Monday, July 25, 2016

Read-Alike Monday: M.C. Beaton and Cozy Mysteries

This week we are featuring read-alikes for M.C. Beaton, a cozy mystery author. In cozy mysteries, the crime-solver is usually a woman who is an amateur sleuth with an interesting profession who lives in a small town. M.C. Beaton is known for two contemporary Mystery series -- one featuring amateur detective Agatha Raisin, and the other, Scottish police detective Hamish Macbeth. Both series offer readers a comfortable combination of eccentric characters, vividly detailed settings, expertly crafted plots and a strong measure of humor. Start with: Death of a Gossip. 

READ-ALIKES:


Susan Witting Albert: Susan Wittig Albert is a versatile writer of four distinct Cozy Mystery series, all of which feature an interesting mix of colorful characters, multiple puzzles leading to ingenious plot twists, and carefully researched, richly described settings. Series include the Robin Paige Victorian-Edwardian series, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, the China Bayles mysteries, and the Darling Dahlias mysteries. Her female protagonists are strong, intelligent women who fight injustice. Start with: Thyme of Death.

Rita Mae Brown: Rita Mae Brown writes witty, clever mysteries and mainstream fiction with a strong sense of place and memorable, if quirky, characters. She is currently best known for her mystery series, Julia and Louise novels, Mags and Baxter mysteries, Mrs. Murphy series. Her stories feature strong women characters, and also include non-human characters (cats, dogs, and horses) who are much wiser than their human counterparts. A gentle humor pervades her storytelling even when she explores issues from varying viewpoints. Start with: Wish You Were Here.

Katherine Hall Page: Page's series follows Faith Fairchild, a caterer and minister’s wife in a small village in Massachusetts as she solves mysteries. Being a caterer, food and recipes are always involved in these books. Start with: The Body in the Belfry.

Diane Mott Davidson: Diane Mott Davidson is known for the humor, quirky characters, and small town feeling of her cozy, culinary mysteries. Caterer Goldy Bear is a smart heroine, whose ability to juggle her work and personal life is admired. Start with: Dying for Chocolate.

Lilian Jackson Braun: Braun's Cat Who cozy mystery series features newspaperman James (Qwill) Qwilleran and his two Siamese cats, who help him solve the latest crime with their extraordinary powers of perception. Colorful characters, both feline and human, dominate these entertaining stories. Start with: The Cat Who Could Read Backwards.

Alexander McCall Smith: McCall Smith's Number One Ladies' Detective Agency features Precious Ramotswe, the very first female private detective in all of Botswana. Tactful, effective, and insightful detecting comes naturally to this very independent woman in this highly entertaining humorous cozy mystery series. Start with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.











Thursday, July 21, 2016

Book Club Guide: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir 
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars' surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, Mark won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark's not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth. 


What to Serve Your Guests:

Loaded Baked Potato Appetizers: Since Mark Watney lived mostly off of potatoes while on Mars, you can make your guests these loaded baked potato appetizers. Recipe here.  




Shrimp Cocktail: Astronauts love their shrimp cocktail. Story Musgrave, the six-time shuttle flier ate shrimp cocktail for every meal, including breakfast. Find a recipe here.







Author Interviews:
NPR Interview
Telegraph Interview
Amazing Stories Magazine
Adam Savage Interview

Book Reviews:
Wall Street Journal Review
AV Club Review
New York Times Review
Kirkus Review

Discussion Questions:
(from litlovers.com)
1. How did The Martian challenge your expectations of what the novel would be? What did you find most surprising about it?

2. What makes us root for a character to live in a survival story? In what ways do you identify with Mark? How does the author get you to care about him?

3. Do you believe the crew did the right thing in abandoning the search for Mark? Was there an alternative choice?

4. Did you find the science and technology behind Mark's problem-solving accessible? How did that information add to the realism of the story?

5. What are some of the ways the author established his credibility with scientific detail? Which of Mark's solutions did you find most amazing and yet believable?

5. What is your visual picture of the surface of Mars, based on the descriptions in the book? Have you seen photographs of the planet?

7. Who knew potatoes, duct tape, and seventies reruns were the key to space survival? How does each of these items represent aspects of Mark's character that help him survive?

8. How is Mark's sense of humor as much a survival skill as his knowledge of botany? Do you have a favorite funny line of his?

9. To what extent does Mark's log serve as his companion? Do you think it's implicit in the narrative that maintaining a log keeps him sane?

10. The author provides almost no back story regarding Mark's life on Earth. Why do you think he made this choice? What do you imagine Mark's past life was like?

11. There's no mention of Mark having a romantic relationship on Earth. Do you think that makes it easier or harder to endure his isolation? How would the story be different if he was in love with someone back home?

12. Were there points in the novel when you became convinced Mark couldn't survive? What were they, and what made those situations seem so dire?

13. The first time the narrative switched from Mark's log entries to third-person authorial narrative back on Earth, were you surprised? How does alternating between Mark's point of view and the situation on Earth enhance the story?

14. Did you believe the commitment of those on Earth to rescuing one astronaut? What convinced you most?

15. To what extent do you think guilt played a part in the crew's choice to go back to Mark? To what extent loyalty? How would you explain the difference?

16. How does the author handle the passage of time in the book? Did he transition smoothly from a day-to-day account to a span of one and a half years? How does he use the passage of time to build suspense?

17. Unlike other castaways, Mark can approximately predict the timing of his potential rescue. How does that knowledge help him? How could it work against him?

18. When Mark leaves the Hab and ventures out in the rover, did you feel a loss of security for him? In addition to time, the author uses distance to build suspense. Discuss how.

19. Where would you place The Martian in the canon of classic space exploration films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Apollo 13, and Gravity? What does it have in common with these stories? How is it different?

20. A survival story has to resonate on a universal level to be effective, whether it's set on a desert island or another planet. How important are challenges in keeping life vital? To what extent are our everyday lives about problem-solving and maintaining hope?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Read-Alike Monday: The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls is a new novel from 27 year-old debut novelist, Emma Cline. It is #3 on the New York Times Hardcover Best Seller list this week and very popular among Lake Forest Library patrons. If you loved The Girls and you are looking for something similar to read, try one of these suggestions.


Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

READ-ALIKES:


Outer Maroo, a small, opal mining town in the Australian outback, is stewing in heat, drought, and guilty anxiety. Some ghastly cataclysm has occurred on the opal fields, but this is a taboo subject. At the heart of the mystery is the cult messiah, Oyster, dressed in white, sexually compelling, and preaching the end of time.


Rachel feels like she doesn’t fit in — until she finds heavy metal and meets Fern, a kindred spirit. The two form their own band, but the metal scene turns out to be no different than the misogynist world they want to change. Violent encounters escalate, and the friends decide there’s only one way forward . . .
A bloodstained journey into the dark heart of the music industry, Boring Girls traces Rachel’s deadly coming-of-age, Fern at her side — as the madness deepens, their band’s success heightens, and their taste for revenge grows ravenous.


Universally acclaimed when it was first published in 1968,Slouching Towards Bethlehem has become a modern classic. More than any other book of its time, this collection captures the mood of 1960s America, especially the center of its counterculture, California. These essays, keynoted by an extraordinary report on San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, all reflect that, in one way or another, things are falling apart, "the center cannot hold." An incisive look at contemporary American life, Slouching Towards Bethlehem has been admired for several decades as a stylistic masterpiece.


Prosecuting attorney in the Manson trial, Vincent Bugliosi held a unique insider's position in one of the most baffling and horrifying cases of the twentieth century: the cold-blooded Tate-LaBianca murders carried out by Charles Manson and four of his followers. What motivated Manson in his seemingly mindless selection of victims, and what was his hold over the young women who obeyed his orders? Here is the gripping story of this famous and haunting crime.


Jon Krakauer’s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. He now shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders, taking readers inside isolated American communities where some 40,000 Mormon Fundamentalists still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God.

At the core of Krakauer’s book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. 



Thursday, July 14, 2016

HARRY POTTER UPDATE


 Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


We thought we would bring you up to date on new material from the world of Harry Potter coming to us Muggles soon. New movies, plays, and written material, in addition to lavishly illustrated and collectible sets of the classic 7.
Set for release July 31st is the script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. J.K. Rowling has co-authored a play, premiering in London July 30th.  (And you thought Hamilton was a hot ticket!)  It’s actually a two-part performance that can be seen consecutively or on separate occasions.  The play takes place 19 years after the end of  Harry’s time at Hogwarts.  He now works for the Ministry of Magic and has 3 children, the cursed child being Albus, his youngest.  What fun to take this book (actually a script) home and act out the story with your friends!  We’ll have plenty of copies available for you to check out.

 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them





 Potterworld is also coming to the big screen in November with the new movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  This is a different story than the existing book of the same title.  Rowling, who wrote the screen play, imagines the early career of Newt Scamander, “author” of that slim textbook.  The title was originally referred to in the Harry Potter books; later Rowling wrote the book itself.


  Excited as we Potter fans are to devour new material, we’re also impressed with some recently released illustrated editions –so far The Sorcerer’s Stone and the Chamber of Secrets (available in October). These oversize books are stunningly illustrated by award winning artist Jim Kay,who confessed to feeling a terrible panic at tackling the popular franchise.  He needn't have worried.  His atmospheric renderings capture Harry’s world beautifully.
While we’re waiting for the newest in Harry Potter, re-acquaint yourself with the original series and try the companion books you may have missed: Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, Quidditch Through the Ages, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard.