Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Interns and Assassins

It is no secret that I read a lot. In fact, I also listen to audiobooks in order to extend my reading even while driving. I also have a tendency read a lot about reading. So, I come across all sorts of books that I then tell myself to read (via the "Want to Read" list on Goodreads). This particular book I came across on a list of the best audiobooks of the year so far, and I was like, "Cailey, you should read that." It also helped that I had seen Marilyn reading the book not too long ago. Anyway, I just wanted you to know how I got to this book that really isn't in my usual genre.

The Intern's Handbook: A Thriller by Shane Kuhn is a comedy/thriller. It is kind of hard to say which box it ticks. John Lago, orphaned at birth, raised rough in the foster system, was taken in by HR Inc. HR Inc. is a super-secret agency that plants assassins, in the form of interns, for high-profile bad guys--basically, higher-ups in companies who have ticked off the wrong people. So, for years, John has posed as an intern in law firms, accountant firms, Fortune-500s, and more. In each position, he has eliminated a target, and given a plausible fallback for the culprit (i.e. blaming it on the company's competition, the mob, etc.). To do all of this, John has to infiltrate the company at the lowest, most unsuspecting level: intern. Being an intern means that he is invisible. People don't notice him when they are having a conversation, and give him menial tasks that inadvertently reveal their weaknesses.
“Interns are invisible. You can tell an executive your name a hundred times and that executive will never remember it because they have no respect for someone at the bottom of the barrel, working for free.” 
John is good at his job. No, he's great. The fact that John is still alive after all these years is a testament to that. He is very smart, quick on his feet, and inventive. Honestly, that man had some very creative ways to murder someone. This is John's last job though. At the age of 25, he now has to retire. No worries though, because he has a ton of money stored away, and the last job should be a cinch. Of course this isn't the case.
Going into his last job, John encounters unique problems. One in the form of a woman who has piqued his interest more than he has ever encountered. John is great at thinking on his feet, but, as much as he'd hate to admit it, he's human. John makes mistakes and gets himself into trouble. He's plagued by misinformation, competing agencies, and intentional omissions from his own agency. John is determined to complete his mission and get out alive.

The book is written as a "handbook" to the new "interns," but is really more of an account of his last job entirely. I had trouble with this book in some parts, as some things seemed improbable that John would openly share them with the other interns. I liked that there were FBI files interspersed with John's chapters. John isn't the most reliable of narrators, and those sections helped glimpse the reality of his situation.
It was graphic, action-packed, and full of surprises. The book frequently tricked me. I wasn't a huge fan of the ending, but the ride there was good. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys action films, with a lot of sarcasm on the side. John is a cynical, gritty sort of guy. I, for one, appreciate that in a person. Some people who do not like swear words may not.

For the record, it was a pretty good audiobook. The narrator was able to pack a lot of emotion into the story, and I can't think of the book being narrated by anyone else.

Also, fun fact: this book has already been optioned for film, starring Dave Franco (brother to James Franco).

~Cailey W.

PS-Just take a second to appreciate the beauty of this cover!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Books We've Missed: John Reads Killing Kennedy

One of my co-workers (I will not say who in order to protect the innocent) assigned me Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard as part of our “Books We’ve Missed” project. This made a certain amount of sense, as Killing Kennedy, along with its companion volumes Killing Jesus and Killing Lincoln, are some of the highest circulating items here. And I have a rep as the department historian, so it probably seemed appropriate, but I’ll be honest, this was a bit of a challenge for me.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy is one of the most heavily researched and analyzed events in American history. Even the most basic search of the Library of Congress brings up over 1000 entries (and even that barely scratches the surface), so it takes a certain chutzpah to feel like one can add to this literature. Of course, chutzpah is what Bill O’Reilly is all about. One simply doesn’t become the sort of polarizing figure that he is without a fair amount of self-confidence.

In light of the task that O’Reilly and his partner Martin Dugard set for themselves, Killing Kennedy achieves a modicum of success. It is smartly written, full of interesting, if sometimes lurid detail, and doesn’t bog down in the mass of available factual (to say nothing of conspiratorial) material surrounding the assassination.

Killing Kennedy is at its best when it picks up the threads of the narrative and runs with them. In many respects, it reads like a Robert Ludlum novel, gathering momentum as it spirals toward a foregone conclusion. The virtue of the book is in the telling itself, rather than in the promise of new information, of which it contains practically none. It’s mostly told in the present tense, and spiced with a large helping detail, some of it quotidian, some of it lurid, pretty much all of it already well known to practically everyone who had watched the History Channel.

Having said that, one point in favor of this book that it stays away from the sort of conspiracy mongering that is so often found in this genre. I give O’Reilly and Dugard credit for resisting the temptation to weave in speculations about shadowy figures on the grassy knoll, the roll that LBJ may have played, or the idea that the assassination was undertaken by the freemasons (all of which have been posited by conspiracy theorists at one time or another).

Given that, according to a poll done in 2012, something like 7% of American’s believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the guy who assassinated Lincoln, there is definitely a place for this book in today’s society. If it is sometimes grim, sometimes shocking in its details, it must also be said it is moderate and restrained in terms of political spin. And, putting aside for a moment my professional historian’s streak of curmudgeonliness, I will say that this is the kind of history book that is enjoyable reading for the nonspecialist. If you’re interested in learning about an important historical event, and don’t want to get bogged down in a lot of references or left field speculation, O’Reilly and Dugard’s book is well worth your time.

What books have you missed reading?

~John F.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Next Good Book

After finishing a book, I sometimes have a hard time figuring out what to read next. Should I re-read a book that I have read and loved in the past, or should I take a leap into less familiar literary territory?

What follows is a short list of my go-to strategies for finding the next good book:

Pick up the first book in a series

This is a strategy that I have developed for myself over the years. If you saw my home library, you’d notice that a good third of it is comprised of what I like to call “series-starters.” I find this strategy to be helpful, because it takes away a lot of the work in finding the next book to read. If you like the first book, you have more to look forward to! I recently used this method, picking up The Alchemyst by Michael Scott. I’m only halfway finished with it; and, honestly, I’m not sure if I’m going to continue the series or not. But, it’s comforting to know that if I do decide to continue the series, there are five more books waiting!

Of course, depending on the length of the series and how quickly you get through it, you may find yourself back in What-Do-I-Read-Now? Land sooner than expected. That’s why I sometimes need to use…
Online Reader’s Advisory Tools

There are a ton of resources online that can help you find your next book. One of my favorites is NoveList Plus, which you can access through the library’s website with your library card. Simply put in the title of a book or an author’s name, and NoveList will provide you with a list of “read-alikes.” That’s how I found out about Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles—Wrede was listed as a read-alike for Terry Pratchett.

One of the best aspects of NoveList, however, is that each title has been thoroughly analyzed by experts. The resource will provide information about storyline, pace, tone, and other elements of each title. You can then find other titles with those same characteristics. For example, I enjoyed how the plot of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is character-driven, but it’s going to be a while before I want to read another story that’s as emotionally intense. I can use NoveList to find character-driven books in other genres.

If you want a more social experience, you can try websites like GoodReads.com* and LibraryThing.com. These sites are composed of user-generated ratings, reviews, and recommendations. I like to use sites like these when I want to know more about a specific title before making a commitment to reading it. If most people liked the book, then I am more willing to try it for myself.

But, my number one source for reading recommendations has to be…

Asking a librarian!
Librarians are living, breathing, walking, talking resources—take advantage of their skills! They may not have read every book in the library, but they have been trained to connect readers with reading materials. Tell them what you like (or what you don’t like), and they will find books that match your tastes. Seriously, let them do all the work!
Our Reference staff, left to right: Cailey, Mary, John, Amanda, Kristin, and Meredith.
(This was Halloween; we normally don't carry weapons, even pretend.)
So, what about you?  How do you like to discover the next good book to read?
-Ariel J.

*To the right of the screen you can see our librarians' GoodReads feeds, showing their most recently read books and ratings. Click through for full reviews!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Books to Read Before Seeing the Movie 2014-Part 2

It's been a good year for books being made into movies! Here's part two of 2014's book-inspired films. (See part one here.) Read them before the movie comes out!

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Mia is a musical prodigy of sorts, with some tough decisions to make in her life. They are roughly the same decisions a lot of teens deal with: school, family, and first love. Then one morning, everything is taken from her (and if you have seen the movie previews, you'll know what that means). Mia finds herself hovering between life and death. The story is told in a unique way, going back and forth between Mia's memories and the current situation. It is memorable and heartbreaking. The film, starring Chloe Moretz, will be released August 22, so hurry up and read it!

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Thomas woke up in a strange place, surrounding by strange boys, about his own age. He does not recognize any of them, or remember where he came from. All he knows is his name. The place they are in is surrounded by tall stone w movie, out September 19, can hold up to it.
alls that make up an ever-changing maze. Going through the maze is the only way out, and no one has ever made it. There are all sorts of mysteries in this book, and you discover them right along with Thomas. Hopefully the

The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks
In the traditional romance set-up by Sparks, this book follows star-crossed lovers. Years after their doomed romance, Dawson and Amanda reconnect. The spark between them is still there, even after the very different paths their lives have taken. The book explores both the couple's history together, as well as their developing relationship. The previews for this film are steamy on the level of The Notebook, so hopefully it is a good one as well! Starring James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan, and out in October.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Vorst
Alexander's day just doesn't go the way he wants it to. Not at all. He fell asleep with gum in his mouth, his brother pushes him in the mud, his mother forgets his dessert, and that's not all. Poor Alexander's day just goes from bad to worse in this sweet picture book. He learns in the end though, that everybody has a bad day sometimes.The movie follows Alexander's whole family during this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Out in October, starring Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner.

So, I've added to your to-read list. Get going!

~Cailey W.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Chechnya is in a post-war zone, but it’s still home to some villages and individuals leading quiet lives of desperation. After her father is taken from their home for unknown reasons by Russian soldiers, eight year old Havaa is taken to the hospital where (hopefully) the Russians won’t find her. Akhmed, her neighbor, seeks to keep the little girl safe and in the care of the only doctor remaining at the rundown hospital, Sonja. After begrudgingly agreeing to let Havaa stay, Sonja takes Akhmed on as a “doctor” to help out as well. What unfolds is the lives of three people: the tragedies, sorrows, and determination to make a life in a condemnable place.

This is a story about Chechens, but not about the history of the country, instead, it’s about the everyday struggles of a group that is misunderstood and tossed around politically. I sat down with this book, knowing nothing about Chechnya other than it has a lot of struggles and doesn’t particularly want to be a part of Russia, to put it lightly. I didn’t get lost while reading this because of my lack of knowledge, though I was curious to learn more about the subject. What I’m trying to say is don’t be put off by not knowing about Chechnya. This is a book that is beautiful because of and in spite of its main subject matter: Chechen war.  

My favorite character was Khassan, an older man, who for the last few decades has been writing and rewriting a history of Chechnya. He happens to have a son, Ramzan, who is an informant for the Russians. Although Khassan stopped talking to his son when he became an informant, people in the village generally avoid him too. He’s a lonely man, but has put up a resistance to his son. He befriends a pack of wild dogs, which is amusing, and secretly takes care of Akhmed’s ailing wife while he is at the hospital. This man who wants to help, pursue his studies, and desperately wants to be around friends is such a wonderful character, and Marra’s writing only makes him stand out further.

Marra writes with straightforward honesty. He reveals each character to you in layers with skill and ease without blinding you with an emotional bias. In what at times seems an elegant simplicity, Marra writes gorgeous prose that haunt you with their beauty and power. For example:
“For months they'd run their fingers around the hem of their affection without once acknowledging the fabric.” 

In a story where the characters are as complicated as the war that has continued on in one way or another for years, you feel a kinship with their sad stories. When the book is taken as a whole, the stories of each individual are heartbreaking, hopeful, and desperate, but as you read this book, it’s about the day to day. The story of Havaa and her father, Akhmed and his wife, Sonja and her sister unfolds into a story about compassionate individuals in a place where empathy is in short supply. If you enjoy literary fiction, a book you can sink into, and some strong characters, try A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

~Kristin M.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. They did not influence my review in any way.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Father and Son of Horror

Today we welcome Ragan with her first guest post on our blog!

Stephen King (left) and his son Joe Hill
I started reading Stephen King’s books at a VERY young age; the first book being The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, which I read at age 12. Now, if you are a fan of Stephen King you will know that this particular book is very tame compared to his other novels, but soon after reading it, I was on to the next and the next—each one more scary and disturbing then the last. My mother is a fan of King and owns personal copies of most of his books, so I had easy access to them. I would not recommend any of Stephen King’s books to a middle school-aged child of course, but I turned out fine and King’s books are what ignited my love for reading.

I will admit now that I have not read all of Stephen King’s books (he does have over 50 books published after all). I have enjoyed most of the ones that I have read, but I suffer a very short attention span when it comes to reading and I have to switch up authors and characters often or I run the risk of growing bored. I do plan to read them all…eventually.

My love for Stephen King’s work led me to read the work of his son, Joe Hill. Before I read any of Joe Hill’s books, I would have considered Stephen King my favorite author. If you were to ask me today who my favorite author is, Hill would be my choice. If you are not familiar with Joe Hill, he has published four novels so far, along with several short stories and graphic novels. His work falls into the horror genre. I find his writing style very readable and his stories are more paranormal and spooky, whereas Stephen King’s are typically much more violence and gore driven.

Last year Joe Hill released N0S4A2. It is a book about a magical and horrible place called Christmasland, where an evil vampire-like man, Charles Manx, takes abducted children; he absorbs their “life-source” to stay alive, and the children become scary creatures with razor sharp teeth. The main character, Vic, is abducted by Manx as a child, but escapes. Years later when her son is abducted, she travels to Christmasland to save her son and seek vengeance.

A few months after the release of N0S4A2, Stephen King released Doctor Sleep. I would consider The Shining to be my all-time favorite book, so of course I was excited to read the sequel. It picks up much later during the adult life of Danny Torrance, the little boy with psychic abilities who barely escapes the clutches of his demented father and the terrifying spirits of the Overlook Hotel. In Doctor Sleep, Dan is using his psychic abilities to soothe dying patients in a nursing home when he is contacted by a young girl with similar abilities, named Abra. When Abra witnesses a terrible murder of a young boy, also with psychic abilities, by a group of people known as the True Knot, she reaches out to Dan for help. The True Knot, the main villains of Doctor Sleep, are very old and feed off the “steam” of children with psychic power.

You can see the obvious parallels in these stories by Hill and King. The True Knot is briefly mentioned in N0S4A2, and Charles Manx is also brought up by a member of the True Knot in Doctor Sleep, meaning Hill and King meant for these two stories to be taking place in the same world, which I think is pretty cool.

Having read all of Joe Hill’s published books, I felt that Doctor Sleep was similar in style to Hill’s writing and King’s own older works, which I enjoy more than his novels of the late 1990s and early 2000s. If King’s newest releases are any indication, including Mr. Mercedes (which is more of a mystery/psychological thriller) then King seems to be changing up his style a bit and I, for one, am excited for that.

I very much enjoyed both of these books and I would definitely recommend them to anyone who is a fan of either author. Neither of these stories are overly gory or violent, but still very creepy.

Fingers crossed for a real collaboration of some sort from this father and son! In my opinion, based on the success of N0S4A2 and Doctor Sleep, it would be a wonderfully scary experience.

~Ragan S.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Books We've Missed: Arthurian Legend….

Time for another edition of Books We've Missed! This month it's Kristin's turn.

For “Books we've missed” one of the books chosen for me was Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Mary chose this for me. Her reasons for my needing to read it are:
  • Classic fantasy book
  • Arthurian Legend
  • One of her favorites
You may ask: “Why did you miss this nearly 900 page behemoth with large pages, tiny type, and narrow margins?” Well, my curious friend, it was because it was just too short for me. I really prefer a book I can sink my teeth into. People really don’t spend enough time developing characters and plot like they used to.

Sarcasm aside, here’s my quick synopsis of what’s going on in Mists. This book is about the women surrounding Arthur, the legendary King of Camelot, with a hard look at Morgan Le Fey, called Morgaine throughout the novel. Morgaine becomes a priestess of the Isle of Avalon, serving the Goddess and striving to maintain the religion and traditions of the old ways, while Christianity and a patriarchal society bulldoze the female-centered religion of old. We also hear a lot from Igraine who is Morgaine and Arthur’s mother, Morgause who is their Aunt, and Gwenhwyfar, Arthur’s wife. Instead of focusing on the males in the legend, this is about the females who shaped events and the lives of Arthurian legends. It is about the great things that happened, along with the trivial issues of a woman during this time period.

At first I was very excited about this book. Arthurian legend interests me and I thought delving into a deeper look at the characters and happenings would be fun. Then it just kept going and going, so I stopped after reading the first part. The book really takes its time developing the characters and I just stopped caring. The story of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table is so rich and adventurous. However, this was not a book about the knights; it’s about the women. What an amazing idea, one might think! These were women who were very influential in the tales, and to see how they helped or hindered progress during this period should be fascinating. Instead of fascination, I found boredom. All the magic was taken out from the stories because they just became ordinary political happenings. There are certainly intriguing parts about the matriarchal old religion and how Christianity weakened the woman’s position in society. I usually find the everyday happenings of people in different eras enlightening, but damn it 900 pages is far too much! The thing is, the boys were still doing the cool stuff!
So in the end, I get why some really love this book. If you are patient, unlike me, it is a very rich, layered story about a legendary subject matter. For me, it was too much. I need to feel like I’m getting somewhere and this book made me feel like I was slogging through drying cement.

~Kristin M.

Don't forget to tell us which books you've missed!