Category: Fiction

Book List: Genre-Bending Authors

By , July 25, 2015

We all have our favorite type of fiction – for example, I tend to read science fiction and fantasy more than anything else. We also tend to have our favorite authors that are our go-to reads in those genres. So what do we do when our favorite science fiction author puts out a romantic comedy novel set in current times? Or our favorite historical fiction writer suddenly gets the idea to write a science fiction thriller?

 

The Bourbon Kings, J. R. Ward1.First on our list is J.R. Ward. Her Black Dagger Brotherhood series features vampires, romance, and horror – good combinations for those guilty-pleasure reads that have a little bit more…ahem…bite to them. People typically group J.R. Ward with authors like Sherrilyn Kenyon and Charlaine Harris, and her books have a huge following. However, her latest novel moves away from the vampire-loving crowd, and into the exploits of a rich Southern family at the heart of the bourbon empire in a novel called The Bourbon Kings. There is a distinct class division in this – the upper-crust family and their hired help. When lines are crossed between the two, chaos and heartbreak ensues. Changes are coming, in the return of the prodigal son of the family. This novel presents a shift for J.R. Ward and her fans. The novel comes out on July 28th of this year, and coincidentally, she will be at the Nashville Public Library to promote it as part of the Salon @ 615 series! For more information (and tickets) please check out the link here.

 

Cry to Heaven, Anne Rice2. The next author on the list is Anne Rice. Many people know her for the Vampire Chronicles featuring the adventures of the vampire Lestat, as well as the Mayfair Witches books. She also wrote the book Cry to Heaven which is a historical fiction novel based on the lives of 18th century Italian castrati (male sopranos who were both revered and loathed in Italian society). Under another name, A. N. Roquelaure, she wrote a trilogy of erotica novels (simply called the Beauty series) that rivals 50 Shades of Grey. Under the name of Anne Rampling, she wrote two more novels, Belinda and Exit to Eden. Belinda is strongly reminiscent of the novel Lolita, with a bit more dimension in the characters. Exit to Eden seems to be yet another erotica, but this one takes place in the Caribbean, at a very exclusive club. There was a movie made out of it (starring Dan Aykroyd and Rosie O’Donnell) that came out in 1994.

 

The Casual Vacancy, J. K. Rowling3. Anyone who has access to books in the past decade or so has probably run across the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. The series about the Boy Who Lived was one many people grew up with. Each book that came out showed Harry and his friends a year older, a year wiser (sometimes), and facing new challenges in their wizardry careers. After the final book in the series, J.K. Rowling wrote an adult novel called The Casual Vacancy. It was a dark novel,  following the aftermath of the death of a member of a parish council, and the ensuing war for his place. Conflict seems to be at the center of this novel – husband against wife, teenager against parent, rich against poor, and the ending is far more depressing than anything seen from her previously. J.K. Rowling also wrote mystery novels under the name Robert Gilbraith. When the first one came out (before she was revealed as the author), demand for the books exploded. The Cormoran Strike series is expecting a new addition (Career of Evil) sometime this year.

 

Naked In Death, J. D. Robb4. Speaking yet again of authors and pseudonyms, Nora Roberts typically writes contemporary romance novels, that sometimes have a hint of the paranormal to them. Several of her novels have an Irish angle to them – either in the characters or location. Her novels regularly have a long hold list on them at the library – but so do her science fiction hardcore cop dramas (called the In Death series) written under the name of J.D. Robb. In these novels, Detective Dallas is a hardcore detective in the homicide department, in New York City. It is the future, and guns have (for the most part) disappeared.  Homicides take place in interesting ways, and the novels are spent with Detective Dallas and (later) her husband Roarke, as they solve them.

 

On, Off by Colleen McCullough5. Last on our list is Colleen McCullough. Although she typically wrote historical fiction (she has series entitled Masters of Rome which chronicles the life and times of various important figures and wars in Roman history), she also had a series of five books that were murder mysteries (called the Carmine Delmonico series), focusing on forensic science and suspense. These books were a bit more sensational – with murders, sexuality, and detailed descriptions of forensic science. Looking at other people’s reviews of this book, it is obvious to see people who were surprised to see someone who wrote such detailed historical fiction diving into the murder mystery genre.

Book review: Nelle Harper Lee

By , July 11, 2015

In anticipation of the release of the new Harper Lee title, Go set a watchman, you may want to visit the classic, the title by which all American modern fiction is measured, To Kill a Mockingbird.  The new title was written before Mockingbird, remained unpublished and is a sequel to Mockingbird, telling the tale of the adult Jean Louise Finch Scout.

Here is a review pleading for folks to read the classic, Mockingbird,  first posted here in June 2012:

I thought I knew the story. I’ve heard it discussed, referred to, and referenced since I learned to read. I felt I knew more about this book (that I’d never read) than most of the books I have read. I fancied myself knowing more than most about Nelle Harper Lee – how Scout is based on her own child self and how Dill is Nelle’s childhood friend Truman Capote. I’ve heard the literary rumblings that Scout is not, in fact, based on the childhood Nelle, but Boo Radley is Miss Nelle as a girl. And ole mean spirited Truman got his just rewards in the end by alienating all his high society New York “swans” and died a social leper his self.

Turns out I knew nothing. Do you feel like you know the story? Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird? No? I’m telling you, read it. Read it for the brave child of nearly nine that you know, or knew, or were, or wish you still were. Read it for the language, the pure unaffected Southernness of it. Read it because the last three pages of chapter thirteen will break your heart. The very last pages of chapter fifteen will stop your heart. And you will never read anything as true in any book ever.

““Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

- laurie

Savor Summer: Food of the Fandoms

By , July 9, 2015

Star Trek Cook Book coverFood: the final frontier. These are the recipes of the Star Trek Franchise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new dishes, to seek out new delicacies in new civilizations, to boldly go where no diet has gone before.

The Star Trek Cookbook is a culinary journey through the Star Trek universe including Original Series, The Next Generation (TNG), Voyager, and Deep Space Nine (DS9). Featured are Earth-friendly recipes of character favorites, recipes from the actors themselves, and even food prop recipes from TNG and Voyager property master Alan Sims. As a self-identified Trekkie, I just had to try a couple.

Entree: Mushroom-and-Pepper Ratamba Stew

Because I consider DS9 the best of the franchise, I chose the Bajoran Ratamba Stew over spinach linguine as my entree – just the way Captain Sisko prepares it…well, almost. The grocery store didn’t have spinach linguine so I substituted whole wheat linguine. The dish turned out super tasty.

Ratamba Stew 2

Dessert: Klingon Blood Wine & Rokeg Blood Pie a la Neelix 

Even though I consider DS9 the best of the franchise, I am hardcore nostalgic for TNG. It was my first exposure to the Star Trek universe and Worf’s Blood Wine feels like the perfect tribute. The recipe is non-alcoholic, but I modified mine and used a berry-infused sparkling wine in lieu of juice to make it more adult-interesting. My favorite part of the recipe is the frozen fruit stuck through the blender to give it the effect of containing “floating red corpuscles.”

Lastly, I paired my blood wine with the obvious choice – blood pie! Blood Pie a la Neelix is a dish created for one of my favorite characters – Voyager’s B’Lanna Torres. Sure, the recipe is basically cherry pie, but if it works for B’Lanna and Dale Cooper (sorry, mixing my fandoms), it works for me! I did however opt for mini blood pie tarts instead of a typical pie because it’s funny to render Klingon food dainty.

Blood Pie and Wine 2

Honorable Mention

Don’t exclude your pets from the fun! Try the recipe for “Data’s Cat Food #219, Subroutine |DataSpot\Nancy|.”

More Fandom Food:
The Geeky Chef Cookbook
The Star Wars Cook Book: Wookie Cookies and Other Galactic Recipes
The Star Wars Cook Book II: Darth Malt and More Galactic Recipes
True Blood: Eats, Drinks, and Bites from Bon Temps
The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook
The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook
The Unofficial Narnia Cookbook

Sci-Fi and Fantasy not your thing?
Cocktails for Book Lovers
Tequila Mocking Bird: Cocktails with a literary twist
The Unofficial Downtown Abbey Cookbook
The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook

Book review: Let Me Tell You

By , July 6, 2015

Let Me Tell YouLet Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings
by Shirley Jackson

Get ready, everyone—the Shirley Jackson revival is about to begin.  In anticipation of Ruth Franklin’s major biography of Jackson coming out in 2016, Franklin introduces this compilation of short stories, essays, reviews, and family humor pieces (most of which have never been published).

If you’ve never read Jackson before, she’s best known for her short story The Lottery.  If you’re already familiar with her, you’ll see her preoccupations running throughout this collection: everyday magic, loneliness, domestic trials, and the fact that some houses are born bad.  Paranoia is a thrilling example of her short story style, and Mrs. Spencer and the Oberons (my favorite piece in the book) reveals her not-so-hidden misanthropy.  Fans of Life Among the Savages can look forward to an entire section of domestic comedy, and the book wraps up with revelations of where Jackson came up with her story ideas and how she used symbols (“garlic”) in her work.

Jackson has been cited as an influence by Stephen King, Kelly Link, and Donna Tartt, among others.  This collection showcases her wide range, from menace to dry wit.  Place a hold on Let Me Tell You before it comes out next month!

~Beth

Book Review: Scowler

By , July 4, 2015

Scowler by Daniel KrausScowler
By Daniel Kraus

I came across Scowler while at the library. I did not check it out at that point, because while it piqued my interest, I am always somewhat hesitant to pick up teen novels. Many teen novels that I have read have diverse plots, and are well written. However, I would quickly discover that a major part of the books’ focus are on the main characters’ love lives— a love triangle usually ensues. I like romance in small doses. When I realized this book was a Horror/Suspense novel, I quickly ran to check it out from the library.

Ry Burke is 19 years old young man itching to be free from his mother, but who feels totally responsible for her and his sister. He vacillates between wanting to leave and go to college, and then wanting to stay on their farm in Iowa because it’s all he knows. Ry finds himself in a situation where he has to defend himself, and his family. Therefore, he calls upon old protectors to help him out once again: the kind Mr. Furrington, the wise Jesus, and the bloodthirsty Scowler.

The story opens with the anticipation of a coming meteor shower in the 1980s. It is made clear that this event will be central to the plot and characters involved. We then jump to 10 years prior, when events start unfolding in the Burke household that shine a light on the current situation.

Kraus presents a very frank (and sometimes horrifying) look at the impact violence, abuse, and mental health issues have on people (children, in particular). Therefore, readers should be aware that there are scenes that have uncensored cursing, nudity, and intimate situations in them. I would definitely recommend this book to adults and teens alike.

Book review: The American People

By , July 1, 2015

The American People by Larry KramerThe American People Volume 1, Search For My Heart
by Larry Kramer

Kramer has teased readers with this work for thirty years. Four years ago, I mentioned I was anxious for it come out. All 775 pages of Volume 1(!) have finally arrived. Need blurbs? 1) It’s the gay history of the United States. 2) Kramer’s theories are so controversial his publisher would only release American People as fiction though it started as straight (forgive the pun) nonfiction. What controversial ideas? 1) HIV has been around since the beginning of Homo sapiens. 2) A bunch of presidents were gay. Hearing this lights some people’s hair on fire. Dismissing these ideas outright is exactly the kind of hysterical reductionism Kramer rallies against, though many accuse Kramer himself of being a hysterical reductionist. He is an example of that rarest of birds – an intellectually militant gay radical. Many are fatuously accused of harboring a radical gay agenda. Proudly, Kramer actually possesses one, and The American People is his reinterpretation of the our national myth.

It is told by Fred Lemish, a metafictional version of Kramer, who is writing a history of America, and by the historians, epidemiologists, biologists, ethicists, et al that Lemish interviews for his project – all fictionalized caricatures of real life scholars. The HIV virus itself is anthropomorphized and is a competing voice with the rest of the parodied monologists. Lemish’s history of America starts with a biological history of HIV as told literally by the voice of HIV. It’s ballsy, ambitious, and extremely disorienting. A lot of it is stuff you recognize from your grammar school history book only to fugue into hardcore horrors. Plague/death is synonymous with life/sex. Allegorical sex/death fantasias abound. Luckily for me, I’ve been saying William S. Burroughs is my favorite author for so long that nothing is true and everything is permitted, but Kramer is a far better writer. The monologues are poetic, fiery, funny, shocking, tragic. The book’s length and structure are a bit much even for me, but listening on audio gives the text a much needed infusion. There is a full cast and each narrative voice gets their own actor. This is a novel written by a playwright.

If you are thinking, “Bryan, I am never reading this,” you might already be familiar with Kramer’s life and work. The Oscar nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague about the fierce early days of AIDS activism features Kramer prominently. The HBO miniseries The Normal Heart is based on Kramer’s largely autobiographical play of the same name.

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Book List: My Dad’s Top Five

By , June 14, 2015

My father is where I get my love of science fiction and fantasy. I grew up around Robert Heinlein and Marion Zimmer Bradley (I was even named after one of her books!). Both of my parents encouraged me to read growing up, which has made me the bibliophile I am today!

Since the theme of Summer Challenge this year is Super Heroes, and Father’s Day is fast approaching, I thought I’d ask my Dad what his favorite books are. My Dad went above and beyond, and gave me a four book series and his favorite book!

Here is my Dad’s top five list:

 

Arabian Nights book cover

Arabian Nights, translated by Sir Richard Burton

First up on my Dad’s list is The Arabian Nights. You might recognize such tales as “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”. I picked, specifically, the Richard Burton translation, because it seems to be the most comprehensive one. His translation spanned ten volumes, with a couple of supplementary books of tales. The book is written as a “stories within a story”, wherein a king of Persia kills off his virgin brides before they can betray him (after one night of marriage). After his vizier can no longer find him any more brides, the vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, offers herself up. In order to keep the king’s interest, she starts telling him a story – but without a conclusion, so he is forced to postpone her execution. This leads to one thousand and one nights of tales! These tales have been translated in many different languages, and often are published as children’s novels, without the external framework story.  Sir Richard Burton’s translation represents a more accurate, less pleasant version of the stories – kind of like The Brothers Grimm version as opposed to the Disney version which has become more familiar!

 

Patternmaster book cover

Patternmaster, by Octavia E. Butler

Next up on the list is a series by Octavia E. Butler, alternatively called the Pattermaster series, the Patternist series, or Seed to Harvest. The book pictured is actually the LAST book chronologically in the series, but the first book to be published. This book talks about the far future – where people are bred specifically for their intelligence and psychic abilities. People are strictly divided into three groups – the Patternists (networked telepaths who are the dominant race),  their enemies (The Clayarks) and the enslaved “mutes”. The book tells the story of a young Patternist who is attempting to rise through society, and become the Patternmaster (who leads the Patternists). Butler’s stories explore the divisions between race, class, and gender, in a creatively epic manner. Not to mention, Butler is an African American female Science Fiction author with many Hugo and Nebula awards under her belt, and is one of the best known women in the field.

 

Split Infinity book cover

Split Infinity, by Piers Anthony

My Dad also listed the Apprentice Adept series by Piers Anthony as one of his favorites. The book pictured is the first book in the seven book series. In this series, there are two worlds – Proton and Phaze. They are two worlds, occupying the exact same space, in two different dimensions. Pretty cool, right? Proton is a science-based world. It has been mostly mined for a certain ore. Inhabitants of this world play something called The Game, which pits two people together on a variety of skills and levels. The Game is kind of complicated to explain in short summary, but it basically rules Proton. People wager vast amounts of money on it, and the most skilled players are sent to a Tourney to compete. In the next dimension over is the planet Phaze – a very lush and beautiful world where unicorns, vampires, faeries, and magic are common. It almost seems to be the exact opposite of Proton! Magical Adepts of this world are named based on colors. Each person born has a duplicate on the other world – and they can pass between the worlds!

 

Bolo!, by David Weber

Bolo!, by David Weber 

This next series isn’t just by one author – the Bolo series involves many authors and spans many anthologies. Keith Laumer wrote the original story in 1960, called “Combat Unit”, which introduced the artificially intelligent tanks. As the series grew, the tanks became more advanced – their AI patterns more human-like, their ability to function with minimal crew reduced to a single commander who could interact with the tank via interface, and extremely heavy fire power. These tanks are called “heavy tanks” because of their much bigger size. The book pictured is the 25th anniversary edition of the first anthology featuring these awesome tanks. Pictured is one of the many books in the series, written by another of my Dad’s favorite authors, David Weber. The book has four short novels about the sentient tanks.

 

The Man-Kzin Wars cover, created by Larry Niven

The Man-Kzin Wars, created by Larry Niven

The final series that my dad REALLY likes is the Man-Kzin War series. Again, this is a series that spans MANY authors writing in short story collections, but it takes place in Larry Niven’s Known Space universe.  The basis of this story is a series of conflicts between the human race and the Kzinti. The Kzinti are technologically superior and intelligent race of cat-like aliens who are VERY bloodthirsty. Larry Niven just referenced the wars – but many authors worked to fill in the details. This is a series of short stories that spans over thirty years – with a lot of talent going into envisioning Larry Niven’s worlds! Pictured is the 25th anniversary edition of the first book of stories that started it all.

Enjoy these random science fiction and fantasy selections this summer, available at the library!

- Sharra

 

Book review: I Take You

By , June 12, 2015

I Take YouI Take You
by Eliza Kennedy

Hi there!  Are you a fan of offbeat romantic comedies looking for fun vacation reads? Even better, titles to read as part of your NPL Summer Challenge participation? If so, add  I Take You to your  holds list.  Lily Wilder (that’s her on the book cover), is a successful young litigator living in New York. She is soon to marry her adorable archeologist boyfriend Will.  The trouble is, Lily isn’t sure if she’s the marrying type.  You see, Lily is physically attracted to all sorts of men – her boss, random strangers she meets at the pub, even Will’s work colleague…Even though Lily believes she loves Will, she just can’t stay faithful to him.

Lily grew up in Key West, Florida, a child of divorce, raised by her mom and grandmother, with input from her father’s multiple ex-wives.   Yes, this is a very unconventional contemporary romantic story, complete with strong women, eccentric islanders and indulgent vacationers, wild chickens, a bit of booze and drug use, all within sight of the Hemingway Home.

Author Eliza Kennedy is a Harvard Law School graduate and former litigator herself, who happens to be married to writer Joshua Ferris.  I can’t wait for her next book! I sure hope she’s sitting at her writing desk right now…

Book review: Pushcart Prize 2015

By , June 1, 2015

Pushcart Prize 2015Pushcart Prize 2015: Best of the Small Presses

This was an exceptional year for my favorite annual collection!  Find out more about the Pushcart Prize here.

Top 5:

The Zen Thing, by Emma Duffy-Comparone
A hyper-realistic depiction of a family day at the beach; this is an author to watch.

Annie Radcliffe, You Are Loved, by Barrett Swanson
The vivid intersection of the characters’ lives made this feel like an entire movie in the space of a short story.

Animals, by Michael Kardos
The author uses office life at an unscrupulous call center to investigate loneliness.

The Dance Contest, by Wells Tower
Force yourself through the baffling beginning to get to the great ending.

By the Time You Read This, by Yannick Murphy
Best suicide note ever.

Other standouts:

The Mother, by Latoya Watkins
Read this for the fantastic first-person voice.

The Fiction Writer, by Maribeth Fischer
This brought to mind Rebecca Scherm’s novel Unbecoming.

The Last Days of the Baldock, by Inara Verzemnieks
This is a memorable story about the long-term residents of a highway rest stop in Oregon (yes, you read that correctly).  It reminded me of George Saunders with its improbable premise backed by realistic details.

Blue, by Russell Banks
I’m not usually a fan of Russell Banks, but I loved this (and I wasn’t surprised that Joyce Carol Oates nominated it, with that ending!).

Unmoving Like a Mighty River Stilled, by Alan Rossi
This is an engrossing examination of the conflict between our internal and external selves.

~Beth

 

Book review: Bury Him Darkly

By , May 29, 2015

Bury Him DarklyBury Him Darkly

by John Blackburn

What is it about ancient vaults moldering in the bowels of abandoned, crumbling estates that compel folks to want to open ‘em? Every dang time.

In John Blackburn’s Bury Him Darkly, the folks in question include a wealthy industrialist, an obsessive biographer, an elderly German scientist, a respected scholar and a local journalist. Each has their own reason for wanting the Church – responsible for protecting the security of Martin Railstone’s tomb, according to his final and specific instructions – to finally allow the opening of the crypt before the valley is flooded as part of a civil engineering project. Most of these reasons revolve around the possibility that Railstone was a genius and was buried with important works of art and science. On the opposing team is the Dean of Lanchester, convinced that the deceased individual was likely insane and definitely evil.

Part of the appeal of this author’s storytelling, as pointed out in Greg Gbur’s introduction, is the unpredictable nature of the narrative. The premise above is straightforward enough, but likely not to develop into quite what you expect. Blackburn penned novels from the late 50’s all the way up through the mid-80’s, and his specialty was the efficient and entertaining thriller, often a mixed genre bag of mystery, SF, horror, and espionage. This tale, from 1969, falls into three of those four categories, and is the only work by this author that the library currently owns, sadly. You can always change that!

But if you’re not really that into the take-charge, hands-on approach to collection development, at least give this slim novel a try and enjoy some vintage thrills.

- Ben

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