Friday, April 24, 2015

Retribution by Mark Charan Newton

In the second installment of the author’s Drakenfeld series, Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld and his associate are sent to the far-away city of Kuvash to investigate a priest’s disappearance.  Upon arrival, however, they discover that the priest has been found—in pieces.

This is a detective story/murder mystery in a fantasy setting. This is not high fantasy with non-human peoples; this is only fantasy in that the locations don't exist anywhere on earth & never have. There's nothing really identifiable relating to any real-world locale, and the cultures depicted don’t feel like any specific ancient/medieval earth culture (that I’ve read about previously anyway), so Newton has done a good job from the originality standpoint.

It's an interesting book from the mystery standpoint also. The author does not cheat; there's no magicking the bad guy into confessing, just good detective work and persistence. The clues are there to follow if you pay attention, but they are not completely obvious. Lucan and Leana both have personality, and so do the non-leading characters; everyone is pretty well fleshed out so you can get a feel for them. There’s also a twist at the end. I enjoyed this one as much as I did the first one in the series.    -LP  

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel (with Brett Witter)

While war was being waged across Europe, a small contingent of Allied soldiers were fighting a totally different battle: to retrieve the priceless works of European art that had fallen into Nazi hands.  Along the way these soldiers, who were mostly scholars, artists, museum curators, and preservationists, also tried to save important historical monuments and architecture from the ravages of war.  In short, these men were fighting to protect European culture.

The story really is incredible.  We see these Monuments Men playing detective in an often frustrating hunt to track down stolen art, and also throwing their weight around to save buildings and architecture from being destroyed by the Allied march.  The book focuses on only a handful of these men and details their backgrounds, how they started the Monuments Men program (officially the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives, or MFAA), and their individual experiences in Europe during the war.  I thought that the first half of the book was slow, but necessary.  Things really get interesting, naturally, when the hunt begins in Europe.  The only odd thing was that a large part of the book was focused on the difficulties of getting the MFAA program up and running, and then all of a sudden it kind of just jumps forward to a point where the program is running extremely well.  In all honesty, though, I didn't read this book to learn about army organizational logistics so I didn't really mind.

The wanton looting of the Nazis is incredible.  The breadth, scope, and planning that went into the whole operation is astounding.  Even more astounding is the process the MFAA soldiers went through to get it back (and unfortunately, not all of it was found).  This books gives us underground mines full of Nazi gold and pillaged art and furniture, as well as a massive fairy tale castle full of stolen loot.  The story shines a light on a lesser known but vitally important aspect of World War II.  These men were custodians of art and culture, but they were also soldiers.  Some of them died, and all of them were changed by what they saw.  I really enjoyed this book, and would easily recommend it for anyone interested in art history or World War II.  The author, Robert Edsel, wrote another book about the MFAA operation in Italy, and I hope to read that as soon as I can find the time.-CA

Reserve this book here.

This book is also a selection for one of the 2015 Summer Reading book groups.  So if this sounds interesting be sure to keep an eye out for signups!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

While acting in a stage production of King Lear, world famous actor Arthur Leander suddenly collapses from a heart attack. Jeevan Chaudhary, a budding EMT, sees this in the audience and rushes to the stage to perform CPR. Viewing all of this in the wings of the theatre is a child actress named Kirsten Raymonde. But the heart attack, and subsequent death of Arthur Leander is not what this story is about. After failing to revive Arthur, Jeevan walks home from the theatre only to learn that a deadly virus has begun to take over the world. Brought over from Russia, the virus is infecting people at an alarming rate. Soon, most of the population will not survive. This story is about the aftermath. What happens to the surviving population as they navigate a changed world fifteen years later?

Moving back and forth through time, from the years before the virus to 15 years after, the story is told from the perspective of several narrators: we hear from Miranda, Arthur’s first wife, who never fit into his glamourous lifestyle; Kirsten, who is now an actress with the Traveling Symphony, a ragtag group of musicians and actors who roam the Great Lakes region performing wherever they are welcome; Jeevan, who chooses to first board himself up in his brother’s apartment to ride out the virus, only to then start traveling to an unknown destination when it is clear that the world will never go back to the way it was; Clark, Arthur’s oldest friend, who finds himself trapped in an airport when the virus hits; and interestingly, Arthur, the man whose story unifies everyone together. We also learn about the mysterious figure known only as the Prophet, who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave his community. As each narrator tells their story, we slowly learn how they are all connected to each other. 

This book is quite different than anything I have ever read before. It’s incredibly non-linear, jumping back and forth through time. But it never gets confusing or overwhelming. The author does an excellent job distinguishing each character. It’s also unique in the way it portrays an apocalyptic event. The focus is not necessarily on the devastation directly following the virus, but rather on the rebuilding of civilization. There’s actually quite a bit of hope in the book, and I found myself wishing that the story would have continued, so I could read more about these characters I had grown attached to. The only regret I had were the few questions left unanswered, specifically about the Prophet. I would have liked to have known more about his backstory. But I would definitely recommend this book to fans of dystopian fiction. -LT

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Paths Not Taken (Nightside #5) by Simon R. Green

Plot summary: John Taylor just discovered his long-gone mother created the Nightside—the dark heart of London—and intends to destroy it. To save his birthplace, he will have to travel back through a very distant—and probably deadly—past. (*Description quoted from Goodreads). British author Green's urban fantasy series, while not as well-known as his space opera "Deathstalker Saga", successfully blends hardboiled private eye tropes with both fantasy and science fiction. "Normal" London exists side by side with the Nightside netherworld, "a place where dreams come true and nightmares come alive. Where one can buy anything, often at the price of your soul... or someone else's. Where the music never stops and the fun never ends."

I jumped into the middle of this series, which may bias my take on it somewhat. John Taylor is trying to prevent an awful future, but his methods are...not what I expect from the good guy. It's very unclear by the end of the book whether he did the right thing or not, but he has to live with it. Of course, this is DARK fantasy, so I suppose that's par for the course. On the other hand, the entire book is a really exciting chase through time/history to achieve his ends, with his sidekick/not lover Shotgun Suzie kicking ass right alongside him, except when she's out in front beating the snot out of all & sundry. I liked Suzie best of all the characters - sad backstory has not prevented her from becoming the most feared bounty hunter in the Nightside. I'm going to read the next book in the series, at least, possibly more, just to see what happens, so I guess the hook sank in. -LP

Friday, April 3, 2015

Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel

After years of studying sunspots, ocean tides, and planetary motion, brilliant astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei believed in the early 1600s that the sun, not the Earth, was the center of the known universe.  His assertion that the world is heliocentric was contrary to Catholic Church doctrine at the time, leading ultimately to his arrest and imprisonment.

Galileo's Daughter is as much a biography of Galileo himself as it is about his daughter, a cloistered nun.  But she played a significant role in that we know about his life and work from her extant letters to her father, with whom she shared a special bond.  Unfortunately, his letters to her were presumed destroyed after her death because his work was considered heretical by Pope Urban VIII.

Author Sobel extensively researched Suor (Sister) Maria Celeste's letters, gleaning much from them about the father/daughter relationship and political/social events of the period.  For example, her book is historically rich with explanations of early scientific discoveries by Galileo and others, and with accounts of the bubonic plague that struck Italy and other European countries in the 1630s.

At times, lengthy details of the Church's hierarchy and political maneuverings seemed tedious.  But overall, the powerful story of Galileo's work, how it contradicted Catholic teachings, and how he struggled to reconcile this conflict with religious leaders and within himself makes the book well worth reading.  It is noteworthy that clashes between science and religion are still happening now, 400 years later.  -MS

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This title is also available as a book club kit or as a digitally downloaded audiobook or e-book on Montana Library 2 Go.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Diary of Edward the Hamster 1990-1990 by Miriam Elia and Ezra Elia

I initially requested that the library order this book because National Public Radio had voted it one of the best books of 2013 and I couldn’t quite decide if it was a comic book or a graphic novel and I'm naturally attracted to the weird and unusual in books.  The answer: it’s neither comic or graphic novel but rather an illustrated book cataloged in the humor section of the library’s 800’s shelves...and it's definitely unusual.

As the title suggests, this modest tome is Edward’s Diary and yes, Edward is a hamster.  The humor in this book is dark (again, just look at the title).  As Edward’s life progresses I found his diary entries in turns hopeful and hopeless, often sad, but nearly always profound in some way.

I really enjoyed this one.  -JW

If you want to find out what happens to Edward, or if you’re looking for something totally different to try, read Edward’s Diary.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

YOUR TURN, Part 2! Our patrons rate their "Blind Dates with a Book." (UPDATED on 4/7/15)

As promised, we have some more responses for you from our Blind Date with a Book responses.  Without further ado: 

The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner
  • Stars:  NA, but remarked "Excellent"
  • Tell us about your date: "Kept me interested.  Felt I knew the characters--loved the descriptions of the places and countryside."
  • Would you recommend?:  "Yes"
The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
  • Stars:  5
  • Tell us about your date: "Good mystery.  Thought provoking subject matter.  Too true to be just fiction."
  • Would you recommend?:  "Yes"
The Woman who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle
  • Stars:  NA
  • Tell us about your date: "Returning the book unread.  Not interested in spending the time or energy to immerse myself in the language and/or culture."
  • Would you recommend?:  "Yes--It would depend."
What the Dog Did by Emily Yoffe
  • Stars:  4
  • Tell us about your date: "Truthful, funny nostalgic, sometimes sad."
  • Would you recommend?:  "Yes"
Austenland by Shannon Hale
  • Stars:  3
  • Tell us about your date: "Probably aimed at a younger audience.  Fun and different."
  • Would you recommend?:  "No"
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • Stars:  4
  • Tell us about your date: "Short, sweet, poetic, simple yet profound."
  • Would you recommend?:  "Yes"
Born to Bark by Stanley Coren
  • Stars:  4
  • Tell us about your date: "A good story about overcoming obstacles and stereotypes."
  • Would you recommend?:  "Yes"
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • Stars:  5
  • Tell us about your date: "Fun fantasy.  Fast easy read, hard to put down."
  • Would you recommend?:  "Yes"
*NEW:  Travels with Charlie:  In Search of America by John Steinbeck
  • Stars:  3
  • Tell us about your date:  "Boring;  uses too many words to "say something"
  • Would you recommend?:  No

That's it for now!  If you would like to add your comments to a Blind Date book that you read this February, please stop in for a bookmark, or just add your comments to this entry.  As always, we'd love to hear from you!   -BR