Summer Reading, part two

Summer Reading, part two
by Connie Barrington

I spent my summer enjoying some of the typical beach books, from mysteries to adventure stories and romances. Suzanne Brockmann brings back old favorites from her Troubleshooters series in Hot Pursuit, while still providing the requisite new romance and action. J.A. Jance also sticks with favorites, intertwining a story involving Seattle’s Beaumont with Arizona Sheriff Brady. For Valleyites the discussion of dunes and buggies in the story will remind you a bit of home.

My reading included the latest Evanovich. Finger-Licking Fifteen is smoking fun as our heroine, Stephanie Plum, becomes embroiled in a barbeque-related homicide. The usual gang is present in the “Burg”, as are the usual laughs. If the title implies fast food, the analogy carries over to how I felt about the book, delicious and easily downed, if not awfully sustaining.

I did find a book that will stick with me long after it gets cooler here in the Valley. Simply Alice spoke to me. It is the story, from her perspective, of a Harvard professor in her early 50s who gets early onset Alzheimer’s. While fiction, I learned quite a bit about the disease. I felt for the main character in her struggle to maintain some portion of herself in her memory. This is one worth reading, even if you do not know someone who is afflicted.

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Published in: on September 1, 2009 at 9:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Author: Mary Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Reviewer: Connie Barrington

A feel good book about World War II, the bombings in London, the occupation of Guernsey (where the heck is Guernsey, anyway?) and even prisoners of war? Not likely, I would have said. But that is before I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

This novel, epistolary* (in good part) details writer Juliet Ashton’s post-World War II search for a new book topic. It takes her from bombed out post-War London to the Isle of Guernsey, which is a British dependency, actually sitting to the west of Normandy, France, a part of the “Channel” islands. I had to look it up to place it. *Speaking of looking up, “epistolary” means “carried on by” or “consisting of letters” according to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language.

Wikipedia indicates that Guernsey was indeed occupied by the Germans, with some residents being taken over to German camps during the occupation. Ms. Ashton learns about the human side of this as she corresponds with Dawsey Adams, a Guernsey resident. She also learns of the group that became known as the “Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” from him and others in letters. Finally she feels compelled to meet the various letter writers and goes to visit Guernsey.

I highly recommend this historical novel with the gentle heart. I will leave it to you to read it and learn for yourself just what a Potato Peel Pie actually is.

Published in: on April 24, 2009 at 2:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Book Review: Cross Country

Title: Cross Country (audio version)

Author: James Patterson

Reviewer: Connie Barrington

I have read, or listened to, the works of James Patterson for many years.  I was one of the early readers of the Women’s Murder Club books and have followed Alex Cross from the get go, within the Washington D.C. police force, with the FBI and back to DC as a consultant.  I think “Kiss the Girls” is one of the ultimate audio books and have recommended it to many people.  So I was geared up to listen to the newest work, Cross Country.

 I finished it, but grudgingly.  While readers Peter J. Fernandez and Dion Graham do a fine job, the plot is just too much, even for someone willing to suspend their disbelief.  Just how often can Alex Cross outwit death?  Have his family escape harm?  Do truly stupid things and act as though the character does not realize the impact they could have on his family?  This story explores all of those questions when Cross decides to follow a murder case to Africa. 

Apparently the character is not aware that his authority will not protect him in deepest, darkest Africa.  It is surprising that any American, much less one supposedly as knowledgeable as Dr. Cross, would not be aware of the limitations of American protection and the dangers of travel abroad in troubled areas.  Author James Patterson is clearly upset by the plight of many Africans as they face despotic governments, turmoil, civil wars, genocide and many other ills.  He proceeds, however, to beat us over the head in an attempt to educate us, which does not make for the thrilling work he clearly was aiming at offering.

Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 9:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Book Review: Burn Out

Title: Burn Out

Author: Marcia Muller

Reviewer: Connie Barrington

If you are at all into Sue Grafton or other authors with female detectives, you may have come across Marcia Muller.   Muller is often called the “mother” of the female detective story, as we now know it, because her character, Sharon McCone, was one of the earliest (1977) in the genre.   Muller herself is one of the three authors featured in the original “Women of Mystery”, a program about women in mystery novels put together by the California Center for the Book and available on a video from this library.

Burn Out is the newest McCone story.   Sharon’s traveled a distance from her early days as a private investigator (in Edwin of the Iron Shoes), but Muller keeps a great surrounding cast of ongoing characters throughout her evolution.  This book finds Sharon at a turning point, burned out, feeling like she has lost her enjoyment of her work as a result of her recent cases (The Ever-Running Man, 2007).   She has retreated to her country sanctuary, where she is wallowing in doing nothing much.

Fate does not leave her alone, however, as her friend and ranch manager asks her help and she is pulled into a case involving two states and a years’ old rape cover-up.   Without meaning to McCone is pulled into investigating and manages to unravel the case with some assistance from her Native American pipeline.   Fans of the series will want to see where Sharon is headed and folks who enjoy a mystery can just pick it up and follow along.

Check out the other titles by Marcia Muller in the catalog.  They include most of the Sharon McCone titles, another series involving art and ones with a policewoman set in northern California.

If you like female private eyes, and have not sampled Sara Paretsky, you might also enjoy her work with V.I. (Vic) Warshawski.   Together with Grafton and Muller, Paretsky is one of the “Women of Mystery” who helped reshape the mystery novel.

Published in: on November 5, 2008 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: Escape Pod, Pseudopod & PodCastle

Titles: Escape Pod, Pseudopod & PodCastle

Reviewer: Sheryl Anderson

First, some general notes.  These are podcast magazines.  They are professional magazines who just happen to be online, in audio, and free.  They depend on donations to pay the authors and run the site.  In practice, for you, this means that a new story is released every week as an .mp3 file.  You can download them from the website yourself or if you have a podcatcher program, like iTunes, you can set it to download the file automatically.   The audio quality has always been good on all three magazines.  I’ve never noticed a problem with it.  The stories are often read by the editors or by other members of the podcast community.

Most of the stories tend to be around half an hour or a bit more.  They also occasionally release flash fiction, which is really short fiction, and reviews.  All of their work is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license.  This means you can download it for free, give it to anybody you want, burn it to CD, etc. as long as you attribute the work to the author, don’t change the file, or try make money off it.

Escape Pod is the original magazine; it began in May 2005.  Originally it ran mainly science fiction, but did run some fantasy and horror.  These days, except for an occasional story, it’s all science fiction.  They feature a mix of new and established authors.  Some of those established authors include Isaac Asimov, (Nightfall, ep.100,) Nancy Kress, Mike Resnick, David Brin, and Elizabeth Bear.  They also run the Hugo nominees every year, or as many of them as they can get.  The stories are generally good. There have been a few I haven’t cared for, but it’s been because I didn’t care for the story itself, the writing and production were fine.  The stories are rated, G through X, and there is a secondary feed that only runs the G through PG13 stories.  If you like science fiction and listening to stories, I highly recommend Escape Pod.   It’s my favorite of the three.

Pseudopod was the first sister podcast.  It began in August 2006.  It’s a horror magazine.  It too has both new and established authors.  Unlike Escape Pod, which has stories suitable for children, Pseudopod doesn’t, nor would I recommend it for the easily disturbed or offended.  If you like horror though, it’s a good magazine and worth checking out.

PodCastle is the newest magazine of the three, and it’s a fantasy magazine.  It only started publishing in April of this year.  Again, it has both new and established authors.  There have been a lot of stories by Peter S. Beagle for instance.  So far, it’s publishing its regular stories, flash fiction, and they just started PodCastle giants, which will be longer stories.  They’ve only published one so far, and it was around an hour and a half long.  PodCastle also rates their stories, but I haven’t noticed a secondary feed like Escape Pod has.  It’s also worth checking out.

I must admit to not having listened to any of the recent episodes on Escape Pod and Pseudopod.  When I discovered them I started all the way back at episode 1 and I have not caught up yet.  There’s only so much listening you can do in a day.  I’m up to about episode 130 on Escape Pod and episode 60 on Pseudopod, so I’m currently about a year behind.  PodCastle only began this year, so I’m only a couple episodes behind at the moment.

To sum it all up, if you like science fiction, fantasy or horror, and you like listening to stories, you should give them a try.

And if you are new to podcasting, you might want to check out Escape Pod’s explanation of it.

Published in: on October 13, 2008 at 12:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Book Review: Artemis Fowl

Title: Artemis Fowl

Author: Eoin Colfer

Reviewed by: Sheryl Anderson

Although aimed at children, the Artemis Fowl series is entertaining for adults as well.  These are action-adventure stories with elves, dwarves, trolls, centaurs and other fairy creatures, lots of high tech gadgets, some humor and some magic.  They follow the escapades of Artemis Fowl, a young genius and criminal mastermind, his bodyguard Butler, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon and assorted other fairy characters.

In the first book, Artemis has discovered the existence of fairies and sets up a trap to catch one.  Artemis is not a very nice person in the beginning.  The fairy he manages to kidnap is Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon.  LEPrecon is short for Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance, an elite group of the LEP.  All of the fairies moved underground ages ago to escape humanity, which is where Lower Elements comes from.  We are introduced to many reoccurring characters in this book as they try to rescue Holly.  There’s Foley, a centaur and technological genus, Commander Julius Root, Holly’s boss, and Mulch Diggums, a tunnel dwarf and convict.

Book two reunites Artemis and Holly in the search and rescue attempt of Artemis’s father and the squashing of a goblin rebellion.  Book three involves stolen fairy technology and lots of high tech stuff.  In book four, Opal Koboi, the villain from book two, returns and plans to expose the fairy world.  Book five is about the lost colony of demons and the unraveling of the time spell that keeps them hidden.  There is a sixth book due to come out any day now, if it hasn’t already.

The books so far:
Artemis Fowl
Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident
Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code
Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception
Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony

Published in: on July 21, 2008 at 1:32 pm  Comments (1)  
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Book Review: Brimstone

Title: Brimstone

Author: Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Reviewed by: Sheryl Anderson

Brimstone is a modern version of the locked room mystery. It begins with the discovery of the body of Jeremy Grove. He is found in a locked room, with furniture shoved against the door, so you know the killer didn’t just lock the door behind him. His corpse is lying on a bed, burnt to a crisp, with the rest of the room untouched by fire, and a single cloven hoofprint burned into the floor by the bed.

The two main detectives on the case are Sergeant Vincent D’Agosta and FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast. D’Agosta is a former NYPD officer, currently working for the South Hampton PD which is where this first murder takes place. Pendergast is a quirky, cultured, and fascinating genius who just happens to be an FBI agent as well. They follow the case from its beginning in South Hampton to New York and later to Italy trying to put together how all the victims are connected and what exactly is going on. Is it really the devil killing these men as some people believe or something else entirely?

The story has elements of art and music history woven through it, it’s not just a simple thriller. Some aspects of the case in fact are rooted in the past, not the present. There are also references to Pendergast’s past and previous books featuring him. They do not detract from the story, but rather serve as interesting bits that make you want to read the other books. There are several prior books featuring Agent Pendergast, but they can be read independently of this. Brimstone does happen to be the first book of a trilogy featuring D’Agosta and Pendergast however.

Published in: on May 7, 2008 at 11:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Book Review: People of the Book

Title: People of the Book

Author: Geraldine Brooks

Reviewed by: Connie Barrington

No, no, the book is not about librarians or publishers, or at least not directly. The “people of the book” in the title are those who are connected to the book itself, the writer, illustrator, and owners, according to Dr. Hannah Heath, the book conservator, narrator and protagonist of this engrossing piece of fiction based on a true story.

Hannah is called to Sarajevo in 1996 from her home in Australia in 1996 to consult on a rare book, the “Sarajevo Haggadah”. This haggadah is a book of Jewish stories from the 1500s, which has survived through many harrowing times, in part due to the heroism of those entrusted with the book.

Coming in just as the Bosnian war has wound up, Hannah is uncomfortable and thrilled with the project, both at the same time. Her work in conservation, combined with a true curiosity about those who have held the book over time, leads her to explore the “clues” she finds in the book and her contemporary story is interwoven with the story of the book’s travels.

This is a fascinating story and a compelling read. It combines mystery and history, with many thought-provoking considerations. The book is available in print and on audio, which has a great reader who provides appropriate accents for the myriad characters.

Published in: on April 30, 2008 at 10:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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