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Archive for the ‘Clever dialogue’ Category

rat queensIf you liked Lord of the Rings, but wished there were more sassy, kick-butt female fighters, snag this book and dive in. This first book collects #1-5 in a series that has refreshingly strong, unrepentant, female characters that are taken straight from fantasy convention but with some definite twists.

Palisade is protected by several mercenary groups in addition to their local guard units. One of these groups, called The Rat Queens, is comprised of four females: Hannah, an Elven Mage, Violet, a Dwarven fighter, Betty, a Smidgen Thief, and Dee, a Human who can cast healing spells. They are a mix of races, sizes, and personalities that are distinct and not two dimensional. They love fighting, drinking, rabble rousing, and money, all in equal measure. They have a strong sense of who they are and they make no apologies.

This is no origin story, so we join the group right before they are sent off on a quest to help clean out a goblin threat just outside the village. You immediately feel like you know these women and have been following their story forever. Their banter throughout the book is amusing and familiar to anyone who has those couple close friends who they can say anything around. These women are not in competition with each other, and any little friendly squabbles are quickly dropped as they team up to face whatever threat comes their way. They’re not perfect, and they do get hurt, but the fight scenes are fast paced and not overly dramatic.

This first volume was published in March 2014, and I eagerly await whatever comes next for these women. One thing I know for sure, it will be a party!

Recommended for readers who like strong female characters, fantasy, and a lot of fun.

Search the catalog for Rat Queens.

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chewTony Chu is a detective for the Philadelphia Police Department. He’s skinny, but for good reason. Tony is a cibopathic: a person who can see the past of every food he eats. For fruits and vegetables, that’s not so bad, but for meat it is another matter. The only food he can eat without distraction is beets, so he eats a lot of them. In the alternative world he lives in, all poultry products have been banned after bird flu killed over 23 million people. Tony and his partner track down black market chicken distributors and buyers like our police forces go after drug lords.

While trying to do a major bust, Tony accidentally ingests some soup that the chef bled into while cutting the vegetables. His powers make him aware that the chef is actually a serial murderer with thirteen victims. In his quest to find out more information about the murdered girls, Tony is caught chewing on the body of the now dead chef, which understandably leads to his getting fired by the police department. But he gets noticed by agents of the now very powerful FDA, who are very interested in using his gifts to solve murders as part of their Special Crimes Unit.

Here’s the biggest part of the storyline you have to swallow (groan!): Tony must consume parts of the people who have been murdered in order to gain clues. And not all bodies are fresh (or human) either. If you can get past the disturbing nature of this item, the story continues in a lively manner, drawing you in before you realize it. It’s partly absurd comedy, partly cop procedural, partly adventure, partly horror, and all entertainment.

Winner of both Harvey and Eisner awards, this series is bizarre but compelling and enjoyable. It is recommended for readers of horror, humor, and graphic novels.

Search the catalog for CHEW.

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Red Seas Under Red SkiesScott Lynch is in the top tier of epic fantasy writers who are stretching the genre in new directions. Red Seas under Red Skies, the second book in his Gentleman Bastards series, like the first, The Lies of Locke Lamora, combines gritty epic fantasy with a buddy story and a heist crime story line. It’s a cinematic combination loaded with great banter between the lead characters, a twisty, suspenseful plot line, and exotic settings. The series is probably best experienced in sequence, but you could read the second book alone and have a satisfying reading experience.

Master thieves and swindlers Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen have gone on the run after their exciting and ultimately tragic adventures in the first book of the series, finally landing in Tal Verrar, a city state made rich by gambling. As the book opens, we find Locke and Jean in the midst of an elaborate scheme to rob the Sinspire, a seemingly impregnable fortress of a casino with increasingly exclusive action on each higher floor. To rob the most powerful players at the top, Locke and Jean first have to run a long con, winning at enough complicated games of chance to gain access to the upper floors.

But somehow their cover is blown and they come to the attention of Tal Verrar’s powerful political leader. I won’t give away too many plot points, but he traps Locke and Jean and forces them to pose as pirates in another elaborate scheme that will solidify his tenuous hold on power in the city state. There are some great comic scenes as the landlubber thieves try to learn enough seamanship to pretend to be seasoned sea dogs. Of course things go wrong, and the ruse becomes a kind of reality as the duo play for higher and higher stakes. They’ll have to survive pirates, politics, poison, a love triangle, and more, just to get back to the city where they hope to pull off an impossible crime that becomes as much about revenge as it does money.

It’s a complicated plot, but Lynch fills his books with so many great action sequences, so much razor-sharp repartee, so much good-natured derring-do, that it’s easy to forgive any moments where the story stretches credibility. He wraps up enough of these complicated plot lines cleverly that you will be more excited than you are bothered that there are cliffhangers leading to the third book, Republic of Thieves (which was published in late 2013 and has had great reviews as well). I know I’ll be among the readers following this masterful  yarn to its conclusion.

One caution: this series is very much part of the gritty school of fantasy. These are street-toughened characters leading a violent and dangerous life, and readers should expect language and levels of violence that realistically match that setting. It’s leavened with plenty of charm and humor, but come prepared for lots of colorful cursing and bloody action.

Check the WRL catalog for Red Seas under Red Skies

Or try the story on audiobook on compact disc

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JeevesReading PG Wodehouse’s original Wooster and Jeeves stories is like eating a lemon meringue pie – underneath some light, fluffy, insubstantial sweetness, there’s a hint of acid which livens the palate.  So it is with Sebastian Faulks’s homage to Wodehouse, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells – with the exception of a couple of eggshells in the meringue.

This isn’t the first such recreation Faulks has had a hand in.  I wrote earlier (FSM, has it been five years?!) about his Devil May Care, a James Bond adventure that went straight back to Ian Fleming’s original style and sensibility.  This time around he approaches, with proper reverence, the world of a comic genius and nails the breezy tones that Wodehouse seemingly cast off without thinking.

For those who aren’t familiar with the original stories, they revolve around Bertie Wooster, scion of a family whose bank accounts have thrived as their gene pool has evaporated.  Bertie is a decent chap, though, with lots of time and few demands placed on him.  He spends much of that time evading the matrimonial clutches of the various women of his circle, or helping his friends slip up to the altar despite the disapproval of their parents and guardians.

Wooster’s gentleman’s gentleman is the unflappable Jeeves, the very model of a discreet servant.  Jeeves is also a master practitioner of psychology, and it is he who guides Wooster’s madcap schemes to their inevitable happy endings.  With marriage averted or achieved, angry aunts soothed, and some truculent old man reduced to a buffoon, Wooster and Jeeves blithely return to Bertie’s London home for tea, cocktails, and dining at the Drones Club.

Wooster is surrounded by similar young men with surnames so sophisticated and schoolnames so childish they become a mockery of privileged genealogy – Cyril Bassington-Bassington, “Catsmeat” Potter Pirbright, Gussie Fink-Nottle, and Bingo Little are the usual suspects.  In Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, Peregrine “Woody” Beeching is the stymied lover, and Wooster must plot to help him conquer the hand of his beloved, Amelia Hackwood.  Being a young though gifted lawyer, Woody has more prospects than assets, thus earning the disapproval of Amelia’s father.  At the same time, Amelia’s best friend Georgiana is Sir Henry Hackwood’s ward, and the impecunious baronet wants to marry her off to a wealthy man who might save the family manse, a circumstance that renders Bertie unaccountably jealous.

Due to unforeseen circumstances (and Wooster always encounters circumstances unforeseen), he and Jeeves must reverse roles at a country weekend with the Hackwoods.  Jeeves takes up the part of one Lord Etringham while Bertie becomes his manservant Wilberforce.  Too bad Bertie has never polished a pair of shoes, boiled a shirtfront, or served from the left.  Added to Bertie’s attempts to convince Amelia that Woody is faithful to her, his efforts to drive the wealthy suitor from Georgiana’s side, and to raise a cricket eleven for Sir Henry, it is small wonder that Bertie collapses into his servants’ quarters each night.  As always, Bertie’s plotting goes delightfully astray, Jeeves saves the day, and in this story accomplishes a little more than the reader expects.

Wodehouse somehow created a timeless feel to his stories, a kind of eternal English summer where the fields were planted, the trees in bloom, young lovers gazed adoringly into each others’ eyes, and the most damage the aristocracy could do was to the furnishings at their clubs.  There are cars, telephones and telegrams, jazz and  flashy theater which all signify the Roaring Twenties, but a kind of self-satisfied innocence that predates August 1914.  It seems to me that Wodehouse deliberately avoided bringing events from the outside world into the eggshell that encompasses his stories.  Faulks makes a couple of historical references that crack that shell and momentarily turn Wodehouse’s tartness into bitterness, but steers the rest of the story back to the bucolic.  All in all, Faulks does a masterful job bringing Wooster and Jeeves back to life for one final spin in the old two-seater.

Check the WRL catalogue for Jeeves and the Wedding Bells

And for a masterfully done light comic television series featuring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, check out the PBS show Jeeves and Wooster

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SeminarI’m the kind of hardcore theater devotee that reads the scripts of plays as pleasure reading.  Sure, I’d rather see a good production, but given the economics of modern theater, if you don’t live in a large city where there is enough demand that theater companies can draw an audience with some new or lesser-known plays, you most likely won’t get to see many of these shows on stage.

Besides, plays make for good reading.  The time limits of the stage mean that a play is a quick read, something one can squeeze into a day if need be.  I enjoy playing the game of imagining which of my favorite actors would be good in the roles as I read them.  Even more fun, reading a play is an invitation to project yourself into the role of actor, even if you’d never go near a stage in real life.  Plays are full of cracking good dialogue, meaty conflict, and even the heavy dramas often contain real belly laughs.

So it is with Seminar, a play headlined first by Alan Rickman then by Jeff Goldblum a couple of years ago on Broadway.  Four aspiring young writers have pooled their money to schedule a private seminar from a literary icon, an event held at one of their homes.  In her preface, playwright Theresa Rebeck notes that part of her pleasure in writing this play was to create a chance for an older actor take some younger actors to school.  The writer Leonard is sour, used up, and manipulative, but one can’t help but stifle a nasty laugh at the way he finds the vanities and insecurities of the pretentious students and dissects them after reading a few sentences of their writing.  He doesn’t have their best interests in mind and uses them in every way imaginable, but in the end, each learns something valuable from the contact.

If you’ve ever shaken your head at some of the blowhards that seem to populate the world of modern literary fiction, I think you’ll enjoy the way that Leonard puts a pin in the pomp of these four young writers while facing his own demons.  Give this Seminar a look.

Check the WRL catalog for Seminar

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Orphan BlackA young grifter unwittingly stumbles upon a dangerous conspiracy in the first season of BBC America’s edgy and mind-bending sci-fi series Orphan Black.

Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) is trying to escape an abusive boyfriend and a criminal past. Following a train ride home, she finds herself alone on the platform with a distraught woman who sets her purse down before taking off a pair of stylish high heels. The woman turns and stares at Sarah, who is struck by the uncanny resemblance between her and the stranger. The woman then walks off the edge of the platform and into the path of an oncoming train. In the aftermath of the stranger’s suicide, Sarah makes a split-second decision that puts her in the center of a mystery. With emergency personnel focused on the stranger, Sarah sees an opportunity for a quick score, and she walks away with the woman’s purse. Sarah learns her doppelgänger’s name is Elizabeth (Beth) Childs. Beth shares an expensive house with her boyfriend. She also has a large sum of money in the bank. Sarah decides to use her resemblance to Beth to her advantage and assume Beth’s identity. Once she has emptied Beth’s bank account, she’ll use the money to start a new life with her daughter, Kira, and foster brother, Felix.

Sarah believes she will be able to pull off the scam and quietly slip out of town; however, Beth’s life is far more complicated than she originally thought. First, there are calls from a man named Art and texts from an unknown number. There is also the matter of a safety deposit box containing copies of the birth certificates and photographs of other women who bear a striking resemblance to both Sarah and Beth. As additional secrets from Beth’s life surface, Sarah learns that the women—Beth, Alison Hendrix, Cosima Niehaus, and Katja Obinger (also Tatiana Maslany)—are all clones and she is a clone as well. This discovery is the gateway to a mystery involving a scientific movement called Neolution, led by the charismatic Dr. Aldous Leekie. Will the women unlock the secret of their connection to this group before they become the next victims of a killer who’s on a mission to eliminate the clones?

Orphan Black is a thoughtful and complex show that deftly balances questions of personal freedom and what it means to be an individual with a delightful streak of dark humor. The acting is first-rate. Tatiana Maslany succeeds at giving each clone her own distinct personality and unique set of characteristics. My favorite clone is Alison Hendrix, a conservative wife and mother whose sense of self is completely upended by the discovery she is a clone. The fine supporting cast includes Kevin Hanchard as Beth’s partner Detective Art Bell; Maria Doyle Kennedy as Sarah’s foster mother Mrs. S; Dylan Bruce as Beth’s boyfriend Paul Dierden; and Jordan Gavaris as Sarah’s foster brother Felix Dawkins. In a clever bit of casting, Dr. Aldous Leekie is played by Matt Frewer, who became famous in the mid-‘80s playing a character named Max Headroom.

Fast-paced and well-plotted, Orphan Black quickly builds momentum and maintains it throughout the season. Now is a good time to catch up with the show—or discover it—before the second season starts in April.

Check the WRL catalog for Orphan Black.

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Thrillers rarely come along that are created with as much verve as Headhunters, a standalone novel by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, who also writes the Harry Hole series. The crafty, intelligent plot has a bit of noir as well as some jaw-dropping comic moments; you won’t believe the literally sticky situations that come up amid Hitchcockian twists and turns. You’ll also find well-developed characters despite the book’s brevity (less than 300 pages), which I always appreciate.

Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter who moonlights as an art thief to maintain a lavish lifestyle for his wife. He is also clearly trying to compensate for his short height and his insecurity about having such a gorgeous wife, terrified that she’ll discover his true colors. In Roger’s misguided drive to supplement his already lucrative work and preserve his marriage, he suddenly finds himself caught in a web of unclear motives and loyalties, with no one to trust. He wonders just how long he’s been the target in someone’s larger scheme rather than solely the mastermind of his own crimes.

Clas Greve is not only a brilliant and devilishly handsome corporate icon, he’s also a tried and tested covert special forces operative skilled as another type of “head hunter.” His history with GPS tracking technology landed him the CEO position with a major corporation rumored to have lost him following a takeover. Roger Brown’s wife Diana, who meets Greve through her art gallery, tips Roger off to Greve’s availability as a potential CEO candidate, and Roger thinks he is perfect to head a competing GPS technology firm. Diana also tells the tale of a missing masterpiece by Rubens that was found in Clas Greve’s grandmother’s apartment in Oslo. Not only does Roger think he has found the perfect executive for his client, he plots to steal the work of art that might set him up in luxury for life.

Pampered, polished Roger, a sophisticated businessman and very classy thief, may be in over his head, but in the course of an adventurous and outrageous series of circumstances, he reveals his true grit. The reader will end up rooting for this undeserving hero. Fans of Stieg Larsson, Elmore Leonard, or Carl Hiaasen are likely to be enraptured.

“MPAA rating: R; for bloody violence including some grisly images, strong sexual content and nudity.” If you are over 17, and know that you could at least stomach Pulp Fiction or Fight Club, don’t let this intimidating film rating prevent you from viewing the riveting Norwegian film version of the novel. Despite the rating, I found it less disturbing than expected, not as violent or brutal as your average Tarantino flick—the murders in Headhunters come across as rather accidental, not cold-blooded or ultra-disturbingly violent. Yes, there are some graphic scenes, but you’ll be so caught up in the unexpected plot twists that I doubt you’ll find them too extreme—well, except for one scene reminiscent of the unforgettable outhouse scene in Slumdog Millionaire. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed suspense this much since Fargo. What you should know is that the details in some scenes are so much more graphic in the book that you’ll be glad that the director chose to leave them out!

The DVD has settings for viewing in Norwegian with subtitles or with English dubbing. I enjoyed it in Norwegian more because the English was dubbed with American accents. Roger Brown’s character is British and all the other characters are either Norwegian or Dutch, so it just made more sense to use the English subtitles.

Check the WRL catalog for the book 

Check the catalog for the ebook

Check the catalog for the DVD

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badmonkeyToday’s post is written by Tova from Circulation Services.

Since reading 11/22/63, I have become a Stephen King fan, devouring many of his books back to back.  King’s ability to weave in-depth character development into his genre-busting tales of horror and mayhem is not only a sweet treat for the reader, but a source of inspiration for aspiring writers like me.  One of the more understated aspects of King’s writing is his sense of humor.  Sometimes offbeat and quirky, a certain plot point or snatch of character dialogue will have me laughing out loud – and I do like to laugh.

While in between reading King’s books, I decided to search out other authors who infuse humor into their tales of suspense. Using WRL’s NoveList, I happened upon Carl Hiaasen, an author whose books are often requested by library users.  Although I had never read any of Hiaasen’s works, his newest book is Bad Monkey; and, as someone with a soft spot for monkeys, I was compelled to give it a read.

Okay, so the titular monkey, whose image graces the cover of the book, is not a cute Curious George-type.  Mischievous, cynical, and impulsive, Hiaasen’s monkey commits acts that shall go unmentioned in this blog entry.  However, Hiaasen’s monkey is one of the most memorable, and surprisingly sympathetic, characters in the book.  Hiaasen successfully uses him to help tie the novel’s multiple plot threads together.

Set primarily in southern Florida, Hiaasen’s tale revolves around Andrew Yancy, a disgraced Monroe County detective who has been demoted to Health Inspector (aka “roach patrol”) due to a heinous act he committed against his mistress’ husband. In spite of his reassignment, Yancy just cannot help but launch his own investigation when a fisherman reels in a human arm from the ocean; and Yancy inadvertently ends up in possession of it.  How did the arm become detached from its original owner?  Official investigators want to neatly declare that the detached arm is the result of an unfortunate boating accident and be done with it.  However, Yancy, after uncovering some inconsistencies and shady details, thinks otherwise.  His investigation leads him back and forth between Key West, Miami, and the Bahamas.  Along the way, Yancy consorts with a colorful array of characters, including a sexually adventurous coroner, a disconcerting voodoo queen, his fugitive ex-mistress, a creepy land developer, the mysterious widow of the arm’s original owner, and, of course, the aforementioned monkey.

I found the humor I was looking for as the book is often laugh-out-loud funny.  The whereabouts of the detached arm, which Yancy first stores in his freezer, is a running gag throughout the story.  The snappy dialogue is also a source of humor.  Yancy’s antics made me laugh and groan simultaneously as he transgresses multiple boundaries and finds himself in sticky predicaments of his own making.  The fun is in imagining Yancy as he tries to get out of his self-made predicaments.  That Yancy was morally and ethically corrupt pleased me greatly.  I prefer my protagonists to be like most people in life – a mix of good, bad, and everything in between.

Hiaasen cannot compare to Stephen King when it comes to character development; however, his work stands on its own as he succeeds in creating a memorable cast of characters.  By the end of the book, we certainly have a more rounded view of Yancy and we can sympathize with his desire to get his old detective job back, even if he employs questionable means to that end.

I would recommend Bad Monkey if you are looking for a light, fun, suspenseful story with a wicked sense of humor, and if you do not mind some coarse language and raunchy adult themes.  I will certainly check out more of Hiaasen’s work – while in between Stephen King books, of course.

Check the WRL catalog for Bad Monkey

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sharknifeIf there are graphic novel fans out there who really like Scott Pilgrim but would prefer a little less plot and a lot more fighting and jokes, this book was made for you. Sharknife, Stage First is a frenetic, fun, and sassy volume filled with game references, youth culture, eggroll-seeking monsters, and a fortune-cookie powered superhero. Any pretense of seriousness is immediately put to rest on the first page when a character breaks the fourth wall to introduce herself and the town she lives in.

Chieko Momuza is a self-described “spazz-banana living in a cyclone of hyper.” Her father Raymond owns a Chinese restaurant that had the misfortune of becoming THE place to be in town. Why is this unfortunate? Because formerly the hottest spot in town was a smoke shop owned by a man named Ombra. Occupation: gangster. Like any respectable bad guy, Ombra can’t pass up the opportunity for a revenge plot. In the spirit of the best James Bond villains, his plan is ridiculous, obsessive, and bizarre: he plants mechanical monsters into the walls of the restaurant that come alive when they smell food.

Fortunately, the Momuzas have a bus boy, Ceasar (sic), who turns into a powerful being named Sharknife when he consumes one of Chieko’s fortune cookies. He fights off the bad guys and Ombra sends more, better ones. That’s it, the whole of the plot. This is a fun story, folks, not a deep one. These fights, which take up most of the space in the volume, are what you are paying the price of admission for. Interspersed in the action are sly gaming homages such as health bars, power ups, and key combinations for special attacks.

The lettering for the sound effects reverberates throughout the art with each crash and hit performing the sound for you through movement and line energy. Characters even step (or are thrown) in front of the sounds, and the text occasionally layers on top of several panels, fully integrating into the noisy landscape.

This is certainly a fast read with the only disappointment coming at the end of the book when you run out of pages. Fortunately there is also another volume to consume.

Recommended for fans of Scott Pilgrim and other hyper-but-clever teen literature. Not recommended for anyone who would grit their teeth at hearing someone say “oh noes!”

Search the WRL catalog for Sharknife.

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Telegraph AvenueMichael Chabon is a writer I love, but one who frustrates me. I’ve read most of his novels, and starting each book is always exciting, because Chabon has a gift for vividly creating his settings, inhabiting them with fascinating characters, and putting clever, jazzy dialogue in their mouths. But there has always been a problem: after he creates these vivid setups, the plots often fizzle. For me, the ending of a Chabon novel was never as good as the start, it was as if he lost interest in sealing the deal. Whether it was The Wonder Boys, or The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, fine novels all, this reader got lost in a fabulous story but ultimately was left wanting more.

That’s what makes Telegraph Avenue my favorite Michael Chabon novel to date, as this time I think his plot is paced well and delivers on all questions that it raises. Chabon takes us to the California Bay Area, to a street on the borders of hipster Berkeley and workaday, beleaguered Oakland. His characters are two families, one African-American, one Jewish. Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are longtime friends and co-owners of Brokeland Records, a neighborhood institution that is always on the verge of going under. Their wives Gwen Shanks (quite pregnant) and Aviva Roth-Jaffe run a midwife service. Both businesses are in trouble, and so are the relationships between both business partners and spouses. Archy is beset by a ne’er-do-well father with a history that connects both to martial arts movies and the Black Panthers. He’s also got a son from a former relationship, Titus, who has come to town, a boy who, unbeknownst to Archy, has become entangled with the Jaffe’s son Julie, a gay teen trying to sort out his sexuality.

This world of earth mothers, jazz records, jive talkers, and blaxploitation films is a great setting for Chabon to show off his verbal fire power, and the book is full of funny riffs, fizzy sentences, and pop culture references. The book’s themes are the costs of urban renewal, the challenges of maintaining relationships across different social classes and ethnic backgrounds, but most importantly, of how to balance the needs of self and family. It’s a potent combination that makes this book a happy challenge for the lover of contemporary literary fiction.

I listened to Telegraph Avenue on audiobook, where a fine reading by narrator Clarke Peters enhanced the book’s pleasures even further.

Check the WRL catalog for Telegraph Avenue

Or listen to it on audio CD

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Approximately five years ago, I read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as well as her other five novels after receiving an all-in-one collection as a gift. Having only truly read Pride and Prejudice once (I can’t count the Cliff Notes I used in high school), it’s a wonder that I am reviewing this festive micro-history which delightfully illustrates why Jane Austen’s perfect Regency romance has remained so untouchable since its publication in 1813, even as her style and subject matter are profusely imitated, now more than ever!  

Reading Susannah Fullerton’s pleasant homage to the timeless novel upon its 200-year anniversary provided me with all sorts of intriguing details, historical background, and gossipy tidbits about its creation and legacy that enhance my appreciation of the novel.  Fullerton, president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, effectively demonstrates the reasons for the novel’s perfection and its ever-increasing appeal for readers of either sex, of all ages, in nearly every community worldwide. She cheerfully describes her analysis of individual characters, Austen’s style, and the famous opening sentence on which an entire chapter is devoted.

It was especially amusing to learn of all the various editions, versions, translations, sequels, retellings, mash-ups, adaptations, film interpretations, and other assorted Austen-inspired endeavors that have fueled a sort of Pride-and-Prejudice mania. Darcy-mania culture took off on the tails of the sexy 1995 BBC film version, starring Colin Firth (of the infamous lake scene), and kindled much new interest in the reading of the novel.

Fullerton pretty much concludes that no sequel author or film producer has ever really matched Jane Austen’s masterful style and that what lovers of the novel should really ever do is just keep reading and re-reading Pride and Prejudice. I agree that the masterpiece stands alone, but Austen did very effectively infect most of her readers with a desire to continue knowing Elizabeth and Darcy and to learn ever more about each well-drawn character’s future. Imagine if she’d lived long enough to write her own sequels, or to taste the fame her novels eventually gave her!

Check the WRL catalog for Celebrating Pride and Prejudice : 200 years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece

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A 2013 Alex Award winner (meaning its a book in the adult section found to be highly appealing to teen readers), 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 or large print versions, too.

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HourThe Hour, a recent BBC period drama, has flown somewhat under the radar (at least when compared with the roaring success of a series like Downton Abbey), and it wasn’t until a colleague recommended it that I even became aware of the series. Set in 1956 at the BBC Lime Grove Studios in London, it follows the launch of an hour-long weekly current affairs television show, simply titled, The Hour. 

The six-part miniseries stars Romola Garai as Bel Rowley, the independent (female!) producer of the show; Ben Whishaw (the new “Q” in Skyfall and star of Cloud Atlas) as her best friend, Freddie Lyon, a brilliant and passionate reporter; and Dominic West as the charming and well-connected anchorman, Hector Madden. This is the opportunity Bel and Freddie have been waiting years for – to be a part of a new breed of investigative news program that could change the face of news at the BBC.

But a chance meeting with a childhood friend and a hushed-up murder on the Underground thrusts Freddie right into the middle of a deadly Cold War conspiracy and the silent war being waged between MI6 and the KGB. As Freddie begins to investigate, the trio becomes embroiled in a tangled web of politics, ambition, and romance. But a controversial breaking story could spell the end for the program, just as it is beginning.

And in amongst all the secrets and spy-games, I even learned a fair amount about the Suez crisis in 1956 between Britain, France, Egypt, and Israel (something I wasn’t even particularly aware of prior to the show), as well as the rules regulating broadcasters at the time. To my surprise, there used to be a fourteen-day gag rule that prohibited news programs from debating or analyzing anything discussed in the Houses of Parliament until two weeks after the event. But our intrepid team manages to find a neat way around this limit to free speech.

The Hour is lushly produced with period sets and costumes and is a wonderful piece of escapist drama. It is full of quick-witted repartee and fast-paced dialogue. The love triangle at the heart of the story is nicely balanced by the Ian Fleming-esque intrigue that seems to follow Freddie wherever he goes. Best description? It’s like HBO’s The Newsroom crossed with John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Check the WRL catalog for The Hour.

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clementineEach chapter in this entertaining, dark yet humorous debut novel counts down the 30 days pop-artist Clementine Pritchard has given herself to set her affairs in order before her suicide. She starts by crashing into the annoying car that blocks her driveway daily, tossing a teapot she never wanted anyway out of her apartment window, and flushing her medications for various psychoses–freeing her body from the numerous side effects she’s suffered from most of her life. The complex details of Clementine’s troubled history are revealed slowly with each day. I don’t want to reveal too much that will spoil the suspense for potential readers, but I quickly became fascinated with this flawed but loveable protagonist’s compelling story. I was not able to assume what had happened to her in the past or predict what she might do next, so the pages just kept turning.

It was uncomfortable but also quite funny watching her live her last days on the edge without the usual fear of consequences for her rash actions, eating her lovingly described extravagant last meals, and fearlessly speaking her mind. I found myself fearing for how she might pick up the pieces if for any reason she were not to have the courage to go through with her planned death. It all seems very considerate, how carefully she prepares so that no one will be terribly inconvenienced or have to go to any expense for her loss, yet she has falsely assumed that her death would cause no harm.  Clementine may have gravely underestimated her worth to significant others in her life. In the course of her last month, it turns out that some are not who they had seemed, and new people have entered her life unexpectedly.

I found this to be a very touching story and a quick read that was well worth my time. Anyone who’s ever contemplated suicide, even for just a moment, can relate to Clementine’s state of mind and the fact that suicidal thinking creates distance in relationships. Older teens may find appeal in this book’s emotionally intense themes of childhood abandonment, but recommenders should be aware that it contains adult sexual and drug-related content. I look forward to more contemporary fiction titles from Ashley Ream.

Look for Losing Clementine in the WRL catalog.

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He’s pigheaded and high-nosed and toplofty, and he thinks he’s the best detective in the world, and so do I, or I would have moved out long ago.  – Archie Goodwin, The Father Hunt

As much as I love exploring new mystery authors, I like to periodically return to old favorites, revisiting those iconic characters created by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and others.

Rex Stout introduced the world to Nero Wolfe in 1934 with a style that was definitely American, and unabashedly New York.  Although his characters followed a familiar trope, the eccentric but successful detective with a less-brainy but resourceful sidekick, the interaction between his characters is what drives the stories.  Detective Nero Wolfe is an orchid grower with a greenhouse filled with 10,000 orchids and a gourmand who requires a full-time cook.  He has an abhorrence of physical activity and an even greater dislike of having his strict schedule interrupted, especially for work.  His legman and the narrator of the stories, Archie Goodwin, is a tough, street smart, witty, ladies man whose narrative voice is unlike other sidekicks such as Watson or Hastings.  He is a fully-fleshed out character, existing not only as an observer and foil for Wolfe but as an integral part of the story.  He interviews suspects, soothes concerned clients, and knows his greatest value is in his ability to badger Wolfe into working so that the firm earns enough to keep all three full-time staff employed, fed, and with a roof over their heads.

In The Father Hunt, a young woman (always a weakness of Archie’s) named Amy Denovo hires the pair to find her father.  She had gone most of her life with no knowledge of her family outside of her cold and distant mother.  Her mother’s recent death from a hit and run driver has revealed a secret: every month since Amy was born, a check for $1,000 was sent from her father.  Being a proud woman who knew she could support her daughter herself, her mother cashed the checks and placed the money in a metal box.  Over the 22 years of Amy’s life, this has amounted to $264,000.  No small sum, especially in 1968.  She decides to use some of that money to track down her father, a task made more difficult because Amy is convinced that her mother was living under an assumed name.  Who she was and where she was prior to Amy’s birth is as much of a mystery as the identity of the father.

Tracking down the birth name of Amy’s mother as well as discovering the man who wrote the checks is a relatively easy task for a detective of Wolfe’s abilities.  However when the man can prove the impossibility of his being Amy’s father, the case hits a major snag.  If he is not responsible for Amy’s parentage, why did he send over a quarter of a million dollars over the years to Amy’s mother?  Who actually is her father?  And is it a coincidence that Amy’s mother was killed by a yet unknown hit-and-run driver?  Only by focusing on the last questions is Wolfe able to bring about a resolution to his case.

Readers of mystery and crime fiction who are not already familiar with Nero Wolfe will find this a great introduction to the series.  Wolfe fans like me will always enjoy an afternoon spent in his company.

Check the WRL catalog for The Father Hunt

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Confession time?  I never read anything by Salman Rushdie until I picked up Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002.  I found his essays on everything from “Being Photographed” to “Going to Electoral College” to be funny, pointed, and written in approachable, engaging language.  So what was holding me back?  Perhaps it was that intimidating glare, which makes him look as if you’re going to disappoint him no matter how hard you try.  (Of course, looking for the picture I was thinking of yielded only photos of a smiling, avuncular wiseman.  Strange.)

On a whim, I picked up Haroun and the Sea of Stories and began reading it aloud to my wife.  It quickly became a standing date–9pm each night we’d sit down and I’d dive into The Sea.  Rushdie’s enchanting story drew us along right to the wonderfully satisfying end.  It practically defines what I love to see in totally escapist reading, but with a punch that few writers can pull off.

Haroun is the son of Rashid, a famous storyteller who lives in his own imagination and sometimes visits the “real” world to perform the pieces he finds in his fancy.  Haroun’s mother Soraya sometimes frets over money, but is largely happy until a nasty neighbor poisons her image of Rashid, and the two run off together.  Haroun rejects his father’s fantastic view of the world, and Rashid loses his storytelling facility.

Unfortunately, it’s election time in the country Alifbay, where Rashid has been hired to enchant voters so the politicians can tell equally large whoppers to earn votes.  Without his skill Rashid cannot perform, and only professional pride makes him go to his last gig in the isolated Valley of K to entertain provincial voters.  Haroun talks them onto a wild bus ride with a driver named Butt, who delivers them to their putative employer Snooty Buttoo and his fantastic houseboat.  But aboard the houseboat, Haroun finds himself flown away to an invisible moon that houses the Sea of Stories.  An immense ocean whose currents of standard storylines flow together to create new tales, the Sea is also being poisoned by “popular romances” which have turned into “long lists of shopping expeditions, and “talking helicopter anecdotes” that are spoiling the rich imaginative source that has nourished both tellers and listeners for all of human history.  The poison leads back to the enemy of storytelling, “Prince of Silence and the Foe of Speech” Khattam-Shud, whose name means “The End.”

With Haroun’s assistance, the good Guppees, the Plentimaw fish, and the people of P2C2E (Processes Too Complicated to Explain) defeat Khattam-Shud and his Chupwalas, and balance returns to the moon.  With the Sea of Stories saved, the world undergoes a transformation that ensures the defeat of the colorless and the victory of the whimsical.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is called a children’s story, but it would be an exceptional child (indeed an exceptional reader of any age) to catch all the puns, literary allusions, political caricature, and meaningful verbal tics Rushdie gives his magical characters.  Haroun is a marvelous stand-in for readers living in the dull world.  His sudden gift of a wildly psychedelic experience reminds of what we set aside as we “grow up.”  It must have been a Chupwala who decided it belonged outside the realm of those who need it most.

Check the WRL catalog for Haroun and the Sea of Stories

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The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage and Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to be a Better Husband.  This quirky title really had me because I had been interested in learning more about Asperger Syndrome.

Reading David Finch’s book helped satisfy my curiosity and also endeared me to this amazing story about a man who isn’t diagnosed with Asberger until after he’s married with children.  The diagnosis explains a lot for him, but his approach to dealing with the problems it has caused in his relationship is so intense that he actually saves his marriage.  Wow, if only every spouse would be willing to do whatever it takes to adjust behavior and communication skills and to make such a powerful difference for his family!

This book was hilariously funny, and I did not want to put it down.  Sometimes, a memoir is just a one-time deal, but I think Finch should write more of them on a variety of subjects that touch his life.  His odd personality and easygoing writing style were the perfect ingredients for a very entertaining read.

Check the WRL catalog for The Journal of Best Practices.

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Another advance reader copy that came to Williamsburg Regional Library.

One of my colleagues and I were looking over the cart of ARCs when I pulled this from the shelf.  “Sounds too magical-realist,” she said doubtfully.  I was still intrigued by the title, and decided to give it a few pages.  I took it home and immediately plunged into Clay Jannon’s world, which Robin Sloan writes with anything but magical realism.

Clay’s career is stuck in neutral, a bad place to be in cutting-edge San Francisco’s Web-design world.   Along about the time the last of his savings is headed to pay the rent, Clay is desperate enough to take anything.  A sign in the window of a dim little shop (overshadowed by the neon of the strip club next door) advertises “Help Wanted,” and Clay enters Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

If the store is surviving on actual, you know, book sales, Clay can’t tell it.  Working the overnight shift, he rarely has any customers except a girl from the club dropping in for the latest bestseller, which Mr. Penumbra doesn’t stock.  What he has, in his queerly shaped store, are tall shelves packed with volumes written in languages and letters Clay can’t decipher.  Odd people sometimes duck in to pick up select volumes and duck back out after putting them on their special accounts.

With nothing much to do overnight, Clay starts building a virtual copy of the Bookstore to aid him in finding stuff from the collection.  Then he starts adding data from past circulations and finds a pattern that amazes him and astonishes Mr. Penumbra.  His discovery leads to another, and another, and the whole chain of discoveries leads Clay right back to the place he really started.

Sloan does a great job with the characters, from the friends who support and encourage Clay to the avuncular Mr. Penumbra.  The characters play off one another, co-operating and offering their skills as Clay carries out his quest.  But it’s the idea behind the story that really intrigued me—that there’s an exciting new frontier at the intersection of print and technology, and that advocates of both need to remember it.  And even if writing about books on a blog is only building a little cabin on the edge of that frontier, well, that’s enough for me right now.

Check the WRL catalog for Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

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