Friday, March 26, 2010

"What Was Lost" by Catherine O'Flynn

Every once in a while there's a "happy accident" here at the checkout counter, something that comes across the desk either as a return or as a reserve, something that catches my eye and intrigues me. This is exactly one of those titles; if memory serves correctly, it was in our outside book drop one morning, and after reading the description on the back, I wanted to read it. I just didn't have time right then, so I placed a reserve on my card for around the time I was going to have a week off. Of course, I didn't actually read it on that vacation - too many other books to get thru!

The book opens in 1984 as we follow 10-year-old Kate Meaney as she learns how to follow people, write down observations, and locate clues using the book How to Be a Detective, a gift from her father. She's started Falcon Investigations and her partner is her stuffed monkey, Mickey. Their main beat is the newly opened Green Oaks shopping mall, a huge complex of stores, a place that inspires love and loathing amongst the locals. Kate doesn't have any friends as such, although she does eventually talk to a girl in her class, Teresa Stanton; Kate's work as a detective allows her to see what the others in her class seem to miss. It's a fairly lonely life, although Kate does spend time with Adrian, a 22-year-old man working at his father's sweets shop. Adrian knows all about Kate's undercover work, and even suggested his father hire her when the shop was losing sweets to shoplifting school kids (the young entrepreneur did a thorough investigation and made a few suggestions as to placement of goods, resulting in a "Good girl!" reward). Then, the unthinkable happens - Kate vanishes, never to be seen again. The police investigate, focusing on Adrian, who also disappears.

Fast forward to Green Oaks circa 2003. Adrian's sister, Lisa, works as a assistant manager at Your Music in the Green Oaks mall. She hates her job, hates the people she works with, and hates Green Oaks, but she's being groomed to manager her own store, dates and lives with one of her co-workers, and spends almost all her waking hours at Green Oaks, either working or shopping. One evening she finds herself working later than usual and becomes lost in the maze of corridors and tunnels that run behind the shops. One of the security guards, Kurt, runs across her in his patrol and guides her to the door to the parking lot. While on their way out, Lisa stumbles across a stuffed monkey, one that looks suspiciously like the one Kurt saw a little girl holding on the security monitor after closing time, a little girl who vanished when he looked away from the TV screen. Lisa and Kurt form a bond over their misery of life at Green Oaks, their fascination with the mysterious child, and their hopes of a better life.

It doesn't sound like much, but trust me, it's worth it. There are connections between characters that at first I found overly convenient, but then I couldn't stop thinking about them and how the author had accomplished this feat - it works. The background stories of Lisa and Kurt rang true, two people who had hopes and dreams as children and teenagers, only to become trapped in the reality of adult life, caring for parents and paying mortgages, etc. The title obviously refers to Kate and Adrian, who are literally "lost", but it could also to refer to all the other "lost" things in the book - lost dreams, lost hope, lost opportunities, lost illusions. The ending was sad yet brilliant. What I found interesting was the number of reviewers on Amazon who didn't believe Kate was really a child; they thought she sounded "too adult" and no different than the other characters. I thought Kate was a dead-on description of a very mature child, one that prefers to spend time in her own company doing her own thing, rather than try to fit in with the other kids. She prefers talking to older people rather than her peers, and I totally understood that, being much the same myself as a child.

This is a debut novel by O'Flynn, and I'm happy to report that she has another book out this summer. "The News Where You Are" will be released July 6th and I've already got it on my wish list. I have high hopes for this author and look forward to her next book!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All" by Marilyn Johnson

Marilyn Johnson wrote a book called "The Dead Beat" about obituaries. Nothing extraordinary about that - except that she dealt with librarians enough that she fell in love with them. And decided to write about them.

The book isn't really a story per se, more little vignettes of Johnson and her dealings with librarians in different settings. The one thing they all have in common is a love of knowledge and a desire to catalog it somehow. After all, as Johnson points out, there is so much data available that we suffer from a sort of "information sickness"; librarians can help make sense of it all (and they know were to find the correct information, the factual data, as opposed to just doing a Google search).

One of the ways that libraries and their employees help sort and store all this data is through technology, specifically computers. Johnson discusses the two factions in the library world, those that embrace all new technological advances, and those that don't even want to touch the things. She follows a library going through an "upgrade" in their operating system, and the frustration felt by both library staff and the tech support team trying to help them. She looks at some of the blogs now being written by library employees, some serious, some not and how this new form of communication is helping other library employees get new ideas (and sometimes laugh at the things they have to deal with working with the public). She details the case that went to court recently in which a small group of librarians took on the government, fighting to keep their patrons' records private, and the toll it took on all involved (a very scary chapter - the Patriot Act is thrown around with the weight of "this is right, and if you defy us, you're against all that is American).

I loved the chapter on the group known as Radical Reference, library employees who take to the street during political conventions and such, letting people know what streets are closed, where public bathrooms are available - and where the cops are cracking down on protesters. They have their cell phones and Internet access, and they're not afraid to use them! Also interesting were the library employees who have avatars in Second Life, setting up virtual libraries and disseminating information to all who need it. Certainly helps break down the stereotype of the quiet, sweater and crepe-soled shoe wearing, shushing librarian!

Sadly, not everything is stable and good in the world of libraries. Just as the New York Public Library debuts wonderful online resources for their patrons, they close down reference rooms that store vast amounts of arcane knowledge. And in the chapter "What's Worth Saving?", Johnson laments that not everything is considered "essential" when deciding what should be cataloged and kept. I understand where she's coming from, but as someone who works in a small branch, I can say without remorse that you just cannot keep everything. Space is a premium for us, and we routinely weed items that are no longer circulating. Fear not - if they're still in good shape, they go to our annual Book Sale run by our Friends of the Library, and those proceeds help us in so many ways.

While I enjoyed this book (especially the small section about poop and "rogue turds"!), I often felt left behind. Yes, I am all about libraries, but no, I am not one of those library professionals who has completely embraced all this electronic. I still don't own a cell phone. I don't text. I don't Tweet (mostly because I can't keep it short, as you know if you're a regular fan of this blog!). I don't spend much time on a computer, and don't even own one of my own (another good argument for public Internet access). And as someone on the front lines, I can honestly say that there a lot of people who don't have all this technology either. My branch is in a poorer community, one with great unemployment, including older people who not only don't own PCs, they've no idea what email is or how to set up an account. These are truly the people we serve, and as such, we rely on our "hardware" more than our software. Luckily, there's a place for this, too, as Johnson quotes near the end of her book. I'll close out this review with her quote, which I think pretty much says it all.

"We'll always need printed books that don't mutate the way digital books do; we'll always need places to display books, auditoriums for book talks, circles for story time; we'll always need brick-and-mortar libraries."

"Just Another Judgement Day" by Simon R. Green

Book 9 in Green's Nightside series opens with our usual scene in the dark spot of London, that place where it's always 3 a.m. and the streets are full of strange and fearful things. John Taylor, the man who can find anything, son of Lilith, has been summoned to meet the New Authorities; they are already in need of his services. And the New Authorities are a group that John is all too familiar with...

Julien Advent, the legendary Victorian Adventurer, is now the editor of the "Night Times". He's also leading the New Authorities as such. Jessica Sorrow, the Unbeliever, is part of the new group, although her fellow Authorities are uncertain as to how stable she truly is. Annie Abattoir is the only other woman in the group, a spy, assassin and courtesan. Count Video, lord of binary magics, King of Skin, ruler over the world of porn and sleaze, and Larry Oblivion, the dead detective, round out the rest of the seats. John is uneasy around the New Authorities; he's seen the same group in a future time-line, a future in which these same people were the last survivors of humanity - and his enemies. The group had sent back a future Suzie Shotgun to kill John and prevent the awful reality that they inhabited.

The New Authorities want John to stop the Walking Man, a personal embodiment of the Will of God. He was merely human until he made a deal with God to become more than a man, wiping out "evil" in God's name. He cannot be killed "as long as his faith remains true and he walks in Heaven's path". He has guns that never run out of bullets (and never miss), he can open any door, he can find any evil, etc. Truly unstoppable - and truly frightening to those living in the Nightside. John will be aided in his quest by his girlfriend, Suzie Shotgun (aka Suzie Shooter) and Chandra Singh, a holy warrior from India who has killed his fair share of monsters.

This was a very good entry in the world of John Taylor and the Nightside, very philosophical if you will. Oh sure, there's still a lot of weirdness going on and all the favorites make an appearance, including Eddie, Punk God of the Straight Razor (and he appears on the Street of Gods, no less). The deep stuff comes when the characters start discussing God, whose God is the "right" God, the stronger deity, etc. And the whole idea that the Walking Man has God on his side - does he really? Or is he just killing in His name? My favorite quote comes from Chandra during one of these scenes; he tells John "In my travels, I have met many who claimed to hear the Voice of God instructing them to do things, and most of them had to take a lot of medication. Few of them were in any way worthy of the God they claimed to worship".

Visit the Nightside soon, if you haven't already. They're waiting for you...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Over My Dead Body" by Michele Bardsley

Book 5 in the Broken Heart Vampires series is just as cute and funny as the first four. Bardsley does a good job at creating romantic tension between sassy characters, all while throwing some sort of roadblock in their way. The books are short, easy reads (usually taking me no longer than a day or so), and while there is quite a bit of information about the Consortium, the different vampire families, etc, it's all conveniently placed at the back of the book.

Simone Sweet has returned to Broken Heart, Oklahoma after killing her abusive husband. No one knows this dark secret of hers, just that she moved in with "Grandma Elaine" (her husband's grandmother) and that her young daughter Glory doesn't speak. Simone keeps to herself and works hard as a mechanic, preferring cars to people. Even though she's now a vampire with a talent for things water-related (thanks to her vamp family's background), she's still great with a wrench. While working on the Invisi-Shield for the town, she meets Braddock (Brady) Hayes, a hot hunky guy who seems to be interested in her. She's attracted to him, but given her past, feels that she should stay as far away as possible.

Enter the government, of course! Simone is not the only one hiding something; Brady has his own past actions weighing on him. He starts dating Simone, basically to keep her from dealing with Reiner, one of the werewolves. The attraction is very obvious, but of course, the author keeps them apart for a long time, thus building the tension. There's a huge festival for paranormalkind in just a few days and the threat from outside forces looms over the festivities, especially after Glory is kidnapped.

I enjoyed this book - funny, nothing too serious (although the issue of abuse is a bit heavier than normal for Bardsley). Probably the best part is a possible nod to one of my favorite comedians, George Carlin. Gosh I miss him! If you're looking for cute, funny paranormal romance, you can't go wrong with Broken Heart Vampires.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Whitechapel Gods" by S. M. Peters

Hmmmm.... this is a book that begs for truth in advertising, I think. The blurb on Amazon said "A thrilling new Steampunk fantasy from a talented debut author", which sounded very promising indeed. And the cover art! Too cool!

As they say, you can't (and shouldn't) judge a book by its cover. In this case, awesome cover art drew me in along with the small blurb. I waited and waited to see if we ever got this in our library system, which we did not. Then I got lucky; my little sis had bought it and very graciously loaned it to me. And then it sat on my dining room table for months and months while I read a lot of other stuff. I finally decided to pick it up this weekend, mostly because I'm trying to do a better job at keeping up with my "to-be-read" piles!

I have to be honest with you, dear readers, I only read the first 50 pages of this book. I won't say it's awful because it may not be to some of you. But I just could not get into this book. Yes, it's Steampunk. Yes, it's a debut author (I'll argue on the "talented" claim). Yes, the cover art is wicked cool. And yes, on the surface, it sounded like a really good story. But... well... I found the writing to be a bit on the boring side, as well as not very clear when it came to the world building. I consider myself to be fairly well-read, but I was having a hard time figuring out just exactly what was going on.

As Nancy Pearl says, give any book 50 pages. If you're not loving it (or not intrigued enough to keep going), put the thing down and move on to something else. There is just not enough time to read them all to the end, especially the ones that you're struggling with!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"The Night Villa" by Carol Goodman

"The eruption of Italy's Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 buried a city and its people, their treasures and secrets. Centuries later, echoes of this disaster resonate with profound consequences in the life of classics professor Sophie Chase. In the aftermath of a tragic shooting on the University of Texas campus, Sophie seeks sanctuary on the isle of Capri, immersing herself in her latest scholarly project alongside her colleagues, her star pupil, and their benefactor, the compelling yet enigmatic business mogul John Lyros. Beneath layers of volcanic ash lies the Villa Della Notte - the Night Villa - home to first-century nobles, as well as to the captivating slave girl at the heart of an ancient controversy. And secreted in a subterranean labyrinth rests a cache of antique documents believed lost to the ages: a prize too tantalizing for Sophie to resist. But suspicion, fear, and danger roam the long-untrodden tunnels and chambers beneath the once sumptuous estate - especially after Sophie sees the face of her former lover in the darkness, leaving her to wonder if she is chasing shadows or succumbing to the siren song of the Night Villa. Whatever shocking events transpired in the face of Vesuvius's fury have led to deeper, darker machinations that inexorably draw Sophie into their vortex, rich in stunning revelations and laden with unseen menace."

Carol Goodman always delivers a good story, and this book is no different. There were, however, a few flaws this time, nothing that would keep me from recommending the work. Sophie, like other Goodman heroines, not only studies and teaches the classics, she immerses herself in that world. She must work on this new endeavor, the Papyrus Project, with her former professor and lover (now co-worker) Elgin Lawrence. Elgin, John Lyros and others are hoping to find a work by Pythagoras, one that could possibly prove damaging to the Catholic Church. Also looking for the lost scroll are members of a secret society called Tetraktys, a sort of cult that Sophie's ex-boyfriend belonged to (and left her for). There are several red herrings in the book, some of which work, some which don't.

As usual, Goodman does an excellent job at evoking the feel of the location, in this case, the ruins of Herculaneum. You can almost smell the dust that lingers over the excavation of the Villa della Notte, see the lewd paintings of the "little mysteries" (ancient rites performed in honor of the gods), taste the pasta and olive oil. Where this book falls a bit flat is in the character development, namely Sophie. There are a few things that I didn't buy, things I can't go into here without giving away crucial plot points, but let me just say that I don't believe that she's a naive person, which made some of her actions seem a bit unbelievable. I see why Goodman did what she did, but I wonder if the same outcome could have been achieved in another way.

The best thing about a Goodman book is that there's always a story within the story, and this story was pretty darn good. Phineas Aulus is a scholar and collector of writings (the scrolls), an older man who may also be a bit of a thief. His boat capsizes and the crew drown; he miraculously survives and is taken in by Calatoria Vimidis, a cruel woman who is looking for someone to play the role of the god in her mystery rites. Phineas meets and takes an interest in one of Calatoria's slave girls, Petronia Iusta, a young woman who was raised by Calatoria and her now-deceased husband. There's enough backstabbing and intrigue in this internal story to keep the reader involved; we get to "read" Phineas's diary through the work done by the Papyrus Project. Definitely a recommended book!

Friday, March 12, 2010

"Death's Mistress" by Karen Chance

The second book starring dhampir Dorina Basarab shows that this spinoff series (from Chance's Cassie Palmer books) deserves to stand on its own. Dorina is still trying to live her life without dealing with her father, Mircea. Not an easy thing to do - Dory sort of works for her dad as a bounty hunter, bringing in (or killing) vamps who have presented a problem to the Senate. She's still looking for a way to deal with her blinding/blackout rages as well, and may have found the answer in a potent Fae potable, one that has left her with some interesting side effects (ones that also play a big role in her relationship with her father).

Mircea calls Dory with an assignment - bring him the vampire Ray, who is causing the Senate concern. No problem, Dory tells him. Until she's in the middle of the apprehension and who should show up to take away Ray? Louis-Cesare, the vampire she met in "Midnight's Daughter", the one she can't seem to forget (even though she knows she should kill him). Seems Ray has been a busy boy and is wanted by lots of people. Dory is determined to keep him (well, his pieces - poor Ray spends much of the book as a head severed head from its body, quite funny).

In the midst of this mess, Dory arrives home to find an unexpected visitor, her roommate, Claire. Having married a Fae prince and produced an heir, Claire is now trying to track down a magic rune of protection, Naudiz, that will keep her child safe (lots of unrest in the Fae world, lots of assassins). Dory learns that Louis-Cesare has a stake in all this as well; his former mistress, Christine, has been traded by Anthony to Elyas, both vampires, and both possibly possessing the rune. Dory will have to work with Louis-Cesare to find Christine and the rune, all while trying to fight her attraction to him.

There's a lot of action in this installment, at times perhaps a bit too much. I really enjoyed the "down-time" scenes with Dory and her roomie, the kids (Claire's son and Dory's baby duergar-brownie mix, Stinky), Ray (good comic relief), even her uncle Radu (very flamboyant for a vamp). I did appreciate the author developing Dory's character a bit more. She learns in this book that not all vamps are evil, something that doesn't sit well with her at first. I'm curious to see where her relationship with Mircea goes in the next installment (as well as Louis-Cesare!). Chance is definitely one of the better authors writing urban fantasy; if you enjoy this genre, check out this series (and the Cassie Palmer books, too).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Thereby Hangs A Tail" by Spencer Quinn

Chet and Bernie are back! The first book starring the Little Detective Agency (being Bernie Little, the human, and Chet, the dog) was entertaining and definitely different, enough that Stephen King told everyone to put it on their Summer Reading List. I was excited to see that Quinn had a second installment due out, and I waited and waited and waited until we got it here at the library (much like Chet, I'm not always the most patient of beings).

Chet and Bernie are down on their financial luck. They haven't had any big cases lately, and Bernie still has a bad habit of drinking a bit too much, at which point he listens to con artists who convince him to "invest" his money in some "can't fail, get rich quick" scheme. As Chet would say, Oh Bernie.... Along comes a new case, one that's not typical for them. They are approached for bodyguard positions for a show dog, Princess, a cute little puff ball that has teeny-tiny legs and a bit of an attitude. Seems someone doesn't want her competing, let alone winning, the local dog show. Her owner, Adelina Borghese, wants someone to protect Princess, someone who might be more familiar with the threatening type. Chet and Bernie meet Adelina, Princess, and Nancy Malone, Princess's trainer, but things don't go well, as they usually don't. The Little Detective Agency is summarily dismissed from duty.

But almost as soon as they're canned, they're rehired, by Adelina's husband, Lorenzo do Borghese, an Italian "count". Someone has kidnapped his wife and precious Princess, and he wants Chet and Bernie to find and return Princess. Oh, and his wife, too. The case becomes personal for Bernie when his on-again-off-again girlfriend, reporter Susie Sanchez, also disappears while following up some leads on the wife/dognapping. Chet and Bernie travel to the ghost town where Susie disappeared, only to be attacked and split up themselves. We follow Chet, who figures out where he is (sorta), finds some nice hippies who share their Slim Jims with him, and is sold and almost shipped off to Alaska (long story).

The case takes a couple of twists and turns, mostly because we only get Chet's point of view, and he's easily distracted. There's a rival dog owner, Sherman Ganz from Las Vegas, who could be the culprit. But the husband and the trainer are awfully chummy, and they really just seem to want to get Princess back, so they could be the perpetrators. Then there are all those phrases that Chet has trouble with, things like "red herring" and "crocodile tears". Just too confusing for our detective pup.

This second book was good, but not as good as the first, which I suppose is to be expected. I still love Chet, even if his distracted way of narrating got a bit old at times. I just kept reminding myself that most dogs are like that - easily distracted and not very linear-thinking - and this is Chet's story, really, not Bernie's. I did still love Chet's descriptions of smells, and how much he loves those smells, especially bacon. Makes me wish I had a canine's sense of smell. The mystery isn't all that complicated, but I don't think it's supposed to be the main point, either. Overall, I'm still happy with Quinn's work, even if the freshness of it is...well.... less fresh. I will happily read the third Chet and Bernie mystery when it comes out.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Don't Swallow Your Gum!" by Aaron Carroll M.D. and Rachel Vreeman M.D.

Wonders never cease! I received my alumi newsletter from IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis, for those not already in the know) and almost threw it out without looking at it, since they typically just want me to send in money. For some reason, I started leafing thru the thing, and here's this cute little book, written by two grads. Hmmm.... the book looked like it could be interesting - I'm always up for something debunking medical/diet/whatever myths. I checked our catalog (not really believing I'd see it) and OMG, there it is! A few mouse clicks later and it would be on its way to me right before I took my week of vacation, a little light (and hopefully fun) reading for my break.

This book covers a lot of medical myths about our bodies and our health, things that you've probably heard your mother say in your lifetime (or possibly even your doctor). Now, the authors are quick to point out that they did not do any experiments themselves. Instead, they dug through all the information that is now readily available for proof, or the lack thereof, regarding these myths. They were looking for hard scientific data that would back up such motherly claims as "Don't swallow your gum, cause it'll stay in your stomach for 7 years!" In case you're wondering, no, gum doesn't stick around in your tummy that long. True, it's made up of several indigestible substances (which makes sense, when you think about it!) but as the authors point out, the gut has a way of moving things along no matter what.

I won't bore you with all the little stories, but I will tell you which one I found to be the most fascinating. I'm sure everyone has heard about the razor blades in the Halloween candy, right? Well, it never happened. There is no definitive proof that any child has ever found a razor blade in his Snickers or Three Musketeers bite-size bars. Definitely urban legend time, probably passed down thru the infamous "Friend of a Friend". There have been a few deaths around Halloween, and they have been blamed on candy - at first. Turns out in every case there was a parent using the candy to hide the real cause, which was typically their drug stash. Sad, right? OK, here's the real kicker: there was a woman who gave kids poison! Her name was Helen Pfeil, and in 1964 she was arrested for giving out "joke" treats, packages of dog biscuits, steel wool pads, and yes, poison buttons. Before you say "aha - told ya!", she labeled each package with a list of contents, and she told the kids exactly what she was giving them. She only gave these "special packages" out to kids that she thought were too old to be out trick-or-treating, trying to show them the error of their ways. Yeah, maybe she shouldn't have given out this exact "treat", but I have to agree with her point - I've had teenagers show up pretty much demanding candy at Halloween. Anyway, now you know why this rumor/urban legend has been around for so long!

Overall, this was a good little book. Not necessarily a lot of new information, but still some interesting stuff. Plus, you can read it, then have the "real" scoop when your Mom tries to tell you that you'll go blind trying to read in the dark!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Happy Birthday!

To me, that is! Yes, today is my 42nd, and to reward myself I took an entire week off from work. I'm spending the time with my hubby, which is nice (especially as I haven't wanted to kill him!). I had planned to get some major cleaning done, get into an exercise routine, do a lot of things that I've been meaning to do. And pretty much none of it has happened.

Except for reading, that is.

Since Saturday, I have finished four, count them - four - books. I'm also well into a fifth and have every intention of starting the other two I brought home for the week. I am just amazed at how much I've read! Normally I'm lucky to get one done in a few days... Then again, having this much free time (and absolutely nothing on the TV, nor any big plans to play tourist anywhere) has worked to my advantage.

Other than the reading, I have simply relaxed, something that I'm not ordinarily very good at. I like to be busy, even if it's just with piddly little things such as housework. But the pressures of my position at the library have been wearing on me just a bit lately, and my wonderful co-workers have been after me to take a break, regroup, relax. I cannot tell you how right they were! I still have half a week left, and for the first time in a long time, I don't find myself wanting to go back. I mean, I will go - I do like my job, and I do have bills to pay! But usually I'm chomping at the bit by now, just itching to jump back in. I'm not really sure why I don't feel that way this time; perhaps it's the fact that I'm really enjoying the time off this go-round. Maybe it's being with hubby dearest - and actually getting along well! Who knows. I do know that I plan to take some more time off by the end of the year!

I'll try to post some book reviews just as soon as I can, but as I said - I'm on vacation and loving every minute of it. Which means I'm not really even thinking about this blog much! Don't worry - I've taken some notes on each book, so I'll still be able to do a decent job. Look for the reviews to start next week. As for the new releases, well, I think for this month we'll just let those slide. Unless there's a really, really great title that's coming out that you think everyone should know about - in that case, email me and let me know, and I'll pass along the info!

Take care, dear readers, and I'll see you again soon!