Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Radleys by Matt Haig

The Radleys by Matt Haig
Blurbed by Cassandra, Librarian at Mary Jacobs Library

Meet the Radleys: father Peter, mother Helen, teenage son Rowan and daughter Clara. They are an ordinary suburban family. They live a quiet life on a quiet street in a quiet town called Bishopthorpe. The family car is a nondescript SUV which is not too flashy or too dull. Peter's a doctor, Helen a housewife. Their house is decorated with muted colors, the artwork on their walls consists of soothing watercolors of pastoral scenes, and they have just the right books--that is to say, the books that their neighbors read are on the bookshelves. But all is not perfectly dull in the Radley household.

The Radleys, like many apparently normal suburban families, have a secret, one which Peter and Helen have kept even from their children. They are vampires. Nonpracticing vampires, abstainers, in the lingo--but they are still vampires. Their practiced lies and feigned suburban banality fall apart when shy Clara gives in to her violent nature and Uncle Will, a practicing vampire, visits to unearth the secrets and habits of a sordid, bloody past they thought they could forget. The novel is full of dark humor and wit. Through domestic derangement and vampire lore, Haig crafts a novel that explores denial, hard bargains and the bonds of family.

I listened to the audio version, read by Toby Leonard Moore. I had a difficult time getting into the story but if you are a fan of dark, British humor and twisted tales of vampires that don't look or act like the characters from Twilight then you will enjoy Matt Haig's The Radleys.

Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger
Blurbed by Cassandra, Librarian at Mary Jacobs Library

Mistress of Nothing tells the story of Sally, Lady Duff-Gordon's nurse and maid. When Duff-Gordon becomes ill the two women travel from England to Egypt in hopes that the dry climate will improve her health. Sally faithfully follows her mistress, spending every waking minute caring for her, utterly devoted and loyal. But Egypt awakens something new in Sally and when the bond between Lady and maid is tested, Lady Duff Gordon proves a formidable enemy.

The setting and backdrop of the story, a rich and fantastical Egypt is like a character in itself. The historical details, engaging minor characters and lush landscape, make for an engrossing read. Sally herself is an easy person to love - tough and sentimental, determined, smart, and yet naive. In the end it is her fierce will to stay in Egypt that makes her so unforgettable.

** In 1862, the real Lucie, Lady Duff-Gordon, a well known writer and hostess, traveled to Egypt with her maid. Her letters form the basis for this historical novel and are available through Project Gutenberg.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

Feel like your memory is fading?  Can’t remember the seven things that you wrote down on the to-do list that you now can’t find?  Amazed by people who can memorize the exact order of a deck of cards in less than two minutes?  This book can help you feel better about your own memory, teach you how to create a memory palace to house your to-do lists and give you the tools you need to memorize decks (yes, plural!) to amaze your friends.  Sound impossible?  That’s what Joshua Foer thought when he started researching the USA Memory Championship.  After learning the tricks of the trade he decided to return to the championships as a participant.  This is his story.

The Non-Fiction Book Discussion Group will be talking about Moonwalking with Einstein on Thursday, August 11th at the Bridgewater Library.  Read the book, test your memory, and come to the discussion!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

All Over the Map by Laura Fraser

All Over the Map by Laura Fraser

Laura has a goal. By forty she will have found a man to share her life with, have a child, and buy a house for her new family. At the end of the book she’s forty-five, happier, and doesn’t have any of the three things she set out to have years before. This is the story of her career (a travel writer), her personal failings (she’s a tad bit impulsive), and what she plans to do about her life to get it back on the track she feels it should be following, and how she’s changing that track to get more out of her life (like doing stories that matter about sex trafficking in Italy and the genocide widows of Rwanda).

I was looking for a book about travel, and instead got a book about women – their friendships, their struggles and their vulnerabilities. It’s more than I was expecting from a travel memoir, and in a positive way. While Fraser doesn’t sugarcoat anything, she also doesn’t whine constantly or stay in a cloud of doom and gloom. She explains how she moves past the pitfalls in her life and the curveballs life has thrown at her. Even though I could never imagine living as she does, it works for her, and I enjoyed this glimpse of her life.

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

What would your life be like if you knew that you would die of a virus before you were able to grow old?  If you knew the year of your death as soon as you were born?  That is the world Rhine lives in.  All women die at twenty, all men at twenty-five.

The author does a great job creating an alternate future and puzzling out what the new social and economic structure would be like.  Rhine lived in a brownstone in Manhattan with her twin brother before being snatched and married, along with two other girls, to a wealthy man living in a mansion in Florida.  The differences between the lives of the poor and struggling and the wealthy and advantaged are in stark contrast.  The dynamics between characters, especially the three very different sister wives, really moves the story along and makes you like (and loathe) the people in Rhine’s insulated world.

While this book, first in a series, fits the whole teen dystopia novel subgenre, it is different in subtle, hopeful, ways.  What I really liked was that it wasn’t set eons after the virus shortened human lifespans; there are people walking around in their fifties and sixties, members of the last generation of unaffected.  In my mind that means that there is hope; there are scientists who have been working on a cure and could one day be successful.  At least my fingers are crossed that one of the dystopian series I read will have a true happy ending!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Halfway to Heaven: My White-Knuckled – and Knuckleheaded – Quest for the Rocky Mountain High by Mark Obmascik

Halfway to Heaven by Mark Obmascik

Fan of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods?  Then I’ve finally found the perfect summer read for you!

Obmascik is middle-aged, out of shape, and looking for some father-son bonding opportunities when he joins his twelve-year-old son up one of the Fourteeners of Colorado and gets hooked.  He decides why not?  He can hike up all the Fourteeners of Colorado, a Fourteener being a mountain higher than 14,000 feet above sea level.  It’s doable he’s sure.  It’ll only take a year.  Heck, there are only 54 of them…

This is a tale of personal challenge and unlikely male bonding.  Obmascik’s wife refuses to allow him to partake in his mission alone, especially after he relates tale of some close calls with gravity, and he has some difficulty finding hiking partners until he tries setting up man-dates online with fellow mountain enthusiasts.  He, and as readers we, meet all sorts of people who decide to battle the altitude (and pain) for the perfect view. 

As with Bryson’s writing you learn about the dangers and the unique history of these high peaks, and he doesn’t sugarcoat the danger.  But he also shares the humorous side of his experiences.  Especially humor directed at the author’s own ineptitude and failings.  A thoroughly enjoyable read that makes you want to go out and climb a mountain…just one…and then eat a lot of junk food and sleep in a real bed.

The Non-Fiction Book Discussion Group will be discussing Halfway to Heaven on Thursday, July 14th at 1pm at the Bridgewater Library.  Read the book and join the discussion!

I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson

I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson

If you ever had a crush on a pop star or movie star when you were a pre-teen and knew every vital statistic from the “official literature” (read: fan magazines with the fold out posters you argued with your mom about putting on your bedroom walls) then this book is definitely for you.

Petra and Sharon, two thirteen years old from Wales, are the biggest David Cassidy fans EVER.  They have read and memorized everything about him and are confident that they have answered all the questions correctly for the Ultimate David Cassidy Quiz.  But the years go by and their encyclopedic knowledge of their teen idol gets fuzzy.  Over twenty years later Petra is sorting through her mother’s belongings and finds a bright pink envelope she self-addressed as a girl.  She WON the Ultimate David Cassidy Quiz!  She and Sharon won a trip to meet David Cassidy on the set of the Partridge Family in California!  So, naturally, Petra tracks down the publishers of the quiz and asks for her prize.

This is a charming and frothy tale of the hardships of being a teen and of raising teenagers.  It’s also about friendship and the power (and necessity) of teen idol worship.  While the teen angst and obsession parts are written quite realistically (ah, the joys of the catty young female) there are enough laughs interspersed to spare the reader memories of their own teen pain.

I enthusiastically recommend this one on audio.  The reader’s Welsh accents are great, and the way the Welsh girls attempt to speak American is worth hearing.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure by Julian Smith

What better way to prove your love for a woman then crossing Africa?  In 1898 Ewart Grogan crossed Africa to prove to his future father-in-law that he was worthy of his daughter’s hand in marriage.  (It worked!)  In 2007 Julian Smith decides to follow in Grogan’s footsteps to prove to himself that he’s ready for marriage.  (Success again!)

This is part history and part travelogue.  I really enjoyed the descriptions of the wild animals and interesting natives (the cannibal tribes he faced were REALLY scary) Grogan encountered on the way.  I must admit, reading about the Victorian Age explorer was the best part of the book.  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy reading about Julian’s present day worries (finding transportation is arduous at best), his reasoning for the trip is a little beyond me.  Yes, he loves his fiancĂ©e, but he still has cool feet.  How does trekking across Africa make him sure that he’s ready for marriage?  He does miss her, but couldn’t he have missed her from a Caribbean island?  Or in a familiar city?  Or is it only because he was miserable (hot, bug-bitten, ill) that he missed her so much?  I guess I wanted more Africa, less why he wasn’t able to commit.

Moral of the story: if you need to impress a future in-law or make an important life decision crossing Africa any which way is the way to go!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dogs and Cats Solving Mysteries Together

The Mysterious Mornings group met this morning and talked about their favorite mysteries featuring dogs and cats. If it was mystery and it featured a main character that is not human, it fit this month's subgenre.

Here are the group favorites listed by author and their series main character:
  • Barrett, Lorna (Booktown Mystery)
  • Brown, Rita Mae (Jane Arnold)
  • Clement, Blaize (Dixie Hemingway)
  • Conant, Susan (Dog Lover’s)
  • David, Evelyn (Mac Sullivan)
  • Hale, Rebecca M. (Rebecca)
  • Henry, Sue (Maxie and Stretch)
  • Johnston, Linda O. (Kendra Ballantyne)
  • Lanier, Virginia (Jo Beth Sidden)
  • McCoy, Judi (Ellie Engleman)
  • Quinn, Spencer (Chet and Bernie)
  • Webb, Betty (Gunn Zoo)
Interesting in joining in on a Mysterious Morning discussion? A list of suggested authors and titles are available at the Bridgewater Library and books will be on display about a month prior to the discussion. (If you’re a voracious mystery reader you can read more than one.) Our next theme/subgenre is Lights! Camera! Murder!

If it’s a mystery and it and was made into a movie or television series, then it fits this month’s sub-genre.  We’ll be talking about how true to the book the big (or small screen) adaptations are, so be sure to read and watch, because that’ll be the major talking point at our discussion on Wednesday, July 20th at 9:30am at the Bridgewater Library.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Anteater of Death by Betty Webb

The Anteater of Death by Betty Webb

Poor Lucy the Giant Anteater. She’s not having a great night. She’s pregnant (and therefore a wee bit cranky) and now one of those hairless things that are sometimes nice and usually loud has fallen into her favorite clump of brush. And this hairless thing smells of iron and death – at least it’s attracting the ants! (Lucy tends to look on the bright side of life.)

Lucy doesn’t play a huge role in this book, but she does narrate the first few and last few pages through a Giant Anteater’s eyes. (And you learn that Giant Anteaters can be a little difficult when annoyed since they have razor sharp four inch claws.) The main character is a zookeeper named Teddy Bentley and she is dragged into the middle of a murder investigation (or two) as bodies start piling up at the Gunn Zoo.

The author throws just enough zookeeper and animal factoids in to enhance the mystery instead of overwhelming it, and the mystery unfolds at a nice brisk pace. I hate mysteries that I either solve way too early in the book, or couldn’t have possibly solved based on the information the author provides. But in this one I figured it out just as the zookeeper sleuth did which, as far as I’m concerned, is just as it should be.

How to Wash a Cat by Rebecca M. Hale

How to Wash a Cat by Rebecca M. Hale

I always enjoy mysteries that have a now and then feel: a mystery in the present is solved while uncovering a mystery of the past. The main character (you don’t learn her name until the book is almost over) and her two cats move into the apartment above her recently departed Uncle Oscar’s antique store, The Green Vase in San Francisco. She doesn’t think foul play was involved, but begins to suspect something is amiss when minor disturbances plague her renovations to the store. It seems that her Uncle was not only obsessed with collecting Gold Rush era antiques, but with solving a Gold Rush era mystery as well, and others may be trying to discover what Oscar was able to uncover.

Like in Murder Past Due the cats are present, and become characters in the story, but they are by no means detectives. They are cute, cuddly and mischievous, in very cat-like ways. If you’re looking for a cozy now/then mystery, this is a good bet.

Special Note: You do NOT learn how to wash a cat.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

The past doesn’t tend to stay buried as the residents of Walls of Water, NC discover when a skeleton is unearthed from under an old peach tree on the lawn of the newly restored mansion, the Blue Ridge Madam.  Two former high school classmates, not quite rivals, find themselves thrown together as they try to riddle out the story of their grandmothers’ pasts.

This is small-town southern fiction at its best.  It’s gentle and magical while dealing with some serious and dark issues.  The author’s colorful and graceful language makes you want to book a trip to this small town, which unfortunately only exists on the page.  A perfect read to enjoy on a summer’s night with a glass of sweet tea or a cup of iced coffee at your side.

The Popular Fiction Book Discussion Group will be discussing The Peach Keeper on Tuesday, July 19th at 7pm at the Borders Store of Bridgewater.

Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts

Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts

I learned a whole lot reading this book, not something I ever thought would happen listening to romantic suspense.  The main characters are Missoula Smokejumpers and I’m extremely impressed by these firefighters who jump out of planes in remote areas to surround forest fires, chase them down and extinguish them.  The danger these men and women experience each day is suspenseful in and of itself!  Add in a murder (or two), arson, vandalism and a stray bullet or two and the suspense is brimming! 

Of course there is a romance (or two) but the characters, the men and women who risk everything to save the wild, are the reason for listening.  I especially liked the accents the reader used to differentiate the characters, it really worked well.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Murder Past Due by Miranda James

Murder Past Due by Miranda James

Librarians, writers, small southern towns and huge cats – what else could you want in a mystery?! 

A famous thriller writer, Godfrey Priest, returns to his hometown of Athena, Mississippi and doesn’t show up for the banquet the local college is hosting in his honor.  The college librarian/archivist, Charlie, who went to school with Godfrey, knows his former classmate would never pass up a second in the spotlight.  Charlie finds Godfrey murdered in his hotel room and knows that the suspect list is quite long.  Godfrey wasn’t exactly a likeable guy and there are plenty of people in this small town who wouldn’t mind never having to see him again.

I must admit, I’m not a fan of cat and dog mysteries when the humans aren’t smart enough to figure anything out and rely on their furry companions to think for them.  Granted, my cat was a genius at being a cat, but I’d like to think I’m smarter at figuring out puzzles than he was.  That said, in this book Diesel the Maine coon is a real sounding cat, he’s there to provide companionship and snuggles when characters are feeling down – a crucial cat skill.  (The sequel, Classified as Murder, is out now!)

Want to join our Mysterious Mornings program?  Just read some mysteries!  If it’s a mystery and it features a main character that is not human, then it fits this month’s sub-genre.  Just keep in mind how the main character's species affects the unfolding of the mystery because that’ll be a major talking point at our discussion next week.

May's Mystery Type:
Dogs and Cats Solving Mysteries Together
Wednesday, May 18th
9:30am - 11:30am, Meeting Room A

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I’ll Walk Alone by Mary Higgins Clark

I’ll Walk Alone by Mary Higgins Clark

Zan is running a successful interior design business and trying to keep her life on track while using every spare cent to pay private detectives to find her son.  Her three year old son, Matthew, was kidnapped in Central Park and no leads have ever been uncovered.  Until now.  It’s Matthew fifth birthday and Zan has never lost hope that he is out there alive somewhere wanting to come home.  A tabloid has just published pictures showing a woman lifting a sleeping Matthew from his stroller on that fateful day: a woman that looks exactly like Zan.

This book really keeps you guessing.  You, and Zan, start to wonder if she could have actually done it since the evidence is overwhelming!  At least until her friend Alvirah decides to start retracing Zan’s steps that day her son was taken from the park. 

I have to admit, I wasn’t a fan of Clark’s recent books.  I decided to give her one last try.  She’s won me back and I’m looking forward to her next novel.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Night Road by Kristen Hannah

Night Road by Kristen Hannah

This book is about characters and the choices they make, and how one choice can have disastrous consequences.  There are a number of characters in the book, but the story revolves around four: Jude, the devoted (almost but not quite helicopter-) mom; her twins Mia, the awkward one, and Zach, the popular one; and Lexi, the girl who practically becomes a part of the family since she is Mia’s best friend and Zach’s girlfriend. 

This is a story about trying to do the right thing.  It’s about atonement and vengeance, responsibility and consequences, and most of all about love and letting go.

For fans of Chris Bohjalian and Jodi Picoult who aren’t fans of sudden twisty endings.  In Night Road things may not unfold as you thought they would, but there isn’t a shocking revelation in the last ten pages that turns the story on its head either.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza

Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza

Like your mysteries short and dark? Then check out the Brazilian Inspector Espinosa series. These novels are usually less than 250 pages and they are artfully crafted. On the one hand I wish they were longer, but on the other, their succinctness and the directness of the writing, is what makes them such great reads.

In Alone in the Crowd an elderly woman goes to the local police station and asks to speak to the Chief, who is our main character Espinosa. She is told that he is in a meeting, so she leaves and states she’ll be back later. Unfortunately she never gets to meet with Espinosa – she is struck and killed by a city bus. While no one saw her get pushed, witnesses agree that she was pushed into the path of an oncoming bus.

Even more interesting than Espinosa's character is the prime suspect in this mystery, a man who enjoys being in the center of crowds – either on the streets or stuffed into a subway car. He never talks to anyone, or does anything inappropriate, he just enjoys being alone in the crowd.

It’s cool to hear about places you only hear of in songs like Copacabana and Ipanema. Since the character has lived in Rio de Janiero his whole live you can hear how the neighborhoods have changed over time for better and for worse. His books are recent history lessons as well as travelogues of a really vibrant and interesting city.

The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri

The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri

I think the best way to describe this series is as a cozy with cursing. Cozy mysteries typically are heavy with character development, and have no violence, sex or cursing. This one is a cozy-mystery Sicilian style. The violence happens off-page and the colorful language is on.

Inspector Montalbano is in his fifties and is a bit tired. The highlight of his day isn’t going to work, or going home, it’s going to lunch at his favorite trattoria. Yet while enjoying his favorite meals his mind is constantly working as he puzzles through the latest mysteries to occur in his part of Sicily. Filled with deduction, interesting characters and relationships, and the politics unique and ever-present in the region, Camilleri creates a memorable police procedural.

In The Wings of the Sphinx the nude body of a 20-something year old woman is found in a popular illegal dump site. The gunshot wound to the face that killed her also destroyed any chance of identifying her. The only lead to her identity is the moth, a Sphinx moth, tattoo on her left shoulder blade. Illegal immigration, shady benevolent organizations and politics collide while the police search for a killer.