Category Archives: Reviews

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

When you think of Southern Fiction what comes to your mind?  To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone With The Wind, A Time to Kill, and All Over But the Shoutin’ are just a few of the titles, many of which were adapted for film.

Southern Literature as a genre has been with us for well over 175 years but in recent years we have seen several well written authors taking up their pens to depict a South plagued with problems.  These stories still draw many readers, even if only for the familiar surroundings.

Numerous websites such as BookRiot.com, have published reading lists for readers looking to read more of this fictional genre.  Below is a review of one such, the recent novel by Brian Panowich.  It won the 2016 Thriller Award for Best First Novel, presented by the International Thriller Writers organization.

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Bull Mountain delves into the mysteries and life styles of a Southern town.  It is a place where characters abound and suspense creeps along the pages, ending in a way that may well surprise you.  In this gripping, hard edged tale of murder, abuse, drugs, and alcohol, you meet the Burroughs family, a clan that traffics in drug and moonshine.  While running the roads of Georgia, the Burroughs cross paths with the motorcycle gang known as the “Jacksonville Jackals.”

1950’s

The morning is cool in Bull Mountain, Georgia as three men, a young man, his father and his uncle, step into the woods hunting for deer.  It will be the young man’s first deer.  The father instructs his son to take a shot as the deer comes within sight.  A loud shot rings out.  The deer falls.  At that same instant, the young man/boy hears another shot next to him.  As he looks towards the other two, he sees his uncle unmoving, lying on the ground.  “Deddy” had taken deliberate aim at his brother for own form of justice/revenge.

Present Day

Even though his genealogy has past ties to trafficking crimes, Clayton is the one member of the Burroughs clan that has decided to sit on the right side of the law.  Wanting to curtail the illegal business of drug and alcohol trafficking in his home town, he becomes the town sheriff.  But trouble comes for Clayton and his family in the form of a revenuer, Special Agent Simon Holly from the A.T.F. (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms).  Agent Holly wants to see Clayton in regards to his older brother who is running drugs all around the Bull Mountain community.  In order to protect his family Clayton will now have to stop looking the other way, putting an end to the trafficking trade in his both his town and Jacksonville.

There is a great deal going in this tale, digging into the choices people make out of loyalty and family ties.  The author shows the determination and grit of those behind the trafficking drugs and moonshine, and that of the gangs in competition.  Alternating chapters, between past and present, as well as shifting between Sherriff Clayton and Agent Holly as narrator, you are kept on the edge of your seat.

Formats Available:  Audiobook, e-Book, Large Type, Regular Type

Reviewed by MicahShawnee Branch

The Role of Religion in these United States: Jon Meacham’s American Gospel

The proper role of religion in the United States of America has been a source of debate since the beginning of the country, a debate that continues to this very day. Political parties, social institutions, and individuals all put forth their varied opinions as to the appropriate level of influence religion should have in the public and government sectors.

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In American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, Mr. Meacham provides a well-balanced, well-researched investigation of this question focusing on the writings of the Founding Fathers, which form the foundation and framework upon which the United States government operates today, as well as an examination of the state of the country at the time of its founding and how the conditions of that time affected the authoring of the governing documents and the thinking of those who wrote them. On page 232 Mr. Meacham wrote:

“A grasp of history is essential for Americans of the center who struggle to decide how much weight to assign a religious consideration in a public matter. To fail to consult the past consigns us to what might be called the tyranny of the present – the mistaken idea that the crises of our own time are unprecedented and that we have to solve them without experience to guide us.”

The tyranny of the present. In other words, there is nothing new under the sun, and Mr. Meacham certainly has a large body of work by some of the most progressive and brilliant thinkers in history to consult on this matter. And he does not simply repeat oft-heard quotes or ideas (i.e., “a wall of separation between Church & State” taken from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802); rather, he provides the context from which these quotes were taken, which allows for a greater understanding of the intent of the author.

While this subject matter is rather complex, Mr. Meacham displays a true talent in relating it in a manner that is easy to understand, and this, I believe, is what makes American Gospel so remarkable. Furthermore, considering the import of this topic to the nation, it would seem advisable for all to become more familiar with it so that one can be in a better position to make informed decisions as an individual citizen. After all, an informed electorate is essential to the success of a republic such as ours.

“This last is the most certain and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Uriah Forrest, December 31, 1787

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type and Large Type), Audiobook (CD)

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

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Don’t mess with Magic!  Don’t fear it.  Respect it.  Learn how to practice it.

All lessons Alex ignored until she placed those she cared for, both living and dead, in the path of a powerful bruja.  The Destroyer drained the life and spirit of everything be it living or dead seeking dominance over Los Lagos and beyond.  Alex held the power the Destroyer craved, needed, to reach beyond the land of the dead into the land of the living.  But Alex also held the power to destroy her.

It begins in the world of the living.  Born into a family of brujas and brujos, Alex craves normality, to go to school and fit in with other teens.  But Alex has seen and done things with magic she can’t forget.  Only Rishi her best friend at school, accepts Alex as she is, even if she is weird.

Now her Deathday is coming, the day she will receive the blessing of her ancestors.  But, all Alex wants to do is stop this magic from growing, to get free.  To do this she needs a spell that will send it away, to reject it.  For this she turns to Nova, a dark brooding brujo boy.  But Nova has his own needs and wants, so can he be trusted?

The spell goes horribly wrong.  Alex sends her family, both living and dead to Los Lagos, a land in-between and straight into the clutches of an evil bruja.  Now she must go after them and bring them back.  To do this she will need the magic she has so long denied, a boy that may or may not be trusted, and a true friend that would go to the ends of the earth for her.

What Alex didn’t understand was that her blessings will free the magic within her to stretch out and prosper.  Without them, the magic can twist and turn, evolve, into something bad.  In Los Lagos, Alex will find not only herself, but adventure, danger, intrigue, mysteries, creatures, friendship and love.  She goes to right a wrong, to learn and hopefully find the wisdom she’ll need to handle this magic within her.  She goes for her family but will Alex have the strength, the courage, and enough magic to traverse this land of denudes, avianas, saberskins, and other unhelpful creatures of the realm?

The three main characters in Labyrinth Lost clearly have their different personalities.  Rishi is the most open, quirky.  Nova has the sense of a street kid, with magic, and dark under currents run through him.  Alex is lost, unsure, and regretful but in the end is the strongest.  Spirits of family members lost are easy to envision, showing up from time to time to help tell the tale and enrich the narrative.

There are a few things, McGuffins, not fully explained, but for the most part they add a bit of spice to the tale and in the end leaves room for “what if?”  There are other twists and turns in this culturally rich tale that had me running to a dictionary for more information.  I enjoyed the racial blending and the cultural point of view from which the story was spun.  The author, Zoraida Cordova, says her inspiration for this tale is Latin American religions and cultures.

This is a story to enjoy and talk about with others and a reminder that love can come from some unexpected directions.

Format Available: Book

Reviewed by Katy, Shawnee Branch

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

As an avid science fiction reader, I grabbed this one up 61jtbg0byal__sx332_bo1204203200_when I realized it was in my favorite genre and about my favorite place in the world – the library! After reading the book, not much of it actually takes place in a library, but the main character is a librarian so I guess that makes it still a worthwhile read!

The novel centers on the intriguing life of Irene who is a librarian for the Invisible Library. The Library exists in its own dimension and librarians can travel to other dimensions to collect books/items that may be of interest to the Library. Irene is introduced to us by way of her first mission with her new assistant Kai. She has been asked to retrieve a version of the Grimm Brothers fairy tales in an alternate reality. Each world that Irene travels to has a different combination of magic and technology available and this can be a challenge to the librarians.

Right away Irene and Kai run into trouble with the Fae, a group of vampires and a rogue librarian. The novel continues this way with multiple battles to be fought while Irene is starting to find that Kai holds a deeper secret about his past. Irene does finally acquire the book, but with plenty of plot twists and adventures along the way.

This book is your basic steampunk fantasy romp, but well-written and keeps your attention throughout. I would have liked to learn a little more about the Library because what real life librarian wouldn’t want to work in a hidden library in a different dimension? In my mind I imagined it somewhat like the Tardis with hidden rooms and giant reading rooms for all types of different genres, but I guess the author leaves it up to the reader to decide what the Library looks like in their own minds.

This series does have a second book out called The Masked City which is available now and the third book is due out in January, but I’m currently tearing through the advanced reader copy right now. Don’t worry I won’t post any spoilers!

Formats Available:  Book,  E-book

Reviewed by Sara, Okolona Branch

 

Graphic Novel Round-up – Strong, incredible, daring females!

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Vol. 1: BFF by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare

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Imagine having a colossal T-Rex as pet in the modern day Marvel Universe.

And on the other end, imagine having a plucky and fearless teenage girl as a pet.

 

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 1: Hooked On a Feline by Kate Leth and Brittney Williams

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Patsy has been to hell and back (literally) but nothing compares with having to find a job in New York City.

 

Spider-Woman, Vol. 2: New Duds by Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez

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Reporter Ben Urich joins Jessica Drew as she attempts to make a new life for herself separate from the Avengers.

A surprise Silver Age character joins their motley crew as they set out on a comical road trip across America.

 

Lumberjanes, Vol. 4: Out of Time by Shannon Waters and Noelle Stevenson

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Jen and the Lumberjanes find a way to save the day, again!

If you haven’t been introduced to Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley you are seriously missing out.

A hilariously entertaining ragtag band of brave and wondrous girls.

 

In the Sounds and Seas by Marnie Galloway

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A deep and thought-provoking wordless graphic novel.

If I had to make a pile of nice things to leave for a house guest to look at during a visit, this would be in it.

A positively beautiful book, check it out.

 

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

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A fantastic graphic for kids and teens (and adults!) about the Day of the Dead and letting go of the things that scare you.

Telgemeier magically and subtly conveys how at the end of the day, love transcends life and death.

I adore Raina’s books, I think this one is my very favorite of hers.

 

DC Comics: Bombshells, Vol. 2: Allies by Marguerite Bennett and Marguerite Sauvage

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Wonder Woman!  Batgirls!  Supergirl!  Stargirl!  Batwoman!  Mera!  Zatanna!  Catwoman!  Amanda Waller!  Big Barda!

Need I say more?

As World War II storms across Europe some of the most extraordinary women in the DC universe band together to fight an old villain rising from the grave.

 

Ms. Marvel Vol. 4.: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

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In my opinion the very best of the Ms. Marvel volumes so far.

When the world is ending do you keep fighting or give up?

Or…dance it out!

Jersey City and Kamala are just the best.

Not to mention a cameo from Carol Danvers herself!

Formats Available: Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Heather, St. Matthews

A Love Letter to Autumn and Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Although the Ohio River Valley weather hasn’t received the memo yet, it’s officially Autumn! If you make your way to one of Louisville’s many beautiful parks you might not see that much change in the tree canopy, but you might get hit in the head by an acorn or a pine cone. Call me crazy, but I think that’s infinitely better than getting smacked in the face with humidity first thing in the morning. The days are shorter and Pumpkin Spice is in the air. It is officially, very nearly, sweater weather!

This is the time of year when I feel the urge to begin planning for all the upcoming excuses for me to show my love through hearty meals with friends and family (pretending I care about sports, being thankful, and whatnot). I’ve got to start putting in the time for research now because I am a lactose intolerant vegetarian (otherwise known as sort of a vegan). Veganism is the easiest dietary option for me, but if I’m going to warm the hearts and tummies of those around me with delicious comfort food it’s best if they can’t tell what they’re eating is vegan.

isa-does-itEver since Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes That Rule came into my life in 2006 I’ve been secretly feeding my loved ones tofu and they’ve loved it. If you’re trying to be sneaky or ease people into vegan food all of their dessert books are a fantastic option and a great way to learn about vegan baking. If I’m getting fancy for a potluck or a dinner party I’m sure to find something in their massive tome Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook.

However, my favorite cookbook of all time is definitely Isa Chandra Moskowitz’ most recent solo book, Isa Does it: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week. It’s chock-full of simple, well-explained, delicious recipes organized into sections such as: Handheld, Bowls (& a few plates), and Sunday Suppers. The Dilly Stew, Curried Peanut Sauce Bowl, and Tofu Mushroom Stroganoff are in heavy rotation at my house, but anything in this book is sure to satisfy.

vegan-cupcakes-take-over-the-worldCookbooks by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero

Cookbooks by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Cookbooks by Terry Hope Romero

Format: Book

Reviewed by Magen, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch 

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

When I first heard that comedian Aziz Ansari, best known for roles in spunky TV shows such as Parks and Recreation as well as his own Netflix series, Master of None, had written a book I assumed it was another comedian biography much like Tina Fey’s Bossypants.  I’ve recently been listening to many comedians’ biographies and had heard a lot of people talking about this book, all giving great reviews.  What I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t really a biography at all.  Instead Modern Romance is an interesting look at the dating/marriage culture of today and the impact technology has played in shifting trends.  Ansari has written a laugh out loud worthy, well-researched social commentary on why singles of today are finding it difficult to settle down and stay married.

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As part of the 30 something’s crowd I hear a lot about online dating.  Once looked down upon only a few years ago, now it seems like everyone is trying it!  Newly divorced, perpetually single, etc. are wading into the world of online dating with little social judgment.  But as Ansari asks in his book, is this good?  What implications does all this access to so many single (or at least ready to mingle) strangers have on the tradition American dream of finding a partner, settling down, and raising a family?

According to research done for Modern Romance, technology does play a large role in dating these days.  But the cultural shift is deeper than just the ability to swipe right or left for new mates.  Ansari found during his interviews that most marriages only a couple of decades ago most likely happened between people who grew up around each other.  With little ability to travel, especially world travel as we have today, most couples lived within a very short distance of one another.  Roles were also very different for marriages in that time period.  Men and women had very narrow views of their roles within a marriage.  If the man found a job and provided for the family, he was a good husband.  If the woman cooked, kept a clean house, and took care of any children, she was a good wife.  In today’s culture genders no longer need to limit themselves to these narrow guidelines.  Women can have a job, men could stay at home, and overall it means that the immediacy of needing to find a partner has greatly reduced.

I found this book overall fascinating and hilarious.  I really enjoy the sarcastic humor of Ansari and found the information provided within the book extremely insightful.  As someone who has witnessed firsthand many of the frustrations discussed within the book it was helpful to find words to these experiences.  The nature of texting and instant gratification has taken a toll on patience and expectations.  Today’s singles must navigate a dating environment that mostly takes place through screens and very rarely actually involves face to face or even phone call communication.  On top of that we now have the ability to travel thousands of miles, a seemingly endless supply of options through online dating apps and websites, and a progressive society open to letting genders have more choices towards career and marriage.

After listening to Ansari’s book it made me realize how special today’s choice of marriage is.  The book’s final message is that couples today have the unique ability to choose something that is no longer economically or socially necessary.  Women don’t need to escape their parents’ house by getting married and men don’t need a wife to do all the cooking and cleaning.  Getting married today likely means you have found a life partner with whom you truly and deeply love which is a gift many generations ago were not given.

Formats Available: Book, Audiobook, eBook

Reviewed by Lindsay, St. Matthews Branch

Fox and O’Hare Series by Janet Evanovich

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Fox and O’Hare is one of the newest series by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. This is series is a cross between White Collar and Leverage. Nick is the Fox of the team as well as the con artist that’s been caught by the FBI. Kate is the O’Hare of the team and the agent that catches Nick, hence the similarities to White Collar. The Leverage part deals with the rag tag team of “specialists” that Kate and Nick hire to help them carry out the cons, conning other con artists. It’s a deal that Nick made to stay out of jail.

Each member of the team added gets weirder than the last. There’s a crazy former waitress who was apparently was a NASCAR driver in another life. There’s also an architect, an engineer, and a computer guy, as well as an out of work actor. The group rounds itself out with Kate’s retired military father who likes to pretend he’s not really retired. Instead he spends his free time helping Kate out and bringing his military buddies along on some of the cons, most of which are as crazy as he is.

The premise of the Fox and O’Hare series is that it takes a con artist to catch a con artist. But it also takes an FBI agent to keep said con artist in line. So Kate’s got to work with Nick and she just doesn’t want to. As an FBI agent she’s used to putting guys like Nick in jail, not being partnered with them. However, it’s a secret partnership and if they are caught during one of their cons they are on their own, they get no help from the FBI what so ever. Nick will be in prison and Kate – if she’s lucky – will only lose her job.  If she’s not she will also be in a federal prison.

The Fox and O’Hare series is different from Evanovich’s previous series but it still has her trademark humor, wit, and writing style.  The Heist is the first book, check it out to see if you like it.

The library has all five books that have been published so far.

Formats Available: Book (Regular Print), Large Type, and Audiobook

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

Where Fiction May Lead

parchementoleavesI recently had the opportunity to facilitate a group discussion of A Parchment of Leaves by the great Kentucky author, Silas House. While I enjoyed the book tremendously, there was another aspect of this novel that I came across during my research in preparation for the book discussion that I found equally wonderful: the poetry of Kentuckian James Still.

You see, it is a poem by Mr. Still from which Mr. House derives the title of this book. The poem, entitled I Was Born Humble, is a truly awe-inspiring contemplation, in my mind, of life in general, life not necessarily rooted in the place of Kentucky.

The following is the full text:

I was born humble. At the foot of mountains
My face was set upon the immensity of earth
And stone; and upon oaks full-bodied and old.
There is so much writ upon the parchment of leaves,
So much of beauty blown upon the winds,
I can but fold my hands and sink my knees
In the leaf-pages. Under the mute trees
I have cried with this scattering of knowledge,
Beneath the flight of birds shaken with this waste
Of wings.
I was born humble. My heart grieves
Beneath this wealth of wisdom perished with the leaves.

My reaction is the same each and every time I read or recite these lines: an overwhelming sense of both joy and sorrow. But isn’t life, after all, both joy and sorrow?

It is here that I must admit that I oftentimes find poetry somewhat inaccessible. While I admire and am familiar with the household names in this genre, such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, and Robert Frost, it is when I branch out to lesser-known poets that I find myself a bit befuddled.

This, I hope and believe, will no longer be the case, as I find a renewed interest in such structured musings and now possess the resolve to venture further. Hitherto, I have always turned to fiction to better understand history, tragedy and triumph, the human condition, etc., but it seems to me now that there is an additional literary vehicle available to me by which I can come to a better understanding of the world. They say that a thing is better late than never, an expression that I take solace in on this new, and somewhat belated, journey into the realm of that most objective of aesthetic art – poetry.

Two collections of Mr. Still’s poems that I would recommend, in addition to A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House, are:

Formats Available:  Book (Regular and Large Type), Audiobook, eBook

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies is a dazzling novel, its people and prose are alive from page one. At once intimate and sweeping, this is the story of a marriage of parallel myths.”  – Jess Walters, author of Beautiful Ruins

I enjoy literary fiction, I do. I admire writers who play with language and skillfully take ordinary circumstances and create extraordinary, enviable moments where the reader is lost in the novel’s world. Lauren Groff has written such a novel. Her third novel, Fates and Furies, examines a marriage of a dynamic couple as they navigate their way through the peaks and valleys of their relationship, and it is magical.

Fates and Furies is a dazzling novel, its people and prose are alive from page one. At once intimate and sweeping, this is the story of a marriage of parallel myths.”  – Jess Walters, author of Beautiful Ruins

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It is a sweeping epic, a true bildungsroman where the life of its golden hero, Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwaite is laid bare in illustrious detail. His story, his viewpoint, his rose-colored perspective is glorified in “Fates,” and “Furies” illuminates his enigmatic, reserved wife, Matilde (or Aurelie as she is known in childhood). Their relationship is the definition of opposites attract – he is charming, gregarious, and demonstrative where she is quiet, aloof, and damaged. Their personal histories effect and color how they exist and interact with each other; the past is a burden that weighs heavily on their bond.

“Between his skin and hers, there was the smallest of spaces; barely enough for air, for this slick of sweat now chilling.  Even still, a third person, their marriage slid in.” – p. 5

As Jess Walters, observes, ”this is a story of parallel myths.” Lotto sees their marriage as blissful, perfect, and  without hardship despite the years of living on one meal a day or wearing the same  clothes until they turn to rags, because  Matilde  fosters the illusion by borrowing money from his sister without his knowledge. Matilde is resourceful where Lotto expects everything to work out because life has always catered to him. The duality of marriage is exposed through what they hide, what they choose to share, and what they purposefully ignore.

Lotto was born into luxury, love and support in a family that is eccentric and wealthy thanks to his father’s bottled water company, Hamlin Springs. Matilde’s idyllic life in France is shaken by an accident where she is blamed and abandoned to be raised by strangers.  When they meet the attraction is so immediate and intense that they marry within two weeks. Lotto’s friends are envious but skeptical of their fast coupling, yet somehow they make sense together. Both are beautiful, ambitious, intelligent people who are naïve to the challenges of marriage.

This disparity, the dichotomy in their backgrounds, is what makes the novel so captivating.  The reader follows them through twenty-six years of their life together.  Through feast and famine, illness, happiness and sorrow, their love, their lust, and their deep passion for one another never diminishes.

 Formats Available: Audiobook, Paperback, eBook

Reviewed by Carolyn, Crescent Hill Branch