Thursday, July 31, 2014

Creed by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie

In Creed by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie, three teenagers on their way to a concert have the misfortune to meet up with a crazed fundamentalist with a religious name and a tight hold on the small town he rules. Creed is predictable horror fun that will be devoured at the beach or while travelling by fans of the genre. The growing menace and tension is alleviated by humor ("There is nothing like the heel of your boot sinking into a freshly dug grave to ruin the mood"), and teens will be interested in the insights of the main character, a former foster kid who has finally found a loving home and a boyfriend. (They may also be bemused when the teenagers pull out a crinkled map when they get lost, rather than their phones.) A fine horror debut.

I read a digital advance reader copy of Creed. It will be published in November 2014.

Co-author Lindsay Currie is a Knox College graduate, and the Galesburg Public Library is fortunate to be hosting a book launch for Creed and local author fair the afternoon of Saturday, November 15. Lindsay will read from Creed, answer questions, and sell and sign copies of Creed. Readers of all kinds of books are encouraged to keep the date open. Local authors, please contact Reference staff at 309-343-6118 or if you are interested in participating in the author fair.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Notorious by Allison Brennan

Allison Brennan is the bestselling author of a number of series. Notorious is the first book in a new series. It stars Max Revere, the investigative reporter on a cold case television series.

I’ve never read any Brennan before but I enjoyed this book. Once I started I was engrossed and wanted to keep reading to see what would happen next. I didn’t guess where the plot was going or the resolution of the mysteries. The beginning was excellent, the middle was mostly good if a little draggy, and the end was and intense and terrific (*see spoiler below). For the most part, the information about the police and the investigations seemed well researched and realistic (*again, see spoiler below).

I did have a little trouble connecting with Max. Abandoned by her mother as a child, she doesn’t know who her father is but inherited millions from her great-grandmother upon her death. However, there is a lot of room for character development of both Max and her new love interest in future books.

This is a fine start to a new series. If you like an investigative mystery, I recommend Notorious. It is available at the Galesburg Public Library under the author’s last name in the New Fiction area (or, if it’s checked out, you can be placed on hold). We have many other titles by Allison Brennan as well.

spoiler alert:

*Aside from the too Hollywood climax involving a dangerous stunt on a car for the heroine and a cop shooting out the tires of a car with small children inside. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

City of Scoundrels by Gary Krist

If you want evidence that things haven’t changed all that much in the great state of Illinois, read City of Scoundrels by Gary Krist. It’s a work of nonfiction covering July 21 to August 1, 1919 in Chicago.

A lot happened during those 12 days, more than I ever learned in school. The book opens with a prologue covering the crash of a blimp named the Wingfoot Express. The airship flew over the city several times on July 21. It took flight for the last time at 4:50 pm with five passengers. As it crossed State Street and the city’s central district, it caught fire; baseball fans at Comiskey Park south of downtown watched the flames erupt.  As the passengers plummeted from the burning airship, it crashed into the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank.

The author spends a lot of time covering Chicago’s mayor, the colorful William Hale Thompson. The last Republican mayor of Chicago, he was known as Big Bill and is considered one of the most unethical mayors of all time. His relationship with Governor Frank Lowden was contentious and seems to have contributed to some of the city’s biggest problems during the summer of 1919. Still, Krist credits Thompson’s corrupt and wasteful administration with helping turn 21st-century Chicago into “perhaps the most architecturally distinguished and physically impressive city in the Americas.”

The problems that summer included racial unrest and bombings, race riots, a transit strike, and the frightening disappearance of a six-year-old girl. Krist’s quotations from newspapers of the day make it clear that claims that the press used to be unbiased are wishful thinking.

One thing that I did not expect to find in City of Scoundrels was multiple references to Galesburg’s own Carl Sandburg. Hired by Chicago Daily News editor Henry Justin Smith to be a labor reporter, he comes across as one of the good guys, fighting for the underdog and spotlighting the rights of the black soldiers recently returned from fighting for the U.S. in the Great War. Krist quotes from Sandburg’s poem “Hoodlums,” written in Chicago on July 29, 1919, and calls it “a powerful indictment of the senseless anger he was seeing all around him.”

City of Scoundrels is meticulously footnoted, but don’t let that put you off. It’s a fascinating look at Chicago – and the United States – of 100 years ago. It is shelved at the Galesburg Public Library at NF 977.311 KRI.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Apocalypse Cow by Michael Logan

I am not normally a fan of horror, but I chose Apocalypse Cow for the Tome Raiders, the library's science fiction/fantasy discussion group, for July because it tied in to the summer reading theme of Paws to Read.

Apocalypse Cow is about zombie cows. And zombie dogs, cats, squirrels, rats. It is extremely funny. And disgusting. There were times I was both cringing with revulsion and laughing out loud. I definitely do not recommend reading Apocalypse Cow while eating.

There are plenty of groan-worthy punny chapter titles ("Udder madness"), and the narrative never takes itself seriously.

One of the characters muses on how being alone pays off because he has no one to lose, and another character responds, "Considering the loner lifestyle only pays off when the country is besieged by zombie animals, I'm not sure that's a glowing endorsement." (p. 145)

Terry, the only survivor of the massacre by zombie cows at the abattoir (slaughterhouse) where he worked, explains to a girl he is trying to impress how he ended up with the job:

"One day, my dad was out milking. Nobody knows what happened...All we know is that he got crushed to death between two cows....My mum found him, lying in a pool of blood and milk. The shock gave her a heart attack. Killed her on the spot. I found them both, dead on the floor of the barn. I was six....When I found their bodies, the cows had fled the scene of the crime. But I swore I would avenge my parents' deaths. I took a job in an abattoir, hoping one day to meet the cow that killed my parents and claim my vengeance." (p. 156-157)

If you enjoy (or don't mind) sick humor or funny horror, this book is for you. Oh, and the book club loved it.  You can find Apocalypse Cow in the Fiction section under the author's last name, Logan.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I loved this book. If enough libraries in my area buy it, I will choose it as a discussion book for the library's Tuesday/Thursday book clubs next summer.

Ove is a middle-aged man set in his ways. Very, very set in his ways. He does not like change. He knows how to do things and is exasperated when others don’t. He seems like an unfriendly grouch, but over the course of this engrossing novel we learn why Ove is the way he is and watch as others come to know him and love him. It’s not always a happy book – there is heartbreak, depression, and grief – but it is a hopeful book about love and making your own family.

The most interesting of Ove’s relationships is with Parvaneh, the pregnant Iranian dynamo who moves in next door with her Swedish husband and two daughters. The next most interesting is his relationship with the stray cat who adopts him (and who – spoiler alert – does not die despite a rocky beginning with a cruel neighbor). I think the author has known a person like Ove and also a cat like Ove’s cat.

Ove reminded me a bit of my father, which no doubt endeared him to me. Some of the plot points are hard to buy, but I enjoyed the story so much I was able to ignore that and just enjoy the ride. This novel contains a variety of complex and individual characters and relationships, and the narration is original and refreshing.

Parvaneh somehow manages to convince Ove to teach her to drive. At one point, stressed from an encounter with a rude unfeeling driver, she starts to shout and then to cry, which is very unlike her. Ove calmly lectures her:
 “Now, you listen to me….You’ve given birth to two children and quite soon you’ll be squeezing out a third. You’ve come here from a land far away and most likely you fled war and persecution and all sorts of other nonsense. You’ve learned a new language and got yourself an education and you’re holding together a family of obvious incompetents. And I’ll be damned if I’ve seen you afraid of a single bloody thing in this world before now….I’m not asking for brain surgery, I’m asking you to drive a car….Some of the greatest twits in world history have sorted out how it works. And you will as well.”
And then he utters seven words, which Parveneh will always remember as the loveliest compliment he’ll ever give her.
“Because you are not a complete twit.” (pp. 237-238)
This passage does a good job of capturing Ove’s gruff exterior and good-hearted interior.

Since the success of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, I’ve seen a number of books compared to it. This is the first such book that actually did remind me of Major Pettigrew, not in terms of the plot but in terms of the overall feeling of the story. Some predictable things happen, but not everything, and overall the book felt original. It’s hard to capture in a review how delightful I found the narrative.

The book ends with an unnecessary epilogue, but that seems to be a trend these days. If you enjoyed Major Pettigrew or Heft by Liz Moore, or like to read fiction about quirky characters, I definitely recommend A Man Called Ove.  It can be found at the Galesburg Public Library in the New Fiction area under the author's last name.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Getting to It by Jones Loflin and Todd Musig

In the case of this book, "IT" stands for "the Important Thing." The book's authors want to help us stay focused in an unfocused world, which is a need I definitely have.

Getting to It is a very quick read with lots of great reminders about things I already know but tend to forget. I didn't learn anything new, but I did read lots of great advice about things like not wasting time on interruptions and tasks that are urgent but not important.

This particular passage hit me hard: "There may be people who are satisfied with a life of trivialities; they'll continue to punch the clock, aimlessly surf the Web, play solitaire, mow the lawn, and be content settling into what Theodore Roosevelt called 'the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.'" (p. 213) No thank you!

The book also discussed something that can't be said often enough - multitasking is a MYTH. "[D]ividing our attention can often be detrimental to our natural way of getting tasks done well, or at all." (p. 137)

If you need a quick read to remind you of tips and techniques to stay focused on the Important Thing, I recommend Getting to It. It is available at the Galesburg Public Library in the nonfiction section at 650.11 LOF.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Captive by Grace Burrowes

The Captive is an unusual romance, and honestly, is a bit slow to start. But the characters' backstories are compelling enough that they kept me reading and ultimately justified the slowness.

Christian Severn is a duke captured on the wrong side during the Napoleonic wars. His captors brutally torture him for months, during which time his wife and son in England both die. However, Christian also has a daughter, and the duke's "neighbor," Gillian, makes it her mission to reconnect the two. Christian eventually learns Gillian has her own horrific tale of captivity and the knowledge of her recovery helps him on the path to his own.

I'm not really doing justice to this story and Burrowes' handling of such sensitive subjects. Yes, it is a romance and yes, the characters fall in love as one expects them to in a romance. What sets a romance apart is whether the reader can care and whether, having given the characters something to overcome, the author can make that happen believably. I think this story met those criteria and I would recommend it to fans of Regency romances.

The Captive is available through interlibrary loan as well as on the shelves of local discount chains.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Much Loved, with photographs by Mark Nixon

Much Loved is a book of photographs by Mark Nixon of toys - mostly teddy bears - loved to bits by their owners. It's very touching, as some of the bears are quite old. One is 102! Each photo is accompanied by a bit of text from the owner. The book made me think fondly of my own teddy bear, Lemon, who I received when I was four. I was allergic to the dye in his fur and had a terrible rash at first, but once the scent of the dye wore off Lemon and I were great friends.

If you had a teddy or other toy you loved to bits, you may find yourself getting a bit nostalgic. Much Loved is definitely recommended for those with a fondness for teddy bears and who understand the special relationship a child has with a beloved toy.

Much Loved can be found in the New nonfiction section of the Galesburg Public Library, at 745.5924 NIX.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr

A Cast of Stones by Patrick Carr doesn’t start out as one of the most original fantasy novels I’ve read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it all the same. It has the simple old man who is not what he seems, the regular guy who turns out to be a Captain of the Watch, the orphan with the hidden talent. And the Prophecy, oh the Prophecy. It is very slow starting as the world is built and the characters are introduced, but I was thoroughly engaged all the same.

It is refreshing that the hero, Errol, is the drunk in the gutter, not Liam, the gorgeous, good-hearted, and innocent young man who blushes when a woman makes eyes at him. There are a lot of male father figures to keep straight, one of whom goes from untrustworthy assassin to trusted rescuer a little too quickly. But by the end of the book I felt like I had a decent handle on them all.

The idea of “readers” who carve lots and use them to determine what choices to make was intriguing. Errol’s coming-of-age journey was varied and kept my interest.

There are plot holes, but they didn’t bother me too much. The book definitely wrapped up too quickly and somewhat unsatisfactorily – this first book in the series does not stand alone. But the last 100 pages were excellent, and I hope the next book picks up where they left off. If you enjoy traditional epic coming-of-age fantasy stories, I recommend A Cast of Stones. 

The Galesburg Public Library has all three books in the series, in the adult Fiction section under CARR.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Blackhouse by Peter May

I’ve never read anything by Scottish author Peter May. I was browsing for books to take on an upcoming trip and came across Blackhouse

I spent two weeks in the Hebridean Islands off the coast of Scotland twenty years ago and loved the book’s setting on Lewis. The author writes great descriptions of the landscape and the people. His writing is very evocative and really put me in the location.

A key part of the plot is the annual harvesting of young gannets, or guga, a local delicacy. It made me cringe to read the descriptions of the parent birds screaming as their young are taken from their nests and killed. Apparently this is a real thing, and the author clearly did his research. The number of birds taken is carefully monitored so the population of gannets is not negatively affected.

I enjoyed the information about the Lewis Chessmen, chess pieces from the 12th century carved from walrus ivory and whale teeth that were discovered on the Isle of Lewis in the 1800s.  There are many Gaelic words and names in the narrative, and I very much appreciated the pronunciation guide at the start of the book, referring to it numerous times.

The character development is also rich. This book is not really about the mystery; it is more of a coming-of-age story than anything else, with the back stories of the characters spun out a little bit at a time. Secrets and lies are dangled in front of the reader and slowly explained. I was totally pulled in to the story. It kept me engrossed through a long and difficult travel day involving a missed flight and lots of waiting.

Much of what happens in the climax is hard to believe, and the last line of the book is incredibly lame, but the author sold his tale to me in such a way that I didn’t mind too much. I recommend Blackhouse to lovers of British crime novels, to people who like to travel vicariously, and to readers who like strong character development. I will definitely be reading books two and three in the series.

The Blackhouse can be found at the Galesburg Public Library in the Fiction section under MAY.

How to Fall by Jane Casey

I’m a huge fan of Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series, so I was quite interested to read How to Fall, her first young adult thriller/mystery.

I wouldn’t call How to Fall’s plot terribly original (identical cousins, anyone?), but the writing kept me thoroughly engaged. The author gets points from me for having her main character read Cold Comfort Farm. While How to Fall is not as good as her adult mysteries, it is well written. Jess, the main character, has dimension. I think young adults will tear through this book.

How to Fall might have been more suspenseful if not written in the first person, and I felt a bit let down after the climax. The ending is abrupt, but oh wait, that’s because it’s the first in a series. I did not see THAT coming. I will definitely watch for and read the second book in the series. The Jess Tennant series could develop into something really good.

I recommend How to Fall to readers who already like Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan and to anyone who enjoys well written young adult thrillers with okay plots but interesting characters and settings.

I read an advance reader copy of How to Fall. It is scheduled to be published in August 2014.

Once Upon a Flock by Lauren Scheuer

Lauren Scheuer’s Once Upon a Flock: Life with My Soulful Chickens is a very sweet book about owning a small flock of chickens. This isn’t a how to, although anyone thinking of getting chickens is likely to find some useful information in it.

Scheuer really captures the personalities of the six chickens featured in her book. It helps that she is an illustrator who draws absolutely adorable pictures of her chickens and her family, often putting cute little drawings into photos.

Scheuer lives in Massachusetts with her husband and daughter. In addition to being an illustrator, she is handy with a tool. She envies her friend Patricia: “In her yard, children frolic, sheep graze, and colorful chickens drift in and out of her garden. In Patricia’s yard, the sun shines brighter and the grass is always greener.” (p. 5) Scheuer decides to put her skill to use by making a chicken coop and buying some chicks to use it.

The text is littered with sketches. I particularly enjoyed the many creative designs for her chicken coop, including a Trojan Chicken of sorts and a chicken Taj Mahal. The author has a whimsical way with words that tickled me. She explains her reasoning for picking out the four chicken types: “Rhode Island Red and Barred Plymouth Rock originated here in the Northeast. They would know how to handle the harsh winters. My Black Australorp would glimmer in the sunshine like an iridescent beetle. And the Buff Orpington? Well, I just wanted a reason to say ‘Buff Orpington’ every day. Buff Orpington, Buff Orpington, Buff Orpington.” (p. 13)

Scheuer accidentally received a “production breed” chicken instead of her Rhode Island Red. This is a hybrid chicken designed for maximum efficiency. Hatsy lived a short but wonderful life, a dynamo of activity who was the leader of her flock in addition to the top egg producer. It made me sad to think about the horrible lives of factory chickens (although Scheuer does not write about that).

Once Upon a Flock is a quick and delightful read. If you enjoy animal stories, Once Upon a Flock will put a smile on your face.

Once Upon a Flock can be found at the Galesburg Public Library at NFIC 636.5 SCH. If it is not on the shelf, ask Reference staff to put you on hold for it.  The library's Tuesday/Thursday book discussion groups will be discussing it at 1:00 pm on July 8 at the library and at 6:30 pm on July 10 at the Beanhive Coffeehouse.. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Pedigree to Die For by Laurien Berenson

Are you a fan of dogs and cozy mystery series? Then I definitely recommend Laurien Berenson's Melanie Travis series to you.

I read A Pedigree to Die For, the first in the series, because it was Overdrive's Big Library Read title in June 2014. For two weeks, it was available for checkout and download from the Galesburg Public Library's ebook service for as many people who wanted to borrow it. I appreciate the author and her publisher making it available.

This is a straightforward, quick read. It passed the time quickly for me on a travel day involving waiting at airports and sitting on planes. I'm not especially a fan of mystery series involving dogs, so that no doubt affected my interest level.

It is clear that the author knows what she is talking about so far as the dog breeding and dog show information. All of the descriptions and dialog about that came across as true to life. Some of the writing is unoriginal and predictable, but there is a nice plot twist at the end and some nicely written passages.

A Pedigree to Die For is not great, but good. There is plenty of potential for character development in future titles, and the first book in a series is often not the best. This is a fine start to a cozy series. The series is available in ebook format through the Alliance Digital Media Library ( and also as print books through the Galesburg Public Library and its partner libraries in the area.