Charlaine Harris: More Than Vampire Novels

If you are like me you don’t necessarily associate Charlaine Harris with cozy mysteries. When I think of Charlaine Harris, I think of vampires, werewolves and Harris’ popular Sookie Stackhouse book series. This not just popular, but extremely popular, book series is the basis for the television series True Blood. A couple weeks ago when a library patron was chatting with me at the Reference Desk and mentioned being a fan of Charlaine Harris, I assumed she was referring to the Southern Vampire Mysteries. When she said Harris writes one of her favorite cozy mystery series, I thought perhaps I was confused about the definition of the term “cozy mystery”. (Check out my favorite cozy mystery website for the definition of a cozy mystery.) BUT, on further investigation I realized Charlaine Harris writes another series, the Aurora Teagarden mystery series. Harris began this series in 1990 and I really feel I should have known about this series because the main character, Aurora “Roe” Teagarden, is a librarian! 

Embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of librarian fiction and cozy mysteries, I quickly picked up a copy of Poppy Done to Death. Published in 2008, this book is the most recent installment in the series. I just finished this book and I enjoyed it. The characters are interesting, the main character likeable, and the mystery kept me guessing. There are quite a few references to things that occurred in previous books so I think I would have enjoyed this book even more if I had read it in series order. I think I will go back to Real Murders and start reading from the beginning. Unfortunately, according to Harris’ website there are no plans to write more books in the Aurora Teagarden series as she is busy writing other things. 

Like her Sookie Stackhouse novels, Harris’ Aurora Teagarden series is set in the South. This is where the similarities end. Fans of cozy mysteries will enjoy this book and fans of Charlaine Harris’ other series might be interested to see some of Harris’ other work. Beware there are no vampires in this book!


Meg: a Novel of Deep Terror

I recently asked a friend to give me something good to read for the weekend. I’m a closet horror-reader, so I really wanted something that would be suspenseful and maybe a little gruesome. But I didn’t want to tackle anything too long or gloomy this time. She told me to try Steve Alten’s book, Meg: a novel of deep terror, about a giant prehistoric shark that suddenly surfaces in our modern-day ocean taking out everything in its path. Scientists had long believed that these sharks were extinct, but of course they are all wrong. And it doesn’t help that no one believes Dr. Jonas Taylor’s theories about the megalodon’s hidden existence until it’s too late. I’m not going to lie, the plot is about as far-fetched as you can imagine. (The shark seems ridiculously intent on eating people even after gorging its way through a ton of whales!) And the ending is completely preposterous. Still, it’s a satisfying thriller that will keep you turning the pages until you find out what happens to the mother shark and her ghastly killer-baby. At fewer than 300 pages, it’s quick and leaves you wanting to read more. Fortunately for us, Alten continues the series with a few more novels- Meg: primal waters, The Trench and Meg: Hell’s aquarium. If that isn’t enough deep-sea action, you can always return to the shark that started it all by terrorizing an entire population of beach-goers in the 1970s, Peter Benchley’s Jaws.


Book Bomb! Wizarding Life After Harry Potter

“All was well.”

You read those last bittersweet sighful words and sigh yourself.  The rich frothy scent of butterbeer slowly fades; as does the regrettable flavor of Burt’s Every-Flavour Beans (you just had a bogey-flavored one for old-time’s sake).  The smoke from the Hogwarts Express drifts away as the locomotive chugs off into evanescent memory and you smile, thinking “Cheers, Platform Nine and Three Quarters.”

Reality returns.  If you were a child when you first began the magical journey with Harry and his Hogwartian adventures, welcome to the world of mortgages, nine-to-fives, and student loan debt.  If you were an adult when you first started referring to others as Muggles, welcome back to mortgages, nine-to-fives, and shrill prepubescent demands to “Read it AGAIN!! Again!!”
But you feel it, don’t you? That need for magic, for wonder, for great writing, and imaginative flights of imagination?  Here are some adult fiction titles that just might help that craving (at least until it’s been long enough for you to go back and re-experience Harry again).

The Sorcerer's HouseThe Sorcerer's House, by Gene Wolfe, is an effectively epistolary novel that teasingly sketches out an ordinary man’s search into his extraordinary, otherworldly history.  A bit eerie, a smidge whimsical, but a great fantastical read.  Reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s work (American Gods, Neverwhere).

The Snow ChildThe Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, is a new addition to the popular-once-again fairytales retold genre, based on the Russian tale of the same name and set in the beautiful, deadly wilds of Alaska.  Not overtly fantasy, Ivey nonetheless blends the magical seamlessly with reality so that you don't really care, so engrossed do you become with Jack and Mabel, and their little snow child, Faina... or is she?

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, book one in The Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy, has been hailed as one of the best fantasy novels in many years.   Rather than focus on action and adventure, Rothfuss instead builds skilfully and thoughtfully on character and story (so the plot development may be a bit glacial for the adrenaline-junkie reader).  Still, it’s beautifully written, captivating, and just the right amount of complex.  The second book, The Wise Man's Fear, is also currently available.

Ready Player OneReady Player One, by Ernest Cline, is more science fiction than fantasy but because it’s about fully immersive virtual gaming (virtual reality), there is plenty of the fantastical element.  Influenced by pop-culture of the 80s and inspired by our favorite role-playing games (electronic and otherwise), Ready Player One is a fabulously fun futuristic throwback (say that three times fast) adventure that is one part nostalgia and five hundred parts awesome.

The Night CircusThe Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, is a lovely, lyrical, dream-stirring novel, about two young magicians locked in a duel that seems to have neither rules nor end.  Their dueling stage is Le Cirque des Reves (“the circus of dreams”) and it really is.  Its black-and-white striped tents arrive silently without notice, filled (among other wonderful things) with gardens of ice, wish-fulfilling trees, mazes that defy gravity, and illusionists whose magic is made to seem illusory, when it is in fact real.  It opens only when night falls, from sunset ‘til sunrise.

Click on any of the titles or book covers listed to visit the OC Public Libraries website and reserve one of them today!

New at the Library: Harry Potter e-books!  Click here to visit our e-book collection to learn how to borrow and download Harry Potter e-books (as well as several of the titles mentioned) for your Kindle, Nook, iPad, or other e-reader device.


Great Intermediate and Upper Reads

The month of May celebrates children's author Christopher Paul Curtis, born on the 10th in Flint, Michigan, and quoted as saying, "To me the highest accolade comes when a young reader tells me, 'I really liked your book.' The young seem to be able to say 'really' with a clarity, a faith, and an honesty that we as adults have long forgotten. That is why I write." Curtis' trademark humor and vibrant narrative is at once evocative, heart-wrenching, and hilarious and I would recommend you steer your child to any one of the books below. What I like most about Curtis' writing style is the unforgettable testament to the power of hope.

Bud, Not Buddy grades 4-7
The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963
Bucking the Sarge grades 7 & up
Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission grades 4-7
Mr. Chickee's Funny Money grades3-7
Elijah of Buxton grades 4-7


Life in Verse

About a dozen years ago, I attended a Children’s Literature Council event where the group awarded its Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Poetry to a poet named Sonya Sones. Her book, Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy, was a novel in verse; the semi-autobiographical story of a teenage girl’s battle with mental illness from the point of view of her younger sister, Cookie. As a former student of Myra Cohn Livingston, Sones was especially touched to receive the award named for her mentor, and her acceptance speech was funny and moving, much like the poems she shared with the audience. I had to go directly back to my library and read the whole thing for myself.

Rather than a loose collection of poems, a novel in verse uses each poem to build the story, layer upon layer. Sonya Sones writes poems that are insightful, wise, moving, honest, and often laugh-out-loud funny (sometimes all within a single slender page). I have enjoyed and recommended her Teen novels over the years, and was happy to see her Adult debut, The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus: A Novel About Marriage, Motherhood, and Mayhem.

[Cover]True to form, Sones’ signature style brings her point of view to the story of Holly: at 50, Holly is dreading the imminent empty nest that’s fast approaching as her only daughter gets ready for college and trying to care for an ailing mother who lives across the country. She’s also mourning the end of her child-bearing years while trying to avoid her editor and finally finish her overdue manuscript. Holly’s experiences ring true, and Sones packs a lot of emotion into her carefully crafted free-verse, a format which allows as much or as little introspection as a busy reader might need. I love that a reader can spend just a few minutes reading one or two poems, or sit down and read through to the end.


A Glimpse Into Native American Culture

The setting for Something to Hold by Katherine Schlick Noe is the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, 1962.  Kitty's family has just made the latest of their many transfers to accommodate her father's government job working as a forester lookout.  She is one of only two white children in Warm Springs.  All the others are residents of the reservation.  Most are unfriendly and some of them are hostile.

The story spotlights cultural misunderstandings and prejudices:  teachers without respect for the talents and heritage of the students and community, students and adults who are resentful of the presence of white intervention. But with a few friendships that grow with time and patience, bonds evolve. The characters and situations in this story lend interest from the beginning, but when an emergency occurs the book becomes a page turner.  This intermediate level children's fiction book is enriching and great for discussion (reading circles?) without being preachy.  The novel  is based on the author's own childhood and family history. A glossary and author's note add extra interest.  Her mother's true story of life on three reservations is is told in the memoir Coming to Stay:  A Columbia River Journey.  For further enrichment about the confederated tribes of Warm Springs and the history and culture of the area visit the websites here and also here.


Dark and Moody

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel is a believable prequel to Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Victor Frankenstein and his twin brother, Konrad, live at Chateau Frankenstein with their loving parents and an adopted distant cousin, Elizabeth. Though Victor and Konrad are identical twins, their personalities are very different. Konrad is easy going, intelligent and charming, whereas Victor is reserved, arrogant and awkward. While exploring the Chateau’s hidden passages, Victor, Konrad, Elizabeth and their friend Henry stumble upon a secret library with a large collection of books on the dark arts. Their father warns them to stay away from this library. Meanwhile, Konrad suddenly falls ill with a mysterious blood disorder. Victor watches an expert doctor experiment with treatments that fail. Frustrated, Victor decides to take matters into his own hands and returns to the forbidden library to find a solution. The story is about Victor’s fixated entanglement with alchemy to find the Elixir of Life to save Konrad. Victor and his friends have to go through several dangerous quests to find three rare ingredients before this elixir can be concocted by a mysterious alchemist. There are betrayals along the way and a love triangle involving Victor, Konrad and their cousin Elizabeth.

The tone of this book is true to the original and that’s what makes this prequel convincing and enjoyable. Oppel cleverly creates the deathly ill twin which spurs Victor’s character to delve deeply and obsessively into alchemy. The characters are splendid and the contrast between the twins is great. This fast-paced, action-packed thriller will appeal to many readers. In our library system it is cataloged under Younger Teen. The sequel, Such Wicked Intent will be available August 2012.


Love and Marriage?

“There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel.”  --Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) is candy for the English major, former English major, or any lover of literature.  It has depictions of lit classes, complete with pretentious student comments; philosophizing students using their reading assignments to read meaning into their own lives; and literary references galore:  Derrida, Barthes, Thomas Merton, Anna Karenina, Where the Wild Things Are and Madeline are just a few.

Eugenides slyly inverts the literary concept of the “marriage plot,” which was first made popular during the Regency and Victorian periods.  It goes something like this:  Man courts woman.  Woman is interested in man.  Problems come up.  Marriage might not take place.  Problems are resolved.  Marriage does indeed take place.  (Some good examples are Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Middlemarch by George Eliot.)

The author gives us a love triangle consisting of Madeleine (an English major dabbling in semiotics, though a Victorianist at heart), Leonard (brilliant and charming, but suffering from manic depression) and Mitchell (intelligent and a bit quirky—there are some great scenes with him volunteering in India at Mother Teresa's hospice).  They are all students at Brown University.  The novel follows them from college through graduation and into post-grad life.  With these three characters, Eugenides shows us that love, life and literature are not always what they appear to be and even when we are in the middle of it all, we sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees.  Yet somehow, like in a Victorian novel, things seem to work out in the end. 


Travel by Numbers

The Dewey Decimal system is always fascinating to me, after all I am a librarian! Travel books are in the Dewey 900s. In this section you can find the Lonely Planet, Frommer's, Rick Steves' and Fodor’s travel guides. (My favorite travel guides are the Lonely Planet books and the Afoot and Afield books.) In this same section you can also find one of my favorite genres, travel memoirs! It is one thing to read about a location, but it is another thing to read about someone experiencing that location.

Here are four travel memoirs I’ve enjoyed that you can find at the library (Dewey number included): 

917.3  John Steinbeck’s classic Travels With Charley: in Search of America. Steinbeck hits the road with his poodle, Charley and documents his travels in this great example of travel writing. As a dog lover and a Steinbeck lover, this book is one of my all-time favorites.

917.98045  Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I recommend both the book and the movie, but I love the book more. I also recommend all of Jon Krakauer’s other books.

910.4  Honeymoon With My Brother by Franz Wisner. With a title like this how could you not check it out?

Pick up a copy of The Best American Travel Writing 2011 to get an overview of travel writing and discover new travel memoirs you might like to read.

More Books I Haven’t Read But Would Like To:

The Year of the Goat: 40,000 miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese by Margaret Hathaway (917.30493)

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalacian Trail by Bill Bryson (917. 40443)

One last book on my to read list doesn’t exactly count on this list since it is shelved with the biographies, but it still deserves a spot on this list and on my travel to-read list. The book is Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. 

Please comment if you have enjoyed any of the books I’ve mentioned or if you have any travel memoirs you’d like to add to this list.


Humorous Story About the Importance of Listening to Your Kids.

Kids are smarter than you think!
In Edwin Speaks Up by April Stevens, size and articulation are not as important as potential. What I like about this book is that if you are going to subtly imbue children with a notion about self, then let it be about how smart they really are. Before his family leaves the grocery store, Baby Edwin makes sure their grocery cart contains the last ingredient needed to make his birthday celebration complete. At every turn, Mom forgets something, or puts it in the wrong place, and Edwin watches out for her. Everyone thinks Edwin is just babbling, but in truth it is only Edwin who knows what’s truly going on, and helps guide them. So note to self, Adults: Pay attention to kids!


Of Convicts and Colonies

Kate Grenville is a terrific writer.  Her historical novel The Secret River is about the settlement of New South Wales by exiled British criminals.  The book traces the life of William Thornhill, growing up poor in the slums of London in the early 1800’s. A chance opportunity leads to a lighterman apprenticeship on the Thames, yet despite the grueling physical labor, Thornhill can’t make enough money to support his wife and kids.  Caught in an ill-advised theft, he escapes the noose by accepting an exiled life in a new place.  Thornhill discovers that his new beginning is at odds with the way of life of the native aborigines, leading to acts of aggression and physical violence.

The El Toro Book Club discussed The Secret River at a recent meeting. Members said they were engaged by the story and characters, and appreciated the author’s research and historical accuracy. They talked about the British class structure and how it compared to the culture of the aborigines.  They liked how the author portrayed how difficult it was for the British to make sense of a completely different culture, and how this lack of understanding lead to distrust, fear and violence. 

The Secret River is fiction that is historical, yet timely and relevant at the same time.  A big “thumbs up” from me.


Book Bomb! Picture Books for Grown Ups

You'd be surprised (unless you’re a picture book connoisseur) how much depth picture books can convey, even with a minimal word count.  Here are a few of my current favorites that thoughtful young readers (and young-hearted adults) might enjoy. 

Grandpa GreenGrandpa Green, by Lane Smith, is a lovely narrative by a boy describing his grandpa’s life, from birth onwards.  What’s endearing and quirky is that these life events are illustrated in the form of topiaries (trees trimmed to form recognizable shapes), culminating in a subtle yet extremely heartache-worthy explanation of why this unusual form of expression was chosen. 

Duck, Death and the Tulip
Duck, Death and theTulip, by Wolf Erlbruch, is a quiet whimsical book that some may find a teeny bit morbid but is actually quite sweet (in a Tim Burton-esque way), thoughtful, and sad (in a bittersweet way).  Take from it what you will; I saw it as a gentle way of introducing the undeniable fact of that final goodbye. 

The Man in the Moon (The Guardians of Childhood) The Man in the Moon, by William Joyce, is an introduction to the world of Joyce’s Guardians of Childhood.  It tells, with beautiful and dreamy illustration, how the Moon first arrived in our skies on golden butterfly-wing sails, and why MiM (the Man in the Moon) first took up the fight to protect the innocence and dreams of children, later recruiting four others (a fairy, a rabbit, a toymaker, and a sand sculptor) who you may recognize but will be surprised to learn their true story.

And check out Joyce’s Academy Award-winning short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore¸ to be released in picture book format this summer.  Completely without dialogue and yet still filled to the brim with emotion and joy and, of course, books
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

(click to visit the official website)
Other notable picture books with depth: 

Where the Wild Things Are by the ineffable Maurice Sendak

Piggybook by Anthony Browne, known for his adorable simian characters. 

The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan (also made into an Academy Award-winning short film). 

How To Live Forever by the wonderfully bizarre Colin Thompson.

Click on any of the titles or book covers listed to visit the OC Public Libraries website and reserve a copy today!


Where Things Come Back

If you’re a big fan of quirky YA literature- Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley will certainly appeal to you. The main storyline centers on seventeen year old Cullen whose younger brother mysteriously disappears one summer. Meanwhile, the residents of his small town eagerly await a sighting of the Lazarus Woodpecker--a bird thought to be extinct until an ornithologist shows up claiming it may still exist. It’s a mystery, but in a very unconventional way. There is definitely a lot to like about this book. It’s original, it’s quick, and it’s well-written. Although I’m not sure all of these characters are entirely believable teenagers, they are definitely likable. The dialogue is pretty humorous and in spite of the serious themes in this book, there are quite a few funny moments. While there are no vampires or survivalist tournaments, you will feel compelled to keep turning the pages and see how it all comes together. This is a good book for teens who want a more literary read. It won the 2012 Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature from the American Library Association.


Another World in Sudan

Daily walks barefoot in blazing heat over thorny paths to fetch water, eight hours every day.  A civil war raging, tribe against tribe, African vs. Arabic, Muslim vs. non-Muslim.  A child could not be a child during the Second Sudanese Civil War beginning in 1983.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is a short novel that follows the daily struggles of Nya, a girl whose daily job was to walk all morning and then all afternoon to fetch water for her family from a muddy pond, and Salva, a boy who felt lucky to attend school until the war that came to his village forced him to flee with hundreds of others across Southern Sudan to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Salva Dut's story is fictionalized, but based on the true story of his life and struggles as one of the Lost Boys during the war in Sudan, boys who were separated from their families, often to become orphans as they fled for their lives to find safety elsewhere.  Salva was one of 3,000 boys and young men chosen by the International Red Cross to be taken to America where he was welcomed and educated.  Millions of others at home were not so lucky;  they were killed, imprisoned, starved, tortured, enslaved, and permanently displaced from their homes and families. 

Salva made it his mission to start a project, Water For Sudan, where his dreams of helping his people back home drill wells has become a reality.  Some of the conflicts in Sudan continue, but Salva's message, told in Park's story, is one of hope, perseverance, and inspiration.

Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park has written a wide variety of historical and contemporary works, including novels, poetry, and picture book texts.  Her website can be found here.  Salva's project and story can be followed on a number of websites including this. Although this is an upper level children's fiction book in the Orange County library system, it enriches our understanding of conditions in this part of Africa,  a worthy selection for discussion and sharing.


Thin, Rich, Pretty

So with a title like Thin, Rich, Pretty I was expecting super fluffy chick lit. I did get some fluff, but surprisingly the book also has some definite depth. This book features three women; each one is likeable in her own way, even if you don’t think so at first.  Twenty years ago these women went to summer camp together and now find themselves reunited and still searching for the same validation they sought two decades earlier. I appreciate how the author gave each woman’s perspective because it is interesting to see how many sides there are to the same story.

Critics knocked this book for lack of originality. Yes, of course, the concept of women with body issues looking for love and success has been done before. For me this didn’t take away from the book. Original or not, this book is still fun, light reading. While I’m not going to stamp this book “outstanding”, I can say it is an enjoyable easy read and will be appreciated by fans of chick lit. There are copies of this book available in print and in audiobook, so place one on hold today!


Places to Go...

"Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe."  --Anatole France

Towering above the African plain is Ngàja Ngái or, “The House of God,” better known as Kilimanjaro to you and me.  It stands 19,341 feet above sea level and is one of the destinations listed in 100 Places to Go Before They Disappear.  Kili is included here, because between 1912 and 2003 it lost about 80% of its ice fields and scientists estimate that by 2020, its remaining snowcap will disappear.

The book covers natural places (such as the Indus and Yangtze rivers, the Great Barrier Reef and the Kalahari Desert) and also cities where the current way of life is threatened (like in Venice, Tokyo and Timbuktu).  Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri of  the United Nations says in the forward, “I think people have to be informed, not only about those very pristine places on this planet, which we have always valued and cherished for their natural beauty, but also about the economic risks for the future.”  However, the book doesn’t dwell on the negativity of its task.  It offers breathtaking photographs of sweeping landscapes, ever-changing cities and some of the people who share our planet.  It gives us hope that we will turn things around in time to fix the problems and keep our world beautiful. 

You may want to check 100 Places out to get ideas for your next trip—some of these places might not be the same for much longer…  And while you’re at it, maybe look into the different ways you can offset the carbon emissions caused by your flight.  Travel is a wonderful and necessary way to see the world, but sadly, it also comes with an environmental cost.  Luckily, there are things we can do to make our footprint a little lighter.