Saturday, April 27, 2013

Soulless by Gail Carriger SF CARRIGER

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti is everything that is not considered "beautiful" in Victorian England. Her skin is slightly darker (she is half Italian after all), she has a slightly bigger nose, she has a full figure, she is quite outspoken, and she enjoys reading. Her mother never lets her forget her shortcomings (nor understand them) and has placed Alexia firmly on the shelf (or not for marriage).

So Alexia is understandably minding her own business at a ball (trying to find some food that was promised but never appeared), when she is accosted by a hungry vampire. Unluckily for said vampire, Alexia is "soulless" (she does not have a soul, and therefore renders supernaturals "human" again when she touches them). So Alexia questions him, finds out that he was unaware of "preternaturals" (as soulless ones are known by), then has to kill him when he decides to continue his attack.

Unfortunately, the vampire's death brings Alexia under the attention of Lord Conall Maccon, the Earl of Woolsey, Alpha of the London werewolves, liaison of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (or BUR, a division of Queen Victoria's Civil Service), and a member of QueenVictoria's Shadow Parliament. Alexia and Lord Maccon always seem to rub each other the wrong way, but they also do seem to enjoy their bickering. Both need answers as to why a rove vampire was there in the first place, and Alexia decides to accept the invitation of the hive queen of Westminster (vampire) to find out.

Meanwhile, Professor Lyall, the Beta of Maccon's pack and member of BUR, finds out that rove vampires (not part of a hive) and loner werewolves (not part of a pack) have also been going missing from all around England. Something strange is going on, and many in the supernatual community believe Alexia is behind it. It will take Alexia, Maccon, and several other members of the supernatural community to find out what is going on and stop it, before any more supernaturals end up dead or missing. Alexia might just wind up off the shelf before they are through, as well.

If you enjoy Steampunk or the supernatural (or both), this is a must-read for you. This story is really fun, witty, and I warn you that if you read it in public, you will get funny looks when you laugh out loud (and you will).

The other books in the series are Changeless, Blameless, Heartless, and Timeless.

We also have the graphic novel!!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain
MYS CAIN (also on audio: AD MYS CAIN)

This is the first book in the Archie Sheridan & Gretchen Lowell Series by Chelsea Cain, and the audio book, which I listened to and really enjoyed, is read by Carolyn McCormick. Detective Archie Sheridan is just a shadow of the man he was before he was taken and tortured by Beauty Killer, Gretchen Lowell, whom he had been chasing for ten years. Even two years later, the horrors that he went through have made him dependent on prescription drugs and needing to push people away, even though he is now working on a new case (as head of the task force).

Teenage girls are going missing in Portland, only to have their bodies turn up on the banks of the Willamette River. The Portland Herald has named him The After School Killer.

While hunting for the killer, Detective Sheridan is also having his story written by Susan Ward, the features reporter for The Portland Herald. Susan is excited to write his story, but she soon learns some very hard truths about Detective Sheridan, his demons (and inability to let go of Gretchen Lowell, who is now serving a life sentence in a prison in Salem), and the horrors that he sees everyday. She also learns that Detective Sheridan had an ulterior motive when it came to choosing Susan to write his story.

One warning to you, though, Chelsea Cain walks you through the events of Archie Sheridan's time with Gretchen Lowell, and it is not pretty. I couldn't help but cringe every time the author described the things that Gretchen did to Archie. They are spread out through the book, though, which makes it easier to take (small doses of horror). There is also some strong language. I really enjoyed the book and the storytelling behind the lives of Archie and Susan. The author also gives you just enough little hints throughout the story to figure out who killer is (if you're paying close enough attention). Gretchen Lowell as a serial killer is an interesting twist, as well. Women are very rarely serial killers, and usually the ones who become serial killers are posioners. It will be interesting to see how far they delve into her past (and hopefully they will in the future books) and how she came to be this way.

The other books in the series are Sweetheart, Evil at Heart, The Night Season, and Kill You Twice.

Friday, April 19, 2013

2013 Pulitzer Prize winners

pulitzer-ny (515)
Photo by frproart available through a Creative Commons license

The Pulitzer Prizes announced their winners for the year this week. Named for famed newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911), the prizes go to examples of excellence in American writing. Below are the books that received the honor and comments from the judges.

Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam
By Fredrik Logevall
959.7041 LOGEVALL
"A balanced, deeply researched history of how, as French colonial rule faltered, a succession of American leaders moved step by step down a road toward full-blown war."

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
by Tom Reiss
"A compelling story of a forgotten swashbuckling hero of mixed race whose bold exploits were captured by his son, Alexander Dumas, in famous 19th century novels."

Stag's Leap
by Sharon Olds
811.54 OLDS
"Unflinching poems on the author’s divorce that examine love, sorrow and the limits of self-knowledge."

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America
by Gilbert King
305.896 KING
"A richly detailed chronicle of racial injustice in the Florida town of Groveland in 1949, involving four black men falsely accused of rape and drawing a civil rights crusader, and eventual Supreme Court justice, into the legal battle.

The Orphan Master's Son
By Adam Johnson
"An exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart."

The Dinner / Herman Koch

Herman Koch's The Dinner (FIC KOCH and AD FIC KOCH) is a meal best served piping hot, with no spoilers to distract you from the author's masterful reveal of one family's inner life and what that family's choices say about privilege, violence and modern-day parenthood.

The tale, already a bestseller in Europe, brings to mind Yasmina Reza's darkly comic play "God of Carnage," which gives audience members ring-side seats to the slowly devolving discussion between two couples over a spat between their two young sons. (Find the film version of the play, called simply Carnage, in our DVD collection.) Here's the trailer:

Similarly, Dutch author Koch brings together two married couples over a meal at a fancy restaurant. The polished setting contrasts greatly with the altogether grim subject matter they have convened to discuss. But whereas Carnage is liberally seasoned with helpings of humor, The Dinner is laced with menace and foreboding.

Without revealing too much, we learn that the men in both couples are brothers: Paul, a former teacher, and Serge, a prominent politician. Both have teen-aged sons. The Dinner is told through the eyes of Paul. On the surface, he comes across as an educated man and a devoted father living a comfortable life with his wife and son. But over the course of the dinner, Koch peels back layer by layer, and every onion skin adds another disturbing element to the mix.

What makes The Dinner such a delicious treat is the thoughtful pace at which Koch writes, dropping a nugget here and a morsel there, tempting us further into dark recesses hidden by civility. It's also a terrifying read for its complete plausibility, forcing us to ponder our own moral boundaries. How far are we willing to go to preserve the peace of family? What transgressions are we willing to overlook for that, and what transgressions are we willing commit?

Monday, April 15, 2013

North of the sun: a memoir of the Alaskan wilderness by Fred Hatfield

This is a straightforward book with not much introspection, but told with enough detail so you can easily visualize his adventures.  Hatfield wrote this book some years back, in 1990.  (He was in his 80’s then.)  He tells how he left his home state of Maine as a young man in 1933 and took the bus out to Seattle, then went by ship up to the Alaskan wilderness, to Seward.  He settled in right away, with a storekeeper giving him a place to stay and some groceries before he had even found work. 

He had learned how to hunt and fish from growing up in Maine, and eventually makes his way from the town out to the wilderness.  The lake he lives on, Togiak Lake, is now part of a national park, but in those days the only way to get there was by bush plane.  Hatfield is matter of fact and resourceful, but in his adventures of panning for gold and fur trapping, he gets in some unexpected tight spots.  He does make it through these challenges - sometimes on his own, sometimes with the help of settlers or native people.  Hatfield gives us an interesting picture of how the settlers mingled with the natives.  Some settlers treated them badly and refused them service in stores and restaurants, but others made friends with them and respected their way of life. 

Hatfield doesn’t say much about how he was feeling in those many days spent alone in a cabin built by himself, with no one for company.  He breaks up his time by spending summers  in the small town of Dillingham, and works on the salmon boats there.  He meets a young nurse while getting his appendix removed.  They get married and she goes with him back to the wilderness, where they have three children.  Finally when the children start getting older, Fred moves his family back to civilization – in this case, the town of Homer, Alaska, where he ends up working for the power company.

What keeps your interest is that this is essentially a firsthand account of what real survival is.  It’s wonderful how he figures out what to do and also keeps learning through experience. The first winter he hurts his leg and has to try walking back to civilization. One night in his journey, he just tunnels into the snow and sleeps, hearing the wolves hunting caribou in the night. Hatfield’s relationship with his wife is also worth noting.  When he tells her that it’s time to move to town, she just smiles and says that she knew when the time was right he would decide.  Not many couples have that kind of trust, or know how to wait out each other’s decisions. 

In the end, he does open up more about what his life meant to him, and what he found out there.  What was the most precious is the time he spent with his wife - when they were appreciating the stars, the quiet, and the wonder of the wildlife there together.  There are a lot of good things to contemplate from this book, and I recommend it not only to the nature enthusiast, but also for those interested in learning what others have found in their search for peace and fulfillment. 

To see the catalog entry click here.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson     616.8582 RONSON

This story begins with a "quest" that was given to the author, Jon Ronson, by Deborah Talmi, a London neurologist who had received a book (Being or Nothingness) postmarked from Gothenberg, Sweden. After going online to do some research about the book, which she knew to be expensively created, she found out that this individual had sent the same book to academics all over the world. All of these individuals, through blogging and message boards, tried to figure out the "code" of the book (the message the author was trying to send them). When they all gave up in defeat, the academics decided to reach out to someone who could investigate the mystery. They decided on Jon Ronson, and he took on the case. Ronson does seem to figure out who has written the book, but this is not what really seems to intrigue him (as the title of the book points out).

What intrigues him is the why. Douglas Hofstadter, a professor at Indiana University (and an author that the author of Being or Nothingness discusses within the book), tells him that the why is probably because the author is a "crackpot." This amazes Ronson, that someone could disrupt so many peoples' lives by merely being "unbalanced." So Ronson decides to look into "madness." At this point, the story gets a bit more disjointed, but is still very interesting. Ronson's look at insanity first leads him to Scientology, which is extremely suspicious of psychiatrists. One of the scientologists introduces Ronson to a man who is currently being held in the Broadmoor Criminal Lunactic Asylum in London. Ronson was told that the man had "faked" his way into the asylum and is now "trapped" there by the psychiatrists, which is not the whole story, of course. Ronson learns from the man's doctor that the reason he is still being held is because he is a psychopath. Ronson consults the "psychopath expert" in Talmi's department, who introduces him to the Hare Checklist, a "test" created by Bob Hare to recognize signs of a psychopath (Superficial Charm, Proneness to Boredom, Lack of Empathy, Lack of Remorse...). According to Hare, psychopaths can never be cured and about one percent of the population is a psychopath. In order to get some time to speak with Hare, Ronson attends one of his seminars, which is given to law enforcement and other interested parties. Hare walks everyone through the checklist and shows examples of inmates with the different aspects of "psychopathy."

Ronson had learned about psychopaths having no empathy and conscience before, but another member of the Institute of Psychiatry, South London, told Ronson of a 19 year-old case study who enjoyed the idea of killing others (she was studying history after being turned down to join the Royal Air Force), and Ronson had asked the man what he did about her. The man told Ronson that there is nothing you can do to stop a psychopath until after a crime has been committed. The person just told Ronson to keep an eye out, as psychopaths are dangerous, no matter what guise you find they may be in. So, Ronson decides to turn his new psychopath perception tools to finding psychopathy in the corporate world, such as with Sunbeam's Al Dunlap (who was known to enjoy firing thousands of workers all over the U.S. before leaving, due to fraudulent accounting). Ronson questions Dunlap, who shows more than a few signs of being a psychopath (and who views these as "good" qualities to have). When talking with Hare and other members of the psychiatric field later, they are not surprised by this, as many high ranking members of the corporate world, political world, and other cut-throat enterprises tend to be "classic psychopaths" (the signs on the checklist would be seen by these individuals as good traits for rising to the top). Ronson does mention some good news, for all those who are wondering, that if you are worried that you might be a psychopath, then you are not (the sign that you worry about it proves this).

Then a good point was brought up to Ronson. At what point have you stopped "finding" a psychopath, as in the case of Al Dunlap, and started "creating" a psychopath, instead. If you try hard enough, you can use what you know about a person to have them "fit" a high score with the checklist. Ronson mentions that it becomes kind of a "power-trip" for him. In being a journalist, he has been looking for people to write stories about, and maybe this is not much different than what Bob Hare is doing. So, keep this in mind if you decide to use this book to search out all the "psycopaths" around you.

I found this book very interesting, even if the author does tend to meander about in his themes. Jon Ronson travels all over to look into "psychopathy," and the people he meets and things he learns are fascinating. I am not quite sure what to do with this information I have learned, but I have enjoyed learning it, nonetheless.