Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It's All in the Cards

The Stockholm Octavo
By Karen Engelman

Emil Larsson is on a quest to find a wife and happiness in Stockholm, "the Venice of the North." Unfortunately, he has run into some difficulties. The year is 1789 and political rumblings are coming from nearby France, where the people are in revolution. Mrs. Sparrow, a friend to the king, runs a gambling house where she also reads fortunes in the cards. She tells Emil that his quest for love is at the center of the conspiracies afoot in the city. While the King tries to quell the revolt, the aristocracy is determined to stay in control. The Uzanne, a powerful lady, decides to train the young women of the town in the treacherous and seductive art of fans. With a flick of their wrists men can fall in love or fall over dead. Using this power the Uzanne will try to topple the King and raise his power-hungry brother to the throne. How can Emil snag one of these lovely ladies when they're so focused on the teachings of the Uzanne? Will he be able to change the course of history?

While I enjoyed some of the characters very much, the real star of this book is the author's ability to transport you into the world she's recreating. An apothecary is "more like a filthy pawnshop than any apothecary that Johanna had ever seen. Vials and boxes were stacked precariously, and the bitter smell of opium paste layered over lemon balm and myrtle permeated the air." On another street the fan shop is "painted in broad horizontal stripes of cheery lemon and cream, and the white crown moldings were like sculpted meringue oozing against the ceiling."

It's a book of intrigue that is also a feast for the senses.

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

Review by Danny Hanbery

Monday, February 25, 2013

Crossing State Lines

Lost States
True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, And Other States that Never Made It
By Michael J. Trinklein

When I was a kid I had a wooden puzzle of the United States. Each state fit into its place, and that's the way I learned the map. There were 50 little pieces. Alabama was red, but I don't remember any of the other colors. We're so used to the way our country is laid out that it's hard to think of it any other way. But what if there were a few more pieces to that puzzle? Greenland, for instance. Or the state of New Sweden? And right in the middle of Georgia there could be a cut-out for the Republic of Trans-Oconee. While our nation was still being divided up and parceled out, there were many proposals from folks who wanted to set up their own states. Some people still do! The proposed state of Lincoln would take parts of Washington and Idaho to create a new state along the Canadian border. It's not simply a passing notion, it has actually come up for debate in Idaho's House of Representatives and the Washington State Senate. If the idea of these many almost-states piques your curiosity, check out this book. Each imagined land has a two-page spread giving a brief history and featuring a map that shows where the state would be if it had been admitted.

If you're more interested in the states we actually have, but wonder why they're shaped so oddly, you might try How The States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein. This book will tell you all about the border lines of your favorite states. For instance, why Georgia seems to lean into Alabama. (Hint: It has to do with coal mining.)

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

Review by Danny Hanbery

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bibliophiles and Google Fans!

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Bibliophiles and Google fans will enjoy this debut novel. 

Clay Jannon is an out of work twenty-something looking for a job, any job, in San Francisco during the recession. After wandering across a “help wanted” sign in the window of a bookstore, Clay is hired for the overnight shift in this more-than-a little-odd store based on his ability to climb the dizzying ladders and his promise to write detailed descriptions of any and all customers in a leather bound logbook. Oh yes, in addition, he must promise not to read the books. What kind of bookstore caters to odd nocturnal customers who borrow rather than buy? Why are there no bestsellers in the store? Who is Mr. Penumbra and why are books delivered by secret couriers?

This novel rapidly unfolds into a fast, fun tale of books, codes, mysterious strangers, secret societies, and supercomputers. There are just a few too many “too good to be true” details - for example, Clay has a buddy who just happens to be a free spending millionaire, how convenient! Also, there is quite a bit of high tech hero worship (I started to wonder if author Sloan secretly worked for a PR firm hired by Google in a “pay by the mention” marketing scheme. He’s quite the Google fanboy). However, none of that distracts from the fun. The main characters are appealing and the mystery is a mix of today’s digital technology with technology that was once the cutting edge – the printing press. Overall , a very enjoyable read for fans of the genre looking for light entertainment.

Review by Amy

To request this title, please select the title or book cover. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Companionship Wanted?

Edward has a problem. Ever since his lovely wife Bee died, people have been trying to set him up with available women. Even his step children have taken out a personal ad in The New York Review of Books. What they don't know is that Bee predicted all along that once she was gone, he would be seen as an attractive, "available" man. 

Edward is content with his work, his hobbies, and his bird watching. He doesn't want to be an "available" man. He reluctantly joins the dating world, which he finds has changed completely. Can he maneuver in this brave new world? 

An Available Man is a beautiful story of love, loss, and rediscovery. In this charming book, Wolitzer creates unforgettable characters that speaks to your heart. 

To request this title, click on the title above.

Review by Cara 

Friday, February 15, 2013

The view from the other side of the buffet

Memoir of the Sunday Brunch
by Julia Pandl

If there are two more terrifying phrases in the world of reading than "debut author" and "self published," I don't know what they might be. Put them together and you've got a foolproof recipe for a truly awful reading experience. Julia Pandl's funny and touching Memoir of the Sunday Brunch, however, is a marvelous exception to that iron rule.

Memoir was self published in 2010. After a year of modest sales and positive reviews, it was picked up by Chapel Hill's Algonquin Press and released nationally in 2012. Since then, both readers and critics have been lauding Pandl's now-widely available book.

Part coming-of-age memoir and part meditation on grief, loss and pancakes, Pandl's book is misleadingly titled. The first half is straightforward memoir, describing Pandl's teens and twenties and what it was like growing up the youngest of nine (yes, nine) children and working in her family's restaurant. Her family life is unorthodox, thanks equally to its unruly size, its whole-hearted dedication to the restaurant business, and its eccentric paterfamilias. The second half fast-forwards almost to the present day, beginning with Pandl's mother's death before shifting its focus to her father in his final years. For all that, it's not a gloomy book. Julia Pandl is an unabashed daddy's girl, and Memoir is a rollicking warts-and-all hymn to her father, George.

Memoir of the Sunday Brunch will appeal to anyone who ever has worked in a restaurant, especially one of those mom-and-pop (and nine kids) operations that somehow flourish amid a rising tide of heat-and-serve franchises. It also will appeal to those who enjoyed John Grogan's Longest Trip Home, which offers a similar blend of pathos and humor in its recounting of a very Catholic, midwestern childhood and the inevitable loss a parent in adulthood. Both works, by the way, are blessedly free of dour religiosity. Finally, if you happen to recognize the Pandl family name from their Milwaukee restaurants, Memoir simply is required reading.

Review by Don Beistle

Click the title or cover to request this book.

Monday, February 11, 2013

How not to miss a new release

New books usually hit library and store shelves on Tuesday. The tradition dates back to a time before Saturday service for freight and parcel delivery had become common. A Tuesday release date then gave booksellers almost a full working day (Monday) to receive, process and prepare new titles for their public debut. Additionally, a Tuesday launch attracts customers on what would otherwise be a slow day and gives retailers time to order more copies of an unexpectedly hot title before the busiest part of the week--the weekend. Even though we're not in the bookselling business, the library is contractually obligated to heed publishers' release dates.

If you're the kind of dedicated reader who has bookmarked the New and Featured Titles page of the library's website, you probably already know about Tuesdays. But if your tastes run more to the offbeat than to the best-selling or if you have requested that the library purchase a particular item, knowing the exact release date can be helpful. There are all kinds of labor-intensive ways you could discover and keep track of that information for yourself, but Goodreads now offers its members a more elegant solution. (See example on right.)

Because you're reading this, chances are better than average that you already know about Goodreads. If not, suffice it to say that Goodreads has been called "Facebook for book nerds" and "the antisocial social-networking site." It's great. Goodreads members can keep track of what they have read and what they want to read as well as rate, review and discuss books. A few months ago Goodreads began sending members an e-mail notice on the day that a book on their "to-read" list is released. This has turned out to be a most welcome service.

So if you're looking for a surefire way to make sure you don't miss the release of your favorite author's next book, give Goodreads a try. If you are already a Goodreads member, consider "friending" GCPL and your favorite librarians or joining our discussion group. See you there!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Speaking to the Dead: Comedy and Tragedy

I saw author Jasper Fforde speak recently and he talked about how he sometimes gave himself "narrative dares." That means he would come up with an unlikely situation and try to write a story explaining how it came to be. After reading the two books reviewed below, I felt that the authors had been given the same dare but had come up with very different explanations. The dare is this: Write a book where it's possible to talk to people who have died. Read on to find out how two authors dealing with the same scenario came up with a comedy and a tragedy.

Goodbye for Now
By Laurie Frankel

Sam works for an online dating company, but so far the service hasn't worked for him. Tired of the traditional online dating scene, he writes a new program that matches each customer with the perfect person. He's thrilled when it matches him with co-worker Meredith. He's less thrilled when he loses his job because his program is so good it's making the company lose money. Still, he has a great girlfriend and a new lease on life. That is until Meredith's grandmother dies and she gets depressed. Very depressed. Sam tries to help her by writing a new computer program that takes a person's e-mail history, text messages, and video chats to create a virtual simulation of the dead person. Meredith can talk to her grandmother again, and she thinks other people would jump at the chance to do the same thing with their loved ones. Soon they're running a successful business helping people commune with the dead, but things start to get complicated fast. Though this book is fast-paced and funny, it doesn't shy away from the moral and ethical dilemmas that pop up when the dead become part of the chain of supply and demand. When tragedy strikes again, Sam and Meredith have to rethink everything.

The Broken Ones
By Stephen M. Irwin

This is a detective story set in a semi-post-apocalyptic Australia. By which I mean that most people are still alive, they're just having a really bad time. Three years before the book begins there was an event called 'Gray Wednesday.' On that day the Earth's magnetic poles reversed, which threw travel and communication into complete disarray, crippling economies worldwide and bringing much of society to a halt. To add to the confusion, on that very same day everyone got a ghost. Yes, a ghost. The ghost can only be seen by the person being haunted but everyone has one. The ghosts don't talk, they just follow people around and stare. Which is creepy. And then there are all the murders. Did I mention this was in the horror section? Detective Oscar Mariani is despised by much of the department, but he knows that there's corruption going on and he means to stop it. He refuses to stop looking into the mysterious deaths of mutilated girls. Even as the world falls apart around him, and much of the debris hits him on the way down, he still plugs along. It's a bizarre soup of apocalypse fiction, supernatural fiction, detective fiction, and horror fiction. And I mean that in a good way.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Click the titles or the covers above to request these books.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Duluth Branch Staff Picks

If it's cold outside, why not stay inside with a good book? The staff members at the Duluth Branch recommend these titles from our shelves.

The Book of Lies
By Brad Meltzer

Why you should read it: The Book of Lies tells the story of Cal Harper, whose long lost father was killed by the same gun that killed the father of the creator Superman in 1932. The killer was tattooed with ancient markings of Cain, who committed the first murder in the Bible. Cal faces danger and intrigue in his search to find the link between the two murders and the connection to the first recorded murder. This book is fast-paced and will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Last Child in the Woods
Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder
By Richard Louv

Why you should read it: This is an important and inspiring book for anyone who cares about children. It discusses cutting-edge research linking many childhood troubles, such as attention-deficit and obesity, to a lack of exposure to nature. With discussion questions included, it's a thought-provoking read for non-fiction book groups, as well.

Cloud Atlas
By David Mitchell

Why you should read it: This sci-fi novel, recently adapted into a movie starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, tells a series of six tales through time. Each new character is touched by characters from a past story, with allusions to reincarnation. Two of the tales take place in the future, depicting a world created by an extension of current sociological trends and then its collapse. Cloud Atlas is an engaging and provocative book, which illustrates the essentials of human nature regardless of environment.

By Marissa Meyer

Why should you read it: Even though the story starts with “Once upon a time,” it is not your typical fairy telling. Echoing some of the sentiments of the original Cinderella character, this Cinder is a cyborg in a world where cyborgs are looked upon as being only a little better than scrap metal. A gifted teen mechanic with a mysterious past, Cinder is strong and works hard for what she gets. She doesn’t just sit back and complain because her stepmother hates her and makes her work for their comfort. The descriptions, tensions, silly humorous moments, love interests and plot twists take place on an Earth being ravaged by a deadly plague. In the end all is not revealed, as this is the first installment of a four-book series. It is an exciting ride, making the reader eager for the next book, Scarlet. Cinder is definitely five stars. It should be read and enjoyed by adults as well as teens.

By Toni Morrison

Why should you read it: Driven by the painful history of slavery in the United States, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a true American classic. The story’s focus is on Sethe, a mother and former slave, who is haunted, both literally and figuratively, by the devastation and guilt of her past regarding her daughter. Although a difficult topic to breach, Morrison uses poetic prose to deal with the pain and torment of an unjust reality. Richly detailed and passionately written, but not for the faint of heart, this haunting book attempts to help explain both the mental and emotional state of a people held in bondage, their subsequent freedom, and its costs.

That's all for the Duluth Branch staff picks. We hope you found something you'll like. 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!