Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew

I’m a huge huge fan of Star Trek Voyager – I watched virtually every episode in order as they aired over seven seasons – and so also a fan of Kate Mulgrew (who played Captain Kathryn Janeway). I couldn’t resist reading her memoir, even though I’m not a big memoir reader.

It’s a well written work by one tough cookie. It starts at the beginning of her life and stops five years into Voyager’s run. The book contains a lot of detail, more, really, than I was interested in, and not much about Star Trek (although that was okay). Mulgrew believes in herself and her talent, that’s evident.

I did enjoy this quotation about Robert Beltran’s Chakotay, one of my favorite Star Trek characters: “Strikingly good-looking, he was a curious combination of come hither and go away.” (p. 262) For me it was worth reading Born With Teeth for that quote alone!

If you like memoirs by strong, interesting women, I’d recommend Born With Teeth.

The Galesburg Public Library has Born With Teeth as a print book and as an ebook.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Highest Duty aka Sully by Captain Chesley Sullenberger

From the publisher: the inspirational autobiography by one of the most captivating American heroes of our time, Capt. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger—the pilot who miraculously landed a crippled US Airways Flight 1549 in New York’s Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew.

Highest Duty is the memoir of an ordinary guy who got thrust into the spotlight when he did his job well under pressure. It's a fast read and I enjoyed it, although some readers might find it slow.

The story of the crash, although a small part of the book, is riveting. Sullenberger may not technically be a hero, as someone who just performed when it was required of him, but he is certainly a fine role model.

Words to live by: "I flew thousands of flights in the last forty-two years, but my entire career is now being judged by how I performed on one of them. This has been a reminder to me: We need to try to do the right thing every time, to perform at our best, because we never know which moment in our lives we'll be judged on." (pp. 313-314)

Note: this book is now being marketed under the title Sully. I will be interested to see how much of it makes its way into the movie Sully.

The Galesburg Public Library has print, audio, and ebook versions of this book under one or the other of the titles.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

From the publisher: Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the Forest, Xan, is kind. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge--with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth’s surface. And the woman with the Tiger’s heart is on the prowl . . .

Friends, I do not do fantasy. Show me a book with some kind of questing bejeweled lady accompanied by a mythical beast and I will show you my eyes drifting away towards that shiny celebrity memoir over there, or a snack, or a tax form. But a dear friend gave me this book, which was written by a dear friend of hers, and so I gave it a try.

And this book? Is incredible. The thing about me and fantasy is that I have trouble staying connected to a wholly invented world. The setting, the characters, they feel hard to grasp, so when my attention gets diverted from the book (which happens, like, every 10 minutes, because children) I lose my grip and have trouble getting it back. I did *not* have that problem with The Girl Who Drank the Moon. From the first page, there is just something about Barnhill's characters, the way they speak, the way they interact with one another, the way they move within their world, that feels familiar. Xan's immediate connection to Luna... the invisible strands of magic pulling Luna toward her mother against impossible odds... the terrifying concept of a villain who hurts others because she actually FEEDS off of their pain...the seemingly illogical and yet somehow perfect bonds that develop between a swamp monster, a tiny dragon, and a couple of witches and turn them into a family.... I mean, I didn't know I could have feelings of maternal angst toward a dragon named Fyrian, but apparently I can. The book has a real "girl power" theme to it, and not in a trite way; Barnhill examines the everyday magic that connects daughters to mothers, mothers to grandmothers, regardless of biology or origin story.

The language is beautiful. The characters are endearing. The plot elements have a classical fairytale feeling to them, but with a twist: the emphasis, to me, feels less on the story itself and more on who's telling the story. Who defines the narrative? Who controls the magic? Why am I crying?

Anyway. As it turns out, I guess I do fantasy after all. Sometimes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

If you are a fan of reality TV, then strap yourself in for a wild ride! A first novel by this author, this book will grab you in the gut and not let go until you realize it's 2:00 a.m. and WAY past your bedtime! The characters are well thought out, the plot is new and fresh and the writing is fabulous. It's kind of like a season of Survivor only kicked up ten notches. The main character Zoo is one of 12 contestants in a survival-based reality show, and we pretty much tag along with her. To start, all the contestants get dumped off out in the woods somewhere with very little instruction on how to survive. They have challenges and rewards, and of course, conflict. Plus, there's always that one weird guy. You get to see some of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes of reality TV, which is cool, because I've always imagined that things actually happened that way. After about Day 4 things start to unravel in the real world, but the contestants have absolutely no idea what's going on outside of the show. This is a psychological thriller that will consume you, so be prepared to stay up late reading. I am looking forward to more novels by Alexandra Oliva!! Read On!

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Defense by Steve Cavanagh

This novel has everything I love in a story: Courtroom drama, non-stop action and a crafty, street-wise con artist. What's not to love? The book opens with our hero, Eddie Flynn, standing in front of a bathroom sink with a loaded gun pressed to his back. We don't know much about Eddie, except that he's currently a lawyer and he used to be a con artist - two very valuable skill sets. Eddie has only forty-eight hours to solve the case of his life and the only reason he is involved at all is because his ex-law partner couldn't get the job done. It's apparent (and repeated quite often) that bad things will happen if Eddie messes up. Manipulating situations is key here, and thankfully he learned from the best: his Father. His Father taught Eddie every con, bluff, grift and trick in the book. Eddie will have to use everything he knows about the law as well as reconnecting with people from his past life if he has any chance at all of surviving. If you like legal-thrillers, smart-mouth characters and fast-paced action, this book is for you! This is Steve Cavanagh's first novel and it is a hit in my opinion! Read On!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo

From the publisher: When Lionel Savage, a popular poet in Victorian London, learns from his butler that they're broke, he marries the beautiful Vivien Lancaster for her money, only to find that his muse has abandoned him. Distraught and contemplating suicide, Savage accidentally conjures the Devil, who appears at one of the society parties Savage abhors. The two hit it off: the Devil talks about his home, where he employs Dante as a gardener; Savage lends him a volume of Tennyson. But when the party's over and Vivien has disappeared, the poet concludes in horror that he must have inadvertently sold his wife to the dark lord. Newly in love with Vivian, Savage plans a rescue mission to Hell.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Gentleman, but caution anyone consider reading it that it is definitely not a Victorian novel. It’s more like a 21st century American novel framed by Victorian memes. The many words and actions that would not truly fit within Victorian times did not bother me because the novel does not take itself seriously and so I didn’t take it seriously either.

The book is just fun – I did not go looking for deep meaning. The plot, characters, and dialog are amusing. There were passages that appealed to the English major in me (“I have never known books or love ever to fail, so I don’t see why they’d do so now” (p. 144)) and others that tickled my sense of whimsy. The female characters are no shrinking violets, but modern women with their own strong opinions.

The book is narrated by poet Savage, with occasional footnotes by his editor, a relative of Savage’s wife with whom relations are strained. I found the editor’s notes annoying at first, but eventually they grew on me, as did the character of the editor. The author enjoys poking fun at stereotypes – of the blustery Adventurer, the eccentric Inventor, the competent Butler, and the Devil himself. A lot happens – and nothing much happens at all.

I can imagine that some readers will despise The Gentleman. For example, while writing a poem, Savage tries desperately to make the word “Devil” one syllable, and this becomes a running joke of the sort you either find funny or deeply annoying.

Recommended to people who like nonsense and sweet books that are a little off.

The Galesburg Public Library owns The Gentleman, which is Forrest Leo’s first novel.

PS: The publisher does the author no favors by comparing the book to Wodehouse, as that sets up expectations that cannot possibly be met. Don’t pick this up expecting Wodehouse. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders

From the publisher: Mrs. Laetitia Rodd, aged 52, is a widow living in Hampstead with her confidante and landlady, Mrs. Bentley, who once let rooms to John Keats, Laetitia makes her living as a highly discreet private investigator. Her brother is a criminal barrister living in the neighboring village of Highgate with his wife and ten children. Frederick finds the cases, and Laetitia solves them using her arch intelligence, her iron discretion, and her immaculate cover as an unsuspecting widow. When Frederick brings to her attention a case involving the son of the well-respected, highly connected Sir James Calderstone, Laetitia sets off to take up a position as the family's new governess--quickly making herself indispensable. But the seemingly simple case--looking into young Charles Calderstone's “inappropriate” love interest--soon takes a rather unpleasant turn. And as the family's secrets begin to unfold, Laetitia discovers the Calderstones have more to hide than most. Dickensian in its scope and characters, The Secrets of Wishtide brings nineteenth century society vividly to life and illuminates the effect of Victorian morality on women's lives. Introducing an irresistible new detective, the first book in the Laetitia Rodd Mystery series will enthrall and delight.

I am in my 50s and I enjoyed the premise of The Secrets of Wishtide. It's 1850 and the main character, Mrs. Laetitia Rodd, is a widow of 52 and of limited means. She is kind and intelligent. Her brother, a barrister, sometimes calls upon his sister as a kind of private detective to help him gather information.

I liked Mrs. Rodd, and I enjoyed her relationship with her brother and her landlady Mrs. Bentley (who is apparently based on a real person). The book was inspired by David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, which I totally did not pick up; although I've read David Copperfield I don't remember it all that well. The historical facts seem accurate.

I would have preferred that the book be told in the third person; Mrs. Rodd narrates in the first person, and sometimes her voice seemed a little too modern to me. Also, the author a few times had Mrs. Rodd pause and explain something a reader today may not understand, which pulled me out of the story. (For example, "NB Snapdragon is a game that has understandably fallen from favour; you have to pick currants out of a dish of flaming brandy, and I've lost count of all the cuffs I've burn over the years." (p. 126 of the advance reader copy) and "People don't seem to make Smoking Bishop nowadays: it's a fragrant concoction of red wine, port wine, and spices" (p. 249).)

Mrs. Rodd seems to be telling the story from some point in the future, and I found that odd and a little disconcerting. Although this is said to be the first in a series, there were references to previous cases Mrs. Rodd had worked on, and previous interactions with Inspector Thomas Blackbeard, that made me check to see if this really was the first in a series.

Still, those are not major complaints; I had no trouble staying with the story and wanted to see how it would end. There are plenty of threads left over for future episodes with Mrs. Rodd, and I expect I will pick up the next book in the series if it continues.

I read an advance reader copy of The Secrets of Wishtide. It will be published in mid-September 2016 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.