Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mystery in New Orleans

When the mystery novel A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly came out in 1997, a blurb on the cover enthused: "A smashing debut!" That struck me as funny, because Hambly was the author of at least 50 books: I adored her fantasy novels throughout my high school years.

The blurb was right about one thing, though: this is a smashing book.

Set in New Orleans in 1833, A Free Man of Color is the story of Benjamin January. January is a highly-educated and urbane physician; he is also a dark-skinned black man. Forbidden by the color of his skin to practice surgery in New Orleans, he makes a living as a piano teacher. He becomes involved in the murder of a young woman who, like his own sister, was the mistress of a white man. January's ability to investigate is hampered by his constant danger of being stolen from the streets and sold into the slavery from which, as a child, he was freed.

The wonderful thing about this novel is the richness with which slave-era New Orleans is rendered. The city had recently been acquired from France by the United States, and Hambly fascinatingly depicts the cultural clash between the Americans and the French, as well as the constant, degrading consciousness of skin color among January's fellow freedmen.

Hambly has a masters' degree in history, and she obviously did an enormous amount of research for this series. All the detail lends depth to the story without overwhelming it. If you enjoy historical mysteries with lots of atmosphere, you'll like these books.

Here are the titles:

A Free Man of Color
Fever Season
Graveyard Dust
Sold Down the River
Die Upon a Kiss
Wet Grave
Days of the Dead
Dead Water

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Start Where You Are!

Sounds simple, doesn't it? In the midst of life’s problems, hassles and headaches, if I could just stop the merry-go-round and figure out how to be more....
Me. Or at least a better me.
In her guide to compassionate living, "Start Where You Are," Pema Chodron, resident teacher of Nova Scotia’s Gampo Buddhist Abbey, teaches us how to embrace life's little interruptions. For Chodron, it’s that daily messiness in our lives that can actually point us in the direction of living more compassionately.
All too often we get caught up in the routine of life, replaying the anger, reliving the storyline where we’re always the victim, the one who gets hurt, the one who’s been wronged. And Chodron shows us how to change that storyline.
Using the basics of Buddhist meditation techniques, (slogans, thought-labeling, and a heaping helping of non-Buddhist common-sense), Chodron encourages us to jump off the merry-go-round, climb down from that mountain of self-pity and enjoy life again.
"Start Where You Are" is the perfect book for a rainy Sunday afternoon when you realize you’re still in your pajamas and the coffee in your cup is stone-cold. Or a sunny Tuesday morning when you should be cleaning the garage. Wherever you are in life, "Start Where You Are" is the perfect place to start. And you can reserve it here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Locke Lamora affair

In a city that is somewhat similar to Renaissance Venice -- a dirty, corrupt, dangerous, beautiful city -- a gang of con artists raise their glasses in a toast: "To us: richer and cleverer than everyone else!"

The book is
The Lies of Locke Lamora, and these thieves call themselves the Gentlemen Bastards. They steal to get rich, and because it's fun. Led by the chameleonlike Locke, they embark upon a complicated long con of a greedy nobleman. But they are too clever by half, and things go disastrously awry, putting the Gentlemen Bastards at odds with the most powerful men of the city: its all-powerful Duke; the Spider, chief of the Duke's secret police; the Capa Barsavi, leader of its criminal underworld; and a mysterious figure known only as the Grey King.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is a violent and profane series of fantastic, improbable, deliciously fun adventures. If you pick it up -- and I recommend that you do -- please be prepared for lots of gore and foul language.

Indeed, the language is so foul that I found it a little hard to find a usable quote for this blog. Here's the one I found. Locke talking to his accomplice Calo, trying out his disguise as a northern merchant, overdressed for the hot climate:

"My name," said Locke Lamora, "is Lukas Fehrwight. I am wearing clothes that will be full of sweat in several minutes. I am dumb enough to walk around Camorr without a blade of any sort. Also," he said with a hint of ponderous regret, "I am entirely fictional."

"I'm very sorry to hear that, Master Fehrwight," said Calo.

Locke stepped carefully down toward the edge of the barge, swaying at the hips like a man newly off a ship and not yet used to surfaces that didn't tilt beneath his feet. He wore the mannerisms of Lukas Fehrwight like a set of invisible clothes.
"My attendant will be along any moment," Locke/Fehrwight said ans he/they stepped aboard the barge. "His name is Graumann, and he too suffers from a slight case of being imaginary."

"Merciful gods," said Calo, "It must be catching."

Interested? Reserve the book or the audio CD.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Candles Burning by Tabitha King and Michael McDowell

Calley Carroll Dakin's large ears stick straight out from her head and her uncanny hearing picks up on lies, truth, and the whispers of the dead; surely enough burdens for any young girl. But when Calley turns seven, the grotesque murder of her father shatters her family and puts her at the mercy of forces she does not understand.

Calley's no shrinking violet; even at seven, she's got a mouth on her, and a willingness to give a good kick in the shins where one is warranted. Her bravery keeps her afloat despite her essential powerlessness, and her loyalty to her shrewish narcissist of a mother is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Calley's character and voice keep the story moving despite some uneven pacing.

The mysteries of her father's death and the strange and supernatural events that surround her unfold slowly over 432 pages. There are two rather gory scenes, described in a bit too much detail (Charles Dickens meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre)-- I fast-forwarded past them. Otherwise, this is not horror, but a meandering and bizarre Southern gothic tale.

I listened to the book on CD. Carrington MacDuffie's excellent reading and Southern accent add weight and texture to the story on audio, and it's available in book form as well.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Library patrons frequently call upon staff for what we in the profession call “readers advisory” that is, they’d like us to recommend a title, an author or a type of book they might want to read. The questions usually go something like...
“Do you have any mysteries that take place in Montana?”
“Are there any books where the police detective is Hispanic?”
“What comes after ‘The Cat Who Wasn’t There?’”
You don’t have to be a librarian to use one very useful website, Although confined to mysteries, SYKM is a terrific way to find just the book you want.
In addition to the standard alphabetical title and author lists, as well as recent award winners, SYKM also has a unique set of search parameters on the left side bar. You can search by 14 different criteria, including location, diversity, historical time period, and read-alikes (“I want more books like Janet Evanovich.”).
BTW: after searching SYKM, the answers to the above patrons’ queries are:
- There are 14 listed authors whose mysteries take place in Big Sky Country.
- 20 mystery writers on the site have Hispanic main characters.
- The Cat Who Went Into The Closet” is a great place to find the answer to all of your mystery questions. But it’s also a fun place to browse. Did you know that Dan Fesperman writes police procedurals that take place in war-torn Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzogovina? Or if you like Janet Evanovich, you might also like Donna Andrews, Carolyn Hart, Joan Hess and at least 5 others?
Now that’s something I could only have found out on

Monday, May 17, 2010

Geology from the road

As I planned a recent hiking trip to eastern Oregon, I knew I would bring two essential companions: my good old dog, and The Roadside Geology of Oregon by David Alt and Donald Hyndman.

This handy little book explains, in easy layman's terms, the geological processes that shaped our extraordinary state. Interestingly, because it is designed as a travelers' reference, the book is organized by road. So, for instance, as you travel along U.S. Route 26 through Mitchell and John Day, you can flip to the appropriate section of the book and read an explanation of those astonishing red, purple and green cliffs you can see alongside the highway.

The library has several books in the Roadside Geology series. They're great to have along on your next trip.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dysfunctional Family Rules Half The World And Causes A World War

Little Willy’s arm was wrapped around his head in his mother’s womb, cutting off the blood supply to his brain and causing a rather nasty case of ADHD.
His cousin Nicky was a physically small and timid lad, bullied by a cold-hearted father who was sure he would never amount to much.
And little Georgie just wanted to spend all day riding horses and shooting defenseless animals.
Instead these three hapless cousins wound up ruling most of the world. And they didn’t do a very good job of it.
George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Cousins And The Road To World War I by Miranda Carter describes the end of an autocratic Europe whose time had already passed. Complex family relationships (all were grandchildren to England’s Queen Victoria) only exacerbated equally labyrinthine political machinations as they jockeyed for colonial territory and military superiority. Their personal lives were an endless round of lavish yet meaningless social functions, military parades and mostly loveless marriages whose sole function was the begetting of heirs to their doomed dynasties.
Carter’s book is a fascinating look at the personalities behind the thrones of England, Russia and Germany as they goose-stepped their way to World War I and their own inevitable declines. And you can reserve it here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - NOT

The second Mrs. de Winter is never named in Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier's novel of passion and obsession. The story opens when she is working as a companion to an arrogant American woman in Monte Carlo. A rich widower, Maxim de Winter, comes to stay at the same resort, and they fall in love and marry.

On their return home to Manderly, the new Mrs. de Winter feels like an intruder in the home of Rebecca de Winter, Maxim’s first wife, who died in a sailing accident. Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, resents and taunts her, undermining the young woman's self-confidence. The mansion is still run as "the first Mrs. de Winter" ran it, from the daily menus, to the d├ęcor, to the requisite costume ball.

The book is full of psychological twists and turns, as the young wife is almost lured to leap to her death. Word of a shipwreck wakes the house and snaps her out of her trance. But soon Maxim is in peril, as Rebecca’s boat is found by divers, with a body trapped inside. Did Rebecca really drown in the sea, or was she murdered?

The library’s Reading Circle will discuss this book at noon on Tuesday, May 11. Alfred Hitchcock’s version of the film is the featured Literary Flick, the same day at 6:30 p.m. The movie stars Laurence Olivier as the aloof Maxim de Winter, Joan Fontaine as the innocent, timid young wife, and Judith Anderson as the sinister Mrs. Danvers. Join us for an afternoon and evening of suspense and dark shadows!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Muscle up with PowerSearch!

Sometimes the word "database" is off-putting; what do we mean by it? In the case of the Gale databases, we mean magazine, journal, and newspaper articles; encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks; and selected websites.

We have databases for different topics, such as business, law, and health. Some databases are tailored for different grade-levels. The academic databases have more peer-reviewed titles, like Canadian Journal of Forest Research and Journal of Teacher Education, and the general-interest databases have titles like Time and National Geographic.

So if you have to write a research paper and don’t know where to begin, don't despair! All of our Gale databases can be searched simultaneously through the use of a special tool: PowerSearch!

Go to our database page and scroll down to the PowerSearch icon. Click on it, and you're ready to begin!

Here is an example of a search for information on Princess Diana. Just type in the search words and click on the Search button. You’ll probably get the best results by picking the keyword search. (you can click on each image to enlarge it)

Here are the results of the search. When your teacher says you need sources besides the Internet, you can use this database. Using articles from online books, magazines, and academic journals is the same as reading the articles in print.

As you can see, there are 2,936 magazine articles about Princess Diana, 244 academic journal articles, and articles from 39 books. Not bad for a few minutes of research, huh?

Pelicans have been in the news recently; suppose you wanted to learn more about them. You could come into the library and use our Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia, or do your search from your work or home, and get the same information. You can even email the articles to yourself or download them to your computer for future reference!

All you will need to get into these databases is your Coastal Resource Sharing Network library card number; it is your ticket to a library away from the library! We hope you come visit!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Hamlet's Dresser by Bob Smith

Bob Smith's childhood was lonely. His sister, Carolyn, was profoundly disabled; his mother could barely cope. The pressure on young Bobby to be a perfect child, never troublesome or sick, was intense. In this memoir, Smith describes the moment (he was about ten) when a librarian gave him a copy of The Merchant of Venice, and the opening line changed his life: "In sooth I know not why I am so sad."

I read it again. Ten simple monosyllabic words and of course I couldn't know what sooth meant, but it's hardly necessary. It changes nothing in the simple declarative sentence, a sentence that could not more perfectly describe the kid reading it ... I was desperate to lean against something bigger than me, and it was clear that William Shakespeare understood what it's like to ache and not know why.

Smith now teaches Shakespeare at senior centers, taking old people through the plays, and he describes how often Shakespeare's words hit that way: "I see it all the time now. When a phrase ignites the room with some compelling truth I watch people thrill to the confirmation: 'Yes,' they say, 'that's it!'"

Caring for his beloved sister; starching Bert Lahr's shirts and teaching Katherine Hepburn how to buckle armor; struggling with the devout Catholicism of his youth. Smith illustrates the memories of his life with quotations from Shakespeare, ones that make you think, "Yes, that's it." It's one of the most interesting memoirs I've read in a long time.

Check out the book or the CD.