BookScapes

bookpile2
Climate and Conservation
Eds. Jodi A. Hilty, Charles C. Chester and Molly S. Cross
Island Press (publishers) May 2012 392 pages
I anticipated an interesting and informative read as Island Press is a leading non-profit environmental publisher which specialises in ecology, biodiversity, conservation and natural history, all subjects I love. They publish 40 titles each year (with a library of over 800 titles) trying to reach a broader audience with scientific information. One of their books “Unnatural History of the Sea” by Callum Roberts (2009) was declared one of Jonathan Yardley’s top ten books of the year, a formidable accolade. EO Wilson’s memoir was another mesmerizing, unforgettable title for me.
Climate and Conservation consists of 19 case studies presented from many of the world’s ecosystems: temperate, polar, equatorial, montane etc. The studies are presented by ‘people on the ground’ primarily academics and scientists, many working for the Nature Conservancy, WWW or similar NGOs (non-governmental organisations). Although this is published in 2012, it feels dated with much information from 2002-2006/9. At the very least some of the climate data from 2011, 2010 should have been included, especially updating the introductory chapters, which were otherwise excellent.
This book contains some very interesting habitat / ecosystem studies from Madrean Sky Islands to Albertine Rift (Africa) or closer to home with the Appalachians or Yellowstone. Each region has a detailed map of the area, with a few good quality photographs also illustrating some regions. The chapters have specific details to vast generalisations, with multiple authors reflecting different styles, although there is an overall message of providing recommendations to DO something in each local environment, which ultimately will have a global benefit. Some of the pictures painted are dire (the Amazon with illegal land appropriation and deforestation always comes to mind and is represented here).
Having worked in many of the areas represented here the overall portrayal of conditions, expectations and assessments are accurate. I felt confident that regions I knew little about were also presented well, and enjoyed learning more about Mongolian Grasslands and Arctic Alaska (ecosystems I know I will not study myself).
My initial impression on reading this is who is the audience: students? colleagues? professionals? general public? As this book does not just show problems of biodiversity and climate change, but also involves problem solving, de-emphasizing the doom and gloom of many popular presses, I think the book is intended to reach a broad audience, providing scientific facts to people on the ground, such as for planners and managers. I think it could have a much broader audience with this remit. I can’t see many of my neighbors reading this book, but I would like to buy each of them a copy. It would also be an important reference for community and high school libraries which should provide accurate information on an important current topic. 2012 was the warmest year on record, when are we going to wake up?My kindle copy had annoying grammatical errors, typos, weird hyphenation, lack of capital letters for author names, poor indexing, … The Bios of contributors / authors were interesting, and provide reassuring credentials (scientists and academics with good experience). I confess I read that chapter first before assessing the case studies. The index, however, was basic and incomplete, not including the authors or all the locations. There is an impressive list of references or publications, but I feel these would have been more useful and appropriate at the end of each chapter/case study.
I do think this is a valuable reference book, and applaud the kindle format for additional accessibility, with potentially a wider audience. Anything that can get facts into people for educated and informed opinions as this is critical in determining our environmental future. This is a timely book in our current political climate but also before degraded ecosystems are the only habitats we can have. I applaud Island Press for partnering with EcoAdapt who launched CAKE – Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange website in 2010, an online community with database of case studies, literature and professionals. http://www.cakex.org
3.5 stars
Read as an ARC

Book of the Moment
Dan Fesperman The Double Agent
I love discovering a new author to read: his list of awards for previously published novels is delightful. The Double Agent is an old-fashioned spy thriller, well researched (well read!) and well written. His style (descriptive, intrigue, pace) pays homage to Cold War espionage novels and made me quite nostalgic for those books. Especially with the multiple literary references from the masters of this genre: Le Carre, Deighton, but also recognising several of my personal favourites: Geoffrey Household, Helen McInnes, John Buchan and Alan Furst. The Appendix has a list of 222 books from 48 author, 18 of whom were in intelligence. 57 were published before 1957. All will provide hours of entertaining reading if you haven’t already perused this literature.
These spy novels provide literary clues throughout this book, which I relished discovering and remembering (yes, I got sidetracked into several books after reading this one). I loved the references to plots, international locations and historical events.
This story is narrated by Bill Gage, as he tries to uncover the truth behind an earlier incident in his career which decades later has left him a rather sad PR agent instead of journalist. The past, with his father, his son, a previous girlfriend, and the locations of his youth (eastern European) is unravelled with steady pace action, but thoughtful intelligence. This is less high tech/buff agents and more reality on the ground. It wasn’t as dark and dangerous as I remember many spy books, but it was also less desperate and more entertaining. A very good read. *4 stars

Helen McIver’s BookScapes

The Beggar King by Oliver Potszch
(3rd in the The Hangman’s Daughter series all translated by Lee Chadeayne)

beggar-kingThese books were published earlier in Germany, with several more installments expected.   Interestingly the story is based in part on the author’s family history as descendents of a Bavarian executioner. The Beggar King follows on from The Dark Monk which also follows almost directly on from The Hangman’s Daughter and, while each can be stand alone, I also strongly recommend reading them in order as I had a much more vivid picture of the Hangman from the first tale, which resonates throughout The Dark Monk. You don’t forget the humanity of the man from the first tale. And you need to know that especially in the predicament of the Beggar King.

The Dark Monk takes place in the winter of 1660 with the three main characters (the executioner and healer of Schongau, Jakob Kuisl, his daughter – newly apprenticed midwife – Magdalena, and the physician’s son, Simon). They interpret a trail of riddles and myths after a local priest is poisoned (beware sticky donuts) while untangling their social lives.

This is a fun historical ride through the Knights Templar (more along the lines of the Da Vinci Code) balancing mystery, historical detail, romance and drama. Medieval life is rather accurately (brutally) portrayed (I still feel cold), the tale is a bit convoluted, while also being somewhat predictable.

In the Beggar King, it is 1662 and the action takes place in the Imperial City of Regensburg where Jakob travels to visit his sister whom he believes gravely ill. He finds her dead and is framed for her murder. And while he faces the torturous devices he knows all too well, there is honor among hangmen. Fortuitously, Magdalena and Simon arrive, having run away together after tumultuous village life. It is only through the underground network of beggars and thieves that they all uncover a larger plot. You are experience the reality of life in medieval times, and this is a fascinating account of an amazing historical city.

This installment felt a little more contrived than the previous: for smart characters they do some very inconsistent things. I winced at a few anachronism/slang terms. I did enjoy meeting the characters again and look forward to each case. Note that my copy had a teaser of the next installment and I am already hooked.

Jakob reminds me Gaius Petreius Ruso (a Roman army medic and amateur sleuth) of the Medicus series by Ruth Downie (but an earlier Roman time period primarily set in England). I am impatiently awaiting the release of the fifth book Semper Fidelis in January 2013.

3-Stars
This Books was read as an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) supplied by the publisher.

bar-books

Book of the Moment:
(A spotlight on  Robert Burns)

1319771748824Every January for the past three decades I have read poetry of Robert Burns. The 25th (Burns’ birthday) is the second largest Scottish celebration, not only in Scotland, but around the world. I have held a Burns Supper for many years, ranging from family dinners of 10 to over 80 friends and family. This year is no exception and we will share food, drink and fellowship in honor of the poet. So I was delighted to see a new edition of Burns’ Poetry and Songs to peruse as I prepare for another celebration.

The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns has a new forward and description of his life (and times) which most people will find useful and I was relieved to see was less opinionated/dated and more practical with a perspective of his work, his “Scottishness” and his accomplishments.

This biography shows him as a keen observer of the human condition, with his words sometimes humorous, poignant, romantic, insightful or satyric. He became a man of the people, a symbol of independence and of the nobility of all mankind.

Many of the poems are familiar to the reader, from Auld Lang Syne to Tam OShanter. Importantly there is a glossary of many of the Scots words which will help in translation! Most people don’t realize how important Burns was to rescuing Scottish folk music, but also creating it. As such, the printed versions here, while lovely, do not even begin to do the songs justice. Please find the music/cds of Jean Redpath (awarded OBE for her astonishing and beautiful musical renditions of Burn’s work), or Andy M. Stewart’s CD of a selection of Burns’ best known works (I still think of this as a definitive album). And the song/poem rendition of Scots Wae Hae by the New Zealander Steve McDonald still gives me chills. This volume does provide an easy access to Scotland’s National Poet.

Statue of Burns at the National Portrait Gallery

Statue of Burns at the National Portrait Gallery

Book Review – Hopeless

15717943Hopeless
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

I love Facebook.  Not only does it help you keep in contact with old friends, but it’s also a great source for finding wonderful reading material.  Several of the best books I read last year were brought to my attention through the Facebook posts of my friends or pages that I’ve “liked” (such as the Rochester Public Library, Friends of the Rochester Public Library and Paige Turner).

A couple of weeks ago, author Tracey Garvis Graves posted on Facebook about a book she’d read that she couldn’t put down.  Graves is the author of On the Island, a book I reviewed for this blog some time back and which I thoroughly enjoyed.  When I first read the recommendation, I made a mental note to read it at some point in the future; however, over the next several days, her post kept popping back into my news feed with comment after comment by those who’d read the book and were just raving about it.  The book was Hopeless by Colleen Hoover.

My curiosity had been piqued and I decided to investigate further and went to my two favorite sources for all-things-books:  Amazon and Goodreads.  I was absolutely stunned to find that nearly 2,500 Amazon readers had rated this book a strong 4.5 stars, and more than 15,000 (yes, you read that correctly) Goodreads readers had also read it a full 4.5 stars.  In that moment, I knew this was a book that must be queued up immediately.

Knowing nothing about this book other than that readers seemed to love it, I purchased and downloaded it immediately.  I seriously needed to know what all the hype was about.

I’m not sure whether knowing nothing about this book was a good or a bad thing.  At first, I was terribly disappointed because the first few pages read like a YA novel.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy YA novels, but I really wasn’t in the mood to read a boy-meets-girl and crush ensues novel.  I thought I’d signed up for a really excellent adult novel with a deep plot and the first few pages didn’t give me the warm fuzzies that I was going to get what I’d hoped for.  But I kept reading, and I’m really glad I did.

Hopeless is a beautiful and intense novel about a young woman named Sky who was adopted at the age of 5 and has been sheltered for the remainder of her nearly 18 years by her single mother.  Sky has been home-schooled all of her school years, and her mother doesn’t believe in technology such as computers, telephones and televisions.   As she enters her senior year of school, she convinces her mother to allow her to attend public high school where she meets Dean Holder – a young man who will change her life forever.

As the story unfolds, the reader begins to realize that there’s something just not quite right about Sky.  She’s been sheltered her entire life and has virtually no memories of her life before her adoption.  While she is a seemingly normal teenager, there’s something not quite right about her lack of attraction to other young men her age.  To put it simply, she “tolerates” young men, but has never had the traditional teenage girl crush and has never felt the butterflies in the tummy that most young women her age experience.  Until Dean Holder.  Meeting Holder will turn her world upside down in every way imaginable.

Holder is a wonderful character in every way, but the reader realizes almost immediately that he’s holding something back from Sky.  The only thing we really know about him is that his twin sister committed suicide a year prior and he’s still struggling to deal with his loss.  And  yet the reader immediately begins to feel that there’s so much more to Holder’s story and his attraction to Sky.

The description of this books sounds like a YA Romance novel and, in some ways, it is.  And yet, it is so much more.  Though it does have moments of very explicit intimacy between Sky and Holder, there are so many more layers to this story that makes the genre classification quite murky.  The reader is constantly sitting on the edge of her seat wondering what’s coming next.  Who is Holder?  Why doesn’t Sky have any memories before her adoption?  Why hasn’t she ever had a normal teenage crush before Holder?  What in the world is Holder hiding?

Hopeless is a wonderful, shocking and sometimes painful read.  It’s also one of the few books I’ve read in a single day.  I simply couldn’t put it down.  Above all of that, it’s “real.”

This book is currently not available at the Rochester Public Library; however, I did request that it be added to our collection.  Keep your eyes open to see if it will be added!  In the meantime, this book is available through traditional booksellers in paperback and eBook formats.

BookScapes

by Helen McIver
bookpile2Last night we had a fun WWW (Wit, Wisdom and Wine) fundraiser event for the Library. I probably donated half of the books that went with the silent auction items as I am radically cleaning my bookshelves and downsizing. It hurts. But it has reacquainted me with so many books and authors and as always the desire to share the next good read. It’s a new book if you haven’t read it. I am also exploring my Kindle options, ebook reader (the library is a wonderful source for borrowing), and book reviewing online. As such, I am attempting to write a regular Sunday column on this blog.

Shadow of the Crown by Patricia Bracewell
This is her debut historical novel, in a planned Medieval trilogy about Queen Emma. At 400+ pages is it a richly detailed, well written account of a relatively unknown period of English history. The author has thoroughly researched Emma, although some of the characters are rather loosely involved in events in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (891 to 1154). (NB several of the unexpected events in this novel didn’t actually happen. Also, I was surprised by the love interest as well as the guilt/haunting episodes.) The author was intrigued by the silence of 15 years in the Queen’s autobiography (Encomium Emmae Reginae 1040) which triggered this novel. I did find it engaging reading, with accurate family history and political intrigue although the use of four voices often interrupted the flow. She includes glossary, map, and a chart of names which are quite useful to keep everyone straight. It is evident that Bracewell has done research on everything from swordplay to parchment, clothes to loos, and reveled in every minute of it (the detail, but also well written).
Emma was the daughter of the Duke of Normandy, essentially sold in a treaty to provide allies to protect the shores of England against the marauding Danes. She married King AEthelred II (the Unready) in 1002 when she was 16 and he was 35 (considered old, but he had been reigning for 20+years by then, in turbulent times.) His nickname was given 150 years after his death and is a pun on his name (noble counsel) which would have been better translated as “ill advised or evil counsel”, referring to his royal Council the Witan. History has accorded him a powerful king, one of the most forceful kings of the 10th century who created the Kingdom, ending individual control of all the magnate families. The author, however, depicts AEthelred as cruel, old, haunted, although most of the story is told from Emma’s viewpoint. She matures and becomes one of the most powerful women of the 11th century, 40 years behind the throne. Her story is fascinating, as she leaves the innocence of childhood, navigates court intrigue, falls in love, endures and creates political rivals and generally survives a rather brutal world. Given how little we know of women in history, she is a fascinating character.
Her son, Edward (who becomes King, the Confessor, d. Jan 1066) is born at the end of this book (1006). Her story will continue with additional portrayals of a life in which two of her sons (by each husband), two stepsons (by each husband) and a great nephew (William the Conqueror Oct 1066) became kings of England. Her life story as detailed here, is an enjoyable, interesting, historical read.

3 stars a lot of detail, but editing would help.
If you like Phillippa Gregory, Alison Weir, Jean Plaidy or Elizabeth Chadwick you will enjoy these novels. I also recommend Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death series, and Edward Rutherford’s Sarum.
Shadow on the Crown is due to be published February 2013.
Read as an ARC

Book of the MomentCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Five Stars!
I read books for a variety of reasons. I could have read this because Nancy Pearl highly recommended it, because it was one of the top ten YA books of the year, or because it is an interesting historical genre that I like. But I started it because the author is a writer living in Scotland and a Pilot. And she has a Phd (in Folklore from UPenn). These days I am astonished that most of the authors I love have Phds. I love them for the sentence structure, the plot, the research, and the storytelling. And the experience upon closing the book that I must share it, immediately.
Quite simply, Code Name Verity is one of the best books of the year – this year, last year, whatever. Don’t be put off by the YA classification, this is a great book in any genre. It is stunning, breathtaking, horrifying, thrilling, terrifying, heartbreaking, and absolutely breathtaking. You can not remain unmoved during this story, and the last two chapter might rip out your heart (especially as an adult). It has several very important messages for teens too. It won’t hurt adults to remember the fragility of love, the meaning of hope, the power of courage, and the grace of true friendships.

Book Review – The Women’s Murder Club Series

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 1.00.28 PM
The Women’s Murder Club Series
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

As an avid reader, I love to know what everyone else is reading.  I’m always excited to hear about new authors or great books, so it’s not uncommon for me to interrupt a complete stranger’s reading moment to ask, “What are you reading?”

A while back, I asked a woman, “What are you reading?”  The woman gave me a sheepish grin and responded, “Oh, just visiting old friends.”  Probably prompted by my look of curiosity, the woman went on to explain that she breaks up her heavier reading by catching up on the books in a series by her favorite authors.  The “old friends” she referred to were the repeat characters from the books in a series by her favorite authors.

I loved that explanation!  I can’t even count on both hands how many “old friends” I have and need to catch up with.  There’s Sookie Stackhouse…Stephanie Plum…Zoe Redbird from the House of Night series…the list goes on and on. And then over the last couple of weeks, I’ve added some new friends that will need to be revisited on a regular basis:  The women of James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series.

I’d read a few of James Patterson’s books in the past, but I’d deliberately stayed away from the books in a series for the simple reason that I was afraid to get hooked on a new one.  When I start a series, I can’t just stop after the first book.  I have to keep reading until I’ve finished the series and am on pins and needles for the next book to be released.  I suspected that if I started this series, I’d fall into a black hole of reading until the series was complete.  I wasn’t sure I was ready to commit that much time.  But I had the whole Women’s Murder Club series sitting in a box, compliments of my wonderful mother-in-law. The books were not only gathering dust, but taking up space;  so I figured I should read them or give them away.  I decided to read them and I’m so glad I did!

At the heart of the story is Homicide Sergeant Lindsey Boxer and her best friend, Medical Examiner Claire Washburn, both of the San Francisco Police Department.  The two women have been friends for nearly a decade and are bonded by their unique status as being among the few women within a mostly all-boys’ club police department.  Together with a female crime reporter from the local newspaper, and a female Assistant District Attorney, the women jokingly form the Women’s Murder Club and meet frequently at a local bar – designated as their “club house” – to give input on the crimes being investigated within the homicide department.  But, though the club started out as a joke, their effectiveness in solving murders is no joking matter.  With each member bringing her own unique investigative abilities to the group, the Women’s Murder Club bands together to solve some of the most heinous crimes to hit the streets of  San Francisco.

Very quickly, these new friends became old friends.  I couldn’t wait to read the next book to find out what happened next in the lives of the four women and those in their inner circle.

Probably one of the best aspects of these books is that they don’t have to be read in order.  Patterson has a gift of bringing the readers up to date in the lives of the characters in such a way as to not only refresh the memory of the reader who’s waited a year for the next book in the series, but also to quickly bring new readers into the loop and not left scratching their heads and wondering what they missed.  I wish more authors could do that!

Each book in the Women’s Murder Club series is a fairly quick read with short chapters, enabling a reader to pick up and read for short time spans and without stopping mid-chapter.

These books are available at the Rochester Public Library in both traditional and eBook format.  The 12th book, 12th of Never, is due to be released in April.

Making new friends and revisiting old ones.  As Martha Stewart might say, “It’s a good thing.”

Book Review – My Lucky Life in and out of Show Business (A Memoir)

My Lucky Life in and out of Show Business – A memoir
A Review by Kaye Aune

Dick Van Dyke’s memoir, My Lucky Life in and out of  Show Business, is a self-portrait of Van Dyke’s family, personal struggles and successes in the 60 years of being in show business.  Using his well-loved humor and openness in a very moving manner, Van Dyke takes us on a  travel through his childhood:  one of love but not much money, as everyone was poor.  We follow his career from singing and dancing in the Air Force Special Services, and then into radio, theatre, TV and the movies as he entertained the world.

Van Dyke calls his career “luck,” but others know better.  It was a merging of kindness and talent which formed such a funny man.  A Must Read!

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in large print.