dog Kane. Peter Jay Fernandez did an excellent job bringing this story to life; indeed, the heartless and insidious Guild and the loyal, determined SIGMA Force so enraptured me that I would frequently find myself clenching the steering wheel during tense moments, fist-pumping the air at a major achievement, or sitting in the driveway for several minutes on end so that I could extend the listening experience. 

To find out more about the Guild and what they have planned for the human race, read Bloodline by James Rollins.

To request the title mentioned above, please click on the titles. 

Review by Allison Grubbs

Monday, January 28, 2013

Ducks, Love, and Family

The Duck Commander Family: how faith, family, and ducks created a dynasty 

by Willie and Korie Robertson 

If you are NOT watching the reality show Duck Dynasty on A&E, you are missing out. Duck Dynasty follows the Robertson family, who created the company Duck Commander. Duck Commander is best known for it's duck calls. The patriarch of the family, Phil Robertson, a renowned duck hunter,  is a no-nonsense gentleman that believes in faith, family, and ducks. 

Phil and his wife Kay have four sons. The best known are Willie and Jase. Much of Duck Dynasty follows their antics at the offices of Duck Commander, of which Willie is now CEO, and their family, which includes Phil, Kay, and eccentric Uncle Si (my favorite). Si, a retired Vietnam Vet, tells hilarious tall tales of his adventures in the army and beyond, all while carrying his Tupperware glass of tea that never leaves his side.

The book, written by Willie and his wife Korie, documents the family's struggles and determination to make good. It follows the history of Duck Commander, which Phil founded, and how faith, family, and ducks made a million dollar empire. Willie and Korie share recipes, family anecdotes, and elaborate on how hard work, faith, and good fortune have turned their lives around. 

A recommended read for all Duck Dynasty fans, as well as those wondering what all the fuss is about. 

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

Review by Cara 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dogs in space

by Nick Abadzis

My wiry-coated dog loves this chilly weather. With the temperature hovering around the freezing mark, he's happy to keep walking as long as you'll let him. One icy morning as we finished another epic trek around the neighborhood I patted his side and said, "Good thing you were rescued in Alabama; if the Russians had found you they'd have shot you into space." And then I paused to wonder where that idea came from. (It's far too late to consider why I talk to my dog this way.)

Turns out I picked up that factoid a few years ago in Nick Abadzis's Laika, a biographical novel about the first animal launched into earth orbit, on November 3, 1957. Laika was a stray, a little 12-pound mixed-breed female found loose on the streets of Moscow. Soviet scientists chose their canine candidates for spaceflight from Moscow dog pounds, supposing that any dog tough enough to survive the privations of a Moscow winter had a better than average chance of surviving the unknown stresses of a trip into space. Laika did not and never was meant to.

Laika's story is gripping. Her flight aboard Sputnik 2 was conceived and executed in a matter of weeks, intended as a propaganda coup celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and shaming the US, which had yet to launch even a single vehicle into earth orbit. Cold War tensions, Byzantine Soviet politics and bitter interdepartmental rivalries within the Soviet space program provide the background for Abadzis's story of a pioneering engineer's redemption and small dog's martyrdom. A distinctly Russian melancholy suffuses the book and is articulated in a quotation from Soviet space scientist Oleg Gazenko, who in 1998 lamented, "The more time passes, the more I'm sorry about it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog."

Whether you're a dog lover, a space enthusiast or a student of Cold War history, Laika will grab your interest and stick with you long after you've finished it.

To request this book click on the title or cover above.

Review by Don Beistle

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lydia Millet's "T." Trilogy

How the Dead Dream
Ghost Lights
by Lydia Millet

A constant theme in Lydia Millet's fiction is apocalypse, both in the popular sense of "catastrophe" and in the original, literal sense of "revealing" or "unveiling." There's often a feeling in her books that the end times have come and gone, that we're living in the aftermath of the end of the world but are too dull or too distracted to notice. It's little surprise, then, that her "T." trilogy is set in the mid-1990s, when the stock market was soaring and the effects of global climate change hadn't yet become a fact of everyday life.

T. is the protagonist of How the Dead Dream. A hotshot young California real-estate developer, he is a financial savant with a taste for high-end suits and black Mercedes until an escalating series of personal disasters opens him up to something unexpected. He clips a coyote while driving through the desert one night and is moved to drag the wounded animal from the roadway and sit with it as the life goes out of its eyes. After that he becomes quietly obsessed with endangered, last-of-their-kind animals. Before long he is sneaking into zoos at night, into the enclosures of the rarest of the rare animals simply to be with them in the last place they will ever walk the earth. Amazingly, Millet manages to make T.'s actions both credible and sympathetic.

Ghost Lights takes T. to Belize, where he is developing a luxury seaside resort. But when he disappears into the jungle in the wake of a devastating hurricane, his secretary's cuckolded husband, a mild-mannered IRS bureaucrat named Hal, impetuously volunteers to fly to Belize to rescue him. Ghost Lights is part Heart of Darkness, part Peyton Place and all Hal's. Here, T. is a cipher, little more than a mystery to be solved even as he "goes native" and decides give up wheeler-dealing. The real story is Hal's quest to make sense of his life and marriage and to come to terms with his wife's infidelity and with the freak accident that left their teenaged daughter paralyzed years earlier.

Finally, Magnificence follows T. back home to southern California, where he sets about dismantling his business and romancing Hal and Susan's daughter, Casey. Magnificence is Susan's story, and it is wonderfully weird in Millet's signature fashion. Exhausted, about-to-be-unemployed Susan learns that she has inherited a mansion in Pasadena, then discovers that it is more museum of taxidermy than home. She withdraws to its cloistered, slightly overgrown grounds and begins setting things (including the wildlife displays) in order. But the peaceful spell is broken when she first is joined by T.'s mother and a coterie of slightly eccentric elderly women, then discovers the entrance to a mysterious cellar beneath the house. What she discovers there is a revelation, a testament and a warning.

To request this book click on the title or cover above.

Review by Don Beistle

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I Spy

Sweet Tooth
By Ian McEwan

What happens when a middle class British girl, fresh out of Cambridge, finds herself working as a secret agent for MI5? She tells you in the very first paragraph: "I didn't return safely." It's the 1970s, and Serena Frome has been recruited as a low-level worker for the British Security Service. She's made a habit of letting other people direct her life, earning a degree she doesn't care about to please her mother and interviewing for her job at the urging of a lover. Though she enjoys the idea of exciting spy work, interminable typing and filing are what she finds instead. When she's given an assignment, complete with a cover identity and a contact, she's thrilled to have a role in protecting the nation. She comes to realize, however, that lying about who you are isn't as easy as it sounds. This literary spy novel is a meditation on the lies we tell about ourselves, the truths we expect to hear from others, and how they intersect in life and in fiction.

The Double Game
By Dan Fesperman

A spy novel-obsessed former journalist begins receiving instructions from a mysterious source. The clues, laden with references to his favorite books, lead him to Europe and a life he thought he'd left behind. While growing up with his diplomat father he lived in various capitals of the old world, imagining spies around every corner. The deeper into his past he delves, however, the more it seems that the spies might not have been in his imagination. Exactly how has the downward spiral of his personal life been affected by old grudges from the Cold War? And now that he's on the trail, who can he trust? His father seems to be holding things back. A former girlfriend joins him in the hunt but she's suspiciously good at spycraft. And then the people he meets start turning up dead. With plenty of discussion of spy novel greats, this book may be just the thing for a bit of armchair espionage.

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

Review by Danny Hanbery

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Elephants and Transcendence

The Elephant Keepers’ Children
By Peter Hoeg

“I have found a door out of the prison.”

So begins this tale full of adventure, intrigue, unexpected humor, and the search for transcendence. Peter, Tilte, and Hans grew up in a rectory. Their father is the pastor of a church on the tiny island of Fino, and their mother plays the organ when she’s not busy inventing gadgets. Both of their parents are elephant keepers, by which the children mean that they “have something inside them that is much bigger than themselves and over which they have no control.” This has led, in the past, to the concoction of fake miracles and at least one brush with the law. When their parents disappear, the children know that the elephants inside them must be driving them to do something desperate.

Peter tells the story, though he is largely dragged along by his older sister, Tilte, who says that teachers only complain about her “because they feel squeezed by the breadth of my personality.” This personality and her ability to turn every situation on its head with a few words add a sense of madcap hilarity to the proceedings as the children escape from the authorities, search for clues to their parent’s plans, and enact a rescue mission.

The story is told conversationally, and with multiple digressions per chapter, so that at times the whole thing can seem like a labyrinth of words. But the tangents are rarely pointless, even if the point is something more philosophical than immediately relevant to the plot. Be prepared to go along for the ride, even when it’s unclear where you’re heading.

As they travel in search of an answer to their problem, they meet characters from a variety of religious backgrounds, the island of Fino being a virtual paradise of religious diversity. Most of the people they meet end up helping them, willingly or not, because these children are difficult to deny.

“There is a verse of the Koran,” says one character. “It says that small devils are often the worst. And yet they require the greatest mercy.”

To request this book click on the title or cover above.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Brat Pack? Not so much...

Pretty in Pink is one of my favorite movies. Andrew McCarthy, who plays the male lead, has a big part in that. His character, Blaine, is sensitive and unsure of what he wants from life. Swooooooon!

The Longest Way Home , McCarthy's novel, reveals McCarthy to be a thoughtful, introspective person. While he still acts and directs, his true calling is travel writing. Andrew explores and writes about the most remote places on the globe. His comfort with solitude is an asset in regards to his work. In his personal life, not so much.

Andrew intertwines his life and his travels to tell his story of his reluctance to settle down and marry his fiance. The journey is deeply personal and honest, and his bravery to document it for anyone to read moved me. His writing style is concise yet descriptive. There is not a wasted word, and filler doesn't exist in this story. If you enjoy National Geographic and learning about new places and people, this is a good read. 

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

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dacula Branch Staff Picks

This month the staff at the Dacula Branch offers up some titles for your consideration.

Still Alice
By Lisa Genova

Why you should read it: Alice Howland is a Harvard professor, wife, and mother who had complete control over her life until the day arrived when she could not find her way home. We all know how our lives are derailed by family members with Alzheimer’s, but traveling with Alice on her journey through the disease gave me a whole new perspective on this disease. I laughed and cried with Alice. I celebrated her triumphs and grieved for her losses. And in the end, I asked my own mother to forgive me my impatience with her.

I'm Feeling Lucky
The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59
By Douglas Edwards

Why you should read it: Douglas Edwards, Google's first director of marketing and brand management, describes what it was like to work for the company in its earliest days. Even if you claim to hate computers, reading this firsthand account of Google's renegade approach to every aspect of running a tech company will make you want to quit your day job, learn how to code, and do whatever it takes to become one of Google's 30,000+ employees.

The Tiger's Curse
By Colleen Houck

Why you should read it: I would recommend it to anyone who loved Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series--it is very similar in many ways, yet written much better. The plot--to break the Tiger’s Curse--is perfectly paced, with a clear resolution to each task by the end of each novel. The romance is chaste and suitable for girls grades six and above. The Indian history and mythology is well researched, entertaining, and interesting. The series has a poignant resolution--have your tissues handy!

Dreams from My Father
By Barack Obama

Why you should read it: What a great opportunity to learn about the 44th President of the United States. Many citizens have stated they didn't know much about President Obama and with this book, they can find out about the man. This book was written 17 years ago when he was 34 years old, so it just relates the part of his life before that. It is, however an inspiring book. It is written in a story format, keeping the reader's interest. This biography allows the reader to learn the thought process going on at various stages of his life. This should be a must read for everyone in this country.

The Dust Bowl
An Illustrated History
By Dayton Duncan

Why you should read it: Imagine a United States where many people had next to nothing to eat--literally. Most people had little money to buy a bit of food, and many had their home-grown food sources destroyed. Many of our parents and grandparents lived through some of these worst days in American history. About surviving the cataclysmic time of the Great Depression and the infamous Dust Bowl during the 1930s, this story turns our families into quiet heroes of endurance. It is an incredibly stirring book with amazing photos that brings home a very important part of our American family history.

Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging
By Louise Rennison

Why you should read it: I absolutely adore this series! Rennison perfectly captures the angst and humor of being a 14-year-old girl! Written as a set of diary entries, the books describe Georgia’s daily life at home with her parents, wacky little sister, and grandfather, as well as her school adventures with her best friends, the Ace Gang. I’ve never laughed harder reading any other books. The audio books are worth a listen, too. I’ve shared this series with my parents and my sisters--even my father (of three girls) enjoyed them! Although the books are British, Rennison includes a glossary at the end of each book. The books are suitable for teens grades 6 and above--even adults!

And that ends our list of picks from the Dacula Branch. 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!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Bite-size treats from William Gibson

Distrust That Particular Flavor
by William Gibson

You know William Gibson, if at all, for his late '80s cyberpunk novels. Or maybe you recall hearing somewhere that he coined the term "cyberspace." Or that he predicted the rise of a "consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions" that we now engage every day via the World Wide Web. But if this is all you know of Gibson, you're missing some fine writing. And you don't even need to be a geeky, bleeding-edge technophile to enjoy it.

Gibson's new collection of short nonfiction pieces will appeal no less to the casual reader than to devoted fans. His main influences have always been the classic '50s science fiction he grew up with and the Beat writers he discovered in his teens, and his writing blazes with Beat-like enthusiasm when something kindles his interest. Anything and everything from lectures to magazine articles to introductions to books and art exhibits is gathered here. His well-known fascination with Japan ("They've been living in the future for a very long time now.") has only grown over the years, and his dispatches from the Pacific Rim read like the journal of a bemused explorer just returned from an expedition to the very near future. "Like Disneyland with the Death Penalty," a piece about Singapore, strikingly juxtaposes hilarity and horror. But some of the most interesting pieces in Distrust are the autobiographical ones. Even the bio Gibson wrote for his official website in 2002 is worth reading here again.

The New Year is a time for looking ahead. What better time than now to join William Gibson on a lively Cook's tour of possible futures and futures past.

Click on the title or cover to request the book.

 Review by Don Beistle