Monday, December 30, 2013

Cook Fight

Cook fight : 2 Cooks, 12 Challenges, 125 Recipes : an Epic Battle for Kitchen Dominance pits New York Times food writer Kim Severson against fellow food writer and friend Julia Moskin in a spirited series of culinary challenges - not only testing ingredients but the very core of their friendship. The blame lies with office mate and

Monday, December 23, 2013

Community Picks

Any librarian or bookseller will tell you, if a book is marked as a "Staff Pick" it will get snatched off the shelves immediately. I'm sure somewhere a sociologist has written a dissertation about why this is so. I'd like to turn the tables a bit and see what happens when the community picks the books for display. We will have a display shelf at the Main library starting early January that shows off books that are loved by various community members.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Let It Snow

Ah, the holidays. This is the time of year when families come together in perfect harmony, cheerful parties go off exactly as planned, and we all just sort of float blissfully from one stack of attractively-wrapped gifts to the next while bells jingle and Yule logs crackle somewhere in the distance. Or that's how we always imagine it, anyway. But sometimes the idyllic holiday we picture falls by the wayside when the cookies burn, the dog eats all the pigs-in-a-blanket when nobody's looking, and the car breaks down on the way to Grandma's house. Sometimes real life gets in the way. But that's when the magic happens--at least, according to John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle.

In Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances, three interlinked stories feature a circle of friends in a small Southern town who find love and laughter while making their way through one night where nothing goes as planned--a record snowstorm, travel delays, unrequited crushes, dead cellphone batteries, a Waffle House full of stranded cheerleaders, and a search for a pet pig (it’s a long story). A pinch of holiday magic turns these less-than-ideal circumstances into a night full of friendship, romance, hilarity, and the kind of stuff that holidays are really about--the kind of interesting, real-life enchantment that happens when plans go awry. The best gifts, after all, are the most unexpected ones.

Fans of the authors especially won’t want to miss out on this special and offbeat treat.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pizza Dough by Gabi Moskowitz

It's December and I know, you are making Christmas cookies. You have dough up to your ears (maybe in your ears) and your rolling pin has become an extension of your arm. But before you pack away the flour, browse through Pizza Dough: 100 Delicious, Unexpected Recipes by Gabi Moskowitz. The cover alone is enough to make my mouth water. There are breadsticks, pizza, pretzels, tartlets, and cinnamon rolls. Basically, it provides the opportunity and reasoning to eat bread for breakfast (Caramel Pecan Monkey Bread), lunch (Bean and Cheese Empanadas), dinner (Green Pizza), and dessert (Sopapillas).  One of my favorite parts of the book is Moskowitz's understanding of the Fear of Dough. I know I am not the only one who feels an inevitable sense of doom when faced with kneading. She reassures the reader by providing simple recipes and easy instructions, as well as tips for using store bought dough.

My first attempts were the Artichoke Pocket Squares and Apple-Onion Tartlets with Cheddar and...perfection was not achieved. There was no problem with the recipes, more that this chef needs some practice. It might be a good time to take a step back and try pretzels. Who knew pizza dough could be used for so many things?


Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Black House

Thomas Wolfe wrote, "You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood,...back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame." Fin Macleod should have heeded this advice.

In Peter May's book, The Black House, Edinburgh Detective Fin Macleod is sent to the Isle of Lewis, a remote island off the northwestern coast of Scotland, to investigate a grisly murder. The murder resembles an unsolved Edinburgh case. This is an assignment Fin does not want. He is still mourning the death of his young son, Robbie. He and his wife, Mona, have recently come to realize that their son was the glue holding their marriage together. Mona will not be home when Fin returns.  

Fin has spent the last eighteen years trying to forget his boyhood on the Isle of Lewis. However,

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The 2013 List of Best Books Lists

If you're like us, you like to give books for the holidays, especially ones for those nieces and nephews who love to read. But which ones? I confess I love love love the "best books of the year" lists that I find all over the internet.

In case you enjoy them too, here is a collection for your perusal. P.S. Unlike the other titles we talk about here, these books aren't necessarily in the library's catalog.

First on the list is our own Southwest Books of the Year! This year there are 7 Top Picks and 27 Panelist Picks. Southwest Books of the Year considers titles published during the current year that are about Southwest subjects, or that are set in the Southwest.


All Ages
PCPL's Southwest Books of the Year
Best Books of 2013 (NPR)
Goodreads Choice Awards 2013
National Book Awards (and finalists)
The 13 Best Biographies, Memoirs, and History Books of 2013 (Brain Pickings)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In my opinion, one of Tucson's greatest perks is its practically perfect (that is to say, WARM) weather. I absolutely despise being cold, so the rain and chill over the last few days have left me huddling under a blanket and dreaming of triple digits. I think it's safe to say that I will probably never actually make it to Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth, and yet I am fascinated with the continent. Gabrielle Walker's book Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent presents an absorbing blend of human interest, history, and science to describe a place that few of us will ever get to see for ourselves. We discover how penguins thrive and why Antarctica is such a perfect place to study astronomy. We learn about the astounding feats and determination of Antartica's earliest explorers, and we meet present-day scientists who brave temperatures of 100 degrees below 0 to spend their winters at the South Pole. Walker's writing is detailed and precise, and her descriptions  of Antarctica's frozen beauty, brilliant scientists, and adorable penguins are almost enough to make me consider taking a journey south...someday.

PS: If you'd like to read a novel that's partially set in Antarctica, I highly recommend Where'd You Go, Bernadette. It's a hysterically weird novel full of quirky characters, entirely composed of emails, memos, and letters.

Happy reading!

~Queen of Books

Sunday, November 24, 2013


The word "zoobiquity" isn't in the dictionary, but it will be soon. Zoobiquity is the title of a popular science book by Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, M.D. and Kathryn Bowers. The term refers to a new species-spanning approach to health and medicine. Dr. Natterson-Horowitz is a cardiologist at the UCLA Medical Center and a cardiac consultant for the Los Angeles Zoo. While working at the zoo, she realized how humans and monkeys suffer from many of the exact same diseases and conditions. She wanted to explore other animal species and see what can be learned from combining veterinary knowledge and human medicine.

The book is packed full of interesting scientific anecdotes. You'll be able to pepper your conversations with amusing and sometimes startling facts. Wallabies can become addicted to opium. Koalas suffer from chlamydia. Dinosaurs got cancer. Humans and other animal species have eating disorders and sexual dysfunction. Adolescents of many species display risky behaviors. While the book is entertaining, it also raises a serious issue about human beings as part of the wider animal kingdom. We could improve our health by viewing the world from a broader perspective. This is especially important as diseases cross species.

Dr. Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers spoke at the Tucson Festival Books in March of 2013. You can watch the taped presentation online at BookTV.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Creative Genius

I have read more than my fair share of books about kids, teens and adults on the autism spectrum. I have been fascinated by the ways our brains work in such completely different ways. For the most part, these novels have been written by adults not on the spectrum, but they attempt to put together what is going on in someone else's brain and turn that into a complete character. I recently read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks and he took this concept about five steps further, in a truly creative way.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White

Think you've got a difficult relationship with your mother? What if your mother was an immortal goddess, and you weren't? That's the situation facing Isadora, the daughter of Isis and Osiris, in Kiersten White's entertaining and fast-paced The Chaos of Stars.

It's rough on Isadora, living with her parents. They're thousands of years old, and she's sixteen. They have world-creating powers, and she's really good at . . . decorating her bedroom. They'll live forever, and she won't. When her mother announces her pregnancy, it's the last straw. Isadora flees to San Diego and her older brother's house and sets about trying to create a normal life for herself, like she's seen on TV and in magazines. But it's not so easy to fit in with other mortals when you've only known gods and goddesses your whole life.

And if you know your mythology, you know that there are always plots afoot, as the immortals scheme and backstab. But the plotting is darker this time. Someone actually wants to kill Isis, and they might be able to do it. This time, Isadora--mortal, weak, powerless--might be the only one who can stop it and save her mother's life.

--Maureen K.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bootstrapper Jo Link begins her memoir, Bootstrapper : From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm one summer morning - drunk on her farmhouse porch, binoculars in one hand, her fourth beer in the other and a self-help book for achieving a Zen divorce open on her lap. The man she is divorcing relocated across the street, and she watches him haul 20 years of marriage accumulation to the curb. She disagrees with the "Free" sign he pounds into the ground, because "someone paid handsomely for this wreckage, and that someone is me."

Bootstrapper recounts the year following Link's divorce as she struggles to keep her family on their six acre farm. She lays claim to the debt and the dirt and, comparing their life with the phases of the moon, resolves to stay financially solvent 30 days at a time. She turns from a tree-hugger to a hunter and gatherer - including eyeing a wild turkey they hit on the road as potential dinner. She wins a zucchini contest sponsored by a local bakery for a year of free day-old bread, and she and her sons exist on eggs, bread and squash for much of the winter. She can't afford to heat with electricity, so they scour the roadside for firewood and tack plastic over the single pane windows to keep out the snow. Often, they are cold and hungry. She is cheered by the seed catalogs that arrive by mail in the spring, but the well goes out when it's time to plant. And, with no credit or collateral, she must refinance the farm to buy out her ex-husband.

Determined to stay on the farm, Link greets each challenge with innovation and tenacity which - as any farmer will tell you - is as important as water, credit or collateral. Told with wit and infused with Buddhist wisdom, Bootstrapper is a lesson on looking adversity in the eye and not blinking.

Vicki Ann

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Handle with Care

As the holiday season approaches, brownies - and close cousins, bars, quick breads, toffee and fudge - often form the delicious contents of care packages sent from your home to family and friends, near and far. Shirley Fan, a six year veteran of the Food Network, wrote The Flying Brownie: 100 Recipes for Homemade Treats that Pack Easily, Ship Fresh and Taste Great to provide the home baker with both tasty recipes and comprehensive packing and shipping instructions - including necessary supplies, vendors, and addresses for troops in the armed forces serving abroad.

While writing The Flying Brownie, Fan thought back to her college days when her parents harvested their backyard peach tree and mailed the luscious bounty off to their daughter. It never arrived and now Fan, a registered dietitian, has written her first cookbook and created an unusual niche where care packages occupy center stage. But, not to be upstaged, the recipes alone could carry the book. For example, if you like to balance the sweet with the savory, a chapter entitled "Shippable Savories" includes recipes for Golden Cheddar Coins, Garlic and Dill Seasoned Pretzels and Ridiculously Easy Bagel Chips.

Enough said, with the The Flying Brownie in hand, preheat your oven and get started.


Do you know the origin of the "Care Package"? Fan explains that the name originated with the creation of the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (CARE) at the end of World War II. CARE began with a singular mission: to send life-saving provisions to survivors of the war. These "CARE Packages" were actually unused food parcels for soldiers, repurposed to benefit citizens of war-torn Europe. The first shipment of CARE Packages was delivered to residents of Le Harve, France in 1946.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


AttachmentsWho’s reading your email, and what do they think of you?

These are questions discussed in Rainbow Rowell’s novel Attachments. Lincoln works the night shift as an “internet security officer” for a newspaper. In his official capacity, his job is to read everyone’s correspondence and write a report if it violates company policy. While the rest of the world is sleeping, Lincoln wades through tasteless jokes and forbidden web traffic. It’s lonely work, but as a 28-year old Dungeons & Dragons aficionado who lives at home with his mom, Lincoln is used to loneliness.

And then he starts reading Beth and Jennifer’s emails to each other. Even though they both work at the paper, Beth and Jennifer’s exchanges are pretty much exclusively non-work-related, full of inappropriate details about their personal lives and stories that make Lincoln laugh out loud. He knows he should report them, but he can’t stop reading. And, soon, he finds himself falling in love with one of them. But how could he ever even introduce himself now that he’s been reading all her secrets for this long?

Attachments is a romantic read with a sharp wit and a big heart. Even if you don’t usually go for love stories, I recommend giving this one a go. Fair warning, though: you might never look at your email the same way again.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

The plan for Sunday...chores. Of course, reading is always on the "to do" list, but I told myself it was going to be minimal. One chapter over coffee, two chapters max. And then hours later, with breakfast dishes still on the counter I finished Brilliance by Marcus Sakey. So much for self-control. And productivity.

In Brilliance, one percent of the next generation of children are born with extraordinary emotional, spatial, musical, or mathematical gifts. These "brilliants" have the ability to improve society, but might just as easily decide to crash the stock market or hack military weapons systems. Naturally, the government steps in to manage the education of young brilliants with boarding schools and biometric devices. Activities by suspicious adult brilliants are monitored by the Department of Analysis and Response (DAR) in order to prevent acts damaging to the country. Nick Cooper is a brilliant and top agent of the DAR due to his ability in recognizing body language patterns. Cooper's job: to locate and apprehend the abnorms (brilliants gone bad). When intelligence chatter warns of an imminent threat on the financial markets Nick rushes to prevent it, but is unable to. In the aftermath, his search to find the terrorist responsible for the attack forces him to reexamine where his loyalties lie.


Friday, November 1, 2013

The Emperor's Children you are waiting for The Woman Upstairs, pick up The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud. The story follows three friends in New York City, crowding 30 and living in a quiet uneasiness following the comfortable excesses of the late 20th century. Marina stays with her wealthy parents and works on a long-awaited book about children's clothes. Julius, a struggling magazine writer, is cheating on his new boyfriend and Danielle, a documentarian, begins an affair with Marina's father, Murray Thwaite. In the 1960s, Murray gained notoriety as a left-wing journalist supporting laborers and civil rights groups but has since grown fat and indolent. He secretively writes his tome How to Live but, rather than sharing his wisdom and experiences with a new generation of writers, he fills the pages with self-righteousness.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Round House

OK, so I am a little behind in my reading.  I just finished the 2012 National Book Award winning novel, Round House by Louise Erdrich.  The finalists for the 2013 awards were announced on October 16th, and I have not read any of them yet.  Yikes!! See this year's finalists at

I should not have waited so long to read Joe's story in Round House. Until the spring of 1988, Joe Coutts lives a typical life on a reservation in North Dakota.  His father is an Ojibewe tribal judge and his mother is a tribal enrollment specialist.  He and his friends go to school, watch Star Trek: The Next Generation, play video games, talk about girls, and drink beer whenever they can get away with it.  His life is nothing out of the ordinary for a thirteen year old boy.  Then his mother is brutally attacked and Joe's life is turned upside down.  His mother, Geraldine, goes into a deep depression, and Joe learns that his father and tribal law can do nothing to bring her attacker to justice.  Joe wants his mother to be well, and he wants his life back to normal.  Joe and his friends decide to take action.

Read this book!  Round House will not only entertain you, but as a bonus you will learned something about tribal law and jurisdiction in this tale well told.

~Gilby G

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Bell Jar

Long before Matthew Quick wrote Silver Linings Playbook, Sylvia Plath recounted her depression, suicide attempts and treatment in an autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar. Considered a standard for its accurate and brutally honest account of mental illness, her legacy serves as psychology class material and an example of great American literature. Plath's frank description of her depression and the
contributing factors are brutally honest and real, drawing the reader into Plath's psyche. Through the character Esther Greenwood, Plath expresses anger at her father for dying when she was a child and resentment towards her mother whom she deemed an ordinary woman with an ordinary life. Plath explores her need to break away from societal norms and "dictate my own thrilling letters." At the time, it was held as an icon of feminist literature yet speaks to anyone who feels trapped by expectations and wishes to strike out on their own. This accounts for the many references to Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar in all forms of popular culture such as the young adult novel, And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky.

The sheer sustaining power of this novel is that readers not suffering with depression or other disorders can empathize with a character that does. The Bell Jar displays that people are not defined solely by their illness and are stronger than their struggles. This novel can help people understand others (or themselves) who may be experiencing hard times in a clear way. Anyone seeking to understand mental illness outside of a textbook should read this novel because, in real life, no one is a textbook example.


Sunday, October 20, 2013


Brian Kimberling's Snapper vacillates between being a love letter to a wry Dear Jane letter and settles somewhere in between. Instead of writing to a girl, Kimberling writes to the state of Indiana, the state where he grew up, but now sees all the more clearly for having moved away. Somewhere in his creative writing journey, someone must have suggested Kimberling write about what he knows best and he decided to write about his home state. He captures Indiana perfectly,  revealing both the beauty and the blemishes.

This debut novel is a connected series of stories and vignettes about coming of age in Southern Indiana. The book opens with the main character, Nathan Lochmueller, working as a research assistant monitoring songbirds. The chapters move forward and backward through time, as Nathan covers the territory, mapping bird populations and observing human nature. Memorable characters include Lola, a free spirited on-again off-again girl friend and Shane, a life-long friend who once had a dramatic encounter with a snapping turtle.

You don't have to be from Indiana to enjoy this book. In fact, you might enjoy it more if you aren't from Indiana because the book points out many flaws in the Hoosier state. Snapper is a poignant look at growing up and how your hometown experiences shape your character forever.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Extending Tucson Meet Yourself in Your Kitchen

Tucson Meet Yourself (TMY) is one of my favorite weekends of the year.  So much food, dancing, food, music, fried bread products, crafts and, did I mention food?  I've been inspired this year to continue to enjoy some of the fantastic food by cooking it myself.  To that end I found some fantastic cookbooks and one other foodie type book to keep me going.
Let's start with Susan Feniger's Street Food.  Essentially everything at TMY is street food - you're eating it out on the street, licking your fingers and generally making a goopy mess of yourself.  It's not a good TMY year if I don't come home with food stains on my clothing.  The photo of the Ukrainian Spinach Dumplings looks very much like my favorite pirogis. And I just might learn how to make homemade cheese with the Indian Saag and Homemade Paneer recipe.  Looking at Indonesian Tek-Tek Noodles with Chopped Peanut Sauce makes me hungry right this second.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Death is Only the Beginning

What better month than October to consider books where death isn't the end of anybody's story? In these three wildly different books, it's only the beginning.

Croak - Gina D'Amico
Wild child Lex is the despair of her family. She doesn't know why she acts so bad, just that she does. Then her Uncle Mort turns up and explains that her nature is to be a Grim Reaper, and she's scheduled to start right now. Swept away to a town full of Grim Reapers, Lex is just starting to settle in when everything starts to go wrong, and she gets blamed. The story continues in Scorch and concludes in Rogue.

Putting Makeup on Dead People - Jen Violi
Her father has been dead for four years, yet Donna still feels as if it happened yesterday. As her senior year comes to an end, she's floundering around, trying to decide what she wants to do with her life. To her surprise, and the consternation of her family, she decides to go to school to become a mortician. Is she spiraling into a pit of morbid depression, or has she found her true calling?

Nightspell - Leah Cypess
When her sister was sent away to marry a foreign king, Darri vowed to rescue her. But when she arrives in the aptly-named Ghostland, she discovers that the baby sister she remembers has grown into a stranger. In this land populated with the living and the dead, it's not always obvious who's on your side.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Flying Warthogs

Like the Arizona Wildcats and Lucky Wishbone, pairs of A-10 Warthogs flying across the Tucson sky have been a local tradition for decades. The A-10 was developed after the Vietnam War and characterized by its distinctive nose mounted 30mm Gatling gun. Designed to fly slowly and low to the ground, the missile-carrying A-10 effectively decimated Soviet tanks and provided stellar service in the Middle East and the Balkans. Recent news that the United States Air Force may decommission the A-10 has sparked efforts to prevent that from happening since none of the current and upcoming planes in the military's inventory can provide the close air support of the A-10. 

Gary Wetzel's book, A-10 Thunderbolt II : Units of Operation Enduring Freedom is a timely chronicle of the A-10's role in the first five years of the war in Afghanistan. Wetzel details the combat missions the A-10 flew against the Taliban and Al Queda that included preventing American soldiers and special forces teams from being overrun. Color photographs and artwork illustrate the A-10's history over the rugged and war torn country, including those of the 355th Fighter Wing based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Future volumes about the A-10 in Operation Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom are planned but, for now, this book serves as an excellent testimony on why the A-10 should remain a Southern Arizona tradition for years to come.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Prime Time

Admittedly, I was first attracted to The Joy of X : a Guided Tour of Math from One to Infinity by its cover art but, in all probability, what got me reading was the author's aim - to entice those of us whose previous math education was deficient or sadly lacking to enter his world and ultimately learn to appreciate it. In short, Stephen Strogatz, the Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University and the recipient of a lifetime achievement award for math communication, was offering me a second chance at math - sans tests, sans withering comments from a math teacher, sans letters like "D" on a report card. Count me in, I thought as I cautiously read the preface and then proceeded (slowly) to the first chapter.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Legacy of Adventure

So, reader. Are you an amateur archaeologist or an aspiring detective? A secret armchair Indiana Jones? Do you love horror, thrillers, maybe ghost stories? If so, I can recommend an author for you. No, not different authors—just one writer who does all of the things I mentioned, and does them well, too.

I’d like to introduce you to the world of Barbara Mertz. So prolific that she needed three names to contain her creativity, Mertz (also known as Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels) passed away recently at the age of 85. She has left behind a treasure trove of bestselling writing that encompasses mysterious episodes in shadowy pyramids, creepy yarns involving haunted antiques, and suspenseful escapades in creaky manses.

The stories she spun were meticulously researched, reflecting her background as a trained Egyptologist and archaeologist. But what brought that research to life was a deft touch with characters, a sense of humor, and a talent for crafting tight plotlines. As Barbara Michaels, she wrote thrillers and mysteries, often with a dark or paranormal bent. And as Barbara Mertz, she wrote mainly non-fiction about Egypt, which bubbled over with her own passion for history, her keen eye for human nature, and a lighthearted tone. To most readers, though, Mertz is probably best remembered as Elizabeth Peters. Writing as Peters, she brought gutsy Victorian adventurer Amelia Peabody into the world in a series of rollicking archaeological adventures.

While each of her personas offers readers a different “flavor”, Mertz’s enormous gift for storytelling delivers a consistently absorbing read from start to finish. If you’re looking for a little humor and a lot of intrigue in your weekend, I encourage you to consider taking home something by Mertz (or Peterson…or Michaels).


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Southern League

1964 was not a time of racial harmony in Birmingham, Alabama. The previous year saw the jailing of Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four African American girls. Both events cast Birmingham as a place of particularly harsh intolerance, even in comparison with the neighboring cities and states of the Jim Crow South. Twenty years earlier, Jackie Robinson broke
baseball's color barrier but the Birmingham Barons - Birmingham's professional team in the Southern League - remained all-white due to a city ordinance called the "Checkers Rule," forbidding blacks and whites from playing any game together, including baseball. In 1961, Major League Baseball mandated that all minor league teams integrate and the team disbanded rather than allow blacks to play on the same field.

In Southern League : A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South's Most Compelling Pennant Race, Larry Colton details the 1964 season of the new, fully integrated Birmingham Barons. Charlie O'Finley, the charismatic owner of the Kansas City Athletics, started the experiment of integrated baseball in Birmingham to return minor league baseball to his hometown. Although his main goal was to create a pipeline of talented ballplayers for his Major League team, more importantly it created a litmus test for the city of Birmingham. If an integrated baseball team could be successful both on the field and at the gate, and get through a season without any serious, racially charged incidents, it would go a long way towards getting Birmingham out of the segregated Dark Ages.

Southern League is a fantastic read told mostly through the day-to-day lives of four Baron players (two black and two white) as well as rookie manager Heywood Sullivan, a native Alabaman. The Barons were an immensely talented team, perhaps one of the best in Birmingham history, and Colton captures the excitement of the 1964 Southern League pennant race. Yet perhaps the most illuminating aspect of the story is the compassion and camaraderie that developed not only among the players of the team, but between the Barons and their city. Many of the players and fans were forced to deal directly with integration for the first time and, with the results so roundly successful, many were changed for the better.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman is a beautifully crafted story of love, loss, forgiveness, and redemption.

In December 1918, Tom Sherbourne signs on as an Australian lighthouse keeper. He is looking for isolation after spending four years on the Western Front. His first permanent assignment is on a small island at the southwestern tip of Australia called Janus Rock. His only contact with the outside world is the seasonal supply boat. He only gets shore leave every other year. Janus Rock is the perfect place to hide away from the world and from the past. Remarkably, while on a shore leave he meets a young beautiful woman who is willing to share his life on Janus Rock. They live happily cocooned in their isolation until a series of miscarriages brings unbearable sadness into their lives. Two weeks after the stillbirth of their son a miracle happens. A small boat drifts up to the island. The young man in the boat is dead, however a tiny baby girl is very much alive. Isabel believes this baby is a gift from God sent to replace the son she just lost. Isabel tells Tom that the baby's mother must have drowned, and she convinces Tom that they should keep the baby. He reluctantly agrees, but only because he sees how this little girl has brought joy into his wife's bleak existence. He falsifies the lighthouse documents to indicate that Isabel has given birth earlier than expected. Then their plan begins to unravel.

The Light Between Oceans is on my personal "favorite books" list. I highly recommend this remarkable award winning debut novel.

~Gilby G

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Though the Heart of the Grand Canyon

In June, 1983, the iconic Glen Canyon Dam was in crisis. A winter of super snowstorms followed by a sudden heat wave had produced massive snow melt, and the unprecedented runoff was flooding into Lake Powell faster than it could be discharged through the dam. Critical spillways were being torn to bits by the raging water and jagged chunks of concrete and rocks were catapulting out at 120 mph as the Glen Canyon groaned and vibrated. Out of options and facing a cataclysm, engineers increased the flow of the Colorado River through the dam to the maximum amount possible. The resulting torrent that roared through the Grand Canyon presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a small crew of river guides to set a speed record and make history in a wooden dinghy named The Emerald Mile.

Eluding the authorities who had closed the Colorado and were evacuating Grand Canyon National Park, the tiny crew launched the Emerald Mile at Lee's Ferry in the dead of night into a maelstrom of savage white water, deadly whirlpools, 30-foot standing waves and psychotic river hydraulics. It was a hurtling ride of mythic proportions undertaken by river obsessives and madmen incapable of giving up on a dream of speed.

Their heart-stopping story is masterfully recounted by Kevin Fedarko, a former staff writer for Time magazine and a part-time river guide who clearly knows his stuff.  He begins the Emerald Mile’s journey not

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

I picked up Alex by Pierre Lemaitre on a whim, being between series. Originally published in French and winner of a 2013 Crime Writers Association award, Alex initially presents as a rather run-of-the-mill kidnap story. The main character has been taken; a reluctant detective is working the case. There is no ransom demand, no missing persons report, no concerned family, one mediocre witness. There are the usual questions about who she is, why she was taken, will she be rescued in time? Things are not looking good for our heroine, but we are confident everything will work out. It always does.

But after 150 pages the plot ceases to be routine and discards the usual formula altogether. The kidnap story is done. Lemaitre opens a new door for the reader, one you never expected to take. Who IS Alex?  I can't say more without releasing spoilers. Sorry, but you will thank me later. Alternating back and forth from different points of view Alex is a very dark and graphic thriller in three acts. The detectives lighten the mood as they battle administrators and bureaucracy. Varied in personalities and quirks, this is the team you would want searching for you.

Alex is also the first title in a the Commandant Camille Verhoeven trilogy, a series that I will now be snatching up.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Three Times Lucky

Because I work at the library, I feel under some pressure to come up with the perfect book for every family member's birthday. It can be pretty tricky, given the wide range of ages and interests. Their tastes run the gamut, from dry, historical nonfiction for my dad to Captain Underpants for my youngest nephew. Last year, the biggest hit with my tween nieces was Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. This year, the clear winner is sure to be Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

Moses (Mo) LeBeau is an 11 year old girl in Tupelo Landing, North Carolina. When she was a newborn baby, Mo was set loose on a homemade raft into the rising floodwater during a hurricane and was found floating downstream. Mo is always searching for her Upstream Mother, despite having been adopted by the eccentric, but loving couple, Miss Lana and the amnesiac Colonel. Mo writes never-sent letters to her Upstream mother and she enlists friends and neighbors to release messages in glass bottles up and down the river.

The story begins when Detective Joe Starr comes into the local diner, asking questions about a recent murder in another town. When a local man winds up dead soon thereafter, the investigation really gets underway. Together with her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, Mo searches for clues. With this brief synopsis, Three Times Lucky sounds like a children's mystery. However, it is so much more than just that. Sheila Turnage has created a unique and wonderful character in Mo LeBeau, and Mo's voice brings the characters in the town to life.The story is ultimately one about friendship, love and acceptance within a community. Highly recommended for all ages!


Friday, September 13, 2013

Reader Assistance Requested

I know we're supposed to be the reading experts here, but I'm requesting your help this week.  I have over 1700 titles in my to-read list.  I realize that even if I stopped working right this second (and since I haven't won the lottery that doesn't look to be happening any time soon) and did nothing but read books all day every day, I still wouldn't get through this list.  This is where you come in.  I figure I should probably whittle down my list a bit.  Chip away a book here and there.  So following are six titles on my to-read list that were popular at the time that I read the review.  Tell me what you think (apologies to the Clash), should they stay or should they go?  And if you haven't read them yet, perhaps I can make your to-read list six titles longer.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Leverage by Joshua Cohen

In Leverage, by Joshua Cohen, everybody knows that the football players at Oregrove High are like gods. They can get away with any amount of bullying, hazing, and pranking, and nobody will say anything as long as they keep winning games. Well, Danny Meehan is tired of it. He and the rest of the men’s gymnastics team are going to take a stand and fight back.

But fighting back just escalates the football team’s rage. When an innocent gets caught in the crossfire, with terrible consequences, Danny realizes that he needs a man on the inside. He might just have what he needs in Kurt, the new guy on the team who’s disgusted with his teammates’ behavior. But can two boys with a tentative friendship really take on undisputed gods?

Cohen takes on a sensational, current topic and shows how it comes to pass. Who has given these boys the carte blanche to act as they do? What effect does it have on a community, and on an individual? And most importantly, what does it take to bring the bullying to an end? Disturbing, raw, and terribly real, this book will stick with you.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

From Cook to Convict

For over a century, American society demonized Mary Mallon. As recently as 2005, she was labeled, "the most dangerous woman in America." An Internet search of Mary Mallon yields thousands of results. Prominent newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, continue to run articles about her. Yet she is far from a household name, unless you're aware of what a New York City paper dubbed her in 1910 - "Typhoid Mary."

Blending biography and fiction, Mary Beth Keane's compulsively readable novel Fever is the account of Mary who, as a teenager, traveled alone from Ireland to New York City in 1883. Starting life in her new country as a laundress, she quickly harnessed her talent and passion for cooking and worked her way into the kitchens of the New York elite. Her story opens with the simple line, "The day started with sour milk and got worse." and weaves through her complicated journey from cook to convict. Accused of being an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid - infecting her clients through her cooking - she was forcibly quarantined on North Brother Island for close to 30 years (dying on the island in 1938) but maintained her innocence to the end of her life.

Fever is a fascinating study of both Mary and the times, and perfectly captures the personalities, climate and catastrophes of turn-of-the century New York including the General Slocum ferry disaster and Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. During its annual award honoring young writers, the National Book Foundation named Keane one of 5 Under 35 and her tender portrayal of Mary's loves and losses is one of the reasons.

Vicki Ann

Sunday, September 1, 2013

LOL - Swedish Style

If you thought that contemporary Swedish literature was limited to the darkly noir (courtesy of the late Steig Larsson's Millenium Trilogy) you'll be thrilled to discover the other side of the coin or - more accurately - the crown (Sweden's monetary unit) in Jonas Jonasson's brilliant comic criminal caper, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared.

With less than an hour to go before his BIG birthday party, Allan Karllson boycotts the festivities, opens the window of his room at the Old Folks Home and steps into the flower bed. From the flower bed, he makes his way to the bus station and purchases a ticket. Waiting at the station is another prospective passenger - a very angry, slightly built young man with long greasy blond hair and a scraggly beard wearing a jean jacket with the words "Never Again" on the back and wheeling a large gray suitcase. Needing to use the restroom, which is a bit too narrow for both man and suitcase, he asks Allan to keep it in sight. When he emerges from the restroom, both the suitcase and Allan are gone.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Mystery of Autumn

Wicked Autumn

I have a confession to make. True-blue lifelong desert dwellers who are happiest above 110 degrees, avert your eyes if necessary. Okay, ready? Here goes:

I am ready for summer to be over.

Don't get me wrong, it’s been fun--but this is the time of year when I start getting wistful about putting on a sweater. I sniff the air on cool days to see if there's any trace of that spicy, October-y something hidden in the breeze. If you're like me and are waiting not-so-patiently for Tucson's lovely, nuanced cool-weather self to make its first appearance, you too might be looking for a seasonal read to get you in the mood for fall. While I wait for summer to wind itself down over the next few weeks, I’m getting a head start by snuggling up with a cozy mystery, G.M. Malliet’s Wicked Autumn.

This witty novel opens with an introduction to new vicar Max Tudor. When we meet him, Max has settled nicely into his first position as the vicar of St. Edwold's in Nether Monkslip, a sleepy and genteel village full of picturesque lanes and (these days) New Age specialty shops. While some people might find that sort of burg boring, Max will gratefully take all the benign normality he can get. You see, Max is a former MI5 agent, and the vicar thing is his fresh start after a career of secrecy and tiptoeing through the shadows. He now takes pleasure in his engagement with village community life, composing each week's sermon and working with the Women's Institute to plan the annual Harvest Fayre. Until, that is, the head of the Institute turns up dead. Whether he likes it or not, intrigue lurks behind the peaceful fa├žade of Nether Monkslip, and even though Max has traded his badge in for a collar, he can't resist trying to find the killer.

The story that follows is a great mystery with a cast of likable, entertaining characters and a satisfying array of possibilities that will keep you guessing. Who killed the victim, and why? Will Max's investigation ruin the bucolic new life he's built for himself in Nether Monkslip? And how will this calamity affect the future of the Harvest Fayre? Wicked Autumn is a perfect weekend read, equally well-suited to chilly evenings ahead and the rainy days we're treated to at the end of monsoon season. Especially recommended for fans of M.C. Beaton, Agatha Christie, Lillian Braun Jackson, and the Inspector Lewis mysteries.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

On the Outside

Things are rough all over is the defining statement of S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders. A classic young adult novel, periodically challenged for violence, strong language, and family dysfunction, it is a short and fascinating read for both teens and adults. Required reading in my 5th grade English class, the story remains my all-time favorite book from school.

Ponyboy Curtis, his brothers, and their gang are known as Greasers - poor, rough, juvenile delinquents who commit crimes and wear too much hair gel. Their rivalry with the Socs (Socials, the gang of rich kids from the good side of town), simmers until one night when Ponyboy and his best friend Johnny are jumped at a neighborhood park. Johnny kills one of the attackers, forcing the two teens to leave town. Problems continue to multiply for Ponyboy, his family and his friends as violence escalates between the gangs.

This is a compelling story, easy to get sucked into, and worth reading. Or rereading. Despite being written over 40 years ago, The Outsiders continues to be popular.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

The John Lennon Letters

As a lifetime Beatles fan I was delighted to plunge into The John Lennon Letters. This hefty (400 page) volume  was collected, edited and annotated by Hunter Davies, who knows a thing or two about the Beatles (he penned their authorized biography, back in the day). Davies swept up reams of Lennon-abilia from family, friends, musicians, collectors and archives and organized it more or less chronologically, beginning with Lennon’s early school boy notes and ending with one of the last autographs he signed before he was gunned down in front of the Dakota apartment building in New York in December, 1980.

To characterize this collection as “letters,” though, is something of a misnomer. John Lennon appears never to have missed an opportunity to put pen to paper; he was a scribbler, a doodler, a poet, an author of liner notes, a writer of post cards and a maker of lists, and bits and pieces of everything made their way into this book. Davies provides facsimiles of the original documents and then offers a text version, mostly by way of translation -- Lennon’s handwriting was messy at best and frequently illegible. He was also given to writing in dialect (Scots, German, Shakespearean), and he made up words when it suited him. Davies makes sense of it all, and anchors his material with biographical data to provide context for the documents. 

Part chapbook and part indexed biography, this book is a revealing look at the personal life of a most enigmatic artist, and a great read for Beatles fans. 


Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Lock Artist

I admit that I got a little too involved with the main character of this book. He needed a mother to tell him that he was making very bad choices!  Needless to say, I enjoyed the book because of the character Michael.

The Miracle Boy, The Young Ghost, The Milford Mute, The Lock Artist or just Mike is the protagonist in Steve Hamilton's book, The Lock Artist. Michael is a very talented and unusual young man. He survived a horrific ordeal as a child which left him unable to speak.  He is a talented artist.  He is also a talented lock artist.  It is the lock artist part, his ability to open any door or safe, which leads him into all kinds of unusual and mostly illegal situations.  Even though he is mute, Michael tells his story to the reader. He is like any seventeen year old.  He just wants to be liked, he wants to belong, he believes in love at first sight, and he sometimes does the wrong thing for the right reason.

The book is written as a memoir from prison, so the reader knows that things did not turn out well for Michael.  What the reader will learn is that the outcome could have been so much worse.  I highly recommend this award winning suspense book.

~Gilby G

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Normally, I'm a reader of memoirs and foodie books and travel writing. It's very rare that a historical fiction novel will grab my interest, but something about the cover of Whistling Past the Graveyard compelled me to pick it up anyhow. I finished the book two days after starting it, and I'm still thinking about (and missing!) its characters. The story takes place in Mississippi and Tennessee during the height of the Civil Rights Movement and centers on an unlikely pair: 9-year old Starla, a short-tempered, tender-hearted white girl, and a fragile but courageous African American woman named Eula.

When Starla's strict grandmother punishes her one time too many, Starla decides to make her way to Nashville to live with her estranged mother Lulu, a famous singer. Just barely out of her hometown, Starla meets Eula and accepts a ride from her. As she climbs into the car, she discovers that Eula isn't alone, as she had appeared to be: instead, Eula has a baby--a white one--in her front seat. Soon, a series of traumatic events forge an incredible bond between Eula and Starla; they demonstrate that, despite what others around them might believe, love and friendship cannot be limited or defined by skin color.

~Queen of Books

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Introducing Junior Bender

In these dog days of summer, here is a perfect mystery to read by the pool. Timothy Hallinan has written a light-hearted caper, featuring a funny, smart, heroic criminal. Crashed opens with Junior Bender, a Los Angeles burglar for hire, stealing a Paul Klee painting from a mobster. As he lifts the painting off the wall, he notices a hairline crack in the plaster and discovers a wall safe. Of course, he can't resist opening the safe to take a look inside, even though that wasn't part of the deal. The job starts to go sour when he notices that he's been caught on a security camera. After escaping with his life, a bag of diamonds and the painting, Junior finds himself being blackmailed.

Trey Annunziata, a ruthless crime boss, is trying to go legit, but she just needs to finish one more job, an adult film that will make her millions. Trey wants Junior to keep the star of the film, Thistle Downing, on track. Thistle was once the darling of American television, a child star that grew up in living rooms across the county. However, Thistle has gone off the rails and has spiraled out of control. Junior is supposed to be her minder, but ends up ... well, that would spoil it for you. You'll have to read it for yourself. Just know that Hallinan will take you on a wild ride, with zany characters and plenty of twists and turns. If you like Crashed, there are two more in the series, Little Elvises and The Fame Thief.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Remember your thank you notes

I'm going to endorse the concept of 365 Thank Yous by John Kralik more than the book itself.  It's a quick read and has the potential to change your life as well as those around you.  All you have to do is pull out a writing instrument (pens, remember those items?) and something to write on (as in a note card) and write a thank you note.  This does not need to be the long drawn out anguish of writing a thank you note to grandma after she sent you an awful sweater that was too small.  But just take a moment to write a three line note to thank someone for what they did.  Use a small note card so you won't feel like you have to write a novel and don't get intimidated.  Quickly pop it in the mail or hand deliver it if that's an option.  And yes, it might involve a stamp and the post office.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Pilot and the Spy

1943. German-occupied France. On the first page of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, a young British spy, captured by the Nazis and resisting with all her strength, suddenly submits. "I'm going to give you anything you ask, everything I can remember."

And she does, but she couches these details in the story of herself and her best friend, a pilot who died when their plane went down over France. Maddie and Julie were two young women from radically different backgrounds, with radically different lives and goals, who nevertheless became best friends in the heat of war. It is a friendship that will sustain the spy in her captivity, and ultimately lead her to the darkest choice she will ever have to make.