Friday, April 27, 2012

Reckless by Cornelia Funke

Cornelia Funke's Reckless takes place mostly in a Mirrorworld of grim fairy tales, where Sleeping Beauty died waiting for her kiss while more than one mummified prince moldered in the thorn bushes. It's a novel of few notes, but all of them true.

In the real world, Jacob Reckless’ father disappeared, and Jacob became the man of the house too young. Then he discovered the Mirror in his father’s study, that allowed him to escape his mother’s grief and his little brother’s neediness. He spent as much time adventuring in the Mirrorworld as he could, until he and his brother were both grown and their mother passed away.

Now, Jacob’s younger brother Will stumbles onto the Mirrorworld for the first time, drawing his girlfriend Clara behind him. They think they’ve discovered a beautiful fairy tale, but only Jacob understands the dark consequences of their mistake. The Mirrorworld has always been dangerous, but now it’s also in the middle of a civil war, as the long-despised stone-skinned Goyls are given new strength from the Dark Fairy, and the merest scratch of a Goyl’s claw can transform human skin to stone.

Funke’s book does not delve into the real world lives of Jacob, Will, and Clara: it maintains its fairy tale focus all the way through, playing on archetypes rather than specifics. Jacob's life in the Mirrorworld comes across as grim and empty, so that it seems he fled his real-world home for an adventure with as much meaningful human interaction as a video game. The characters develop only slightly over the course of the book, and if there is a happy ending, it’s the bittersweet kind.

Nevertheless, it’s a beautifully written dark fairy tale, which might appeal to fans of the movie Pan’s Labyrinth. Funke (FOON-ka) is a German author whose writing for children has been very well received in the United States, where she is perhaps best know for her Inkworld trilogy. Reckless is categorized as Young Adult, but will appeal to adult fans of fantasy as well.

--Posted by Stacy

Monday, April 23, 2012

Surrealism in Tokyo

A woman is stuck in a traffic jam on her way to an important appointment. She steps out of her cab and gets off the elevated highway by climbing down a secret staircase. This act, in the first chapter of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, is apparently enough to knock her into a parallel universe - one where things seem at first to be only slightly different.

The woman who got out of the cab is Aomame, a physical therapist who has a secret life: she assassinates men who have gotten away with raping and abusing women.

 Aomame’s chapters are alternated with those of Tengo, a slacker whose easy part-time job leaves him plenty of time to work on unsuccessful fiction. Tengo gets roped into a scheme whereby he rewrites a brilliant but badly-written novel, which is up for a prestigious literary prize. The book, whose author is a teenage girl, describes the mysterious ways of the Little People, who came into her life through the mouth of a dead goat and began building an air chrysalis.

 There is a connection between Tengo and Aomame, but the reader doesn’t learn about it for another 400 pages.

I don’t think I can further summarize the plot, but I will say that it includes a secretive religious cult, a wealthy widow who runs an illegal secret organization, her gay bodyguard, a hideous private investigator, a fun-loving but lonely female cop, the doubling of the number of moons in the sky, and the possibly-sinister doings of the Little People.

There’s nothing madcap about any of this. The increasingly strange world in which Aomame and Tengo find themselves is presented with great seriousness.

1Q84 has its problems. While it is often fascinating, it is also a huge and rather slow-moving behemoth, with long portions in which not a lot happens. Some of the conversations are numbingly repetitive, and the author describes the size and aesthetic qualities of female characters’ breasts in far more detail than I thought necessary. And it’s really just so weird.

But I did become completely absorbed in 1Q84 - immersed in it, as though I had walked down a staircase into another world. I wanted to read more, instead of sleeping or going to work, and the weirder it got the more engrossed I became.

1Q84: it’s a big peculiar book, probably not for everyone, but certainly one I enjoyed. If you’re intrigued but don’t think you can take on a project of this size, I heartily recommend Murakami’s achingly beautiful (and much shorter) Norwegian Wood, instead.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffith’s British mystery series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway has a new installment, The House at Sea’s End. This is the third book in the series, and I’ve enjoyed them all for their evocation of the once-sacred Saltmarsh, near Norfolk in England, as well as for their characters, interesting folk who are unusually well-realized.

Ruth Galloway, the protagonist, is prickly, smart, and strong-minded. Her love of scholarship and all things ancient, and her connection to the land on which she lives, make her stand out in the genre of mysteries featuring women sleuths. In book one, she was happy being single and alone—by book three she has a baby daughter who’s colonized her life and she’s determined that the two of them will be just as happy in their exclusive new orbit.

Galloway was first drawn into the world of homicide and policework in the The Crossing Places, when Detective Inspector Nelson consulted her about the bones of a child found on a nearby beach. In the Janus Stone, more bones were found under a demolition site, pulling Galloway into danger once more. Now, in The House at Sea’s End, bodies are discovered on the site of Galloway’s excavation, and although the bones are old, they point to a crime from World War II that overshadows the present with murderous intent. Led astray by what they want to believe, Galloway and Nelson are thrown far off track, putting the lives of those they love in danger.

These books remind me a bit of the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mysteries by Julia Spencer-Fleming, in their serious treatment of murder, their elemental settings (Spencer-Fleming’s books take place in the Adirondacks), and in the complex and difficult relationships arising between strong women and unsuitable men.

The Ruth Galloway series:
The Crossing Places
The Janus Stone
The House at Sea’s End
A Room Full of Bones to be released in July 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

Convergence of the Twain

Beautifully written and thick with dread, Among the Missing alternates between the lives of three people in Scotland: Ron, an ex-con; Silvie, an illegal immigrant; and an unnamed woman tourist.

Ron had been a bus driver until he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed, causing the deaths of six passengers. After his release from prison he drives around Great Britain, alone and friendless, hoping to somehow redeem himself. Silvie is in Scotland illegally, living in a dilapidated trailer by a river with her husband Stefan and their young daughter, Anna. The unnamed tourist is a 42 year old newlywed on holiday with her husband Cole, a man who soon reveals himself to be totally self-centered. When she tells him she is expecting a baby, he demands she choose between the baby or him.

While eating alone in a roadside café, the woman discovers a slip of paper with a message, an offer to buy a car, no questions asked. Although her car is a rental, she grasps at this note as a way out of her predicament. Hours after she sells the car, she learns that a bridge collapsed and 20 cars plunged into the cold river, including hers. With money in her pocket and an unloving husband who thinks she is dead, she decides to reinvent herself as Annabelle. But she can't forget the man who bought her car--Stefan--and wants to find out if he and his daughter survived.

A series of desperate decisions ties Annabelle's life inexorably with those of Silvie and Ron. As bits of the truth are revealed, grief and madness take them down a gyrating path of horror.

Author Morag Joss received the Crime Writers Association's Silver Dagger Award for Half Broken Things, and was nominated for an Edgar Award for The Night Following. Among the Missing is her seventh novel.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What an education it was

During an interview on the BBC, well-known British journalist Lynn Barber cheerfully admitted to having slept with more than 50 men during her terms at Oxford. The listening public was shocked, but they shouldn't have been; Barber had already confessed all in a brisk little book called An Education.

In this memoir, Barber describes her lonely childhood and how, when she was still in high school, she was picked up by a charming and sophisticated older man. The flirtation developed into a two-year relationship with a man whose real name she didn't even know. Not only was the young Lynn seduced by him, but her parents were as well; the whole family was devastated by his betrayal.

This portion of the book was made into a very good movie, starring Carey Mulligan.

The movie ends when Lynn's relationship does, but the book goes on - to her adventures at Oxford, her years working for Penthouse Magazine, her unconventional marriage, and the journalism work that eventually landed her the nickname The Demon Barber.

It's a fascinating look at a young woman coming of age during a time when opportunities for women were blossoming - not just career opportunities, but personal ones as well. Lynn Barber certainly took advantage of them.

Friday, April 6, 2012

No one writes books like Patricia McKillip any more.

I think lyrical epic fantasy novels mostly went out after the '80s. Nancy Springer and Tanith Lee have moved on to other things, but McKillip carries on writing gorgeous tapestry-like fantasy novels, each one lovelier and more magical than the last.

The Bards of Bone Plain concerns a bustling college of music, located on a windy plain studded with strange standing stones.

Phelan Cle is ready to graduate from the school and move on with his life, while his alcoholic, absent father Jonah busies himself with digging up archaeological wonders from beneath the city. Phelan's final research paper concerns the ancient poems and bardic tales of the realm, including the oldest of them all, the strange riddle-song of Bone Plain.

Legend has it that centuries ago, the bard Nairn failed the riddle-challenge of Bone Plain and passed into legend as the Wanderer, the Cursed, the Unforgiven Bard.

Phelan's research into the fate of Nairn begin to intertwine with events in his own day. The realm's Royal Bard suddenly decides to retire, and a great bardic competition is arranged to select the new Royal Bard. A strange, dark-eyed bard named Kelda obviously wants to win. Is Kelda using magic to influence the competition? What does Kelda know about Nairn? And what does Jonah Cle have to do with all this?

McKillip's books look rather lightweight, bedecked with flowery maidens on their covers. If you've overlooked them, don't - McKillip has won a slew of awards, including, twice, the World Fantasy Award. Her books have been favorites of mine since I was a teenager.

Give The Bards of Bone Plain a try: it is beautiful.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Newport Reads One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Cynthia Whitcomb, Oregon playwright and author, will conclude Newport Reads 2012 with a program on Thursday, April 12, at 6:30 pm at the Newport Senior Center. She will speak about the process of writing a screenplay based on a novel.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the selection for Newport Reads 2012 is one of her favorite books, and she comments, “This novel is a powerful story of an unlikely hero, Randle McMurphy, taking on one of literature’s great villians, Big Nurse Ratched, and defending the patients in an Oregon state mental hospital from having their inner spark of life crushed out of them. It’s a story of redemption. A story worth revisiting, as relevant today as the day it was written.”

In preparation for her talk, the Newport Library Foundation will show the award-winning 1975 film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. This screening will be on Tuesday, April 10, at 6:30 at the Newport Performing Arts Center.

The book and the movie are quite different. Everyone is encouraged to read the book, and not just watch the movie. The perspective from the book is much more historical, and focuses on the impact the destruction of the Celilo Falls fishing site had on the book’s narrator, Chief Bromden. The movie focuses more on McMurphy and his influence on the other patients at the state mental hospital.

Whitcomb will address the difference between the book and the movie from a screenwriter’s perspective. An Oregon resident since 1993, Whitcomb has sold over 70 feature-length scripts, 29 of which have been filmed and aired on prime-time national television. Her credits include “Buffalo Girls,” adapted from the novel by Larry McMurtry, which was nominated for eleven Emmy Awards, including Best Miniseries. She has written for Ellen Burstyn, Kevin Spacey, Martin Sheen, and Anjelica Huston.

She is a published author as well, having written two books on screenwriting, published in 2002. She teaches screenwriting in the Portland area, and her new play, “Lear’s Follies,” will be produced this summer at the Portland Shakespeare project.

Both of these events are free and open to the public.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

When is a book not a book?

When it's a virtual book!  The wealth of information you can get from the library while sitting at home has grown by volumes; dozens of volumes, that is! Just yesterday we added 20 new titles to the Gale Virtual Reference Library, which Newport Library card holders can access from our database page, or by clicking on this link.

The 22 volume Encyclopaedia Judaica is a great source for information about the Jewish religion and culture. I looked up Passover, which will be celebrated this week, and learned that the Passover meal traditionally includes a roasted egg and shankbone, a dish of salt, lettuce or horseradish, and haroset, a paste made from almonds, apples, and wine.

American Decades has articles about the arts, business, fashion, lifestyle, politics, science, and sports of each decade of the 20th Century. In Volume 1, 1900-1909, I read an article about "American Women's Fashion."

"The American innovation of well-made ready-to-wear clothes produced a distinctive contribution to fashion: the shirtwaist, a blouse designed to be worn with a skirt. Paris looked down on the shirtwaist, which first appeared in the late nineteenth century, as a fashion disaster; but American women, particularly workingwomen, took to the garment in droves. By 1905 the Sears, Roebuck catalogue offered 150 variations of it, from a plain lawn version priced at 39¢ to one made of taffeta at $6.95. In 1907 a peek-a-boo shirtwaist shocked many conservatives with its eyelet embroidery, which allowed the flesh of the arm to show."

Not just fashion, but prices have drastically changed since then!

A student doing research on American history topics ranging from the Boston Tea Party to the recent war with Iraq can find easy to read, yet authoritative information in the U*X*L Encyclopdia of U.S. History. Did you know a group of angry Boston citizens dumped more than ninety thousand pounds of tea into the harbor? The cause and effect of their actions are discussed, with links to additional information.

Would you like some background on a book you’re reading for your book club? Twenty-First Century Novels: The First Decade has essays about recent books, including The Hummingbird’s Daughter, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Book Thief, and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

We have some new medical books, also, including the Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health, Gale Encyclopedia of Senior Health, Encyclopedia of Drugs - Alcohol & Addictive Behavior, and Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery and Medical Tests. These are great resources for researching a topic before visiting your doctor.

Swinging a young child by the arms can cause Nursemaid's elbow.
(From the Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health)

The Gale Virtual Reference Library is just one of the many databases you can use for free through our website, using your Newport Library card to log in. Go to http:/ to see what else we have!