Monday, July 25, 2016

The Dark Vineyard by Martin Walker

Bruno Courreges is the Chief of Police in the French village of Saint Denis by default. It’s a small town and he’s the only policeman there. He relishes his life there, in the lovely Dordogne region, surrounded by good friends, good food and a generally peaceful town.

When a fire breaks out at an agricultural research station, Bruno rushes to the scene to assist the firefighters. The fire turns out to be arson, and since the research station had been developing genetically modified grape vines, Bruno fears that this may have been a case of eco-terrorism, and has him looking closely at the fervent environmentalists who live in a nearby commune. This fire, though, is only the first incident in the area that surrounds the local winemaking industry.

Now Fernando, an American businessman from a prominent California winery, is in town looking to buy property, and raising eyebrows among the villagers. Max, an aspiring young winemaker from the commune is falling for Jacqueline, a flirty new arrival from Quebec, who also seems to be seeing Fernando as well. All three of them are behaving in ways to make themselves a topic for discussion in the village.  Events keep escalating, and now there are two suspicious deaths. It’s up to Bruno to figure out all the entanglements, past and present, that led to this end.

This book is the second of nine books (so far) in a series by Martin Walker featuring Bruno, Chief of Police. I picked up the first one after reading a very positive review, and with fond thoughts of a trip through the Dordogne region many years ago. I moved on to the second book because I was thoroughly charmed by Bruno and his knowledge of his community and human nature. This is a delightful mystery, more on the cozy side than a bloody thriller. The puzzle satisfies, as does another taste of the pleasures of the French countryside.   -Dee Ann

Monday, July 18, 2016

Game of Thrones (2011-Present, TV-M)

I know, I know--this is hardly a series that needs extra promotion!  But this blog is about the things that we love, and the things we want to recommend to our patrons.  For me, Game of Thrones fits this description perfectly, and the show's recent slew of  Emmy nominations have made it a timely subject.

The story is classic high fantasy, revolving, as you might guess, around the contested throne of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.  As the series opens, King Robert Baratheon arrives in the Northern keep of Winterfell to ask his best friend, Ned Stark, to join him in the capitol as his right hand man. Very soon, however, the King is dead, and the Kingdoms divide into factions of armies, each with a general who has a claim on the Iron Throne.   Meanwhile, across the ocean, another family begins its quest for the same seat, as the children of the Mad King whom Robert deposed make plans to build their own army by way of marriage;  the daughter, Danaerys, is sold to the chieftain of a clan of fierce warriors, but turns the situation to her advantage.  The third major plotline of the first season follows Ned's illegitimate son, Jon Snow as he joins the Night's Watch, a group of soldiers sworn to protect southern Westeros from the northern tribes or "wildlings".  The Watch presides over a massive ice wall that divides the lands.  Most of the Kingdoms, however, are ignorant of an even greater threat to their world than civil war which has begun to stir beyond the Wall.  As they say in the North, "Winter is Coming"--this is not merely a weather forecast.

Such is the plot and scaffolding that the series is built on, and it is a good one, compelling, twisty, but solid.  The greatest revelation of my initial viewing, however, is the compelling characters that move through these plots, along with the top-notch performances, cinematography, and writing that has kept me interested and entertained throughout its run. The cast has grown (and contracted!) with each successive season, and some of the characters have developed in surprising ways, like Jaime Lannister, the brother of King Robert's widow Cersei, who is initially presented as a villain but has uncovered a dormant sense of honor in more recent years.  More than anything else, this series understands how to hook viewers into wanting to know "what comes next" for its large group of kings, queens, soldiers, noblewomen, wildings, villains, scholars, and mystics.  -Barb

Reserve this series on dvd.

George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" book series, on which the show is based, is also available for checkout!

PLEASE NOTE:  You will want to take the rating for this series very seriously!  It does contain violence and adult language and subject matter.  

Monday, July 11, 2016

Pirate King (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #11) by Laurie R. King

Summary: In England's budding silent-film industry, megalomaniac Randolph Fflytte is king. At the request of Scotland Yard, Mary Russell is dispatched to investigate rumors of criminal activities. At Lisbon rehearsals for "Pirate King", based on Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance", thirteen blond-haired, blue-eyed actresses meet the real buccaneers Fflytte has recruited to provide authenticity. But when the crew embarks for Morocco and the actual filming, troubles escalate.

My review:  This volume of the series, for once, is one where Mary & Sherlock didn't end up half-dead and awaiting disaster at the end.  It was a frivolous adventure, sailing across the Mediterranean and ending up almost sold into slavery, but not quite. I enjoyed it quite a lot, and the general tone was much more cheerful than several of the others in the series.  It was also an interesting look into the world of silent films - the author did her homework as far as the technicalities were concerned.  The other characters were also entertaining - spoiled film stars, oddball producer, determined director and frayed-at-the-edges assistants.  Yet they mostly came together at the end to overcome their opponents and make it home safely. -Lynne

Saturday, July 9, 2016

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

Astrid’s world has always revolved around her beautiful and eccentric mother Ingrid but when she is convicted of murdering her ex-lover Astrid’s life changes forever. They both became wards of the state, her mother goes to prison and she is put into the Los Angeles foster care system. Astrid spends the next six years going from one foster home to another with each one presenting her with new challenges that leave her scarred both mentally and physically.
This is an amazing story that is also very well written, poetry was a theme throughout the book and Fitch used it to put together a dark and beautiful story. The progression of the story from the seemingly charmed childhood that Astrid had to the downfall of her mother and Astrid’s own trials was amazing. It was also fascinating to delve into Ingrid’s story and see how Astrid’s feelings toward her changed, in the beginning she was entirely devoted but after the murder the devotion turned into confusion then to hate and finally to understanding. In the end Astrid’s ability to finally understand her mother helped her to reconcile her past and allowed her to move on.

This is truly a wonderful story of self-discovery and I highly recommend it. - Cassie

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Mildenhall Treasure by Roald Dahl

A true tale by the artfully preachy Roald Dahl of a good farmer and his conniving boss, so that it resembles an ironic moral fable like his other books, this nonfiction book details how an oblivious plowman dug up a great burial hoard in Suffolk in 1942. For a few years, no one, including the plowman, knew that a few pewtery spoons on his mantel located “the greatest treasure ever found in the British Isles,” a cache of finely chased Roman silver from the fourth century.

By donating his finds, the plowman lost out on millions. Dahl’s story, ferreted from the good plowman, was published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1946.

Psychoanalytical collage paintings by Ralph Steadman, one of the great artist/cartoonists of any age, combine realism, found printed material, caricature, and fantastically cruel visages. Steadman also illustrated books for Hunter S. Thompson and album covers for The Who and Frank Zappa. --Jon
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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

Lippman is perhaps best known for her best-selling Tess Monaghan mystery series, but in recent years has written a number of stand-alone books that are also terrific reads. Wilde Lake is one of these terrific reads. 

Luisa Brant, better known as Lu, is an ambitious and driven state’s attorney, newly elected to serve a suburban Baltimore county. Recently widowed, she had brought her young twins to her childhood home to live with her aging father, himself a legendary prosecutor before his retirement.

Their home is in the town of Columbia, a planned community developed in the post-60s idealism to foster diversity and harmony. Lu grew up there with her older brother and widowed father. She had adored her big brother as a child and was fascinated by him and his friends. The idyllic nature of that childhood had only been marred once – when her brother’s friend Davey had been knifed at a graduation party, with the attacker accusing him of raping his sister. Lu’s brother AJ had gone after the boy when he fled and tackled him, but the boy fell onto his own knife and died. Though traumatic for AJ and his friends then, Davey had been quickly cleared of the accusation, and AJ of any wrongdoing in the death. The incident is long behind them all.

Now a rare thing has happened in Howard County. A woman was attacked and killed in her own home.  Rudy Drysdale, an intelligent man with a history of mental health issues, stands accused. There doesn’t seem to be any connection between Drysdale and woman he is believed to have murdered, but there’s plenty of evidence. This is Lu’s chance to shine as a prosecutor in her new position, and she is confident she can achieve a guilty verdict.

Little niggling reminders start popping up in Lu’s path, though. The re-emergence of that long ago purported rape victim. Rudy’s own history in the community. The odd way that her brother and his friends all are so rigidly consistent about the details of that long-ago night. Lu may just be finding out that the legal system she has championed her whole life may not be able to actually discover the truth and mete out justice.

Lippman’s writing keeps the reader riveted to the book, wondering where the story will lead.  This book is less of mystery – though it has the elements of one – than it is a book about family and the stories we tell one another. Columbia was and is a real community based on real ideals about enhancing the quality of life for its residents, and Lippman does a wonderful job evoking that sense of place.  Laura Lippman is a remarkable writer, and this is a very enjoyable book that will linger in the reader’s thoughts long after finishing the last sentence.   -DeeAnn

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, "The Good Parts Version" by William Goldman

It's inconceivable to me that I have never read this book before last month.  The movie version tops my list of all-time favorites;  I have been known to insert the phrase "Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father.  Prepare to die."  into the odd conversation, much to my children's dismay.  I have in fact been given the book as a gift not once but twice in my life, so I have absolutely no excuse to offer for my avoidance.  Perhaps I secretly worried that the book would not live up to my cherished film experience.  I'm happy to finally be able to say, this is not the case.

While it is true that William Goldman's tale is full of "Fighting. Fencing...True Love...Revenge...", it is also a story of fathers and sons as well as the passionate relationships that readers form with their favorite books.  Goldman's satirical "abridgement" notes, scattered throughout the text, create a story within a story and function as meta-commentary at the same time, making this a rich reading experience which can be enjoyed on several levels and by different age groups.  I recommend the 25th Anniversary Edition, which contains the original novel along with an introduction by Goldman in which he discusses the making of the movie and " Buttercup's Baby,"  the first chapter of the "long-lost sequel," which is not to be missed!  -Barb

Reserve this book. 

Want to compare the novel to the Rob Reiner-directed movie?  As you wish.

Cary Elwes, the film's star,  has also recently published a memoir about its making, which you can find in the Library, here.