Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: In the Forest of Harm by Sallie Bissell

In the Forest of Harm is not a new book.  In fact, I dimly remember Ms. Bissell coming to Linebaugh for an author talk not too long after I was hired in back in 2001.  It's one of those books that I had always meant to read.  It's a female-driven thriller written by a woman who has ties to the Nashville area and those always end up on the top of my to-be-read pile.  I'm not sure how it slipped by me!  When I discovered that one of my favorite mystery imprints, Midnight Ink, picked the series up after an eight-year lapse, I figured now would be a great time to check it out.

I'm so glad I did!  I don't know precisely what my expectations were, but Ms. Bissell exceeded them all. 

The main character, Mary Crow, is a Cherokee woman who grew up in the mountains of North Carolina.  She moved away after her mother was murdered and eventually became a prosecutor in Atlanta, where she became known as one of the best in her field.  Twelve years later, after successfully prosecuting a tough, high-profile case, she and two friends, Alex and Joan, return to her hometown to hike in the Nantahala National Forest.  Where Henry Brank finds them.

Mary leaves the campsite to spend some time sketching.  When she returns, she finds Joan brutally raped and left for dead, Alex gone.  Mary must find a way to save her friends and survive the dangers of the forest while evading Brank, and the brother of the man she just convicted who is determined to eliminate her.

My synopsis really doesn't do the plot justice.  Yes, the novel is primarily a mystery/thriller, but it is also a story of survival; it's a story of coming home and facing the past; and it's a story of friendship surviving great adversity.  The book is rich and complex without confusion or filler, and it is every bit as good as any well-reviewed best seller in the genre.

As a whole, I would compare it most closely to Nevada Barr's most recent, Destroyer Angel, which pits Anna Pigeon up against a band of kidnappers who raid her camp in the woods and hold her companions hostage.  The quality of writing and the level of violence is very similar.  Tess Gerritsen fans and readers of James Patterson's Women's Murder Club series will especially enjoy the relationship between Mary, Alex, and Joan; The Native elements will appeal to Hillerman and Wendelboe readers; C.J. Box fans will enjoy the gritty, nature-based suspense.

I will definitely be reading the rest of the series!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Fun and Easy Nonfiction

by Andrea Moore

During the holiday season, we often find ourselves without much time to read. So here are a few suggestions for some fun and easy reads in non-fiction:

The creator of the popular web-comic xkcd and former NASA roboticist Randall Munroe is here to answer all of the important questions: What would happen if the sun suddenly went out? What if every person in the world stood as close together as they could and jumped at the same time? What if we all pointed a laser pointer at the moon? Even when the answer to some of these questions is ‘not much’, Munroe often explores the scenario further until something interesting does happen, so there’s a lot of amusement and education to be found here.

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Hark! A Vagrant contains hilarious strips based mostly on literature and history. Beaton, a Canadian, focuses a lot on her own country’s history, but ventures out to other lands just as often. Other fun topics are re-interpretations of those slightly odd Nancy Drew covers, and an exploration into the varied Watsons portrayed in versions of Sherlock Holmes over the years (ranging from very clever Watson to the one who gets excited over jam.)

This is the one I recommend to all of the otherwise sensible people who deny Pluto’s new status. We all love Pluto, and Tyson understands that. He’s here to explain the whole status change to us gently, with charm and science. Not only will you get the explanation of just why Pluto isn’t a planet anymore, but also why we all love the dwarf planet so much, and were so upset to have its status changed. (Many grade schoolers sent Tyson, angry, sad, and betrayed letters in crayon when he dared change Pluto’s status in the exhibits at the Hayden Planetarium. And yes, many of these letters are included in the book.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Holiday Reads: Food and Christian Fiction

by Katie Dell

The books in my current to-be-read pile have everything to do with Christmas.  A little fiction to warm my heart and a little holiday food to fill the tummy!

The Christmas Quilt by Vanetta Chapman is a touching family drama perfect for fans of Amish Inspirational fiction.  It is part of the Quilts of Love series, which features standalone volumes by a variety of Christian Fiction authors.

Christmas at Rose Hill Farm by Suzanne Woods Fisher is an Amish love story that will delight romance readers of all stripes, especially if you enjoy the theme of choosing between an old love returned and a new love found. (It's also available as an ebook!)

Similar in theme, Susanna's Christmas Wish by Jerry S. Eicher is another perfect read for the season. (It's also available as an ebook!)

The novella Peace by Shelley Shepherd Gray is a good choice for mystery readers crossing into Christian Fiction.  It rounds out the Secrets of Crittenden County series, so if you like to read from the beginning, start with Missing.

The Good Housekeeping Christmas Cookbook, while mainly focused on holiday food preparation, also provides a more comprehensive look at the holiday with decorating tips, celebrity reminiscences, gift ideas, and more.

The Fix-it-and-Forget-it Christmas Cookbook by Phyllis Pellman Good contains 600 slow cooker recipes to make preparing holiday food much less stressful!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What we're reading - Thanksgiving 2014

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a librarian in possession of a four-day weekend must be in want of a pile of books to read.  Your LPLS bloggers got together and compiled a list of the titles we're taking home for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan - Gaffigan's book on fatherhood made this non-male, non-parent laugh hysterically.  (The cat thought I was nuts.)  Not only is the subject something I'm actually familiar with, it is also holiday appropriate.

Slightly Married by Mary Balogh -For me, this is the time of year for re-reading old favorites, which include the Slightly as well as the Simply series by this bestselling regency romance author.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - Because Brittney is a good book recommender.  I read Rowell's Fangirl in September and absolutely loved it.

Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn -Because it's a SF retelling of Jane Eyre, I suspect it will be awesome.

I'm currently reading On Borrowed Time, the fifth installment in Jenn McKinlay's Library Lovers Mysteries series, which follows the cozy adventures of small-town library director Lindsey Norris.  Next up will be Heroes Are My Weakness, a gothic-inspired romance by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I'm also planning to start Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn soon. My fear of missing out is really getting to me on that one.

R. C. Lewis Stitching Snow - A futuristic retelling of Snow White that features romance and robot repair.
Robin LaFevers Grave Mercy - A fantasy whose protagonist, Ismae, must wield deadly power in the face of dangerous court intrigue and impossible choices.
Sherry Thomas The Burning Sky - This historical fantasy set at Eton College in the 1880's is perfect for grown-up Harry Potter fans.
Julie Kagawa Talon - Ember Hill is a dragon living amongst humans.  Garret's mission is to seek out and destroy dragons.  This YA fantasy is chock full of romance, excitement, and conflict.
Shallee McArthur The Unhappening of Genesis Lee - This YA SF contains mystery and romance elements as well as the exploration of memory and the human mind.
Lucy Saxon Take Back the Skies - this futuristic adventure is the first in a six-volume series and will appeal to fans of Westerfeld and Collins.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North - the pseudonymous North has written a beautiful novel about a immortal man who is reborn, over and over, with all the memories of his former lives.

Lock In by John Scalzi - In the not-too-distant future, a virus has rendered millions of people fully aware, but
paralyzed.  Or "locked in."  Some of them become able to take over certain receptive humans' bodies and conflict ensues.

Courtney Crumrin volumes 3, 4, and 5 by Ted Naifah - This graphic novel series features a girl who moves in with her uncle and discovers a world of magic.

I've got at least 4 hours in the back of a car to look forward to on Thanksgiving and a bunch of books I want to take with me.  I like variety.

The Folklore of Discworld by Terry Pratchett - Looks at the creatures and beings of Discworld and compares them to their Earth counterparts.  About 1/2 way through it.
World of Warcraft: Vol'jin: Shadows of the Horde by Michael A. Stackpole - A WoW novel about events that took place during the Mists of Pandaria expansion.  About 1/2 way though.
Closer to Home by Mercedes Lackey - The 1st book in the new Herald Spy series, sequel to the Collegium series. Part of Lackey's Valdemar Chronicles.  A couple of chapters in.
Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers - Latest book in the His Fair Assassin's series.  A nunnery that trains assassins?  Yes, please!
The Graveyard Book Vol 1 and 2 by Neil Gaiman - Graphic novel version of his short story turned novel.  Almost done with Vol 1.
The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley - New graphic novel from the author of the Amelia Rules! books.
Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks by James Goss - A lost journal of Shakespeare in which he describes how the Doctor affected his life.
Chi's Sweet Home Vol 11 by Kanata Konami - A very cute series about a kitten who gets adopted.
Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters by Mallory Ortberg - The title says it all.
Nightmares! by Jason Segel - I like Jason Segel and want to see how he does as an author.
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe - Scientific answers to odd questions.  Brought to you by the guy responsible for XKCD.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Heroic Reads: Spotlight on Marvel Graphic Novels!

People like superheroes, I know, because I'm a people, and I like superheroes for going on 35 years already. If you're interested in finding out more about some of our superhero graphic novels, then this entry is for you.

Patrons are often unsure as to where to start with "superhero" graphic novels & collections, mostly because they're disinclined to either wade into the soup of "what has gone before" just to enjoy a story (so they want something that requires minimal introduction - what comics readers of old refer to as a "good jumping-on point") or they're gun shy about being left on a cliffhanger - when someone sets out to read a story, they want the whole story, not a simply an obligation to keep on reading. What follows are some self-contained graphic novels/comic book collections that can be read by people who are only passingly familiar with the characters and still enjoyed to the utmost.

If you're a diehard fan of these characters, you'll enjoy these things too. You already knew that.

As I'm certain it was intended, The Trial of Jean Grey, taken altogether as one story, functions beautifully well as an introduction to the Guardians of the Galaxy (just in time for the movie, since it came out earlier this year) AND the time-displaced squad of original X-Men (plus a couple of folks along for the ride). The introductory material at the beginning is helpful without being exhaustively expository, and we jump right into a story that feels in progress because it is. It's already happening when you get there - don't worry; you didn't miss anything.

The various characterizations made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion and the action scenes are exciting but brief, with none of the typical "jump cut to EVERY character" panels that can wear out a reader, especially in a book that mixes two teams. The writing here is solid enough to make you understand what drives every character without taking up a lot of space to get that job done. Good enough that I enjoyed it and then left it in my son's room to be read and shared. Bonus bit: if you are unfamiliar with Marvel 616 (the standard universe) history, there are a couple of quick lessons in here, too. You don't have to know anything about the X-Men or the Guardians of the Galaxy to enjoy this one - a great ride.

Staying with big team books for a little while, the next one I'm recommending is Avengers Assemble: Forgeries of Jealousy. Nothing works quite as well as a fun Avengers book with a lot going on, and between Kelly Sue DeConnick (who is the current scribe on the wonderful Captain Marvel) and Warren Ellis (among other things, the creator of the Red comics and movies), this achieves that and makes it look easy, like it's always supposed to work this way. Can be read as a standalone volume, as it renders any questions you might ask about status and continuity irrelevant to the plot and story arc. Uses the current line-up of the Avengers as it is in the Marvel Universe - so, more Wolverine, Captain Marvel and Spider-Girl than you will probably ever have seen in movies - but, as I say, if you just roll with the plot and dialogue on this one, the story's good enough to render questions about backstory and status quo completely moot.

Another great Avengers book available at the library is also another Warren Ellis tale, Avengers: Endless Wartime. A little darker than the typical Avengers story (and, as such, perhaps a precursor of what's to come from the movies) this one focuses on two things: the unintended consequences of decades-long careers of heroes like Captain America and Thor, and also the shortcomings and basic human tendencies (some folks would use the word 'foibles,' but I've never been fond of that one) that affect the actions of people like Hulk, Black Widow, Iron Man, Captain Marvel and Hawkeye. How human are you when sometimes you're a monster? How about when you're half-alien? What about when you've compartmentalized your emotions?

The interactions between the characters here are broadly played for laughs, but manage to also convey serious depth of character and relationships; you can tell these people have known each other for years and work together all the time, from the Captains' jokes about Army vs. Navy to the observations about Hawkeye & Iron Man's deplorable personal habits. Who they are and the world they inhabit is explored here in depth, but in not very many pages - only the best writers can do this job this well and this quickly. One of my favorite Avengers books, period.

In the Marvel Comics Universe, Clint Barton is Hawkeye, just like in the movies. Due to complicated "thought-you-were-dead-but-you-turned-up-alive" stuff that only happens in comics and soap operas, Kate Bishop is also Hawkeye. The 1st two collections in this series (My Life as a Weapon & Little Hits) were about Barton. This Hawkeye collection is not.

Hawkeye: L.A. Woman is about Kate Bishop, and her quest to escape Barton's self-destructive behavior, New York problems and Avengersness with a trip out West. It's good and it's funny and Matt Fraction manages to re-capture the tone of this series which was lost a little at the end of Little Hits. Kate travels out to L.A. and old grudges come back to bite her, while new stuff is revealed and her character is given some additional depth. Starts a new arc and makes you want to read it, still makes with the slickest artwork going in the Marvel U right now thanks to Wu & Pulido and gives its background characters a lot of good stuff to do an space in which to do it. Also? Self-mockery without reflexive "look-at-me" cleverness. Good stuff.

Cheating my own rule a little bit, we have the Captain America collection, Castaway in Dimension Z. I have to admit, as a cast-iron Captain America fan, I almost didn't read this, and that would have been a sad moment for me. It's good; warped and weird, sick and twisted, these are the best ways to make Arnim Zola scary again, and Remender does a great job. Bouncing back and forth between the troubled upbringing of Steve Rogers to the now-time mindbending situation that confronts him in Dimension Z, this story feels like an extended wind-up before the pitch of an epic, focusing as it does so heavily on the so I'm looking forward to getting my hands on Volume 2 already. John Romita's art, as always, befits the Captain, and no one does "bedraggled hero" better than Romita, Jr. Good stuff, but ends a little cliffhangery, which is why this is a cheat to my own previously established parameters. This is the first of a two-collection story, and the library's going to be ordering the second one, so in my not particularly humble opinion, it's worth it to get on board with this one.

Finally, Black Widow gets the storyline you've wanted her to have for ages. What motivates a semi-hero like Black Widow, and can you make corruption and guilt and recompense happen quickly enough to still build a comic around it? Turns out that the answer is yes, and that comic is the Black Widow collection The Finely Woven Thread. The art is gorgeous and the story spans the globe, brings in the intelligence community of the Marvel Universe and has The Hand of God reach out into the life of Natasha Romanov.

This one's kind of a re-establishment or re-set of a the character; something that happens more than comics companies explicitly admit. 'Re-boot' is the word bandied about for stuff like this more often than not, but that wouldn't be accurately used here. A Re-boot is complete restart from zero, throwing aside much of what you thought you knew in order to newly establish a character - reinventing the old. This is more of a return to where the character should have been all along - like what Ennis & Dillon did with the Punisher in Welcome Back, Frank - just shedding what you don't need, polishing those brass tacks, and giving us good story. I'm reluctant to say too much more lest I spoil it; suffice it to say that this one is a self-contained, stripped down, high functioning story at breakneck speed, and you only need to enjoy quality art and writing to enjoy this.

That's enough for now - I look forward to another installment of this when new stuff comes in!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wild Readalikes: Books about Hiking and Adventure

This summer I read Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild, and it left me inspired and breathless. The fact that the film adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon is coming out next month is a testament to the fact that my feelings about the book are not unique.

Some background for the uninitiated: Reeling after the dissolution of her marriage and her mother's death, Strayed made the somewhat rushed decision to do a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. (To define "somewhat rushed": Her research consisted of seeing a travel guidebook about the trail and deciding that she liked the idea.) Thru-hike, as in the entire trail, from Mexico to Canada, all 2,650 miles of it, all of its scorching deserts and icy mountains and everything in between. When she set out, she did so encumbered with pounds of extra supplies and without any real understanding of the challenges she would face. Wild eloquently details Strayed's encounters with rattlesnakes, extreme weather, hunger, severely blistered feet, and her own thoughts. It also includes stories of new friends, triumph, and "trail magic."

If you read Wild, it's very likely that two things will happen. First, you will be overcome with the urge to go for a hike, walk, or even just a stroll. (Check out Tennessee State Parks to find a trail near you, and hit up the 796.51 area of nonfiction for some how-to know-how.) Second, you will have no idea what to read next because that book is just so good. In that case, read on for some recommendations.

If your favorite parts of Wild were the ones concerned with Strayed pushing her physical and mental limits and experiencing bracing moments of sheer girl power, you will not want to miss Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods by Christine Byl. Like Strayed, Byl made a choice on little more than a whim that ended up profoundly changing her life. Following her graduation from college, Byl joined the trail crew at Glacier National Park. In so doing, she left behind a life primarily of the mind for one of the body, engaging in the difficult and very physical work of clearing brush, laying trail, felling trees, and moving boulders. I was impressed by the lyrical quality of Byl's writing and by the breadth of her technical knowledge. This woman knows more about an axe than Paul Bunyan and writes well enough to make that axe interesting.

If you spent a lot of time wondering about the really bad what-ifs of Strayed's journey, read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Unlike my other suggestions, it's not a memoir, but it is no less compelling. Krakauer presents a meticulously researched account of Christopher McCandless. After graduating from college, McCandless assumed the name Alexander Supertramp, donated his money to charity, cut ties with his family, and disappeared. He spent the time traveling across the United States, working odd jobs, meeting people, and gathering experiences. His wanderings culminated in his death in Alaska. (A fact you learn on the cover of the book, so don't worry: It's not a spoiler.) Krakauer traces McCandless's steps, examines the causes of his death, and explores the aftermath of his departure from his family. I enjoyed Krakauer's engaging journalistic style and his ability to deliver the whole picture, connecting McCandless's story to those of other youthful wilderness explorers. McCandless is a polarizing figure in the world of nature enthusiasts, survivalists, and hikers. Read the book and see what you think.

If you were equal parts amused and horrified by that moment when Strayed's hiking boot went flying irretrievably off the edge of the mountain, try A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. Bryson and his hapless partner (estranged friend Stephen Katz) endeavor to conquer the entire Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine. Like Strayed, they are inexperienced but ambitious, and the mixture of these two attributes leads to some unexpected moments of comedy on the trail. Bryson's conversational writing style mixes personal anecdote with AT history for fascinating results. A Walk in the Woods is less serious in tone than Wild, and it sort of felt like an uncle telling me stories about his adventures. (Obviously, this effect will vary if you are not, like me, a woman in her mid-to-late twenties.)

I hope these suggestions satisfy your need for adventure. Happy trails!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Using the Catalog - Searching Tips and Tricks!

LPLS's online catalog is a powerful tool.  One that allows you to search our holdings, place holds on things, request titles we don't have yet, monitor your account, renew items, and pay overdue fines.  Today, we're going to focus on some searching tips and tricks to help you find exactly what you're looking for, quickly and efficiently.  Using as many adverbs as possible.

You can use Boolean Operators (and, not, or) to customize your results.  Which is extremely helpful!  But if a title begins with one of those operators - like Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None - you'll get this:

But putting the title in quotes will get you results.

One-word titles can also make things difficult.  (Jonathan Kellerman, I'm looking at you.)  Since I'm picking on poor Mr. Kellerman, we'll use his book Mystery as an example.  When you do the default keyword search for Mystery you get 10,534 titles.  That's ten-thousand.  Changing your search from a keyword to a title search gets you 3,876.  But we can do better.  Because we have Power Search!

Power Search is an advanced searching tool that will let you use multiple criteria. In this case, searching for the author (last name first!) and title will greatly improve your results:

But what if you need to get really specific?  Say, you need a picture book about George Washington for a small child.  You can specify the area of the library that you want the results to come from!

In this case, you would click on Power Search and type Washington, George into the subject field.  Below that, you should see a series of drop-down menus.

These are defaulted to provide you with the most results possible.  The more fields you change, the more specific your results will be.  But beware - if you use too many, you may not get enough results.  Or maybe none at all.

It can be tricky at first to know what each field is and which one(s) to use.  Some of them are more helpful than others.

  • Library relates to the branch that owns the item.   Specifying this is helpful if you don't have time to wait for a hold to be transferred to your preferred branch.  Otherwise, leaving this as ALL will get you more complete results.
  • Language relates to the language the book is written in or, in the case of audio-visual items, what languages the audio track and/or subtitles are in.  This is most helpful, obviously, if you're looking for an item in a specific language, but it not necessary to use if your preferred language is English.
  • Format is a fun one.  You can choose to only get results that are books, or DVDs.  At the time of this writing, there wasn't an audiobook option, but there is a way!
  • And that way is Type!  Not all of the possible choices under Type will give you results.  Audio Books and New Books, for example.  Choosing Book, Compact Disc, Books on CD, DVD, or Paperback Books will result in those kind of items.
  • Location relates to where the item lives in the library.  Like Type, not all of the possible choices will yield results.  LPLS uses FIC (for adult fiction), LG-PRINT, NONFIC (for adult nonfiction), REF, HIST-REF, JUV (for children's chapter books and nonfiction), EASY (for children's picture books), AUDIOBOOK, AV, AV-JUV, DVD-FIC, and DVD-NF.  Some of the audiovisual criteria has changed over the years, so try using multiple searches for a more comprehensive result.
  • Item Category 1 is related to location.  For example, if you use JUV in the location field, you can use FICTION in Item Category 1 to get results that are only children's chapter books.  In my opinion, this is the best use of this menu.  Other choices, such as genre for adult fiction, are very subjective and might limit your results too much.
  • Item Category 2 will let you specify the basic age level of an item.  Adult, Juvenile and YA.  If an item was acquired with state or federal funds, this is also indicated in this field with an HRL or SRL in front of the age category.  If you use Item Category 2, multiple searches might be required for comprehensive results.
  • If you're looking for a specific edition, you can also specify pub year.
  • You can choose how the catalog sorts your results.  (If there is a large number of items sorting may not be available.) 
  • And, finally, you can use the drop-down menus to just browse the collection.  Leave the search fields empty, choose any combination from the menu(s) and click the Search button.
So, knowing all of that, what would we use to find a picture book about George Washington for small children?

Changing EASY to JUV will get you fiction and nonfiction for older children.

I hope you found this helpful!  If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or give us a call at any branch.  We're always happy to assist!