Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver

October 31, 2014

Garden of BeastsMob button man Paul Schumann is sure he’s doomed when he’s caught by the feds, but he’s given a choice – the electric chair, or one last job. The catch – his target is Col. Reinhardt Ernst, a bigwig in Hitler’s organization, which means going undercover in Nazi Germany to achieve his goal. Paul has been wanting to get out of the mob anyway, and the feds promise he’ll be free of charges and given a cash bonus when he’s finished. Dreaming of a normal life with the girl of his dreams, he heads for Germany.

This is a fascinating time in history, when a culture of fear led neighbors to betray each other and paranoia reigned. It was a time when citizens were trapped between duty to country and their own consciences, and Deaver portrays them with sympathy and humanity. Watching Paul navigate this complicated time and place, you really feel like you’re in 1936 Germany with him. He’s undercover as a journalist covering the Berlin Olympics, but spies are everywhere. After uncovering one spy while still en route, he dispatches a second almost immediately after arrival and finds himself pursued by the police. This is cat and mouse at its best, with Paul playing both roles in his quest for Col. Ernst. Deaver is a master of the plot twist, and he doesn’t disappoint here. The beauty of his stories is, even knowing there will be a twist, it’s nearly impossible to guess. I challenge you to try!

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Meet popular fiction writer Jeffery Deaver at Cameron Village Regional Library on Sunday, November 9th at 2:30 pm. He will discuss his novels, characters, writing style, and more. Q & A to follow discussion. Registration requested.

Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee by Michael Korda

October 30, 2014

Clouds of Glory: the Life and Legend of Robert E. LeeClouds of Glory is not the definitive book on Robert E. Lee, but not even Douglas Freeman was able to do this in four volumes. Highly readable, Clouds of Glory is largely sympathetic to Lee. Korda does not present much in the way of new information. There is little analysis of Lee’s impact on postwar national culture. But Korda does an excellent job of describing Lee’s family and youth. Surprisingly, he shows that Lee was flirtatious and adored his children. The book also recounts how Lee’s life was shaped by his religious beliefs and the strong anti-federalist tradition in his family.

The account of Lee’s service in the war with Mexico is superb. Usually thought of as a minor conflict, Korda amply demonstrates that the Mexican war led directly to the Civil War. His descriptions Lee’s Civil War battles are pretty conventional, yet he does present Lee’s strategic thinking clearly and concisely. He also details Lee’s challenges working with Jefferson Davis, who was notorious for micromanaging and compartmentalizing the war. Korda also gives a compelling view of Lee at Gettysburg, making the case that, in the end, Lee’s leadership style and, in Lee’s own words, his overconfidence in the abilities of his men were key factors in the Confederate failure there. Lee worked best with aggressive subordinates like Stonewall Jackson, but fared poorly with those that needed a firm hand such as Richard Ewell. But still, it’s hard to fault Lee’s overall utilization of the scant resources available to him.

Korda presents Lee’s view on slavery as being benign and moderate, which has been somewhat disputed by recent evidence. But Clouds of Glory is a fine complement to the books of Burke Davis and Emory Thomas. Korda’s book is highly recommended for those seeking a better understanding of Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy, and the Civil War. Lee was one of the few leaders of the Civil War who did not write a memoir. There is much about Lee that can never be known, but Korda provides a glimpse of the “marble man.”

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Join us at the Southeast Regional Library on November 1st at 2 p.m. for the opening ceremonies of the Wake County Public Libraries participation in Civil War 150, a national program designed to encourage public exploration of the American Civil War.

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

October 29, 2014

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-WhittemoreThose who have read The Secret History by Donna Tartt always seem to be looking for a read-alike. That’s no easy feat, as Tartt’s blockbuster debut novel is not easily recreated due to its amazing storyline, rich prose, and creepy plot.

Along comes Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, whose explicit goal was to attract readers of The Secret History (we are a weird little cult who love this book). The author says, “I wrote Bittersweet for people like me, who love The Secret History and The Emperor’s Children; it’s a literary beach read.” Whoo hoo – get me a copy of this book!

A reviewer said Bittersweet, “evokes Gone Girl with its exploration of dark secrets and edge-of-your-seat twists.” I’m not sure I would go that far, but it is a very good suspenseful psychological thriller that keeps you wondering where it is going, and how you will get there.

Meet Mabel Dagmar, a bit of a socially awkward but bright student at an unnamed East Coast private college. Mabel, who is from Oregon, has a roommate straight from a WASP manual: Genevra Winslow, a beautiful woman from a prestigious New England family. Mabel is fascinated with Genevra, a fascination that borders on obsession. When she is invited to summer with the Winslows at their Vermont family compound (like a forested Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port), she jumps at the chance to ingratiate herself with the family. But she gets more than she bargains for when the Winslows prove to have secrets of their own, and that under their blue blood-tinged skin, they are anything but aristocratic.

Is this novel anything like The Secret History? Not really. It lacks Tartt’s rich dialogue. The setting with wealthy East Coast college students is the same, and both novels examine the lives of the New England elite. Other than that, I didn’t see many similarities. Bittersweet is literary, and dark, and gothic. I think any readers of The Thirteenth Tale would appreciate this novel. I recommend this novel if you like your stories dark and medium in complexity, and somewhat literary.

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Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst

October 28, 2014

Midnight in EuropeCristián Ferrar is a Spanish (or rather, Catalan) émigré who lives and works in Paris, France. His employer is the law firm Coudert Frères, and the firm does a good deal of international work. Recently, some international cases have become more complicated due to the Spanish Civil War, “now in its seventeenth month; individuals and corporations cut off from their money, families in hiding because they were trapped on the wrong side – whatever side that was – burnt homes, burnt factories, with no means of proving anything to insurance companies, or banks, or government bureaucracies.”

At the same time, the way of life of the French Republic, with its deep democratic roots, is seriously challenged. Right-wing extremists rule neighboring Germany and Italy, and now the Spanish Republic is about to fall into the hands of Franco’s fascists and his conservative supporters. The Republic does not have many allies in the world – Mexico and the Soviet Union give their support, but other than that the international aid mainly consists of volunteers from around the globe; mostly workers, anti-fascists, social democrats, socialists, communists, and anarchists. Ferrar is also willing to contribute to the cause, and when he is contacted by a general of the Republic he sees a chance to help out. German and Italian pilots have shown the world the future of warfare, and the Spanish Republic needs anti-aircraft guns to survive. Where to find them, though? The Soviet Union turns out to be the best option. But the U.S.S.R. will not sell the weaponry. The Soviets want to hold on to the firepower they have. So the equipment has to be stolen.

A small band of idealists and hired gangsters organize the job, and they will find opposition on every level: honey traps, harbor spies, and armed servants of the far right.

Again, Alan Furst creates a mosaic of a European midnight, where people who have never before met come to share path through life as a war of ideologies engulfs the continent.

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The Watchman by Robert Crais

October 27, 2014

The WatchmanI’m a sucker for misanthropes, loners, silent strong types and misunderstood heroes. Joe Pike is all of these things, and more. He wears reflective sunglasses all the time, even at night, and prefers to go running in the middle of the night because he’s less likely to run into people. He has red arrows pointing forward on both arms, but he’ll never tell you what they stand for. He’s an ex-cop, ex-Marine, ex-mercenary who likes to help people in trouble, as long as they can respect his boundaries and stay out of his way.

Larkin Conner Barkley is a spoiled rich girl trying to do the right thing for once in her life, and she has no respect for Pike, his boundaries, or his help. When the threat of death becomes more real than the glitzy, self-destructive life she’s forced to put aside, Larkin develops a grudging appreciation for Pike’s protection. Forced to spend many hours together, he realizes that behind the fast cars and the glamorous lifestyle, Larkin is hiding a deep loneliness – something he understands.

When the killers up the ante and even the cops are suspect, Pike knows there are only a few people left to trust, and brings in Elvis Cole, a private investigator with skills of his own. Together they will find a way to ensure Larkin survives the assault they know is coming.

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Missing You by Harlan Coben

October 24, 2014

Missing YouSince Harlan Coben is one of my favorite authors, I was a little sad when I found the pace of this book to be much slower than his previous efforts, and yet something kept pulling me back to the book. But after crossing the midpoint of the book, the pace picked up and it became much more interesting.

Two stories are intertwined in the narrative: Kat Donovan, a third-generation Manhattan detective, finds herself in the middle of two cases. One is the unsolved case of her father’s murder, and the second is the mysterious disappearance of Dana Phelps. The man convicted of her father’s murder has just died in prison with some unanswered questions as to whether he was the actual killer. Dana’s disappearance is a little more complicated.

To make matters worse, when Kat’s friend Stacy enrolls her on an online dating site, things start to break open. Kat finds a picture on the website of a man who looks exactly like Jeff, her past significant other from 18 years ago. It doesn’t make any sense.

Meanwhile Brandon Phelps, Dana’s son, is a bright computer student at the University of Connecticut who finds out about Kat through that same online dating website. Although Brandon is concerned about his mother, maybe it is just true that she went away to South America with someone she met on the dating website–but is that man Jeff? It certainly looks like the same man in the pictures.

There is almost too much in play in this novel but it all starts to come together for Kat. However, I will alert you that this may be one of Harlan Coben’s most violent novels.

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The Last Girlfriend on Earth: and Other Love Stories by Simon Rich

October 23, 2014

The Last Girlfriend on Earth: and Other Love StoriesThis is not your traditional book of short love stories. Is there a traditional one of those? I don’t know, but this definitely isn’t it.

Simon Rich is a very funny man. I was first introduced to his writing through Elliot Allagash, his first novel, back in 2010. I did a lot of giggling. So when I saw this collection of short stories on the shelf, I wanted to give it a go.

I tend to like a short story collection, which I know not everyone does. I generally prefer to space out my consumption of the stories — I have trouble staying engaged reading an entire book of short stories at once. For The Last Girlfriend on Earth, though, this was not the case. Some stories are as short as a page and a half, others are somewhat longer, but each is a quick read that will have you wanting to move right on to the next.

The stories are broken into three thematic segments; Boy Meets Girl, Boy Gets Girl, and Boy Loses Girl. Classic tales of love and heartbreak, you might be thinking. But you are incorrect, dear friend. Rich’s plots and characters vary wildly, from the “girl” in question being your basic under-the-bridge troll (think: short, hairy, speaks in grunts) to the “boy” being Hitler, now aged 124, wheel-chair ridden, and hitting the party scene with his new gal in New York.

It’s all really very silly, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

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Dog on It by Spencer Quinn

October 22, 2014

Dog On ItIf there is anything better than finding out one of your favorite authors has just written a new book, it must be finding out that one of your favorite authors has actually already published a whole series of books under another name. I enjoyed Peter Abrahams Echo Falls mystery series for teens, and his stand-alone thriller Oblivion is one of my favorites, so I felt really lucky when I recently learned that he has also published the Chet and Bernie mystery series under the pen name Spencer Quinn.

Bernie is an ex-military, ex-police, private investigator. He drives a “classic” (i.e. old and beat up) Porsche and is usually the smartest person in the room, according to his partner Chet. Chet is always ready to jump into the shotgun seat of the Porsche or sniff out a clue. Did I mention that Chet is a dog? He is highly trained – would have graduated from the police K-9 dog training school if it wasn’t for a minor incident involving a cat that occurred on his last day.

The series begins with Dog on It, where a distraught mother hires Chet and Bernie to find her missing teenage daughter. Madison Chambliss is a normal high school student, with no apparent reason to run away and there are no signs of foul play. Within a day she returns home on her own and Chet and Bernie are off the case. But when Madison soon disappears a second time and no one thinks it is a problem because she has done this before, Chet and Bernie feel obligated to find the truth about what happened to her.

I like the Chet and Bernie series because it is well plotted, with smart characters and dialog, and a healthy dose of humor. I especially like the fact that Chet narrates! He notices smells and sees really well in the dark, never passes up a bit of food, and falls asleep if the conversation gets too intellectual, just like a dog actually would. His observations are at once innocently simple-minded and astute.

The Chet and Bernie books are also especially good on audio.

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Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

October 21, 2014

RoguesThis collection includes 21 Fantasy short stories from authors such as Neil Gaiman, Connie Willis, Joe Abercrombie, Gillian Flynn, and Patrick Rothfuss. As my coworker Keith mentioned in his review of this book for LibraryReads,

“This anthology is worth reading for the Rothfuss story alone! ‘The Lightning Tree’ follows Bast spending a day outside the tavern, which left me anxious for Kingkiller Book 3 to come out.”

I couldn’t agree more! Some of the other stories are also set in worlds we know and feature characters we love – such as Neil Gaiman’s follow up to his popular novel Neverwhere, “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back.” So there you go, read this book and get a couple of very amazing stories from two of the masters of modern fantasy, Rothfuss and Gaiman. What’s that? You want more? Okay, how about these:

Joe Abercrombie’s story “Tough Times All Over” in which a package is stolen from a courier, only to be re-stolen and appropriated over and over as it changes hands multiple times during its journey across the city. We’re treated to multiple viewpoint shifts of the colorful cast of ne’er-do-wells and blackguards as the package shifts from one person to the next. Action, world-building, and witty dialogue are among Ambercrombie’s trademarks demonstrated here.

Carrie Vaughn‘s story “Roaring Twenties” is set in a hidden watering hole and gambling den frequented by villains and scoundrels. In this magical speak-easy one old practitioner of nefarious magic has come to confront a rival and hopefully reach an understanding. However, as with any gathering of rascals, magical or otherwise, everyone is looking out for themselves and watching their own backs, and when the fur starts flying, understandings are hard to come by.

Garth Nix‘s story “A Cargo of Ivories” features his knight and sorcerer duo Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz. In this entertaining story, the pair are sent to recover ivory figurines which contain energy anchors for minor gods. When we meet them here, Sir Hereward and his former teacher Mister Fitz – who happens to be an enchanted puppet – are doing a bit of burglary to recover the figurines from the magically protected home of a rich collector. Naturally, their plans go awry. They meet another thief ransacking the house and the trio pair up to pursue one of the escaped godlets before it can wreak havoc.

One of the best things about short story collections is that they expose you to newer authors or authors you just haven’t gotten around to reading yet. After reading Scott Lynch‘s story “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” I decided to bump his novel The Lies of Locke Lamora higher on my “to-read” list. If you like short stories by Fantasy authors, also check out the Martin & Dozois edited Dangerous Women, released last year.

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Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan

October 20, 2014

Short Nights of the Shadow CatcherThis is an amazing account of the life of photographer Edward Curtis. It begins in 1866 in Seattle, where Princess Angeline is living in a 2 room damp shack down among the piers. She is the oldest and last surviving child of the chief of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes, and also the most famous person in Seattle, her image on china plates and other knickknacks sold to tourists of Puget Sound.

Seattle is also where Edward Sheriff Curtis runs a successful photography business. Curtis is sought out by politicians and wealthy patrons, but also trolley car drivers and sailors who have saved for a session in front of the camera.

Curtis eventually photographs Princess Angeline, first in a studio portrait, and then in Shantytown, where he captures her in her daily chores of digging clams and gathering mussels. Angeline tells of other Duwamish and Suquamish people living on the edge of the city and the Tulalip reservation to the north. He visits, even pays for access, and photographs them. This is the beginning of what becomes a lifelong endeavor of photographing all intact Indian communities left in North American before their way of life disappears.

This plan entails traveling the Southwest, the plains, the Rockies, the fjords of British Columbia and Washington State, northern California mountains and southern California desert, and the Arctic. Curtis gives up a successful photography studio in Seattle for this pursuit.

He is constantly broke and struggles to obtain backers as he continues documenting Native Americans as their numbers are plummeting. While America is laying down railroad lines and paving roads for automobiles, the Indians who wish to continue living as they always have, end up hiding from dominant ever encroaching culture (the government has banned many ceremonies and children are sent to boarding schools).

Even when Curtis presents his picture opera–Indians in hand-colored slides and film, accompanied by music–to sold out crowds at Carnegie Hall and Washington’s Belasco Theater, he still faces bankruptcy: a penniless state that follows him through the rest of his life.

When he completes Volume XX of The North American Indian in 1930, thirty years have passed since the onset of the project, and Curtis is sixty-one years old. Sadly, his book goes unnoticed after his death in 1952, but resurfaces in the 1970’s to great acclaim. The Curtis family set goes to the Rare Books Library at the University of Oregon, and a gallery devoted to the work of Curtis is in Seattle.

Thankfully, because of Edward Curtis’ steadfast dedication to record the Native American tribes’ way of life before its tragic demise, we have an immense photographic and written historical record. And because of Timothy Egan’s exhaustive research, we have a sense of what Edward Curtis went through to accomplish this great feat.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


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