Paranormal Action - Part 2

Paranormal Action - Contemporary Fantasy Part 2
It’s taken me a little longer than I planned to write the second part of my paranormal action book list.  Part of the reason is that I kept running across new series that I wanted to add!  What a horrible fate for a reader.

Anyway, to reiterate the basic premise of this list, I love books with women I can aspire to be.  The women in these books are generally smart, fit, and not traditionally attractive.  Obviously, I can’t aspire to be magically inclined, part paranormal, or on intimate terms with either Loki or the incarnation of Death.  In truth, I’m not doing so well on the first three either, but at least I have a chance with those.

The first book on my list is Discount Armageddon: an Incryptid novel.  This book is written by Seanan McGuire.  If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s the author I raved about in my last piece.  I separated the two series because they read as if written by different authors.  Discount Armageddon is a gritty urban noir piece set in New York City.  The main character is a young woman named Verity Price, who comes from a long line of crypto zoologists.  What is a crypto zoologist you say?  Well, they came up with the term crypto because the term “monster” seemed so biased.  Crypto zoologists study and protect monsters, or cryptids.  The book is fast-paced and intriguing.  The monsters vary between benign ones, such as talking Aeslin mice who worship the Price family and ones who bake gingerbread and keep food from spoiling, to dragons and snake cults who flay women alive.  Verity takes them all on while free running across rooftops to get to her job waitressing at the strip club and make her ballroom dance competitions.  But what’s she to do when the Covenant of St. George comes to town and gets ready to purge New York City of its monsters?
Next is Urban Shaman.  Joanne Walker has never wanted anything more than to be left alone with her cars.  Although technically a member of the police force and having gone through the academy with excellent marks, Joanne Walker hopes to stay in the shop at the station taking care of the cars.  Unfortunately for her, none of that is going to happen.  As she returns from her estranged mother’s funeral in Ireland, she sees the impossible.  She watches a woman run from the mythical Wild Hunt and into a church.  When the plane lands, she’s compelled to find out what happened to the woman and her world changes.  She’s forced to deal with her mixed Irish/ Native American heritage, her burgeoning shamanic powers, and a strangely familiar coyote figure that begins to haunt her dreams.  The Joanne Walker Papers series starts with Urban Shaman and is written by C.E. Murphy.
I can’t tell you how glad I am that Cherie Priest came up with a new take on the vampire meme with her Cheshire Red series.  Once upon a time, vampires were fun to read about.  Then came Twilight, and everything about vampires changed.  (Sorry if you’re a Twilight Fan.)  They’ll never go back to what they were, but she’s taken them somewhere different.   This series is what you get if Mission Impossible had a love child with Interview with a Vampire.

For reasons unknown, Raylene Prendle is a vampire living alone.  She makes her way through the world as a master thief, taking only the most difficult jobs for the most delectable items, and she avoids her own kind at all costs.  She thought she’d succeeded brilliantly until she took a job for something that shouldn’t exist, vampire blinded after death.  Suddenly she’s gone from a ghost no one can catch to the FBI's most wanted.  Darkly hilarious and filled with scenes that could come from The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Bloodshot is a must read.
With all the hype about the Greek gods and Native American shamanism lately, it was wonderful to stumble upon Kylie Chan’s Dark Heaven’s series this last weekend.   I quickly burned through the first series and am well on my way through the second.  One of the things I adore is that not only is the protagonist Emma a self-described mousy woman, but she also starts the series pudgy!  I also loved that it has nothing to do with America at all.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the good old US of A, but it’s nice to read a contemporary book once in a while that admits that heroes come from elsewhere as well.
The main premise of the series is that the Chinese Shen (spirits or deities) are real and can interact with humans.  Just like the Greek gods, Shen have some good things about them, and some bad things.  Emma, a woman from Australia, is teaching English to kindergartners in Hong Kong when she is hired to teach Simone, the daughter of John (Xuan) Chen.  The more time she spends with them, the odder they seem to be.  Eventually, demons declare war on the Chinese god of martial arts, and Emma has to figure out how best to protect herself and Simone.   I truly enjoyed the book.  Although there is a definite love story, it’s not too mushy and there are no heaving chests, throbbing swords, other euphemisms for sex, or actual sex.  They do gaze into each other’s eyes a lot, however.  One thing that’s great is all the martial arts and the thought of the different deities sitting down at a table to play mahjong and going to birthday parties like normal people.


The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook

Season six of Mad Men has been back on the air for a couple of weeks now. This dark, witty and fabulous award-winning show is still charming audiences. For those of you who still haven’t seen the show, seasons one through four are available for checkout at the library. I definitely recommend this show! Start with season one and work your way through the series. I have been totally obsessed for a long time and that’s why I was so excited when I saw The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars, and Restaurants of Mad Men.

More than just a cookbook, The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook gives the history of numerous bars and restaurants popular during the 1960s. Reading the book makes me realize the bars and restaurants chosen as backdrops for some of Mad Men’s best loved scenes are not just random steakhouses and bars. Rather the locations represent examples of restaurants and establishments relevant to 1960s Madison Avenue culture and style. This book includes recipes from many of the restaurants, especially signature dishes and entrees ordered by Mad Men characters in various episodes. The book also includes recipes taken from 1960s cookbooks, the cookbooks Betty Draper Francis would have been using in her kitchen. These vintage recipes are dated but hip in a fun way. This book also provides the history of many classic cocktails. Who invented the martini, the mai tai, the bloody mary? Read this book for a discussion on who really invented these drinks and how they fit into popular culture from the time.
If you haven’t watched the show, the book contains some good recipes and history of 1960s establishments. However, if you are a fan of the show this book goes way beyond a cookbook and gives some background story for many of the episodes you already know and love. Reading the book makes me want to revisit some of my favorite episodes and watch them with a new interest in regards to what they’re eating, what they’re drinking and where they’re doing it.
A couple years ago Mad Men was such a sensation that several books related to the show were published. These books include, The Real Mad Men: The Renegades of Madison Avenue and the Golden Age of Advertising by Andrew Cracknell and The Fashion File: Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of Mad Men by Janie Bryant.
Now is a great time to mention OC Public Libraries has lots of television series available for checkout. We don’t have everything, but we do have a lot. Check our catalog today to see if your favorite show is available. Don’t forget these DVDs are available for free!


Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals In Nature  by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes is a beautiful, inventive picture book written in verse-like form. It celebrates the many spirals present in the vast natural world. Wonderful for inquisitive young minds, it will especially thrill children with an artistic or scientific flair. The detail the book emphasizes offers children different ways of observing the world around them, while the mathematical aspect of the book will allow young readers to grasp the concept of a swirl in interesting and fun ways.
Showing the spiral roots of a mighty tree curling into snuggling shapes that hug their tiny forest inhabitants and their storehouse of acorns, the book teaches children to appreciate nature, in its small and large scale.  Ranging from snail shells, to sheep horns, and expanding to ocean waves and galaxies, with large scale illustrations and realistic colors, the big and small fonts, all lend a graceful elegance, making the book memorable on many levels.
The vibrant, detailed illustrations resonate and will draw the reader for a closer look, again and again. The small font of the plant and animal descriptions could have been the one negative, yet rather than detract from the experience it makes finding a work akin to a treasure hunt, more exciting with each new find.
The end of the book reinforces the information covered, by the inclusion of an index about swirls, ranging from the sprouting Lady Fern to the DNA helix. A fun, informative read, all around!


Here’s Your New Read-Alike, Adventure & Fantasy Fans

Much like Harry Potter, The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann, is set in an alternate world. It’s Bath, England, but the fairy slums of Bath where a changeling—half human, half fairy—named Bartholomew Kettle, and his sister Hettie live with their human mother.
Sequestered in their tiny home, trying not to get noticed—because getting noticed equates to death—Barthy and Hettie spy a beautiful woman dressed in an elegant plum colored dress walking stiffly down their street, an odd look about her, searching for something, or someone. Barthy is then drawn into a fairy plot to annihilate the human world thus returning the fairies to their former position of glory and power. Befriended by Mr. Jelliby, a politician of some stature, also trying to just get by without much notice, a friendship forms, prejudices are discarded, and a hostile take-over is thwarted, but at what expense? Bachmann has certainly traded on elements from Narnia, Harry Potter, The Last Apprentice, The Tolkien Trilogy, Percy Jackson, and Eragon. But he turns a clever phrase, offering up a swift moving adventure, cloaked in sometimes gag effect fantasy as only a sixteen year old boy can, so I think it makes a good choice as a read-alike for lovers of all these book types . . . I smell a sequel on the way.


Cooking for Cost and Comfort

Every now and then I am in the mood for good food and experimentation, so I peruse through the cookbook section of the library for eye-catching ideas.  I look for things that are both eye-catching and relatively cost effective.  If it doesn’t look good, I won’t eat it; and if I have to buy or find a ton of ingredients, busting my budget for one good meal just isn’t worth it.  Three relatively new cookbooks in the OC Public Libraries caught my attention.

The first cookbook, Cooking Italian With the Cake Boss by Buddy Valastro, was a little bit intimidating at first glance.  I wasn’t sure what to think of a Chef cooking out of his element.   If I am interested in food science I think Alton Brown; if I am thinking Barbecue I think Bobby Flay; if I think of a quick meal I think Rachael Ray.  So when I am thinking Italian I usually think Mario Batali. I would not jump to Buddy Valastro star of Cake Boss.  And to be honest, I have never been a big fan of cake cooking shows in the first place.  But this book turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  First of all, the pictures are sumptuous and plentiful.  It’s always good to see some good-looking pictures to go along with the food that you are going to be making.  Secondly, this book turned out to be far more than a cook book.  It was obviously a work that was very personal to the author, with plentiful stories involving most of the recipes involved.  Cooking can be a very personal thing and knowing who you are learning from sometimes makes the task easier.  After reading and thoroughly enjoying the book, it came to actually trying out a recipe.  I ventured to make Chicken Cutlets with Homemade Marinara and Potato Gnocchi.  Being able to tackle three relatively different dishes all at the same time with a minimum of prep time and a hungry wife and daughter waiting, certainly passed any test I may have had for it with flying colors.  The Gnocchi will definitely be making a reappearance at my house.

For those of you interested in good old Southern Cooking, and long for the days when Paula Deen was more interested in how good the Fried Chicken with Biscuits and Gravy tasted and not how much saturated fat was in it, Alison Vines-Rushing and Slade Rushing’s book Southern Comfort : A New Take on the Recipes We Grew Up With is a Southern treasure.  Beginning with a story into the past of two chefs who met, fell in love with both cooking and each other, decided to take their show on the road to New York, and then decided it was all a bit too much for them only to be greeted by Hurricane Katrina on their way home, it is a book rife with beauty and nostalgia.  The recipes are both sumptuous and not overly difficult.  The pictures are not only inviting when it comes to the food, but a beautiful tribute to southern culture and beauty.  And the stories make this a treasure all the way around.

Finally, Melissa d’Arabian’s Ten Dollar Dinners : 140 Recipes and Tips to Elevate Simple, Fresh Meals Any Night of the Week is a treasure for the penny pinching, bargain hunting gourmet in all of us.  While maybe not as educational in the arena of cooking as an Alton Brown might be, d’Arabian does a creditable job of turning relatively inexpensive menu items into elegant meals through an educational approach to cost cutting gourmet.  She spends the beginning of the book explaining her theories of good food and what every kitchen should have and then takes those ideas and applies them to a host of different recipes.  What was also nice is that she had a lot of little side notes to many recipes adding flair and variety to a whole host of dishes.  And with so many people who are allergic, intolerant or otherwise to a whole host of foods it is nice to be able to have ideas about how recipes can be altered to fit the various needs of different people.  Furthermore, the pictures are both plentiful and inviting making those inexpensive dishes look as good as anything you would find in a fine dining establishment.

Pick up any one of these books, or all three for that matter; and get to reading, and tasting food that is both a pleasure to your palate while not a burden to your wallet at the same time.


Catch a Tiger

“Those whom we most love are often the most alien to us."
Christopher Paolini, Eldest

Nick and Helena are cousins in Liza Klaussmann’s Tigers in Red Weather.  They have spent their childhood summers together on Martha’s Vineyard at Tiger House, their

grandparent’s summer home, and continue to come back as adults with their own families.   They both have husbands who have gone off to fight in World War II.  (Nick’s husband comes back; Helena’s does not.)  And they both have dark sides to their personalities that make them ultimately unknowable to those that love them the most. 

When their children, Daisy and Ed, come across a dead body, everyone’s life changes in ways that no one could have predicted.  The novel is driven by the family relationships and the body becomes a catalyst that changes the family dynamic.  The author dives into the characters, exposing their imperfections and their strengths as they try to understand one another, without exposing their own secrets which could potentially tear the family apart. 

The story is told through multiple points of view, so we see the same set of events through different eyes.  With each re-telling, we gain a little more information and the puzzles make a little more sense.  By the end, we have the whole (sometimes sordid) story.  Even though life on the Island might seem like it’s all gin and tonics in the sun, you never know what secrets lurk beneath the surface.


MLB: Major League Books

Last year there was little joy in Mudville; the Dodgers didn't make the playoffs, and the Angels finished near the bottom of their division.  But no matter, a new season has started and once again baseball fans across the Southland have high hopes.  My love of baseball is almost as great as my love of reading.  Put them together and you've got an unbeatable combination.  Nothing beats a good baseball novel. Don’t believe me?  Try one of these.

Shoeless Joe by W.P Kinsella is a magical book. “If you build it, he will come” intones a mysterious voice that compels Ray Kinsella to build a baseball field in the middle of his corn crop.  Instinctively Ray knows that he is giving defamed baseball legend Joe Jackson a chance of redemption (he was accused of throwing the 1919 World Series). I like this book because baseball is used to illustrate the importance of dreams, hopes, family and love.  The writing is great, you can almost smell the freshly cut grass, and hear the corn stalks rustling in the Iowa wind.  The movie Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner was based on the book Shoeless Joe.

The Art of Fielding is a recent debut novel by Chad Harbach.  At Westich College, baseball star Henry Skrimshander is destined for the big leagues until an errant throw changes everything, and the lives of five people are upended.  This is a heartwarming book with memorable characters. I like how it pokes fun at the sport of baseball, and small-town academia.  The Art of Fielding is a big book (500+ pages), but a fast read; tension builds as the season progresses towards the final climatic game.

Even if you don’t like baseball, there is still much to enjoy in Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris, a novel about the friendship and lives of a group of men as they each learn that a teammate is dying of cancer.  Originally published in 1956, this book portrays a simpler time when baseball was all about the love of the game, and wasn't yet muddled by million-dollar salaries, big egos, and contract disputes.

Need some more Mudville joy?  Here’s a link where you can read (or re-read) Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer.  You might also enjoy listening to Garrison Keillor’s clever revision of this classic baseball poem. 


Literary Orange 2013

Literary Orange is this coming weekend on Saturday, April 6th. Click here for more information about registration. I’m so excited about the authors I am going to see this weekend. The keynotes are J.A. Jance and Tatjana Soli. I’ve read several of Jance’s J.P. Beaumont books and I am looking forward to seeing the author of this fun and entertaining series in person.
I am also looking forward to the panels I signed up to attend. There are so many good panels this year it was hard to narrow down my choices. I finally selected the panel called Literary Fiction: Southland Stories featuring Gayle Brandeis, Aris Janigian, Diane Lefer, and Hector Tobar as well as the panel titled Food: Eat Your Words - Writers on Food & Culture featuring Gustavo Arellano, Adam Roberts, and Debra Samuels. These are the panels I picked but other options include: Young Adult: The Awesome Age featuring Josephine Angelini, Cecil Castellucci, Jessi Kirby, and Sarah Maas; Children’s: The Illustrated Story with special panelists Marissa Moss and Rosemary Wells (best known for her super popular Max and Ruby series); and Romance: Love Between the Pages with panelists Anna Randol, Jill Sorenson, and Jillian Stone.
I think the food writing panel is the one I am most anxious to see. I am a huge fan of Adam Roberts and his award-winning food blog “The Amateur Gourmet”. This blog is definitely worth looking at especially if you are in any way a foodie. This fun and informative blog is a mix of funny stories, restaurant reviews and yummy recipes. Roberts’ writing is both quirky and literary in a way that makes this blog stand out from other food blogs. His most recent book Secrets of the Best Chefs is available for checkout at several OC Public Libraries branches.

Another great author who will be on the food writing panel is Gustavo Arellano, newspaper columnist and popular author. His most recent book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America was published in 2012 and chronicles the growing popularity of Mexican food in the United States. Debra Samuels, cookbook author and newspaper columnist, will be a great addition to this dynamite panel. The panel is topped off with a truly great moderator Russ Parson, the food editor of the Los Angeles Times. He will be a great moderator but he is also a published author and major voice in current food writing. His book How to Read a French Fry is at the top of my to-read list.
Basically I am super excited for this weekend and I can’t wait to celebrate reading and writing with all these great authors. Take a peek at the Literary Orange 2013 website to see who will be there and checkout some of their books today!


Scheming Spiders, Benevolent Butterflies and a Rat in a Newspaper Skirt

I just read Lauren Oliver’s recent children’s fantasy/adventure, The Spindlers, with an eye toward selecting it for our branch’s book club for grades three through five. My verdict?  Yes!  I was thoroughly transported by Oliver’s vivid description of a unique underground world and swept up in the adventure and smart humor of this inventive story. I feel that third through fifth graders, and many middle schoolers too, will devour it.
Liza is an intelligent tween who becomes convinced that her younger brother Patrick’s soul has been taken for future noshing by the spindlers, dastardly spider-like creatures who live “Below”. Despite the fact that her mother thinks she is making everything up, Liza decides that she must travel underground and make a rescue attempt. 
Through a hole in her basement, Liza enters a world utterly different from her own, dark and mossy and lit by tiny glowworms. The first creature that Liza meets is the incomparable Mirabella, a rat who wears makeup and a newspaper skirt, along with a wig partially made of “some pale yellow hair Liza thought she recognized from the head of her old doll, Amelia”. Mirabella agrees to help Liza, and the two set off on a journey through dangerous forest and tall mountains, a bustling marketplace and a crystal palace. Along the way, they meet creatures such as rock-shaped troglods, shape-shifting scawgs and the mysterious and lovely butterfly/hummingbird nocturni.  In order to make it to her brother, Liza will have to use her brains and call on the strength of memories and stories.
Liza is a realistic protagonist whom we can admire, doing her best to quash her frustration and confront her fears in order to reach her goal.  Through highly imaginative details, Oliver creates a singular atmosphere that makes it easy to believe in the fantastic doings afoot.  Fans of other children’s novels which take place underground, such as Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander, will love The Spindlers, but Oliver’s skillful command of dialogue, pacing and plot twists will make this novel appeal to a wide range of children and tweens.  On Oliver’s Web site, make sure to check out her great set of videos about the book publishing process, in which she uses The Spindlers as an example.


If You Loved The Help

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat
The Supremes at Earl's All You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore is such a treat.  First set in the 1960's in a town called Plainview, Indiana, the story spans the friendship over four decades of three high-school girlfriends who become known as the Supremes and their Sunday gatherings after church at Earl's All-You-Can Eat, a hub of community socialization, support, and gossip.

Large and fearless Odette, beautiful and wealthy Barbara Jean who has always loved someone of forbidden race, and Clarice who tries to use her traditional biblical faith to cope with her husband's blatant infidelity, are three unlikely friends who share each other's joy and grief as well as hilarious fun.  In addition are the other town characters who lend more drama to the plot than a Dr. Phil show and sometimes more color than a three-ring circus.

The black community of Plainview is riding the first wave of the Civil Rights movement, but this is more a tale of community and family complexities than race.  The insights into this glimpse of black culture are so vivid that that I felt that I was right there with them and so so engaging that I never wanted the book to end.  The characters lend wit, wisdom, and good doses of helpful psychology as they are heard.  If there is one meaningful message to be taken away from this novel, it is perhaps that there is no better therapy than the support of girlfriends, men friends, family, and community.

Already on bestseller lists and winning top reviews, this is a book that should not be missed.  Edward Kelsey Moore is a talented writer and musician.  Writing mostly short stories or for literary magazines, this is his first novel.  To learn more visit his website here.