Something happened in Levy, South Carolina when Magnolia was seven years old. She is now in her eighties living in a nursing home, possibly with Alzheimer’s. In her own words she is “trapped somewhere deep behind my eyes, waving… calling… but no one can hear me.” Her husband George is dying, but with his trademark dry humor, he knows that they have enjoyed a good life and he still adores his beautiful wife “even though [we're] on the first floor where dementia lives, even though we are older than dirt, she is lovely and sweet and she is my bride.” But they are both learning that the past is never lost when people who lived through it are still alive.
When a life-size photograph of Magnolia and Joe, a stranger from their past, arrive at the home on the same day, we start to learn of a tangled web of lives, in the present and in the distant past. Each character, from Annie, their kind, but disappointed caretaker, to Ash, Magnolia’s long lost brother, tells his or her own story, some in the first person, some in the third person. Most of the characters have long buried secrets to hide and may not even admit the truth to themselves, so beware: everyone may not be a reliable narrator.
The Inheritance of Beauty can be read on several different levels. First it is a straightforward novel, with a leisurely revelation of the 70-year-old mystery, while it describes the sadness of families split by terrible circumstances who never get back together because no one wants to be the first to make contact. The characters are well-drawn, memorable and mostly thoroughly likable. It can be enjoyed as a touching love story of Magnolia and George’s relationship that lasted from childhood into old age. It also has touches of magic realism that are harder to spot: when my book club discussed it, only one of us noticed that a journey to a pond and a wetting symbolized a character’s baptism and rebirth.
The Inheritance of Beauty will appeal to lovers of Southern fiction, particularly for caretaker Annie’s lovely speech patterns. It is a good book for readers of Still Alice by Lisa Genova, which also deals with Alzheimer’s Disease, but on more practical everyday level.
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Never fall in love with someone who has chosen to die.
Palmares Três is a futuristic Brazilian pyramid city, a vivid backdrop for this young adult novel. After global catastrophe in the distant past, humanity has rebuilt pockets of civilization, but with a lingering mistrust of new technology and a twisted political system born out of the times of chaos. Genetic modification has extended lifespans, creating a culture and a political system that doesn’t begin to take you seriously as a mature adult until you’re in your thirties.
And every few years the youth elect, in a spectacle reminiscent of early seasons of American Idol, a Summer King who holds the title for one year before the reigning queen slits his throat in televised public sacrifice. Yes, if you can imagine Ryan Seacrest hosting an Aztec ceremony—and really, it’s not so hard—you’ve got a good handle on politics, Palmares Três style.
The king’s death reinforces his choice of the next queen, but he doesn’t really have a choice. It’s all bloody political theater that plays to the young crowd and reinforces the ruling matriarchs. Until Enki, who is gorgeous and talented, a candidate from the lowest class of Palmares Três society. His wild popularity is probably the first sign that the city’s government might be massively out of touch with its citizens.
June Costas, the narrator, is a young, ambitious artist who is just graduating from street graffiti to installation art that challenges the city rulers. (One of her projects is the body-mod shown on the gorgeous book cover: patterned lights embedded under her skin.) She starts out just another young woman screaming with the crowd, but her art catapults her into the public eye, a complicated relationship with the Summer King, and a whole world of things she did not want to know about how her city is governed and about what it’s like to love someone who plans to die. Even June can’t figure out whether Enki is in this game for a few months of privilege, access to limited-edition body-modifying tech, and fans lining up to be his lovers; whether he truly has a death wish; or whether he’s figured out some new way to serve the city they both love.
This is a serious-minded take on art and politics, acts of rebellion, and using your own life (and) death as a canvas. Johnson writes vivid, sensual prose steeped in Brazilian phrases, dance, and song. Palmares Três culture, at its best and worst, comes to life in lots of little details. The worldbuilding reminded me of Nnedi Okorafor’s alternate Nigeria in The Shadow Speaker, but this book is aimed at older teens and young adults. Although most of the words eventually make sense from context, I admit, I could have used a glossary. But what this book could really use is a playlist—after reading about the ways Palmares Três kids blend music and art and political protest and dance, you’ll really want to queue up a samba.
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I have tried gardening on several continents with many climates and soil types. I soon learned that a plant that grows well in one place may get resentful and sulk — or outright die— in another. That is why gardening books that address local conditions are spectacularly useful. Here in southeastern Virginia we are well served by Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way: 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardener, by Wesley Greene. When I was starting to grow herbs I was looking for a book about a particular type of plant rather than tightly focused on one place, and Southern Herb Growing has turned out to be a wonderful resource to help me with our hot and humid conditions.
The author Madalene Hill was the national president of the Herb Society of America in the 1980s and her expertise shines through. The first part of the book is called “A Herbal Primer” and covers getting started with sections on soil, mulch and propagation. A large part of it is given over to design ideas including historical knot gardens and theme gardens. The before and after photos can be a little discouraging because the full, tangled cottage-garden look that I crave may take five years to grow. I guess I just have to be patient and wait for my two inch tall sprigs of rosemary to become bushes! And for those readers who can only dream of the space to grow a proper garden, the book includes container gardening (which herbs are well suited to).
Around half the book is the “Growing Guide” with hundreds of herbs listed alphabetically with advice for growing them in the hot, humid South, the herbs’ historical uses and significance, and their modern culinary and medicinal uses. Each listing has the scientific genus and species names, as well as alternate names, so from from Acanthus to Yarrow you should be able to find almost any rare or common herb you are interested in.
Southern Herb Growing is a great book for all gardeners, especially if you want prosaic advice poetically put such as “Basils go home to their fathers at the first sign of cold nights in the fall.” It includes hundreds of beautiful photographs of herb gardens growing throughout the South, so try it whether you are able to immediately use their advice to improve your current garden or look at the lovely pictures and dream…
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Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, the end.
Wait a minute, what really happens after the great fall? He could not be put together again?
Not according to Dave Horowitz. In his book Humpty Dumpty Climbs Again, we have an outgoing, mountain climbing egg until the great fall and on doctor’s orders he must not climb again. This, of course, leads to one depressed egg. He’s sitting around in his underwear, watching TV and eating potato chips. His nursery rhyme friends all visit trying to snap him out of it but it’s not until the king’s favorite horse needs rescuing off the side of a mountain that Humpty Dumpty gets back in the climbing gear and to the rescue! I read this book in story time quite often and it never fails, the kids love Humpty Dumpty and his go for it attitude. Thank you Dave Horowitz for a great book.
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Looking at the cover of The System, you see a striking image of college football – an enormous stadium filled with cheering crowds awaiting the contest to begin on that emerald green field. As you zoom in on that field, that crowd, that contest, the reality gets dirtier and dirtier, until it seems that field is the Astroturf covering the edge of an open grave. Benedict and Keteyian have climbed into that grave, and The System is the report they’ve sent back.
Football has long been the hallmark of college education in the United States. It is the rare institution of higher learning that doesn’t field a team. At the top of that pyramid, where iconic names like Notre Dame, Alabama, and Oregon reside, football is a big part of the college experience, and a successful program can seemingly make or break a school. And it shows in enrollments, donations, and construction.
Benedict and Keteyian seemingly had complete access to every aspect of the schools they covered. Meetings between coaches and players, athletic directors and boosters, students and inquisitors, victors and victims are recounted in incredible detail. And every detail seemed to come down to money.
The contrasts are staggering: a booster can give $185 million to support an entire program, but a player can be sanctioned for a $3.07 (yes, that’s three dollars and seven cents) accidental overpayment on a summer job. Coaches are routinely the highest paid state employees (even before the product endorsement deals and speaking engagements) when teachers, cops, and librarians are losing their jobs and pensions. T-shirts, jerseys, hats, and memorabilia bring millions in revenues, while student athletes supposedly earn nothing. An athlete accused of criminal activity can get legal advice from top-tier law firms, while their victims must rely on poorly paid prosecutors, and face threats and shaming for jeopardizing the program. And over it all is the mantle of the NCAA, which screams about teams offering cream cheese on bagels but misses the flagrant violations of their arcane regulations.
The authors present each chapter as a story in and of itself, but the overall narrative is connected by the story of Mike Leach, the coach who created the stellar program at Texas Tech, but was fired for his tactics in disciplining a weak player. After an extended absence from football, he was hired by Washington State University, where he once again laid the foundations of a successful program, but also underwent another abuse investigation, in which he was exonerated. From the coach recruitment process to the creation of a team, through the discovery and recruitment of players to the relationship with the school administration, readers see Leach in every aspect of his professional life. We even get a glimpse of the difficulties Leach’s wife Sharon faces as a coach’s wife.
Even for people who don’t care anything about football (and I count myself among their number), The System is a penetrating look at a dominant part of American culture. Whatever you feel about the game, you are sure to come away rethinking your position. There’s a lot that needs to be scrapped, some things that can be fixed, and some profound positives that deserve highlighting. Let’s hope real change can come from the discussion The System ought to start.
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Jessica shares this review:
Get ready for a fast paced, post-apocalyptic thrill ride. Author Aguirre appeals to a wide range of readers in this first of a planned trilogy, which has ample amounts of action, suspense and adventure.
The world now isn’t a place we would easily recognize. The ruins are all that remain, along with the violent gangs who inhabit them and the underground subcultures living in communities known as “Enclaves.” However, roaming the underground tunnels is another set of creatures as well. Known by members of the Enclaves as “Freaks,” these creatures are absolutely zombie-like, with a lust for human flesh. In this frightening view of the future we meet Deuce. She exists within the Enclave, a strong and dedicated member who lives for her coveted position as Huntress.
The Enclave has assigned the role of Hunter/Huntress to members of the community who will defend them against the “Freaks.” On her naming day, after fifteen years of training and waiting, Deuce is assigned the role of Huntress. Ever diligent and never questioning, she takes on the role with fervor. But everything begins to slowly change when she is partnered with another hunter, Fade. Fade is an outcast who arrived at the Enclave after surviving for years on his own topside. Never fully accepted and a self-made loner, Fade still possesses a unique skill set that is highly valued—fighting and killing. Together, Deuce and Fade begin to make notable discoveries about their leaders and start to get a glimpse of the dystopian society they have called home for years. After a devastating event forces Deuce and Fade to be banished from the Enclave, they must learn to survive not only the topside gangs, but the “Freaks” who have found their way up as well. An ideal read for fans of The Hunger Games and Graceling.
Check the WRL catalog for Enclave.
This is a delightful, interactive story suitable for preschoolers up to second graders. As a children’s librarian I quite often get asked for picture books concerning manners. Captain Bob is a policeman tasked to keep good order in his community and enforce good manners when necessary. The vibrant, contemporary illustrations enhance the fun, rhyming text. The neighborhood is made up of a variety of bugs. Captain Bob arrives in his little bubble police car – Wee-O! Wee-O! Wee-o! Woo! He comes across greedy ants, naughty beetles, and speeding spiders on their motor cycles. He visits with local bees and helps re-locate the neighborhood cockroaches to a nearby land fill. Captain Bob even manages to rescue a baby flea and reunite him with mom. Finally he gets a call to quiet down some hard-partying cockroaches. This is all in a day’s work for this hard working policeman. Eventually he gets to hurry home.
to my nest
And the bugs
that I love
Cece Bell, the illustrator, is known for her Sock Monkey books. She has a great site for children’s book reviews on her webpage: http://cecebell.wordpress.com/. On a local note, she is also a former student of William and Mary! Denise Dowling Mortensen is known for her books: Wake up Engines and Goodnight Engines.
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With a life like Allan Karlsson’s, who wouldn’t want to live to be 100 years old? Befriended by Francisco Franco and Robert Oppenheimer, creator of both the American and Soviet atomic bombs, drinking buddies with Harry S. Truman, consultant to Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, and rescuer of Mao Tse-Tung’s wife, smuggled in a Russian submarine, imprisoned in both the Soviet gulag and a North Korean prison, Bali beach bum, translator for an ambassador to France… All this because Allan had that most 20th Century of skills – blowing stuff up.
Now, at the age of 100 (having blown up his home) Allan is in a nursing home. He’s not finished with life, so an hour or so before the local dignitaries are coming to begrudgingly celebrate his centenary, Allan goes AWOL. Not that he has anyplace in particular to go - although that’s never been a problem – but he doesn’t have any desire to stay. He first has to get clear of his small town, so he steals an unguarded suitcase, boards a bus, and takes off into the wilderness.
To his surprise, the suitcase is stuffed with cash belonging to a motorcycle gang. The cash greases his way from one haven to the next, usually one step ahead of the bikers, until he winds up with a string of characters, including an elephant, in his wake. One, Detective Chief Inspector Aronsson, begins the case searching for a missing old man; next it appears that the old man has been murdered by bikers, then that the old man may be a murderer himself. Across the length and breadth of Sweden the ever-increasing cast runs, until they all wind up in the same place.
Interspersed with his modern-day story is Allan’s biography. For no particular reason, at the age of 34 he set off for Spain and was caught up in the Civil War. From there, he was shunted from place to place as wars and rumors of wars made him persona non grata in some places and persona most grata in others. After all, explosions are the best friends a politician ever had.
But that talent isn’t the only thing that characterizes him. In a world filled with competing -isms, Allan is devoutly apolitical and atheist. He is willing to let others talk endlessly about their beliefs, as long as they don’t try to convert him. He’s scrupulously honest about his indifference, but punctures cant when it conflicts with commonsense objectives, like blowing something up. And he can drink. Whoo, boy, can he drink.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is a picaresque novel, a road story in which a relative innocent disrupts the world and creates a satirical take for readers. Some people compare it to Forrest Gump, but I don’t think that’s an apt comparison. After all, Forrest was a kind of blank slate onto which people wrote their own beliefs. Allan Karlsson is his own man, blowing whichever way events take him but always living true to his code. “Never trust a man who won’t drink with you.” As a philosophy, you could do worse.
Check the WRL catalogue for The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Rhyming text follows a boy and girl’s week of play, in which the children get covered with brown mud on Monday, purple popsicles on Tuesday, yellow Jell-O on Wednesday, and so forth. At the end of each day–such as the purple popsicle one– the text exclaims, “Dunk me in the tub, please, for purple kid tea!”
Yes, I know, that sounds a little gross. But the cartoonish illustrations of the kids submerged in different colors of bath water are a great way to help kids learn colors. And kids will love belting out the “refrain.”
This book would be fun to read and then share again with a flannel board. A color matching game would be another great follow-up.
Check the WRL catalog for Kid Tea.
Melissa shares this review:
This debut novel by Carrie Harris is fun—if, like me, you enjoy the occasional zombie book!
High school junior Kate Grable is the football team’s student trainer. She is hoping that the experience will help her get into a good medical school, but up until now she’s pretty much just been in charge of the Gatorade cart.
One afternoon she notices a bunch of unlabeled bottles in the coach’s cabinet. She suspects they are steroids until one of the players collapses at a party. Kate swears the boy is dead, until he lurches to his feet and walks away. He can’t be dead if he walked away, right?
After a few more players show the same grayish skin and dead-like symptoms (like trying to munch on other students), Kate is ready to think the unthinkable. Something has turned these players into zombies.
Before the whole town comes down with the zombie infection, Kate has to find a cure. And if she manages to get a date to the homecoming dance in the meantime—so much the better!
The books are fast-paced and easy to get into. It isn’t particularly scary reading about zombies running loose in school. And while there is a certain “ew, gross” factor, even that is handled with humor. Add that to the usual high school angst, and friendships, and crushes…. it makes a great introduction to a series of books about geeky Kate and her high school adventures. I wonder what will happen next to this aspiring medical student!
Check the WRL catalog for Bad Taste in Boys.
It was a cause celebre in France and much of the liberal Western world, a scandal that exposed cultural divisions thought to have resolved years before. It discredited a government, tarnished the honor of an entire army, and inflamed relations among already-antagonistic neighbors. It elevated some men and broke others. It brought infamy on an obscure little island off South America, and led to the creation of a new country. And it was, and is, a drama suited for a novelist such as Robert Harris. It was the Dreyfus Affair.
Harris begins his telling of the story with the degradation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer who was convicted of espionage and treason. In it’s immediate aftermath, Georges Picquart is elevated to the decidedly sordid world of French counterespionage. Picquart’s new department had just achieved an astounding success, ferreting out Dreyfus’ plot to sell secrets to the hated Germans, and providing the evidence which convicted him. The antisemitism whipped up by leaders in all areas of French life would cool as Dreyfus was shipped off to serve his life sentence on Devil’s Island, and the Army could return to planning their next attack on Germany.
But Picquart begins uncovering inconsistencies and hidden files, and even more frightening, evidence that there is another spy in the French Army – or that the wrong man was convicted. His efforts to investigate are stymied, until it is plain that something more than a botched trial has happened. When he is disgraced and transferred to a dangerous colonial post, he becomes convinced that corruption at the heart of his beloved institution now threatens the ideals of France, and he embarks on a dangerous course.
Harris uses all of the staples of the spy thriller to unpack this story. The secret codes, forgery, surveillance, plots and counterplots, paranoia, and red herrings could easily have been created out of whole cloth. But Harris does not deviate from historical accuracy; the drama of the story stems from the inner workings of Georges Picquart’s mind and from his growing conviction that justice and balance must be restored by one courageous person. In the background is his knowledge of Alfred Dreyfus’ plight – the lone prisoner on Devil’s Island, with guards forbidden to speak to him, his tiny hut surrounded by a wall, his every letter censored or withheld at whim, the Dreyfus’ family’s unshakeable faith that his innocence will come to light – and the urgency of freeing the wrongly convicted man.
So how did the Dreyfus Affair accomplish all that I claimed in the first paragraph? It was the openly anti-Semitic fervor of the Catholic Church that led to the definitive separation of Church from the French government. The affair caused several parliamentary governments to fall, and the senior officers of the Army were forced to retire. And for one journalist covering the breaking of Alfred Dreyfus, it led to an inescapable conclusion – for Jews to be safe, they had to have their own home. Thus was born Theodor Herzl’s push for a Zionist movement, which led to the creation of Israel. All this because a few men decided that it was easier to persecute a Jew than take a few simple steps to solve a real crime.
Check the WRL catalogue for An Officer and a Spy
So, what would you give for the chance to see a dead loved one again? How about seeing them at the significant times in their lives, times you couldn’t possibly have known about? What about the chance to talk with them in their afterworld? Sixteen-year-old Zoe discovers that the price may be far more than she believed possible.
Zoe’s father died unexpectedly. Not only has she lost her beloved dad, his life insurance company has declared that he never existed (at least in their files). She and her mom are forced to move from their familiar home to a cramped urban apartment while Zoe’s mom searches for work. Zoe has a history of cutting and drug use, so her mom is always on her back.
Her sole consolation is a young man she regularly sees in her dreams. Valentine is like a brother to her, and the tree fort they hang out in is a refuge from the bizarre world beneath their feet. He listens to her, offers good advice, and is genuinely present and concerned for her. But she doesn’t have any idea if he’s real or a manifestation of something else.
While skipping school and mindlessly wandering through San Francisco, she winds up in front of an old record store specializing in punk music on vinyl. But the weird store owner has another room, one only certain people can see. Inside the room are discs that have captured the lives and souls of the dead. Zoe gets a taste of her father’s life, but she’ll have to pay with something more precious and talismanic if she wants more. When she decides she won’t pay and is cut off, she must summon her wits and her courage to find a path to the underworld.
But that underworld is a hellish landscape, a purgatory without hope of either redemption or judgment. Zoe has to negotiate her way through a bizarre parody of a city, evading vengeful spirits whipped up by hatred of the living, and searching for an exit known only to ones who would kill her, or worse.
Kadrey has created a resourceful, determined young woman who is surprised by her own strength, and set her in an eerie world filled with disturbing imagery. The tone reminded me of two other books reviewed here on BFGB – John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things and Robert Olen Butler’s Hell. Unlike the latter though, I would feel comfortable suggesting this to older teens. Most of all, it reminded me of the classic Greek stories of Orpheus and Odysseus’ journeys, and indeed the book has many subtle allusions to Greek myth. This is definitely a dark book with some heavy themes, but a good read.
Check the WRL catalogue for Dead Set
If you are looking for a fun, but quiet, action book for toddlers, this is a great one. The children can join in with the little red bird as she wakes, takes a deep breath, then scrunches under a spider web, creeps around a corner and even jumps over the cat during an early morning outing.
The text is minimal, and the bright illustrations are ideal even for a large group. Children and adults will suspect what is coming when the Early Bird happens upon the Early Worm. But never fear. This little story ends with a fun surprise.
This author has another title, Night Owl, scheduled to be released in January of 2015, and I’m looking forward to it!
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Jan shares this review:
“Daddy does not know what it is like to have to be a father to your mother. “
It is always an adjustment when a parent is deployed, but what happens when a family is held together by one parent and that parent leaves? In Joseph by Shelia P. Moses, Joseph’s father is deployed to Iraq and his mother, a drug addict, cannot cope. In fact Joseph, a boy mature beyond his years, ends up looking after her. When they are evicted he gets a chance to go to a better school although he is terrified that his new friends will learn that he and his mother are living in a homeless shelter. Joseph is torn; he is a good student who wants to do well in school and wants to take up tennis again, but he also wants to protect his mother and is suspended for three days for fighting with boys at school who insult her. Joseph’s parents were estranged before his father went away but the deployment makes it impossible for his father to offer any support to Joseph, except financial support. And that goes wrong when his mother uses Joseph’s father’s money to buy drugs rather than food or utilities. Joseph’s father knew about his wife’s problems and was trying to get custody of Joseph, but had missed two court dates because he was deployed, so may never get custody.
Joseph is a gritty book, not holding back from Joseph’s mother’s degradation and the negative effects on Joseph. Joseph’s mother is not at all likable, while his father is physically distant and therefore unable to help. Joseph is all alone. When some of his old school mates pick another fight with him: “When they read me my rights they say I can make one phone call, but I have no one to call. Daddy is halfway around the world; Momma’s cell phone is off.” p75
Ultimately it is Joseph’s Aunt Shirley who saves him until his father returns, showing the importance of extended family in this sort of situation. When a military family are in crisis like this there are programs and people who are meant to help. I know that sometimes they are not as helpful as they are meant to be, especially in a case like this where Joseph and his mother live away from a military base. Isolated families face the same pressures in having a parent deployed but it is more likely that they will fall through the cracks and be missed by the military assistance.
I recommend this book for adults and older teens who want a glimpse into the sordid life of addiction and the effects on children. It doesn’t talk a lot about what many people think of as a military lifestyle but does highlight that thousands of American children, far from military bases, have been affected by the recent wars as they have seen a parent leave.
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I’ve been looking a long time for someone who approached that special place Travis McGee holds in my heart. John D. MacDonald’s boat bum blasted his way through 21 colorfully-titled stories, taking down bad guys, healing broken women, and judging the modern world through his uniquely moral lens. Timothy Hallinan’s first Junior Bender mystery raises the faint hope that Travis’ successor is alive and well and living in Los Angeles.
Some differences: Trav, off the grid before anyone else had even heard of the term, only went outside the law on one of his salvage missions. Sex, surprisingly delicately described but still steamy, was a big part of his life, though he managed to hold deeper relationships at arm’s length. And his cases were always capped with detailed, though not graphic, violence. Plus, he lived in Florida.
On the other hand, Junior is a career burglar, proud of his spotless record and skill at breaking into any target. Since he lives on the wrong side of the law, he maintains an extensive network of crooks who can supply him or take things off his hands as needed. There are beautiful women around Junior, but he still longs for his former wife and wants to maintain his close relationship with his young daughter. And while Junior is capable of violence, he does his best to minimize it. Like McGee, Junior lives off the grid, but doesn’t have so much as a boat slip, moving through seedy motels and paying cash for everything. And Los Angeles is his beat.
In Trashed, Junior takes a commission to steal a painting. While the job hardly goes smoothly, it gets worse when he escapes. Junior, it seems, has been set up. He’s got two options: let the high-res video of his activities get to the victim, a man known for feeding enemies to his Rottweilers, or take on a quick undercover job for a Mob kingpin. If he fails, it’s a tossup whether the Mob or the Rottweiler guy gets him first. So he takes on the quick job of investigating the crew of an “adult film” to find the saboteur costing the producers tens of thousands of dollars a day.
Tens of thousands a day for a porn movie? This one has a special twist, because it’s going to star an American sweetheart who has fallen on hard times. Child actress Thistle Downing, whose incredible acting skill made her a fortune, lost it all to litigious family, corrupt accountants and lawyers, and a spectacularly bad business decision. Somewhere along the way, Thistle started snorting, popping, injecting, and swallowing every mood-altering substance she could find. Now, at age 22, she’s unemployable, living in a dump and trying to score day to day. Maybe it was one of those days when the producers got her to sign an ironclad contract to do a trilogy of hardcore movies in exchange for a small advance. But someone is taking increasingly desperate measures to stop her. Will it go as far as murder, or will Junior somehow keep her alive? And for what – the ultimate humiliation and the payday that will put her on a slab?
As in any good mystery, Junior must sort through a variety of supporting characters to find out who is on Thistle’s side, how to protect her, and how keep himself alive at the same time. Hallinan navigates him through the web and to a final resolution that puts both Junior and Thistle in front of a camera. Along the way, Junior covers the city of LA from the depths of Hollywood Boulevard to a surprising site atop Mulholland Drive, observing the range of humanity that peoples the city of a million dreams. If he isn’t quite as philosophical as Travis, it’s because the pacing of this story doesn’t give him quite as much leisure to think. He is more thoughtful than Poke Rafferty, Hallinan’s expat American travel writer, but then Hallinan is more thoughtful than most of the mystery writers who can write this kind of fast-paced story.
Check the WRL catalogue for Crashed
Let’s Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy is another hit story by author Jan Thomas that is sure to cause a bust out laughing reaction when read out loud to a group of children.
With good intentions, this so called, “Brave Cowboy,” tries to help his calf pals fall asleep by singing them a lullaby. The problem is, each time the cowboy is just about midway through his song he spots scary things in the dark that cause him suddenly stop to let out a long loud, “Eeeeeeek!”
Lucky for the cowboy to have such great calf pals who soothe his fears and show him that the scary items in the dark are really ordinary objects. But, are they always?
What surprise is in store for the cowboy when he finally thinks he really has nothing to fear?
Grab a copy and enjoy some laughs as you and your child discover the hilarious conclusion.
Check the WRL catalog for Let’s Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy.
Mindy shares this review:
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a laughable and adventurous satire packed with hilarious characterization and witty dialogue mostly in the epistolary fashion using email correspondence, letters, police reports, report cards, and other documents. Modest readers might find some strong language offensive yet very in-character when utilized.
You’ll find hilarious characters, some to love, some to hate, and some to drive everyone crazy! Semple pokes fun at Seattle’s subcultures of anti-fashionable, pro-geek, tech-talking, community-oriented, hyper-diverse, ultra-green, alternative-lifestyle embracing citizens. Semple herself is a transplant to the Seattle region from Los Angeles, as is the character Bernadette, where she wrote screenplays for “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “Ellen,” “Mad About You” and “Arrested Development.”
Caution, spoilers (because the events are revealed asynchronously and non-chronologically): Bernadette Fox has escaped her failed career as a genius architect by isolating herself in a crumbling fortress of a home where she can’t sleep and torments herself with self-pity. She’s become so anti-social that she’s hired a virtual assistant to handle even the most mundane logistics of her life. For years, her precious 15-year old daughter Bee has been Bernadette’s only reason for living. Bee’s been promised this trip to Antarctica as an award for her perfect report card (Her Microsoft-guru dad can afford it). Now, she’s having a panic attack brought on by the prospect of accompanying Bee through the sea-sickening Drake passage, “the roughest and most feared water in the world,” and this leads to a series of outrageous circumstances that culminate in a final resolution that just might restore Bernadette’s artistic passion.
The narration, and actual singing, by actress Kathleen Wilhoite, is extraordinarily energetic and adds much to the listening experience of the audiobook version, which I was whizzed through completely enraptured with joyous laughter. When hearing her voicing the hysterics of the ‘gnats’ (aka the condescending moms of Bee’s classmates at Galer Street School), I was reminded of Tea Leoni’s over-the-top character in the movie Spanglish.
Check the WRL catalog for the print version, too.
Another post-WWI mystery series! This is the first entry featuring Jack Haldean, late of the Royal Flying Corps and a successful writer of mysteries. It’s pretty lighthearted compared to, say, Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge mysteries or even Elizabeth Speller’s Lawrence Bartram series; in fact it’s almost a cozy and certainly of the English “country-house” style, in which there is a relatively small domestic circle of suspects. They all do share the need for the hero to look back to the darker days of WWI in order to solve a crime, however.
In terms of optimistic tone and relatively angst-free protagonist outlook, this is more like Charles Finch’s Charles Lenox series. Jack Haldean has the war injury but also quite a sunny outlook on life—he’s glad the war is over and is basking in the normalcy and relative peace of a 1922 Sussex country village fete on a glorious summer day. His mood is jarred somewhat when he bumps into an inebriated and much disliked former military comrade, who is writing a book about his war service, in particular a specific incident during the Battle of the Somme which destroyed careers and created heroes. He vaguely intimates to Haldean that the event was not what it seemed—and soon after is shot dead in one of the fete tents in something of a “locked-room” conundrum.
Suspects abound as it turns out that the dead man was possibly a blackmailer. Even Jack’s family members with whom he is staying in the country are not completely immune from suspicion. It becomes apparent to Jack, however, that something in the victim’s WWI service is the key, and he uses his military connections to get the bottom of it.
Jack enjoys an amicable relationship with the police; the very competent Superintendent Ashley welcomes his amateur assistance gladly, especially as it pertains to the military angle. It’s a bit refreshing to be spared the friction among bumbling police and smarty-pants amateurs which is frequently encountered in mystery stories.
Gordon-Smith is effective at conveying the atmosphere of rural post-war England and class and social conventions of the period. This book has something of the feel of Golden Age mysteries written by Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham; the reader can almost be convinced that the mystery was written during the 1920s rather than just taking place in them!
I enjoyed this atmospheric and lighthearted “manor house” mystery, and I’m looking forward to savoring the next entries in the series (7 more at this writing).
I have been a fan of Anna Godbersen’s books since she first published. Her descriptions of life in New York were amazing, and she is a graduate of Barnard College, as am I, which made me enjoy her work more than ever. When my husband brought me her latest book, I was looking for more about life in New York City more than a century ago. Boy was I wrong! The Blonde is something else entirely. This is a story set in time I remember well.
We meet a struggling Marilyn Monroe, who was a constant figure in the news and pretty much a part of the lives of movie goers and news features. She was a beautiful woman, an unhappy woman with multiple marriages and a drug problem, and someone who was a lost soul. The book shares that, but it also shares something else. In general, we also knew that Senator and later President John F. Kennedy was something of a philanderer. But this book ties Marilyn Monroe not only to his philandering, but also to the assassination of Kennedy. I had seen television shows that included Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to JFK, but I was probably too young to connect all the dots.
Almost everyone of school age and older remembers where they were when the news of the JFK assassination spread. People were glued to the television, watching the swearing in of President Johnson, seeing Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. The funeral was on all televisions. What followed were investigations which somehow never seemed to completely explain what really happened.
Anna Godbersen has created her own theory. Not only is it plausible, but it is told beautifully. Sometimes the real story is, in fact, stranger than fiction. If for no other reason, read The Blonde just to enjoy a mesmerizing story that will leave you wondering.
Check the WRL catalog for The Blonde.
An unmarried woman with a teenage daughter lands a job at the local community college and moves back into her childhood home. Her parents are on an extended sabbatical, so the woman, Georgia Thackery, and daughter Madison are alone in the house… except for Sid the skeleton. Sid is an actual skeleton who just happens to be alive. He walks, talks and has a fondness for corny jokes and bone-related expletives such as, “Oh, coccyx.” This is the unusual premise of Leigh Perry’s new cozy mystery novel, the first in a proposed series.
Sid has been Georgia’s friend for about 30 years, ever since he followed her home from a carnival where he’d been a featured attraction in the haunted house ride. Her miraculously tolerant family let Sid stay and kept him a secret from the outside world for all that time. Madison knows nothing about Sid, and he wants to keep it that way for reasons that he won’t explain. Things go along swimmingly for the weird trio until Sid spots a familiar face that he can’t quite identify at a Manga convention. Yes, the skeleton does go outside, either in disguise or disarticulated in a suitcase. The sighting spurs Georgia and Sid to investigate his life as a human and they soon discover that he was murdered and that the killer is still alive and willing to kill again.
OK, the premise is so dopey it shouldn’t work, but it actually does. Sid and Georgia are both likeable, and the mystery is decently plotted with a plausible series of clues leading to the denouement. There are even a few smartly placed red herrings to keep you guessing along the way. No explanation is given for how this living skeleton came to be but, so what, just go with it and enjoy the ride. The humor is gentle with no offensive language, sex, or gore, so it’s a mystery that can be enjoyed by all ages. I particularly liked the pet dog who keeps trying to make a snack out of Sid’s leg bone. The book would be a nice choice for a Halloween film on the Hallmark Channel.
I call novels of this kind “airplane books” because they are good for long flights. They don’t require a lot of concentration, but the stories are diverting enough to distract you from the screaming toddler four rows back. The author, Leigh Perry (a pseudonym for Toni L.P. Kelner, an award-winning mystery author), has written a lightweight but engaging yarn and I look forward to the next book in the series.
Check the WRL catalog for A Skeleton in the Family.