Wednesday, March 31, 2010

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

There really isn't anything left to say about this treasure.  Agatha Christie's most famous novel has stood for over seventy years as the classic murder mystery.  As of 2007, it ranked as the number one selling mystery - ever.  It has been recreated on stage, in movies, on tv and even in an episode of a Japanese anime series.

I (Tami) was first introduced to this puzzler in fifth grade when the teacher chose to read it aloud to the class and have the students discuss and vote on the culprit.  Looking back, it seems like an odd choice for a group of 10-year-olds (but I also recall he wasn't the typical teacher - we discussed Twilight Zone episodes and played "Three Dog Night" albums in class.  Mr. Ward, if you're out there - thanks for turning me on to mysteries).  I have reread this book as an adult, but it's been many years.  Dave was among the many who are familiar with the story line, but have not read the book, so we read this one together.

For any who may not know the basic story - ten people are invited to an island retreat but then find themselves cut off from the mainland and each accused of a crime.  The ten are murdered, one by one.  When police finally arrive, they find an impossible crime scene:  ten murdered bodies (none apparent suicide) and no living souls on an island from which there was no escape.

This was a great choice for reading aloud.  Of course, I had a big advantage in already knowing the outcome, but it was still fun to discuss theories.  A timeless classic hardly needs our approval, but none-the-less we recommend it for mystery fans and novices alike. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

Shattered by Karen Robards

While reviewing cold cases in the Fayette County courthouse, a particularly thick manila envelope draws Lisa's attention. The details of the case are engrossing: An entire family-father, mother, and two children-disappeared more than twenty-eight years ago. Except that's not all: The mother in the photo could have been Lisa's twin, and the toddler in the picture bears an uncanny resemblance to Lisa herself. Before Lisa can learn more about her past, a series of catastrophes strike close to home. Lisa confides in her boss, District Attorney Scott Buchanan, and their relationship develops into something completely different. Together Lisa and Scott unravel a terrifying web of criminal connections that could destroy the very fabric of Lisa's life-if she lives long enough, that is.  (from book jacket)

Karen Robard's is talented at blending suspense and romance, and this book is no exception.  On the romance side, the characters have known each other since childhood, and their past and present stories are woven together adeptly.  They have a connection that spans years and makes their current relationship believeable.  Without bringing in their history, the speed at which their romance advances would seem taudry and shallow.

On the suspense side - this tale is one of the best I've read in this genre.  The link between Lisa and the family in the cold case file is revealed in small doses that keep you guessing and, at times, has almost a supernatural feel. There were times that the progress was too slow - coming to a stop in order for the romance storyline to advance rather than happening conjointly - but it was still a compelling mystery. I must have concocted at least a dozen potential scenarios as the answer to the puzzle - none of which were correct.

The only fault I find in this book is that it was a little like bad sex - three hundred pages of build-up and teasing then, just at the most climactic point, it's all over - leaving you with a slightly dissatisfied feeling.  I could have done with a little more speed and less detail during the buildup and then a more drawn out climax - if you'll pardon my analogy.

Overall, a fun and exciting read that I would recommend to fans of this genre.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Time Travel

We've seen the Back to the Future trilogy countless times, but as we were cruising through the channels last night, convincing ourselves there really was nothing on, we stopped to watch a few minutes of Part II.  We noticed a problem - a potential glitch in the space/time continuum.  In this scene, while Marty and Doc are caught up with rescuing Jennifer before she encounters her future self and seals the cataclysmic end of the universe, Old Biff steals the DeLorean and travels back to 1955 to give his younger self the Sports Almanac, thus ensuring his future fortune and altering history.  He then returns the time machine to 2015 before Doc and Marty know it's gone.

When the Dynamic Duo of time travel return to 1985 they land in, not the time period the remember, but an alternate 1985 which has been created by thirty years of Biff manipulating his inside information about the future.  To correct this debacle, Marty suggests they return to 2015 to stop Old Biff from stealing the time machine, but Doc points out that they would be traveling into the future of the alternate timeline so their only option is to travel backwards to a point in 1955 before the timeline skewed and stop Young Biff from receiving the almanac.  Perfectly logical so far, right?

So here's our question:  Once Old Biff places the almanac into Young Biff's hand, the future has effectively been altered, right?  So how did Old Biff return to the same future from which he departed?  Why didn't he travel into the alternate future?

Pondering this conundrum lead to thoughts of other movies one or both of us have  enjoyed over the years which contained elements of time travel:  Field of Dreams, The Final Countdown, Somewhere in Time, Star Trek: The Voyage Home, Kate and Leopold, Groundhog Day.  Of course the next logical step was to reminisce about time travel books we've read.  Here's a few of our favorites:

We know there are lots of other's out there - Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and the classic Time Machine by H.G. Wells - but we need some recommendations.  What's your favorite time travel movie or book?  Give us some ideas and we'll try to read one of them together and report back.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

Sarah Addison Allen's stories cast a spell that draws you into her world of enchantment.  Everything looks familiar, but there's something slightly magical that you can't quite touch - a whiff in the air or a glimpse out of the corner of your eye that twinkles and is gone.  I was mesmerized by her first book, Garden Spells, and have been betwitched ever since. 

After her mother's death, Emily Benedict moves to the sleepy southern town where her mother grew up to look for answers about the past.   Emily discovers mysterious lights in the woods at night, an unexpected relationship with her reclusive 8-foot-tall grandfather, a secret long sheltered by one of the town's leading families, and a good friend in Julia - the local baker - who is keeping her own secrets about the past.

This is a beautifully written fairy-tale for adults, complete with a handsome prince, a friendly giant and a moral - people can change, the past can be healed, and we're all really not so different, after all.  It's full of magical prose that leaves the wanta-be writer in me in awe. 

I give this book my highest possible rating and encourage you to read all three of Ms. Allen's novels.  When you put them down, don't be surprised to find a bit of glittering fairy dust in your lap.

Monday, March 22, 2010

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome. He's hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, and like many kids with AS, Jacob has a special focus on one subject — in his case, forensic analysis. He's always showing up at crime scenes, thanks to the police scanner he keeps in his room, and telling the cops what they need to do...and he's usually right. But then his town is rocked by a terrible murder and, for a change, the police come to Jacob with questions. All of the hallmark behaviors of Asperger's — not looking someone in the eye, stimulatory tics and twitches, flat affect — can look a lot like guilt to law enforcement personnel. Suddenly, Jacob and his family, who only want to fit in, feel the spotlight shining directly on them and over this small family the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacobcommit murder? (synopsis from book cover)

House Rules is the kind of book I usually avoid: overflowing with emotion and real-life drama.  Add the continual hopping between five different narrators, and I was guaranteed not to like this book.  Wrong!  I'm straining the thesaurus to find words to describe it:  amazing, awesome, ashtonishing, moving, wonderful, shocking, overwhelming...

Chapters alternate between Emma Hunt, her two sons - Jacob and Theo, the police detective trying to solve a murder, and Jacob's defense attorney.  Seeing the story from fluctuating viewpoints allows the reader to get inside the events, to experience them more realisitcally than would be possible if everything was interpretted by one character.

The most fascinating character, of course, is Jacob, an 18-year-old with high-functioning Asperger's.  Autism makes him very literal - he doesn't use or understand sarcasm, idioms or body language.  Since these are all things we decipher without thought, it adds a new dimension to witness events through his eyes.

Getting inside Theo's and Emma's heads is also fascinating - the "horse's mouth" viewpoint (if I may mangle a cliche) of life with an autistic family member.  The sacrifices, the daily drama, the constant stress and fear seen first-person are much more effective than 3rd person description.

Rich (the detective) and Oliver (the attorney) add the outlook that most readers are familiar with - an outsider's view of a condition they don't understand and their attempts to mold Jacob's behavior into a more familiar pattern.

Perhaps this book has taught me a lesson about judging a book by it's genre.   It undeniably taught me a lesson about juding people by my own standards. 

This book is my entry in the Take-Another-Chance Challenge - Challenge 5: Title Word Count. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

March Madness

We had our own version of "March Madness" at our house this week.  The grandsons - ages 4 and 5 - and their mom, our oldest daughter, came to visit for spring break.  Our house was full of running, jumping, flying soccer balls, laughter, piano "playing", a few sobs and a bit of screaming.  We did some jig-saw puzzles, played Yahtzee, dominos and endless games of fetch with the dogs, took rides in Uncle's semi (not his personally, but his job during spring break) and watched "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" three times.  They headed back to Albuquerque yesterday and we collapsed on the couch to listen to the silence.  Fantastic visit - but we're not as young as we used to be!

Now starts the actual March Madness.  Here's hoping it can be just as exciting.  For the first time in many years, our Cats were not one of the "bubble" teams waiting to see if they would even get in.  We were the #2 seed in the West region and defeated North Texas today, 82-62.  Go State!

We have finished a couple books amidst the chaos and will try to get reviews up soon.  In the meantime - what teams are you rooting for to make it to the Final Four?  As long as they aren't playing against Kansas State (and they don't happen to be that rival team from our state) we'll cheer for your team. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Temporary Hiatus

Taking a brief blogging break.  We'll be back so don't stop checking in, but for now...Agatha Christie vs. Sue Grafton - discuss. 

That was a Saturday Night Live line.  If you didn't get the reference, spend this break watching old episodes.

A Merry Band of Murderers

A Merry Band of Murderers is more than a compilation of short mystery stories from some of the genre's finest writers. It is also an exploration of music. Conceived by Claudia Bishop and Don Bruns, the collection is staged in two acts: first, a non-fiction discussion of short stories, mysteries, and music; and second, a compilation of musical short mysteries.   There are thirteen music-centered stories from authors Mary Anna Evans, Jim Fusilli, Bill Moody, Rupert Holmes, Rhys Bowen, John Lescroart, Nathan Walpow, Peter Robinson, Jeffery Deaver, Tom Corcoran , Val McDermid, and, of course, the editors themselves. Each story is accompanied by a short introduction, song lyrics, and an interview with the writer.

This collection of short stories would have been filed under "mediocre" were it not for two standouts: "Something Out There" by John Lescroart - a classic woman-home-alone story that makes you want to scream at the page "Run!  Get out of the house!" - and "Shuffle Off This Mortal Coil" by Rupert Holmes.

Picture if you will...a man with too much free time, no friends and a new iPod.  As you follow his story in "Shuffle Off This Mortal Coil" you will begin to feel that you have now crossed over into ... the Twilight Zone [cue music]. 

Our un-named hero, recently unemployed, buys an iPod and spends a week converting his extensive vintage music library into digital files.  Once the project is complete, he inserts the ear-buds, selects "shuffle mode" - in which the iPod makes musical choices for him - and enters....the Twilight Zone.  Over the next few days he begins to walk in time to the music, then to believe that the iPod is trying to communicate with him through song titles.  Within a week he has given the iPod a name and counts on "Sonny" (named after Sonny Bono) to set his agenda - where to go, when to sleep, what to purchase, even the woman he dates - until he can no longer make a choice without consulting Sonny - until Sonny directs him to kill.

The audio version I downloaded did not come with the music cd which accompanies the printed book, but I don't think it would have added much.  The book is worth picking up, even if you only read these two entries.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book Blogger Hop

Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books is hosting a Book Blogger Hop.  Here's how she describes it:

In the spirit of the Friday Follow, I thought it would be cool to do a Book Blog Hop to give all us bookies a chance to connect and find new blogs that we may be missing out on!   Let's connect and make new book bloggy friends!!

Check out her blog for a great list - over 100 and growing - of book blogs to check out.  While you're there, add your blog to the list so people can discover how fun your blog is, too.  I see an overloaded reader in our future!

Good News for Parker Fans

According to Book Page, fans of Robert B. Parker will have three more opportunities to enjoy his work.  Along with recently released "Split Image", a Jesse Stone novel, Parker's western heroes, Hitch and Cole, will appear in May in "Blue-Eyed Devil".  In October we will be treated to one more date with Spenser in "Painted Lady" and finally, a holiday book to be released in November.  I'm so glad Mr. Parker was such a prolific writer and left us these few final treats.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Split Image by Robert B. Parker

Ever notice that some books have titles with absolutely no meaning?  You get done reading, probably without ever giving the title a thought, and then close the book, look at the cover and wonder "What does that title have to do with story?"  Not the case with Robert B. Parker's aptly named Split Image - It's two... two... two books in one!

Two murders in the little town of Paradise, MA, lead Police Chief Jesse Stone to a set of identical twins with matching mobster husbands and a fetish for tag-team sports.  A missing teen leads P.I. Sunny Randall to Paradise and a religious commune that may not be what it seems.  A double mystery, a pair of investigators and duplicate suspects = one good book.

But wait...there's more!  It's a crime novel AND a romance novel.  The developing relationship between Jesse and Sunny is actually half the story.  As I have mentioned at least twice before (here and here), I admire Parker's knack for writing characters and relationships that are not one- (or even two-) dimensional.  Both Jesse and Sunny make progress in dealing with their "ex" issues, Jesse gets a better grip on his drinking, and their relationship matures, but this is not a sit-com where everything is wrapped up neatly in thirty minutes.  Unfortunately, with the passing of Mr. Parker, we will probably each have to write our own ending. 

I give this book two thumbs up!

Potshot by Robert B. Parker

Here's a handy book-reading tip:  Don't read multiple books by one author at the same time - tends to cause great confusion, especially in readers of a certain age.  I have been listening to the audio of Potshot by Robert B. Parker in my car, while reading Promised Land by the same author.  To further befuddle myself, I now moved on to read Mr. Parker's latest, Split Image, which - although part of a different series - is very similar in style.  And just in case there was any note of sanity left, I listened to Rex Stout's The Doorbell Rang on my mp3 so now four detective stories are jumping around in my head like pinballs and writing reviews is a challenge.

Potshot is number 29 in the Spenser series, published in 2001.  The story revolves around the small town of Potshot, Arizona  - where (according to the book jacket) a band of modern-day mountain men, led by a charismatic individual known as The Preacher, have taken over the town and even the local police are powerless to defend the residents.  In classic Spenser style, he saves the town, solves the murder, and gets the girl. 

But the best part of this story, for me, was the audio narration by actor Joe Mantegna.  Spenser is aided in his heroics by a posse of "ethnically diverse but politically incorrect henchmen (one gay shooter, one Latino, one black, one Native American)".*  Mr. Mantegna creates voices for each of these characters that are individual and recognizable, and that brought out the sometimes subtle humor of Mr. Parker's writing.  I don't think it would have been nearly as funny in my head.

As always, Spenser gets a top rating from me, but in the future I'll take him in smaller doses.

*quote from review

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Week 7: Microblogging

I am all over this week's lesson.  I've been a Twit.....uh, Tweeter?....Twitterer, maybe?....whatever - I've had a Twitter account for quite a while.  Microblogging is exactly what it sounds like, blogging on a smaller scale - 140 characters per entry or "tweet", to be exact. 

There are many uses for microblogging.  I have to be honest and say that my favorite use is entertainment.  When I was a pre-teen/teenager there were ads in the back of teen magazines where you could send away for the name of a pen-pal.  I loved having pen-pals, especially those from other countries - sending and receiveing letters, learning about their life and their culture.  Twitter allows me to have cyber-penpals.  I "follow" and am "followed" by (which just means we can view each others' tweets) an up-and-coming fashion designer in New York, a YA book author in England, a radio d.j. who's only an hour away, and the publisher of the premier K-State sports magazine, among others - all people I would not communicate with otherwise.

Twitter is also useful for making contact with fellow librarians and book-related types.  I follow a variety of publishers, authors, book stores and book bloggers who send out information on and reviews of soon-to-be-released books, which helps with collection development.  I also follow librarians from across the nation and share ideas, tips, and web sites pertaining to the library world.

The third category of my Twitter use is celebrity "cyber-stalking" (Dave's term).  I follow them, but due to their huge number of followers, they do not follow me - so basically I receive mini-messages from them, but I can not respond.  For the most part I find celebrities pointless and annoying, and many are actually just self-promotion tweets sent out by an assistant, so I don't follow many.  However, there are a few - like country singer Blake Shelton - who are just hilarious and I can always use another laugh in my day.

Microblogging is a handy tool for communicating in small doses but, like many networking tools, it can also be addicting and time-consuming.  It's all a matter of balance.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout

Not liking a Nero Wolf mystery is absolute "flummery"!  Nero Wolf and Archie Goodwin are two of my favorite sleuths.  Wolf is an eccentric genius - he weighs in at "a sixth of a ton" (which figures out to 333.3 lb. for the math-challenged), spends hours every day in his greenhouse tending to his prize orchids, rarely leaves his house, is a lover of beer and gourmet food, and a champion of deductive reasoning.  Archie is Wolf's 20-something cohort - part detective, part ladies' man, part bodyguard.  Archie does all the leg work, gathers the information and reports back to Wolf, who solves the crime.  It's a unique set-up that sets Rex Stout's amazing series apart from the average who-dun-it.

In this particular episode, #41 in the series, Wolf is hired by a wealthy society widow, Rachel Bruner, who writes him a check for a whopping hundred grand. The oversize genius and his able assistant soon find out why the prize is so generous as they lock horns with the FBI. And these highly trained G-men have a way with threats , tails, and bugs that could give even sedentary sleuth Nero Wolfe a run for his money. (synopsis from Kansas Audiobooks site).

As always, the joy of a Rex Stout novel is in the characters more than the actual mystery.  Archie Goodwin narrates his own escapades through1940's New York as he gathers and reports the evidence, deals with Wolf's quirks, and sets up Wolf's master plan to trap the bad guys.  Stout is a master at pulling the reader inside this strange relationship and getting you to fall in love with his characters.  The series can only be described as classic.  Highly recommended for all mystery fans.

Now, two side points:  I listened to the audio version of this book narrated by Michael Prichard.  His voice and reading style are perfectly suited for the genre and for Archie Goodwin's character.  A+

Also, in 2001 and 2002, A&E produced a tv series based on the Nero Wolf books starring Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin.  It ranks on my list of top five things ever on television.  It's no longer running, but you can get the episodes on DVD.  Well worth the money. 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Weeks 6: Tagging and Social Bookmarking

Week six's lesson is on Delicious.  I'm a big fan of Rachael Ray - De-Lish!!! - but I had no clue about social bookmarking.  Ok, bad pun, I know, but it was the best I could do.

If you are also among the social bookmarking clueless, it is basically the same as adding sites to your "favorites" list on your browser except it stores your bookmarks online, allowing you to have access to your bookmarks from any computer with internet access.  Puts an end to that frustration of bookmarking a site at work, then trying to find it from home, only to discover that my brain really is over 40.

Tagging is a method of organizing and sharing your bookmarked sites.  By adding a "tag" when you bookmark a site, you can then group similar sites together and search for them by the tag.  For example, I can bookmark other library home pages and tag them "libraries", or something equally as creative, and then access my list of favorite library sites by searching for "libraries".

Tagging also allows me to share my favorite sites with others of similar interests.  For example, if I have a group of friends who are all interested in cooking, we can create the tag "cool recipes" (cause we're dorks and that's how we roll) and tag any sites that we want to remember and that we think others might like also.  Then I just search for the "cool recipes" tag and find out what discoveries my cooking friends have been making.

So far I haven't actually accomplished any of this except creating a Delicious account and looking around a bit, but I get the gist and can see numerous possibilities for work and home.