Category Archives: Reviews

Rex Mundi by Arvid Nelson

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Rex Mundi (which is Latin for “King of the World”) is set in the 1930’s in an interesting, highly detailed world similar in many ways but very different from ours.  For instance, magic exists, the Protestant Reformation never happened, the Confederate States were never defeated, and an Islamic state still exists on the Iberian Peninsula.  One thing which is the same is a creeping darkness of the times with war clearly just over the horizon.

The protagonist, Dr. Julian Sauniere, stumbles into a conspiracy that reaches back to the earliest days of the Catholic Church.  Early issues of this series were published before The Da Vinci Code and share with it similar themes about the politics of the Catholic Church and the question of Jesus’ bloodline.  Along the way, Julian finds himself in conflict with the Duke of Lorraine, the most powerful man in France – perhaps even the whole of Europe.

The Duke is plotting to grab power by riling up the French population in ways similar to a certain German dictator of our world though his scapegoats are the Muslims of Europe.  Julian gets captured by the Inquisition along the way but manages to escape with the help of Genevieve Tournon, the Duke’s personal physician and Julian’s ex-lover.  The two flee in search of the Holy Grail, which may or may not be an ultimate weapon, with the Duke and his forces hot on their trail.

Do they succeed?  Or does the Duke overtake them?  And what really is the nature of the Holy Grail?

You’ll just have to read the series to find out.

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Along the way stop to savor the art.  Over the series, there were three different artists but each had a similar enough style that there are no abrupt disruptions of the narrative due to the changes.  The art is what I call “comic book realism.”  There is a good deal of detail with sharp lines and clear, somewhat muted colors.  The figures and scenery look real but not so real that you would call them photographic or painterly (such as in the works of Alex Ross).  It still looks like a comic book but without the exaggeration found in some of the genres (such as superhero or fantasy).

At first the emphasis is more on deep blacks in the figures and in the design elements.  There are large blocks of ebony both within and around the panels.  This leads to the gutters (the space between panels) being negative ones, pushing the scene up from the all black background.  When they are not negative, gutters are often shades of gray, reinforcing a sense of gloom and mystery.  Later in the series there is a wider palette of colors used so that the panels take on a distinct shape against – rather than just bleeding into – the stark black that continues to be the background of most pages.  The colors pop more as the emotions of the characters intensify.  Towards the series’ end, the heavy lines used by the inker to delineate forms becomes softer so the wider range of colors stands out all the more.

To reserve a copy today, click here.

Formats Available: Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Tony, Main Library

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat is the extraordinary tale of the intricate tapestry of people whom inhabit a small town in Haiti. The book is titled after a young girl who is raised by her father after her mother dies in child birth. The father is very unsure of his capabilities of parenting a young girl and each year on her birthday, he tries to give her to a local fabric store owner. The beginning of the story recounts each of Claire’s birthdays in a descending order, which later sets up the other characters stories to be weaved into this tapestry.

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After we learn of Claire’s story, Danticat begins to weave other characters stories into the tapestry of this town. We learn of the story of the wealthy fabric store owner whose life has been nothing but tragedy throughout, and also the poor gang member who is falsely accused of murder and is subsequently murdered only days later. We are also told the story of a young boy who escapes the small town, but comes back to face a father that no longer understands his life.

The sea becomes a major character in many of the citizens’ lives, and symbolizes the fragile nature of life as well. In many tales of the book both a birth and a death happen in the town concurrently again demonstrating the fragility of life. The book feels like a collection of fables, but Danticat succeeds in weaving a beautiful tapestry of the townspeople. Through both tragedy and hope, it is hard not to identify with many of the novel’s characters by the end of the tale.

Formats Available:  Regular Type, Large Type, eBook, Playaway, CD

Reviewed by Sara, Okolona Branch

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Since You've Been Gone

When you’re scared of taking risks everyday life obstacles can seem overwhelming.  That was what life was like for Emily.  She didn’t like being the center of attention or going to parties or really anything involving people.  She liked cross county because she loved running with her thoughts and being alone.  That was before Sloane moved to town.  Sloane was brave and vibrant and exhilarating- everything Emily was too afraid to be.  Emily loved to be known as “Sloane’s friend” even to people who had known Emily her whole life but had just met Sloane.  It didn’t bother Emily that Sloane got all the guys, all the attention, and all the glory.  Emily liked being boring.  But then Sloane vanishes without a trace.

Emily shows up like always to Sloane’s house and finds no one is there.  Just as quickly as she had come into Emily’s life two years earlier Sloane was gone.  The only sign that Sloane had existed at all was a cryptic letter which shows up at Emily’s house a week after Sloane disappears.  It isn’t a ransom note or an explanation of what happened, it’s a list.  A list of several things Emily feels quite sure she will never be brave enough to do such as pick apples at night, kiss a stranger, and go skinny dipping!

As the days tick by and Emily’s perfectly planned summer is ruined by loss and confusion she makes a decision that completing the list might bring her closer to finding the truth of what happened to her best friend.  Emily starts the list thinking it will help her find Sloane but in an endearing, coming of age and self-acceptance story, what Emily really find’s is herself.  It is easy to live in someone else’s shadow if it means never having to take risks.  But what is a life worth having if you’re not living it?

Since You’ve Been Gone is a wonderful novel full of rich social themes – friendship, self-identity, self-discovery, and self-acceptance.  While marketed toward teens this novel is an important reminder to us at any age about being kind to ourselves and others.  Emily is afraid to be vulnerable to others but it keeps her closed off to a life full of possibilities.  She finds braveness in a friend who appears to be the epitome of everything Emily wishes she was – but we all know appearances are often misleading.  So does Emily complete the list?  Does she find Sloane and learn why her best friend disappeared over night?  It’s well worth the read if you’d like to find out.

Formats Available: Book (Regular Print)

Reviewed by Lindsay, Southwest Branch

When Hell Freezes Over and the Devil’s Inside

We’re launching a new book discussion group here at Bon Air, beginning September 24 at 7 p.m.  Our selections will cater to ages 15-25 but slightly older adults are welcome.  The club will generally feature Older Teen and Adult Fiction with young adult characters ranging from 15 to 25-ish.

 

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In the spirit of new beginnings I decided to choose two books that I had not previously read.  September’s selection is Iced: A Dani O’Malley Novel.  This book is set firmly in the middle of the ongoing popular Fever series by Karen Marie Moning.  It is the first book told from the perspective of Dani O’Malley, a rather unusual 14 year old in a world gone mad.  If you haven’t read the series, don’t despair.  This book can be read as a stand-alone.

Bodacious fairies and dark evil things that go bump in the night have hemorrhaged over into our reality.  Unfortunately, pretty much all of them are monsters and they think humans are tasty morsels. But even in the midst of monsters and mayhem, relationships and people who “care” may just be the most dangerous thing around.

Dani’s number one prerogative is to keep the people of Dublin safe. Number two is to stay free.  Not-quite-human club owner Ryodan manages to blackmail Dani into helping him solve a mystery that threatens not only his business, but all of Dublin.  To that end he keeps her under his thumb.  Dani’s number one makes her want to help, but her number two makes her resistant and bitter.

Despite the despicable means by which their partnership is formed the two characters forge ahead to find out how and why something is freezing humans and evil creatures alike.  The frozen venues are barely approachable by supernatural ilk.   And for some reason, they keep exploding.

Dublin was already the seventh circle of Hell but now it’s frozen over.  Will our reluctant heroine save the day?  Only the book will tell.

Formats Available:  Audiobook, Book, eBook

 

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October’s selection is Horns by Joe Hill and we will meet on October 29 at 7 p.m.  I swear on my library card that I didn’t know this book had a movie being released on October 31st.  Just days after I picked this book, I was thumbing through my various “social” addictions…I mean appswhen I spotted a video box with Daniel Radcliffe’s face.

“Hmmm, wonder what that is?”   Imagine my surprise when I click the play button like a good little monkey and I’m treated to an early sneak preview of Horns!  “Yes! ” I mentally shouted, while I did a little spastic dance around the room.  Luckily the only witnesses were my family and they’re used to my strange silent outbursts.

My family waited patiently for me to explain.  When I told them that Daniel Ratcliff was playing the lead of a great philosophical horror story, my teens all began clamoring in protest, “You can’t do that to Harry Potter! That’s just wrong.”   I laughed, perhaps a little bit maniacally, and told them that Daniel Radcliffe could play any character he desired, even a devil!

WARNING!!!  This book will may make you squirm.

The beginning chapters of this story are dark and graphic.  The main character, Ig (Ignatius) Perrish, has been living in a town where everyone thinks he raped and murdered his high school sweetheart, Merrin.  He didn’t kill her.  He loved her so deeply, he is lost without her.

Unable to cope with the anniversary of Merrin’s death, Ig drinks himself into such a stupor that he can’t remember the previous evening when he awakens the next morning.  Of course, he knows almost immediately that he must have done something really, really bad.  The horns sprouting out of his head are dead giveaway.

Ig’s first reaction is to think he’s hallucinating, but his current girlfriend, quickly disabuses him of that notion when she affirms that she can see them.  As if that weren’t bad enough, she immediately begins to divulge her darkest urges and thoughts. Ig flees.  He moves from person to person looking for help or absolution, but each encounter just leaves him more sickened and shell-shocked.

Slowly Ig begins to realize that he can influence people.  He can’t make them do something they don’t want to do.  But if the urge is tucked away inside somewhere, Ig can coax it out.  When Ig finds out who truly killed Merrin he begins to actively used the horns and his new strange powers.

He wants justice and revenge, so he embraces the devil inside.  Does that make him evil?  You’ll have to decide for yourself, once you read the book.

Formats Available:  Audiobook, Book

Reviews by Angel, Bon Air Branch

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson

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In 1854, an outbreak of cholera struck the Soho district of London, killing over 600 people. Steven Johnson ’s The Ghost Map paints a vivid and engaging portrait of a community struck by a disease it does not understand and cannot control, and the struggle to develop the knowledge and means to stem the tide of mortality. Even if non-fiction is usually not to your taste, this account of Dr. John Snow’s investigation of the outbreak and the struggles of families and individuals gripped by the disease is engagingly written and well worth a read.

Dr. Snow’s investigation of the cholera epidemic of 1854 became the seed for modern epidemiology. While the story of his plotting cholera cases on a map of the district and targeting a public water pump as the source of the outbreak – ultimately resulting in the removal of the handle of the pump – is well known, it’s not the complete story, and Johnson does an admirable job bringing the sights – and smells of mid-19th Century London to life.

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Dramatized narratives of Soho residents’ lives during the outbreak serve for more than background nuance and flavor. Small details – a splash of gin added to water unwittingly killing the bacteria – hint at the much larger developments that the 1854 outbreak led to. Dr. Snow’s struggle to find the focus of the epidemic and then convey his ideas about the pump as the common source to authorities convinced that disease was spread by foul smells, not by water, foreshadows the use of maps and charts to illustrate data and convince the public and policy setters. The use of the map was at the cutting edge of the time: Florence Nightingale used charts and maps to push for the need for sanitation. The field of data visualization, then in its infancy, is an important part of scientific research and public service.

Given the impact of the 1854 Soho cholera epidemic on today’s world, and how the concerns of infectious disease and public health are still with us, the central dramas of The Ghost Map are well worth thinking about. In the final chapters, the author attempts to integrate the lessons of the epidemic with more modern concerns, and although some of his points are worthwhile, others seem like over-reaching attempts at relevancy, when the story of the outbreak, and the impact epidemiology has on our lives is a gripping story in itself. Some of this poorly-integrated theorizing feels like it belongs to another book, and isn’t given enough time for a good, mature argument.

All in all, however, despite the problems of the last chapters, The Ghost Map is a must-read for history buffs, or even fans of historical fiction, to get a feel for the urban atmosphere of the time. At his best describing the Soho outbreak, Johnson strikes a fine balance between exploring the scientific and historical significance of the events and the very human drama of families and individuals in the grip of a deadly disease.

Formats Available:  Book, eBook

Reviewed by Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch

Legacy of the Clockwork Key by Kristin Bailey

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Gears, wheels and clockworks.  Oh, my!

Plus mechanical beasties, horses and ships, murder and mayhem, romance and adventure.

Once you start, you are dropped down in the middle of a Steampunk tale that will introduce you to a time that is both dark and tantalizing.  This high adventure is peopled with villains, heroes and the in-betweens that pull you into an alternate world where knowledge of science and steam can indeed make magic happen.  But it’s Kristen Bailey’s heart as a storyteller that will keep you turning the pages until you reach the final line on the first leg of a long journey for Meg, Will, Lucinda and Oliver.

This harrowing tale is filled with the imagination, creativity and ingenuity.  Bailey brings to life mechanical beings, weapons and amusements, almost leaping off the pages of the book.  This first installment in The Secret Order trilogy opens a world misplaced in time that will intrigue and delight teens of fantasy, sci-fi, mystery and romance.

Meg’s life as the daughter of a clockmaker was comfortable, but after the fire that took the life of her parents all she has left to remember them by is a cindered pocket watch.  As housemaid to an eccentric Baron, life is anything but comfortable with long hours of drudgery, dusting and cleaning until the winding of a clock opens a secret door.  Within the hidden workshop there are fantastic machines and a spyglass like nothing Meg has ever set eyes on before.  Some allow her to see into all areas of the estate by means of disguised cameras.  Among the detailed drawings are the inner workings of a bizarre egg shaped contraption, Meg finds a letter that sends her on a search for the grandfather she had thought was dead.

The trail she follows leads to a secret society of men that can create almost anything you might imagine with gears, wheels and clockworks.  Along with Will, a former stable hand, she makes her way to London, to meet with Lucinda, the widow of an Amusementist to begin their search for clues which can lead them to a machine that may well tear apart the very fabric of time.  With a murderer on their trail, a weapon of deadly destruction, that only she has the key to stop, clues to search out and inventions that could be the death of them, this harrowing adventure has just begun.

If this sounds exciting and you want to know more, check out the book trailer or the author’s website.

Formats Available:  Book

Reviewed by Katy, Shawnee Branch

We Are The Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

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Nell is completely enamored with her older sister, Layla.  So much in fact that, when they were little girls, she called herself “Nellayla” because she felt that their bond was so close, they were like one soul.  During Nell’s freshman year of high school, she discovers that Layla is having an inappropriate relationship with a teacher.  This puts Nell in a serious bind. She wants to keep her sister’s secret, but she also feels like the situation Layla has gotten herself into is wrong.  Thrown unwittingly into her sister’s secret, what should she do?

When I read the synopsis of the book, I was hoping that it delivered a punch that would have me cursing in the air because I was so mad.  I didn’t find myself spewing vulgarity to the heavens but was entranced as I read, my eyes transfixed on my Kindle.  The story is told from Nell’s point of view.  Nell is a very inquisitive and responsible (to a point) teenager, who looks up to her older sister in a way that is borderline loving, hero worship with a touch of creepiness.

Her best friend Felix is her confidant.  He doesn’t sugar coat anything for her, mince words, or treat her like she is special.  Nell loves that about him.  I really liked how the author describes this friendship and was very surprised that this wasn’t one where the two of them eventually fall in love with each other.

Nell has so many things on her plate.  She is just beginning high school, she has a crush on a boy, she makes the soccer team and she is worried about the strange way her older sister is beginning to behave.  She is going through typical teenage emotions and the author mixes words so that you feel each one.

When Nell learns of Layla’s secret, it is purely by accident.  As rumors start to spread about her sister and a teacher who has a reputation of being with a different female student each year, Nell chalks it up as just being gossip.  But when she catches Layla in the act of video chatting with this teacher, Nell knows that nothing good can come of it and just how bad the situation can become.

The moral compass is stretched to the limit with this story and I really wish that the author wouldn’t have ended the book the way that she did.  Layla was involved in something that teenagers shouldn’t be aware of.  She was completely taken advantage of but she felt that it was love.  There could have been so much more that would have made this a five star book.

All in all, I really liked the book and would very much encourage people to read it, especially if you are the parent of a teenager.

Formats Available:  Book

Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

 

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, edited by Steven Jay Schneider

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Want to broaden your cinematic horizons? Or perhaps you just need a recommendation for something to watch tonight? 

One excellent resource is 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, edited by Steven Jay Schneider.  Its new tenth anniversary edition, updated by Ian Haydn Smith, covers movies from the first silents like 1902’s A Trip to the Moon, directed by Georges Méliès, all the way to 2012’s Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee (which is featured on the book’s cover). I’ve been using this book to encourage myself to learn more about movie history and watch movies I otherwise never would have considered.

I’m up to 558 movies on the list.  Two of my new favorites are 1927’s Sunrise, directed by F.W. Murnau, and 1957’s Sweet Smell of Success, directed by Alexander Mackendrick.

How many have you seen?

Formats Available: Book (Regular Print)

 Reviewed by Alex, Middletown

The Mayor’s Book Club Is Reading “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett

The Mayor’s Book Club 

This book discussion group meets at the Main Library on the third Wednesday of the month, from noon to 1:00 p.m.

Brown-bag lunches are welcome.

The book club’s next reading will be:

AUGUST 20, 2014 – State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder
2012-05 – Paperback
Harper Perennial
9780062049810
Check Our Catalog 
State of Wonder
By Patchett, Ann
Award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author returns with a provocative and assured novel of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice set in the Amazon rainforest.

TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Ann Patchett, the best-selling author of the acclaimed Bel Canto and four other novels, returns with a darkly fascinating story about the nature of scientific inquiry. In State of Wonder, pharmaceutical researcher Marina Singh is tasked with finding out what happened to her co-worker, Anders Eckman, who died in the Amazon jungle after joining a research team. Contending with snakes, heat and mosquitoes, Marina connects with the field team, which is led by Annick Swenson, an ambitious gynecologist researching a tribe whose females have remarkable childbearing abilities. Annick was once Marina’s mentor, and encountering her brings back a past Marina is trying hard to escape. Giving readers access to the recondite world of drug research while exploring the impulses that motivate us all, Patchett has crafted an intriguing novel, filled with complex issues that will generate lively book club discussion. © 2011, All rights reserved, BookPage
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Publisher Comments
In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, State of Wonder presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity.As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness. Stirring and luminous, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest’s jeweled canopy.
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For the complete list of upcoming titles, click here.

 

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

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Georgie McCool has a lot going for her. She has a job writing for a hit sitcom in Los Angeles, two young daughters, and a stay at home husband who handles the domestic details while Georgie focuses on her career. Landline begins as Georgie is getting the opportunity she’s waited for after years of writing comedy, the chance at having her own television show. So what’s the catch? To get a shot she’ll have to work through Christmas and sacrifice celebrating with her family. Her husband begrudgingly agrees she should go for it, but in Georgie’s mind there’s no debating it. And that’s where the cracks begin to show.

Have you ever accidently left your cell phone at home then it just makes your entire day feel off? Georgie’s cell is broken and being unable to get in touch with her husband causes her wonder not only if her marriage is failing, but maybe her perception of reality is going as well. The latter isn’t helped by the fact that she encounters a telephone that allows callers to time travel. With the help of an old-fashioned landline Georgie begins to explore the state of her marriage taking readers back to when it first began.

Thirty-somethings are the projected audience for Landline, but Rowell’s works Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, both published in 2013, target teens while striking the hearts of a broader swath. Rainbow Rowell romances the underdog in us all by giving her quirky, unpopular characters exactly what they need, each another. Bestseller Eleanor and Park perfectly romanticizes the nature of young love and the rights have been recently been acquired by Dreamworks for a film adaption. Fangirl is a coming-of-age story that starts with two twins going off to college one ready to cannonball into the pool and the other left standing on the diving board.

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To hear about other projects by the author visit her website:  http://rainbowrowell.com/

Formats Available: Book (Regular Print)

 Reviewed by Natalie, Main Children’s