Monday, January 26, 2015

January 2015 Staff Book Recommendations

January 26, 2015 

Guilty Pleasure: Reflecting on Paranormal Romance 

This month I’d like to talk about romance, specifically the paranormal kind. The romance genre is generally accepted as the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. It offers everything one needs for a carefree escape: familiar character types and plot structures, vicarious angst, steamy trysts, and, of course, happy endings. Paranormal romances have the added bonus of supernatural creatures and magic. In the last month, I’ve delved into the genre and I’m here to report on my findings. 

Nora Roberts stands with a few others as a queen of the romance genre. She’s written over 200 novels without co-authors or ghost writers (!?). In Dark WitchRoberts introduces a magical world and cast of characters which go on to fill two more volumes in the Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy. The novel follows protagonist Iona Sheehan as she discovers her magical family heritage in Ireland. She connects with distant cousins and becomes the third member of a prophesied powerful trio of O’Dwyer witches who must defeat the evil sorcerer, Cabhan. Along the way Iona finds herself falling in love with her boss, Boyle. She must learn how to accept love, both familial and romantic, and to rely on others in order to get through the trial of fighting Cabhan. The novel features an extended prologue which illustrates the history of the first Dark Witch, Sorcha, as well as some wince-inducing rhyming spells. I found the book to be very slow-paced. Roberts does a poor job of balancing world building, action, romantic suspense and the humdrum details of Iona’s daily life. If you’re willing to push through the sloggy parts, the novel does pick up pace in the end. Bonus features: horses and a certain resemblance to the TV show Charmed

If you’re looking for an author with a better sense of pacing and less painful exposition, look no further than Nalini Singh. Singh’s book Angel’s Blood (also the opener of a series) effortlessly intertwines plot, character development and world building while never letting up on its page-turning suspense. Vampire hunter Elena Deveraux is hired by the equally gorgeous and dangerous archangel Raphael. To spurn an archangel is to court death, which is why Elena is alarmed to learn that Raphael wishes her to use her vampire tracking skills to locate a rogue archangel. If she refuses Raphael, she’s dead. If she agrees to track down the other angel, she’s…also dead. In addition to the thrilling danger, Elena finds herself frustratingly attracted to her new boss. Featuring supernatural elements that don’t interfere with the suspense or the steamy romance, Angel’s Blood is a delight. It’s a quick, easy read that will appeal to both romance and fantasy buffs. 

And finally we come to the requisite vampire/werewolf cross species romance: A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole. A tale as old as time: Scottish werewolf Lachlain discovers that his predestined mate, the woman he has waited hundreds of years to find, is a vampire, i.e., his enemy. He must struggle with his desire for revenge against the vampires who captured and tortured him for over a hundred years and his overwhelming lust for Emma. Part kidnapping road trip adventure and part explicit romance, Cole’s book is light on atmosphere and myth development and heavy on action and sexual tension (seriously, you’ll blush). Fifty Shades readers who are able to look past the supernatural elements will find this a tantalizing read. The power dynamic between alpha male Lachlain and weak, insecure Emma is similar to the relationship found in the Fifty Shades books. 

Though we call romance books a guilty pleasure, we can’t deny their allure. Come peruse the romance stacks at WPL. You may be surprised at what you find. 


January 12, 2015

Devil Dog: The Amazing True Story of the Man Who Saved America 
By Davis Talbot
Illustrated by Spain Rodriguez

Devil Dog is a fascinating and adventure-filled story of an authentic American hero with the unlikely name of Smedley Darlington Butler. Before you think this is the beginning of a joke, be prepared for a story of a uniquely patriotic man in American history. He was born in 1881 into a prominent blueblood Philadelphia family of politically connected bankers and his father,Thomas Butler, was a powerful congressman. Smedley grew into a wiry, thin but muscled young man weighing 140 pounds and topped off at 5' 9". He dropped out of the prestigious Haverford School and enlisted in the Marines. The Maine was sunk in Havana Harbor and a young Second Lieutenant Smedley Butler began his career as a Marine officer but did not see much action in Cuba. Suddenly, he was in China for the Boxer Rebellion and saw firsthand the horrors of combat. Butler, a teenage leader of men, quickly commanded their respect through his bravery and level-headedness during the march into Peking. The fighting was particularly fierce and in the end, the allied forces, although victorious, were stained with excesses of rape, looting, and executions. 

By 1904, Butler was back in Philadelphia, twenty three years old, a veteran of three wars, and a highly decorated Marine officer. He courted and married society belle Ethel Peters and brought her and his children “Snooks” and Smedley, Jr. to the Panama Canal Zone in 1910. He was soon embroiled in an incursion in Nicaragua. His next duty station involved the occupation of Haiti, which was to last more than twenty years, and it was here that Butler’s cynicism of America’s motives started to reach maturity. He felt that his marines were being used as “a glorified bill collecting agency” in America’s colonial wars in the Caribbean. 

This narrative is just part of the life of Smedley Butler. His was a life of action, deeply felt beliefs, strong loyalties, and courageous battles, such as cleaning up bootleg Philadelphia, going against Presidential power to defend veterans, and most importantly, blowing the cover of a plot by wealthy American businessmen to overthrow the United States government and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

The historic facts in the book are fascinating, Butler is captivating, and the format of the book, to me, provides a satisfying balance between its graphics, text, sidebars, period photographs, poster reproductions, and newspaper reproductions to bring a contemporary feel to a fascinating era in American history and to the life of an important man who seems nearly forgotten. The book contains a bibliography for further reading for those who would like to learn more about this period of U.S. history. As for the title, Devil Dog, and what it means, well...just get the book and you can find out what’s behind that expression. You won’t be sorry. 


January 6, 2015

Station Eleven
By Emily St. John Mandel

Dr. Eleven: What was it like for you, at the end?
Captain Lonagan:  It was exactly like waking up from a dream.

This is the best book I’ve read in some time.  It’s one of those stories in which a disparate group of characters are woven together strand by strand and by the end of the story, their degrees of separation are magically reduced to a mere whisker of fate.

An addition to the rapidly expanding canon of dystopian literature, modern civilization in this novel is taken down by plague; specifically, a transcontinental flu. The plot opens with the unexpected onstage death of world-famous actor Arthur Leander and from there ripples back into Arthur’s formative years, and forward to Year Twenty after the pandemic. The action is propelled through the lives of a paparazzo-turned-EMT who attempted to save Arthur’s life, a child actor who happened to be onstage with him at that defining moment, Arthur’s three wives and old friends, and finally, a wandering troupe of surviving actors and musicians.

The point of the novel can be summed up in the Star Trek quote that is emblazoned on the Traveling Symphony’s caravan: “Because survival is insufficient.” In a world in which everything we know has been destroyed, what still matters?  The author’s answer: art and humanity. Emily St. John Mandel conveys this opinion through prose that is both rich and light at the same time, and even though it is clear that every character is doomed to premature death by modern standards, it is easy to be reminded of the possibility of experiencing and creating beauty in life, no matter how soon life may end. Indeed, the most lyrical, elegiac passages describe the alternate world of the titular Station Eleven, a comic book fantasy invented and escaped into by Arthur’s first wife Miranda. 

So far, my favorite book of the year!