Monday, November 28, 2011

The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

This book was popping up on mystery lists everywhere for the past couple of months.  It is the first Nina Borg mystery to be translated into English and it’s the first Danish mystery I’ve read.  I will ruin a little of the suspense for you: the boy in the suitcase is alive. When I read the title my mind went to doom and gloom and to places I don’t wish to explore.  While the tension is created around the main character, Nina, who is a clueless as we are about why this young boy is in a suitcase and her mind goes to where ours would (human trafficking, etc.), what is really happening is so much more intriguing and twisty than I would have suspected. 

Nina Borg, our heroine, is likable despite her habit of disappearing from her family for months on end.  She’s saving lives in Africa so you can’t really fault her.  She is a nurse who needs to make a difference in the world and she does so wherever and whenever she can: which is why she feels the need to figure out why there is a three-year-old left in a suitcase without going to the authorities.

Not nearly as dark, brooding or gory as the Swedish mysteries that have been getting all the press as of late, this is a great introduction to Scandinavian mysteries for those that want a taste without the attendant depression of the Swedish ones.  (I don’t know about all of you, but I need to read something light and happy after getting through a Swedish mystery.)

Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Have a favorite flower to give or to receive?  Do you know what that flower is saying?  The Victorian art of communication through flowers is at the heart of this novel about a damaged young woman, named Victoria, struggling to understand and be understood by those around her. 

In and out of foster homes most of her life, and now homeless and with no one to turn to, Victoria finds work at a local florist.  At this job she begins to create arrangements using the language of flowers – and creates a successful business out of her work.  All is not resolved, Victoria must learn to find her place in the world and talk about her feelings and allow herself to feel in turn.  The writing style is not flowery, yet it is a lush tale of damage and the journey to redemption. 

At the end of the novel is an appendix of flowers and their meanings.  My favorite flower means cheerfulness which makes perfect sense since gerbera daisies are fun flowers. Beware though.  Some flowers may mean jealously, deceit or other unsavory things.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings

I just love maps.  I love looking at them, dreaming about what other places are like, even wondering how certain places got their wonderfully wacky names.  I think having a GPS is cheating.  I love finding my way through corn mazes with only a map and my wits to guide me out.  I can’t understand people who can’t read maps.  Then again, I can’t make sense of a large area until I see a map, so I really shouldn’t judge.

Ken Jennings (big time Jeopardy! winner) is a lover of maps (read: maphead) too.  A much bigger fan than I.  Obviously, he wrote the book.  And what a fun book it is!  Full of facts and odd bits of knowledge about map making, the hidden lives of old maps, geocaching, lifetime travel lists, and geography bee champions, this book is as entertaining as it is informative.  I was so caught up in map love I put a road atlas and a “cool” world atlas on my list for Santa (read: dad) to bring me this year.

If you are a fan of humor, knowledge, maps or trivia you’ll want to give this one a read.

The Non-Fiction Book Discussion Group will be talking about Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks on Thursday, February 9th at 1pm.  Register online if you would like to join in the discussion!

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean

I never saw Rin Tin Tin on the silver screen or on a television screen, yet I knew he was a famous German Shepherd.  He’s part of American culture.  And now he’s back in the minds of America because of Orlean’s new book.

Rinty, as his owner affectionately called him, was a foundling: an orphan pup found in a bombed out kennel in France during WWI.  From these humble beginnings he became one of the most famous actors in the world and a beloved hero of multiple generations.  Told in a factual and entertaining way Orlean follows Rinty’s life as other dogs take on the collar (so to speak) and become the new Rin Tin Tin.  There is a lot of interesting background on how dogs fought alongside our soldiers in various wars as well as the evolution of the motion picture and television industries.  More than just a book about a dog, this is a book that would appeal to anyone enjoying a story about how a legend was born.

The Non-Fiction Book Discussion Group will be talking about Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend on Thursday, January 12th at 1pm.  Register online if you would like to join in the discussion!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams

The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams

Yes, there are an awful lot of books out there.  And yes, it’s hard to find something “good” when there are a lot of similar books (amateur sleuth, vampire romance, spy thriller – to name a few) in a subgenre coming out every year.  But every once in a while you have to take a chance on the new kid on the block, and I’ve found more often than not I’m not disappointed.  Enter Keye Street, recovering alcoholic, disgraced FBI profiler, now private detective in Atlanta, Georgia.  The damaged former golden child of law enforcement has been done before, typically with a male protagonist, but Street is a character to watch.

I enjoyed Street’s story, there is just enough to satisfy my curiosity, but not too much so that the main plot is overwhelmed.  She’s an adopted child of stereotypical Southern parents.  For example, her mom is a genteel (in her mind) southern lady who refused to address Street’s cat by her given name.  Street found her cat outside in the garbage can; it is a white cat, so she named her White Trash.  Street’s mom doesn’t find the name proper and calls her White Kitty, Whitey and her new favorite name Snowflake.  It’s little touches like this that make the book read more like a real life and less like an episode of CSI.  But this is no cozy and Street is a tough lady.  The way she takes down a bail jumper twice her size is too cool to give away here.

This is a complex serial killer thriller.  Street and her best friend from Atlanta Police Department are trying to track a sadistic killer with terror, red herrings and back story galore.  I love a thriller that keeps me on the edge of my seat and constantly guessing and this book is a winner.  I’ve read so many of these types of books that sometimes I see the end coming and I really don’t like that.  I like the surprise.  I like participating in the brain games and the chase alongside the main character.  I was with Street every step of the way.

Amateur American Sleuths

The Mysterious Mornings group met this morning and talked about their favorite mysteries starring Amateur American Sleuths. If it’s a mystery and the main character is solving crimes, but isn’t a police officer or private investigator, then it fit this month’s sub-genre. Since we have already (or will be) discussed culinary, crafting, hobby and pet mysteries, we left them off the list.

Here are the group favorites listed by author and their series main character:
  • Barr, Nevada (Anna Pigeon)
  • Burke, Jan (Irene Kelly)
  • Cannell, Dorothy (Ellie Haskell)
  • Clark, Mary Jane (KEY News Mysteries)
  • Dobson, Joanna (Karen Pelletier)
  • Graves, Sarah (Home Repair is Homicide)
  • MacInerney, Karen (Gray Whale Inn Mysteries)
  • Maron, Margaret (Deborah Knott)
  • Meier, Leslie (Lucy Stone)
  • Riggs, Cynthia (Martha's Vineyard Mysteries)
  • Thompson, Victoria (Gaslight Mysteries)
  • White, Kate (Bailey Weggins)
Interested 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 Real People -- Unreal Crimes.

If it’s a mystery and the main character is famous for soemthing other than solving crimes, and is now solving crimes, then it fits this month’s sub-genre. Just keep in mind how the main character's fame and profession affects the mystery because that’ll be a major talking point at our discussion on January 11th at 9:30am at the Bridgewater Library.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

The small town of Gentry seems like a normal enough place.  It’s a lucky place – when a factory closes another large business seems to move in and keep the town employed, all seems to go well for the town.  All is happy and gay except a child dies every seven years: a child that seems different, off somehow.  And no one seems to notice or care that the child who dies isn’t the real child.  It looks like the real child, but it simply isn’t.  But Mackie Doyle cares.  He’s is a “different” child: a child that has lived sixteen years despite being fatally allergic to iron, blood and consecrated ground.  (Which some may not think is too hard to avoid, but his dad is a pastor.)  Mackie Doyle is a replacement.  And he’s determined to figure out why he is like he is and stop the horrible cycle of Gentry.

I’ll admit it.  I picked this one up because of the cover.  Young adult books have the coolest covers and I just tend to gravitate towards them.  So does my mother.  I received The Replacement as an advance reader’s copy last year and never got around to it.  I was in an independent bookstore this weekend with my mom and she picked it up and I promised her my copy when I was done with it.  Being a nice daughter I moved it to the top of the pile.

Fans of paranormal and urban fantasy would enjoy this book.  What is also nice is that it isn’t to be continued.  The story fits nicely in its small package and that is something to appreciate right there.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

This is one of those books where none of the reviews did it any justice.  The reviews make it sound like high esoteric fantasy where really it’s a great dual-world paranormal fantasy.  It’s totally accessible to any reader, even non-fantasy fans, since one of the two worlds is our Earth: makes the alternate world learning curve a LOT easier to deal with.  The Entertainment Weekly review made it out to be literary and in my mind I equate literary with unreadable or “out there.”  This reviewer must have just meant “very well written” and has made me rethink glossing over novels labeled as literary.

In this novel we’re in present day Prague.  Karou is a blue-haired art school student with a secret other life.  She is also a retriever of teeth for a shop run by chimera, beast/human mixed beings.  This shop is accessed through multiple doors hidden throughout our world and Karou has had many an adventure retrieving different types of teeth from all sorts of nice and unsavory characters.  All is well with Karou and her dual existence until a being, an angel is the closest word she can find for this beautiful man with fiery wings, opens her eyes to the war being fought on her other home world.   

This is a well-crafted thoroughly engrossing tale.  Fans of paranormal fantasy and romance – check this one out.  One warning: the last three words of the book are – to be continued…  ARGH! 

Hard Truth by Nevada Barr

Hard Truth by Nevada Barr

I have been meaning to read an Anna Pigeon book forever and finally got around to listening to one.  All the mysteries in this series take place in National Parks since Pigeon is a Ranger with the National Park Service.  In Hard Truth Pigeon just took a position with Rocky Mountain National Park and is caught up in the story of two battered tweens who stumble out of the woods six weeks after they were reported missing.   The girls claim they have no idea where they have been or what has happened to them and they don’t know where the third girl who was with them has gone. 

I listened to this book and the reader was very good, however, there was a lot of mouth noise.  I don’t know if she was drinking glasses of water throughout her recording or what, but it was pretty distracting.  Still, great story, maybe not such a great listen.

I was expecting a cozy mystery and instead got a polygamous sect, serial killers, hand raised predators and some strange sociology/psychology insights.  For me it was a pleasant surprise.  Next time Barr comes out with a new mystery I will probably be adding her to my book pile.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Marina Singh loves her job as a researcher at a large pharmaceutical company.  She also loves where she lives in frigid Minnesota.  But when a close colleague doesn’t return from his attempt to track down an elusive researcher in the Amazon she is sent to both check on the status of the fertility research in the jungle and find out the details of her colleague’s death.

This novel really reminded me of Heart of Darkness – the jungle is a ferocious, exotic and completely alien place.  Patchett makes the Amazon and its inhabitants a lush and multi-dimensional being, really allowing the reader to walk in Marina’s shoes. 

At the core this is a story about medical ethics.  Just because medicine can alter the human body, should it do so?  What are the consequences of each new discovery?  Are some discoveries too value to humankind to attach a price to?  If so, who does pay the price?

Join the Popular Fiction Book Discussion Group at the Bridgewater Library on Tuesday, December 13th at 7pm as we talk about this novel.  Sign up online or call the Adult Reference Desk (908-526-4016 x 105) to register.

Virals by Kathy Reichs

Virals by Kathy Reichs

I’m sure you’re familiar with Reichs’s Temperance Brennan character from either her bestselling novels or the hit television series Bones.  But did you know she has a niece with her own series?  Tory Brennan is the main character in the book Virals, the first in a new series.  Tory, like her aunt, is a bit of a science nerd but that is where the similarities between the series end.  Tory is in high school, lives on Morris Island outside of Charleston and is a bit of a modern day Nancy Drew with a twist.  She and three of her fellow Morris Island teen residents stumble upon a decades old mystery/conspiracy/cover-up and manage to get themselves infected by a strain of (supposedly) canine-only disease.  I don’t want to give too much away here, but the kids call themselves “virals” and they can do some pretty neat things with their senses now. 

While adults will want to read it because of the author, those that don’t like a little science fiction with their mystery may not enjoy it as much as teen readers.  A great pick on audio – the use of sound effects adds to the suspense and the accents are great.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

In the 1960s a woman is browsing a gallery with her husband.  The photographs on the walls are from the late 1930s.  An artist used a hidden camera to photograph people on the subway.  He hadn’t shown the images until now because he didn’t want to invade the privacy of these unsuspecting passengers.  The woman is startled to recognize her old friend Tinker in one of the photos.  In it he is well dressed and looks weary.  As she is leaving the gallery she spies another photo of Tinker.  Now he is shabbily dressed, on the thin side, but has a slight smile.  Her husband comments that it’s nice to see how he went from rags to riches.  The wife corrects him.  The well dressed photo was taken in 1938; the shabbily dressed one was taken in 1939.  This is the story of the year in a life of four friends and the events which shaped their futures.

The city, the economy, the time are as much characters as the four friends.  This is a well-crafted relationship story that shows people are many layered and not always only as they seem.  It’s also a study in the meaning of happiness and success and how conventional definitions don’t fit everyone. 

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

In a word: absurd.  In another word: wonderful.  To sum up: wonderfully absurd. 

Some time in the not-so-distant future a plane full of Miss Teen Dream contestants crashes on a deserted island.  Not many Teen Dreamers make it.  Only about fifteen girls survive.  One has a tray table stuck in her forehead, one is determined to practice her routines (no matter that the pageant will most likely not go on), one joined just to sabotage the pageant (and is now stuck with the others), and yet another isn’t even strictly female.  But they have spunk and ingenuity and they are survivors.  Nevermind the illegal weapons deal, the secret base on the island and the political intrigue.  That’s just icing on the cake.

If you’re a fan of the absurd writing of Douglas Adams or Carl Hiaasen you will probably laugh out loud over this one.  What’s really great is under all the sarcasm and weirdness is a real message.  Girls can do anything when they are given the opportunity to succeed.  This is a book with heart at its core and wackiness everywhere else.

Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

A co-worker with connections in publishing told me that mermaids would be the next big thing now that the vampire craze is losing some steam.  Lost Voices describes an interesting idea about the creation of mermaids.  Mermaids are created when abused girls are near death; they dissolve into the sea and are reborn as these mythical creatures: vengeful creatures luring ships and their human occupants to their deaths in the cold seas.

Fourteen-year-old Luce was orphaned about a year ago and sent to live with her uncle in a small Alaskan fishing village.  He was never kindly towards Luce, but in an alcoholic stupor he goes too far and the next thing Luce knows she is comfortably floating in the icy sea surrounded by other girls.  All of these girls suffered abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to care for them (one girl was starved to death by her mother, another thrown from a moving car by hers, and the stories are each worse than the last).  The mermaids have beautiful singing voices they use to lure the humans on passing ships to their deaths.  But Luce doesn’t want to kill humans.  She is upset with what happened to her but doesn’t feel that all humans should suffer because of what her uncle did.  This is her struggle to fit in and do what she thinks is best.

This is one of the oddest coming of age stories I’ve read and I must admit I’m intrigued.  First in a trilogy it will be followed by the second book next year.