About Ron

Rockabilly guitarist, writer, library technician, Ron fills the daylight hours with dreams of reading, well-behaved pets and the perfect dark beer. Reading interests range from humor to mystery, steampunk to travel writing, historical fiction to surrealism.

What’s Overdue? or Books I Wish I’d Read in 2013

2013 brought a great change in my reading habits. Without any conscious choice I found myself checking out great big bunches of books, reading a little of each, and continuing with the one (or ones) that tickled my fancy. The result? I checked out a whole lotta books that I never read.

As the year came to a close, I decided to look through the books I didn’t finish in search of hidden gems. After all, I’m usually pretty excited about a book when I check it out.

So what we have today, O Brave Readers, is a list of titles that I wish I’d read in 2013, and beyond that a list of books that I pledge to read in the upcoming months. I’m actually quite excited by this prospect as I’ve never created a reading list for myself and, after all, the books are all titles that I want to read.

And with that I present:  What’s Overdue? or Books I Wish I’d Read in 2013.

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
Red HarvestPulp detective stories rank among my favorites, so it is somewhat strange that I do not enjoy the highly-regarded Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Still, I want to like the writing of this legendary ink slinger. So imagine my satisfaction when I read a gushing review of Red Harvest, a story based in Hammett’s experiences as an operative for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Butte, Montana. The main character, The Op, is called to clean up a corrupt town, Personville. But quell horreur, a woman The Op’s keen on is found murdered with an ice pick he recently handled. Now The Op must extricate himself from a murder where he is a prime suspect.

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
I Hunt KillersI am fascinated with fictional serial killers. One of my favorites, Dexter, only kills really bad people… usually… and we generally like and sympathize with him even though HE KILLS A REALLY LOT OF PEOPLE AND CUTS THEM UP! But we like him. Now there’s a YA book, I Hunt Killers, about a nice teenager named Jazz whose father is an infamous serial killer. He even forces Jazz to witness (and perhaps participate in?) his killings. Jazz begins to wonder if he is destined to follow in daddy’s footsteps. As dark as this all sounds, the book is described as being consistently hilarious. Comedy and serial killing – it makes my list!

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett
Gideon SmithI consider myself a trend-bucker, but steampunk has me by the islets of Langerhans. If there’s a zeppelin, silly old-fashioned names and adventure, well sir, I want to read about it. Set it in England, all the better! In Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, Queen Victoria rules most of the world, including the east coast of America. Gideon loves penny dreadfuls penned by Lucian Trigger, and when his father disappears he commences a long journey to London to find Captain Trigger. Along the way he meets Bram Stoker (who blames vampires for the father’s disappearance), mummies, and a clockwork girl.  And upon finding Captain Trigger, a further journey to Egypt leads to encounters with sky-pirates, frog-faced hordes, and a variety of historical characters. Will Gideon be the hero that Victoria’s empire needs?

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Dog StarsIn a world where most people have been killed by influenza, Hig and his dog fly a 1956 Cessna around their abandoned airfield in a small corner of the land formerly known as Colorado. One day he receives a radio transmission and Hig decides to give up the life he’s been living in order to find the broadcast’s source. Thus begins an adventure filled with risk, shattered hopes and potential happiness.


Snapper
 by Brian Kimberling
SnapperI’ve always loved stories set in the cozy small towns that probably never really existed. Add quirky characters to the mix and I’m sold. In Snapper we find Nathan, a bird researcher, arriving in a small Indiana town filled with peculiar citizens and animals. Here, in one place, he finds both love and “Thong Thursdays”. But mostly he finds birds and an ever-unfolding life heading down unexpected paths.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Books I Wish I’d Read in 2013!

A Nice Jacket (tie is optional)

In a recent blog, Lisa confessed to judging books by their covers. Now it is my turn to enter the confessional. Please don’t judge me.

I’m a browser.

Sure, I read reviews and get excited by their eloquent descriptions. Inevitably, in a state of rapture I’ll put a reviewed book on hold, sometime later I’ll be notified of its arrival, and sure as shootin’ I’ll have no memory of placing the hold and no interest in the book. It’s either not a genre I read or the description sounds depressing or the colors on the jacket clash. Perhaps at the time an epic intergenerational romance between a potato bug and a budgie tickled a particular nerve, but now it just seems so overdone.

So yes, I browse. And typically I look for authors that are new to me rather than tried-and-true scribes who would all but guarantee an enjoyable reading experience. My selection process is rather complicated and technical, but I’ll try to boil it down:

 The books I select must have appealing jackets.
With quirky artwork. And a nice font.

Thus I end up with some unusual reading material, things that I would not necessarily choose from a review, and have the added bonus that the book is in hand and can be read immediately (before I forget why I was attracted).

It’s always interesting in the line of duty to rediscover a book that I’d found through browsing but had since forgotten. Here are a few titles that I read in the mists of yesteryear and recently rediscovered on the shelf.

The Scheme for Full Employment by Magnus Mills Scheme for full employment
How do they create full employment in the UK? By building factories that make parts for the vans that drive between the factories to deliver the parts that the vans need as they wear out delivering parts for the vans. Got it? This system works perfectly until the company’s employees break into two different ideological groups and mess things up.

IntoxicatedIntoxicated by John Barlow
In 1860’s England an entrepreneurial hunchback midget engages the help of a businessman to create an exciting new elixir using rhubarb and coca leaf. The process of coming up with the perfect formula for Rhubarilla is described in great detail, shedding some light on a practice that is taken for granted in our modern industrial world.

The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt Rangergirl
Marzi is the night manager of a coffeehouse, but her true love is cartooning. Specifically, she creates The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, a neo-western cowpunk adventure. More and more, Marzi starts seeing the world through Rangergirl’s eyes. One day she finds a secret door in the coffeehouse that leads to … well, a strange and dangerous place created by Marzi’s mind. Both the “real” world and the world behind the door are in grave danger, and Rangergirl is the only one who can save the day.

gaudeamusGaudeamus by John Barnes
Author John Barnes writes a story in which the main character, science fiction author John Barnes, is approached by an old friend who spins a wild tale of telepathy pills, Native Americans dressed in clown suits, and an enigmatic technology called Gaudeamus. Strangely enough, Barnes is already deeply involved with a Web cartoon called Gaudeamus that makes references to his friend’s adventures. Gaudeamus the book mixes bits of autobiographical material from Barnes’ life into a fantastical plot to create a unique reading experience.

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi agent to the stars
Many books and movies speculate on what would happen when humans and an alien race meet for the first time. Agent to the Stars is a first-contact story where the peaceful aliens, gelatinous blobs who communicate through foul odors, are savvy enough to know that earthlings will find them unpleasant. So, before revealing themselves to the entire human race, they hire an up-and-coming Hollywood agent to create a positive image for their people.

So there you have it: a collection of admittedly weird books that I never would have discovered without walking the library’s aisles. If this is not your typical method of book selection, give it a try. Perhaps you’ll soon discover your own version of foul-smelling gelatinous blobs that will burrow their way into your heart.

Teen Angst – No Longer Just for Kids!

Here at Everett Public Library we have an ever-growing Young Adult section which caters primarily to teenagers. This relatively new category in the book world did not exist when I was a stripling, back in those times when it snowed every day and the trolley cars had cured hams for wheels.

One of the functions of young adult literature is to explore the feelings of alienation that teens typically experience. When I trod the boards of this age group I read science fiction almost exclusively, and I think that in a way this genre catered to the estranged youth of my generation. Sci-fi books frequently featured characters who felt alone and unloved or had no family or had a seemingly impossible quest to fulfill. The protagonists were frequently underdogs.

As I matured chronologically, sci-fi began to lose its appeal and other genres became the mainstay of my reading. Which is not to say that as an early-middle-aged-elderly-young-person I don’t still feel isolated, awkward and uncapable. I just read different books.

But now I regress, and once again I’m reading a lot of young adult literature. Perhaps because it’s a new-ish genre (which maybe isn’t even the right word), there is a freshness and frisson of creativity in the best young adult books (of course there’s also a ton of dreck) which I often find missing in adult literature. I’m definitely not choosing these tomes to embrace the main character’s sense of aloneness, I simply enjoy the books.

Two titles that I’ve recently come across, which initially don’t seem closely related, have struck me as variations on a theme: Every Day by David Levithan and Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff.

Every dayIn Every Day, the main character is, well, really hard to describe. Each morning, A (the name he/she has taken) wakes up in a different 16-year-old’s body. Male, female, straight, gay, injured, terminally ill, an accomplished athlete. A, who I guess I’d have to think of as a bodiless soul, is the same regardless of whose body he (gotta go with “he” to simplify the pronoun situation here) inhabits, but he also has access to that person’s memories. A simply tries to make it through each day without messing up that person’s life. It’s not possible to create relationships because the next day he will be in a different body in a different place. This might sound bizarre and annoying, but it’s just normal life for A. Until the day he meets Rhiannon and begins to fall in love with her. Going against everything he’s always stood for, A tries to build a relationship with Rhiannon while moving from body to body.

Boy NobodyBoy Nobody introduces a 16-year-old who suffers from a different kind of alienation. At age 12 the unnamed protagonist is kidnapped by the organization that killed his parents. They train him to be the perfect assassin, and when his education is complete he goes to work for them. For each job he assumes a new identity, infiltrates a new group of “friends”. The lifestyle of a killer does not allow meaningful relationships to develop. Eventually, much like A in Every Day, Boy Nobody falls in love with the daughter of one of his targets. He is torn between being faithful to the organization and completing his mission, or running off with this girl and starting a new life.

Although these two books are very different, they both feature solitary people who are forced into isolated existences, people who seek out forbidden relationships even while knowing that they’re certain to be doomed. This is a pretty strong statement about basic human needs and the resiliency of the human spirit in impossible circumstances. It’s ultimately a hopeful message, which is always appreciated by insecure, angst-ridden peoples of all ages.

Ron

Staff Picks and Pans

As one considers which book to read this week, one must wrestle with the multi-headed serpent of leisure temptations, i.e. whether to play centipede on one’s game boy whilst texting 43 close, close friends and listening to Pandora spew the syrupy smooth stylings of Martin Denny, or to simply read a non-interactive, made-from-paper, silent, perhaps odiferous book.

Once the concept of a book is chosen, a specific title must be selected. Some readers return to favorite authors or genres, others wander the shelves looking for shiny covers. Some limit their choices by deciding NOT to read certain things. Today we look at how members of the blog team choose and/or not choose reading materials. We start with Lisa.

Lisa
I think one of the biggest revelations I had when I hit my 30’s was that I didn’t have to be bullied, cajoled or guilted into reading books to satisfy someone else’s expectations. Never again! Reading would now be on my own terms. This isn’t to say that I don’t value a heads up from like-minded readers. Still, I occasionally find myself pages-deep into a hopeless case, ready to put it down for good. Thanks to Ron bringing the topic out into the open, I feel like I can come clean about a couple of my abandoned reads.

The selfish geneWhen I was doing my anthropology undergrad I was assigned to read portions of The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. I wanted to like the book and tried my hardest to do so, but I had a problem with the writing voice. I’ve never been able to get past the undercurrent of arrogance that seems to pervade Dawkins’ writings. I’ve even tried to pick up his other titles but have had the same result. Even though I appreciate the point of view that he’s trying to contribute to the dialogue about science, evolution, and man’s place in the world, I always wind up thinking he’d be more persuasive if his arguments didn’t sound like attacks.

Tell the wolves

My second abandoned read was an indirect recommendation from a friend, Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt. I decided to pick it up because I liked the cover art. I know – I judge books by their covers. I swear it works a lot of the time and could talk your ear off about my theory on why. Unfortunately this time it failed. To be honest, I should have known better; this friend and I have very different tastes. The problem with Wolves is my own. If something is described as a ‘moving story of love, grief, and renewal,’ I should know that I’m not going to be into it. Same goes for anything considered a coming of age story, unless the person who is coming of age happens to do magic or live in space. (Sorry, Anita – it’s not you, it’s me!)

Richard offers a different take on reading choices.

Richard
I don’t think of myself as having many rules concerning what I will and will not read. There is one, however, that seems pretty solid: I shy away from longer works. When I notice a large number of pages or an intimidating thickness to a book, a voice in the back of my head whispers: Is it really worth all that reading time? Here is an example:

Mailman: a Novel by J. Robert Lennon
MailmanI should like this book. The plot, centering on a disgruntled and isolated mailman in a small upstate New York town, is my kind of thing. (Yes, I have issues). The writing style is cutting, cynical and well crafted. Another favorite. So why did I find my attention wandering about 100 pages in? I chalk it up to the 400 pages I had left to go and a long list of “to read” books. It is now on a slightly shorter list of “books I should get back to someday.”

There does seem to be an exception to my inability to commit to longer works. When it comes to historical non-fiction, especially social history, I can read and read and read. One of the latest that I finished is:

The Australians: Origins to Eureka by Thomas Keneally
Australians
To my shame, I know almost nothing of Australian history so I decide to pick up this book to fill in my knowledge gap. Despite the length, clocking in at 628 pages, and rather bland title I never found my attention wandering once while reading this tome. Jettisoning a strict linear timeline, Keneally instead tells the individual stories and circumstance of the ordinary as well as the “historically significant” people who shaped Australia’s early history. I’m actually excitedly waiting for volume two. Go figure.

In conclusion? Everyone has their own set of criteria for choosing (or not choosing) books. It’s interesting to see how others think, perhaps to be influenced by their thought processes, and ideally to be stretched into examining reads outside of one’s comfort zone. Regardless, read and read and read. The game boy can wait till later.

Ron

Release Your Inner Toddler

Now that my daughter is of an age where she reads books about gruesome murders, ghosts and hungry games, I seldom delve into children’s picture books. However, I recently ran across an interesting review, read the book, and was entranced. This made me recall that some picture books are at least as equally entertaining for adults as for children. So I sought out a few titles that would delight grown-ups, and here’s what I found.

Black Book
The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria

Imagine that you can see a color that no one else can see. You try to describe the color, but it’s so different from all other colors that it can’t be described by referring to known colors.

Now imagine describing any color to someone who has never seen a color. Saying that it’s light or dark or bright would not be helpful. Which leads me to wonder, how do unsighted people perceive colors? The Black Book of Colors is an entirely black book with short, poetic descriptions of colors, both in braille and text, followed by raised pictures for the reader to feel.

“Thomas says that yellow tastes like mustard, but is as soft as a baby chick’s feathers.”

The purpose of this book is to give sighted people an opportunity to explore what it’s like to be blind. As I felt the raised pictures (without looking at them), I had no idea what they depicted. It was actually a frustrating experience, which makes me think that the book is effective.

For those who might want to read the text in Braille, the Braille alphabet can be found at the end of the book.

Chloe and the Lion
Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, pictures by Adam Rex

Here we find lovely pictures that illustrate a story where both the author and illustrator are also characters in the story, however with a more realistic appearance than that of the other characters. The action occurs on a stage set with scenery (as in a play), although the story is told as if it’s really happening rather than being acted out. All grinds to a halt when the illustrator thinks his idea for a beastie is way cooler than the author’s. A fight ensues ending with the author firing the illustrator and hiring a different artist. The new artist is somewhat less talented than the original, but he also thinks that he has cooler ideas than the author. Soon he too is fired and the author decides to both write and illustrate. One tiny problem: he can’t draw. Finally, he invites the original illustrator to come back (after an abject apology), and the story concludes with a mystery and a surprise ending.

Squirrels
Those Darn Squirrels! by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

Old Man Fookwire has few joys in life, but he loves to paint pictures of the birds in his yard. Every winter when the birds fly south he feels sad and lonely. One particular winter he comes up with a plan to keep the birds from leaving: build bird feeders to provide food for the birds in the cold foodless months. The problem, as most Northwesterners know: bird feeders are actually squirrel feeders. When the weather turns cold, the birds leave, and the old man is lonely once again. However the squirrels, who are hungry but not bad at heart, devise a plan to bring some joy into Fookwire’s life.

The following passage gives a feel for this book’s prose:

“The squirrels stayed up all night working out their strategy. They drank cherry cola and ate salt-and-vinegar chips to help them stay awake. Finally, they had it: the perfect plan! They put on their tiny helmets and prepared to launch themselves into the air, over the fence, between the lasers and onto the bird feeders.”

 A fun read with silly pictures conveying a silly story.

There are countless other enticing picture books as well. I encourage you to share some titles with the rest of us so that we may let loose our inner toddlers (which is already pretty close to the surface in some cases). And if you see Harold with his crayon, say, “Hi!”

Ron

What Not to Read

Recently, the blog team was presented with an article by Maria Popova that contains an interesting quote:

“Non-reading is not just the absence of reading. It is a genuine activity, one that consists of adopting a stance in relation to the immense tide of books that protects you from drowning. On that basis, it deserves to be defended and even taught.”

 ~ from How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard

How to talk about

This led to a lively discussion of what we read, what we don’t read, why we choose or don’t choose certain titles. It’s an interesting topic and something I think about frequently. But I’d never considered not reading to be a choice.

 The idea that by choosing not to read certain books one will be protected from drowning (presumably beneath a menacing flood of literature) intrigues me. As a person who spends most days besieged by the bursting bounty of books in the library, I am keenly aware of the perils embodied by this tumultuous torrent of tomes. So too am I aware of the debilitating reading disorder that plagues me and many others, causing us to throw common sense out the metaphorical window and to check out far too many books in a single go. This pestilence on our land, most commonly known as bibliorrhea, is a disease recognizable by the sufferer’s reading eyes being decidedly larger than his or her ample reading stomach, leaving plates and plates of unread or unfinished materials.

 Hence the need for a method of whittling down the teetering stacks of books in my office to a manageable pile. So I undertake the largely unconscious task of choosing what not to read.

There are unwritten rules my subconscious follows, which I will now write down, so strike this sentence. Here are the written rules I tend to follow in selecting books.

I seldom read non-fiction. In my formative years non-fiction tended to be as dry as a desiccant pack in the Mojave Desert.
Follows the rule:
Hedy LamarHedy’s Folly: The Life And Breakthrough Inventions Of Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Woman In The World by Richard Rhodes sounds absolutely fascinating, telling how actress and beauty icon Hedy Lamarr invented technology which was later used in cell phones and other devices. Who knew? However, the writing style of this book did not engage me (this tends to be my issue with non-fiction) and I quickly put it down.

ConfederatesIs an exception:
Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War
by Tony Horwitz is a wonderful non-fiction book that looks at the effects of the Civil War which still permeate American thought and behavior, especially in the south. This non-fiction book is an exception to my rule.

Writing style is important. I generally do not like the prose employed in best-selling fiction.
Follows the rule:
TwilightTwilight by Stephenie Meyer, one of the most wildly-popular books in recent memory, is definitely not aimed at my age-group and gender, but still I found the text to be quite repetitive and unreadable, taking tens of pages to unfold a plot that could have been revealed in a single page or sentence. I was not able to complete this book due to annoyance with the writing style.

Valhalla
Is an exception:
Valhalla Rising by Clive Cussler is a thrilling thriller involving Viking runes, Nemo’s Nautilus, the Red Baron and countless other twists and turns. I consider Cussler’s best-sellers to be guilty pleasures that I do not want to admit to reading but secretly enjoy.


Dense or archaic language is difficult for me to enjoy. I prefer an easy read.

Follows the rule:
CopperfieldDavid Copperfield by Charles Dickens is a certified classic that I couldn’t read if my life depended on it. The language of Dickens’ England requires tremendous mental prowess to untangle, leaving me exhausted and searching for a Harlequin romance.

 Dickens may be a god among authors, but I remain an atheist.

Is an exception:
TetherballsThe Tetherballs of Bougainville by Mark Leyner is a book that defies description, filled with surreal run-on sentences that continue for pages, plot turns that don’t particularly make sense, and language that a diamond couldn’t penetrate. Yet somehow the result is freakishly enjoyable.

So there you have a little peek into the process I undertake when deciding which books to read and what not to read.

Next month the blog team will discuss, for your enjoyment, some titles that we will not read, cannot finish, or wish to destroy in excruciating fashions, along with justifications for our feelings and actions. It’s all in good fun, but at the same time this discussion might help us better understand our reading motivations, to venture into uncharted reading territories, and to discover an unexpected gem here and there along the way.

Ron                  

Poetry Friday the first

Welcome to Poetry Friday. Every Friday of this month, in honor of National Poetry Month, a staff member will choose a poem that is a particular favorite. This week we present a selection from Ron. Also, don’t forget that we are having a friendly competition this month where you can submit your own poems. Click here to learn all the details.

NPM_LOGOI have to start with a confession: I am not a big poetry fan. However, the poems of William Carlos Williams astound me. Although he wrote in many styles, brief descriptions that create stunningly vivid images are what Williams is known best for.

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is a painting by Pieter Bruegel (see below) depicting a bucolic scene filled with busy people going about their lives. In the distance one can see a small pair of legs sticking out of a body of water. Presumably this is Icarus.

Given that the story of Icarus is a myth of epic proportions showing the folly of hubris, the beauty of this painting for me lies in the triviality of Icarus within the bigger picture of life. Williams describes it quite beautifully.

landscape-with-the-fall-of-icarus-pieter-the-elder-bruegel

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

Why a YA Mystery?

I do love a good mystery. A good mystery. Which eliminates roughly … all of them. Of course I’m exaggerating for comedic effect. As my divinity mentor was fond of saying, “You are nothing if not a clown. And don’t touch that divinity, I just finished cooking it!”

But seriously mystery fans, sometimes it seems that any object affected by gravity thinks it can pen a mystery novel. This, of course, makes for a lot of poorly written mysteries. On the other hand, a spiffing good conundrum offers rewards beyond even the wildest dreams of Melvin.

Mysteriously, today’s blog about mysteries began as something of a mystery itself. You see, I undertook a search (much as a dime-novel detective) of the catalog without a particular destination in mind, and soon found myself (surprisingly) delivered to the sub-genre of YA mysteries, uncharted waters for this reader.

Deadly CoolThrough some arcane process comprehensible only to a Floridian vote counter, I arrived at the title Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday. This book is a fairly standard take on the mystery genre, with young adult characters setting it apart as reading aimed at, wait for it, young adults. Here we find Hartley, a high school junior suspicious of her boyfriend’s fidelity. Rushing to his house for a confrontation she discovers the body of the girl he was allegedly dallying about with. The book does a most excellent job of creating a realistic teen culture and dulling the bite of a potentially disturbing topic with abundant humor. Incidentally, this is the first in a series of books featuring our protagonist Hartley Featherstone.

The search continued. In our newly-improved catalog, one can easily find suggestions of additional books that might be of interest to the searcher. Deadly Cool yielded the following:

RecommendationsReformed vampireNever one to turn down a name like The Reformed Vampire Support Group, I clicked on this title and discovered a promising description of vampires who are, “anemic, whiny, unattractive, they feed on guinea pigs…” I was sold at anemic. This book stands above the insurmountable glut of vampire books that have hit local bookselling establishments in recent years, offering a fresh take on vampire culture while throwing in some tip top murder and mystery to boot.


Etiquette
Another title that turned up in my search was Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger. In a steampunk version of 1851 we find Sophronia Temminnick, an unusual 14-year-old girl who is more interested in machinery and shenanigans than in curtseying and obtaining a husband. These activities so aggravate her mother that the girl is unexpectedly whisked away to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. However, unbeknownst to Sophronia’s mum, the school is actually an academy specializing in espionage and assassination. And this suits Sophronia just fine. Adventures, paranormal creatures and mystery abound in this amusing and exciting debut in the Finishing School series.

Other exciting YA mysteries recommended by the catalogue:

Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams.
Black Mirror by Nancy Werlin
The Girl is Murder (1st in a series) by Kathryn Miller Haines
I So Don’t Do Mysteries (1st in a series) by Barrie Summy

Mysteries1

 I’d Tell You I Love You, but then I’d Have to Kill You (series) by Ally Carter
Ruby Redfort Look into my Eyes by Lauren Child
Ripper by Stefan Petrucha
Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Mysteries2

Today’s lesson is this: One can find a young adult mystery that is suitable for an adult reader. And, just as in anything else, there are gems and there are maggots, but rooting out the maggots, as Hercule Poirot might have said with an outrageous accent, is at least one-third of the fun. So expand your horizons, take advantage of the cool features of the catalog, and most importantly, be careful out there.

Ron

 

Beauty Queens and Other Aberrations of Nature

Ever since a brilliant, beautiful friend of mine entered a small-time city beauty pageant and lost to the mayor’s granddaughter (whose talent was disco roller skating), I’ve not held these contests in the highest regard. But actually, my disdain started much earlier in life. SmileOne of the first grown-up movies I remember watching as a kid is Smile, a biting satire of pageants and middle-class American society. Teenagers compete for the Young American Miss crown while running the gauntlet of an overprotective chaperone (a former Young American Miss crown-holder herself), a sleazy, dimwitted emcee and a temperamental choreographer. The pinnacle of the film is the pageant itself, highlighted by a participant demonstrating how to efficiently pack a suitcase. Amongst the contestants are very young versions of Melanie Griffith and Annette O’Toole.

But this was just to be the beginning of my complicated relationship with beauty and its contests.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Beauty QueensThis hilarious book opens with a plane full of teenage beauty pageant contestants crashing near a small, apparently deserted island. The crew members, as well as many of the competitors, die in the crash, and those who survive must figure out how to make like Gilligan. All this death and suffering makes for a knee-slapping premise in the hands of Libba Bray. At first the surviving contestants are little more than stereotypes, albeit not simplistic pageant queens (well, except for Miss Mississippi and Miss Alabama who are impossible to tell apart). Each young lady has special knowledge and talents that come in handy and Miss Texas, well, she’s just a natural born dicta…, um, leader. The story is occasionally interrupted by pageant entry forms, commercials for the pageant’s sponsors, and other humorous asides. As time passes we meet faux pirates who star in a reality TV show, a foreign leader patterned after Chairman Mao, and bad bad government men. Adventures and merriment abound, and throughout it all Miss Texas makes sure that the young women practice their pageant routines daily.

Little Miss Sunshine
Little Miss SunshineAlthough a beauty contest does play a central role in this comedy, it’s a family’s quirkiness that’s the focus of the story. Olive is a seven-year-old pageant-hopeful surrounded by a remarkable cast of characters: an overworked mother, unsuccessful father, suicidal uncle, mute-by-choice brother, and heroin-using grandfather. In the midst of everyone’s issues, Olive dreams of winning the Little Miss Sunshine contest in faraway California. So the entire clan climbs into their trusty VW bus and begins an 800-mile journey. Hilarity ensues, misfortune is overcome, and the family arrives at the last minute to discover a gaggle of skinny, tan, and overtly sexual little girls. Olive, in contrast, is plain and somewhat chunky. The family tries to talk her into withdrawing from the contest to avoid embarrassment, but in a lovely show of support Olive’s mom decides that Olive should just be herself and compete. Humor, drama, pathos, angst, and merriment combine for a unique movie-viewing experience.

There’s a (slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell: a novel of Sewer Pipes, Pageant Queens, and Big Trouble by Laurie Notaro

There's a slight chanceLaurie Notaro is a hilarious woman. In her first novel we find Maye Roberts moving to a small university town in Washington where her husband has landed a tenure-track job. She leaves her job and friends in Phoenix and moves to Spaulding, a clique-ish place where it’s difficult to make friends. The town originally was famous as the world’s largest producer of sewer pipes, but a devastating fire put an end to this claim and Spaulding is now known for its prestigious university. A final remaining vestige of the town’s plumbing heritage is the annual Sewer Pipe Queen pageant, a remnant of the Spaulding Festival which featured sewer pipe oriented contests. It is suggested to Maye that she compete for this title, which is a guaranteed gateway to instant popularity, and she decides to follow this advice. While this is not a book about a beauty contest per se, it is an amusing look at the challenges of fitting in.

Drop Dead Gorgeous
Drop Dead GorgeousPerhaps my favorite pageant movie, Drop Dead Gorgeous, is a mockumentary about the Sara Rose Princess America Pageant in small-town Minnesota. As the contestants begin to expire spectacularly one-by-one under suspicious circumstances (exploding tractors and what-not) the remaining contenders soldier on in fear and trepidation. The talented cast, which includes Kirstie Alley, Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Barkin and Denise Richards, lends an aura of authenticity to the proceedings. Who will win the crown, and more importantly, who will survive?

Ron

Sherlockmania!

He is one of the most recognizable names in literature. Hundreds of pastiches by copious authors have been written about his character. Movie and TV series abound. Parodies aimed at all ages proliferate. And a multitude of quotes which never issued from his fictional lips are attributed to this British detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories are undoubtedly brilliant, introducing (or at least popularizing) a new genre, a new style of detection. The hero is not a particularly likable or sympathetic chap, but his skills are remarkable. It’s no wonder that he has maintained such a high level of acclaim for more than a century.

Sherlock Holmes originally appeared in 4 novels and fifty-six short stories set between 1880 and 1914. His character apparently died in a story written in 1893 (but set in 1891), but fan outcry led to his resurrection in 1901 (in a story set in 1894).

Technology has changed since Holmes’s introduction and Everett Public Library carries Sherlock Holmes books on CD, eBooks and AudioEBooks in addition to plain ol’ books printed on paper.

Perhaps it is comforting to know that Sherlock’s adventures did not end with the death of Conan Doyle. Numerous authors, many alive today, have written stories about Holmes’s exploits during the same period that Conan Doyle chronicled.
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(The Italian Secretary is also available as an AudioEBook)

Other authors have dared to speculate on Holmes’s life after his apparent retirement.
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Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes titles by Laurie R. King are available as books, large print books, eBooks, books on CD, and AudioEbooks.)
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A Slight Trick of the Mind is also available as a book on CD)

In some cases, Holmes has even been thrown into the present, through a series of mysterious occurrences, of course.

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One can also find series aimed at young adults featuring Sherlock as a teenager.
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(Death Cloud is also available as a book on CD and AudioEBook)

One series, which focuses on the young boys who make up the Baker Street Irregulars, is aimed at younger readers.
Fall of the Amazing
(Set in the Victorian era)

Another format aimed at young adults and juveniles is graphic novelizations of Conan Doyle’s stories.
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Murray Shaw graphic novels
(These juvenile books include explanations of Holmes’s deductive reasoning and the clues that helped him arrive at a solution)

Perhaps the biggest buzz currently centered around the famous detective is the BBC series Sherlock. This take on Holmes has him living in present-day London, not a man somehow removed from Victorian times but simply a brilliant investigator born near the close of the 20th century. This ingenious show delivers unto us a Holmes who has all of the 21st century’s miraculous technology at his fingertips. The stories are based in the Conan Doyle canon, but include abundant updating and fast-paced dering-do.
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And when you finish this superlative series, be sure to look into some of the other big and small screen depictions of England’s most brilliant detective.
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And if that’s not enough to keep you busy, there’s always Agatha Christie

Ron