Thursday, March 29, 2012

What’s new at the Library?

As everyone knows, sometimes partnerships come to an end. After months of discussion, the Coastal Resource Sharing Network (CRSN) has decided to dissolve its partnership in May, 2012. The eight libraries that make up CRSN are creating two new consortia, meaning some changes are in store for Lincoln County library users.

Will residents still be able to borrow items from any library in Lincoln County? YES! Any resident of Lincoln County, except persons who live within the city limits of Yachats, will still be able to check out books at any library in Lincoln County. Lincoln County residents are free to use Newport, Driftwood, Toledo, Waldport and Siletz Public Libraries as well as the library at Oregon Coast Community College.

Since Lincoln County’s six libraries will now be members of two different consortia, patrons will need to be registered with both networks. One network includes Driftwood Public Library, Newport Public Library and the Tillamook County Library. The other network includes the Toledo, Waldport, and Siletz public libraries, Oregon Coast Community College, Tillamook Bay Community College and Clatsop County Community College. A library card from each network may be required to access all services in both networks. Assistance will be given to you at each library to help patrons access all the resources at that library.

We will continue to make every effort to share our resources. Patrons from any library in Lincoln County may request books from any library in Lincoln County and, as long as they are available, we will ship them to the requesting patron’s home library. We are still working out the details as to how this will be accomplished. And, as has always been the case, patrons may return their library books to any library in the county to be routed back to the owning library.

As we navigate our way through this change, every effort will be made to keep our patrons informed. Since this is new ground for all of us, we hope our patrons will be patient and flexible as we work our way through this process. Thank you.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Matthew Quinton: Gentleman Captain

Most readers of nautical fiction know the Napoleonic War between England and France is the setting for some of the most exciting books of the genre. Occurring roughly between 1800 and 1815, the battle for European domination, control of colonies and supremacy of the sea itself, form the backdrop of much of the works of authors such as Patrick O’Brian, Julian Stockwin and C.S. Forester.

British historian J.D. Davies is a recent entry into the club of nautical fiction writers and he has taken the novel tack of choosing Restoration England as the setting for his Matthew Quinton series. It is 1662, the Civil War is over and Charles II is on the throne. Matthew Quinton is a royalist political appointee, a “gentleman captain’ who knows nothing about the sea. In fact, he sinks his first command and the death of much of its crew is the tragic impetus for Quinton’s determination to be the best officer he can be.

To my mind, setting this series in the seventeenth century was a stroke of genius. I remember reading an interview with Patrick O’Brian who said he regretted starting his Aubrey-Maturin series so late into the Napoleonic era; he simply ran out of historical time. Beginning his series in 1662, Davies should have no problem where that is concerned. Not only does he get to cover the Anglo-Dutch Wars, but he also has access to the all of the dramatic events of that era such as the plague and great fire of London, as well as the blossoming of scientific progress and societal change brought about by the Enlightenment and later Industrial Revolution.

The series has an additional twist in that the protagonist, rather than a common sailor working his way up the ladder or an officer fighting against patronage for advancement, is already a high-ranking member of British society but a complete and utter landsman. He must earn the trust of his officers and crew the hard way, especially given his disastrous first command. Davies earns high praise for his writing, nautical expertise and interesting characters. Above all, I’m really enjoying reading about another era in naval history.

Volume one, Gentleman Captain, and volume two, Mountain of Gold, are both available at Newport Library. I’m eagerly awaiting volume three in the series, The Blast That Tears The Skies, which is not yet published in the U.S.

The author also maintains a fascinating blog, Gentlemen and Tarpaulins. The blog covers not only the authors own writing, but also his extensive involvement in naval matters, past and present, as well as historical background on his books.

I’m already hooked on the series and if you love nautical fiction, I think you will be too.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Nobody compares to Bernie

Not long ago I read a mystery novel whose narrator was a burglar. It wasn't a bad book; but when I finished it, I put it down thinking, "You, sir, are no Bernie Rhodenbarr."

Who is Bernie Rhodenbarr? He's a burglar, a smart-alec, an amateur detective, and the protagonist of a wonderful series of mysteries by Lawrence Block. Like the hero of that other book, he loves to break into other people's homes and steal things. He wants to live an honest life, but the thrill of burglary is too great for him to give up. In each book, he sets up a score - and then things go wrong. He'll be somewhere he doesn't belong when a murder takes place, for instance; or maybe the person who hired him to do the job will double-cross him. Bernie will solve the crime, get away with the loot, and stay out of prison one more day.

My favorite is The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling, in which Bernie is hired to steal a rare book and finds himself framed for murder. The first five pages of this book are possibly the greatest first five pages of any mystery I've ever read.

The plots of these books are not terribly plausible, but they're worth reading for the snappy dialogue and for Block's terrific, economical descriptions: "He was a stout man, florid of face, jowly as a bulldog, with thinning mahogany hair combed straight back over a glossy salmon scalp ... His eyebrows were untamed tangles of briar; beneath them his eyes (brown, to match his outfit) were keen and cool and just a trifle bloodshot."

These books are fast-paced, improbable, and extremely fun. The titles in the series are:

Burglars Can't be Choosers
Burglar in the Closet
The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling
The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza
The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian
The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams
The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart
The Burglar In the Library
The Burglar In the Rye
The Burglar On the Prowl

Monday, March 19, 2012

Snuff it!

What a romp! Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Night Watch is the hero of Snuff, Terry Pratchett’s 39th book in the Discworld series. Yes, on one level this is a rather silly fantastical world, with vampires, Igor and Igorinas, golems, trolls, dwarfs, et cetera. And Pratchett’s sense of the absurd is evident in every sentence. But the essential plot isn’t silly (well, maybe a teeny bit), and it definitely stands alone.

Commander Vimes has been forced to go on vacation, rather against his will. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so horrible, except it’s at his wife Sybil's countryside estate, and Vimes is a city man, through and through. He’s very uncomfortable because no one seems to be trying to mug, kill, or rob each other, and the birds’ incessant singing is really getting on his nerves. But young Sam, his son, is in poo heaven, (he’s intensely interested in feces of all kinds, which he enjoys dissecting and collecting,) and his wife feels that Vimes must learn to act a county gentleman.

Fortunately, something’s rotten in the countyside, and soon Vimes is off on an investigation of vast import with the help of his manservant Willikens and the local constable and pig-keeper, young Feeney. The disappearance of a blacksmith and the appearance of a large pool of blood containing a goblin claw lead to a strange discovery: a population of goblins living in the caves outside the village, seeking justice for a murder victim. The humans in the village and surrounding estates have always considered the goblins to be vermin, and Vimes and crew learn that they’ve used that to justify slavery and worse. Fortunately for Vimes, there’s a bad guy at the heart of it, and Feeney, Vimes, and Willikens are soon on his tail.

This is a world-changing case for Discworld, and an eye-opening one for Vimes, who will never think of the countryside in quite the same way. Well-balanced humorous writing, excellent character and world-development, lots of action, and wonderful interpersonal relationships make for a very worthwhile and amusing read. Snuff is also excellent on audio through Library2Go.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Life after war: a conversation

As a society, we need to understand that a consequence of sending soldiers to war is that the war comes home with every veteran. “Life After War: Photography and Oral Histories of Coming Home” addresses the trials faced by returning soldiers, whose war experiences infiltrate the very place where they should feel comfort and safety: their homes. Portland photographer James Lommasson will share photographs and lead a discussion at the Newport Public Library on Wednesday, March 21, at 7:00 p.m.

Lommasson is a freelance photographer who received the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize for his first book, Shadow Boxers: Sweat, Sacrifice & The Will To Survive In American Boxing Gyms. His second book is Pentimento: Portland’s Lost and Found Carousel. Lommasson is currently working on a book and traveling exhibition about American veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars called Exit Wounds: Soldiers' Stories—Life After Iraq and Afghanistan.

This Conversation Project is sponsored by Oregon Humanities. Through the Conversation Project, Oregon Humanities offers free programs that engage community members in thoughtful, challenging conversations about ideas critical to our daily lives and our state's future. Additional support is provided by The Whaler. For more information about this free community discussion, please check the library’s website or call 541-265-2153.

Friday, March 9, 2012

When Moving Cities Were Born

I felt such anticipatory pleasure as I settled in for a chance to learn more about Philip Reeve’s far-in-the-future Earth so well described in The Hungry City Chronicles or, as they are known in England, the Mortal Engines Quartet. Mortal Engines, the first of the series, introduced me to the steampunk wonders of cities that rumbled across the earth, consuming villages, towns and other cities (along with every living thing) in their quest to stay alive and moving.

Fever Crumb is a prequel to Mortal Engines, set in Reeve’s England in a time far removed from the wonders of the ancients (us), a time where scavenging is all that’s left. Fever, the title character, is the adopted daughter of an engineer and in training for that profession. She is a most rational girl (her head is shaved because fussing with a hairstyle is irrational to an Engineer) who is sorely tested when the secrets of her past begin to resurface and she finds herself in the middle of a dangerous search for ancient technology. When the renegade marauders of The Movement (in the very first moving city) recruit her to their cause as they reach the outer parts of what is left of London after the storms, floods and scavengers, I found myself committed to this book until it was finished.

The characters in Reeve’s book are well-developed and fascinating but it is the description of future London that captivated my imagination. Marshes, swamps, ruins of ancient technology from our time and the almost steampunk quality of future technology built on the ruins of our world.

The little details that Reeve throws in both enhance the regressed future setting as well as making the book pretty darned funny. Fever is nearly run over by a group of religious practitioners wearing “robes and pointed hats… chanting the name of some old-world prophet, ‘Hari, Hari! Hari Potter!‘” Little touches like B@ttersea, a pub called the Blogger’s Arms, and the use of ‘blog’ and ‘blogger’ as a swear word on par with ‘bugger’ are graceful additions to the place and time that barely remembers our time.

Thank goodness, the next book in the chronicles, A Web of Air, is already on our shelves so that I can again immerse myself in the future Earth of Reeve’s fabulous imagination.

Looking for the Rope?

Anna Pigeon is Nevada Barr’s long-running dry-witted National Parks law enforcement ranger. She’s notable for her prickly independence, her determination, and her uncanny ability to find murder and mayhem at National Parks all over the United States. I’m a long-time fan, and I’m betting many of you are as well, so rather than reviewing Barr’s newest installment, The Rope, in any depth, I’m going to offer Novelist’s list of Readalikes for Nevada Barr. If you’re waiting for The Rope, check out one of these other mystery series, and if you haven’t checked out Novelist yet, get in there and see what other recommendations you can find!

Briefly: The Rope is #17 in the series but set previous to #1, relating Pigeon’s first foray into the National Parks. As a 35-year-old widow, a New Yorker, a career stage-manager, she’s running from her raw grief and the city life she shared with her husband. Her seasonal job at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, on Lake Powell in Utah, offers long hours of mindless physical labor in the great outdoors, something so alien it may be exactly what she needs. What she finds, however, is madness, friendship, suffering, strength, and murder, not necessarily in that order.

Here’s Novelist’s Readalikes page. All I did to generate this was go to Novelist, which you can find at From home, you would need to enter your library card number to get in. Then, I checked off “Author” and typed Nevada Barr in the search box. A list of Readalikes popped up in a box on the upper right hand side of the screen, and clicking “Print All” generated the list you see below:

Read-alikes from NoveList

1.Muller, Marcia

Reason: Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone mysteries featuring strong yet sometimes vulnerable heroines have a strong sense of place similar to that found in Barr's stories. -- Ellen Guerci

2.Hillerman, Tony

Reason: Nevada Barr's deep interest in the landscapes where she sets her mysteries resembles Tony Hillerman's interest in the Southwest, and their mysteries have similarly compelling plots, interesting and sympathetic characters, and surprising twists. -- Katherine Johnson

3.Box, C. J.

Reason: Barr and Box write mysteries in which the natural setting is integral to the mystery. Both their protagonists are law enforcement officers, but not primarily detectives. Barr's works for the National Park Service and Box's is a game warden. -- Rebecca Sigmon

4.Moody, Skye Kathleen

Reason: Moody's sleuth is a U. S. Fish and Wildlife game warden while Barr's is a National Parks ranger, but both are strong women whose job takes them around the country as they protect America's environment. The stories have a strong sense of place, complex plots involving environmental issues, and characters with secrets. -- Merle Jacob

5.Grafton, Sue

Reason: Fans of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone might like Nevada Barr's National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon, another independent female detective. Like Kinsey, Anna has a dangerous job and a tough exterior, but inner vulnerability and personal demons. Both authors create settings that evoke a strong sense of place. -- Ellen Guerci

6.Cannon, Taffy

Reason: Taffy Cannon writes about more strong, capable women in law enforcement who must work through personal issues while carrying out their duties. As for Barr, setting is a major element in the story. The atmosphere of her stories builds in menace without supplying too much graphic detail, and, like Barr's, the novels straddle the line between cozy detective stories and suspense. -- Katherine Johnson

7.Crombie, Deborah

Reason: Deborah Crombie and Nevada Barr are similar in their vivid use of setting as integral to the mystery. Their characters also struggle with personal issues apart from the crime investigations. Crombie writes of Scotland Yard while Barr writes of the U.S. National Park Service, but both authors are American. These are cozy mysteries with procedural elements and an air of suspense. -- Katherine Johnson

8.Kijewski, Karen

Reason: The writings of both authors have a strong sense of urgency, drawing the reader from one shocking discovery to another but leavening the experience with humor, though Kijewski employs a faster pace. Their characters deal with both personal and professional issues, though Barr's Anna Pigeon is more of a loner than Kijewski's Kat Colorado. -- Katherine Johnson

9.Speart, Jessica

Reason: Jessica Speart writes mysteries set in the natural world that have a feel very similar to Nevada Barr's. Both their continuing heroines are strong and capable yet personally vulnerable. The vivid outdoor settings, strongly focused point of view of the main character, and interesting secondary characters will appeal to readers with similar tastes. -- Katherine Johnson

Anna Pigeon series and locations

1. Track of the cat Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

2. A superior death Isle Royale National Park , Michigan

3. Ill wind Mesa Verde National Park , Colorado

4. Firestorm Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

5. Endangered species Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

6. Blind descent Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

7. Liberty falling Gateways Park, New York

8. Deep south Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi/Alabama/Tennessee

9. Blood lure Glacier National Park, Montana

10. Hunting season Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi/Alabama/Tennessee

11. Flashback Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

12. High country Yosemite National Park, California

13. Hard truth Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

14. Winter study Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

15. Borderline Big Bend National Park, Texas

16. Burn New Orleans, Louisiana

17. The rope Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Writing Women

If you walk by the library’s display case this month, you’ll see some familiar names and faces: Ursula Le Guin, Jane Kirkpatrick, Michele Longo Eder, and Diana Abu Jaber, to name a few. What do they have in common? They are all women authors living in Oregon! March is National Women’s History Month, and we are featuring a sampling of Oregon’s women authors in honor of the month.

The origins of Women’s History Month began in Eastern Europe, when March 8 was designated International Women’s Day to celebrate women's contributions to society. The day was first observed in the United States in 1911. Over the years it grew in popularity, so in 1981, Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative Barbara Mikulski cosponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution proclaiming a "Women's History Week.” In 1987, Congress expanded the week to the month of March.

Oregon’s women authors write for all ages, and in all genres and topics. Several noted science fiction and fantasy writers are Ursula Le Guin, Cherie Priest, Patricia McKillip, and Kate Wilhelm. April Henry, M.K. Wren, Chelsea Cain, and Shirley Tallman are known for their mysteries. Michele Longo Eder, Kathleen Dean Moore, and Lauren Kessler have written award-winning nonfiction books. Noted fiction authors are Molly Gloss, Jean Auel, Diana Abu Jaber, Diane Hammond, and Jane Kirkpatrick. Well-known children’s authors include Deborah Hopkinson, Virginia Euwer Wolff, Cynthia Rylant, and Susan Fletcher.

If you would like to know more about authors from Oregon, you can go to the Oregon Author’s website. This site began with works published in 2008, and older titles are gradually being added. You can browse the list by the author’s name, the genre, the author’s city, or the year of publication. Check out some of Oregon’s women authors, and join us in celebrating Women’s History Month!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Thank You, Madeleine L'Engle

I first read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time when I was in fourth or fifth grade at Saint Jane Francis DeChantal school in Bethesda, Maryland. And to this day, what I remember most about this astonishing book was that, after reading it, the world didn’t seem quite the same place anymore. It was a feeling both exhilarating and, to be honest, not a little scary for a kid from the comfortable suburbs of Washington, DC circa 1968.

Before tackling A Wrinkle in Time, I’d pretty much confined my reading to The Hardy Boys, Boys’ Life magazine and biographies of the Founding Fathers. And in their own way, reading these things influenced my lifelong love for adventure, current events and history. But it was a particularly non-challenging reading list even for grade-schooler. Frank and Joe Hardy always solved their assigned mystery. I would eventually reject the Boys’ Life way of life for something a little more fulfilling. And, though inspirational, the juvenile biographies published in the 1960’s lacquered an unreal gloss over the lives of such figures as George Washington and Paul Revere.

So when Madeliene L’Engle took me with her and the Murrys on a journey through space and time to find the children’s missing father, I was awestruck by just how weird and beautiful a thing imagination, and to a larger extent, the world itself, could be. Following Meg and Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin to the colorless planet Ixchel , meeting the tentacled “Aunt Beast” or confronting an evil intelligence, the IT, who could only be destroyed by love, tore the world open for me. Suddenly, everything, or nearly everything, became possible.

Maybe that means A Wrinkle In Time introduced me to “serious” literature: books about ideas to be considered even at the relatively young age of eight or nine. And maybe I didn’t even realize it at the time. But I haven’t lost that love for considering ideas about life in books, serious or otherwise. And for that I want to thank you, Madeliene L’Engle.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Disappearin' through the smoke rings of my mind

Eliza Peabody is not a very likable woman, as we realize on the very first page of The Queen of the Tambourine by Jane Gardam. She writes an unsolicited letter to her neighbor, Joan, suggesting that she throw away her leg brace and stop being troubled her obviously-psychosomatic ailment.

"Do make a big try," writes Eliza. "Won't you? Forget about your bodily aches and pains. Life is a wonderful thing, Joan. I have discovered this great fact in my work with the Dying."

Oh dear. This entire novel is composed of Eliza's letters to Joan, who she does not really know, but to whom she begins to write letter after letter after letter, pouring out all her discontents and confusions. Joan promptly runs off to what Eliza calls the East. Eliza continues to write to her, imagining that Joan is having a scandalously good time.

But something is increasingly strange about those letters. Eliza describes seeing people dissolve. Sometimes she thinks she sees the insides of their skulls. And no one will talk to her about Joan, or about Joan's dog, which Eliza adopts. Our narrator is obviously a loud, nosy, embarrassing woman, but her intense unhappiness and helplessness in the face of her apparent mental problems begin to pervade the letters, lending the narration an increasingly eerie drama.

I do love an unreliable narrator, and I enjoyed Eliza. Her appalling lack of behavioral filters provides a thread of uncomfortable comedy that made me giggle even as I was cringing. Her descent into madness and her eventual recovery makes this book a page-turner that kept me up at night.

One problem: The Queen of the Tambourine's depiction of mental illness strikes me as unrealistic at best. Eliza gets better, or seems to, once she faces her demons. It's almost as if the novel depicts Eliza doing what she suggested Joan do about her leg - she makes a big try, and gets over it. Perhaps a little professional help would have been in order?

But that would have been a different book, and this one, this agitated blizzard of letters sent to an uncaring acquaintance, is loonily riveting as it is. And of course, the possibility remains that Eliza's recovery is just another layer of confabulation. We only have Eliza's word for it, after all.