Blogging for a Good Book
Lula Landry, a beautiful mixed-race supermodel, has fallen to her death from her third-floor flat onto the snow-covered walk in a posh section of London. The paparazzi and press go wild; everyone in the world is shocked. A woman who lives in the same building swears she heard a male voice arguing with Lula right before the fall, but the police investigate and determine Lula’s death a suicide. The witness, they conclude after lengthy investigation, is either a delusional coke-head or is in it for the publicity; she could not have heard anything through the triple-glazed windows of the high-end flats.
Three months later, young Robin Ellacott, newly engaged and newly arrived in London, is working for a temp agency as a secretary and is thrilled to find that her new assignment is for a private investigator, as she has always secretly wanted to be a private eye. Her first encounter with her new boss, the large, hairy, one-legged veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike, however, is not a pleasant one, and she learns on the first day of her week-long assignment that Strike is in a great deal of debt, is getting death threats from a former client, has only one current client, and is apparently living in his office.
It is fortunate, then, that a new client shows up at Strike’s meager office. The brother of Lula Landry, John Bristow, is convinced that Lula’s fall was not suicide, and has come to hire Strike to investigate. Strike at first says no; his conscience tells him he cannot take the money to investigate something that he is confident has been so thoroughly looked into that any investigation on his part will change the outcome. Bristow, fuming, says he had been willing to pay double Strike’s fee. Strike relents, his debts and living conditions weighing into the decision.
J.K. Rowling can create wonderful characters, and many populate this mystery novel. Almost anyone Strike and Robin look into in the course of their investigation could be a suspect: Lula’s rock star ex-boyfriend Evan Duffield; film-producer and neighbor Freddy Bestigui; Rochelle, a down-and-out friend Lula met in rehab; Guy Somé, a designer for whom Lula modeled; American rapper Deeby Macc who was supposed to stay in the flat below Lula’s the night she died; relatives, drivers, doormen, fellow models, and even strangers could have had a motive. As I listened to this audiobook, I was constantly changing who I believed the killer was, or even if there was a killer.
The reader for the audiobook, British actor Robert Glenister, is excellent. Though I am no expert on British accents, from my point of view, he nailed the various accents. I could easily tell who was speaking, and his inflections added so much to the story that I would recommend listening to the audiobook over reading the book for the immersive pleasure of Glenister’s outstanding storytelling.
According to news reports, a sequel is planned for publication in 2014. I am hoping Rowling, either using her own name or that of her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, will continue what promises to be an excellent mystery series where the complex, very likable, and extraordinarily adept Cormoran Strike and his proficient and enthusiastic assistant Robin Ellacott investigate many more cases.
Check the WRL catalog for the print version of The Cuckoo’s Calling.
Check the WRL catalog for the compact disc audiobook version of The Cuckoo’s Calling.
Check the OneClickDigital catalog for the downloadable audiobook version of The Cuckoo’s Calling
What a thrill! This action filled novel is the first in the new series The Legion by Kami Garcia, co-author of the Beautiful Creatures young adult series.
We first meet Kennedy, a teen living a pretty normal life…until the day she mysteriously finds her mother dead at home. Devastated and alone (her father also left rather oddly years before) Kennedy cannot begin to imagine what is in store. When she is suddenly attacked by a force she can’t explain, twin brothers Jared and Lukas spring to her rescue. Confused, Kennedy doesn’t know whether to trust the brothers, or run away screaming in search of the police. But when they reveal they are part of a secret organization that has existed for hundreds of years to protect the world from a powerful demon, and that Kennedy’s mom was a part of the organization as well, she is truly baffled. Yet there is something in the brothers that she trusts and her curiosity gets the better of her. While the brothers continue to fill her in (including the fact that she must take her mother’s place among the other four members, all teens who lost their parents on that one fateful night) Kennedy finds herself in a new place surrounded by four exceptional people, all with unique talents and skills which far surpass the ones she believes exist within herself.
As the book progresses Kennedy surprisingly seems to fall into her new role and proves she has something to offer the others. But something is wrong too. Something that separates Kennedy. Something no one can seem to put their finger on. What will it mean for the team? More importantly, what will it mean for all of humanity? A great start to what is sure to be a fast paced, mystery-filled series (with a hint of romance) that brings in not only the paranormal but religious type-themes found in The Da Vinci Code as well.
Check the WRL catalog for Unbreakable.
Aliens invade and then …
encounter the cat.
David Wiesner once again proves that you don’t need words to tell a full and satisfying story.
Mr. Wuffles, as his name suggests, is a cat. He is a handsome beast, black with a white front and white socks. David Wiesner has perfectly captured his cat-arrogance as he moves through the pages with his golden green eyes wondering what’s in it for him. His jeans-wearing, green-shirted owner (who only appears as legs and arms) tries to engage him with new toys, but he stalks off past all the old rejected toys with their price tags still intact. He finally finds one that engages his interest because it is full of tiny ant-sized green aliens. The appealing nose-less green-faced aliens know they are in mortal danger from Mr. Wuffles so they have to partner with friendly ants and a ladybug to attempt their escape. They communicate with each other in speech bubbles resembling hieroglyphics and with the reader in expressive gestures. They don’t notice the humans at all.
I enjoy reading graphic novels but at forty-mumble I am starting to struggle with the tiny print in some of them. I thought someone should invent large print graphic novels for the chronologically challenged, but realized they already exist and that they are called picture books. Most picture books aren’t interesting to adults on their own merits, unless they are planning to share them with a child. Some picture book authors break this rule frequently such as Chris Van Allsburg, Maurice Sendak and David Wiesner, with stories on multiple levels and gallery-worthy art. David Wiesner has a talent for turning things around like his award winning Flotsam with its changes in viewpoint.
The title, Mr. Wuffles, sounds positively sappy (which I don’t mind as a secret Reddit Aww viewer), but it isn’t a sappy book. Despite his name, Mr. Wuffles is portrayed as the terrifying hunter that any domestic cat really is to anything smaller than it. Older children will be able to follow this almost wordless story, but SF fans of any age and cat lovers will also get a kick out of it. My sixteen-year-old loved it. See if you can spot when one of the aliens cries in his hieroglyphic script, “To infinity and beyond!” as he flies away on the back of a ladybug from the approaching killer cat claws. Mr. Wuffles raises important questions like, what would happen if aliens invaded and they were not godzilla-like orders of magnitudes larger than us, but orders of magnitude smaller? What if it already happened? What if they just met the cat, who was only interested in cat things like chasing them and perhaps eating them?
And it may leave you wondering the next time your cat snubs the toys you buy, that maybe it’s because there are aliens under the radiator?
Check the WRL catalog for Mr. Wuffles.
London, 1889. The city’s residents are frightened and demoralized by the crimes of Jack the Ripper, and Scotland Yard’s reputation has suffered as a result of its inability to capture the killer. The story opens on the scene of newly recruited Detective Inspector Walter Day and forensic pathologist Bernard Kingsley examining a corpse on a train station platform. The corpse turns out to be a fellow policeman, shockingly mutilated.
Day soon finds himself heading up the investigation, supervising Scotland Yard’s recently formed “Murder Squad.” The reader is taken into the world of policing in class-conscious Victorian London and its overworked detectives, disrespected constables, and the nascent science of forensic pathology. The thoughtful and perceptive Day, and the detectives on his murder squad, examine the cases of the murdered Detective Little, trying to find some thread of a lead to grasp.
As the murder squad pursues leads in the murder of their colleague, an ambitious and dedicated constable pursues the seeming accidental suffocation of a young boy in a chimney. The tragedy is a predictable outcome of the boy’s work as a chimney sweeper’s boy, yet Constable Hammersmith finds himself moved by pity and anger to pursue the facilitator of the child’s fate– against the orders of his superiors. He finds himself opening a very dangerous can of worms, which may or may not be related to Day’s homicide investigation. Jack the Ripper himself figures into this story, but not in the way you might think!
You should check out this series if you enjoy the Victorian-era mysteries of Anne Perry. Grecian’s protagonists share their sense of justice with those of Perry’s detectives Thomas Pitt and William Monk.
I was intrigued by the characters and their relationships. The character Bernard Kingsley is based on real-life forensic pathology pioneer Bernard Spilsbury (most famous perhaps for his work on the Crippen poisoning case). The forensics are one of the most intriguing aspects of the story. It is fascinating, for example, to see the general incredulity which greets Kingsley’s introduction of fingerprint technology into the case, something which today is taken for granted in criminal investigations. I was surprised to find out that the powerful character of Commissioner of Police Colonel Sir Edward Bradford is a real historical figure and portrayed very true to life.
The relationship between Inspector Day, Constable Hammersmith, and Dr. Kingsley are developed in the second book in the series, Black Country, which I think I enjoyed even more than the first one. I’m greatly looking forward to the next entry in this series.
Check the WRL catalog for The Yard as a book.
Listen to The Yard on audio CD.
We also have The Yard as an eaudiobook.
Sometimes, you just need a good book. Not a great one or one that will move your soul, but just a well-plotted, interestingly written story with characters who will keep your attention. I found myself in that state the other night, and rather than browsing my shelves for something to re-read, I got out my iPad and took a look at the mysteries in the library’s ebook collection. There were lots of titles there to choose from, and I decided to take a chance on Sally Spencer. I had never heard of her books before, but a British police procedural set in the post-WWII period sounded interesting. I was delighted with the choice.
Spencer’s main character, Inspector “Cloggin’ It” Charlie Woodend, is a great addition to the fictional police forces. Like some of my favorite other police inspectors, Adamsberg, Colbeck, and Dalziel, Woodend is often a thorn in the side of his superiors, and his sometimes unorthodox investigating style does not always endear him to his colleagues.
These are slow-paced stories, with more thinking, walking, and talking than cinematic thrills and chases. Like Simenon’s Maigret, Charlie Woodend lets the “why” lead to the “how” of the crime rather than vice versa. This first story in the series also introduces Sergeant Bob Rutter, who is assigned to Woodend to investigate a series of killings in a small town in Cheshire. Woodend has a reputation for running through sergeants pretty quickly, but Rutter turns out to be a match, and the interplay between the two builds as the series progresses.
Spencer does an excellent job of bringing in details of the personal lives of the policemen as well as cultural events of the period in which the books are set (moving forward from the 1950s). In particular, Spencer captures the disruption caused by the war and its aftermath to small town life. In the later stories, Spencer explores the difficult entry of women on to the force, and eventually develops a new series around one of her female detectives.
So while these books may not be the be all and end all of crime writing, they are solid examples of some of the best crime fiction I have read lately, and a welcome addition to my growing list of police procedurals.
Check the WRL catalog for The Salton Killings.
Also available as an ebook.
Not being a “Ripperologist” (someone obsessed with all things related to Jack the Ripper), I have to admit that I almost didn’t check out this book due to the words “Jack the Ripper” included in the description. Mysteries, though, that have interesting protagonists with an intriguing continuing story-line, are the types of mysteries that I enjoy reading the most. Detective Constable Lacey Flint of Now You See Me fits very ably into this category. She is a character that I don’t think you will soon forget.
Now You See Me begins with Lacey covered in blood—fortunately it’s someone else’s blood. When she returns to her car after interviewing a witness, she finds a woman leaning against her car. When Lacey approaches the stranger, she finds the woman’s throat has been slashed only minutes before. Lacey rushes to the woman to try to help her and watches as the woman dies on the street. Even though Lacey is a witness to the crime and a junior officer, she finds herself re-assigned to the murder investigation. Then the case takes an ominous turn when an anonymous letter is sent to a reporter. The letter mentions Lacey by name and also makes references to London’s most famous serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Does the Metropolitan Police have a modern Jack the Ripper on the loose? Will this murder be the first in a series of Ripper-like crimes?
As the investigating officers grapple with the seemingly random killings, they struggle to uncover anything that might link the victims as well as try to figure out where in modern London the new Ripper will strike next. Lacey also finds herself under scrutiny by fellow officer Mark Joesbury. Detective Inspector Joesbury is suspicious of Lacey’s involvement with the murders and wonders why the killer is fixated on Lacey. Lacey finds that her tightly-controlled and carefully ordered world is starting to unravel as the killer taunts her with secrets from Lacey’s past. As Lacey and the rest of the investigating team try to solve the increasingly horrific murders, the plot takes a few twists and there are a couple of surprises which I don’t want to give away.
Now You See Me is a faced-paced read that I couldn’t put down. For me, the Jack the Ripper plot-line isn’t as compelling as Lacey’s own story. The mystery does contain a lot of information on Jack the Ripper’s murders as well as the various theories of who committed the murders in 1888. A warning, though, the book has graphic descriptions of both the historical and modern murder scenes. While S.J. Bolton has written two more books featuring Lacey Flint, Dead Scared and Lost, I would start with Now You See Me so you’ll have a better understanding of Lacey Flint’s story.
Check the WRL catalog for Now You See Me.
Today’s post is from Janet of the library’s Outreach Services Division:
Mollie Katzen, the godmother of heartwarming vegetarian cooking and the author of eleven popular cookbooks, has written The Heart of the Plate as a guide for the new generation of plant eaters. Those of us who own dog-eared and food-stained copies of her classics, The Moosewood Cookbook and Enchanted Broccoli Forest, think of her recipes as hearty, homey, heavy on the dairy, and crowd pleasing. They are often our go-to cookbooks when we think vegetarian.
Katzen’s new approach reflects the current trends in vegetarian cooking, with a much greater emphasis on vegan dishes. Her recipes are lighter, tap into ingredients, flavors, and textures drawn from the world’s cuisines, and yet appear to be simple to prepare and to customize. Gone are her folksy and charming handwritten recipes with accompanying pencil drawings. Katzen’s new cookbook style is slick, with beautifully illustrated photographs and original watercolors by the author herself. She assures us in her preface that this new collection of recipes includes her “absolutely most loved” recipes of late. While I had fun browsing her new title, I am really looking forward to getting into the kitchen and experimenting with her new approaches and combinations.
Check the WRL catalog for The Heart of the Plate.
Babette from the library’s Outreach Services Division provides today’s review:
Everyone has a list of “Books to Read.” Remarkably, there are titles that seem to remain on “the list” but are repeatedly overshadowed by the stream of newer items added to “the list.” For me, The Cellist of Sarajevo was one of those books. Having just completed this book, I urge you to push it to the top of your list and read it. This story puts a human face on war. It explores how individuals, innocent bystanders, attempt to live their lives in the midst of war, challenged daily to perform basic tasks which can have life or death consequences, and strive to maintain their sanity and a semblance of humanity despite the danger, destruction, and chaos brought into their everyday existence.
Based on a real life event, The Cellist of Sarajevo is the story of a cellist who, in the midst of the Bosnian war, witnesses from his window a mortar attack that kills twenty-two people standing in a breadline. In an act of respect, defiance, or an attempt to bring some peace and beauty to his war-ravaged town, the musician embarks on a daily ritual of playing his cello in the town square, in plain sight of enemy combatants, for twenty-two consecutive days. Also featured in this story are three ordinary townspeople: Arrow, a young woman sniper dispatched to protect the cellist; Kenan, a family man who dutifully procures water for his family and an elderly neighbor; and Dragan, a baker who remains in Sarajevo to protect his home and belongings after sending his wife and son to seek refuge away from the city. The lives of this four-some intersect and have profound bearings on their existence, although each is not aware of this.
The author’s beautiful prose poetically describes the setting, daily existence, and thoughts of the four main characters. The reader is compelled to reflect on each sentence and ponder the images conjured up in his or her mind. I listened to this story as an audiobook, which has the added bonus of cellist Sarah Butcher playing Albinoni/Giazotto: Adagio in G minor, the adagio featured in this story. Whether you check out the audiobook, as I did, or the book, I urge you to push The Cellist of Sarajevo to the top of your list and read it. You will be glad you did.
Check the WRL catalog for The Cellist of Sarajevo.
This week’s reviews come to you from the library’s Outreach Services Division, starting with a recommendation from Connie:
Amity & Sorrow is a fictional story inspired by the events surrounding David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, and Warren Jeffs and the FLDS Yearning for Zion religious splinter sects. The novel begins with a mother and her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, fleeing their home, until they crash their car and are stranded in rural Oklahoma. A farmer gives them aid, and the women stay because they have no way of getting anywhere else. The story of why they are fleeing unfolds in flashbacks, as the mother, Amaranth, fears her husband (who claims to be God) is pursuing them.
I found the story interesting and repelling at the same time. I thought the author did a good job of making me think about why people are drawn to this religious lifestyle, how it provides a missing sense of community while isolating them from the rest of society, and how hard their day-to-day lives are. I think this would be a good pick for book discussion groups because it makes readers examine our thoughts and feelings about a part of our society that is outside the mainstream.
Check the WRL catalog for Amity & Sorrow.
As I wrote about last year at this time, many readers first come to stories of the uncanny in their youth. In browsing the catalog for a collection of ghost stories for younger readers, I came across this delightful anthology compiled by Barry Moser. Moser is an noted artist, especially at printmaking and woodcuts, and his work graces the pages here. He also clearly has an ear for a good ghost story.
This collection starts with the chilling classic “The Monkey’s Paw.” I remember reading this story as a child and it still sends a shiver up my spine now just thinking on it. Be careful what you wish for is the theme here. Moser includes stories from classic writers, among them, Arthur Conan Doyle’s, “How it Happened,” the story of a car accident and its aftermath and the old, ghostly ballad of Polly Vaughn, retold by Moser himself. But there are more contemporary tales as well. Madeline L’Engle’s “Poor Little Saturday” is an excellent story of how a lonely boy finds some surcease of sorrow as he explores a haunted mansion. Joyce Carol Oates, known for her dark adult fiction, contributes a story here, “The Others,” that in its lack of resolution is a great addition to the ghost story canon. Also of note, and both related to music, are “Samantha and the Ghost,” by Philippa Pearce, where a young girl frees her grandparents’ cottage from a ghostly visitor and H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann.”
None of the stories here is overly scary (well, maybe “The Monkey’s Paw” is for me), and a couple of them are pretty mild as far as ghost stories go by modern standards. But they are fun stories to read, and perhaps to read aloud. Moser’s illustrations add an extra frisson to the general eeriness.
Check the WRL catalog for Great Ghost Stories
I have always enjoyed Brad Leithauser’s poetry. He is one of the “New Formalists,” who have advocated for the use of metrical form and structure in modern poetry, as opposed to those who favor free verse. So I thought it was interesting to come across an anthology of ghost stories edited by Leithauser.
One thing that makes this collection a bit different from the others I have written about this week is that Leithauser does not limit himself to the old masters of the genre. While Henry and M.R. James are both included, as is the delightfully named Oliver Onions, Leithauser also includes pieces from later 20th century writers, including V.S. Pritchett, A.S. Byatt, John Cheever, and Penelope Fitzgerald. In his introduction, Leithauser notes that there are two branches to the ghost story genre, and the two Jameses, conveniently, delineate each branch. M.R is a master of what Leithauser calls the “plot ghost story” and Henry of the “psychological ghost story.” While I favor the former, Leithauser is more interested in the latter, and the collected stories here reflect that interest.
There are some deeply chilling tales here. Marghanita Laski’s “The Tower” finds a woman seeking to impress her somewhat distant husband by exploring an isolated tower in the Italian countryside, with ambiguous results. “The Axe,” by Penelope Fitzgerald starts off as a memo of a rather routine, if callous, office firing, and devolves into something much darker. Cheever’s “The Music Teacher” explores many of the same themes of Cheever’s novels, infidelity, lost love, and suburban life, but with a darkly supernatural twist.
As Leithauser says about fans of ghost stories at the end of his introduction, “In their bones they know that the universe is unsettling whether it is inhabited by spirits or whether we—lone walkers on a bitter night—are alone in the windy darkness.” These collected stories all capture that sense of unease, and keep you looking over your shoulder.
Check the WRL catalog for The Norton Book of Ghost Stories
Have I said how much I like Victorian era ghost stories? These atmospheric tales seem to me the perfect autumn reading. The Victorians, as the editors here point out, had a fascination with death, and that extended to their fascination with the afterlife. Think about Arthur Conan Doyle, who invented that exceptionally rational detective Sherlock Holmes, but who also believed in the power of mediums to connect with the dead. It comes as no surprise that some of the best ghost stories written come from this death-haunted period.
Oxford University Press is known for its exceptional anthologies, and Victorian Ghost Stories is an excellent example of their work. The collection brings together a superb assortment of authors telling chilling tales published between 1852 and 1908. Some of the well-known suspects are here, the Jameses, Henry and M.R., Wilkie Collins, and Elizabeth Gaskell among others, but there were also lots of new authors I had not encountered before. I particularly enjoyed “At Chrighton Abbey” by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, where ghostly hunters presage a tragedy at Christmas-tide. Or there is Charlotte Riddell’s “The Open Door,” where a young man makes his fortune by risking his life in an ostensibly haunted manor house. All of these tales create an atmosphere of suspense without resorting to cheap tricks or gory details. The Victorians really were masters of the uncanny.
These would be great stories to read aloud by candle light, or better yet the light of just a fireplace. Let the shadows start to dance on the wall, listen to the creaking as the house settles and the tree branches scrape and scratch, or is that just what you think you are hearing?
Check the WRL catalog for Victorian Ghost Stories: An Oxford Anthology
Most readers know Roald Dahl for his wonderful, though often dark, children’s novels–Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Witches, and many others. Dahl also wrote short fiction aimed at adults. In those stories, Dahl always “aims to disturb” the reader, and, skillful writer that he is, he generally achieves his goal. So when picking stories for this collection, and horror fiction almost always works best in the short story format to my mind, Dahl sought out writers of the uncanny who could tell a tale that would leave you ill at ease. I can attest that he succeeded, at least in my case.
While there are some familiar names in this collection, including E.F. Benson, Edith Wharton, and Sheridan Le Fanu, most of the writers here were new to me. Dahl says he read “seven hundred and forty-nine ghost stories” in compiling the tales presented here, and he was “completely dazed by reading so much rubbish.” But the fourteen titles he chose are among the best ghost stories written.
From the opening story “W.S” in which a writer finds himself pursued by one of his characters to the final tale, “The Upper Berth,” involving the haunting of a cabin on board an ocean liner, these stories all will make you decidedly uncomfortable and likely to turn an extra light or two on around the house.
Dahl sought out stories that were neither violent nor graphic, but rather ones that seemed likely enough at the outset and then took a strange turn somewhere along the way. Empty rooms and loneliness seem to propel many of these tales. Often the protagonist finds him- or herself alone, perhaps at the holidays or in a new city. This alone-ness sets the stage for some supernatural encounter, though it is often only afterwards that the uncanny nature of things is revealed.
Check the WRL catalog for Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories
Each year about this time, I try to find a set of new horror titles to look at that are eerie without being gory. The sort of book to read when evening comes early and mist hangs on the fields. My favorite scary stories come from the late Victorian period or from those modern writers who carry on that tradition.
“One winter’s evening, about five o’clock, just as it began to grow dusk . . .”
What better start to a story for a blustery autumn evening? I was delighted this year to come across a new collection of Charles Dickens’ tales of the supernatural. The quote above starts his tale “The Bagman’s Story.”
I love the way that Dickens conjures up characters. His novels are filled with memorable people, often with memorable names, and his short fiction displays the same skill. Here, we meet a range of fascinating people, from Tom Smart— who finds true love and a great pub with the help of a haunted Windsor chair— to Mr. Goodchild, who hears the confession of a ghostly murderer in “The Ghost in the Bride’s Chamber.” Many of the stories here resonate with themes that Dickens explored more fully in his novels: the miser whose lust for money poisons his life, the man who despises others’ joy and cheer until supernatural beings show him the error of his ways, and the young woman bilked of an inheritance by an cruel guardian.
More atmospheric than horrific, these stories can still bring a chill, and cause you to look over your shoulder as you climb the stairs or peer out the back door into the dark night.
Check the WRL catalog for Supernatural Short Stories
Today’s post is written by Tova from Circulation Services.
Since reading 11/22/63, I have become a Stephen King fan, devouring many of his books back to back. King’s ability to weave in-depth character development into his genre-busting tales of horror and mayhem is not only a sweet treat for the reader, but a source of inspiration for aspiring writers like me. One of the more understated aspects of King’s writing is his sense of humor. Sometimes offbeat and quirky, a certain plot point or snatch of character dialogue will have me laughing out loud – and I do like to laugh.
While in between reading King’s books, I decided to search out other authors who infuse humor into their tales of suspense. Using WRL’s NoveList, I happened upon Carl Hiaasen, an author whose books are often requested by library users. Although I had never read any of Hiaasen’s works, his newest book is Bad Monkey; and, as someone with a soft spot for monkeys, I was compelled to give it a read.
Okay, so the titular monkey, whose image graces the cover of the book, is not a cute Curious George-type. Mischievous, cynical, and impulsive, Hiaasen’s monkey commits acts that shall go unmentioned in this blog entry. However, Hiaasen’s monkey is one of the most memorable, and surprisingly sympathetic, characters in the book. Hiaasen successfully uses him to help tie the novel’s multiple plot threads together.
Set primarily in southern Florida, Hiaasen’s tale revolves around Andrew Yancy, a disgraced Monroe County detective who has been demoted to Health Inspector (aka “roach patrol”) due to a heinous act he committed against his mistress’ husband. In spite of his reassignment, Yancy just cannot help but launch his own investigation when a fisherman reels in a human arm from the ocean; and Yancy inadvertently ends up in possession of it. How did the arm become detached from its original owner? Official investigators want to neatly declare that the detached arm is the result of an unfortunate boating accident and be done with it. However, Yancy, after uncovering some inconsistencies and shady details, thinks otherwise. His investigation leads him back and forth between Key West, Miami, and the Bahamas. Along the way, Yancy consorts with a colorful array of characters, including a sexually adventurous coroner, a disconcerting voodoo queen, his fugitive ex-mistress, a creepy land developer, the mysterious widow of the arm’s original owner, and, of course, the aforementioned monkey.
I found the humor I was looking for as the book is often laugh-out-loud funny. The whereabouts of the detached arm, which Yancy first stores in his freezer, is a running gag throughout the story. The snappy dialogue is also a source of humor. Yancy’s antics made me laugh and groan simultaneously as he transgresses multiple boundaries and finds himself in sticky predicaments of his own making. The fun is in imagining Yancy as he tries to get out of his self-made predicaments. That Yancy was morally and ethically corrupt pleased me greatly. I prefer my protagonists to be like most people in life – a mix of good, bad, and everything in between.
Hiaasen cannot compare to Stephen King when it comes to character development; however, his work stands on its own as he succeeds in creating a memorable cast of characters. By the end of the book, we certainly have a more rounded view of Yancy and we can sympathize with his desire to get his old detective job back, even if he employs questionable means to that end.
I would recommend Bad Monkey if you are looking for a light, fun, suspenseful story with a wicked sense of humor, and if you do not mind some coarse language and raunchy adult themes. I will certainly check out more of Hiaasen’s work – while in between Stephen King books, of course.
Check the WRL catalog for Bad Monkey
Today’s post is written by Jennifer from Circulation Services.
The story of three sisters seems to be deeply ingrained in our human subconscious. There are the mythological Weird Sisters, the women of Ang Lee’s film Eat Drink Man Woman, and those of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, to name just a few examples. One could even go so far as to contemplate the “Three Sisters” method of planting beans, squash, and corn, used throughout North America in pre-Columbian times. The motif is not limited to any single culture, and more often than not, as in Lee and Esquivel’s works, the lives of the three sisters are intimately connected to the food that they cook and enjoy.
Marsha Mehran’s novel Rosewater and Soda Bread is a fine addition to this little niche of a subgenre. After fleeing their home country of Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the three Aminpour sisters open Babylon Café in the tiny Irish town of Ballinacroagh. Practical Marjan, the oldest, is trying to keep the café (and everyone’s lives) running smoothly while being pursued by a dashing English gentleman. Middle sister Bahar bears a heavy burden from a troubled past, but is finding solace in an unexpected place. And the youngest, Layla, is a Shakespeare aficionado who just wants a little independence from her older sisters – and time to spend with her boyfriend. As if life isn’t complicated enough, their landlady and former pastry chef Mrs. Delmonico finds a “mermaid” washed up on the beach. Who is she, where did she come from – and what about the baby on the way?
Much like a rambler in the hilly Irish countryside, Rosewater and Soda Bread is unhurried in reaching its destination, minding small details and occasionally taking detours. This is part of the book’s charm, though, especially when Mehran describes Marjan’s cooking and its effect on those who consume it. For (most of) the residents of Ballinacroagh, Bablyon Café’s food and drink are synonymous with comfort. Indeed, the best word to describe Mehran’s prose would probably be “cozy.” I would highly recommend settling in with the book on a rainy day, a hot cup of bergamot tea by your side, and letting yourself be enraptured by the charm and intrigue of the Aminpour sisters’ adopted hometown.
Recipes for many of the dishes referenced in the story can be found in the back of the book, something for which I’m very grateful. I nearly drooled when reading the description of Marjan’s tacheen, a saffron rice and chicken dish: “…first buttered rice and almonds, then fried chicken and sautéed spinach, the yogurt binding them into a brotherhood of delicious play.” Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? I would recommend this book for gourmands, anyone interested in Irish culture, those who are fascinated by what happens when cultures from thousands of miles apart meet – and by how sharing a meal can help break down even the most seemingly insurmountable barriers.
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Atticus O’Sullivan looks a youthful 21, with blond hair, charming grin, and a trace of surfer dude attitude. Atticus enjoys the sunshine of Tempe, Arizona, has a close connection with nature, and enjoys hunting with his Irish Wolfhound Oberon. He owns his own business and has a relaxed, carefree life.
Atticus is the last of the Druids; he’s made it 2,000 years by keeping a low profile and communing with nature.
So far Atticus has managed to stay far ahead and hidden from a crazy Celtic god, but his luck is about to change. Aenghas Og has found Atticus and wants his sword, Fragarach, back. This time he won’t quit until he has beaten Atticus, even if it includes unleashing a few demons to get his way.
There are other magical beings in this world, including many from Celtic mythology. The author adds the requisite vampires, werewolves, witches, and fairies to flesh out Atticus’ story, but they aren’t the main focus.
Hearne weaves old mythology, popular references, puns, and witty repartee to create a funny, action-filled story. If you enjoy urban fantasy but have been looking for something that feels fresh and different, while also providing a sense of comfort familiarity, this is the book to pick up.
Prepare to put your feet up for a few hours of laughs, action, and a refreshing new perspective of a modern magical world.
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Fictional Academy Award-winning director Stanislas Cordova’s oeuvre consists of 15 films released from 1964 to 1996. As controversial as he is revered, his last five films were released independently and are collectively known as the “black tapes.” His fans, known as Cordovites, regularly stage secret showings of these films called red-band screenings. Enigmatic and reclusive, Cordova hasn’t been seen in public or granted an interview in years, but stories about Cordova’s family and lifestyle at his private estate, “The Peak,” are the stuff of urban legend. Stanislas Cordova is also the elusive focus of journalist Scott McGrath’s personal journey into the heart of darkness in Marisha Pessl’s second novel, Night Film.
Night Film opens with the apparent suicide of Cordova’s beautiful and talented 24-year-old daughter, Ashley. Her death piques the curiosity of Scott McGrath, an investigative journalist whose remarks about Cordova on a national television program resulted in a libel suit. Despite paying a substantial settlement to Cordova, McGrath still believes he is a dangerous man and he starts an investigation into Ashley’s suicide, intent on proving Cordova was somehow responsible for what happened to his daughter.
Joining McGrath in his quest are two strangers who have a connection to Ashley: Nora Halliday, a coat check girl who encountered Ashley shortly before her death, and Hopper Cole, who met Ashley when they were teenagers. As McGrath, Cole, and Halliday trace Ashley’s movements in her final weeks and unpack the mysterious nature of Cordova and his films, they learn the unsettling truth about a genius filmmaker and his family.
As a movie fan, I was interested in reading Night Film because the book’s plot and the character of Stanislas Cordova sounded intriguing. Pessl did not disappoint. Her characterization of Cordova and the descriptions of his films are so vibrant and detailed that I finished the book regretting that Cordova’s films do not exist in real life.
I’ll admit I had a rather mixed reaction to Night Film’s protagonist, Scott McGrath. On the surface the character seems awfully similar to Mikael Blomkvist from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (both are divorced investigative journalists whose reputations are tarnished by high-profile libel suits). Scott’s investigation is compelling and the friendships he forms with Hopper and Nora are sincere and poignant. Ashley Cordova may be dead at the beginning of the book, but Pessl does a nice job bringing the character to life, so to speak, through newspaper and magazine articles, interviews with film actors and acquaintances, and, especially, through her relationship with Hopper.
Another effective aspect of Night Film is Pessl’s use of multimedia elements. These elements are extensive and include copies of internet slideshows, news articles, and web pages from the Blackboards, a secret web site dedicated to all things Cordova. The narrative is fast-paced and engaging, but these multimedia elements truly immersed me in Cordova’s life and work. This experience doesn’t end once the last page is turned. There’s even a free app for smartphones called the Night Film Decoder that readers can use to scan select pages of the book and access videos, audio clips, and slideshow presentations. The additional content is a lot of fun and complements Pessl’s vision of Cordova, his family, and his films.
“Mortal fear is as crucial a thing to our lives as love. It cuts to the core of our being and shows us what we are.”
- Stanislas Cordova (Rolling Stone, December 1977)
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I admit it; I occasionally hit a reading slump. I’m surrounded by hundreds of thousands of wonderful stories, and sometimes I am unable to find one book that will pull me down the rabbit hole. So I turned to a fellow librarian for advice. I asked for the one book she had read that she just could not get out of her head. Her response was immediate — R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. No hesitation, no thought, no second guessing, she laid Wonder at my feet and I’m so glad she did.
Ten-year-old August Pullman will be starting public school for the first time after being homeschooled his entire life. Auggie happens to have a combination of rare genetic mutations that cause severe facial abnormalities. Because Auggie is so obviously different on the surface it is hard to see that he is just like many other boys his age — intelligent and funny and passionate about Star Wars. Needless to say going to public school will be an adventure filled with friends, enemies, middle school wars, laughter, joy, and pain.
I don’t want to give details of the plot because Wonder is a story about everyday life for someone that happens to be ordinary with an extraordinary face. These details are best appreciated and understood as revealed by Auggie. Wonder weaves together the shifting perspectives of Auggie and his friends and family to reveal the joys and challenges of life with compassion and humor.
Wonder is magic that will pull you in and won’t let go. For me it’s the very best kind of book, one that makes me love being in the rabbit hole, but also able to appreciate the world around me a little more when the story has ended. There will be moments this book will make you cry, but it is worth every teardrop. This is a book that will stay with you for a long, long, long time.
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A destroyed tribe, a talking pug, enslaved elves, a cruel Santa, a murderously evil and monstrously large baby harp seal, and a revenge-filled barbarian. Turning the first pages of Battlepug might make you wonder if the author had taken a list of all the random ideas he had during his entire childhood and created a mad-lib of a graphic novel. In a world of super-intense angst-ridden, save-the-world superheroes, it’s refreshing to have an artist break free and just draw whatever they think is cool and/or amusing.
There is no pretension to this story; it is narrated by a naked (but coyly covered), tattooed woman who is retelling this legend to two dogs: a pug and a French bulldog because one asked for a bedtime story with flaming devil monsters while the other one asked for one with puppies. She promises the dogs it will be both terrifying and sweet to appease both their desired flavors.
A gentle but unnamed boy witnesses the murder of his entire village, including his doting mother, by a smiling and sweet-faced baby seal of Godzilla-like proportions. He is saved by a fateful flick of the monster’s tail and rescued by several elves and taken to their evil master, the King of the Northland Elves (a glaring, thinly veiled Santa Claus) only to be enslaved and sentenced to a cruel life of hardship and toil. The difficult life doesn’t break the child. Rather his hate and need for revenge become magnified and he learns the art of combat, originally for their amusement, eventually for their doom.
The warrior (who seems to be based on Conan the barbarian) seeks the scarred man who let the seal loose on his village, and his travels lead him to a swamp where he first encounters the elephant-sized pug. Despite a bumpy first meeting (and not an insubstantial amount of slobber), the warrior and the rideable dog team up with a crazy old man named Scrabbly to track down his nemesis, Catwulf.
Mike Norton launched Battlepug in February 2011 and in 2012 won an Eisner award for the best Digital Comic. While it could be easy to dismiss this story based on any one of its ludicrous parts, the storytelling is deft and the artwork is solid and amusing without being silly. The pug’s eyes pointing in two different directions and lack of a convincingly ferocious bark play perfectly against the warrior’s grim and unsmiling presence.
A promising start to a unique series, I would recommend this to graphic novel, fantasy, and adventure readers and anyone who has a strong sense of the absurd.
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