Sunday, February 26, 2012

Brotherband Chronicles: The Outcasts by John Flanagan

The Outcasts is the first book in the Brotherband Chronicles, a new series by John Flanagan. I really enjoyed his Ranger's Apprentice series and was interested to try his new series.

Boys of a certain age in the land of Skandia go through Brotherband training. They split into teams and compete against each other in many different skill areas. The team we are most interested in is made of up of the outcasts - the boys who were not picked by the other teams. Each has one or more quirks or unusual life circumstances. They are not perfect, but they make mistakes and learn from them as they compete against the other teams. A nice camaraderie is built between the boys as they develop their teamwork skills.

So far, the new series is not quite as good as Ranger's Apprentice in my opinion. The character of Halt was an anchor for that series, and there is no character who plays the same role here. There is a lot of introductory narrative in this book, so it's possible I will enjoy future books more.

The villains in this book are a group of pirates. The good guys, on the other hand, are raiders. I don't see a lot of distinction between those two professions, which caused me a little trouble while reading this book.

Like the Ranger's Apprentice series, this is a good book for reluctant male readers and for anyone who feels like the kid who always gets picked last. I will give at least the next book in the series a chance to hook me more thoroughly than this one did.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Making Piece by Beth M. Howard

Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie was written by Beth M. Howard. She is a well known baker who is the author of the blog The World Needs More Pie. She lives in the house in Iowa featured in Grant Wood's painting American Gothic and sells pie there, which has also brought her a bit of fame.

In the summer of 2009, the husband she still loved but was divorcing died suddenly at the age of 43. Making Piece is the grief-filled memoir Howard wrote as she struggled to deal with guilt and grief after his death.

Howard used pie as a way out of her grief. She made pie, she gave away pie, she judged pie contests, she sold pie. She's a good writer. She made me laugh out loud and she made my eyes well up with tears. The book is funny, thoughtful, and poignant.

I did get a bit tired of the pie analogies, and the many scenes of uncontrollable grief did not resonate with me. I'm not criticizing the author for being so honest, I just could not relate. I enjoyed the book, but I cannot rave about it. For those who are also dealing with grief, the book may be more compelling.

Making Piece reminded me of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (although I liked Making Piece a lot more). If you enjoyed that book, this may be a title you will enjoy. The book is scheduled to be released on March 20.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I first read the classic science fiction work The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams years ago. We just started a science fiction/fantasy book club at the library, and our first discussion will be about Hitchhiker’s.

It’s hard to put into words why this is a classic. It’s got a certain something I can’t capture in words when I try to describe to someone who has not read it why it’s a great book. It has a ridiculous plot, so it’s not that. It has some ridiculous characters too, although exasperated Arthur Dent, reeling from the fact that his home planet of Earth has just been destroyed, is someone just about every person can relate to in some way.

The many absurd aspects of the book are part of the appeal. The suggestion that a towel is “about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.” The idea of a spaceship powered by an Infinite Improbability Drive, which causes any number of highly improbable things to happen. The intelligent, contemptuous, depressed robot Marvin. The fact that mice are the most intelligent species on Earth. A race of beings who write poetry so bad it’s torture to listen to it.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide is a very funny book. But it is also a book that makes you think about things. Things like Life, the Universe, and Everything. Conceived as a radio comedy in the late 1970s, it foresaw technology in use today. If you are not a fan of science fiction and fantasy, or if you like your fiction tidy and sensical, you may just not get it. But if you are a sci fi fan and you’ve not yet read it, get it on your “to read” list. (And if you have read it but not lately, maybe it’s time to revisit it!)

If you'd like to discuss the book but can't attend discussion tonight at 6 pm at Alternate Realities, please comment here!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Libraries cannot buy ebooks from many publishers

Did you know that libraries cannot buy ebooks from many publishers? Check out this excellent blog post from the San Rafael Public Library to learn more. It includes information on how to contact the publishers. If you have any questions for Galesburg Public Library staff, email us at

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

From library staff member Mary S.:

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott is great historical fiction involving the sinking of the Titanic and the development of the survivors' relationships. Potential is likely for a second and/or third book to further the main characters' life stories.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen

The reason I chose to read this book was because one of my favorite authors, Lee Child, wrote a favorable short cover-review for it. I am happy that I picked it up. The author, Owen Laukkanen, did an excellent job with this, his first novel, and he has set himself up well to continue with a series, using the likeable characters he created for this book.

The book opens in Chicago, with immediate fast action and good writing. We have a group of four friends who have decided that their college degrees are worthless because they can't find a job, so have taken to kidnapping instead. Wouldn't be my first choice of careers, but they got away with it for a couple of years until they kidnapped the wrong man. That's when things started to unravel.

This book is full of action and adventure and is really fast-paced, right up to the end. It was a real page-turner, which explains why it only took me a couple of days to read it. It must be said here that it could keep you up past your bedtime because it was hard to put down.

If you like a good adventure, intelligent police work and a little bit of mob action, then this book is for you.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Our Last Best Chance by King Abdullah II

I first became interested in the man who would become King Abdullah II of Jordan when he made a cameo appearance on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. At the time, he was still a prince. Apparently he is a huge fan of Star Trek. When I heard about his book, published in 2011, I knew I had to read it. The world needs more leaders who believe in the philosophy of Star Trek (all peoples, educated and living in peace, with good work to do and sufficient food, water, and shelter).

I am not a student of the affairs in the Middle East, and I’m sure there are people who will disagree with some of what is written in Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril. However, I found the narrative accessible and the narrator compelling. In the book, the author tries to shed light on the Middle East for American readers. King Abdullah II was educated in the United States and England, and Jordan is a friend to the United States. He says, “I have been highly critical at times of Israel’s behavior and intransigence, but it goes without saying that there is plenty of blame to go around on both sides for the failure of the peace process.” He also writes, “One of the more frustrating misconceptions in the West is that all Arab women are oppressed, illiterate, kept at home to look after children, and forced to wear the veil when they venture out of the house. Many women across Jordan and the Arab world…go to university and then achieve great things in their professional careers.” He tackles other misconceptions about the Middle East as well.

One of the things King Abdullah II has accomplished is the creation of a co-educational academy in Jordan offering scholarships to those unable to afford the fees. All students are treated equally; even his own son has do his chores and take his turn waiting on tables for other students. One goal is to help Jordanian students compete in the modern global economy. The proceeds from the sales of this book support the school’s scholarship fund.

King Abdullah II is an unusual world leader. If you would be interested in reading about the Middle East, Arabs, and Muslims from a point of view other than what we usually hear on American television, from someone who lives in the Middle East and deals with the issues every day, I recommend Our Last Best Chance.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cell 8 by Roslund & Hellstrom

I usually don't read books that are written by two different people because deep down inside I worry that I won't have a "connection" with either one of them. I am convinced that it will be totally obvious that it was written by two people, and therefore confusing. I was wrong.

This is a book written by Anders Roslund, who is a former journalist, and Borge Hellstrom, who is a former criminal with some tricky punctuation on top of each "o" in his name. So right there I thought this book ought to be good.

This story begins in Ohio, where a man named John Meyer Frey is on Death Row, accused of murdering his girlfriend. He was 17. We get a sneak peak into prison life, we learn a little bit about the other prisoners, the guards and the Death Penalty. We come to like our guy John, so when he suddenly dies from heart disease right there in his cell, we feel sad. Well, I did anyway.

Fast forward six years, and we run into a man who is a lot like John, but this man lives in Sweden and has a wife and a small child, and so now we are confused. This new John gets himself into a bit of trouble with the police, and his life suddenly takes a horrible turn for the worse. And this, my friends, is where the story truly begins, which is quite fantastic really, and full of twists and turns and a whole lot of people.

This is a good mystery, well-told, well-written and quite exciting. These two authors wrote another mystery/thriller before this called "Three Seconds" which I will try to find. I will tell you that this is a lengthy book, but they use their time wisely, and they really develop the characters.

If you like mysteries that are multi-layered and well thought out, you will love this book. I know I did!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The success of a tale like Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black lies not in the plot but in the ability of the author to unsettle you. I found the narrative deliciously chilling, evocative, and atmospheric, and I was thoroughly spooked by the end. The author makes excellent use of some haunting images that reappear throughout the book. This is a short book – my copy was only 164 pages – great for a quick read over a short period of time in which to immerse yourself in the narrative. If you are at all tempted by mysterious and gothic tales, I definitely recommend The Woman in Black.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd

A Bitter Truth is an engrossing story with interesting characters who develop more fully with each addition to the Bess Crawford series. The series, which began in 2009 with A Duty to the Dead, is written by a mother and son team under the name Charles Todd. I don’t usually like co-written books, but I really enjoy this series. The narrator, an intelligent and likeable English battlefield nurse during the Great War, is compelling, and the historical information is told in a subtle and effective way, adding to the story rather than pulling the reader out of it.

In A Bitter Truth, Bess finds herself involved in a family mourning the loss of one son, with a second son lashing out in grief and pain after his own war injury. He and his wife are estranged; his mother and grandmother mourn not only the dead soldier but a child who died tragically many years before. After an argument involving a guest in the house, the guest is found murdered, and everyone in the house at the time including Bess is under suspicion. Another plot thread involves an orphaned French child who may or may not be the daughter of the living son.

There are some plot holes, as well as some twists that are highly implausible. However, I was fully involved in the story and I forgave the issues with the plot. If you like historical mysteries with a heavy emphasis on character interaction (like books by Anne Perry, for example), I recommend A Bitter Truth as well as the entire Bess Crawford series.