Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Looking Back on the Decade

Doesn’t that sound incredible, but we are coming to the end of the first decade of the 21st century. There are all kinds of sites online that are lining up to list what they consider the best or most worthy book titles written during the past ten years.

The Times Online lists their 100 choices, with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road taking first place.

Good Reads took a reader’s poll and came up with their own list. The first five places went to The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling, Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, and A Thousand Splendid Suns, also by Khaled Hosseini.

Salon.com chose a few different titles than most lists. Their top fiction and non-fiction titles were The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers.

Amazon.com makes a stab at the best books and includes The Life of Pi (“a boy stuck on a raft with a large Bengal tiger) by Yann Martel, John Adams by David McCullough, and the Harry Potter series.

I can think of several titles that were personal favorites of mine. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire Harry Potter series and the Deathly Hallows was a fitting finale for a series that may have changed the world of children’s book publishing forever.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion said much to me personally about grief and loss and living the life you have been given to the fullest. I am not a Joan Didion afficianado, but this title was truly a work of magic. I also really loved The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman, The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood and Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.

As you probably realized, I love a good mystery and recently I discovered two series that were excellent: the Julia Spencer-Fleming series with the Reverend Clare Ferguson and Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne and Steig Larssen's soon-to-be trilogy about Lisbeth Salander.
So, looking back on what you have read over the past ten years, what are your favorites? What do you think influenced you the most, or was the most meaningful? Meg

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An Old Fashioned Christmas Mystery – The Finishing Stroke by Ellery Queen

I started reading mysteries when I was a very young child. Having gone through all of the library’s Nancy Drew’s and Trixie Belden’s, I would sneak over to the adult side and revel in the wonderful detective writers they had over there, including Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner and my favorite, Ellery Queen. I know he’s old fashioned, but I learned much of my adult vocabulary from his writing (“There was not a scintilla of evidence…”) and his mysteries almost always included a formal “Challenge to the Reader” to solve the mystery that I was eager to accept.

Among my favorite titles from the pen of Ellery Queen is The Finishing Stroke, a brilliant and complicated mystery set during the 12 days of Christmas in an old mansion in upstate New York in the middle of a raging blizzard. Ellery has been invited to spend the holidays, along with 12 other guests, at the home of Arthur B. Craig, a wealthy publisher. Other guests include Ellery’s friend John Sebastian, his cousin, Ellen Craig, his fiancĂ©, Rusty Brown and her somewhat eccentric mother, Mrs. Brown, who is deeply into astrology, John’s friends Marius Carlo and Valentina Warren, Dr. Sam Dark, the family physician, Roland Payne, the family attorney, Dan Z. Freeman, publisher and the Reverend Mr. Gardiner, an Episcopal priest.

And thus the scene is set for a happy holiday gathering – or not. On the first evening a present is found under the Christmas tree. The small, wrapped box contains a carved ox, an unfinished doll’s house, and a tiny camel. The accompanying card reads “On the first night of Christmas your true love sends to you, a sandalwood ox in a holiday box, An unfinished house for the soon-to-be-spouse, A grey and white camel with skin of enamel.” Not exactly threatening, but anonymous and mysterious nonetheless.

Ellery, who has a reputation for being somewhat of a sleuth, is asked to look into the matter and the game’s afoot. Because the card is based on the song The Twelve Days of Christmas, no one is surprised when the puzzling gifts keep on appearing. And then Santa and a dead body turn up. The solution is a bit esoteric, but really clever and the atmosphere of the holidays and the snow and the isolation make for a perfect winter holiday mystery.

Note about the author(s): Ellery Queen is the pseudonym (and the main character) of two American writers, Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee. Together they wrote over 30 detective novels starring Ellery as well as mystery anthologies and true crime essays. They co-founded and edited The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, which is still publishing today. Meg

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Gift of Holiday Reading

Books are always a good holiday gift. The smell of a brand new book - the anticipation when opening a book cover for the first time – books are truly the gift that keeps on giving. Here are some recommendations for new books to give this holiday season that are truly in the holiday spirit.

Knit the Season by Kate Jacobs. This novel is a heart-warming sequel to the Friday Night Knitting Club and offers more information about Georgia, founder of the Walker and Daughter Knitting Shop. If you want a book about friendship, love and the holiday season this is a good choice. If you are giving it to a knitter, this is a perfect choice

Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present by Hank Stuever takes a look at what Christmas has become in several selected American communities. On his way to describing what is now a “half-trillion-dollar holiday” and how this compares to the ancient rituals where it started, Stuever finds warmth, incredible excess, commerciality and humor. A very seasonal read.

Stones Into Schools by Greg Mortenson picks up where Three Cups of Tea left off as we follow Mr. Mortenson in his continuing quest to establish schools for girls in Afghanistan. Surely Mortensen’s goal to spread education and peace on earth is in the spirit of the holidays.

And finally, two books on a similar theme….gratitude. Whether Sarah Ban Breathnach in her book Simple Abundance or Oprah Winfrey on her TV show originated the gratitude journal, it is a tool that has become popular. And now the whole concept of gratitude and what an appreciation of life’s blessings can bring is capturing the attention of even more authors.

The Gift of Thanks: Roots and Rituals of Gratitude by Margaret Visser presents an in depth study of what it means for humanity to be truly thankful. Publisher’s Weekly calls Vissner’s title a “delightful and graceful gift of a book, for which any fortunate recipient will be thankful.”

Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons have written Living Life as a Thank You: The Transformative Power of Daily Gratitude. Living as if each day is a thank-you can help transform fear into courage, anger into forgiveness, isolation into belonging. There is even a chapter entitled “Ways to Stay Thankful in Difficult Times” – certainly a timely thought. Meg

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

And the Winners Are....

On Tuesday November 17th at a black-tie dinner at Cipriani Wall Street (New York City) Andy Borowitz, writer and comic, announced the winners of this year’s National Book Awards.

This year’s winner for fiction is Colum McGann, author of Let the Great World Spin, a novel created around Phillippe Petit’s intrepid tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers, but focusing on life in New York City in the 1970s. McCann’s work has been called “dazzling and hauntingly rich.”

The non-fiction winner is T. J. Stiles for his biograpy of Cornelius Vanderbilt entitled The First Tycoon.

Poetry winner was Keith Waldrop for Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy. For those of you who do not know, Mr. Waldrop is from Providence, RI. He has written over 15 books of poetry. He is also an actor, director and publisher. The young people’s literature award went to Phillip Hoose for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice.

For a list of all the finalists and winners plus links to interviews check out the National Book Foundation site. Meg

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Library Loot

Many book bloggers do a regular post called “library loot” wherein they list all the stuff they have recently got out from their local library. Here’s my list, as of today:

Wolves Eat Dogs by Martin Cruz Smith. Smith is the author who wrote Gorky Park, one of my all time favorite mysteries and Wolves Eat Dogs was recommended to me as a title that was just as good. Smith has the ability to craft a respectable story and place it in squarely and masterfully in the dark and unstable context of modern Russia. This story is partially set in Chernobyl – a truly surreal but real and tragic backdrop.

Kindred in Death by J. D. Robb. Robb (aka Nora Roberts) is one of the author’s I pick up whenever she writes anything. Her Lt. Dallas series is always a fascinating read and a pleasant and often exciting visit with characters she has created over the series’ 35 or so titles.

After the Prophet by Leslie Hazelton. After the Prophet is sub-titled “the epic story of the Shia-Sunni split in Islam” and is a very well written telling of the story of the death of Mohammed and the struggle for his succession – a struggle the whole world is still embroiled in today.

A Church of Her Own by Sarah Sentilles – Sentilles tells the tale of women priests and their efforts to be recognized, valued and successful in their chosen profession. Sentilles can be a bit strident at times, but she is at her best when recounting the personal journeys of the many women ministers she met and interviewed.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo, read by Ron McLarty – Another recommendation from a friend, I have not begun this book yet, but Richard Russo is a very popular and talented author and I love hearing to Ron McLarty narrate an audiobook. I am looking forward to listening.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling, read by Jim Dale – Even if you have read all the Harry Potter books, you deserve giving yourself the treat of listening to Jim Dale become the characters in Rowling’s books. She was very lucky to have him narrate all her Harry Potter books, and if you have not listened in, you have a treat in store. Meg

Friday, November 6, 2009

World War I Classics

November 11, 2009 , the 11th day of the 11th month, is the 91st anniversary of the armistice that ended The Great War (World War I). Referred to often as “the war to end all wars,” (unfortunately we now know this to be a bit optimistic) the books written to help men and women come to grips with and attempt to understand the horror – trenches, barbed wire, mud – loss and death that were a part of that (and all) wars are still classics and worthy to be read. Here are four recommended titles.

All Quiet on the Western Front , a novel by Erich Maria Remarque, was published in 1929, and was the author’s way of coming to terms with the war and his participation in it. The war in the trenches as described from the German viewpoint vividly demonstrates that the tragedy and horror of war has no nationality.

“We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in war.” Chapter 5 – AQotWF

A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway, was also published in 1929. It is the unforgettable story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his love for a beautiful English nurse. The love affair between Lt. Henry and Catherine Barkley is set amidst the inexorable sweep of war and battle.

Three Soldiers (1921) by John Dos Passos is one of the key American war novels of the First World War, and remains a classic of the realist war novel genre. In a letter to a friend written in 1918, Dos Passos says “[War], no matter where, consisted of boredom, slavery to all sorts of military stupidities.…It was no more than an enormous, tragic digression in people’s lives which brought death to the intellect, to art, to everything that mattered.” These are the themes that run through Three Soldiers, a book that still stands as a testament to the dehumanizing effects of war.

A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton (1922) conveys the initial excitement of war and the subsequent disillusionment, boredom and manipulation occuring away from the front lines. Wharton explores the effect of war on those left behind with her customary powerful prose. Meg

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Horror Classics Reworked - Readings for the Season

Halloween has been growing in popularity and extravagance for quite a while now. Costume parties are held; homes are strewn with orange lights and scary creatures; everyone looks forward to a fine and scary time. Maybe it’s because we all like a good scare? Whatever the reason, and just in time for this creepy season, three different authors have produced re-worked versions of some truly unsettling horror classics.

Professor Charles Robinson (professor of English at the University of Delaware), has gone back to the earliest surviving manuscript of Mary Shelley’s work and produced two “new” versions of Frankenstein, the story of a created monster gone horribly wrong. In this new edition, you get to “hear” Mary Shelley’s young voice and can even see what additions and changes were suggested by her husband, Percy Shelley.

Peter Ackroyd is also dealing with Frankenstein’s monster in his new book The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein. This brilliantly imagined novel is written (purportedly) by Dr. Frankenstein himself and Mary Shelley and Percy B. Shelley are characters in the novel. Publisher’s Weekly calls Ackroyd’s novel a “brilliant riff on ideas that have informed literary, horror and science fiction for nearly two centuries.”

The Vampire Archives, edited by Otto Penzler, is the biggest, “undeadliest” collection of vampire stories ever (weighing in at 1056 pages!), with an accompanying comprehensive bibliography of vampire fiction. As the blurb on the cover says, The Vampire Archives is “dark, stormy, and delicious. Once it sinks its teeth into you there’s no escape.” Meg
[This post is based on an article in BookPage by Michael Alec Rose.]

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

National Book Awards 2009

The National Book Award finalists for 2009 were just announced last week. The NBA is an award given yearly to writers by writers. Awards are given in 4 categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry and young people’s literature. The first award was presented in 1950.

Works are submitted for consideration by publishers: judges are selected (five in each category): finalists are annouced. This year over 193 publishers submitted 1,129 books for consideration. There were 236 fiction titles, 481 nonfiction titles, 161 works of poetry and 251 titles of literature for young people.

Fiction finalists are: American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell; Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann; In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin; Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips and Far North by Marcel Theroux. (For a list of finalists in all four catergories and a list of the judges, check out the National Book Awards website.)

The winners will be announced at the 60th annual National Book Awards Benefit Dinner and Ceremony, which will take place at Cipriani on Wall Street in New York City on November 18th. Cipriani’s is a famous New York landmark and venue for events. The Master of Ceremonies for the awards banquet will be Andy Borowitz, author, comedian, satirist and film actor. Meg

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Harlequin turns 60!

Let me tell you a story…or, how a small Canadian publishing company became one of the world’s most renowned publisher of romance novels.

Harlequin Enterprises was founded in Toronto, Canada in 1949 and began publishing reprints of British novels for Americans, including detective stories by Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Mills and Boon was a British company founded in 1908 by Charles Boon and Gerald Mills. They began by publishing British authors, such as P. F. Wodehouse, but soon discovered there was a need for books written “for women, by women, from a woman’s perspective.” These types of books (or genre) were to become incredibly popular during the Great Depression when women needed something to make their lives a bit more bearable.

In 1957 Harlequin took over the rights to publish romance novels originally published by Mills and Boon. Harlequin would re-edit these romances for the American market, making them a bit more “racy” than their British counterparts. And Harlequin continued to re-issue British titles until in 1975 they published their first American author who wrote “about American characters for an American audience.” This author was Janet Dailey.

Today Harlequin, one of the largest publishers of romance novels and series, encompasses many divisions including Silhouette, Spice, Mira, Steeple Hill, Red Dress Ink and Luna. All of these divisions publish different flavors of romance for a total publishing record of over 500 titles per month.

The library has a large paperback Romance novel collection and many of these titles are published by Harlequin or one of its divisions. Some titles include:

Moonstruck by Susan Grant (a HQN paranormal romance)
An Accidental Hero by Loree Lough (a Steeple Hill inspirational romance)
Dying for You by Beverly Barton (a HQN romantic suspense title)
The Italian by Elaine Coffman (a Mira historical romance). Meg

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Take the Reader's Choice Survey - Tell Us What You Read

Two posts ago I told you about the Tuesday Afternoon Book Discussion Group and the Thursday Evening Book Discussion Group at the library and what they are planning to read this year.

Last week I told you about books that the library staff is currently reading.

This week we would like to know what you like to read. Please do us a big favor and take our Reader’s Choice Survey. There are only 7 questions. It should only take you 2-3 minutes to respond.

We at the library would really love to hear from you.

Thank you. Meg

Monday, September 21, 2009

What is the Library Staff Reading Now?

Although there is much more to being a librarian than reading books, many of the library staff do enjoy reading and spend some of their spare time devoted to this very pleasant pastime. In case you were curious, here is a brief description of what some of the library staff is reading now.

Deborah J., our secretary, says, “I’m currently listening to a playaway – Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm by John Katz, a public radio talk show host who decided to buy and work a farm in upstate New York. Great story for animal lovers and those who want to embrace their inner farm girl/boy.”

Mary B., Bookmobile Librarian, is reading House of Cards by William Cohan, a minute-by-minute look at the last hours of Bear Stearns. “We just ‘celebrated’ the one year anniversary of the Wall Street meltdown, and you don’t have to be an investor to read and cringe at what is described in Cohan’s book.” Mary is also reading Renegade by Richard Wolfe – a description of Wolfe’s 2-year journey with Barack Obama on the campaign trail.

The Children’s Department staff is busy reading, too. Cathy A. just finished Lost by Jacqueline Davies. This young adult novel set in New York in 1911 is a fictional account of the tragic Triangle Factory fire that killed hundreds of factory workers. What makes this book interesting is its inclusion of another real-life event, the disappearance of New York heiress Dorothy Arnold.

Because Diane G. (also of the Children’s Department) enjoyed reading The Last Dickens, she decided to give Matthew Perl’s other novel, The Poe Shadow, a try. Both books are inspired by real-life authors and have a “sense of the literary.” She is also juggling Golfing with God by Roland Merullo (author of Breakfast with Buddha) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Ruth D. just finished Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains about the life of Burudian refugee, Deo, and his struggle as a non-English speaking immigrant in New York City. “The horror of the Rwandan and Burudian genocides are painstakingly illustrated, but this one lucky and gifted man managed to survive and ultimately return to Burundi to help his homeland.”

One of our Young Adult librarians, Becky F. is seriously into the Stephanie Meyer’s vampire series. Becky just finished Breaking Dawn (book #4) and feels that the books are more romantic than they are scary. Which is a good thing, because as a child, the thought of vampires terrified her! She is also in the middle of reading Deadline by Chris Crutcher. This is the story of Ben, given one year to live, who decides to live out his remaining time to the fullest – and not tell anyone he is sick.

Gail S. from the Reference Dept. is reading Walking People by Mary Beth Keane. She says this is a well written novel about a very poor Irish family in 1940’s Ballyroan, Ireland. Other books on her book shelf include The Art of Civilized Conversation by Margaret Shepherd and Time and Tide by Frank Conroy.

As for me, I am busily reading the short of list titles for next year’s Reading Across Rhode Island program, and I succumbed to all the hype and am also reading Dan Brown’s latest, The Lost Symbol. I’ll let you know what I think once I finish. Meg

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Join a Book Discussion Group at NPL

Do you belong to a book group? What was the best book your group ever read? The worst? Tell us a little bit about what you think makes a good book group. Would you like to be part of a Book Discussion group? The library has two really active Book Discussion Groups and they are both starting up again this fall.

The Thursday Evening Book Discussion Group begins this Thursday, September 17th, at 7pm in the Stride Room (lower floor of the library). The book they are going to discuss is The Girls by Lori Lansens. This is a novel about conjoined twins, and their lives together as they strive to be both sisters and individuals. Anyone who has read the book is welcome to attend.

After Thursday’s meeting, the list of book titles for the rest of the year will be decided. Stay tuned! If you have questions or want more details, email or call (847-8720, Ext. 103) Pat LaRose.

The Tuesday Afternoon Book Discussion Group alternates between reading classics and more modern works, often based loosely on a classic counterpart. Their first meeting was last week, September 8th, but they meet monthly and anyone is welcome to join. Their next meeting will be Tuesday, October 13th, from 1-3pm in the Stride Room. The book to be discussed in October is Foe by J. M. Coetzee. Foe is a reinvention of the story of Robinson Crusoe  If you have questions or want more details, email or call (847-8720, Ext. 208) Luke Owens.  Meg

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tennis, anyone?

The US Open Tennis Championship began last week and I, for one, am hooked watching. I love the fact that they are televising some really good matches during prime time and I try to check in during the afternoons every chance I get.

There have been some outstanding books published recently about tennis and great tennis players and I wanted to recommend a few.

On the Line by Serena Williams is just out. Serena is one of the world’s best women players and quite an interesting character. She and her sister (Venus) burst on the tennis scene in the 1990’s and have been vying for a first and second place ranking ever since. Novelist Plus says “The Grand Slam and Olympic champion traces her rise from a disadvantaged childhood to one of the world’s top tennis players, discussing her battles with racism, the injuries that threatened her career, and her current roles as a philanthropist and media personality.”

Strokes of Genius by L. Jon Wertheim is subtitled Federer, Nadal and the Greatest Match Ever Played and is about the 2008 men’s final at Wimbledon (England).The author calls this match” essentially a four-hour, forty-eight-minute infomercial for everything that is right about tennis.”

Monica Seles has written Getting a Grip. Seles was attacked and stabbed by a crazed spectator in the middle of a quarterfinal match in Germany in 1993. This memoir details her struggle to find her way back to professional tennis.

And finally, A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played by Marshall Jon Fisher is about the 1937 Davis Cup competition held as the world was on the brink of war.  Meg

Monday, August 31, 2009

Reading Across Rhode Island and The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

It is hard to imagine a time when explorers – people who went on long, dangerous journeys to as yet undiscovered places, were really famous, looked on as celebrities and whose exploits were reported in all the news media of the day.

“No Olympic games contender was ever trained down to a finer edge than these three reserved, matter-of-fact Englishmen, whose pathway to a forgotten world is beset by arrows, pestilence and wild beasts.”
[Los Angeles Times, 1925]

That’s the kind of notoriety that Percy Harrison Fawcett, explorer extraordinary, and other adventurers of the early 1900’s received. These were the days of T. E. Lawrence, Teddy Roosevelt, Shackleton, etc. Exploration was also of vital concern because there were really still places to explore - places that no one had ever gone before – where no one had mapped accurately.

The main story is of Fawcett, his mania for exploring the Amazon and his last expedition in search of the lost city of Z, aka El Dorado. Collected around the tale of Fawcett’s 1924 doomed expedition is the story of David Grann, a writer for the New Yorker magazine - a city-dweller who had never even gone camping before - and his attempt to follow in Fawcett’s footsteps, find the bones (literally) of the explorer – and maybe even the lost city itself.

This is not a tale for the faint-hearted. The living creatures, both big and small, that populate the Amazon jungle (or at least did in the 1920s) are directly out of your worst science fiction nightmare. That anyone would freely choose to enter into this arena of crawling beasts, starvation, disease and dangerous populations is beyond me. But it is still fascinating to read about what these men (and there were many Amazon expeditions, several to find Fawcett) attempted.

I will not reveal whether Grann actually found Fawcett or the lost city. Pick the book up and become an explorer yourself! Meg

Monday, August 17, 2009

Always Look Over Your Shoulder - Conspiracy Thrillers

When I think conspiracy thriller I think of two things almost immediately: 1) the television show X-Files, wherein FBI agents Mulder and Scully did their best to investigate and prove the existance of one of the largest conspiracies imaginable (i.e., aliens had landed and were even now engaged in a gigantic effort to take over earth) and 2) Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code – wherein conspiracies perpetrated through the ages by certain societies within the Catholic Church kept secret the true nature (and number?) of Jesus’ apostles.

Our friendly neighborhood Wiki article defines the conspiracy thriller as a book “in which the hero/heroine confronts a large, powerful group of enemies whose true extent only he/she recognizes.” They give as prime examples the works of Robert Ludlum, and I would especially recommend the titles about Jason Bourne, recently made into movies – The Bourne Identity; The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. These are excellent books and full of double crosses, covert agencies and everything you could want from a conspiracy thriller.

David Baldacci has written a series of books that could be considered conspiracy thrillers. This series begins with The Camel Club, and follows (in reading order) with The Collectors, Stone Cold and Divine Justice.

And finally, a book I would like to recommend that I just recently read is The Eight by Katherine Neville. The Eight features a exceptionally complex plot focusing on action in two distinct time periods. To quote from a review, “A young novice, during the French Revolution, risks her life to preserve a jeweled chess set that the Moors gave Charlemagne, and in the 20th century, a computer expert and a chess master try to solve its mystery.” There is a sequel – entitled The Fire – that follows one of our protaganists, Alexandra Solarin, as she tries to solve, once again, the mystery of the Charlemagne chess service.

If you have any favorite conspiracy thrillers that you would like to share with us, please do so. Meg

[By the way – one of the best conspiracy thriller movies I have ever watched is Sneakers, starring Robert Redford, Dan Ackroyd and River Phoenix. It has been called the “last great hacking movie” and it is quite the ride – even if it was produced in 1992.]

Thursday, August 13, 2009

An Armchair Visit to Cape Cod

Cape Cod – the “bared and bended arm of Massachusetts. The shoulder is at Buzzard’s Bay; the elbow, or crazy bone, at Cape Mallebarre; the wrist at Truro; and the sandy fist at Provincetown.” H. D. Thoreau

Do you like to read travel memoirs? Or books by folks who live in a certain area and want to share a love of their surroundings with you? Here are a group of titles about our near-by Massachusetts neighbor, Cape Cod. If you have never been there, used to go there as a child, or just like to be an “armchair” traveler, these books should give you a sense of the Cape and its culture. Two picture books begin our list.

Cape Cod National Seashore by Andrew Borsari
This is a small book, recently published that presents full color photographs of the national treasure that is Cape Cod accompanied by literary quotations. A little gem.
Thoreau’s Cape Cod (with early photographs of Herbert W. Gleason) is based on Henry David Thoreau’s long essay on Cape Cod and is illustrated with some fascinating, early black and white photographs.

Special Places On Cape Cod and the Islands by Robert Finch has very few photographs, but contains some wonderful essays about some very unique Cape Cod locales.

For those of you who really want to really dig deep, The Enduring Shore: A History of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket by Paul Schneider is a thoroughly researched and complete history of the entire area.

And to conclude, two titles that are more memoir than travel guide -
The Salt House: A Summer on the Dunes of Cape Cod by Cynthia Huntington tells of the special feeling the author has for her small, unique “house,” and
A Walk on the Beach by Joan Anderson is more about the feelings of peace and satisfaction two women found by simply walking on the beach together.

Henry David Thoreau said it best, “a man may stand there and put all America behind him.”

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dick and Felix - the odd couple?

I am not one of those people who are in love with horses. I did not grow up loving them. I did not grow up wanting to read about them. Horses are just not my cup of tea (or bucket of oats) or whatever. But I really must confess I love a Dick Francis mystery.

I was reluctant to even try one at first – for the above mentioned reasons. But Francis’ mysteries – although set firmly in the horse-racing milieu in England (for the most part) are not just about horses and horse racing but about all aspects of this interesting and unusual world. And his books are peopled with characters that I often come to admire and respect and villains that are just plain bad.

One of my favorite titles is In the Frame which is actually about a gentleman, Charles Todd, who paints horses. Some of this book takes place in Australia at one of the biggest races there, the Melbourne Cup. There is one memorable passage wherein Todd is trying to distract some thugs who have arrived at the hotel room of his friends and the only thing he can think to do is send everyone from every service imaginable at the hotel to his friends’ rooms – room service, the maids, the chauffeurs, the hairdressers, the barbers – whatever – and as all these curious hotel workers arrive at the room Todd manages to smuggle his friends out. It is riotous: I laughed till I cried.

Other good titles include: Whip Hand (about Sid Halley, jockey turned detective); Proof (with Tony Beach, a wine merchant who caters racing parties); and Risk (with Roland Britten, an accountant).

As Mr. Dick Francis ages (born in 1920, he is currently 89 years young) he has enlisted the help of his son, Felix, as co-writer. Felix is a former teacher (of physics!) and onetime researcher for his father’s books. Now they are writing in collaboration and the two titles they have produced thus far, Dead Heat and Silks, have been just as popular and just as fascinating as previous titles. Check out their web site for more information on this collaboration and on both of them.

Their new title in collaboration, Even Money, about bookmaker and amateur investigator Ed Talbot, is due out this month.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Reading Across Rhode Island and Life As We Knew It

These days much of my reading is focused on the long list of possible titles for Reading Across Rhode Island 2010 – the Rhode Island Center for the Book’s state-wide community read program.

So far I have read (or listened to): Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer and The Autobiography of God by Julius Lester. I am in the middle of reading The Lost City of Z by David Grann and The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein. I plan to report on most of these titles as I finish reading.

Life As We Knew It is basically a book for young adults, but an interesting read nonetheless. Miranda and her family (Mom and two brothers, Matt and Johnny), are caught in a futuristic dilemma: an asteroid has crashed into earth’s moon and actually knocked it off its trajectory. This altered course causes multiple tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes and all the attendant weather problems. Food lines dry up; water runs out; the climate changes drastically; modern communications are a thing of the past. (Reading this book shortly after a large, mystery object actually crashed into Jupiter was a bit disconcerting. I called the book futuristic, but sometimes the future can be too close to reality for comfort.)

Miranda’s family is forced into survival mode and seeing how they cope (and sometimes fail to cope) was remarkable enough to keep me reading. At first getting ready for the what might happen seems like a gigantic wilderness adventure. Miranda does not see the need for half of the precautions her mother insists upon. But it soon becomes apparent that it is only due to her mom’s foresight that the family is able to survive.

Sacrifice, strict planning and rationing, hard work and most important the love, concern and respect that the family has for each other are also what keeps them alive and almost flourishing. One of the themes of the book is the value of living every day to the fullest, and that is certainly a philosophy everyone, young adult, adult, senior – can take to heart. Meg

Monday, July 20, 2009

Thrillers for the Times - the Techno-thriller

That same Wiki article (entitled Thrillers) that I mentioned in the first post about Medical Thrillers defines the Techno-Thriller as a work “that usually focuses upon military action, in which technology (usually military technology) is described in detail and made essential to the reader’s understanding of the plot.” This article calls Tom Clancy the "father of the Technothriller" and the Hunt for Red October as the work which defined the genre.

I confess I am not “thrilled” with this definition. It seems to me too narrow and leaves out a whole host of other works I would have considered a techno-thriller. So – going back to our online search, I picked up a few other definitions that are briefer but more accurate.

Our friends at Merriam-Webster simply state that a techno-thriller is a thriller that relies on technology. Seems rather straightforward. But then I discovered another (separate) Wiki article entitled Techno-Thriller that did a much better job than the first article I quoted. Techno-thrillers, according to this Wiki article, are a “hybrid genre, drawing subject matter generally from spy thrillers, war novels and science fiction.” I suggest reading the entire entry, as it is very interesting. But I want to get on to recommending authors.

Read the Hunt for Red October if you haven’t read it already. The movie, starring Sean Connery, was excellent, but the book is brilliant. And as long as we are talking about the military side of Techno-thrillers, I also recommend Nimitz Class by Patrick Robinson. He writes about the near-future Navy and the technology that keeps the shores of the US safe. But his characters (do check out Admiral Morgan) are a treat and his plots are always multifaceted and intriguing.

Dan Brown is more famous for his religious thriller, The Da Vinci Code, but his earlier works, especially Digital Fortress and Deception Point are also edge-of-the-seat techno-thriller reading.

And just for fun – and to honor Michael Crichton, who just recently passed away - pick up The Andromeda Strain. Written in 1969 this is a story about an deadly alien germ that causes havoc and death in a small town in Arizona. Crichton was way ahead of his time with the kinds of dilemmas he envisioned, and even though a bit dated, Andromeda Strain is still frightening today. Meg

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Adult Summer Reading is here!

Summer reading isn't just for kids! Don't miss your chance to win great prizes (gift certificates to Newport County restaurants and attractions); join the adult Summer Reading Challenge today.

This year you can register online at our Summer Reading Challenge blog.

You can also stop by the reference desk to register and pick up a reading log. But the blog gives you a chance to share your thoughts and reviews with others. The contest runs from July 13-August 22, and you must read FIVE books to be eligible for the grand prizes. Click the link above for more details, and then kick back with a good book all summer long.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Breakfast with Buddha - June's Book Discussion Title

Everyone in the group found something to like about Breakfast with Buddha by Ron Merullo, with mostly everyone really enjoying this selection. We agreed that while it may not be the exhaustive, comprehensive choice if you want to learn or practice Buddhism, reading this book is a good way to start thinking about how we live our lives, and how we might seek peace in spiritual but ordinary ways.

Breakfast with Buddha was a quick, light read in many ways. The main character of Otto is well written. Otto is presented as a good man - husband, father, person - who is seeking something, but he hasn’t quite figured out what yet. As a result of his road road trip to North Dakota with Volya Rinpoche, he learns how to seek. Rinpoche’s philosophy is a mixed bag of Eastern religions, and not strictly Buddhist. Some participants liked that ecletic approach. Merullo uses his story to explore deep human issues in an accessible and even humorous way, making it easy for readers to open up to alternative thinking, as he pits the skeptic Otto against the guru Rinpoche.

Even those who faulted the book as predictable in plot and bordering on pop psychology, did enjoy the amusing moments, and the descriptions of the road trip across the mid-west, with the savory stops in wayside eating places an interesting sideline. Readers enjoyed the bowling alley and miniature golf scenes, too. You will have to read this book to find out why.

Our Thursday evening group is wrapping up this year’s list next month with M.F.K. Fisher’s The Art of Eating. We will meet at a local restaurant (TBA) for the discussion and a pay-your-own-way dinner.

We do not meet in August, but will resume for another 11 months of reading in September. Please consider joining us. PL

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The World of Book Blogs

The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.” Elizabeth Hardwick

There was a study done in 2004 by the National Endowment for the Arts on the reading habits of Americans and the results were quite disheartening – especially to a librarian and one who loves and believes in books. The NEA declared that “literary reading” was in a “dramatic decline” calling this decline a “national crises.”

Well – I am not too sure about that. Have you ever explored the online world of book blogs? There are SO MANY folks – men and women, young and old, librarians and housewives, artists and engineers – people from every walk of life, who read and read and read – and then want to share their thoughts on what they have read with everyone on the net who cares to visit.

My first introduction to the world of book blogs was tiny little reading room, maintained by (in her own words) a “children’s/YA librarian who keeps getting herself into too many reading challenges.” But the really neat thing about these book blogs is that they lead you to other book blogs. Scroll down the tiny little reading room until you come to (in the right column) the Blogroll – and there you will see a LONG LIST of other book blogs.

I highly recommend that you check these out. My favorites (at least currently) are:

Jennie Loves to Read
Jennie loves to “knit, read lots of books and laugh with friends. Life is too short!” A girl after my own heart.

Should be Reading
Should be Reading is quite a mixed bag of a blog, but one feature I really like is Teaser Tuesday. Teaser Tuesday goes like this -

  • Pick a book you like (and have read)
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page. (Be careful not to include spoliers and don't share too much!)
  • Share the title and author - so others can add the book to their "to be read" (TBR) lists.

Maybe we will try a Tuesday Teaser post here one day.

A Life in Books
This is blog that has been around for a while, and is really neat. First of all, the reviews are well-done and in-depth (for a blog). And then take a look (all the way down!) at the left-hand column. There are all sorts of neat things listed there – an extensive blog roll; other recommended other recommended book sites; random books from the blogger’s library; and then finally, the reading challenges she has participated in.

So click to one of these book blogs, find the blog roll and begin the adventure. I, for one, do not think reading is dead. Meg

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Child's Garden of Books - for Adults

“Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?”
Winnie the Pooh

I was talking with a mother who had just recently begun homeschooling her four children and we began to chat about children’s literature and the books she had read with her children this past year. She confessed that she had never really read much as a child, and was now discovering, in a wonderful and surprising way, the books she had never known. Her favorites this year were Calico Bush by Rachel Field, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare and Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. All three titles are rich in history, well written and award winners in their day.

I read a lot as a child, but somehow missed many children’s classics myself, and so when I became a student teacher I, too, discovered some wonderful titles I had missed. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Charlotte’s Web are two books I was introduced to as I read aloud to a classroom of 2nd and 3rd graders. I remember barely being able to control my laughter as I recited a tale about a rather rotund bear’s “stoutness exercises” in Winnie the Pooh, and held my breath with the rest of the class as we went with Meg and Calvin to explore a tesseract in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

“I do face the facts, Meg said. They’re a lot easier to face than people, I can tell you that.”
A Wrinkle in Time

This discussion about children’s books had taken place in the presence of a number of other women, and soon everyone was talking about their favorite children’s book – either one they had read while growing up or discovered and appreciated as an adult.

Some that were mentioned include: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (a strong portrait of a small southern boy and his coon dogs – also a real tear-jerker) and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (about two young children who run away from home, and wind up living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York!).

What children’s books were dear to you as a child? As an adult? What are you going to read or are you reading to your children? Meg


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