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Thursday, March 28, 2013

On a Much More Serious Note...

Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Book Type: Literary fiction, Native American fiction, crime

Predictability Factor: Not so much. 

Cover Art: Um, broken Native American pottery????

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: ????

Character Score: 7.5 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?:  Teen's mother is assaulted. He and his father (along with 3 of Joe's best buds) attempt to piece the story together to find out who the attacker was while dealing with a lot of emotional baggage.

X-Factor: Indian reservation politics, uber saga

Predictability Factor: Not here, guys!  This is why I love Erdrich's books.  It isn't even about the plot half of the time- it's about the family drama and the everyday lives of people.  Not a book about the "dark, fierce eyes" of the savages, etc.  Not a stereotypical story about Native Americans in any sense.

Cover Art: Um, doesn't say much about the book.  Looks like a bunch of Native American pottery shards.  I mean, they are arranged in a round shape but...that's pretty much it.  Could be bits of bark? No idea.  Just makes for a clean but fairly uninteresting cover.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Sorry guys, kind of hard to pick who I'd want to sleep with in a book about someone who was sexually assaulted.  

Character Score: Love them.  Love them all.  My heart wants to burst for love of Joe and the innocence he loses through no fault of his own. 

What's the Story?:  The Round House is just as much a coming of age story as it is a crime drama.  Our narrator, thirteen-year-old Joe, is faced with an event that will change life on a North Dakota reservation as he knows it.  His mother Geraldine is attacked and assaulted on a Sunday in the summer of 1988.  With no one else to turn to, her husband Bazil (the local tribal judge) confides in Joe and together the two begin to piece together the details of the attack.  Reservation politics make it difficult to determine where the crime was committed and who should be held responsible and Joe and his father fight for normalcy as they watch Geraldine sink lower and lower into solitude and fear.  As the summer days pass by, Joe and his three friends manage to find out who the attacker is and go to great lengths to seek justice. This book is filled with the quiet grace and heart-breaking complexity of Erdrich’s other novels and paints a truthful portrait of a family who struggles to survive the emotional aftermath of a horrific crime. 

Most of this book isn't about the crime itself or even about Joe and Bazil's hunt for answers.  It is mostly a coming of age story for a Native American teen growing up on a reservation in the eighties.  There are very endearing parts of the book that echo with tones from Stand By Me (including an explanation of why Joe and his friends love Star Trek and which Star Trek character would be the best lover).  But Joe does a lot of growing up in a short span of weeks and doesn't even realize that it is happening.  This is the heart of the book: the decisions that Joe must make and how they shape the man he will become.  We see him go from a scared boy to a young man who must make a very difficult decision between exacting vengeance and following the letter of the law. 

X-Factor: Indian law and politics play a role in this story.  I don't know any Native Americans personally.  Short aside- which is the current correct term? Native American? Indian? American Indian (as opposed to Indian American)?  At any rate, not knowing a lot about the politics and laws involved (other than the fact that there are thousands of laws out there), I found this book to be very interesting.  Native Americans have been screwed-over for centuries and even though this book takes place in the not-so-distant past, they are still screwed by traditional law enforcement.  A woman is raped and nearly beaten to death and no one really cares??? Why does her skin color or where she lives matter? Guess that is the point.  That the innocence of juveniles shouldn't have to be sacrificed in order for justice to be served.  Also, this book has a lot of reoccurring names that readers will recognize (Mooshum, Nanapush) from Erdrich's other books like Love Medicine and Tracks.  I love that.  It's like a big huge book that never ends because even though these novels never have the same main character, characters are constantly walking on and off the pages.  It's what I like to call an Uber Saga- it arches over many years, many books and even many families. 

This book will break your heart in the best possible way.  You will cheer for Joe though you can see the black shadows looming on his horizon.  Erdrich's prose is beautiful and captures the ordinary and extraordinary in a painstakingly subtle way. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Review: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

Book Type: Fiction, family drama, civil rights law

Predictability Factor: Not really

Cover Art: Lots of sky and a bit of coastal town. *yawn*

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Geeze.  Can I just answer 'none'? Like, really guys.  It's that bad. Ugh,

Character Score: Negative 70 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Three siblings return to their small Maine hometown to deal with a family crisis, each person facing their own demons and potential destruction.

X-Factor: None.  I thought the fact that it took place in Maine would be awesome, but nope.

Predictability Factor: There wasn't one.  That is about the only good thing I can say for this book.  Period.

Cover Art: Snoozefest.  Cover looks bland, just like the contents.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Again, I say 'ugh.'

Character Score: Blech.  The author did a terrible job with the sort of omniscient writing style she used.  You got inside some of the characters heads, but only for really basic "no sh*t" type of thoughts that were also shown in the characters actions.  And it gave you details on characters you didn't really care about (and did NOTHING for the plot) but left more important things out for other characters.  Gross.  Bad.  Lame.

What's the Story?: The Burgess boys are famous in the small Maine town of Shirley Falls.  Bob, the youngest, for causing an accident which took the life of their father when he was very young.  Jim became a hot-shot defense attorney and got a famous singer out of a murder charge.  Both brothers escaped Maine and fled to New York City almost as soon as possible.  They each built their separate lives around a career in law and married but twenty-some years down the line, Bob is divorced and Jim is living a boring existence getting white collar criminals out of trouble.  When their nephew Zach, son of their sister Susan, commits what is essentially a hate crime, the Burgess boys return to Shirley Falls to try and make sense of the situation.  A big part of this crime involves the growing number of Somali refugees who have been moving into Maine in hopes of finding a safe place.  Shirley Falls is no exception and the town is filled with people who seem very strange, almost rude to the folk of this small Maine town.  After the brothers arrive, they try to calm their sister, bolster their nephew and make things easier for everyone legally.  Just when they think things are taken care of, federal charges are involved and everything dissolves all over again.

I was excited to get my hands on an advanced copy of this book.  I figured, famous author (Olive Kitteridge), takes place in Maine, family drama-sold.  But I was wrong.  VERY wrong.  I thought this book was going to be a lot more exciting or dramatic than it was.  Maybe that was what the author intended.  That life is just life, not TV and things can just sort of trail off and end or get muddled in the next thing.  This was boring.  So very boring.  How can a book about someone who killed their father or civil rights be so BORING???? I'll admit, I've never read any of Strout's other books.  But now, there is no way I would.  Do yourself a favor and go get a Stephen King novel if you want to read about Maine.  But if you still really want to read this book, it is available at bookstores everywhere on March 26th.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

In more positive book news: I finally got to listen to the audio version of How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr (my deepest apologies to any of you who now have that terrible Fray song in your head).  It was great.  AND I now have time to read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.  I've wanted to read this for well over a year now but never really had the right time to read and appreciate it.  That time is now.  And I am so psyched! WWII historical fiction, spies- count me in!

Friday, March 15, 2013

My Name In Print!

You guys!  You guys!!!! My name is in print!  And no, not in the Police Blotter. Actually, I was interviewed for an article about library social networking for the local weekly shopper that gets distributed in the town where I work but that is a TOTALLY different story.  One that isn't worth telling.

Here it is:  I got a fun email from the fabulous Lindsay Barber from the Bloomington Public Library last weekend.  She let me know that I was named in the acknowledgments in a book!  Like, a real book.  That is in print.  That people can buy on Amazon. For real.

Let me explain how this came to be.  Librarians always have patrons that they see on a regular basis at the library.  One of my regulars at BPL was Walter Mittelstaedt. I always worked Thursday nights on the reference desk and every week like clockwork, Walter would appear between 7 and 8 PM.  This is a man who loves to chat.  Who has an amazing memory- he always remembered my birthday, how many wins and losses the Cubs had had that season and how to spell my married name correctly.  A man who loved classic movies and movie music.  He is one of those patrons that you will always remember.

When I first met Walter, I  noticed that he said he was always researching for a book.  I didn't know him from Adam so I asked a co-worker "Hey, is this guy really writing a book or is he another one of those patrons who is very nice but also a little bit crazy?"  But no.  He really was writing books.  In fact, we had one he'd written on Shakespeare for students on our nonfiction shelves.  And it actually got checked out.  Walter would talk a bit about his books and the places where he was requesting microfilm from and I soon discovered that his tastes were very broad.  He loved Shakespeare and had been writing about one of his lost plays for a long time.  He also loved bank robbers and was writing a book on John Dillinger.  Right before I left BPL to move to Wisconsin he told me that he finally had a publisher for one of his books and was having to edit his index (which was a huge pain).

Back to the email.  In it was a link to Google Books and the entry for Walter's new book, Herman "Baron" Lamm, the Father of Modern Bank Robbery.  And sure enough I was named, proper spelling and all, along with other librarians from BPL in the acknowledgments.  I've only read the preface and the prologue so far and I have to say, I know nothing about bank robbers but it all sounds very much like Walter :)

You never know when one of the regular patrons from your past will reappear.  I guess I need to buy a copy and go back to BPL on a Thursday night to have Walter autograph it for me.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Book Review: Moon Over Edisto by Beth Webb Hart

Book Type: Southern fiction/family saga

Predictability Factor: Not so much.

Cover Art: Cutesy cursive font makes the book look like a romance...

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Simon, Jed, Charlie/Marney/Meg

Character Score: 6.75 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Dad leaves his family for his oldest daughter's college roommate.  Lots of emotional trauma and therapy ensues.

X-factor: Edisto Island, SC!!!!

Predictability Factor: Okay.  Yes, you know from the very beginning of the novel that something is going to push Julia into going back to South Carolina.  Yes, you know that all of the Bennett women are emotionally scarred and act in some predictable ways.  But this book isn't about plot twists or "who dunnits" so I can accept that.

Cover Art:  Lame.  Makes this look like a cozy romance where two people who have come from vastly different backgrounds and thought they'd "Never love again" fall in love on a beach under the moon.  I'd like it better if there were a painting of a moon over the sea since that goes with the story.  But that's just me.  It isn't a fluffy romance/beach read.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Well, I'd totally do it with Simon simply because he is dashing and British.  Done.  Anyone would be stupid not to marry Jed because 1. he's hot.  2. he's a surgeon. 3. he can Cook.  With a capital "C." Also, he's adorable and sweet.  Okay, I'd love to wring Charlie's neck because, what the hell was a grown man like that thinking??? But he's already dead when the book starts.  Marney is just as stupid but she's dying painfully of cancer so she's getting hers.  Then there's Meg.  What a self-righteous bitch.  Blah.  She needs to grow up and see that if her mother and older sister can deal with this, then she can too.

Character Score: Love most of the characters and love-to-hate a few others.  I was completely sucked in by this family and the adorably emotionally-crippled children.  It that even a thing?  Can you be adorably crippled?  Apparently so.

What's the Story?:

The Bennett family was happy and loving.  For years, the married couple and their two daughters spent their summers in a little beach house on Edisto Island less than an hour away from their Charleston, South Carolina home.  The girls fished and sailed boats, their mother cooked large, sumptuous meals and their father immersed himself in his favorite hobby: painting.  One summer, the eldest daughter Julia brings her college roommate to stay with the family for the summer.  Marney becomes like an adopted daughter, joining in on family activities and working with Julia to save money before going back to college again each fall.  But one summer, something is different.  Marney stands a little too close to Charlie Bennett, drinks from his cup, stares a little too long.  That fall, Charlie announces that he is divorcing Mary Ellen and stays out at the beach house permanently with Marney. 

Before the Bennett’s know it, Marney is expecting a child and Charlie marries her so the two can start a new family.  Heartbroken, the Bennett women all deal with this loss in different ways.  Julia flees to graduate school and then New York City where she has become a famous painter and visual arts teacher at a university.  Second daughter Meg keeps everything in her life as orderly and proper as possible and continues to do so throughout marriage and children.  Mary Ellen takes up a new job in Charleston and becomes a well-respected frame restorer for an antique store.  Each of the women avoids the issue as much as possible, even after Charlie’s death several years later.

Fast forward twenty-five years and the Bennett women have rebuilt their lives in one fashion or another.  Then one evening after Julia is preparing for a large art show, Marney appears at her door in New York.  She has lung cancer and needs Julia to care for her three children while she recovers.  Julia, who has never met her half siblings (and never wanted to) has a big Fulbright scholarship trip planned to Istanbul in the coming months is convinced that there must be someone else who can care for these children.  After all, Marney ruined her family and years of her happiness.  Julia certainly doesn’t owe her anything.
But Julia changes her mind and returns to South Carolina and the island that she has tried not to think about for years.  Terrified that this trip will destroy her emotionally, she treads very lightly at first.  But when she sees the youngest boy who has her father’s eyes, the middle daughter who loves to draw and paint just as she and her father used to and the serious eldest child who loves to read she finds herself falling in love with the family she never knew. 

Julia may not find all the answers to her questions, but by returning to Edisto she does more for herself and the three children than she’d ever imagined.  Moon Over Edisto is full of the southern Gothic and emotional pull of a complicated family saga.  

X-factor: You guys.  You guys!!!! I was totally stoked when I saw this book was reviewed by Publisher's Weekly.  Here's the reason: Edisto Island.  My family used to go to the island when I was a kid and rent a beach house with my aunt and uncle who live in Charleston.  We always had so much fun. In fact, we had so much fun that as the years went by, we made it a family vacation with ALL of my uncles, aunts, cousins and my grandmother.  Granted, that was such a big group that we couldn't find a big enough house for all of us on Edisto so we switched over to Folly Beach, but it is still fun to this day.  We're even going down there for one last trip this June.  So, no matter what this book was about: politics, history, sappy romance, I was going to read it.  And I am so glad that I did.

Loved this book.  Loved the characters, loved the drama, loved seeing people become their own person and   overcome their emotional wounds.  This is a great book for summer and I highly recommend it for any who love a good Southern tale.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Book Review: Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

Being a librarian has a few perks; one of which is access to advanced copies of books.  We get several boxes a month here at the library and there is a big bookcase that is full of advanced books that any staff member can borrow and read.  I am also a member of NetGalley, a service for those in the library and publishing fields where one can request electronic copies of books before they are published.  I was lucky enough to get my hands on both this novel and  Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys via NetGalley.

Book Type: Fiction, mystery

Predictability Factor: Meh.  Not predictable exactly...

Cover Art: Spooky tree.  Oooooooo!

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: This is going to be hard! I guess Bayard, Ford, Harris/Jason

Character Score: 3 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Guy kills someone and buries the body in the backyard.  He's totally freaking out when the cops unearth two different bodies beside his house.  How long does he have before the cops find out there is a third secret on his property?

Predictability Factor: I will state for the record that I am not generally a reader of mysteries.  But the concept of this book, a man living in perpetual fear that the authorities will discover the results of being pushed to the edge of reason only to have them discover the bodies of two people he didn't murder, was a good one.  Good enough that I went out and got an advanced readers copy and started reading.  I won't say that this book was predictable in any specific way, but other than the rather original plot concept, it didn't wow me.  Again, not a big reader in this genre so maybe I was missing something that is essential to all mystery stories.

Cover Art: This cover makes me think of fall and Halloween.  I love Halloween!  It does in fact fit the story since Jason is constantly obsessing over his backyard where he buried Harris' body.  There's also a crazy, practically blind journey through a wooded area towards the end of the book. 

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Ok.  Seriously don't want to have sex with any characters in this book.  Like, none.  But for the sake of this portion of the review I chose Detective Bayard since he didn't seem like a total wimp or a bastard.  So congrats (?) Bayard.  Ford is lovable in a bumbling/teddy bear sort of way.  Sounds like a safe marriage prospect.  And I want to kill Jason for being a spineless git and Harris because he's just an evil manipulator. 

Character Score: Mightily unimpressed with the characters in this novel.  Sorry.  Probably due to the fact that our main character (Jason) has all of the personality of a wet dish rag. 

What's the Story?: Jason Getty is your average Joe.  Quiet, slightly boring and divorced, Jason has always kept to himself.  One evening, Jason is pushed to the brink of his sanity and the resulting action ends in murder.  Panicked, Jason buries his victim at the back edge of his property and spends the next year or so living on pins and needles.  Jason finally realizes that it's time to rejoin society and begins by having a lawn care business come and take care of the lawn that he's been too scared to mow.  While finishing the job, one of the gardeners finds a dead body in the flowerbed next to the house.  The police are called and a time clock is started leaving Jason to decide what his next move should be.

Jason decides to play it cool; thinking that if he bolts, he'll surely be caught and forced to take the fall for not one, but two murders.  While the police are investigating, they unearth a second body near the first.  Needless to say, this does nothing to calm Jason's nerves.  While it begins to appear that at least one of the bodies belonged to the wife of the home's former owner, a new twist appears in the form of a years-old missing persons case. 

Leah Tamblin has always been haunted by the disappearance of her fiance Reid.  Plagued by her true feelings for the man that she was with for more than a decade, Leah decides to visit the house where the police found his remains.  If for no other reason than to give herself closure for the fact that he was no-good cheater even in the few weeks leading up to their wedding.  Unfortunately for Leah, she decides to visit Jason Getty's property on the night when he has decided to do something about the third corpse.  A variety of bizarre events converge so that Jason and Leah are on the run to catch the man who murdered the first two victims.  Will Jason get away with murder? Or will he be forced to take the blame for all three bodies?

This wasn't my favorite book. If I were going to read a mystery, I'd rather read something like the Mistress of the Art of Death books by Ariana Franklin.  But then again, those books take place in medieval England and have a female doctor protagonist in a time and place when female physicians weren't allowed trying to pretend she's not a doctor so that she can solve crimes.  So perhaps Three Graves Full was never meant to be an enjoyable novel for me since it's not historical fiction.  Who knows.  Try it out if you are a lover of mysteries.