Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mystery lovers!

It's not too late to vote for the Best Mystery Novel of 2012!

Here's the slate:

The Lost Ones - Ace Atkins
The Diva Digs Up the Dirt - Krista Davis
The Gods of Gotham - Lyndsay Faye
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
Potboiler - Jesse Kellerman
Sunset - Al Lamanda
Live By Night - Dennis Lehane
A Fatal Winter - G.M. Malliet
The Buzzard Table - Margaret Maron
All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosely
The Beautiful Mystery - Louise Penny
The Other Woman - Hank Phillippi Ryan

These are the books nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Novel or an Agatha Award for Best Novel.  Don't care for this selection?  You can write in your favorite.

Cast your ballot at the Newport Library, or by replying to this blog post.

We'll announce the winners for the Best Mystery Novel of 2012 on Monday, May 6.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Blunt Impact by Lisa Black

Once again I’m charmed by jumping into a series midstream—in this case, the Theresa MacLean series by Lisa Black. Blunt Impact is book number five, but it stands alone just fine, and makes a good recommendation for its predecessors.

Theresa MacLean is a forensic detective in Cleveland, Ohio, working out of the Medical Examiner’s Office. She sometimes works with her homicide cop cousin, Frank Patrick. In Blunt Impact, they are summoned to the construction site of a controversial new prison facility, where a body has been found after an apparent fall.

The body is that of female construction worker, and the initial assumption is that her death was a suicide. When Theresa discovers the woman’s eleven-year-old daughter hiding behind a dumpster with blood on her clothes, she knows she has a witness both determined and fragile. The daughter insists her mother was pushed, and Theresa and Frank soon find themselves in a maze of motives and more murder, spiced up by fraud, protesters, and the dead woman's refusal to reveal the identity of her child's father.

Romance isn’t a dominant thread in the story, but it does make an appearance. Subplots include an unrequited crush between Frank and his partner Angela, and the plight of a homely prosecutor with a heart of gold.

 When I picked this up, I was merely hoping for a competent mystery, and found that it’s better than that. Although police procedurals are somewhat formulaic by nature, Black’s characters are unique, her voice distinctive, and the setting vivid enough to twist my stomach with a fear of heights.

The series in order:
Evidence of Murder
Trail of Blood
Defensive Wounds
Blunt Impact

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Free Man Of Color by Barbara Hambly

New Orleans, early 1830’s. The Americans have taken over from the French and an entirely new social dynamic is being formed. Before the arrival of the General Jackson and the “Kaintucks”, whites, creoles, quadroons, octaroons and all the varieties of colors and nationalities coexisted in an intricate dance of class hierarchy and only moderately restricted social interaction.

But now, any person of color is just as liable to be hijacked off the streets and sold into slavery. And as the eponymous Free Man of Color, Benjamin January must walk a fine line. After the devastating death of his wife in Paris, January returns from France where he’d finished medical school and played classical piano. But New Orleans is not the same place he remembers. The cultured and educated January is forced to learn his place: stooping, bending and shuffling like any black man is now expected to do.

So when the voluptuous mixed-race courtesan Angelique Crozat is murdered during a Mardi Gras ball, the new white authorities would rather pin the crime on a black man than the prime suspect, the bumbling son of a well-connected plantation owner. And Benjamin January was the last person to see the ravishing but notoriously fickle Angelique alive.

Or was he?

Author Barbara Hambly paints a vivid picture of early nineteenth century New Orleans with all of its richness and slightly dangerous social climate. Her mastery of setting and character more than makes up for the rather tumble-down ending. But then, I hardly ever read a mystery for the whodunit.

You can reserve Barbara Hambly’s A Free Man of Color here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A girl and her wolf

After escaping from an abusive relationship, Ceiridwen Terrill adopted a female wolfdog puppy she named Inyo. She wanted a wolf/dog mix in part for protection from the abusive guy. But more than that, she wanted a wolfdog because she’d heard they were independent, aloof, still partly wild. Terrill wanted to imbibe a little of that spirit for herself: she would become a free, unfettered creature, only giving love where it was truly deserved.

Turns out, Terrill's reasons for wanting a wolfdog were all the wrong ones.

Terrill’s memoir, Part Wild: Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs, is extremely informative about wolves, dogs, the differences between the two, and the serious challenges faced by people who try to live with wolves as companions.

It’s also an honest and intimate memoir of Terrill’s mistakes. And she makes a lot of mistakes: with men, with the law, and most of all, with Inyo.

Inyo grows from a charmingly precocious puppy into a powerful adult: beautiful, intelligent, independent, and impossible.  Inyo fails obedience classes, escapes constantly, and terrifies neighbors.  Terrill lies to animal control, conceals evidence of destroyed property, gets evicted, and almost ends up homeless.  Eventually, things get violent. Loving a wild creature who simply cannot adapt to a human’s world, and saddled with a charming husband who is not as much help as he could be (to say the least), Terrill’s options dwindle.

Terrill now teaches at Concordia College in Portland, and Part Wild, her first book, was nominated for an Oregon Book Award. I enjoyed the intelligent and well-informed discussion of exactly why wolfdogs (who are, after all, very closely related to dogs) so rarely make good companion animals.

Even more than that, I loved the way the author fearlessly exposes her own bad judgement and desperation, humanizing what could be a dry subject. I shook my head over Terrill’s mistakes, but my heart went out to her, too.

Part Wild is a terrific book. I recommend it if you love dogs, or if you've ever found yourself in a trap of your own making.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh

When the starship Phoenix malfunctions in deep space, the human colonists discover that the closest habitable planet is already taken by the atevi. Standing eight feet tall, the atevi are a race of intimidating humanoids so utterly “alien” that no peaceful coexistence is possible. Lacking any understanding of friendship and incapable of feeling love, the atevi know only man’chi, a concept akin to mafia-style loyalty and obligation.

Exiled to Mospheira, a large, remote island on the atevi world, the human population sends out a single individual to act as paidhi, or diplomat, to keep the peace. When C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series opens, Bren Cameron is paidhi. Trained since birth in the impossibly complex culture and language of the atevi, Bren must navigate this socio-political minefield, both to insure his own personal safety as well as the well-being of all the humans on Mospheira.

Described by some as anthropological science fiction, Foreigner is a fascinating study of how two essentially confrontational societies somehow manage to co-exist. In addition to those almost insurmountable physical, emotional and psychological differences, the atevi are obsessed with numerology, manners, and, of all things, flower arranging.

Oh, and did I mention they have an extremely quick temper and possess a social class devoted to state-sanctioned assassination? 

The fourteenth book in the series, Protector, was published this year, and at least two more  are in the works. If you are a fan of thoughtful science fiction, where ideas are at least as important as far-out alien technology, you may find C.J, Cherryh’s Foreigner series to be a terrific read. And you can reserve the first book, Foreigner, here.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Do you like mysteries? Come vote for the best!

The following twelve books have been nominated for either an Edgar Award or an Agatha Award for the best mystery novel of 2012:

The Lost Ones - Ace Atkins
The Diva Digs Up the Dirt - Krista Davis
The Gods of Gotham - Lyndsay Faye
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
Potboiler - Jesse Kellerman
Sunset - Al Lamanda
Live By Night - Dennis Lehane
A Fatal Winter - G.M. Malliet
The Buzzard Table - Margaret Maron
All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosely
The Beautiful Mystery - Louise Penny
The Other Woman - Hank Phillippi Ryan

The Edgar Award for best novel will be awarded by the Mystery Writers of America on May 12; the Agatha will be awarded by Malice Domestic on May 4.

But why should they have all the fun? Come to the library and vote for one of these books (or write in your favorite) for best mystery of 2012.

We'll announce our own winner on May 6.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Introducing our new Library Board members

Newport Mayor Sandy Roumagoux and the City Council recently appointed Debora Chandler and Autumn Belloni to serve on the Newport Public Library Board.

Debora, a freelance writer and editor, is new to Newport. While living in Portland, she volunteered for seven years with Oregon’s SMART reading program. In addition to many years in software development, she has worked as a preschool teacher, a director of religious education, a day care center director, and an administrator for an HIV service agency. She served briefly as assistant to the director of the SOU library and, while in graduate school, worked as a cataloger at Northwestern University library. Her hobby is choral singing. An avid reader and lifelong learner, she is delighted to give back to the community by serving the library.

Autumn graduated from the University of Oregon in 2005 with a master’s degree in Communication Disorders and Sciences. She spent one collegiate year living and studying in Spain and thus earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish Literature. She worked for several years as a speech-language pathologist for 4J and Lincoln County School Districts. Autumn is now employed with Linn, Benton, Lincoln Educational Service District working with children birth through five years of age to improve their communication and feeding skills. A family person, Autumn enjoys playing games, being outdoors, crafting, and traveling with her husband and two young children. In her free time, Autumn volunteers in her children’s classrooms and enjoys reading and discussing a variety of literature with her book club.

Debora and Autumn join fellow Board Members Sharon Beardsley, Chip Norman, and Carol Ruggeri in guiding library policy and assisting with fundraising.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Mink River Readers Theater this Thursday, 7 pm at the Newport Performing Arts Center

When Patti Littlehales, chairperson of this year's Newport Reads events, asked me to participate in developing a readers theater script for the 2013 book, Mink River by Brian Doyle, I was thrilled.  After all, it is a favorite book of mine.  When she asked if I would direct the piece, I was flattered and terrified!  I had never directed a script before, producer of lots of things but never a director.  However, when I was given the list of readers, the thrill returned.  In this town full of talent, it would be an easy task.  And it was.

Our talented cast of readers include; Shawn Brateng, Rick Bartow, Jeff Ingram, Jody Stecher, Catherine Rickbone, Cheryl Bachart, Ali Bachart and Luke Bachart.  There is another famous in Newport actress reading the part of No Horses but you'll have to join us at the PAC this Thursday, April 11 at 7:00 p.m. to find out who she is.

Friday, April 5, 2013

When will there be good news? by Kate Atkinson

When will there be good news? is the third book in Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series. Fully realized characters, lovingly and explicitly narrated with a lyrical style, make this an exceptionally impressive British mystery.

Sixteen year old Reggie Chase lives alone, after losing her mother to a tragic accident and her criminally-inclined brother to the streets. Smart, funny, and as wise as she can be, she’s determined to make a good place for herself in the world. More than anything she wants a family, and when she finds a job as Dr. Joanna Hunter’s nanny, she gets one ready-made, which she’s not about to let go.

As a child, Dr. Hunter was the sole survivor of a vicious attack on her mother and siblings, a tragedy which shaped her in ways both obvious and obscure. When the killer is released after a thirty year sentence, she seems unfazed—but when he slips probation, she and her baby suddenly disappear without a word to anyone. The only person who realizes that something must be wrong is Reggie.

Reggie’s quest to find Dr. Hunter collides with Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe’s efforts to investigate Hunter’s husband for insurance fraud, and with private detective Jackson Brodie’s attempts to return home following a devastating train crash. Each character narrates alternating segments with a clear and distinctive voice, and each adds layers to the complex but well-patterned plot-line. Many tiny coincidences tie the characters together in knots whose ultimate pattern reveals underlying themes of family, loyalty, and survival.

I started with number three, because it happened to be available on Library2Go (very well narrated by Steven Crossley.)  It stands alone easily, but here is the full series thus far:

 1. Case histories
 2. One good turn
 3. When will there be good news
 4. Started early, took my dog

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Desert Queen

At the turn of the last century, Gertrude Bell was considered one of the most powerful persons in the British Empire. But I wonder how many people have even heard of her?

In 2005, Janet Wallach wrote Desert Queen, a memorable biography of this most fascinating woman. Gertrude Bell was an archaeologist, adventurer, cartographer, diplomat, and spy. She graduated from Oxford at the age of seventeen and spoke six languages. Traveling throughout the Middle East, Bell personally compiled much of the on-the-ground research that informed the policies of the British as pursued by T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. 

Because of her vast knowledge of the area, Gertrude Bell was also instrumental in laying out the national boundaries of much of the Middle East after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Despite her suspicious death at the relatively young age of 57, the list of her accomplishments is ridiculously long. And she is one of the few westerners of the time who is still fondly remembered and celebrated by the Arab world today.

T.E. Lawrence followed Gertrude Bell’s advice and became world famous. And he got his own movie out of it. To be fair, Bell got her movie too. Newport Library owns that as well. I haven’t seen it, but there is no way a ninety minute film could adequately cover this woman’s extraordinary achievements. Read Janet Wallach’s biography of this amazing woman first. Then you can see the movie. And then you can watch Lawrence of Arabia. But first things first.

You can reserve Desert Queen here.

And you can reserve Lawrence of Arabia here. Admittedly it’s a great film.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Newport Public Library Surges to Final Four

Click to enlarge bracket

The Newport Public Library will advance to the National Semi-Finals this April in an unprecedented March Madness run.

Newport has not made the championships since 2006 and has never before triumphed beyond the Round of 64. But after its scorching defeat of Fargo Public Library in the opening-round game, Newport landed a no. 16 seed.

The team hasn’t looked back since, defeating Indianapolis 15-11 and Milwaukee 20-15. Newport then went on to shock audiences and confound bracket-happy fans by destroying the Miami-Dade Public Library System, 37-0.

“WOOOOOOO!” said Newport Library director Ted Smith after the Miami shutout.

Moving on to the semifinals, Newport faced its greatest challenge yet: three-time champion Brooklyn Public Library of Brooklyn, New York. Newport made it look easy in earlier rounds, but its mettle was brutally tested against second-seeded Brooklyn, which battled the small coastal library for every point.

Newport forged ahead in the final quarter to win 32-31, staggering fans with the knowledge that Newport was advancing to the Final Four. Unconfirmed reports that Las Vegas bookmakers lost over $200 million on the upset seem plausible.

This year’s tournament has been full of surprises, including an impressive early surge by Hudson Public Library of Highlands, North Carolina. Hudson’s drive for the top was ultimately halted by Sarasota, itself a Cinderella-story after its improbable defeat of top-seeded San Diego in the Elite Eight.

But the term “Cinderella” has never been more applicable than to Newport, a small library serving a city of around 10,000 inhabitants on the lovely Oregon Coast.

Next up: the National Semi-Finals, in which Newport is slated to face the John Henry Faulks Central Library of Austin, Texas, a library well known for its steely drive to win. Austin is widely predicted to triumph, but Newport’s Smith seems confident.

 “It’ll be a tough game,” said Smith. “But we are ready for that challenge.”

 “We’re not going in there with the idea that we’ve come far enough,” continued Smith. “We want to keep going all the way to the top.”

The Newport-Austin game is scheduled to take place on April Fool’s Day, 2013.