Sunday, May 26, 2013

Falling Glass by Adrian McKinty

Am I the last to discover Adrian McKinty? Has everyone else already been reading him for years? It was only by chance that I stumbled upon this Irish thriller writer. McKinty's recent book Falling Glass has started a new obsession for me as I research his back catalog and look forward to new releases. McKinty's Celtic Noir style blends fast moving action, lyrical description and a wry sense of humor. Falling Glass also gives a glimpse into the culture of the Pavee, Ireland's nomadic ethnic minority.

At the start of Falling Glass, ex-enforcer Killian is out of "The Life" and enrolled as a mature student at University. However, when the collapse of the Irish property market leaves him short of cash, he is persuaded to do "one last job" to get some easy money. Of course, one thing leads to another and Killian is offered some serious cash to find the ex-wife of one of Ireland's richest men.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Awful First Dates

I love serendipity in the library. When I first started using libraries, there was the joy of the card catalog (yes I'm showing my age here) and as you looked up your favorite author or topic your eye might catch another card describing a book that looked intriguing. As much as I rely on computers, I just don't run into that same level of randomness. That's where browsing the shelves comes in. I have my paper with all the call numbers written down, but once I get to the shelves, the sky's the limit in terms of what I might find. This month I think I was looking for books about volunteering and community organizing but somehow found Awful First Dates: Hysterical, True and Heartbreakingly Bad by Sarah Wexler in my hands - and what a treat it is!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Angel of Death

This is a book about an assassin nun.

Oh, yes, you read that right.

Assassin. Nun.

That's the character at the heart of the romantic, complex, and action-packed novel Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers. Ismae had a fairly bad early life. Born in 15th century Brittany (a tiny European country, now part of France) to an abusive father and a mother who never wanted her, she was married very young to an equally abusive husband. When she ran away, she discovered the convent of Saint Mortain, where nuns live in service to their patron saint and, by the way, also learn the arts of murder. That's because Saint Mortain is the new name for the old god of death, and he helpfully marks the people that he wants his nuns to kill.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda"

"Woulda, Coulda Shoulda" - that expression of regret over previous decisions may become happily relegated to your past life after you check out Decisive: How To Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Decisive is co-authored by bicoastal brothers, Chip and Dan Heath. Chip is a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business and teaches courses on business strategy and organizations. Dan is a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE Center for Social Entrepreneurs. The duo capably translate academic jargon into highly readable prose to answer the essential question - how can you triumph over bias, irrationality and overconfidence and make better decisions?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

38 Nooses

In 1862, on a frigid December morning in Mankato, Minnesota, over 4,000 spectators witnessed the United States government conduct the largest execution in American history. Thirty-eight men, white muslin covering their faces and singing a death song in their native Dakota tongue, dropped through the wooden scaffold's opened platform and dangled for over a half hour. Eventually their bodies were cut down and buried in a shallow mass grave on a sandbar along the Minnesota River - ending an uprising that began in August with the killing of five settlers by four Dakota hunters filled with frustration, whiskey and stolen eggs.

In 38 Nooses : Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End, Scott Berg examines the motives and consequences of this conflict (referred to as the Dakota War of 1862) through the eyes of regional residents and national figures such as the Dakota leader Little Crow (who strongly opposed the attacks) and Abraham Lincoln. Too complicated and extensive to detail in a blog, here are the short facts. Six hundred whites - most unarmed civilians - and approximately 100 Dakota warriors died during the initial conflict. In mock trials, 303 captured warriors were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Through the persistence of the wife of the Reservation's physician, Lincoln - though embroiled in the Civil War - intervened and pardoned all but 38 men. Close to 2000 Dakotas were forcibly relocated to neighboring states, and approximately one-quarter of those people died within the following year.

Berg documents these events within the framework of state and national history, and chronicles an intimate study of individual experiences that were repeated throughout the nation until the end of the United States-Indian wars. Certainly not a beach read, the lives and deaths in 38 Nooses will stay with you long after your tan fades.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger’s Wife is a very interesting book.  In fact, I can’t stop thinking about it.  Really. The story is set in an unnamed country in the Balkans that has been suffering from war. The main character is a young woman, a physician who travels across the new border to immunize orphans when she learns that her beloved grandfather has died.  There is some mystery associated with his death and the story winds back and forth between Natalie's efforts in the village with the orphans, her efforts to retrieve his possessions from the clinic where he died and the stories her grandfather told her throughout her life.  The stories taught Natalie about the "deathless man" and the "tiger's wife," both tales of events that the involved the grandfather himself when he was younger. 

I have to confess that I didn't always understand this book but it is beautifully written and obviously quite thought provoking. I enjoyed all parts of the book and I have decided that I don't have to be able to explain or make sense of everything I read in order to enjoy it. You will interpret this story in a way that makes sense to you.

The Tiger's Wife is the debut novel by Tea Obrecht, a young woman herself who was born in the former Yugoslavia and came to America with her family when she was 12 years old.  In 2011 she won the Orange Prize for Fiction (now called the Women's Prize for Fiction).  This prize is given annually to the "best full-length novel written in English by a woman of any nationality."  Think about it.  The best novel written by a woman in 2011. Really!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Savannah Blues

Are you still looking for the right vacation read to toss into your carry-on? If so, let me introduce you to Savannah Blues by Mary Kay Andrews.

Here's the story, in short: Savannah antique picker Weezie Foley's life is coming apart at the seams. After her golden-boy husband ditches her for the much younger, much more ruthless Caroline DeSantos, Weezie is living in the garage behind the home they once shared. Now Weezie's only hope to get her life back on track is to score big at the estate sale of the century--a historic plantation house that's about to be bulldozed to make way for a paper mill. Snatching up and reselling a rare handmade cupboard from the property will give her the money to finally realize her lifelong dream of opening her own antique shop. But there's just one hitch to this plan. Before the sale can begin, Caroline is found dead inside the house, and the cupboard turns up missing from the scene of the crime.

Suddenly Weezie finds herself the prime suspect in the murder investigation, and she's mixed up with all kinds of mysterious people (including a sexy chef from her past who's recently returned to town and is clearly hiding something). If she's going to stay out of jail and get into business, she'll have to hunt down answers to some questions. Who killed Caroline? Who took the vanished cupboard? And what's the story with this guy who's determined to get close to her? With plenty of help from her friends and family, Weezie is on a mission to uncover some of Savannah's biggest secrets.

This is really a mystery, a romance, and a story about starting over on your own terms after life deals you a bad hand--all rolled into one. Andrews is a pro at weaving tightly plotted tales populated with vibrant characters, so this book is easy to devour. If you're looking for a light, engrossing read to spend a weekend with, look no further.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Dovekeepers

My co-workers got very tired of hearing about Alice Hoffman's historical novel The Dovekeepers. Before reading this book, I knew virtually nothing about what happened at Masada. As I read The Dovekeepers, I became more and more interested in Masada which resulted in researching the topic. I then felt compelled to tell the story to whomever would listen to me.

The story begins in 70 C.E. when a group of Jewish rebels commanded by Eleazar Ben Ya'ir take refuge from the Romans in a desert fortress built on sheer cliffs overlooking the Dead Sea. Jerusalem has fallen. Refugees travel to Masada from throughout the region to find shelter. Ironically, Masada was built by Herod as a place of retreat during frequent revolts against Rome by Jewish rebels.

Alice Hoffman used the writing of Josephus and archaeological findings to recreate this place. She tells the