Monday, March 13, 2017

Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

Countdown City is the second book in a trilogy called The Last Policeman, which uses an apocalyptic setting as the background for what is, at heart, a detective story.  It is the near future, and the world is going to end in 77 days when an asteroid named Maia collides with Earth. Faced with the inevitable, society begins to collapse, as some people try to escape their fate, some leave their lives to pursue their bucket list, and some put their faith in stockpiles or in religion.  Hank Palace, a young former policeman, is still trying to find ways to do the right thing.  When his former babysitter asks him to track down her missing husband, Hank takes the case, even though he knows the man may not want to be found.  His search leads him from the increasingly lawless streets of Concord, New Hampshire, to a college campus that has been taken over by its students in an attempt to create an egalitarian state, and then on into a wilderness both real and metaphorical.

While its setting may be bleak, the novel offers many grace notes in its characters and vividly imagined depiction of society on a knife edge. It raises the inevitable question for its reader:  What would I do?  Would I check out?  Try to maintain my little corner of civilization?  Keep trying to do my job or take off to find some elusive dream?  Winters answers the question in different ways with each of his characters, and grounding it all is Palace, who is likeable, good at his job, but a bit naive; a dystopian version of Raymond Chandler's knight, going "neither tarnished nor afraid" down the mean streets of The End.    -Barb

Reserve this title in print or as an ebook on Montana Library 2 Go.

Check out the other books in The Last Policeman series, too!  In fact, you may wish to start with number 1.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty

Three Wishes is a story about 3 sisters who are triplets. The sisters are in their early thirties and are suffering through the all too common bumps of life. Lyn, Cat and Gemma may share a birthday but they are 3 very different women who have chosen to lead their lives in different ways. Lyn is driven and successful professionally as well as in her personal life but the stress of always being perfect is starting to get to her. Cat seems to have it all, a great husband and a good job but then she discovers that her husband is not the person that she thought he was and her life is turned upside down. Gemma appears to lead a carefree life with no worries but she is actually carrying a dark secret that has kept her from truly moving on and embracing a stable relationship.

I love reading Moriarty because her stories are full of secrets and suspense. They are fast paced and I never want to put them down after I start reading. Three Wishes goes at a much slower pace than her other novels but I still thought that it was fantastic. There were some dark themes in the story but she was able to take the worst of it away with humor. Making the story both tragic and funny at the same time. The characters had depth and were relatable I especially liked how certain things or events would trigger memories from their childhood. More often than not the sisters would have a different perspective on a certain childhood event which I thought made them even more defined and helped to show their different personalities. Overall, this was a great read and I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Moriarty or is looking for something light and funny to read. – Cassie

Monday, March 6, 2017

Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman

Finally in this blog, a book by a thoughtful TV comedian. The 21 American heroes Offerman praises include Frederick Douglass, Ben Franklin, and James Madison, but also Wendell Berry, Carol Burnett and Laurie Anderson. They have in common our greatest American values: honesty in the face of power, iconoclasm, diligent action, and a sense of humor.

This guy made his reputation parodying a libertarian conservative, but his values are timeless and his prose self-effacing. I always wondered what kind of guy Tom Laughlin (Billy Jack) really was; Offerman takes us to his funeral. The author shares grousing, tousled commentary and charm about great Americans who made our community more inclusive by working outside the bounds of acceptability. Offerman likes gumption and stands up for woodworking rights for the least among us. He also takes me back to the ‘70s before disco or punk, when everybody needed fresh air.  --Jon

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Man in the White Suit

After each World War, the art of England was rather grim. In the ‘50s for Ealing Studios, Alexander Mackendrick wrote the blackest-humored, cynical scripts with a lovely veneer of charm and effervescence about them. Our library has these gutbusting comedies on DVD.

My favorite now is The Man in the White Suit, a fairy tale about pursuing your passions as the world rises in arms to stop you.

Alec Guinness stars in a role he played throughout his career: an isolated devotee of recondite wisdom. He is fired from mill factory jobs when he works singlemindedly as a chemist to create a miracle synthetic fabric that does not stain. The spoiled daughter of his mill owner, although promised to a rival industrialist, finds this naive chemist fascinating. When Guinness succeeds, his fellow workers and the corporate barons both suppress his discovery, fearing it will destroy their livelihoods. The folks at the top and the bottom have no room for someone who shakes up their established order.

Mackendrick’s films’ dark view of mature people’s ethics is still timely. His other masterpiece was the original 1955 The Ladykillers, on my all-time greats list, and also starring Guinness as a slightly mad iconoclast. Mark Bourne offers a marvelous review of The Man in the White Suit at --Jon

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Perfect Little World By Kevin Wilson

Isabelle (Izzy) Poole just graduated high school and is pregnant with her Art teacher’s baby. Unfortunately for her, he is unstable and selfish and he isn’t happy about the baby. He tells her that he doesn’t want her to keep the baby but even though she knows she will be raising it on her own she decides to keep it. She has no one to turn to for help, her mother died when she was 13 and her father is an alcoholic so when she is offered money from her ex’s parents to have the baby she accepts. Through her doctor she is recruited for a program led by Dr. Preston Grind called the Infinite Family Project. The opportunity to have her medical expenses covered as well as a stable and safe environment for her unborn child is a dream come true for Izzy so even though she is somewhat skeptical of Dr. Grind’s project, she accepts.

On the outside The Infinite Family project looks a lot like any typical commune community but Dr. Grind believes with his investors’ money and his rules he will be able to create the perfect utopian society. Izzy and her newborn son join 9 other families at the complex shortly after she gives birth and they begin the process of relearning everything that they had previously believed about what being a family means.

I enjoyed this book, the story was well thought out and the characters were genuine and easy to relate too. I can definitely see the appeal of being part of a utopian society especially one where money and childcare are not a constant worry. However, it was easy early on in the story to see why this idea of an Infinite Family would work better in theory then in practice. Anytime you put a group of strangers together there is bound to be some drama and adding children and marriages to the mix seems like a recipe for disaster. It took longer than I expected but things eventually started to fall apart for the family but I was pleased to see that the cast of characters were able to handle the challenges and even managed to become successful after the project ended. Wilson provided an interesting take on what it means to be a family, in this case blood did not make the family it was shared experiences and common goals that kept them together. The end of the book had a faster pace than the rest of the story and it had a somewhat romanticized ending. For some this may turn them away but I felt that the characters deserved to have happy endings so I was ultimately pleased with how it turned out. This was a quick read that I think would be interesting to anyone who enjoys reading about family dynamics and psychology. -Cassie

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Dark Night: A True Batman Story by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso

In the early 1990's, Paul Dini was a successful writer for Warner Brother's animation department, on the staff of the groundbreaking TV revival of Batman.  He had his dream job, even if he felt it wasn't important work, and an apartment full of all the toys (action figures, memorabilia, a juke box) he could want, even if his social life was lacking.  Then one night, walking home from an especially bad date, he was mugged and severely beaten, to the point that he required facial reconstruction to rebuild pieces of his skull which had been "powdered on impact."  In 2016, he and artist Eduardo Risso published this graphic novel account of the attack and Dini's physical and psychological recovery from it.

The striking aspect of this book, and a particular strength of the graphic novel/comic format in general, is how the story blends fact, commentary, and fiction together through its visuals.  Dini narrates the book to an invisible audience, which turns out to only partly be the reader, and weaves Batman's archetypal hero, villains, and set-pieces throughout as conversationalists and stand-ins for his psychological dilemmas.  Scenes involving these characters, as well as other important people and incidents, take on signature colors or surreal imagery that serve to deepen their meaning.

I do believe that, while Batman fans might get the most out of the book due to its use of that world's characters and tropes, the story itself is powerful and will speak to the non-fan.  Batman, The Joker, and his other nemeses, have become part of our pop culture language so you may understand the references even if you've never seen one of the movies or read one of the comics.  Dini's path from self-delusion and loneliness to healing and understanding, told through the prism of stories, is one that many of us have to walk in our lives, after all.   -Barb

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East by Richard Engel

Whenever I see NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel on the Nightly News, I wonder, "How is this man still alive?"  For more than 20 years he has been reporting to us from the world's most dangerous hotspots in the Arab world.  His newest book recounts some of his most harrowing experiences while giving us insight as to why some warring factions there hate each other, as they have for centuries.

During his career, Engel has lived in Cairo, Jerusalem, Baghdad, Beirut and Istanbul, among other places.  Self-taught, he speaks fluent Arabic, which enables him to gain access to valuable news sources by befriending locals and learning whom to trust.  Over the years, he has often slept on the floor, his mattress propped in windows for a bomb shield.  In 2012 he was kidnapped by what he called a "Sunni-connected criminal gang."

His story is rich with descriptions of events as he saw them unfold, with helpful background information.  He explains not only the uprising in Egypt in 2013 that resulted in the overthrow of President Mubarek, but also what led up to it.  He says technology, the smartphone in particular, contributed to the unrest because it allowed rebels to better communicate with each other regarding the wealth disparity that was becoming increasingly evident.

In the later part of the book, Engel explains his assertion that the U.S. involvement in Iraq failed and actually contributed to the formation of ISIS.  Of that group's recruitment success, he writes, "It is a disturbing aspect of human nature that if there is a place where there are no consequences and where the most grotesque murders are tolerated in the name of a cult claiming to be a faith, a certain type of person will be attracted to it."

This book is a marvelous blend of history, current events analysis, human psychology, and adventure, all superbly written by a seasoned journalist.  -Margie

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