Monday, April 28, 2008

A Clockwork Orange / by Anthony Burgess


"What's it going to be then, eh"? (p.2)

Alex the Large is the 'not good' sorta way. As head hoodlum in a gang of equally vicious "droogs", he's responsible for thefts, rapes, murders and other "ultraviolence" in an urban dystopia overrun with lawlessness. A woeful absence of authority essentially voids the 17-year-old's actions until a betrayal by his own cronies lands Alex in prison among "smelly perverts" and "hardened prestoopniks". Upon learning of an experimental 'reconditioning' program which releases prisoners after treatment, Alex instigates the fatal beating of another inmate--effectively 'nominating' himself as a candidate for "The Ludovico Technique". A few pokes and prods and he'll be out and about again, home free so he thinks...but what kind of freedom awaits him?

In part, Burgess penned A Clockwork Orange to characterize the then (1962) public outrage over a marked rise in juvenile delinquency. Indeed, at face value the book may seem like another crime and punishment fable, recompensing "Your Humble Narrator" (Alex) for abuse of his free will. But further themes are revealed in the context; not the least of which are highlighted through Burgess' inventive slang and double-speak. A subterranean language all its own, "Nadsat" gives a twisted appeal to the action, slanting and distorting events to varying degrees.

Miscreant that he is, there's a sensitivity to Alex that's umistakable, marked by his love of Beethoven and innovative--if warped--ethical philosophy. Nowhere is this more evident than with the aversion therapy employed to 'cure' him. Aimed to deprive Alex of evil tendencies, the "Ludovico Technique" works too well eradicating his affinity for untainted assertion and rendering his natural sensibilities unstable. Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film adaptation starring Malcolm McDowell earned (and maintains) cult status, firmly cementing the anti-hero as a cinematic draw.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Good Faith / by Jane Smiley

Smiley recieved critical acclaim and won a Pulitzer for her 1991 novel A Thousand Acres, a reworking of Shakespeare's "King Lear" in which an aging Iowa farmer's estate is divided among his 3 daughters. Published in 2003 but set in 1982, Good Faith chronicles a recently divorced realtor chancing his fate on some high-end ventures.

Joe Stratford 's doing OK. Even with his divorced wife and two kids a thousand miles off, he's fairly content with his small New Jersey real estate business, facilitating people in and out of homes during the boom years of the 1980's. He's an amiable enough guy, the type you'd want handling private affairs, a respecter of personal space who's willing to be honest. It's not until Joe meets Marcus Burns, a former IRS agent who's mastered the shortcuts to personal wealth, that timid ambitions become accessible reality.

With Marcus' backing, Joe 'buys in' to his dream of becoming a developer, 'hedging' his bets with the purchase of an old farm on which visions of a planned community lie in the balance. His risque enterprises aren't just financial. Felicity Olnquist is the local daughter of an associate who's always had a thing for Joe, the opportunity's just never come around. Now that he's available, an affair is consummated despite Joe's reservations and the fact that she's still "happily" married with three teenage sons. Amidst feelings of apprehension and guilt, Joe determines to see everything through even as paranoia threatens to overtake his burning conscience.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Local Author Susan Baker to Visit Library!!!

***WHEN: Tuesday, April 29 @ 6:30
***WHERE: Library Meeting Room

A prominent authority on legal proceedings in Galveston County, Baker has written several mystery novels along with a pair of non-fiction books. She is a charter member of the Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Authors Guild. Her recent work Death of a Prince was a finalist for the Writers League of Texas Violet Crown Award.

Death of a Prince
When Galveston attorney Sandra Salinsky takes the case of accused murderess Kitty Fulton, she's prepared for the personal drama that her representing the daughter (and accused) of her mother's murdered best friend will incur. After all, Phillip Parker wasn't just percieved by many as an all-around good guy, he was one of the city's finest plaintiffs' attorneys, a community figurehead. Why would anyone, much less his own daughter, want to kill him? It's not until evidence is brought forth upgrading the crime to capital murder one that things really get murky; and it won't be the last time during the trial that the stakes are raised even higher.

The Sweet Scent of Murder: A Mavis Davis Mystery
Former probation officer Mavis Davis was anticipating a job with a little more intrigue and a lot less protocol when she decided on a career as a private investigator. But looking into the disappearance of a local teenager was not what this Galveston P.I. had in mind. Deciding it wouldn't hurt things to spend a few days snooping around, Mavis accepts the case only to breach a powderkeg of fraud, kidnapping, child abuse and murder. And when the girl's younger brother goes missing, Mavis' initial reluctance becomes a desperate search for both kids, even at the risk of her own safety and reputation.

My First Murder: A Mavis Davis Mystery
Mavis knew she was in for it when the distraught father of recently murdered young woman, Doris Jones, came in pleading for help. Not only had police chalked the death up as a serial killing, authorities had virtually sealed the vault on available evidence, discouraging any speculation into further leads. Now Mavis and secretary/sidekick Candy must navigate the uncharted waters of an investigation--at least on the surface--gone cold. To be sure, not everyone's as enthusiastic about their poking around; evident when some 'good ole' boy' types try scaring them off the trail.

Non-Fiction Titles:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ender Rendered

Sci-fi author Orson Scott Card has garnered loads of acclaim for his Ender's Game/Ender's Shadow series', a sequence of novels about two boys involved in a war between Earth circa 2150 AD and an alien race known as the "Buggers". In Ender's Game, Ender Wiggin is a prodigy groomed at an elite battle school for ultimate leadership of earth's forces. First published in 1977, Card later wrote Ender's Shadow (1999) which parallel's the plot of Ender's Game from the viewpoint of Bean, a battle school friend and cohort.

Ender's Game
Destiny was intended for Ender Wiggin; it had to be or else all was lost. Part of an experimental batch of ultra-gifted children singled out to someday thwart the 'Bugger' onslaught, he's initiated into the International Fleet's Battle School at age six in a desperate attempt to locate Earth's next (and maybe last) strategic hope. Functionally, battle school is intended to train student/soldiers through simulated, anti-gravity encounters--one team against another. But from the outset, nothing's evenhanded for Ender as peers and administrators do their best to expose weaknesses in his vastly superior skills. Intentionally burdened, his only solace is found commanding his team's nightly practice sessions orchestrating maneuvers with his classmates. But little does Ender suspect the training ground as more than just a 'game' and that his leadership applies to more than just 'his team'.

The personal side of things is as much involved; Ender's older siblings Peter and Valentine share the same genetics albeit dissimilar characteristics. What begins as intellectual pandering by each during Ender's absence soon morphs into a far greater sphere of influence, and in the malevolent Peter's case--far more power. It ultimately falls on Valentine, one person not out to use or harm Ender, to shield him from Peter's malice and the unyielding demands of a broader world.

Ender's Shadow
At the tender age of 2, Bean escapes a genetic breeding factory only to end up an orphan in dire poverty on the streets of Rotterdam. Learning life's knocks the hard way, his fortunes place him at the feet of Sister Carlotta, a nun who soon discovers Bean's hyper-intelligence and facilitates his acceptance into Battle School. It's here where Bean meets Ender Wiggin, his war games team captain who's undefeated as a commander. But not all's fun and games. Little is with matches administratively fixed in an effort to fully realize Ender's tactical prowess.

It may not be Return of the Jedi, but Ender's Game shares that same aura of epic challenge, of hero against the universe (literally) in which the immensity of everything is concentrated into one consciousness. But like good science fiction, Card eases the backstory along steadily giving time for the characters to establish an identity prior the inevitable confrontation. Any perplexing aspects of the futuristic world are well-counterbalanced by private issues more close to home. Ender's 'self' is complex, maintaining ethical boundaries even amidst a high-pressure/high-stakes atmosphere, a trait revealed as much through contrasting characters as with Ender himself. Gifted in an almost warped fashion, the 'child' in Ender isn't always visible; a problem Card may have levied with peripheral characters Peter and Valentine and ultimately complemented with Bean's emergence in Ender's Shadow.

Not merely a sidestory, Bean's evolution from street orphan to battle school and ultimately beyond illuminates his own pivotal role in the saga, entrenched in every dynamic of the story. Bean has his own conscience and crisis' befalling him even as much of his energy helps uphold those very issues in Ender. The two books, each spawning several further sequels, are as separate as they are interlinked within the same-time/same-place/similar-person correlation.

Friday, April 18, 2008

For the adventurous mystery reader...

The Dragon King's Palace / Laura Joh Rowland
Eighth in Laura Joh Rowland's Sano Ichiro series, The Dragon King's Palace is perfect for the mystery fan with a taste for the exotic. At its heart, the series is a police procedural, but Rowland sets her books in 17th century Japan. The detective of the series is Sano Ichiro, a samurai in the service of Edo's shogun.

Early in the series, Ichiro marries Lady Reiko, a whip-smart and resourceful woman with some keen detecting skills of her own. The first book in the series is Shinju, but I don't think it's necessary to read this series in order to be able to follow the plots.

The Dragon King's Palace
focuses on Lady Reiko and the dynamics of the women associated with the shogun's palace. While travelling to Mount Fuji with the shogun's mother, her immensely pregnant friend, Midori, and the chamberlain's mentally unstable wife, Reiko is abducted by a small army of unknown assailants and spirited off to a decrepit palace on an island. Reiko employs all of her detecting knowledge, her quick wits and her physical strength trying to plan an escape.

Meanwhile, her husband Ichiro is forced to cooperate with his enemies in his attempt to rescue the women. He must deal with palace politics, deceit and disobedience within the ranks of his own men. The author throws in plenty of period detail and delves into the complicated politics of 17th century Japan. The book combines suspense, a plot that moves and a sense of the sweetness of the relationship between Ichiro and Reiko in a very satisfying way.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

After Midnight / by Richard Laymon

Perhaps not so well-known in the mainstream owing to his severity of subject matter, Richard Laymon's still managed quite a cult following among readers of the thriller genre. After Midnight follows a young woman's attempt to conceal her involvement in a murder after a run-in with a night prowler.

Her housemates away on vacation, Alice is left alone in the big house at the edge of the woods. But it's cool. She'll be fine if she just remembers to lock everything, set the alarm, and not get spooked by shadows, right? No dice. Terror soon materializes when a trespasser opts for a midnight swim in the pool...nude. Subsequently discovering her in the house alone, the intruder's attempted break-in coincides with a phone call--a wrong number of all things--causing Alice to lose sight of the would-be predator. Near hysteria and unwilling to summon the police (issues), Alice reluctantly accepts 'aid' from the calm-sounding stranger on the phone, who says he's 'just around the corner'. When ensuing events leave one man dead and another out to get her, Alice's only escape is a path more dangerous than she's ever encountered.

Emphasizing every connotation of the term, this book is downright creepy. Readers seeking a compendium to V.C. Andrews or Dean Koontz should readjust their appetites for Laymon, so graphic is the content. Yet it's Alice's manner as she 'puts things right' through a series of grisly undertakings which most invites or dissuades any sympathy. Far from a one-dimensional character, revelations about Alice never--never--fail to alarm as the story progresses.

While After Midnight isn't quite 'pulp', it still borrows heavily from the noir genre, inherent in its heightened suspense and amplified realism. And yet if things weren't so gruesome, it could almost be comedy. People die off or get mutilated but it's not as if there's a war on. The story's atmosphere is more run-of-the-mill, everyday ennui than murderous mayhem, a sentiment fueled by Alice's mood and demeanor more than the action itself.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

New Baseball Titles

The Baseball Economist: the Real Game Exposed / by J.C. Bradbury
Is it really just about the money? An economics professor and rabid MLB fan confronts the business side of baseball in a financial analysis of the big money sport. Bradbury dissects player salaries (who's overpaid, who isn't), stadium revenue (average hot dog intake) and salary caps within big market vs. small market franchises while admonishing factors influencing the game at large (i.e., steroid scandal, international players, trade deadlines, etc.).

Working at the Ballpark / by Tom Jones
It turns out there is an angel in the outfield . . . the turf monitor. From head of head office to soda vendor and from infielders to field treaters, Jones overhauls everyone involved in the life of a big league stadium examining each spectrum of the main event. For this book, Jones toured several different ballparks and interviewed over 50 individuals earning a living in Major League Baseball.

Far From Home: Latino Baseball Players in America / by Tim Wendel
With over 25 % of pro ballplayers from Latin countries, its obvious how the national pastime has expanded abroad--particularly in countries like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Along with today's current stars, Wendel takes a look at the contributions of players like Roberto Clemente and Carlos Quintana as he reflects on the game's changing diaspora.

The 33-year-old Rookie: How I Finally Made it To the Big Leagues After Eleven Years in the Minors / by Chris Coste
This is the first-person account of one journeyman ballplayer achieving his dream after a decade spent in the minors. Chris Coste recounts his time traversing the bush leagues of America (Mexico in winter), detailing the often far-less-than-adequate living conditions and personal grind associated with a life devoted to the game.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao / Junot Diaz

Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (call #: FIC DIAZ) is the nominally the coming-of-age story of Oscar, a nerdy sci-fi/gaming aficionado who lives with his mother and sister in Patterson, New Jersey. Oscar talks like a character from a book, spends most of his time involved in role-playing fantasy games and writing space opera books, and, despite all his painful yearnings, he never, never gets the girl.

Casting a shadow over Oscar's story is the legacy of the family's fuku -- or family curse -- that may or may not have followed his mother all the way to America from Santo Domingo. The author uses Oscar's story as an entry-point into the stories of his tough-as-nails mother, Beli, and his compassionate, rebellious sister Lola. The characters move back and forth between New Jersey and the Dominican Republic, and through them the author tells the story of the way that the dictator Trujillo affected the Dominican people and created the Dominican diaspora. Diaz includes lots of fascinating references to Dominican history and culture in his story. The story moves quickly, and each character has his/her own engaging voice. Diaz is equally comfortable using references to minutia of The Lord of the Rings as New Jersey street life. He's funny and edgy, but he maintains a profound empathy for his characters. I highly recommend this book!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Life laid bare: The survivors in Rwanda speak, by Jean Hatzfeld

The former journalist and war correspondent Hatzfeld has written three books about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when 10,000 people of the Tutsi tribe were slaughtered by their Hutu neighbors. This is the first, written in French in 2000, and is made up of testimony from 14 people who survived the genocide. A second book interviews some of the killers who ended up in prison, and a third interviews both parties after the killers’ prison terms ended and they returned to live next to the Tutsi survivors. The second was actually translated before the first, and a short factual history from it is included in this book. I recommend this book for its accessibility – the witnesses talk to Hatzfeld over a period of time, and you feel their trust in his role as an impartial observer. Their stories are direct and straightforward. When they try to reason about what happened, the unbelievable nature of the genocide, instigated by the government but carried out by civilians, is etched in brutal clarity.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) DVD / w/ Alec Guiness & Dennis Price

Ostracized after a marriage of inconvenience, the now widowed Mrs. Mazzini (Mama) and son Louis continue to be dismissed by their titled family--the D'Ascoynes; an act ultimately leaving them both miserably poor and solely reliant on kind-hearted strangers. Percieving his lot as intolerable, Louis' resentment toward his cousins climaxes at their refusal of Mama's deathbed request: a burial in the family plot. Vowing revenge, he methodically enacts his long-pondered masterplan to eliminate each--8 in all--D'Ascoyne heir until the family dukedom is lawfully bequeathed to himself.

Elegant is the only way to describe Louis as he deftly 'cancels out' each relative, craftily infiltrating each victim without a whiff of foul play. As each successor is neatly removed, little stands in place of his 'legitimate' ascendence. But family members aren't all he infiltrates. On the side he maintains an affair with Sibella, a lifelong love who'd spurned his earlier marriage proposal in light of his 'low place'. Now unhappy with her current beau, she's desperate for Louis' attentions and ever curious of his goings-on.

Legendary leading man Alec Guiness (Star Wars original Obi-One) does the full-circle as all 8 D'Ascoynes, equally pompous and condescending at each turn. But its Price with his unaffected poise who steals the show as a remorseless Louis, never waivering from his genteel cordiality and self-assurance. 'Kind Hearts' is comedy, but not quite a dark comedy. The mood, like Louis, never once falters from its 'good form' and pretention, evincing nothing but a lighthearted romp through Victorian gentility.