Archives for posts with tag: Fiction

indexGenerally speaking, I don’t read books that have to do with nature. I’m not a person who’s interested in mountain climbing or caving. So why I picked up THE WHITE ROAD by Sarah Lotz is still a bit of a mystery to me. Maybe something in the description made me think of one of my favorite horror movies, THE DESCENT. Maybe I just wanted to try something different. No matter what the reason, I’m glad I gave this one a chance.

Simon Newman and his friend Thierry run a struggling website. On the hunt for content that will bring in new readers, Thierry discovers the story of Cwm Pot. While exploring a system of caves in Cwm Pot, three men died. Their bodies were unable to be recovered due to the difficulty of the cave. Thierry and Simon decide that Simon will explore the cave to get footage of the dead men.

Simon finds a guide to lead him through the caves, he assumes everything will go well. But Simon and his guide Ed wind up trapped during a flash flood. The guide attacks Simon and dies in the resulting struggle. On his own in unfamiliar territory, Simon must decide whether he will wait for potential rescue or try to find his way out. Unable to stand the thought of being trapped with four dead men, Simon stumbles his way to rescue.

Of course, Simon’s footage goes viral. He and Thierry are on the verge of being rich, which means they need more content for their site. Thierry comes up with the idea of sending Simon to Mt. Everest to capture footage of the dead climbers at the summit. Eager for money, Simon agrees to go.

This half of the book is told from the viewpoints of Simon and a climber named Juliet. Juliet was a climber who was attempting to climb Mt. Everest with her partner Walter. Walter dies during the climb, leaving Juliet alone. She begins to see something along the way. A phantom climber that haunts her day and night. What – or who – is this entity?

Simon climbs ever closer to the summit, befriending his fellow climbers. As they get closer to the summit, he discovers that one of the other climbers, Mark, is actually the son of the lost Juliet. Mark wants to climb only to find his mother’s body. Simon is conflicted. Does he want footage for the site or to respect the journey of his new friend?

At the summit, Simon loses his grasp on reality and removes his glove. Because of the extreme environment, his hand is frozen. The guide who was leading him to the summit rescues Simon, but Mark is lost. Simon loses part of his hand to frostbite. But the footage of the climb skyrockets the website’s popularity. Despite this, Simon sinks into a deep depression and is haunted by the ghost of Ed. Discussing too much more of the plot would spoil the ending, but I will say that Simon goes on a quest to both rid himself of Ed and discover what haunted Juliet on Everest.

 More than anything, Lotz’s writing captures the extremes of the environments she writes about. The crushing depths of the cave and numbing cold of Everest are described so well that reading them was uncomfortable. The description of going through the tight spaces of Cwm Pot made me pretty sure I don’t ever want to go caving. This wasn’t quite the horror story I thought it would be, but if you’re looking for a different take on both scary situations and nature writing, THE WHITE ROAD is worth your while.

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I can’t lie, friends, I’ve been in a reading slump. Yes, that’s right, it even happens to librarians. Sometimes there’s just a lot of pressure to pick the “right” book for a review. Sometimes life just gets in the way. Sometimes there’s a lot of knitting to be done and shows in the Netflix queue. So, to make up for my recent lack of reading, I decided to bring you some of my favorite reads from 2016 that didn’t get a review here for whatever reason.

hikeThe Hike by Drew Magary — In the words of a literature professor I know, this book is “weird, wacky stuff.” To make it very simple, a man takes a hike, gets lost, and ends up taking a journey full of mythological references, puzzles, and talking crabs. Well, just one talking crab. The Hike is definitely a weird book, but I also found it laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly compelling. Magary explores not just the wacky, but what it means for a person to choose their destiny.

Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan — A graphic novel series that is (supposedly) going to make a debut as a TV series on FX sometime in the future. Vaughan deals with an interesting scenario: what if every man on Earth died suddenly and all at once? Why did it happen? What will happen to the planet now? And how will the last surviving man, Yorick, manage to survive? Lots of different issues are covered in this series and I would definitely say it’s best suited for adult readers with open minds.

todaysempleToday Will Be Different by Maria Semple — I admit, this wasn’t one of my favorite reads of the year. But as I think back on it, I find I’m more fond of the plot. Eleanor Flood is a woman who is going to change her life. She decides to make everything different, to be the woman she really wants to be. A better mother, a better wife. But then, things start to fall apart. She winds up following her husband in an attempt to discover a secret he’s been keeping from her. But I promise it’s not the secret you think it is.

Lady Killer by Joëlle Jones — A new graphic novel series that I look forward to following. Set in the 1960s, Lady Killer follows the story of Josie Schuller, perfect housewife and deadly assassin. Can she escape her past and have the ideal life? Well, no. This is definitely a graphic novel; the illustrations and plot leave little to the imagination when it comes to violence. But, it’s a different take on the whole assassin character, which makes it a fun read for me.

bestfriendhendrixMy Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix — My very first book review was of Hendrix’s book Horrorstör. If you’re a fan of comedy and horror, I have to recommend his latest endeavor. Teenage girls, cliques, the 80s, and demonic possession all come together to tell a story of the healing power of friendship. The characters are funny and real while dealing with both the everyday concerns of teenagers and the possibility that their best friend may well be possessed by a demon.

So, there we have it. Five reads from 2016 that I think are worth your while. I can assure you that, even though I’ve had a tough start with reading this year, my to-read list has continued to grow. There are definitely other great reads out there; we add them to our shelves every week at the library.

girlMelanie is a very special little girl. She’s at the top of her class. She loves her teacher, Miss Justineau. But she can’t understand why Sergeant Parks and his soldiers insist on strapping her to a wheelchair just to take her to class. Why she can’t go outside and play. Why she and her classmates are locked in cells every night.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a spin on the zombie apocalypse story. Told through several viewpoints, the most compelling is that of Melanie. She’s 10 years old and goes to class with other children around her age. But sometimes, those children leave to visit Dr. Caldwell and never return. Melanie’s also not sure why she and her classmates are strapped down, why her teachers and the soldiers keep their distance from the children.

One day, when Melanie is called to Dr. Caldwell’s laboratory, the base is attacked by outsiders known as Junkers. They’re a loosely organized group of uninfected humans who live outside the protection of the military base. The Junkers have rounded up a group of Hungries, zombies who only want to eat. When Miss Justineau is under threat during the attack, Melanie realizes what she truly is: a Hungry. She saves Justineau’s life by killing others, Junkers and Hungries alike.

The group that escapes is made up of Miss Justineau, Dr. Caldwell, Sergeant Parks, Private Gallagher, and Melanie. They decide to make their way to a nearby settlement called Beacon, figuring this is their best chance for survival. Sergeant Parks doesn’t trust Melanie, but she’s a smart girl who doesn’t trust herself either. She doesn’t want to hurt Miss Justineau, so she agrees to wear a muzzle.

As the survivors navigate toward Beacon, they discover the fungus that created the zombie plague has begun taking over the world. The Hungries that roam are in various states of decay. Some still hold on to habits from their old lives, pushing baby carriages or singing songs. But others have fallen victim to the fungus. Giant fungoid trees sprout from Hungries that have been overtaken. But other Hungries survive.

The group discovers a mobile laboratory that Dr. Caldwell recognizes. Her colleagues had used the laboratory to work toward a cure for the fungus that threatens mankind. They begin using the laboratory as a base, hoping to restore the vehicle and use it to reach Beacon safely. But the group is not alone. And now that they’ve run out of e-blocker, Melanie is getting very hungry.

It’s difficult to discuss much more of the plot without giving too much away. I found myself caught up in the urgency of the story. Many times, I had to remind myself to slow down because I was skimming in order to find out what happened next. There are a few leaps of faith you have to take in order for the world to make sense. If Melanie weren’t a genius 10 year-old, the story would fall apart pretty quickly. But isn’t that the case with lots of books?

Made into a movie starring Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, and Sennia Nanua (not yet available on DVD), this is a an interesting take on zombies. There are few changes between the book and movie, from what I can tell from clips and trailers. I’m definitely putting this on my to-watch list once it’s available on DVD.

I’ve been reading through the series “Home Repair is Homicide” by Sarah Graves. The series is about a former money manager, Jacobia Tiptree, who moves to Eastport Maine to rehabilitate an old house. If you like murder mysteries with good characters I recommend it.

The series has been around awhile which is good in that I can read it at my pace but bad for a review of new library material. So I headed to the library’s new book shelf. As I scanned for an interesting title Louisiana Saves the Library by Emily Beck Cogburn caught my eye.

LouisianaI picked it up because it sounds like it belongs in the children’s department plus it has library in the title. After reading the cover I decided it wasn’t in the wrong place and might be a fun read.

Louisiana Richardson is a divorced mother of preschoolers Max and Zoe. Before the divorce she was a stay at home mom with a PhD who wrote articles on the history of public libraries. With an ex-husband who pays child support on his schedule writing articles wouldn’t pay the rent.

Her job search resulted in an offer from Louisiana A&M to be a professor in their library science department. Finding a friend in fellow professor Sylvia has helped, but a year later the culture and climate shock of the move from Iowa has not completely worn off. And now her job is in jeopardy. The state has cut funding for the university by 20% and the library science program is one that may be eliminated.

When the program is cut Louisiana, who is using the nickname Louise after one too many incredulous reactions to her full name, is in a panic. Sylvia however has come up with a solution to their joblessness. The Alligator Bayou Parish Library is in desperate need of two librarians.

Even though it will be less pay it seems like a godsend but Louise is less than thrilled. She visited this library while doing research for a book on the history of Louisiana public libraries. The collection was old and ugly and the library almost empty at a time when it should have been busy with moms and kids.

She can’t imagine working daily in such a depressing place. But with no unemployment benefits for public employees, the ex-husband who still can’t send child support in a timely manner and academic jobs unavailable for at least 6 months, Alligator Bayou is it.

It doesn’t take long for Louise and Sylvia to settle in and begin making changes. Despite the reluctance of the library director hours are extended into the evening.  Programs for teens are added as well as a book club and cooking classes for adults.  The weekly Zumba class is a big hit and new materials are getting on the shelf faster and checking out.

But not everyone is happy with the changes. Library Director Foley wants his old library back and the most powerful member of the police jury, Mrs. Gunderson, thinks libraries are obsolete. She sees no need to waste funds on a library when everyone has the internet.

The police jury, similar to our county commissioners, approves funds for the library. They also must approve placing a levy increase for the library on the ballot. When Mrs. Gunderson’s influence puts both things in jeopardy the future of the library, along with Louise and Sylvia’s jobs, is on the line.

When the situation goes from bad to worse Louise and Sylvia need help. It will take all of Alligator Bayou if the library is to be saved.

This is a light entertaining read with a little humor, family drama, and a hunky strawberry farmer thrown in the mix. If you are looking for a great piece of literature that will pass the test of time, I’d skip this title. However if you love libraries and stories with good characters I recommend you give it a try.

dad-is-fat     When it comes to audiobooks, the reader makes all the difference. This maxim became crystal clear to me driving past the cornfields of downstate Illinois one hot, summer weekend. I had looked forward to listening to John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley (in part because I, too, traveled with an evil genius Standard Poodle) only to find myself beaten about the head and shoulders by the narrator’s flat, rock-hard voice. After an hour of aural assault, I had to stop the madness. It took a while to recover from that trip in more ways than one.

Fortunately, Jim Gaffigan came along with an antidote. Known for his self-deprecating, clean humor, comedian Gaffigan is, to put it mildly, a hoot. He is a Midwestern transplant to New York who riffs on everything from convenience food to domestic life to tourists to the Big Apple itself. You may recognize his “Hot Pockets” routine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-i9GXbptog. (Mimic his “Hot Pockets” call in a full elevator or while standing in line and see what happens. Good times.) Wondering if his standup translated well to publication, I decided to try his book Dad Is Fat. I got lucky when the only available version was the audiobook.

     Dad Is Fat collects chapter after chapter of stories describing Gaffigan’s life in New York sharing space with his wife, Jeannie, and five children in a small, two-bedroom, fifth-floor walkup apartment. Amounting to mini-standup routines, each chapter offers a glimpse into the Gaffigan household while reminding the rest of us of the universal truths of family life such as “there is no difference between a four-year-old eating a taco and throwing a taco on the floor”. Consider toddler safety, for example, “Once your baby starts to walk you’ll realize why cribs are designed like prisons from the early 1900s. This is clearly because toddlers are a danger to themselves…They have two goals: find poison and find something to destroy.”  Gaffigan’s observations are spot on—pointed, drawing a clear image, sometimes with a zinger thrown in—yet they do not spill over into meanness. That is one of the primary reasons I enjoyed Dad Is Fat. Gaffigan does not have to use rancor or to work “blue” to hold his audience; his storytelling ability, wit, and intelligence are more than up to the task.

As a librarian, I got a kick out of his analysis of children’s books, particularly this chestnut, “I’m not sure if Wheels on the Bus started as a book, as a song, or as a torture technique, but it sounds like it was a pretty annoying bus ride.” He also notes the Law of Unintended Consequences as it applies to Harold and the Purple Crayon, “Great book, but where do I send Crockett Johnson the bill for cleaning my walls?” The audiobook version of these book reviews mirrors Gaffigan’s standup delivery. I could picture him onstage with a mic dropping the punch lines found in every paragraph.  His tone and pacing sound on this recording—as in his comedy routines—sound as if a funny neighbor was chatting with me in the driveway. That’s the charm of Jim Gaffigan; he could be your funny neighbor or your friend or the guy from the drop off line at your child’s school. He’s an absolute riot who could be any one of us (and is).

I have a friend who likes to listen to audiobooks narrated by the author; she believes nothing compares to hearing the author’s interpretation of her or his work.  I agree to an extent.  Some authors are not born performers, and their work would be better served by a voice actor say, someone like Jim Dale of Harry Potter audiobook fame. However, this is not the case with Dad Is Fat. If anything, Jim Gaffigan’s reading was so lively it made me wish the book was available in video. Audiobooks are not always my format of choice—print is still my first love—and I’m glad to be pleasantly surprised this time out. Out of curiosity, I read the print version of Dad Is Fat after listening to it. It’s just as funny and has bonus photos illustrating several of the stories. The picture of Gaffigan reading to his children is absolutely charming.

If you’re looking for a fast, funny read (or listen) then look no further. Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan is available from the Joplin Public Library in print format; it is also available in e-book and electronic audiobook formats from the library’s Missouri Libraries to Go service, molib2go.org.

In Beth Hoffman’s second novel, Looking for Me, Teddi Overman is living her dream. She discovered her passion at the age of ten. An old tired dining chair abandoned in a rural Kentucky ditch caught her eye. Despite the steamy summer heat, she lugged the chair a half mile to her home.

She saw beauty where others, including her mother, saw junk. With her grandmother’s help she restored the broken down chair to its former beauty. More old furniture found its way home with her and she began to sell her restored pieces.

When she was 17 years old one of those pieces went to Jackson T. Palmer, owner of an antique shop in Charleston, South Carolina. She shared with him her dream to have her own shop. He shared with her a business card and a lesson about undervaluing her talent.

As high school graduation approaches Teddi finds herself at odds with her mother over the future. Her mother wants Teddi to go to secretarial school and buys her a typewriter for a graduation gift. Teddi is equally determined to follow her dream.

With a trip to a business college looming on the horizon Teddi packs her bags and steals away from home soon after high school graduation. She leaves behind her parents, grandmother and brother Josh. With business card in hand she heads to Charleston and finds Jackson Palmer. Through good fortune and hard work Teddi does realize her dream but at what cost?

Teddi’s story bounces back and forth between the present and the past. Her work, her remaining family members and her friends are the present in Charleston. The past is the family farm in rural Kentucky with her father, deeply unhappy mother, grandmother, and little brother.

Despite an age difference of several years Teddi and her brother share a special bond. Josh thrives as a young boy on a farm. They share secret places and Josh gifts her with feathers and knowledge about his passion, nature. His affinity with nature and animals deepens as he ages until by the time he is a teen it is almost mystical.

Teddi makes the trek from Charleston to the family farm as often as she can manage. On one such visit, Josh heads into the wilderness and never returns. Several searches turn up nothing and eventually he is presumed dead.

Teddi, however, cannot accept that Josh is dead. She continues to search and leave messages for him. But as years pass she eventually learns to deal with his disappearance; until she finds reason to believe Josh is alive.

Although the mystery of Josh’s disappearance helps drive the story, this novel is about Teddi and those she interacts with both now and in the past. It is not my usual mystery novel nor is it a romance, even though it has a romantic element.

It’s a novel about choices made and their consequences. It is about how you react to the hand your dealt and learning that people and relationships are not always what they seem.

If you read and liked Debbie Macomber’s “Susannah’s Garden” or Luanne Rice’s “Summer’s Child”, I think you’ll enjoy this one. The library has it in regular print and large print.

Review by Patty Crane

One of my duties as a librarian is what we call ‘professional reading’, keeping up with what is going on in the profession.  I have been know to grumble about professional reading, not the reading part just the amount.

Of course, it is not all about what form our future reading will take, library budgets, doing more with less, and so on.  Some of it is about books. So some evenings instead of curling up with a novel, I curl up with Booklist, Library Journal, or a 3 ring binder full of book reviews looking for new materials for the library.

In my search through the hundreds of reviews written each month, I sometimes (okay a lot of times) find something I know has to go on my reading list.  Such was the case with Marcia Clark’s Guilt by Degrees.

You probably know who Marcia Clark is if I pair her with Mark Fuhrman, Johnnie Cochran, and, of course, O.J. Simpson.  Clark worked for the Special Trails Unit in the Los Angeles District Attorney office and was the lead prosecutor in the Simpson trial.

Deciding to draw on her experience, Clark created Rachel Knight and the Guilt by series.  Guilt by Degrees is actually the second in the series.  The first, Guilt by Association, was praised in the aforementioned review so I had to read it in preparation for the May release of the new novel.

Like Clark, Rachel Knight is a prosecutor in the Special Trails Unit in the Los Angeles District Attorney office.  Rachel loves the Unit and the job was her goal from the moment she joined the DA’s staff.  They handle all the tough, complex, high-profile cases.

When we first meet Rachel she is celebrating a win on a tough murder case with two colleagues, fellow work-alcoholic Jake Pahlmeyer and good friend Toni LaCollier.  The celebration is brief and, for this trio, their final one.  Before the evening is over Jake is dead.

Still reeling from the shock, Rachel is assigned one of Jake’s cases, the rape of Susan Densmore.  The 15 year old was raped in her home and her influential father is a big supporter of the DA and anxious for an arrest to be made.  To help in the investigation, Rachel is able to talk LAPD Detective Bailey Keller, her best friend, into getting herself assigned to the case.

They also embark on another investigation as Rachel finds she cannot accept the course the investigation of Jake’s murder is taking.  Since he was found in a seedy motel with a dead 17 year old boy and a picture of the nude boy is in his pocket, the assumption is murder suicide.

Unable to believe Jake capable of murder, Rachel and Bailey decide to find out what really happened in the motel and why.  As they search for a rapist and a murderer they find everything is not what it seems and maybe they are investigating just one case, then again maybe not.

I thoroughly enjoyed the debut of the series and eagerly awaited book two.  This time around Rachel’s case is one she hijacks from a fellow prosecutor.  In the courtroom awaiting a preliminary hearing for a murder case, she watches the ill-prepared prosecutor fumble his case so badly it gets dismissed.

His indifference to the case because the victim was a homeless man enrages Rachel and she re-files the case herself.  With the lead detective in the case assigned to a desk because he too was enraged and decked the ill-prepared prosecutor, Rachel gets Bailey assigned to be her investigator.

The first thing Rachel and Bailey must do is identify the victim.  Following leads and working through the homeless network they find a name, Simon Bayer, Zack Bayer’s brother.  This is the same Zack whose grizzly murder by axe is detailed in the opening chapter of the book.

Are the two cases related?  Zack’s wife, Lilah, was tried and acquitted of his murder and then disappeared.  Simon never doubted her guilt and continued to try to find someone to bring her to justice.  Was the mystery woman Simon was reaching for as he died Lilah and if so where is she?  To solve this complex case Rachel and Bailey delve into past crimes, search for a mysterious woman, and find their own lives in peril.