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Here are some of our Favorite Adult Reads.
Click for Our Favorite Tween Reads and Our Favorite Teen Reads and Our Favorite Kids’ Reads

Ripper Street
Season 1 (BBC America) DVD; Warner Home Video, 2013
A review by Ashley Baroch, Library Assistant

This British import starring Matthew McFayden (M1-5, Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice with Kiera Knightly) is a fantastic portrayal of the beginnings of police procedures and forensic investigations in White Chapel in the 1880′s. Is Jack the Ripper still loose? McFayden as Detective Inspector Reid is fabulous. He is a forward thinking man in a squalid East London precinct. Each episode will keep you on your toes guessing how the inspector and his “partners” are going to solve the latest murder. Even if you aren’t in to cop shows – give this one a try if not just to hear McFaydan’s sweet dulcet tones.

Arrow: The Complete First Season
DVD; Warner Home Video, 2013
A review by Ashley Baroch, Library Assistant

Based on DC Comics “The Green Arrow”, this CW (Channel 11) Series is fun! The “Arrow” has been updated to appeal to modern day audiences. The series is even appealing to us non-comic book readers. The series does have some violence but it also has romance. The premise is our hero: Oliver Queen has been marooned on a mysterious island for 5 years – some how he escapes and makes it home – a changed man with a specific agenda. Each week’s episode unfolds to give you background with flashbacks to what happened on the island. Good series for someone who wants to be highly entertained. I give it 4 snaps in a ‘A’ shape and a spin.

The Black Box
by Michael Connelly; Little, Brown and Company, 2011
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Fans of the long running L.A. detective Harry Bosch series have already made this latest novel of Connelly’s #1 on the best seller list. One might think that Harry, a Vietnam vet, would be at the end of his career, but he’s still going strong, now working on cold cases. This ingenious plot device allows Harry’s sleuthing to alternate between his cynical and experienced present day character and his younger, more vigorous self. This time, Harry investigates a case he always felt guilty about not solving: the murder of a beautiful, Danish journalist, during the 1992 South L.A. riots in which more than fifty people died during three days of looting and bloodshed. As usual, Harry goes it alone, intent on solving the crime, no matter what the political ramifications. The character and Connelly’s writing are just as engaging as earlier entries into the series and intriguing settings include a liberty ship in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War and an almond farm in California’s Central Valley. A good read, hard to put down.

The Panther
by Nelson DeMille; Grand Central Pub., 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

DeMille’s thrillers are usually pretty hefty and this one is no exception. Former NYPD homicide detective John Corey, still working for the FBI anti-terrorist task force in Manhattan, is back in action. After finishing off the Arab terrorist known as “The Lion” in a previous story, he’s now the target for another bad guy with a big cat nickname. With FBI agent and wife Kate Mayfield, he volunteers to be the bait to lure the New Jersey-born terrorist out of hiding. The action mostly takes place in Yemen, portrayed as medieval, barren and insanely dangerous for westerners. Judging by the length of the book, one might think it an epic, but the action is just minutely described and takes place over a bare week. Corey is his trademark wisecracking self, blithely uttering one-liners while battling deadly foes. He is nothing if not politically incorrect and fans will have a great time following the action as John and Kate endure Bedouin hospitality, duplicitous and smarmy CIA agents supposedly on the same side and lots of gunplay with strong, silent and heroic American soldiers. Man of action Paul Brenner, a character from DeMille’s Up Country, plays a key role here, too.  The description of Yemen’s landscape and culture, considered to be the root of the Arab people, was vivid and interesting. The portrayal of the capabilities of American military technology was horrifying, if true. An entertaining, adrenaline filled ride of a novel – its 625 pages move quickly.

DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America
by Bryan Sykes; Liveright Pub. Corp., c2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

In this absorbing non-fiction work written for the general reader, English scientist Sykes examines the story that recent DNA studies of Americans have revealed. He explains the role mitochondrial DNA passed from down from mothers and Y chromosome DNA handed down from father to son has played through millennia of wanderings out of Africa, the origin of all human beings. He focuses on specific cultural groups in the USA including New England descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims, African-Americans with a history of slavery and mixed heritages, and Native Americans and their complicated relationship with DNA studies which often reveal unwelcome facts at odds with tribal origin stories. Sykes discusses the embracing of DNA studies by American Jews, who despite the memory of Holocaust experiments, have led the way in volunteering for studies to ascertain their heritage with the pay-off that the deadly Tay-Sachs disease has almost entirely disappeared from North America due to knowledge gained through DNA.  Sykes includes a detailed personal odyssey across America to collect samples and to reveal the results to the volunteers. His “Gee, whiz” appreciation for the expansive landscape of America is appealingly naïve, but most readers interested in DNA probably don’t need his cameo explanations of American history. The sheer facts are enough to hold one’s attention. There are many interesting aspects, mysteries and odd facts about our amazing human heritage in this book.

My American Revolution: Crossing the Delaware and I-78
by Robert Sullivan; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

The American Revolution is a matter of history in our own backyards for residents of the Hudson Valley and Robert Sullivan has an interesting take on how we think about that war. This slender non-fiction book covers his rambles around the New York metro area in search of its forgotten 18th century history and physical landscape. His thesis is that although the Revolution is largely associated in many people’s minds with Massachusetts and Virginia, most of the important action took place in the middle states. He contends that the sweeping panorama from the top of the Empire State Building reveals the islands, waterways and mountains upon which the most deadly and inspiring battles and events occurred. Sullivan’s method is to visit an historic site during the season in which it happened to really get a feel for it. Thus, he reports on the personalities, pageantry and mishaps of the annual more-or-less authentic reenactment of Washington’s crossing of the Delaware on Christmas night. He describes the Battle of Brooklyn and tracks the fight through a modern golf course and across a highway. He follows the soldiers’ march through the Watchung Mountains of New Jersey to winter camp in Morristown and camps in the snow to recreate the experience. He sails across New York Harbor from Elizabeth to Wall St. to follow Washington’s inaugural arrival in the city and he obsessively races between his Brooklyn apartment and the Watchungs, trying to find the perfect vantage point to flash signals with his Boy Scout mirror, in lieu of lighting real beacon fires in the mountains. A few spelling and factual errors disturbed my enjoyment of this book, but the digressive and humorous footnotes were entertaining and it is always good to be reminded that the paved over world we live in was once a bloody battleground that insured our freedom.

Keeping the Castle
by Patrice Kindle; Viking Childrens Books, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Calling fans of Jane Austen to enjoy this pocket-size tongue in cheek comedy of manners. The beautiful, seventeen year old Althea must keep the scarce family fortunes together while waiting for a suitably rich marital prospect to come calling. She is the sole hope and the only level headed inhabitant of the crumbling Castle Crawley on the frigid Yorkshire coast, as far from the glitter of tony London as can be.  Althea manages her airheaded widowed mother, a rascally young brother, two disagreeable stepsisters and a household of aged and incompetent servants while keeping up everyone’s spirits and making sure that all visitors have the best of the decrepit furniture for seating and plenteous cups of tea, even if the leaves have been used twice or more. Everyone’s hopes are raised when the immensely rich and handsome Lord Boring takes up residence nearby accompanied by his friend, the pleasant, but elderly (forty, at least) Marquis of Bumbershook. Poor Althea must fend off unwanted suitors and like Austen’s Emma discover that true (and financially secure) love might be unexpectedly right under her nose. This was an entertaining quick read for either adult or teen tastes.

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland
by Jim DeFede; Regan Books, 2002
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

This 2003 winner of the Christopher Awards, which honors an artist whose work affirms the highest values of humanity, is now available in a slim paperback edition.  On the September morning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, American airspace was shut down and 250 international flights were suddenly diverted to Canada. Our Canadian friends accepted every flight, even knowing and expecting that some planes might carry additional terrorists. Thirty-eight planes were diverted to the huge WWII era airport at Gander, depositing almost 6,600 bewildered international travelers into a town of less than 10,000 inhabitants. Defede deftly portrays the unique and friendly culture of Newfoundland and describes how the townspeople dropped whatever they were doing to set up emergency shelters with linens ripped from their own beds and food snatched from their own kitchens. The “Newfies” went all out to welcome, console and aid “the plane people” who arrived in their midst and by the time the crisis was ended, many fast friends were made between the generous locals and the stranded travelers. I hope this book makes it onto some high school reading lists for its blend of history, geography, drama and altruism.

Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie
by Beth M. Howard; Harlequin, c2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Beth Howard’ s poignant memoir hails the restorative powers of homemade pie for whatever ails you, including, as in her story, the sudden death of her 43 year old husband. She suffers from a case of “complicated grief” – waves of hysteria, screaming and tears – made all the more painful by knowing in her bones that she killed her husband. At her insistence, Marcus was only hours from signing their divorce papers when he suffered an aortic aneurysm. A journalist and writer, Howard treats her grief by retreating, as she had once before from a high paced job in PR, to the comforts of making pie. With her old friend, Janice, a video producer, she goes on the road in the RV that Marcus loved and makes pie, puts on pie parties for kids, visits famous bakers and learns their secrets, hands out dozens of free pies and bakes her way through the worst days of her loss. With a blog entitled “The world needs more pie” and the experience to back it up, she embarks on a career of pie judging and makes her way back to her hometown in Iowa. A serendipitous fork in the road leads her to the American Gothic House immortalized in Grant Wood’s iconic painting. Beth Howard now lives in that house and runs the Pitchfork Pie Stand, serving up countless slices of homemade pies to eager tourists on the lawn of the landmark attraction. The field of memoirs is overfull, but this teary reminiscence (recipes included) is highly readable and full of charm and satisfying storytelling.

Deeper Than the Dead and Secrets of the Grave
by Tami Hoag; Dutton, 2010
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

From the donations pile, I picked up Deeper Than the Dead and then realized that it and its sequel, Secrets of the Grave, both published in 2010, were to be found in our collection. Hoag sets both stories in the artsy, affluent town of Oak Knolls, California during the late 1980s, just before the advent of computers, cell phones and today’s sophisticated forensic science. The books share common characters: pretty young teacher Anne Navarre, ambitious sheriff’s detective Tony Mendez and veteran FBI profiler Vince Leone. In the first book, a serial killer stalks young women and in the second, a gruesome murder leaves only one witness: a terrified four year old girl whom the now married Anne and Vince take into their home. Both books are suspenseful and hard to put down and the main characters are appealing and sympathetic. The only catch is that in writing back to back murder mysteries set in the same small town, Hoag writes herself into a corner. By the middle of the second book, the reader gets frustrated when perennial damsel in distress Anne once again lets her heart overrule her judgment. What! She’s taking a small traumatized child and going off on an isolated picnic with the prime suspect? Not again! Some comic relief is provided by Anne’s colleague, kindergarten teacher Mr. Franny, an outrageously gay and impeccably dressed sidekick. A third novel, Down a Dark Road, also features Tony Mendez, but the author wisely moves that mystery of a woman on the track of her daughter’s killer, to a new locale, giving the jumpy residents of Oak Knolls a break. If you’ve missed these and the many other Tami Hoag mysteries, try them for your vacation reading.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer; Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

I missed reading this bestseller and NY Times Best Book of the Year in hardcover – something about its dripping red cover art repelled me and honestly, one has to be in the mood to engage in a novel with 9/11 as its subject. I’m glad I tried it in paperback as it’s a great story! Oskar, an incredibly mature nine year old, loses his father on 9/11 and has a guilty secret: he possesses his father’s final taped phone messages which he’s kept from his mother. Going through his father’s things, he finds a key in an envelope labeled “Black” and determines to visit every Black listed in the phone book to find a lost connection to his father. Though wise beyond his years, Oskar is a child with heartbreaking questions and his loving mother and grandmother can’t explain all that’s wrong with the world to him. The novel contains odd photos and other graphics and travels in time to include the story of Oskar’s grandparents who are Holocaust survivors. This is a lovely and painful novel encompassing many stories gathered in Oskar’s quest to remember, recover and resurrect his father.

The Disappeared
by M.R. Hall; Simon & Schuster, 2009
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

This 2009 mystery from the donations pile features an unusual Welsh setting and a female coroner who investigates the disappearance of two Muslim students seven years before in order to declare them dead.  Jenny Cooper is overwhelmed at her job, as well as her personal life as a divorced mother of a demanding teenage boy who would rather live with his father. She also copes with a flippant young medical examiner, a full case load and a police secretary with an attitude, so doesn’t relish the thought of investigating the missing offspring of hostile Pakistani immigrants. When she’s stonewalled by local police and the British security service warns her off and then a threatening American spy shows up, too, she becomes convinced that the story is more complex than the official theory that the young men disappeared to become jihadists in their homeland. Although the character of Jenny is not especially attractive (there is no explanation of the intense malaise she suffers from that prevents her from even feeding her own kid), the politics of the novel are more intriguing as is the background of a modern Britain uneasily assimilating an Arab minority. Jenny’s saving grace is her devotion to the truth – she won’t sign off on the paperwork until she’s convinced it’s correct. Yay for bureaucracy!

The Dark River
by John Twelve Hawks; Doubleday, c2007
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

This 2007 dystopian novel of the near future is Book Two of the Fourth Realm Trilogy and follows the popular The Traveler, published in 2005. Both books center on the adventures of the Corrigans, father Matthew and sons Michael and Gabriel, all three of whom are “Travelers” or prophets who can leave their bodies and visit other realms of existence. The Travelers are hunted by “The Brethren,” agents of the Vast Machine which seeks to control the world’s population through Big Brother high tech tactics such as interception of emails, computer viruses, the installation of cameras in city centers and the spreading of misinformation. Under the guise of guarding citizens from security risks and terrorists, The Brethren steadily increase their stranglehold on personal freedoms. Fortunately, the Travelers are protected by Harlequins, deadly warriors whose sworn duty it has been through history to lay down their lives for these charismatic shamans. Matthew has disappeared, Michael has gone over to the enemy seeking power and Gabriel is left under the protection of the beautiful Harlequin Maya who, as in the first book, guides his existence “off the Grid.” The action is fast-paced and moves from Arizona to New York, London, an isolated Irish island, Rome and Ethiopia as Maya races to save Gabriel, her forbidden love and maybe, the last Traveler. Along with the action, there’s plenty to ponder here about the shrinking of the world and our privacy rights constantly under assault by technology and our own willing cooperation. Book Three is 2010’s The Golden City and I’m looking forward to reading it very soon.

Fobbit
by David Abrams; Black Cat, c2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

There are sure to be many more war novels written about American involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2011), but Abrams has staked out his position as the heir to Catch-22 and M.A.S.H. with this bitter and hilarious tale of “Fobbits” at work and play in Baghdad’s green zone. Formerly known as REMFs in Vietnam (rear echelon MFers), the headquarters Army brass, clerks, public affairs officers (PR) and all the “forward operating base” personnel are now known as “Fobbits” who like Tolkien’s hobbits are well-fed, clean and safe in their tidy holes unlike the frontline “door kickers” out on patrol who are subject to grisly instant death from any unholy combination of terrorists, snipers, IEDs, suicide bombers, mob violence or sheer misadventure such as driving into a canal in a sand storm. Unlike the door kickers who must veer between brutal gunplay and winning hearts and minds by passing out bribes to sheikhs, Fobbits’ jobs are simple: survive deployment and get home safely. Safe behind the walls of Saddam’s palace, Abrams’ Fobbits labor hard (or at least 9-5) to process the grim statistics, endlessly tinker with press releases, deal with the insatiable media clamoring for the inside story of the imminent 2,000 fatality, give all battlefield news just the right spin and make sure they get to the dining hall before the shrimp runs out and to the shower trailer to soak up the hot water.  This is the kind of book one wishes had been published a few years earlier, but maybe those years were needed to make palatable its painful comic ironies. This book deserves reading and thoughtful discussion.

The Rope
by Nevada Barr; Wheeler Pub., 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

In her umpteenth mystery featuring park ranger Anna Pigeon, Barr returns to Anna’s first introduction to the great outdoors with this adventure tale set at Dangling Rope, a park on the shores of Lake Powell, a man-made lake formed by flooding the deep canyons upstream from the Grand Canyon. The elfin Anna is fleeing a personal tragedy that occurred in New York City and seeks to obliterate her memories with hard, physical labor. She’s assigned to picking up waste from the obnoxious tourists who pollute the pristine lake with their garbage and sewage. On her first hike alone, she finds herself naked with a dislocated shoulder and stranded at the bottom of a solution hole, a twenty foot pit with sheer, twisting sandstone sides. At the mercy of her captor and with only a dead body and drugged water for company, Anna struggles to stay alive and hopes to outwit her assailant. The odds don’t come much higher and Barr keeps up her trademark suspense and use of the particular geography and natural features of the landscape to make this another memorable narrow squeak for Anna, who’s a lot tougher than she looks. Barr disabuses the reader of nature’s benevolence and Anna discovers that it’s just as easy to die in a beauty spot as in the urban canyons of New York. The Rope is a good entry into a popular and enduring series that reliably features striking locales.

Swamplandia
by Karen Russell; Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

This NY Times Best Book of the Year and Pulitzer Prize finalist is set on gulf coast Florida, time apparently now, and told by thirteen year old Ava Bigtree, a novice alligator wrestler growing up on an isolated island off the coast. Her family is father Chief Bigtree, grandfather Sawtooth and mother, Hilola, the star of the shows at Swamplandia, the family’s dilapidated theme park where she daily swims through a pool of 98 alligators, older sister Osceola and brother, Kiwi. Russell’s chapter headings quote Through the Looking Glass and Dante’s Inferno and these give a clue as to the fantastic, inside out and bizarre quest that Ava goes on to rescue her sister who has run off into the mangrove swamp in search of a ghostly lover, while Kiwi escapes to the mainland in search of a GED and money to save the alligator park following their mother’s death. The characters are “unforgettable,” in the way that eccentrics and artificial plots are memorable, though Ava’s young girl – innocent, plucky, a waif who survives through determination and through summoning up her dead mother’s spirit – rings true. The novel reminds me of Cheryl Strayed’s Torch, in which a mother’s death causes a family to break apart and reform. I suppose if you can wrestle alligators for a living, ordinary life can be conquered, too.

Sweet Tooth
by Ian McEwan; Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, c2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

In 1973, Serena Frume, a gorgeous Cambridge graduate, falls into working for MI5, the British Secret Service, through sheer chance. As Serena tells her story, she reveals a hapless girl who loves to read, but mistakenly majors in “maths” at university, falls for Jeremy who turns out to be gay, has an affair with Tony, a married professor who recruits her for spying and after his death is revealed to be a Russian spy and generally muddles her way through “Sweet Tooth,” her first assignment of managing a case for the agency. Redolent of John LeCarre’s claustrophobic spy thrillers of the ‘70s, set in the same milieu and featuring the same kind of bland and devious bureaucrats, McEwan’s plot replays the Cold War history of government attempts to influence the arts through secret funding with sometimes hilariously self-defeating results. Serena is looking for romance and prefers novels whose last words are “Marry me.” Her inept attempts to be a successful spy might end in disgrace and the loss of her lover, a young writer of Kafkaesque short stories and a dystopian novella, except that McEwan’s ending is as convoluted as a LeCarre novel and Serena’s story is not only not over, but likely not really wholly her story at all. As in classic spy stories, the reader ends up questioning everything just read.

Gone Girls
by Gillian Flynn; Crown, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Here’s a thriller from the best seller list and it is sick! A Missouri country boy, the laid back and gorgeous Nick Dunne, loses his writing job in New York City as does his preppy wife Amy, who constructs quizzes for a woman’s magazine. When his mother is diagnosed with cancer, they return to his small hometown on the Mississippi to live cheaply and regroup. Nick, and his twin and alter ego Margo, use the last of Amy’s inheritance to buy a local bar. The twisted plot is told in chapters alternating between Nick’s narration of events on the day of Amy’s disappearance and excerpts from Amy’s diary which paint a very different version of their marriage. As Nick’s lies to the police mount up and the media fasten on the missing Amy, the namesake of her doting parents’ Amazing Amy book series for children, the reader is caught between two scenarios and begins to suspect that both storytellers are unreliable. This is a good suspenseful read that turns the reality TV cliché of “it’s always the spouse who did it” on its head. Very entertaining and creepy!

Beautiful Ruins
by Jess Walter; HarperCollins, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Jess Walters has written an intricate novel that skips back and forth in time from post-war Italy, to a struggling Ligurian Sea resort in 1962 during the filming of Cleopatra, to modern Los Angeles, London and Idaho. Young Pasquale has big dreams and is trying to make a go of his family’s dilapidated Hotel Adequate View when a dying young actress arrives to take a room. He is quickly drawn into Dee’s story and overwhelmed by the manic energy of the great actor who comes seeking her along with the slimy studio factotum Michael Dean who’s trying to manage the situation. Yes, it’s Richard Burton on the lam from his romance with Liz Taylor, loudly trying to hush up the bit player he’d fancied on the side. What happens to Dee, the child she names after Pasquale, Michael Dean, who becomes a legendary director and the two young writers dying to make a successful pitch to the great man, continues in the present day with surprising and satisfying story intersections and connections. Almost everyone gets what they want by the story’s end and the humblest characters who do the right thing are the ones who best land on their feet in this beautifully written and humorous saga.

What You See in the Dark
by Manuel Muñoz; Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2011
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

First time novelist Muñoz’s debut effort is set in dusty, small town Bakerfield, California in 1959. While the town’s women dream of movie stars and idealized lives on the silver screen, The Actress and The Director come to town to scout locations for his new movie, featuring a brutal murder in a motel shower. Four women tell the story: The Actress, the motel owner, a shoe store clerk and her co-worker, the young Mexican singer who has the temerity to become the sweetheart of Bakerfield’s most handsome, most eligible bachelor. Scenes from the filming of Psycho alternate with the recounting of the local crime that mirrors the film’s action and affects all the characters, yet is harder to imagine and understand than the master director’s shocking plot in black and white. What you see in the dark may be your own dark dreams and sweet hopes, infinitely more complex than the film images which dominate popular culture and memories. Muñoz’s characters reveal that an aggregate of viewpoints or even a single person’s imagination of an event may be far richer and more truthful than the bold plot of an iconic movie.

The Lola Quartet
by Emily St. John Mandel; Unbridled Books, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Gavin Sasaki is a young journalist in New York City who suddenly loses his bearings and begins to fabricate sources and quotes. He has come undone when his sister reports meeting Chloe, a ten year old girl in their hometown who just might be the daughter of his high school girlfriend, Anna. When Gavin is fired from his job, he moves back home to Florida and indulging his fascination with private eyes, decides to trace the child. Seeking information, he reaches out to the other members of the Lola Quartet, the high school jazz group he remembers so fondly. Daniel has become an unhappy cop, Jack a drug abuser and Sasha, Anna’s sister, is a gambling addict who waitresses at the Starlight Diner. Each of the former musicians and friends holds a piece of the puzzle of why Anna disappeared the night of their last concert, why she’s still on the run after ten years and who Chloe’s father is. Mandel weaves the stories of the quartet, their youthful selves, their mistakes and the random misfortunes that struck them into an engrossing tale that culminates in a murder that may or may not be justified. Set against the recession of 2009 and scenes of Florida foreclosures and desperation, the novel takes seriously the calamities that follow even the most innocent of choices. Gavin, the tarnished main character and would-be investigator, discovers more than he wants to know and must struggle to figure out if he still has the right to call out the ethical lapses of other people or to repeat the past and just keep driving north.

The Other Woman
by Hank Phillippi Ryan; Forge, c2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Despite the generous praise from other popular novelists on the back cover and despite Ryan’s having a main character with the initials “J.R.” as has become the  inside joke of successful mystery writers, The Other Woman is a disappointingly plotted and written novel set during a U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts. Former TV reporter Jane Ryland is in disgrace for bungling an investigation. Now exiled to writing for a daily newspaper, she seeks redemption and scoops on both the serial murders leaving women’s bodies at Boston’s bridges and the hint of scandal and dirty tricks wafting around the campaign of the handsome Governor Lassiter. Sexy homicide cop Jake Brogan wants to be more than friends, but Jane’s too focused on her job to fall for him, though she calls him every two minutes for help. There are way too many dumb characters and coincidences in this plot and much of the action hinges on the unlikely surprise appearance of a politician’s unknown first wife and children. The author is an Emmy award winning TV reporter, mystery award winner and former Senate staffer, but none of that expertise seems to be on display here. She mistakes frequent changes of scenes for real suspense.

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History
by Florence Williams; W.W. Norton & Co., c2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Science writer Williams tackles the organ that makes us human – the human breast – in an engaging survey of current scientific thinking on evolution, psychology, nutrition and disease, along with accounts of the female body from puberty to menopause. She notes that the breast is the only body part that doesn’t have its own medical specialty. The book should be of interest to every female and anyone related to one. The chapters on plastic surgery and the history of experimentation on women’s bodies and how toxins affect breasts, breast milk and babies should be alarming to all. Although one in eight American women now will be affected by breast cancer, Williams discusses the irony that it may be by studying male breast cancer patients that a breakthrough will be made in preventing deaths. To date, more than one hundred former Marines and family members who lived at Camp Lejeune have been diagnosed and the finger points at the lethal history of industrial chemicals used on the base. I recommend this well written book for anyone who enjoys popular science and who wants to know more about 51% of the population.

The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy
by William J. Dobson; Doubleday, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

This new non-fiction work examines the ways in which modern dictatorships have eschewed the Stalinist brutalities of 20th century totalitarian regimes and evolved new, more subtle methods of thwarting their peoples’ desire for freedom. These include rigged elections, imprisonment of critics, state control of media outlets, consolidating power through constitutional “reforms” and banning non-governmental organizations.  At the same time, modern dictators have embraced some forms of capitalism to improve their economies and have allowed their citizens to travel freely, thus encouraging troublesome dissidents to emigrate. Dobson concentrates on the current governments in Egypt, Venezuela, Russia and China and describes their uneasy grasp on power while portraying the courageous activists in each country. Of special interest are his descriptions of how the successful Serbian activists who brought down Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 have devised a teaching curriculum that they offer worldwide to strengthen nascent non-violent revolutions in countries in the Mid-East, Asia and Africa. Through teaching, the internet, Facebook and Twitter successful strategies are spreading and the author hopefully believes that more democracies and fewer repressive regimes are the wave of the future. Though the topic seems intimidating, Dobson’s thesis and writing are geared for the general reader and easy to follow.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale
by Graham Joyce; Doubleday, [2012]
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Tara Martin disappeared twenty years ago when she was sixteen and unaccountably turns up on Christmas Day just as her elderly parents are sitting down for a nice goose dinner. Although no one in the Martin family has made peace with her disappearance – not her older brother, Peter, nor his former best friend and Tara’s former boyfriend, Richie, widely suspected of murdering her, nor her stunned parents – no one is wholly relieved at her reappearance either. Tara’s story of riding away on a white horse with a handsome young man who finds her sitting in the spring bluebells on the edge of the ancient Charnwood Forest, is too incredible for anyone to swallow. Tara insists that she’s only been away for six months and while she still looks like a teenager and medical tests show that she still is, the possibility that she was “kidnapped by the fairies” in the haunted Outwoods is too bizarre to contemplate. Is she lying or mentally ill or could reality and time be far more complex and layered than anyone wants to admit? Peter’s wife and children, Tara’s psychiatrist and an old woman who knows the secrets of the forest all play roles in this modern take on an old, old story. Each chapter is headed by a poem, folk saying or intriguing quote about fairy tales. This was a fascinating read which fantasy lovers will enjoy.

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
by Jonathan Gottschall; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, c2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

This is a small non-fiction book that explores why people tell stories and what role stories have in our lives. How is it that a story, an insubstantial wisp in the ether, simply told or sung or portrayed on screen, can make us laugh, cry or raise gooseflesh while we are sitting safely at home or totally alone or in the company of others? The author discusses findings in evolutionary biology, neuroscience and psychology that help to make sense of humans’ need for fiction. He explains how children, no matter where they are and what their backgrounds are, always reveal a gender split in their play and always tell the same stories. And all of the stories children tell revolve around the universal theme of trouble: fighting monsters, fending off the bad guys, rescuing a baby that “falls cradle and all.” He concludes that we need the trouble of stories to help us work out how to meet challenges and choose wisely when we do face trouble in real life. Gottschall also examines the role of dreams, storytelling in popular culture such as in professional wrestling, virtual reality games and live action role playing. The medium may change, but humans still require stories just as much as cave dwelling ancestors who painted real and imaginary beasts on rock walls by torchlight. This is a an easy to read popular science look at something we all do, whether or not we are great readers or consumers of fiction in other guises.

The Sharon McCone Mysteries
by Marcia Muller; 1977-present
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

I spent most of September in Mexico and looking for something easy to read while on vacation, I picked up a paperback mystery by Marcia Muller. The name wasn’t familiar, but once I began reading, I realized that I had read some of this series featuring San Francisco private eye Sharon McCone way back in the ‘80s when they first came out. Blurbs credit Muller with writing the first hardboiled detective mystery with a female protagonist, but not that hard for McCone can’t stand the sight of blood! It is interesting that she, both author and character, are mining the legacy of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe mysteries, just as Ross MacDonald did in his Lew Archer series in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Every one of Muller’s novels, like MacDonald’s, harks back to a mystery that’s decades old – the hidden parentage of an illegitimate child, a stolen painting, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, events in Vietnam, or a woman’s repressed memories of a murder witnessed when she was a child. Like Lew Archer, McCone is a California native and makes constant mention of the way things used to be before development. Unlike Chandler’s L.A. or MacDonald’s Santa Barbara, where dark doings are in high contrast to the relentlessly sunny days and glitter of wealth, Muller’s San Francisco settings, dominated by menacing fog, cold winds and perilous alleyways are in sync with the brooding atmosphere she favors. Sharon McCone never hesitates to chase a villain into the night even after remembering that she left her gun in the car. The gallons of coffee and vats of wine consumed by Muller’s characters are another literary tic. When in doubt of the plot line, drink. The fourteen novels I read (a dozen McCones and two environmental mysteries set in the fictional Soledad County) dated from the mid ‘80s to 2007 and it was nostalgic to note that earlier ones recount trips to the library for research using microfilm, paying off DVM and government officials for legal records, trading favors with reporters for information, huffing and puffing to locate a phone booth to make a call and such total absence of technology that they have more in common with Muller’s literary forebears in the genre than modern mysteries. Over all, the plotting is of less interest than the continuing characters of Sharon, her friends and family, her cranky vintage car, beloved airplane and the San Francisco hills and bay with their mercurial weather. I think colorful characters and details are why we get hooked on series, even when the mysteries themselves are merely OK as in this case. Knowing that you have a stack of series mysteries to read is a great comfort.

Titles in Series: 1. Edwin of the iron shoes 2. Ask the cards a question 3. The Cheshire cat’s eye 4. Games to keep the dark away 5. Leave a message for Willie 6. Double (with Bill Pronzini) 7. There’s nothing to be afraid of 8. Eye of the storm 9. There’s something in a Sunday 10. The shape of dread 11. Trophies and dead things 12. Where echoes live 13. Pennies on a dead woman’s eyes 14. Wolf in the shadows 15. Till the butchers cut him down 16. A wild and lonely place 17. The broken promise land 18. Both ends of the night 19. While other people sleep 20. A walk through the fire 21. Listen to the silence 22. Dead midnight 23. The dangerous hour 24. Vanishing point 25. The ever-running man 26. Burn out 27. Locked in 28. Coming back 29. City of whispers 30. Looking for yesterday

The Casual Vacancy
by J.K. Rowling; Little, Brown & Co, 2012
A review by Barbara Conneally, Library Clerk

Warning for Potter fans: this is not Hogwarts!

This novel takes place in the small town of Pagford, England, home to a gossipy community of people who take class warfare to the extreme. The central conflict revolves around the sudden death of a council member who was devoted to helping the poor. His death brings to a boil a decades-long feud over who is fiscally responsible for the town’s less fortunate. The argument is over whether the children from a lower class housing project can continue to be educated in Pagford and the closing of a methadone clinic. It is the classic rich-versus-poor scenario except that all the characters are morally reprehensible. The intricate plot turnings involve among other things a verbally and physically abusive father and a horrific rape scene told in a very matter of fact manner. This is a compelling story but the characters became so depressingly clichéd that the further I read, the less they mattered to me.

Bring back the wands.

Forever
by Pete Hamill; Little, Brown & Co, 2003
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Forever is the novel chosen by the Orange Library Association for its fall 2012 OrangeREADS program and the author will visit locally on October 20 to talk about his writing. It was a great read and will appeal to everyone who likes an absorbing story as well as those with a particular interest in history. Young Cormac O’Connor lives in Northern Ireland in the early 1700s and learns that his family has a secret heritage that must be protected. When his parents are killed, Cormac follows their murderer to the settlement of New York, perched on the edge of the wilderness, yet already a town awash with twenty different languages. Cormac is fatally wounded, rescued by an African shaman who confers eternal life, but with a price. Cormac may not cross the shores of Manhattan. The novel follows Cormac through centuries as a printer, a journalist, a painter, a jazz musician and as a participant and witness to the growth of an always pulsing, energetic and corrupt city. He befriends the famous and desperately hopes for the foretold “dark woman” who will be his gateway to the Celtic Otherworld. Hamill ends the story with a bang when Cormac’s destiny arrives unexpectedly on 9/11 and he must choose between eternity and love.

Lost Memory of Skin
by Russell Banks; Harper Collins, c2011
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

One could wish that Russell Banks’ new book was historical fiction of long ago times, but this narrative of a hapless man child, living among other castoffs of our society rings true.  The Kid dwells under the causeway on the shores of Calusa Bay, in company with Iggy, his 30 lb. iguana, and a random assortment of other homeless sex offenders. There are few options for The Kid and parolees like him when local laws forbid residence within 2,500 feet of children, schools and playgrounds, jobs are scarce and knowledge of how to live on the street is hard won. Enter The Professor, a sociologist whose brain is as gargantuan as his body, intent on changing offenders’ lives by helping them to self-govern their encampment. For the fatherless Kid, the genius Professor is an alien entity and his hints at sinister government forces after him, seem incredible even to the credulous Kid. As they struggle to define their relationship and find the balance between The Kid who appears to know nothing and The Professor who claims to know all, The Professor’s past life catches up with him and The Kid must gauge whether he has power to save himself or The Professor.  Although the characters initially seem unappealing, readers will want to know how their story ends and Banks’ descriptions of a surging hurricane and the dangers of the primeval swamp provide a raw, natural background for this suspenseful examination of outcasts whom we’d all rather not think about. The novel was one of the NY Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2011.

Torch
by Cheryl Strayed; Houghton Mifflin, 2005
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

This 2005 novel has been receiving attention because of Strayed’s bestselling nonfiction book Wild which recounts her arduous trek on the Pacific Coast Trail. Readers of Wild, which delved deeply into the author’s painful family history, will find much that is familiar in this luminous and wise autobiographical novel about loss and recovery. Siblings Claire and Josh are seniors in college and high school when their mother, Teresa, is diagnosed with cancer and dies seven weeks later. They and Bruce, their mother’s partner, are overturned by grief and each meets the shock of unexpected death in a different way. The setting of northern Minnesota, isolated and locked down by weather, reflects their frozen and separate attempts to understand what has occurred. The story shifts smoothly from one character to another and one reads on, eager to discover how they will fare and hoping that they, especially the children, will have the resiliency to survive. Reading this thinly fictionalized and beautifully written account of Strayed’s young life, makes me recall Wild with more sympathy, appreciation and understanding.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
by Cheryl Strayed; Vintage Books, c2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

The literary website The Rumpus features an advice column for its readers. “Dear Sugar” is now revealed to be Cheryl Strayed, the author of the bestselling non-fiction Wild and the novel Torch. Like generations of advice columnists, she anonymously answers questions on life and love from troubled correspondents and like Dear Abby, she sometimes does say to “seek counseling,” but most of her answers go far beyond the simple. Sugar’s answers are rarely only a few tidy paragraphs. No, they are essays that go on page after page, analyzing the reader’s dilemma and drawing answers informed by her own bruised and battered past. Sugar describes her sexual abuse when a toddler by her grandfather and delves into her mother’s death, a friend’s suicide and her own years of lost wanderings. She offers clear advice, loving suggestions and always urges her readers to reach for more, to go beyond and to be brave in solving their own problems. Keep the Kleenex close at hand while reading this engaging paperback.

Line of Fire
by Stephen White; Dutton, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Stephen White’s 19th novel in this much lauded series featuring Boulder, Colorado psychologist Alan Gregory is advertised as the penultimate in the series. As usual, Alan plunges into a mystery that forces him to weigh the ethics of his profession and his duty to his patient vs. protecting himself and his family from harm. Here, an old murder case comes back to haunt him and his cop friend, Sam, and they find their future and freedom in the hands of Alan’s inflexibly honest wife, Lauren, who happens to be the D.A. investigating the case. Set against the ominous background of recent western wildfires, the story comes to a surprising conclusion as White has one of his main characters kill off another. It doesn’t sound promising for the remaining veteran characters in the concluding forthcoming novel. Parting is such sweet sorrow for this highly enjoyable series.

And When She was Good
by Laura Lippman; William Morrow, c2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Heloise has constructed a safe, private and affluent life for herself and her young son in suburban Maryland. Neighbors may wonder how the attractive single mother affords their wealthy neighborhood, but Heloise has secrets that no one could guess. As a suburban madam she is content to be overlooked and earn a living with equally discreet clients and a special friend on the vice squad. Just as she begins to think about changing careers, old colleagues from her days as a working girl on the streets start dying and her son’s brutal father may be released from prison and discover that he has a child he doesn’t know about. This was a good mystery with plenty to think about in its description of abusive parents, predators and teenage girls who make bad decisions that destroy their lives.

Rizzoli and Isles: Last to Die
by Tess Gerritsen; Ballantine, c2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Familiar only with the slick formula TV series based on Gerritsen’s novels, I was pleasantly surprised with her writing in this mystery. The two main characters of Boston detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are more rounded and less cartoonish than in the TV series and this was a readable, if predictable, story of multiple family massacres and the teens who alone survive them. Jane and her partner, Frost, do the legwork to detect the buried links between the threatened teenagers and Maura ventures into the Maine woods to the historic fortified castle of a robber baron which now functions as an exclusive school for children whose lives have been destroyed by violence. Evensong School shelters its students and dedicates itself to teaching them survival skills, but what if the killer has breached its vaunted security? I can’t think of another contemporary mystery in which characters have to worry about stones falling from the battlements and death by archery. This was a decent read, especially for fans of the series. Note: Jane’s parents Angela and Frank are as dopey, stereotyped and broadly comic as their televised counterparts.

Bones Are Forever
by Kathy Reichs; Scribner, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Here’s another mystery series which has inspired a TV show: Bones for which reruns seem to be inescapable. Reichs, a real life forensic anthropologist, has written a long string of mysteries set in Quebec and/or North Carolina, mirroring her own work. Dr. Temperance Brennan is once more in Quebec and investigating a mother who appears to be murdering her newborns. With detective Andrew Ryan, a former lover, she follows the trail to the Northwest Territories and while the new setting is of interest, Reichs goes off the rails with Tempe’s repeated attempts to detect on her own. Sidelined for her own safety by Ryan and the Mounties, she fumes and makes one bone-headed decision after another which does result in the requisite life-threatening drama. The side story about recent diamond finds in the far north (who knew that Canada is now a major world supplier of gems?) is the most interesting aspect, but one wishes that Reichs had spent more time in this novel featuring the absorbing forensics which are her genuine specialty and less time sending her main character off on inept damsel in distress sleuthing.

The Bartender’s Tale
by Ivan Doig; Riverhead Books, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Ivan Doig has written a lovely book set in Montana, mostly in the summer of 1960 when Rusty , the narrator with a perfect period nickname, is 12 years old. The bartender of the title is Rusty’s dad, Tom Harry, proprietor of the venerable Medicine Lodge which sees the comings and goings of local townspeople, tourists, ranchers and the irascible sheepherders who drive their flocks down Main St. The bachelor existence of father and son changes with the arrival of Zoe, an imaginative girl who quickly becomes Rusty’s best friend and accomplice in that magic summer, Delano, an insatiable oral historian from the Library of Congress and Francine, a young woman whose mother swears she’s Tom’s daughter, too. Rooted behind the bar is a great cottonwood named Iggdrasil by a former patron, and just as the mythic Norse tree of the same name that grows through and links many worlds and shelters the three Fates, so Tom and the Medicine Lodge are the center of the novel and the repositories for great stories of the west, known and unknown. Doig’s language and characters are full of the idioms and inflections of the west and tales of outsize landscapes, epic snows and devastating floods. Rusty’s hero worship of his father doesn’t disappoint. This portrait of a motherless boy trying to figure out the world and discover his father’s secret history through the tales he tells is beautifully drawn.

The Age of Miracles
by Karen Thompson Walker; Random House, c2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Here’s another story with a 12 year old narrator, but Julia’s story is set in a California coastal town in our own time. She’s an only child of a teacher and a doctor, living on a safe and uneventful cul-de-sac, trying to survive 6th grade. It’s all kind of ordinary, until “the slowing” begins, that is, the gradual, but increasing slowing down of the earth’s rotation. The days become 25 hours long, then 30 hours long and keep on lengthening. Birds fall prey to gravity and drop from the sky, whales beach themselves, crops die and people everywhere believe the world is ending. Rifts develop between “clock timers” who keep to a 24 hour day and “real timers” who live by the sun. Despite the seeming hopelessness of earth’s troubles, life goes on and Julia still does her homework, plays soccer, begins to fall in love, explores her neighborhood and closely observes her parents’ struggling marriage. All learn to accept a new world subject to weeks of dark and cold, alternating with weeks of blasting sun and dangerous radiation and Julia keeps reporting and surviving, torn between mourning the world that was and living in the present. By the end of the novel, she is 23 and still hopeful in this fascinating story that takes a scientific “what if” and carries the premise out to its suspenseful conclusion. Walker’s first book would be a great selection for a book discussion and of interest to teens as well as adult readers.

The Wild Princess
by Mary Hart Perry; HarperCollins, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Don’t be fooled by this novel’s pretensions to historical fiction. It’s a good old fashioned bodice ripper set in Queen Victoria’s court. The title character is based on Princess Louise, the queen’s wild child, who studied art at a London school with commoners and had a racy reputation. In keeping with this romantic genre, the author’s Louise is intelligent, but naïve, repressed, but passionate, haughty, but egalitarian. The requisite hero is Stephen Byrne, an American and former bodyguard for Abraham Lincoln (is that really a good credential?), now in Her Majesty’s Secret Service and hot on the trail of the despicable Fenian bombers after the queen. Stephen is all that one could hope for in a hero: violent, but tender; darkly handsome, but incredibly tough; independent, but totally loyal. He may also be the solution to Louise’s marriage to the elegant Marquess Lorne who prefers the company of other men. Even if one accepts and enjoys the conventions of this type of novel, it’s still annoying how anachronistic and just plain wrong it is. Would a Victorian character “whack himself upside the head?’ And would anyone address members of the royal family, even Queen Victoria, by their first names? The answer must be in the afterword in which the author informs readers that Victoria was a real person! If history is so far in the past, it must be OK to make up most of the details. This is apparently one in a series of books about Victoria’s daughters.

Minding Frankie
by Maeve Binchy; Knopf, 2010
A review by Martha Sullivan, Principal Library Clerk

Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy is a warm and comfortable read.  The author was adept in linking the many characters to one another so that you could easily recall them as the story continued.  All the characters were lovable in their own way.  Living in a small town myself, I could easily imagine wandering around Binchy’s fictitious village and greeting all the folks by name and knowing all about them.

The story takes place in a small village in Ireland where most of the villagers have lived all of their lives.  Noel is called to the hospital bedside of Stella, where he is told that she is having his baby.  Stella asks for Noel’s promise to raise the baby, because due to health complications, Stella will not live through the birth.  Despite negative thoughts and disbeliefs that the baby could be his, Noel is looking for a way to turn his alcoholic life around and decides that caring for a baby would be a noble way to do so.  Knowing he can’t raise a baby and improve himself at the same time, Noel must enlist the help of his parents, friends and relatives to mind baby girl Frankie while he works full time and attends school.  As the saying goes, It takes a village to raise a child.  Frankie is cared for and loved by her many eager babysitters and as we turn the pages, we follow Frankie’s first year of life with her extended, but close-knit family.

This book makes you want to get cozy on the sofa with a cup of tea and lose yourself in the story for hours.  There are no great surprises, but the story of the intertwined lives pulls you in and keeps you.

Country of the Bad Wolfes
by James Carlos Blake; Cinco Puntos Press, c2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

The author has modeled this sweeping novel on the history of his American ancestors who lived and loved in 19th century Mexico. Identical twins John Roger and Samuel Thomas Wolfe do everything together while growing up in Portsmouth, NH, but fortune separates them and sends both unknowingly to Mexico, following the compelling mystery of their dashing Anglo-Irish father, executed for piracy in Veracruz. One twin becomes a despised US Army deserter fighting for the Mexican cause as a member of the Irish San Patricio brigade; one twin marries an heiress whose family business brings him wealth and a sprawling hacienda. A second set of Wolfe twins carry the story forward into the thirty year reign of Porfirio Diaz and back to the US in the early 20th century. James and Blake Wolfe are an independent nation of two, inscrutable to all but the woman they share and completely attuned to their native Mexico, whether hunting crocodiles in the jungle, catching shark in the gulf, keeping iron order  in a Texas border town or freebooting as smugglers and assassins. Author Blake introduces myriad characters only to kill them off violently a few sentences later, but his portrait of the colorful Wolfe family and wild Mexico, its resources and people plundered for profit by devilish alliances across the border is fierce, engaging and unfortunately, true to history.

Criminal
by Karin Slaughter; Delacorte Press, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

A few books back, Slaughter brought together her series characters Dr. Sara Linton and Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Will Trent in the same mystery. The relationship of the driven doctor, toiling in a ghetto hospital and the dedicated cop, trying still to overcome the double demons of crippling dyslexia and childhood abuse, takes place in contemporary Atlanta, the queen city of the New South. Chapters featuring Sara and Will’s hunt for a killer alternate with scenes from 1974-75 when the city’s first black mayor lets African-Americans and women into a police force where success depends on who you know in the KKK. We meet Will’s steely boss, Amanda Wagner, when she was a timid young policewoman afraid to talk to a black man alone, but determined to solve the mystery of a monster preying on young women then and now. The back story of Amanda’s youth and Will’s birth is fascinating, as is the dark look back at the not so long ago casual terrors visited upon people of color in the South and women everywhere. I thought I’d never forgive the author for killing off Sara’s first husband, Jeffrey, but tortured Will is just as intriguing a character and Slaughter’s picture of the ‘70s adds great depth to her terrific mystery.

The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller; Ecc, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

First time author and classicist Miller tackles a big job in this the retelling of the Odyssey. She focuses on the bond between two kings’ sons: the awkward and untalented Patroclus, the offspring of a petty and demanding father and the golden Achilles, half-divine, who must choose between a short life of glory and a long life of obscurity. Their young boyhood on rocky Greek isles is lonely and free, except when Achilles’ sea nymph mother, Thetis, rises dripping and scornful to castigate Patroclus as unworthy of her son and to order him away. Miller succeeds in transforming the young hero who even untried in battle is “the best of his generation” and the shy boy who worships him into youngsters that the reader can care about. She brings alive the epic plot we know – Achilles’s training by the centaur Chiron, his mother’s futile attempt to hide him from sly Odysseus by forcing him into skirts, the gathering of the Greek fleet to sail to Troy and regain Helen, the years of warfare and bitter infighting among the encamped armies. Through all the events, as the two best friends and lovers move ever closer to their appointed dooms, one is reminded that our great epic stories are about real people. Miller’s characters dwell comfortably with gods and goddesses appearing among them and she’s produced a good read reminiscent of Mary Renault’s series on Alexander the Great. Some readers may be surprised at her depiction of Achilles as firmly gay and there she treads the same ground as Renault in her picture of a famous ancient warrior.

Unholy Night
by Seth Grahame-Smith; Grand Central Pub., 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Proving once again that you can’t beat a successful plot, Grahame-Smith turns his attention from adding vampires to the mix as in his Pride and Prejudice and Vampires and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the latter now in cinemas, to the story of a devout Jewish carpenter and his young pregnant wife stranded in the little town of where was it? Oh, right, Bethlehem, as the evil, leprous King Herod’s soldiers and the efficient Romans under the leadership of a young officer named Pontius Pilate search for one small baby, laughingly rumored to be a mighty king. The amusing, cynical twist in the story comes with the three “wise men,” really desperate thieves on the run who stumble into a stable one night and end up defending and aiding the little family they discover despite their own self-interest. There just seems to be something about that baby.  Balthazar, the hardened Syrian leader of the criminals, known as the “Antioch Ghost” for   legendary exploits of thievery and daring escapes, discovers that he and the crazy young Jewish couple who trust in divine providence have more in common than they think, and he’s the man on the spot with just the skills they need to help them escape to Egypt. This was an entertaining, amusing and finally, moving retelling of “the greatest story ever told”.

The Cove
by Ron Rash; Dreamscape Media, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Laurel lives in the cove and is shunned by her neighbors in WWI era North Carolina. Everyone knows that strange things happen along that piece on the mountain stream overshadowed by the looming rock formation. Laurel’s parents met untimely ends and Laurel’s wine-stained skin proves that occult powers hover near her small cabin. While her brother Hank, newly returned from the war and horribly wounded, struggles to maintain their small farm and prove himself worthy of marrying the daughter of a prosperous farmer, Laurel keeps to herself, avoiding town. It’s only when a mute stranger with a silver flute turns up that this young ugly duckling might have a chance at happiness. The narrative, lyrically depicting the mountain habitat of the vanishing Carolina parakeet, shows a rural place just on the edge of an emerging modern America, with its machines and virulent patriotism. The action rushes onward like the verses of an Appalachian ballad, sweet, tragic and beautifully evocative of a forgotten corner in history.

Talulla Rising
by Glen Duncan; Knopf, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Duncan has written a sequel to The Last Werewolf and like the first episode, it’s full of occult creatures, violently contending across continents and below the notice of the human majority. Talulla, the bereaved love of Jake, the werewolf killed off in the first novel, is about to deliver their child when their enemies burst into her Alaskan hide-out. Non-stop action ensues as Talulla and some newly made English werewolves carry the fight to the despised vampires and sinister bounty hunters of WOCOP (World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena.) Like the cynical Jake, Talulla has no illusions about what a monster she is and what brutal appetites she has. If anything, this sequel’s tone is even darker and more despairing than Duncan’s first effort, somewhat alleviated by the sisterly bonds Talulla experiences with Madeline, a werewolf infected by Jake on the night of his death, and Talulla’s inspiring mother love for her twin babies in jeopardy.

Kiss the Dead
by Laurell K. Hamilton; Berkley Books, c2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Hamilton’s Anita Blake vampire hunter series continues with its 21st adventure in contemporary St. Louis among the lycanthropes (werewolves, wereleopards, weretigers, werelions and wererats) who are Anita’s friends and lovers, along with her French boyfriend, Jean Claude, who is the vampire Master of the City. Hamilton’s ground breaking series, which casts its shape-changing and undead characters as misunderstood minorities deserving both protection and control from and by humans, falls firmly into the popular genre of paranormal romantica/erotica with an increasing emphasis on the erotic at the expense of plot. In this outing, US Marshal Anita and her cop pals are after a vampire who is breaking the “consenting adults only” rule and creating new martyr vampires from children and the elderly. As in recent books, scant attention is paid to the mystery and more to Anita’s enthrallment to l’ardeur, the source of the supernatural powers she can only maintain through frequent sex with members of her various packs. One either is a fan of this series or not! A return to the character development and plotting of her earlier books would be welcome.

Shadow of Night
by Deborah Harkness; Viking, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Yikes! More vampires, witches and daemons are to be found in this wonderful sequel to Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches, the second in the All Souls Trilogy. Yale professor, history of alchemy expert and reluctant witch Diana Bishop continues her search for a mysterious magic manuscript last seen in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. With husband Matthew Clairmont, a thousand year old vampire, former crusader knight and modern scientist, she time travels to Elizabethan times to discover how to control her inherited witch powers and find the book of origins that everyone is hunting. In London, she finds that Matthew knows everyone including Sir Walter Raleigh, astronomer Tom Harriot, Dr. Dee, Queen Bess and members of her court, and of course, that young hack and moocher, Shakespeare. Further adventures ensue in Matthew’s family stronghold of Sept-Tours in the Auvergne and at the court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. As in the first novel, this story is a literate, literary, multi-lingual and fast-paced romp through history.

Clean Cut
by Lynda La Plante; Touchstone Book/Simon & Schuster, 2008
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

This was a paperback from the donations pile, picked up in fond remembrance of La Plante’s characters in the Prime Suspect series on PBS starring Helen Mirren. Clean Cut, first published in 2007, falls into the peculiarly British genre of police novels with especially hard charging, capricious and vicious bosses. Main character DI Anna Travis’ “Guv” is the charismatic and relentless DCI James Langdon. When he is attacked by a machete-wielding West African criminal, Anna nurses her boss and ungrateful lover back to health and Jimmy obsessively takes charge of the hunt for a ring of drug and people smugglers.  La Plante portrays an England nearly overwhelmed by illegal immigration and her characters express their bitter racism toward Africans forthrightly and frequently. The plotting is a bit repetitious and neither the selfish Jimmy, nor the woebegone doormat Anna are engaging characters, though thoroughly emblematic of the author’s trademark gritty and realistic style.

Night Watch
by Linda Fairstein; Dutton, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor Fairstein is back with another novel in her series featuring ADA Alex Cooper and detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace. The action opens with a murder in southern France where Alex is visiting her restaurateur lover, Luc. She’s called back to Manhattan when the French head of an international banking agency is accused of raping a maid in a New York hotel. This ripped from the headlines plot gives an inside look at how high profile crimes are prosecuted and in this case, bungled, by lawyers fighting both an influential accused and a less than truthful accuser. Subplots involve fine wine and Luc’s plans to restart a heralded city restaurant while proving himself innocent of murders tied to him both in Brooklyn and in France. As usual, the author also highlights a corner of city history. She delves into the Prohibition origins of “21” and these set pieces are a welcome relief in this installment of a mostly by the numbers series.

Creole Belle
by James Lee Burke; Simon & Schuster, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Times stands still for James Lee Burke’s Cajun detective Dave Robicheaux and his former New Orleans partner, the hell raising Clete Purcel. “The Bobbsey Twins” are still solving crimes, battling the powers that be and rescuing family members from evil, some twenty novels into this series set in the Louisiana bayous. The ageless Dave and Clete are still mourning the ghosts they brought home from Vietnam and battling their addictions to booze, pills and an avenging rage for justice. Nobody writes more convincingly and lyrically than Burke on the lost coastal paradise of his home state. This long running series has received jolts of new plot material from Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. Here, Burke’s well-worn cynicism about political corruption, race and big oil run through Dave’s search for the beautiful Creole singer Tee Jolie who disappears after she stumbles onto information about what really happened on the exploding oil rig. The isolated Clete also chases a young woman: his lost daughter Gretchen, who may or may be a contract killer out of Key West.  A good read with the only false note being a 90 year old villain who’s a former Nazi, though maybe the author takes literary license and lets time stand still for usefully iconic bad guys, too.

At Home on the Range
by Margaret Yardley Potter, introduced by Elizabeth Gilbert; McSweeney’s Books, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Gilbert, the author of the overpraised Eat, Pray, Love, unaccountably didn’t know that her great-grandmother was the author of a newspaper cooking column and of this charming cookbook first published in 1947.  Potter, known as “Gima” in the family, had a wealthy Main Line upbringing and a long penurious marriage to an elegant husband allergic to work. She was a woman ahead of her time and atypical of her class who sought out eatables in whatever form she could find and transformed them into simple great food or painstaking recipes, many of which will appeal to modern foodies. The recipes are buried within the text with liberal comments from the author on entertaining and life. They resurrect a time when foods were seasonal and laboriously crafted. If you have a craving for calf’s brains with black butter, fried tomatoes with cream gravy, boiled eels, smothered cabbage, raspberry vinaigrette requiring four quarts of berries, or barley water, this is the book for you. On homemade ice cream, Potter comments “with the first taste it will be very easy to understand why the youthful nation that originally produced it has since become a world power.” She offers helpful instructions for home bakers, such as letting the dough rest by taking a 15 minute cigarette break on the back porch and she includes bracing advice on how to mix cocktails “without loss of femininity.” The book concludes with her thoughts on kitchen gadgets and décor, leaning on her guiding principles of adventure, practicality and fun. Gilbert has retrieved an engaging, slender read from the family archives that would make a more usable cookbook for modern cooks if it were in a less authentic and eye-straining format.

Fallen Angel
by Daniel Silva; HarperCollins, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Gabriel Allon, the retired Israeli spy and master art restorer, returns to action when a colleague working in the Vatican plunges to her death in St. Peter’s Basilica. Gabriel is drafted by the Pope to solve the mysterious death. Although this is the 12th entry into this series, Gabriel’s suspenseful adventures hold one’s interest from start to finish. From the hidden politics of the Vatican and its Mafia contacts, to the world of Etruscan tomb robbers, to the Iranian terrorists using stolen ancient art to fund their strikes at Israelis all around the globe, Silva keeps the story moving and the pressure on. Gabriel, the reluctant spy, is drawn once again into masterminding a daring plot that will avert disaster for Israel. As always, the action races across a selection of European cities and then culminates in an enlightening plunge down into the caves, catacombs and ancient history underlying Jerusalem’s holy landmarks.

Castro’s Daughter
by David Hagberg; Forge, 2012
A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

According to the book jacket, this author has written seventy novels of suspense, but was unknown to this reader. When Colonel Maria Leon, the head of Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence, is summoned to the deathbed of Fidel Castro, she imagines that the dying dictator seeks final closure with her. All her regimented life she has known that she is his illegitimate daughter. Instead, El Commandante issues one last order that leads her to summon retired CIA chief Kirk McGarvey to a secret rendezvous at her beach house. So far, so good, but the ensuing plot is so preposterous, involving Maria’s search for lost Spanish gold that if found may save Cuba’s wrecked economy, that it was painful to read. Apparently, McGarvey is a series character and fans may enjoy his masterful control of the action, but for a new reader, this plot was less suspenseful than farcical. The Cuban settings were of interest and it would have been great to read more about the island. One wonders if American and Cuban spies really slip as easily in and out of each other’s countries as this novel casually portrays.

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight : An African Childhood
by Alexandra Fuller; Random House, 2003
A review by Marie Arnstein, Library Assistant

This is an incredible memoir of a 1960’s childhood in Africa during the Rhodesian civil war.  While her father fought on the side of the white government, her eccentric mother tried to manage the farm and family.  Alexandra Fuller writes unsentimentally about her family, their remarkable experiences and how they faced unimaginable hardships.  With candor and humor, she conveys a love of Africa and family.  It is a unique read and would be an excellent choice for a book discussion.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradley; Delacorte Press, 2009
A review by Marie Arnstein, Library Assistant

I don’t usually read mysteries, but this one was suggested by a coworker who thought I’d enjoy it.  The heroine, Flavia de Luce, is an eleven year old girl who likes to whip up poisons in her chemistry lab, annoy her older sisters, and stay one step ahead of the local police in solving the crime.  Think:  Nancy Drew in England – delightful and fun.  I can’t wait to read the next book in this popular series, and they are all available here @ FPL.

Not Quite What I was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs
by Writers Famous & Obscure

by Rachel Fershleiser & Larry Smith; Harper Perennial, 2008

A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

If you feel capable of summing up your life in six words, this is the book for you. It’s a slender volume of brief phrases and sentences that aim to capture the essence of their authors’ lives. “The car accident changed my life.” “Clawed my way of out Tennessee.” “Followed rules, not dreams. Never again.” “I like girls. Girls like boys.” “Never should have bought that ring.” “Thank God I lived through Vietnam.” The book’s premise was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s succinct answer to a challenge to write a story in six words. Papa came up with “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” Many of the entries have an epitaph-like quality and many are funny, sad or perverse. This would be a good gift book, especially for a young or aspiring writer. “Check it out from the library.” “Don’t waste bucks on concise nonsense.”

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
by Cheryl Strayed; Knopf, 2012

A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Wild is a powerful and suspenseful memoir recalling the author’s solo journey in 1995 at the age of 25 on the recently completed Pacific Crest Trail which stretches from Mexico to Canada through the Mojave Desert, along the Sierra Nevada and through the high peaks of the Cascade range. In her last semester of college in Minnesota, Cheryl’s young mother dies suddenly from cancer and her life falls apart. Unable to keep her younger siblings and stepfather together, Cheryl goes into free fall and drops her studies, marries too young, keeps bad company and gets into heroin. Recognizing how lost she is, she adopts a new surname and changes her life. Her impulsive decision to hike a long trail (longer than the Appalachian Trail) without any experience or real preparation has produced a compelling story in which she dives deeply into her own past while she carries its monstrous burden and a backpack more than half her weight over thousands of miles. Who says you can’t have a survival story in today’s America? The wonder of this story is that one forgets the author’s self-made idiotic predicaments because the story of her trek is so darn exciting to read. When your boots fall off a mountain, can you hike in new ones made of duct tape? Read this and find out.

Death of Kings
by Bernard Cornwell; Harper, 2012

A review by Madelyn Folino, Director

Cornwell continues the story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, the English-by-birth, Viking-by-upbringing, warrior who reluctantly allies himself with King Alfred as the “Sword of the Saxons.” While Alfred the Great lies dying in the year 899, Uhtred attempts to save his kingdom of Wessex for his son and successor, Edward, and fend off the rampaging and pagan Norsemen with whom he shares more kinship than the mewling English Christians he’s sworn to defend. For those who love tales of Saxon Britain, there’s plenty of scenic travel on Roman roads, decisive battles at fords and bridges and matter of fact romancing with Cornwell’s soldier hero and his love interest, Princess Aethelflaed, a runaway nun who rallies the troops and conducts some rearguard actions of her own. This is an entertaining historical novel, full of the fire, blood and mud that underlies the Dark Ages story of the birth of England.