Monday, December 28, 2015

Meru (Documentary)

Meru (Documentary)

Three climbers, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk, attempt to ascend Meru, a mountain in the Himalayas, up the Shark’s Fin route which looks exactly as it sounds.  They are not successful.  While planning a return trip all three face hardships, each worse than the last.  Conrad has to decide if he can leave his wife and children, a family that already lost one father to a climbing disaster.  Jimmy miraculously survives an avalanche and is soul searching to figure out what to do with this second chance at life.  Renan suffers a horrific head and neck injury but against all odds recovers and believes he is ready to climb Meru, despite the warnings of his doctors.  All three return in October 2011 to Meru and conquer the peak.

I have no desire to rock climb, and this movie reaffirmed that for me, but the visuals are astounding.  Seeing the tent secured in midair off the side of a peak and knowing that these guys were able to sleep that way was the perfect illustration to me that these guys love what they are doing and trust in their gear and each other.  This is a stunning film that brings home the realities of the dangers of this sport in a number of ways, but the perseverance of these men, and the sights we as the audience get to see, make this a documentary not to miss. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

House of Thieves by Charles Belfoure

House of Thieves by Charles Belfoure

In 1886 in New York City John Cross has a successful profession as an architect, a society wife, a son who just graduated with honors from an ivy college, a daughter that is getting ready for her coming out and a young son who is the apple of his family’s eye.  Everything seems perfect, but all the members of this family are hiding secrets.  Each is miserable under the constraints of society and longing to escape.

George, the eldest son, has a severe gambling problem.  He is $48,000 in debt to James Kent, the dashing leader of the gang Kent’s Gents.  When Kent learns of George’s father’s profession he has an idea.  Kent approaches John Cross and asks him to make a deal.  If John helps Kent pull off lucrative robberies by providing architectural intelligence to the gang, George can live and a small percentage of the take will be applied to pay off his debt after each job. John will do anything to save his son, including embark on a life of crime.  Trouble is he is actually enjoying himself.

It was really interesting watching this proper upper middle class family mingle with, and enjoy the company of, the lower classes  Even though all the members of the Cross clan get involved with the criminal element you still like them and hope that they will succeed in their crimes and getting out from under Kent and his gang. 

Yet another novel by this author that would make a wonderful movie!  The ending is action packed and the reader of the audiobook does a great job with the voices, building the tension and quickening the pace when it needs to happen.  I’m looking forward to book number three.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare

Are you in the mood for something light and fun and romantic for your holiday vacation?  You can’t go wrong with a book by Tessa Dare, especially this one.

For Miss Maddie Gracechurch the worst thing imaginable is mingling at balls and simply being in large groups of people.  So when her family sends her to Brighton just before her coming out for some soul searching she creates the ideal fiancé – a highland Captain, Logan MacKenzie, off to fight in the Napoleonic Wars.  She writes him often, addressing and posting letters to her imaginary Captain for years until she feels it’s been long enough and kills him off.  (Don’t worry, he died honorably.)  Imagine her surprise when her betrothed shows up at the doorstep of her castle, very much alive, with brogue and kilt intact and verra verra real.

Yes, Maddie addressed her letters to Captain Logan MacKenzie, a not unheard of name in Scotland and a real person received them.  He needs a home and a stable life for himself and his men and a fiancée with a castle is a perfect start.  How can she refuse him after pining and mourning for him for years?  So what that she never even met him.  Can she really admit that now?

It was interesting putting a talented and smart woman in the role of purposeful spinster because of her debilitating shyness as well as a real/imaginary hero; both are definitely different in the world of romances, at least the ones I have read.  The premise is amusing and the banter between the characters is witty and refreshing.  Of course it all ends happily with bumps along the way, this is a romance!  And, of course, that is why we want to read it.

Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

The final entry in the Shattered Sea trilogy will keep you turning the pages!  While you could have read the second book without reading the first, I recommend that you read the first two (Half a King and Half the World) before starting this book.

The stories of Yarvi and Thorn are at the forefront once again as the High King’s army kills the king of their ally Throvenland.  Yet one royal escapes Throvenland, Princess Skara, and her gentle way unites the armies building up to fight against the High King.  Only half a war is fought on the battlefield the rest is words, deception and manipulation.  Will our three heroes come out of the war unscathed in body as well as soul?

I have shied away from epic fantasy for a while because I didn’t want to get sucked into a story that lasts for multiple volumes, each one long enough that it seems like three books in one.  This series is different.  It is definitely a trilogy (it ends) and all three volumes are less than 1,000 pages combined.  It is also very different from any other fantasy I’ve read.  The writing is spare, the world seems to be ours at a point in the very distant future and the unexpected happens all the time.  This is war after all and sometimes the actions, deaths and betrayals are completely unexpected.

If you are missing Game of Thrones and want to get completely absorbed in a fantasy story and still have plenty of time to refresh yourself in Westeros, try the Shattered Sea.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Lake House by Kate Morton

The Lake House by Kate Morton

In true Morton style this is a tale where a mystery from the past encroaches on, and is solved in, the present.  In 1933 the youngest child of the Edevane family goes missing during a large Midsummer’s celebration at the family home of Loenneth.  Seventy-years later Det. Sgt. Sadie Sparrow, on leave from the London police force, is walking in the Cornish woods with her grandfather’s dogs when she stumbles upon an estate lost in time.  She has rediscovered Loenneth, left very much as it was when young Theo disappeared.  Sparrow begins digging into the unsolved mystery, hating to leave a puzzle unsolved, and finds herself captivated by the Edevane’s and the secretive living heirs.  What happened to young Theo?  After seventy-years will she be able to uncover enough clues to puzzle out the crime?

A great choice on audio, but it is quite long; an ideal choice for the listener who wants to get lost in the English countryside.  While I enjoyed the book it was a tad too long and I guessed the ending way before the characters did which I found disappointing.  Fans of her work will still want to read this one, but if you are looking for a new author to try read The Forgotten Garden by her instead.  

Friday, December 4, 2015

Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator by Homer H. Hickam

Homer Hickam (the elder) has had it with Albert.  He was innocently using the toilet one morning when Albert jumped out of the bathtub and snatched his pants.  Now the entire town has seen Homer out in his yard in his skivvies as he gives his wife an ultimatum – either Albert goes or he does.  His wife Elsie didn’t want to make a decision right away but eventually decides that Albert does need to go…back to Florida.  It’s only right that he return to the place of his birth.  So begins the journey to bring Albert home.

The author had me at alligator.  I think alligators are just awesome with their toothy smiles and amazing prehistoric looks.  Put an alligator in a washtub in the backseat of a car for a road trip and I’m in! 

I finished this book a few days ago and was wondering what to say.  I liked it overall, especially Albert and his personality and love for just about everything including his mother.  I will admit that at the start Elsie is hard to like, but as the book progresses you get to understand her, and by the end her actions all make complete sense.  Read on the surface it’s a road trip, dig just a tad deeper and it’s all about letting go of the past and coming to terms with the present and your future.  The one thing I am still pondering?  The rooster.  An unnamed rooster goes along on the road trip.  I think I know why he was there in a symbolic sort of way, but it’s a bird that can be many colors. 

A good choice if you want a book that will make you laugh and also tear up a wee bit at the end (in a happy way) that also makes you think a bit after you close the covers.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A LEGO Brickumentary (Documentary)

A LEGO Brickumentary (Documentary)

EVERYTHING LEGO!  Seriously, everything!  Fan conventions, the origin story, how the company creates new products, LEGO in space, making LEGO art for a living, you name it, it’s here.  If you, or someone you love, loves LEGO this is a must-see.  It is narrated by a mini-fig (voiced by Jason Bateman) and all the different aspects of this iconic toy are covered: the fun, the play, the art and the practical aspects for science. 

I never had LEGO growing up but I did have a knock-off brand and I LOVED them.  After watching this documentary I am seriously considered going out and getting one of the models that are made for adults who love LEGO, but boy those things are pricey!  So enjoy this movie, but watch with caution, you will be tempted to start playing with bricks no matter your age.

Death in Salem by Eleanor Kuhns

Death in Salem by Eleanor Kuhns

Will Rees is a weaver from Maine visiting Salem on his way home from selling his wares on the road.  He’s hoping to purchase a nice present for his pregnant wife, but instead bumps into a friend who saved his life in the war; and that would be the Revolutionary War for its 1796 when our mystery is set.  Will’s friend, nicknamed Twig, is the local undertaker and he’s leading the funeral procession for the long ailing Mrs. Antiss Boothe.  Her family is well respected in the town and when her husband is found murdered shortly after her funeral the town is in shock.  No one more so than Twig who races to find Will, who recently left for home, and bring him back to Salem to solve the crime.  The woman Twig loves, the slave belonging to the Boothe household, is accused of the murder and locked in the jail.

It’s obvious from the get-go that the accused didn’t commit the crime.  She wouldn’t have had the strength.  Yet the politics and secrets of the wealthy shipowners of Salem trip Will up as he tries to uncover who would have a motive and the opportunity to murder Mr. Boothe. 

Those fans of historical mysteries will find a lot to like here.  There is a lot of local color and period detail.  I did find some of the “mysteries” easy to solve but that was because I’m looking at the situation with modern eyes. Will wouldn’t have (and didn’t) make some of the jumps a modern reader would which was accurate to the time, yet annoying as far as crafting a mystery.  It was slower paced than I like my mysteries, but again, true to the time.  I both read and listened to this book and recommend reading it over listening; some of the voices the narrator used I found a bit annoying in their tone.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Detectorists (Comedy/British Mini-Series – Starring Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones)

The Detectorists (Comedy/British Mini-Series – Starring Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones)

Andy and Lance are members of the DMDC, the Danebury Metal Detectors Club.  They like to spend their free time searching the countryside for an ancient Saxton ship burial but mostly find pop-tops, Matchbox cars and buttons.  Andy is finding balancing his love of his hobby and the love of his girlfriend and realizes he may need to make some hard decisions.  Lance is still helping his ex-wife (and thereby her new husband) with issues in her life and has to wonder if he’s being taken advantage of along the way.  Things come to a head when the Antiquisearchers, a rival club of detectorists, starts searching the land Andy and Lance got special permission to search.

In a word, charming.  Watching these six thirty-minute segments you really become fond of Andy and Lance and want them to find something, anything!, important.  At the core it’s a quirky group of people experiencing life and all the curveballs it throws their way.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

Lucien is an unemployed architect in Nazi occupied Paris.  He does his best to keep his head down and not get involved with anything that may single him out or make him put his neck out for his fellow man.  Then he is asked to do a job.  Create a space in an apartment where a Jewish man can hide and be undetectable to a Nazi search.  Lucien wants to refuse but the contract to build a factory that comes with this commission is too good to pass up.  Reluctantly Lucien becomes a working architect again building hiding places for people to avoid detection from the Nazis while designing factories to arm the Nazis to continue the war.

My “home” book club recently talked about this book and one of the members couldn’t continue reading because she didn’t like the main character.  Yes, Lucien is not the most likeable of characters but he grows a heart, and very realistically I thought, throughout the book.  Watching how an ordinary man who tried very hard to avoid thinking about the occupation and all the horrors it brought with it becomes entrenched in intrigue and truly making a huge difference in the lives of many people was compelling; the fear of him being caught at every turn really ramped up the adrenaline rush to keep the pages turning.

This book has a great ending.  If it were a movie I would have clapped.  Instead I settled on quiet cheering.  I’m looking forward to reading his latest book House of Thieves. 

The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson

Reviewed by Keith McCoy, Somerset County Library System
Originally Submitted to Library Journal

Occurring a few months after the excellent tale that was The Devil in the Marshalsea, ne’er-do-well parson’s son Tom Hawkins is once again in trouble in Georgian London.  Recently out of debtor’s prison, he is living off his girlfriend’s money while translating erotica for her bookstore.  First, he finds himself in the debt of one of London’s most notorious underworld figures.  Then he gets involved in a late night fight with the husband of King George’s mistress, followed by a secret meeting with a conniving Queen Caroline.  A priggish neighbor is stabbed to death in his bed, right after an inebriated Tom publicly threatens him.  This all unfolds in confessional retrospect, as Hawkins is being wheeled off to the gallows for murder.  It all comes to a “head” at the end.  Hodgson has provided another pell mell romp through the top and bottom of English society, seen through the eyes of a gentleman who is both a rogue and a naif. 

Verdict:  Those who enjoy their historical action fast and vivid will enjoy the second installment of Thomas Hawkins’ misadventures.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Beryl Markham experiences an interesting and unconventional childhood growing up on a horse farm with her father in colonial Kenya.  She makes friends with the local tribe and her neighbors and finds her childhood ideal.  But when she gets older her gender and the expectations of society for young ladies, start to stifle and constrain her.  She attempts to become a wife but the match that seemed ideal turns out to be anything but perfect.  Having tried the conventional role Beryl starts to follow her heart becoming the only female horse trainer in Africa all the while trying to follow her heart as well with varied levels of success and heartbreak.

I wasn’t a fan of The Paris Wife but I think that was more because I’m not a fan of Hemingway as a person/husband, but nonetheless I was a little concerned about this one.  I shouldn’t have been.  Beryl is such an interesting person I fully enjoyed reading her fictional biography.  Yes, she made some really bad choices, but you couldn’t really fault her for going with her heart when the status quo was awful.  There was one instance where I thought she was finally making a good choice for both herself and to fit into society and like Beryl I was mistaken so I could really identify with the character.  This is the story of strong woman way ahead of her time trying to live by the beat of her own drum while the world around her held onto its Victorian attitudes only when it seemed to be convenient or hurtful to others to do so.

Wonderful on audio so you can hear how all the melodious African names are pronounced!

Warriors of the Storm by Bernard Cornwell

Warriors of the Storm by Bernard Cornwell
Reviewed by Keith McCoy, Somerset County Library System
Originally Submitted to Library Journal

The irascible and combative Uhtred Uhtredson returns in the ninth book of Cornwell’s Saxon Tales.  Set in a fractured ninth century England, the aging Saxon warrior is surprised by a Norse attack from across the Irish Sea.  Worse, he quickly finds out that a former lover has allied with the invader, Ragnall Ivarson:  the latter wants a kingdom, and the former wants to annihilate Uhtred and his grown children.  Threaded through the battle scenes is the nascent Celtic Christianity, and how it melds or conflicts with the old religious ways.  The desire to create (or prevent) a unified England under Edward of Wessex is behind much of the maneuvering, too.  Uhtred uses all of his martial prowess, wits, and gut instinct to save most of his offspring, and the future of his land.  Cornwell again provides an exciting and tricky retelling of history from the standpoint of a colorful warrior lord.  

Verdict: Not just for lovers of historic fiction, but those who catch the first episodes of The Last Kingdom (based on this series) on BBC America will want to read all the stories.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Last Words by Michael Koryta

Last Words by Michael Koryta
Reviewed by Cassandra, Teen Librarian at Mary Jacobs

Florida-based death-row defense lawyer Markus Novak’s life derailed when his wife was murdered while the two of them were working on a case. Still searching for her killer two years later, Novak has put his life and career on the line one too many ties. His boss sends him to Indiana to review a cold case just to get him out of town.

The 10-year-old cold case involves a teenage girl who disappeared inside a cave system beneath a rural farm. Days later the girl’s lifeless body was brought out of the cave by Ridley Barnes. All these years later Barnes, who called to have the case reopened, continues to claim he has no memory of what happened inside the cave. Living under a cloud of suspicion, Barnes wants answers even if it costs him his life.

Just when you’re sure you know who the killer is, Koryta throws you a curve and a new suspected killer is introduced with even more motive. Koryta switches back and forth from the suspects always leaving you wondering who the real killer is. The twists will have you second guessing yourself as you try to solve the mystery along with the protagonist.

**Very good on audio!

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison

Novels with happy colors of the cover should be happy; just one complaint to start out with while trying to write a positive review because many people will enjoy this novel, just not me.

Harriet Chance is 78 and has been a widower for two years.  She has been seeing Bernard, her dead husband, quite a bit lately.  Of course her friends and family think she is losing touch with reality, but no dear reader, Bernard really is visiting her from the afterlife.  (I have no idea why, the book would have been fine without the weirdness of him having conversations with Harriet and those that run the afterlife.  I must have missed something…?)  Anyway, before his Alzheimer’s got truly awful Bernard entered a drawing to win a cruise to Alaska.  And he won!  The ones who held the raffle take three or four years to hunt down a relative (what?!) and now Harriet is going on a cruise.

The style of the writing was interesting.  Each chapter starts with the date and the age Harriet is at the time.  Most of the story is set in the present, but you also get to see what made Harriet the woman she is today.  Unfortunately something awful and more awful always seems to be coming when you learn about her past. 

Maybe I’m being a little harsh.  I apologize.  I could have seen around all issues I mentioned above, but what starts out quirky and fun becomes depressing and very dark.  I get really annoyed when books do that.  I have to say it was very well written, maybe a little too much an emotional rollercoaster for me.  However, I did listen to the whole book.  A testament to how good the reader was, and that I did want to know where the story was going.  Just didn’t like it when I got there.

If you like dysfunctional stories with a fully development main character that is more bitter than bittersweet this may be your next read.

Almost Interesting: the Memoir by David Spade

Reviewed by Laura the Libraian

David Spade showcases his trademark biting humor in this memoir that covers his childhood growing up in Arizona, the fraternity years at Arizona State University, his start in comedy and his breakthrough when he gets cast on Saturday Night Live. 

There's plenty of amusing anecdotes about his tumultous time at Saturday Night Live, including a rivalry with Rob Schneider, friendships with fellow up and comers Chris Rock and Adam Sandler and his infamous run-in with Eddie Murphy.  He also delves into his friendship/partnership with Chris Farley. Disappointingly, he does not discuss his many famous relationships with such celebrities as Lara Flynn Boyle, Heather Locklear, Julie Bowen and others.

Spade certainly has had a colorful life and never adopts a warm and fuzzy tone -- it's self-deprecation all the way.

Friday, October 30, 2015

How To Love Wine by Eric Asimov

How To Love Wine by Eric Asimov
Reviewed by Chris, Community Engagement Librarian at Bridgewater Library

Eric Asimov didn't set out to be a wine lover. He is the chief wine critic of The New York Times, but he certainly didn't set out to be that, either. But the former changed in the 1980s when Asimov, already a food lover, discovered (with a simple white Zinfandel) how well food and wine could work together, and then, in 1982, the offhand purchase of a random $8 bottle of Barbera changed how he looked at wine forever.

That "chief wine critic" thing that he didn't set out to be either? He's the 'chief' of a staff consisting only of himself. He wanted to be a standard beat journalist, and then a food writer. He ended up in the job pretty much by accident while trying to get the top restaurant reviewer position.

But enough about Asimov; you want to know How To Love Wine. It's pretty simple, and I'll give it away here: wine is tasty, you drink the wine that tastes good to you, and you try not to drink the stuff that doesn't. Ignore all the stuff about 100-point scales and notes of fig and persimmon; what you want to know is "does this wine taste like something I want to drink?"
Wine shouldn't be this snobby, exclusive experience, argues Asimov. It should be a drink that gives pleasure, like it was for thousands of years (although wine is much more delicious now). He talks about the perils of wine tastings, especially blind tastings (dismissed as a party trick), and of trusting critics (including himself) -- taste is a subjective thing, after all.

Despite the title, this isn't a manual. (Heck, I gave away the secret two paragraphs ago.) It's a combination memoir of Asimov's life (especially related to wine and the Times) and a few chapters on wine itself, and why the wine culture in the US misses the point. It won't tell you how to discern the difference between a 1920 Chateauneuf-de-Pape and a 2006 Brother Thelonious (except that the latter is a beer), but he will tell you how to learn about wine in your own home, on your own time, preferably with friends and a good dinner.

A quick read; recommended for those who think they might love wine, but are scared to make a wrong decision.

Monday, October 26, 2015

I’ll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones and Can I Go Now? by Brain Kellow

I’ll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones and Can I Go Now? by Brain Kellow
Reviewed by Laura the Librarian

Grace Jones and Sue Mengers both gained notoriety in the 1970s and 80s, and two new biographies spotlight these very powerful women and their legacies.

I'll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones recounts the singer, model and actress' struggles from childhood to adulthood. She delves deep into the expectations placed on her as a child growing up in a strict religious environment in Jamaica to the discrimination she faced breaking into the entertainment world. Jones, of course, defied expectations and became an international star. She was a fixture at Studio 54, and Andy Warhol, Jerry Hall, Keith Haring, Dolph Lundgren and Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, all play a pivotal role in her story. 

Her diva behavior is legendary, and she never apologizes for it. She sheds light on her demands and how she influenced many others like Madonna, Lady Gaga and Rihanna. She comes across as thoughtful and honest about missteps she has taken along the way (turning down Blade Runner?!). Jones has certainly had a colorful life, which makes for an entertaining read.

Can I Go Now?: the Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood's First Superagent by Brian Kellow examines the brash woman who became as famous and powerful in Hollywood as her many of her clients.

Mengers rose to prominence in the 1970s with a roster of clients such as Barbra Streisand, Ryan O'Neal, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, Faye Dunaway, Candice Bergen and Peter Bogdanovich. Her no-holds-barred style won her a lot of loyalty from clients as well as scorn from many in the industry. Mengers was a formidable agent and hostess (her dinner parties were considered legendary for their guest list alone). Her eventual decline began when she lost Streisand as a client and failed to cultivate other rising talent. 

Kellow captures the transformation of a movie-driven Hollywood in the 1970s to a more commercial-driven Hollywood in the 1980s. He includes many first-hand accounts about Mengers from friends and foes and looks at her complicated relationships with her mother, husband, friends like Gore Vidal and David Geffen and clients like Streisand. The biography is candid and catty, much like its subject.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti

Reviewed by Chris, Community Engagement Librarian at Bridgewater Library

"I have discovered that there is romance in food when romance has disappeared from everywhere else" -- Ernest Hemingway

Cara Nicoletti escaped from the world by both cooking and reading. She spent her early years in her grandfather's butcher shop and ended up a cook and butcher herself after moving to New York City. She started a blog called "Yummy Books" to celebrate scenes in books that involve food heavily.

In 'Voracious', she goes through some of her favorite books, from childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, and writes about first how the book affected her in that phase of life (and again upon rereading), and then includes a recipe closely related to that book or scene (think cookies for If You Give A Mouse A Cookie or cherry pie for In Cold Blood or even a roasted pig's head for The Lord of the Flies.)

I haven't tried any of the recipes yet, although they seem quite tasty. I tore through this book in a couple of days, sharing in her reminiscence of books we both loved, and learning about books I (shockingly!) have yet to read. The recipes are different from the ones offered on her blog, so even regular readers of her writing will gain something new from this book.

Read this if you enjoy reading and cooking -- it's a cookbook for the literate, or a book list for the gourmet.

Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay

Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay

The last entry in the series found dear Dexter in a damning situation.  Dexter didn’t do what he’s accused of – he didn’t kill those people!  (Yes, true, he’s killed lots of people, but not these specific people!)  Dexter is in jail, his sister has turned her back on him and the kids are with child services.  Who will rescue our anti-hero and his dark passenger?  Well, you know what is thicker than water right?

I have listened to all seven of the Dexter books, so of course I had to listen to the eighth.  Yes, they are dark and dreadful, but the reader (who is also the author) is terrific.  If you even slightly enjoyed the television series you will love the books.  Also, while the first season of the television show does mirror the first book to a point, it diverges from the plot we viewed and goes in completely different directions.  The characters are the same, but everything else has changed.  Were you really bummed that a favorite character died in the television show?  Fear not, chances are the character is still alive in the books! 

Let’s face it; the title is pretty in your face and straightforward.  However, things are left open at the end.  It’s up to you dear reader to decide.  Is Dexter dead?

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Not only is Wonder Woman’s origin story not really known, how the character came to be is equally mysterious.  Until now.  Lepore hunted around lots of archives and sorted through personal papers to get to the heart of Wonder Woman’s creation.  What she uncovered is the nontraditional family of the creator that fed his creation, as well as the roots of feminism and women’s rights that sparked the imagination of one man to create the first enduring, and it can be argued, only enduring, female superhero.

William Moulton Marston is an interesting juxtaposition of differing perspectives and ideals.  He is dedicated to the cause of women’s rights, believes women will come to rule the world and rightfully so in his opinion, yet he lives in a household of seven individuals: his wife, his four children, and the mother of two of the four.  All seven live in harmony but the “not legal” wife lives in fear that her children will discover her secret, one that they do not know until they are adults.  Marston is a famous (or should I say infamous) inventor, having created the lie detector machine (can you say golden lasso?) and he also was one of the first psychology professors teaching the subject as a discipline rather than an offshoot of philosophy.

I found the personalities behind Wonder Woman’s creation intriguing, but I really enjoyed learning about the women who fought for women’s rights to birth control that inspired her creation.  Wonder Woman doesn’t form until about two-thirds of the way through the book, so I was a little disappointed in that.  I was hoping for more about the character, but the characters behind the character are fascinating.

I recommend this book to those looking for an in-depth profile of an almost forgotten creator of part of American pop culture, with a story stranger than fiction at its core.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart

Li Du was a librarian at the Imperial Library in the Forbidden City until he was exiled.  After wandering for a few years he arrives at the small city of Dayan on the Tibetan border.  Unbeknownst to him the Emperor will be in Dayan in days to celebrate the eclipse.  Li Du reports in with the local magistrate, protocol for exiles, and plans on leaving the next day.  That night after a storytelling session, one of the guests, a Jesuit priest is dies.  Li Du checks the dead man’s room and suspects foul play.  The magistrate, who happens to be Li Du’s cousin, doesn’t want to believe that it was murder but allows Li Du to investigate.  Will he find the killer before the Emperor arrives?   Or will Li Du suffer further disgrace at the hands of the Emperor?

I knew next to nothing about China in the 1780s, especially the southwestern border regions.  This book really brings the time and place to life.  Li Du is the perfect reluctant tour guide, familiar with most of the customs, but still removed from the workings of the place and current politics.

Mystery lovers will enjoy the plotting and historical fiction lovers will enjoy the detail and atmosphere.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cold Prey II (Foreign Horror Film / Norwegian)

Cold Prey II (Foreign Horror Film / Norwegian)

Okay, when I saw the first one a month ago I wrote that I was going to save the sequel for the cold winter months.  Obviously I didn’t.  I read some reviews about how great it was and I couldn’t wait.

Our heroine, the only survivor of the five snowboarders from the first movie, is found and is recovering in the local hospital.  The bodies of her friends, and their attacker, are brought to the morgue in the hospital’s basement; the crime techs will be there in the morning.  I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that somehow the attacker is not dead.  He needs to get out of the hospital, leaving as much death, destruction and mayhem in his path as possible, and return to the ski lodge he calls home where he can continue his dark deeds.  Our heroine, naturally, will do everything she can to stop him.  Will good prevail?

Yes, it’s a slasher movie, but it’s a semi-intelligent slasher movie.  If you act smartly, you probably won’t die.  Probably.  It’s also a great kick butt female avenger story.  Which is always a great thing.

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young

Charlie Cates needs a fresh start.  She recently lost her young son and her grief is overwhelming.  She needs to get out of the home they shared and get a change of scenery.  She does need to work, but returning to her job at a women’s magazine (think Cosmo but classier) just seems too frivolous to deal with after the tragedy in her life.  Coincidentally a former employer calls her about a job.  Her former employer has gone from editing a true crime magazine to true crime books and he wants Charlie to write one of the decade books they are working on, specifically the greatest unsolved case of the 1980s, the disappearance of Gabriel Deveau. 

She can’t deal with the idea of writing about a tragedy befalling a boy even younger than her son when he died, and is going to turn the offer down when she gets a vision of a boy in a swamp.  Details from the dream seem to match what could have happened to Gabriel.  After one of her dreams comes true she feels she can’t ignore the pull to the Louisiana swamps and Evangeline, the Deveau estate.  Maybe her vision is wrong, but could she live with knowing it could be true and she did nothing?  Will she finally find Gabriel?  What else will she find?

The mystical element is integral to the plot, but it is never overwhelming.  Charlie gets occasional visions and feelings, nothing too revealing, just glimpses that help reveal things that would otherwise be hidden.  The characters are great from the ever optimistic housekeeper, to the disgruntled cop, to an extremely unlikely love interest for Charlie.  Rumor has it that this is the first in a trilogy; I certainly hope so I’d love to see these characters again.

Read this one if you enjoy well-plotted mysteries that are great at throwing in red herrings with the bona fide clues and don’t mind a little of the paranormal sprinkled in your read.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

It is the summer of 1989 and Dionne, 16, has been raising herself and her sister Phaedra, 10, for the past few years as their mother battles depression.  At a particularly low point she sends her daughters home, to Barbados and their grandmother Hyacinth.  Life on Bird Hill is strange to the two Brooklyn natives.  Dionne is struggling with adolescence, abandonment and the first taste of freedom she’s known since taking care of Phaedra ruled over most of her life before now.  Phaedra has always been an outsider, but never more than on Bird Hill, yet she forms a connection with her grandmother and shows interest in learning the old ways of obeah.  Both girls are resigned to their stay on the island, but they are glad that the summer will end and they will return to Brooklyn.  But when it becomes clear that they will be staying in Barbados permanently, and their father returns to their lives, they find out the true meaning of family and their roots.

Another great choice on audio because of the accents; the reader brings the lilting rhythm of Barbados alive in the speech of Hyacinth.  She also voices the sisters Brooklyn accents well.  The mastery comes when the Brooklyn girls start losing their accent and adopting their grandmother’s.

This is a tale about belonging – in a family, in a community and in a country – and how hurtful not belonging can be.  It is also about grief, how you can lose someone who is already there and how losing someone who is already lost can hurt so badly.

The Weather Station (Foreign Film – Russian Thriller)

The Weather Station (Foreign Film – Russian Thriller)

Two older meteorologists and a young chef/handyman watch over a weather station in remote Russia.  A beautiful woman and her partner arrive and stay the night, planning to visit nearby caves in the morning.  Soon after one of the men sends out a distress call.  When the police arrive the next day everyone has disappeared.  The lead inspector and his protégé decide to stay the night, and possibly for the next few days since the weather is worsening, to investigate the weather station and surrounding area for clues.  Will they find out what happened?  Will they become victims themselves?

The style of this movie reminded me of British crime shows.  The action flashes between the past and present; the time leading up to the crime and the crime itself and the investigation to resolution.  Both times come together at the end of the film in a shocking, and satisfying way.  It is a dark film, set against a bleak landscape, but fans of crime shows will enjoy it.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Eva Thorvald’s mother is convinced she would be a horrible mother and her baby would be better off without her, so she leaves her husband and infant daughter to pursue her dreams of being a sommelier in California.  Eva is left behind in Minnesota to be raised by her epicurean father who begins feeding her puréed braised pork shoulder as soon as he sees fit.  Eva’s love of food as a result starts VERY early and her love of fresh foods, gardening and planting is the defining factor of her life. 

If you are a fan of eating local and fancy dinners you will love reading about the evolution of the chef with the most sought after dinner reservations around.  After a lifetime of hard knocks Eva becomes a culinary sensation running dinners in interesting locales.  Reservations are booked online, sometimes years in advance, and if you are “called” you have a week to change whatever plans you may already have and get to the location of your $5,000 a plate dinner.  Yes, it’s completely over the top, but seeing this young woman succeed so well is a joy.

The construction of the book is unique.  Each chapter is a short story revolving around an ingredient, one that shows up on the plate of the final dinner of the book.  The stories all feature Eva, but not necessarily as the main character.  In fact, in at least one of the stories I didn’t know why exactly it was included until I got to the end of the book.  I enjoyed the book, but it wasn’t the cozy lighthearted book I expected based on reviews and the cute cover.  This is a story of a life and the lives that life touches in all sorts of ways.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry

The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry

On Christmas Eve in the small town of Swivel, Wisconsin, Harley Jackson helps his milk cow, Tina Turner, bring her calf into the world.  After one look at the calf Harley knows he’s got trouble.  Right there, in black on the calf’s white flank, is the image of Jesus Christ.  He tries his best to hide the distinguishing mark under Kiwi shoe polish, but as with most big secrets this one gets out.  Of the barn.  Literally.  Yep, Harley is right.  That calf is Trouble.

What would happen if a cow like this, a Jesus Cow, actually came into being?  Obviously with social media there would be people lined up to see it and they would want pictures with it, and would want to get souvenirs of it imprinted on anything flat.  Harley, a nice guy wanting to lead a simple existence, is suddenly in the spotlight and a millionaire (maybe more) since an international publicity firm has taken over the promotion of the Jesus Cow brand.  The small town infrastructure and pride is tested by all the outsiders and success, but not more than Harley is tested.  Will he survive being the owner of the Jesus Cow?  Will he ever find faith?

Harley is an everyman.  A man who sees a bull with a birthmark not a cow touched by the divine.  Seeing how he, and the small town folks around him, deal with having their town on the map is what makes this book so much fun.  There are seriously philosophical questions pondered in the book, but it is never ponderous.  I especially loved his best friend Billy of the amazing vocabulary and insight; a veteran content with things as they are, but realizing that they have a cash cow on their hands that will keep his legion of cats in milk for a long time to come.

This is one to listen to.  The author reads his book and he’s got the Scandihoovian dialect down pat which just makes the giggles that much better.  

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Vera Sedge is one of those women that life is constantly throwing curveballs.  Just as she thinks she has things together, something else always falls apart.  She tries to raise money by shady methods, like collecting for charities but really collecting for her family, but she doesn’t have the spine or the wherewithal to be particularly successful.  Then one day she sees the stream of young evacuees from the Blitz in London go by and decides to take in the limping boy no one else wanted.  Noel is not really lame or simple as Vera supposed, his leg just acts up if he walks too much and he is unbelievably smart.  Noel is still grieving over the illness and death of his beloved elderly godmother Mattie but the challenge of making Vera’s collections work be more profitable is enough to put a spark back in the boy’s eyes.  Will Vera and Noel survive the war and their own bad intentions?  Will this odd pair create a new family?

There should be a reference to this book and the character Noel next to the work precocious in the dictionary.  He is always the smartest person in the room, even though he is a few years shy of puberty.  He knows it, his foster mother knows it, but the dynamic works really well.  Even though these two are usually up to no good, they are likable and while their actions are wrong their hearts are (usually) in the right place.  A very different perspective and look at life in the “countryside” during the bombings in London.