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A Smart-aleck Sleuth in Ancient Rome

March 9, 2015

Book cover for The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis(Review of the Marcus Didius Falco Mysteries, by Lindsey Davis)

If you grieve (as I do) at the end of a good mystery series, when the last mesmerizing page of the last book is turned, do I have a series for you! The Marcus Didius Falco Mysteries—a total of 20 novels, each a hefty 350-or-so pages—will delay that sad moment and keep you vastly entertained, possibly for the next decade.

Author Lindsey Davis has set her epic in first century AD Rome, where Falco, an informer (read “private detective”), plies his dangerous and not-very-lucrative trade. Falco is an enlightened rogue, occasionally employed by the Emperor Vespasian for cases no one else will take. One of the appeals of this series is Falco’s dry wit as he narrates his many adventures, both professional and personal (he also has an active love life and a large, drama-prone family.)

Book cover for Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey DavisAnother treat is the astounding amount of historically accurate detail crammed into every paragraph. You’ll read about Roman street vendor food (awful), the view from Falco’s seventh-floor Avantine tenement room (spectacular), first century urban firefighting (with fiber mats and brute strength), Roman bathing (with steam and olive oil) and countless other realities of daily Roman life. The effect is like time travel, or the most entertaining history course ever.

I’m not interested in the Roman Empire, and I rarely read historical fiction. Which makes it all the more remarkable that I have read and thoroughly enjoyed every single Falco novel. If you would like to do the same, here are the 15 titles available from DBRL. The five remaining titles* (which are not currently published in the US) are available through our interlibrary loan service.

Marcus Didius Falco Mysteries (in series order)

  1. The Silver Pigs
  2. Shadows in Bronze
  3. Venus in Copper
  4. The Iron Hand of Mars
  5. “Poseidon’s Gold”*
  6. “Last Act in Palmyra”*
  7. Time to Depart
  8. A Dying Light in Corduba
  9. Three Hands in the Fountain
  10. “Two for the Lions”*
  11. “One Virgin too Many”*
  12. “Ode to a Banker”*
  13. A Body in the Bathhouse
  14. The Jupiter Myth
  15. The Accusers
  16. Scandal Takes a Holiday
  17. See Delphi and Die
  18. Saturnalia
  19. Alexandria
  20. Nemesis

The post A Smart-aleck Sleuth in Ancient Rome appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Better Know a Genre: Cozy Mysteries

March 4, 2015

Stack of books by Thomas Galvez via Flickr

It has been a while since I have helped readers to Better Know a Genre. What have I been doing instead of writing? Hibernating. But I’m back, and there are still a few weeks left until spring, so let us take these last days of winter to focus on the genre known as “cozy mysteries.”

Imagine the television show “Murder She Wrote” as a book. (Wait! You don’t have to imagine it.) Cozy mysteries, like all whodunits, begin with a crime. The crime usually takes place in a small town. Although the stories can contain murders or sexual activity, these are not explicitly described. There are not graphic depictions of violent crime. It is not usually the examination of forensic evidence from the crime scene that leads to the arrest of the perpetrator. Instead, there is a focus on solving the puzzle using knowledge of the town and its inhabitants.

The crime is often solved by a female amateur detective. The women tend to have a job that puts them into contact with the community, such as a teacher, author, librarian (hi!) or caterer. She might also have a hobby that serves as one of the themes of the book or series. Cooking and crafting are popular examples, and sometimes the books even contain recipes or patterns. She herself does not often work in law enforcement but will likely have unofficial help from someone on the police force. She is likable and engaging, not like the unfriendly Sherlock Holmes or the hard-drinking Philip Marlowe.

Also, cats. Lots of cats.

Check out some of these popular cozy mystery series from our collection!

Book cover for Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne FlukeCulinary cozies:

Tea Shop Mystery series, by Laura Child
Goldy Bear Mystery series, by Diane Mott Davidson
Hannah Swenson Mystery series, by Joanne Fluke
Faith Fairchild Mystery series, by Katherine Hall Page

Book cover for Crewel World by Monica FerrisCrafting cozies:

Needlecraft Mystery series, by Monica Ferris
Seaside Knitters Mystery series, by Sally Goldenbaum
Quilting Mystery series, by Terri Thayer

These are just two of many many many cozy mystery themes. What is your favorite series?

The post Better Know a Genre: Cozy Mysteries appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The March 2015 List

March 2, 2015

Library Reads LogoThe list of books publishing this month that librarians across the country love is nearly all fiction. And the one work of nonfiction — by the accomplished Erik Larson, author of the bestsellers “The Devil in the White City” and “In the Garden of Beasts” — is narrative nonfiction, its propulsive storytelling making it read much like a novel. Still, the selections are wide-ranging in terms of topic and appeal, with everything from the character-driven follow-up to the extremely popular “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” to a new steampunk fantasy spin-off from the writer of the Parasol Protectorate series. Here’s this month’s LibraryReads list.

Book cover for The Love Song of Miss Queenie HennessyThe Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy” by Rachel Joyce

“Miss Queenie Hennessy, who we met in Joyce’s first book, is in a hospice ruminating over her abundant life experiences. I loved the poignant passages and wise words peppered throughout. Readers of ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ will enjoy this book. There’s no fast-paced plot or exciting twists — it’s just a simple, sweet story of a life well-lived.” - Andrienne Cruz, Azusa City Library, Azusa, CA

Book cover for Dead Wake by Erik LarsonDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania” by Erik Larson

“In cinematic terms, this dramatic page-turner is Das Boot meets Titanic. Larson has a wonderful way of creating a very readable, accessible story of a time, place and event. We get three sides of the global story — the U-boat commander, British Admiralty and President Wilson — but what really elevates this book are the affecting stories of individual crew and passengers.” - Robert Schnell, Queens Library, Jamaica, NY 

Book cover for Prudence by Gail CarrigerPrudence” by Gail Carriger

“I was hoping we’d be seeing Prudence in her own series. Baby P — Rue to you — is all grown up and absolutely delightful. First-time readers will think it’s a wonderful book on its own merits. However, it becomes spectacular when we get to revisit some of the beloved characters from the Parasol Protectorate. Gail Carriger is always a delight!” - Lisa Sprague, Enfield Public Library, Enfield, CT

And here’s the rest of the list with links to the library’s catalog so you can place holds on these forthcoming titles!

The Witch of Painted Sorrows” by M. J. Rose
Cat Out of Hell” by Lynne Truss
Vanishing Girls” by Lauren Oliver
Delicious Foods” by James Hannaham
The Fifth Gospel” by Ian Caldwell
The Pocket Wife” by Susan Crawford
Where All Light Tends to Go” by David Joy

The post Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The March 2015 List appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Classics for Everyone: Cry, the Beloved Country

February 23, 2015

Book cover for Cry the Beloved Country“Cry the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply.”

Alan Paton’s South African novel is full of lyrical phrasing like that. It’s one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. The action takes place in the late 1940s, amid apartheid practices and attitudes. There’s another sentence in the book I believe could be the title, as far as it describes the story: “All roads lead to Johannesburg.”

When Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo hears that his sister needs him, he leaves the small village of Ndotsheni for Johannesburg.  Since he’s going anyway, he decides to try to find his only son, Absalom, who moved to the city and stopped writing home. Also, Stephen’s brother who went there several years ago. Oh, and one of the pastor’s friends has a relative there. Would he possibly be able to check on her as well? Kumalo finds his family members, one by one, but the reunions are not joyful occasions. People move to Johannesburg because it’s where the jobs are, but it is an overcrowded city full of corruption, vice and crime. Everyone lives in fear.

The wealthy white farmer who lives near the pastor’s village also has a son in Johannesburg, a son who has been working for racial justice, until he is shot dead by burglars who expected to find nobody home. Kumalo remembers him as “a small bright boy.” Paton’s wording is everything when it comes to capturing the emotion of a scene: “…he was silent again, for who is not silent when someone is dead, who was a small bright boy?”  An even more tragic turn comes when Absalom Kumalo confesses to the crime, explaining how he fired the shot in panic.

The realities of apartheid are consistently woven into the fabric of the story. When a black man falls, a white man would like to help, but he finds himself at a loss, because “it is not the tradition” that people of different races should touch each other. The white churches are magnificent. The Ndotsheni church has multiple leaks when it rains. The children in the village have no milk.

But this book is not all pathos and tragedy. Though it is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of suffering.* As the two fathers cross paths and attempt to resume their lives, they both draw deep from the well of compassion to create meaning from their losses, to give the world a continuation of whatever positive they saw in the spirits of their respective sons.
 

*Refers to a well-known quote by Helen Keller

The post Classics for Everyone: Cry, the Beloved Country appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: Emily St. John Mandel

February 16, 2015

Station_ElevenPost-apocalyptic fiction is as popular and ubiquitous as this simile is confusing and ineffective. For some it is a gloomy respite from the constant barrage of good news, utopian grocers and complementary snacks. For others it is a chilling vision of events horrifyingly near at hand. For others still it is a genre of stories that they read for pleasure.

Unlike the supplies in these stories, there is a massive selection of such books to peruse. Readers know that one of the following, in order of likelihood, will be what brings civilization to its knees: zombies, super flu, war, aliens, weather or vampires. We know roughly how things will play out and that the most important people left will be attractive and/or magical. We know it will be nearly as excruciating to experience as it is fun to read about. But what we don’t know, and what has long been one of my chief concerns about life in a hellscape, is whether or not there will be traveling bands of actors and musicians, and if there are, whether or not they will eventually run into trouble. Emily St. John Mandel’s gnarly novel, “Station Eleven,” answers my questions while being really fun to read.

One of this novel’s nifty tricks is to jump around in time and among characters. It opens, just prior to the “Georgian Flu” outbreak it uses to decimate the population, with one of its main characters dying on stage, and then proceeds forward and backward in time to check on characters connected to the dead thespian. One connected character is the child actress that helped provide a twist to his production of “King Lear,” and twenty years later was one of the world’s foremost traveling actors. Another is a paparazzo that hounded the actor until switching careers to be a paramedic and attending the actor’s fateful play. Another, the dead actor’s agent, starts a “Museum of Civilization” (its most popular exhibits include stilettos and cell phones) in an airport where several people take refuge after the outbreak. (The airport is home to one of the novel’s best and most distressing images: a plane, landed safely on the runway but with its doors sealed to forever contain infected passengers.)

This novel quickly introduces a plethora of questions (like why is the nefarious prophet’s dog’s name taken from an extremely limited edition comic that happens to be another character’s most prized possession?), and as the answers start to come the book becomes extra-impossible to put down. “Station Eleven” bounces between post-apocalyptic suspense and pre-apocalyptic drama, but its characters and language are always well-crafted and immersive. It is doubtful the looming Armageddon will be anywhere near as enjoyable.

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Categories: Book Buzz

What to Read While You Wait for The Girl on the Train

February 9, 2015

Book cover for The Girl on the Train by Paula HawkinsThe Girl on the Train”  by Paula Hawkins  follows the mundane life of down-and-out Rachel who commutes daily into London by train. Before long she realizes she has been observing a couple every morning as they enjoy breakfast up on their roof top. Rachel begins to fantasize about their life, creating names for the couple while wishing their life was all hers. Then one day she notices a stranger in the garden, and the woman she fondly named Jess is no longer there! Written in the same vein as “Rear Window,” you will soon find yourself entangled in this psychological thriller. Place a hold on this popular best-seller, then pick up one of these similar books that draw in the curious observer.

Book cover for A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil HoganA Pleasure and a Calling” by Phil Hogan

Mr. Hemming, such a nice man. He is a real estate agent for a small community and likes to spy on his clients. He does this by keeping keys to the homes he has sold — all of them.  Then his creepy little secret life gets put on hold when they find a dead body in one of his homes.

 Book cover for Death Match by Lincoln ChildDeath Match” by Lincoln Child

Eden Incorporated — surveillance, artificial intelligence, state of the art matchmaking. It’s a perfect company. They create the perfect couple, the perfect match. Young, attractive, they have everything — it’s perfect. Now, a double suicide on their perfect living room floor. How is it that if everything was so perfect, they are dead? Isn’t Eden perfect?

Book cover for The Other Woman's House by Sophie HannahThe Other Woman’s House by Sophia Hannah

Unable to sleep, Connie Bowskill uses her husband’s laptop to log on to an Internet real estate site to view a home she has become obsessed with. While taking the virtual tour, she is witness to a woman lying face down in a pool of blood! Flustered by what she sees, she awakens her husband to show him, but when they return to site the photo is no longer there!

Have other similar titles to recommend to your fellow readers? Let us know in the comments!

The post What to Read While You Wait for The Girl on the Train appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz
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