Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

Best New Books of 2014: Janet L’s Picks

December 8, 2014

Winter is coming, with its cold days and long nights.  In other words, perfect reading weather.  It’s also the traditional time to look back and choose favorite reads of the past year.  If you are a fan of humor, mystery, travel, or food (not to mention good writing) I can highly recommend the following five books:

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Neighborhood curmudgeon Ove is not amused when a lively young family moves in next door.  Imagine everyone’s surprise, especially Ove’s, when instead of the expected disaster, something wonderful results.  Fredrik Backman’s debut is an amazing mixture of comedy, pathos and social commentary.  Will appeal to almost everyone, especially fans of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and The No. 1 Ladies Detective series by Alexander McCall Smith.

The Bone OrchardThe Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron
Life would be much easier for Mike Bowditch if he could just keep his mouth shut, but then reading about him wouldn’t be so much fun.  No longer a game warden for the state of Maine, Mike finds himself drawn into a case when good friend and former mentor, Kathy Frost, is gunned down and critically injured.  One of my favorite mystery series; if you haven’t had the pleasure, begin with The Poacher’s Son.  Especially recommended for readers of the Alex McKnight series by Steve Hamilton, the Conway Sax series by Steve Ulfelder and the Anna Pigeon series by Nevada Barr.

Smoke Gets in Your EyesSmoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
Caitlin Doughty, founder of The Order of the Good Death, is a Los Angeles mortician.  She wrote this book to give people a behind the scenes look at funeral home. Death is a somber and scary subject, but Doughty handles it with humor and compassion. If she hoped this book would demystify death and make it more comfortable to contemplate, she succeeded with this reader.  Recommended for fans of Mary Roach and Sarah Vowell.

The Age of LicenseThe Age of License: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley
Graphic artist Knisley shares the ups and downs of her book tour to Europe and Scandinavia.   Honest, charming, yet serious, this graphic novel will appeal to fans of travelogues and mouthwatering descriptions of food—and isn’t that almost everyone?

The Black HourThe Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day
Sociology professor Amelia Emmet has made violence the focus of her academic research.  When a student she has never seen before appears outside her office and shoots her, theory becomes all too horribly real.  Back on campus, Amelia attempts to resume her life.  Relying on painkillers, a cane, and her sardonic sense of humor, Amelia struggles to find the answer to the questions that haunts her:  Why?

Under the Dome by Stephen King

September 17, 2013

If you watched the CBS TV series of the same name this summer (filmed in the Wilmington, NC area), you may think you already know what happens in the book. Trust me, you don’t. Although Stephen King is a producer on the series, quite a lot was changed from the book. Characters were deleted or changed to varying degrees, plot elements were similarly altered, and the strong rumor is (this review was written before the end of the TV season) that the conclusion and the answer to where the dome came from will also be different from the book. What is the same? The small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine is suddenly and completely sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible dome and the residents slowly run out of food, fuel, medicine, patience, and in some cases, sanity.

I don’t really “do” Horror, and while I love Stephen King’s writing, I tend to stay with his more Fantasy and Sci-Fi type novels than his Horror (see my reviews for The Gunslinger and 11/22/63). While there are a few scary moments and some pretty gruesome bits in the book version of Under the Dome, I would classify it mostly as a Suspense / Psychological Thriller novel. Another difference between the book and the show is that there is a much larger cast of characters in the book, although (minor spoiler) quite a few do not survive until the end. It’s almost as if George R.R. Martin (of Game of Thrones fame) wrote a small town sci-fi suspense thriller. In addition to many more characters, there are naturally many more events, twists, turns, red herrings, and dead end leads in the novel as Dale “Barbie” Barbara, Julia Shumway and others go up against “Big Jim” Rennie and try to figure out where the dome came from, how to survive inside it, and if there’s anything they can do to make it go away. Of course, to make a TV series or movie based on a book, much has to be edited out and the pace generally has to be picked up, and in the case of TV, the story arcs need to happen episodically.

I generally liked the TV series, despite how much is different, but I really enjoyed listening to the audiobook version of the novel. Raul Esparza does a fabulous job embodying the characters of Chester’s Mill, Maine, as the pressure is slowly turned up on those trapped inside this invisible and apparently indestructible dome. One other amusing note about the series: Maine is certainly not known for streets lined with Southern Live Oaks or for having smooth, sandy beaches, although that is what we see on TV. But, don’t let that minor detail detract from your enjoyment of the show, or better yet listen to or read the book instead.

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11/22/63 by Stephen King

January 11, 2013

11/22/63If you had the chance to go back in time and change history to prevent a national tragedy, would you? That is the chance given to Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Maine. Al Templeton, the owner of a local diner, lets Jake in on a secret: there’s a “rabbit hole” in his storeroom that leads back to 1958. Al has a plan to go back and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing President Kennedy. But, Al is now dying of lung cancer, so he needs Jake’s help to complete his self-appointed mission to save the country by changing its history.

Jake also teaches adult GED classes and he read a theme written by his school’s janitor on “the day that changed my life.” It seems that there was a very gruesome and horrible event in Harry the janitor’s childhood – something that has scarred him for life, both physically and mentally. Jake’s not quite sure what to make of this time travel stuff, but decides that if it’s for real, he’s also going to try and change the course of events that led to this personal tragedy, in addition to trying to stop Oswald from killing Kennedy.

Of course, no story this good (and yes, it really is a good as everyone has said) would be so simple and straightforward. We learn that the past is obdurate. Don’t worry, I had to look that word up too. It means “unmoved by persuasion, pity, or tender feelings; stubborn; unyielding.” Basically, when you try to change the past, the past tries to stop you. The larger of a change you are making, the more the past will try to stop that change. And stopping Oswald from assassinating Kennedy is a mighty big change.

What makes Stephen King‘s novel so great is not just the premise (a fairly neat twist on the time travel idea), but the story itself and the characters about whom we come to care so much. Since the “rabbit hole” dumps Jake out in Maine in 1958, and Kennedy’s date with destiny is in Dallas in 1963, that leaves Jake with five years of living to do – as well as making sure that Oswald really did do it and acted alone. Along the way he gets a job teaching, meets a librarian named Sadie, and falls in love.

Does Jake stop Oswald? What would happen to our history if Kennedy had lived? What about Jake and Sadie? You don’t really want me to tell you, you really want to pick this book up and discover its wonder yourself. I’ll just end by saying that I’m not what you’d call a crying man, and it’s rare for a book to bring me to tears, but this is one of two books I read in 2011 that did just that.

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Here If You Need Me: A True Story by Kate Braestrup

January 1, 2010

I tend to like to listen to audio books narrated by the author.  I think when an author narrates his or her book it lends a different dimension to the story.  This is true of Here If You Need Me: a true story, by Kate Braestrup, narrated by Kate Braestrup.  Kate chronicles her journey of becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister.  Kate’s husband, Drew, a Maine state trooper, was killed in a car accident.  It was his dream, after his retirement, to become a law enforcement chaplain.  Kate fulfilled his dream while caring for their four children.  Upon completing divinity school Reverend Braestrup accepted a position as chaplain for the Maine Fish and Game wardens.  She talks of the death of her husband and being the one who bathed and dressed his body for his funeral.  Kate talks about the beauty of her job in the Maine wildlife. Here If You Need Me begins with Kate telling the story of the night she sat with parents of a missing six year old girl, Alison.  Alison’s parents are atheists and they tell Rev. Braestrup this.  To Reverend Braestrup this does not matter her job is the same regardless of the beliefs of the parents.  She is there to comfort the parents as best she can while all around them the area is buzzing with search parties and even the occasional cadaver dog.  She makes sure the parents are comfortable and remain hopeful that their daughter is alive somewhere out in the Maine woods.  The first story in the book is a happy one: Alison is found alive by a K-9 team curled up asleep near a tree.  Not all of Reverend Braestrup’s stories have happy endings, but all are filled with love, and even some hope in the darkest hours.  Here If You Need Me is a story of love, hope, faith and the human spirit .

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