READ IT BEFORE YOU SEE IT: THE MAGICIANS

Recently I’ve been seeing advertisements for a new series on the ScyFy network: The Magicians, the first episode of which is available on You Tube, the next episodes being shown on the network.  I have such mixed feelings about this. I so totally love the three books in this series that I do not want to see a television program mess them up (a la The Postman; have I mentioned before that I will never forgive Kevin Costner for the travesty he made of that, which was one of my all time favorite books?).

Whether or not you choose to watch the series, I heartily recommend that you read the books on which it’s based (I can’t tell from the preview whether the series just covers the book The Magicians or the whole series).  If you have a taste for The Chronicles of Narnia or  the Harry Potter books, you could hardly do better than to read The Magicians, The Magician King and The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman.

the magicians cover

This is a series you really have to read in order, so start with The Magicians. This is a book about young adults learning how to be magicians, and what they do with their powers once they achieve them.  Our protagonist, Quentin Coldwater, manages to get himself into this top secret, absolutely wonderful magic school called Brakebills (which is supposedly somewhere along the banks of the Hudson River, and I, for one, spent some time trying to guess where it was supposed to be located).  Don’t think of Hogwarts; this feels so much more like an American college than a British boarding school, and the students there are pure and real adolescents, especially Quentin, who manages to make all kinds of mistakes and do things wrong, antagonize people, drink too much, take drugs, engage in inappropriate sex.  There are some awesome things that happen at the school: when the students have to move to Brakebills South (which is at the other end of the earth), it’s an amazing sequence like nothing you’ve read in other fantasy books. Quentin’s secret is his love for a series of children’s books about a place called Fillory (which is very similar to the Narnia books), and when he discovers that there really IS a Fillory, and that he and his friends can go there and enter into the dangers of that world, he believes he’ll finally find his place and his purpose.  Of course things are very different from the stories of his childhood, and Quentin and the others are forced to face their limitations and the possibility of failure.  It’s a powerful book, which you can read by itself if you like (and when I read it, it was the only book in the series and I didn’t even know there would be other books), but if you enjoyed it as I did, you’ll want to move on immediately to the next book, which is deeper, stranger and more heart-rending.

the magician king cover

The thing I tell people about The Magician King is that when I was reading it for the first time, I was moving my daughter to her new home in North Carolina, in August.  August in North Carolina. Hot, sweaty, not my idea of fun.  When everybody else was going swimming, I chose to stay indoors because I was almost finished with the book and I couldn’t bear to put it down — even when the alternative was swimming and cooling off.  It was that good.

The Magician King starts after the end of The Magicians, but it also winds around to the beginning of that book, taking up the story of Julia, one of Quentin’s friends from his ordinary life in Brooklyn before he discovered and was discovered by Brakebills.  Julia took the entrance exam for Brakebills when Quentin did, but she did not get in, so she had to find her way to magic via a different, and ultimately more dangerous, route.  When Quentin gets thrown out of Fillory and is unable to find his way back through normal means, he joins up with Julia and follows her through the underground world of magic.  Julia is a wonderful character, flawed and poignant, and when you find out what actually happened to her, and what her ultimate destiny is, you are both appalled and amazed.  Even though this is the second book in a trilogy, it does not leave you hanging the way some second books do, and you could, if you wanted, stop there and still feel deeply satisfied (if somewhat saddened) by the way the series worked out.

the magician's land cover

But why should you stop there, now that there is a third book to read?  I had to wait years between The Magician King and The Magician’s Land, but you can take the third one out immediately, and I recommend you do, while the events of The Magician King are still fresh in your mind.  Quentin is once again in the “real world”, disgraced and alone.  He becomes involved in a magical robbery of sorts which, because this is happening to Quentin, turns into a total disaster.  His life entwines with that of Plum, a former Brakebills student, and people from his past return in surprising and ultimately very satisfying ways.  It’s taken Quentin a long time to grow up, and a lot of the reviewers of The Magicians disliked the book because Quentin was (frankly) hard to love or even to like, but by the time we reach the end of the third book, he has come into his own and the entire series comes to a lovely and satisfying conclusion.  This book was named as one of the best of the year on a number of year end lists, and it deserves all the accolades it received.  

 

VORACIOUS: A FOOD MEMOIR PERFECT FOR THE READING CHALLENGE

voracious cover

I am willing to concede that there might be a food memoir more perfectly suited to the 2016 Reading Challenge than Voracious, by Cara Nicoletti, but you would really have to work hard to persuade me of that. Consider the subtitle of the book: “A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books,” a subtitle which explains precisely what the book is about.

Basically, the book is a collection of essays, each one ending with a recipe, talking about the author’s experiences with different books, ranging from the Little House books and Nancy Drew through Great Expectations and Moby Dick, to Gone Girl and The Secret History, and the foods she makes (the recipes provided, of course) that go along with the books. So here you have a food memoir in which the author is taking you on a guided tour of her life’s reading, which is bound to include books you haven’t read yourself (and some of them would almost certainly cover one of the categories in the challenge – the “read a book that’s longer than 500 pages” one, for instance). While she’s not exactly doing the Reading Challenge, you feel that she would be amenable to joining in, and would be a good companion on the challenge.

You may disagree with some of her opinions (how could anyone not love Pippi Longstocking? And how could you not love Emma despite its somewhat opinionated and difficult heroine?), and you may not be inspired to try all her recipes (though many of them sound really delicious), but you can’t help being pulled along by her enthusiasm, the way she relates her experiences as a butcher and a cook and a young woman growing up to the things she was reading and the things she’s cooking. The author comes across as a very real, lively person, with extremely strong opinions on a lot of topics, and she sounds like the sort of person you would enjoy meeting for a meal – home cooked or at a restaurant.

What about the food, you may ask. Well, some of the pairings are inspired (if easy): clam chowder for Moby Dick, for instance, or crostini with fava bean and chicken liver mousses for (what else?) The Silence of the Lambs. Some of them are a little less obvious but really appropriate when you think about them: white (garlic) soup for Pride and Prejudice (she explains why and in so doing illuminates a detail of the book that I hadn’t noticed before, and I’m a HUGE Pride and Prejudice fan), or black rye bread for Les Miserables, or a cherry pie (which the victim was making before she was killed) for In Cold Blood. And some of them, where I haven’t read the book (I know, it’s shocking to imagine there are books I haven’t read, but really, there are tons of those), I am just willing to take on faith.

The book is short, too – 267 pages, including recipes – which is also an advantage when you’re talking about the Reading Challenge (there are a lot of categories to cover, you know). I know I devoured it in an afternoon and am only keeping it out of the library longer to try some of the recipes.

There are plenty of food memoirs, and those of you who are doing the Reading Challenge with me can rest assured that I’ll be providing lists of the books that qualify for this category later in the year. However, as far as I’m concerned, Voracious is such a fun read and so apropos that you could hardly do better than to take this one out and give it a whirl.

THE ROSIE PROJECT : THE FIELD NOTES BOOK GROUP’S FEBRUARY BOOK

The next meeting of the Field Library book group will be on Saturday, February 20, less than a week after Valentine’s Day.  So it makes perfect sense for us to be reading Graeme Simsion’s book, The Rosie Project for our next book.  

THE ROSIE PROJECT COVER

The book is a charming and funny romance with quirky and lovable characters who continually surprise the reader.  We start with Don Tillman, a professor of genetics who also happens to be, as he himself admits, a person whose brain works somewhat differently from other people’s.  He likes schedules (he chooses his week’s menus well in advance, because it’s so much more efficient to know what you’re going to eat and buy only the ingredients for those meals), he’s very aware of how he’s spending every minute of his day, and for the most part he’s reasonably happy with his life.  He decides that perhaps the reason he’s never met a woman who could fit into his life is because he hasn’t been looking in the right way, so he designs a very detailed questionnaire to screen out those women who aren’t really his type.

Of course you can see where this is going: this questionnaire of his is NOT going to help him find the woman of his dreams.  Quite the contrary: there are a couple of very funny scenes in which Don very innocently tries to use his questionnaire and creates disasters instead.

However, his good friend and fellow professor, Gene, under the guise of helping him narrow down his choices, sends a bartender named Rosie to Don as a date. Rosie immediately proves herself unqualified as a potential match, but she’s intriguing (both to Don and to us readers), and he finds himself helping her find who her biological father could be.  This entangles him with Rosie and slowly but surely leads Don to question a lot of things he’s taken for granted in the past.

The book is told by Don, and there’s always a problem with a first person narrator who doesn’t understand everything he sees.  In this case, Don’s limitation is his inability to understand emotions the way neurotypical people do, but he’s very observant, so we the readers can draw conclusions that Don can’t.  

There’s a temptation to think of Don as an Australian version of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, but that would be a mistake.  Don has more of a heart than Sheldon, is more willing to change, and is much less selfish than Sheldon.  You’re rooting for him even as you’re wincing at some of his actions (none of which are motivated by malice, of course), and while there are many funny scenes in the book, you’re laughing WITH Don, rather than AT him.

Come to the library and pick up a copy of the book, and join us for what will surely be a fun discussion of life, love and the limitations of science.

 

CREEPY AND DISTURBING: NEW HORROR AT THE FIELD

Of course we all know the season for horror books is in the fall, specifically around Halloween. There’s something about the turning of the seasons, the seeming dying of all nature, that makes it seem just right for reading scary books. However, we could also make a good case that reading horror in the dead of winter feels appropriate, too: when the cold and snow and ice force people to stay indoors, making it difficult or impossible to run away from whatever horrors might be afoot, when all the internal workings of older (and newer) houses seem to sound off with unusual and potentially disturbing sounds, when the nights are longer and perfect for filling with dark imaginings.  Not to mention that there are some new and creepy books on the shelves at the library for your perusal, and not to mention that, for those of you doing the Read Harder Challenge, one of the categories is to “Read a Horror Book.”  

the children's home cover

One of the classic plots is that of children leaving this world through a cupboard or secret door or the like to enter another world where they are immediately involved in adventures of one kind or another (think of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for a famous example).  The Children’s Home, by Charles Lambert, turns that plot on its head, focusing not so much on the children as on the person to whom the children appear.  The main character, Morgan Fletcher, is the disfigured heir to a fortune, hiding away from all people in his crumbling mansion.  One day a couple of children appear, seemingly out of nowhere, at his house.  He takes them in, lets them have full access to his house, and then more children start to appear, and more and more.  Which is odd enough by itself, but then the children begin to demonstrate uncanny knowledge of Morgan’s background and begin to find some bizarre things in the house itself.  They start disappearing into the nooks and dark places of the house, or possibly into the dark places in Morgan’s mind.  People have compared this book to the writing of Neil Gaiman (high praise in my mind), Roald Dahl and Shirley Jackson, so if you’re fans of their writing, give this one a try.

travelers rest cover

A horror book set in the dead of winter might be just the thing to read in January, especially when it turns on a group of people stuck in a building by a blizzard.  If that sounds attractive to you, try Traveler’s Rest by Keith Lee Morris.  A family is traveling across country, having picked up an uncle from a failed rehab effort, when a blizzard forces them to stop in the small town of Good Night, Idaho (nice name, right?), where they stay in the derelict and not-quite-right hotel called Travelers Rest, a place where the laws of time and space do not necessarily apply.  The family is immediately split apart, sinister forces preventing them from reuniting.  As the mother, Julia, finds herself being drawn deeper and deeper into the weirdness of the house, she realizes she needs to do something to protect her family quickly, before they all become “souvenirs”, the citizens trapped in Good Night forever, or who disappear altogether.

Get creeped out.  Embrace the darkness and enjoy some new horror at the Field (and if you’re in the Reading Challenge, be sure to let us know what horror book you’ve read!).

 

 

 

NEW QUIRKY BOOKS AT THE FIELD

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, or if you’ve come to the library and looked at the new fiction over the past year or two, you may have noticed that I have a soft spot for books that are a little different from the run of the mill, a little quirky, possibly even a little odd.  If, like me, you have a taste for the unusual, we have some new and quirky books for you to explore here at the library.  

barsk cover

Let’s start with a book set in the distant future on another planet, where the main characters are sentient elephants. Sound intriguing?  The book is Barsk: the Elephants’ Graveyard, by Lawrence M. Schoen, and the premise is that human beings have long been extinct, but the animals they uplifted to sentient beings have spread throughout the galaxy.  Fants, descendants of earth elephants, have long been exiled to the rainy world of Barsk, where they have developed medicines which are vital to other species in other planets. One of the drugs is something called koph, which allows certain users to interact with the dead.  Stopping right there in the description, aren’t you intrigued?  Wouldn’t you like to see more of the sentient elephants and their dealings with the dead?  What if I add that there are shadowy outsiders who are trying to break the Fants’ monopoly on koph, and that the main character is a Fant who can speak with the dead and who has to question his late best friend who committed suicide for unknown reasons years ago, and the other main character is the son of that deceased friend?  For a book that’s both out of this world and reflective of deeply human issues, Barsk is hard to beat.

mr spllitfoot cover

Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt, is a gothic story for the modern era.  Ruth and Cora are orphans, brought up by a religious fanatic  in a house full of abandoned children, and they entertain their fellow children by channeling the dead. That’s one line of the plot.  The second line starts decades later when Cora finds herself pregnant accidentally, and Ruth shows up out of nowhere, mute but determined to bring Cora with her across the State of New York to find — what?  Where has she been?  What happened to her?  Where is she taking the two of them? And what did she hide at the end of the road?  The supernatural mingles with the natural, the past intertwines with the present, and what you end up with is an extraordinary ghost story.

the wildings cover

If you’re the sort of person who loved Life of Pi, and if you’re owned by a cat (the reverse is never true), you might want to try The Wildings, by Nilanjana Roy, a novel about a community of feral cats living in a neighborhood in Delhi, India. The cats, with distinctive personalities and abilities, communicate with each other by mind link and whisker touches, and have made themselves a comfortable life in their neighborhood, until a strange kitten with unusual powers lands in their midst and starts a series of extraordinary events which will end up threatening the whole tribe and everything they hold dear.  Imagine Watership Down, in India rather than England, with cats rather than rabbits, and you have an idea of The Wildings.

eleanor cover

There’s something intriguing about twins, especially identical twins, the bond between them, their ways of communicating with each other that exclude the rest of the world. Jason Gurley’s Eleanor plays on this fascination with a story of Esmeralda and Eleanor, identical twins who shared their own secret language, until Esmeralda was killed in a terrible accident, and the whole family fell apart, their mother turning to the bottle and rage, their father disappearing altogether. Eleanor discovers to her appalled surprise that she seems to have an ability to step out of this world and when she returns vast amounts of time have passed in this world. On her last and most serious pass between this world and the other one, she comes to learn the truth about Esmeralda’s death, and about her family’s tragic past.  It’s up to world-traveling Eleanor to find a way to rescue her parents and herself, while there’s still time.  

 

COMING IN JANUARY:NEW BOOKS BY HOT AUTHORS

Just when you’ve finished all the new books you got over the holidays, and when you finally have some time to read (and the weather encourages you to stay inside), several bestselling and popular authors are coming out with new books that you’ll want to read as soon as they hit the shelves (and you can probably put them on hold in advance, too).

the guest room cover

Chris Bohjalian, author of bestsellers like Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls, starts the new year with a bang in his newest book, The Guest Room.  A man agrees to allow his younger brother to use his house for a bachelor party.  Seems harmless enough, right?  However, this is no ordinary bachelor party: by the end of it, two men lie dead in the living room, two women are on the run from the police and from gangsters, the house is turned into a crime scene, the man’s marriage is on the verge of breaking, and that’s just the beginning.  Bohjalian is as good at creating characters you care about as he is at setting them in fascinating situations and letting them try to work them out.  This should be a page-turner par excellence.

the bitter season cover

Fans of Tami Hoag’s mysteries will have reason to rejoice this month as well, with the newest book in her Kovac and Liska series, The Bitter Season.  As the book opens, the team has been split up, with Detective Nikki Liska working, at her own request, on the Cold Case Squad in Minneapolis, but missing the excitement of her past, while her former partner, Sam Kovac, is struggling with a new younger partner and a case involving a brutal and inexplicable double homicide.  Nikki’s focus on a 20 year old case of the death of a decorated sex crimes detective is frustrating to her because there’s no hope it will be solved now.  Across town, a young woman is about to get a blast from her past so dangerous it will bring both Nikki and Sam into her life.  There’s a reason Hoag’s books are bestsellers: she knows how to ratchet up suspense while giving readers characters to care about.

my name is lucy barton cover

Elizabeth Strout is known as the author of the bestselling Olive Kitteridge which won the Pulitzer prize and was made into an acclaimed miniseries starring Frances McDormand (both of which, by the way, are available in the library).  Her new book, My Name is Lucy Barton, promises to be another deep and powerful exploration of relationships within families.  The title character is a middle aged writer who’s been estranged from her mother for years, but when Lucy is recovering disturbingly slowly from what should have been a simple operation, Lucy’s mother comes to visit her. The past rests heavily on both characters, and Strout reveals them both, their secrets and their losses, with infinite compassion and insight.

 

Come to the library and see what people will be talking about!

 

LORD BYRON, MISSING FAMILIES AND WASHING MACHINES: NEW MYSTERIES AT THE FIELD

The breadth of the mystery world can be amazing sometimes.  In our most recent new mysteries, we have one in which Lord Byron (yes, THAT Lord Byron, “mad, bad and dangerous to know”) is the investigator, one chilling one set in contemporary Sweden,and one in which a critical aspect is a man found on top of a washing machine in San Francisco. Whatever time and place interests you, odds are good there’s a mystery that covers it.

riot most uncouth cover

Let’s start with Lord Byron, and the historical mystery Riot Most Uncouth, by Daniel Friedman. It’s set in 1807 in Trinity College in Cambridge, where Lord Byron is enrolled as a student.  Whether he’s actually studying is a good question, given his general attitude towards rules (he circumvents the rule against having dogs on campus by having a rather large bear living with him).  A young woman is found murdered in her boarding house and Lord Byron decides he’s the perfect one to find her killer, in between his more usual pursuits of excessive drinking, seducing married women and generally making trouble for everyone around him.  While there’s no evidence that the real life Lord Byron actually went around solving mysteries, there’s nothing here that’s out of character for him, and spending time with such a famous larger than life rogue is worth the price of admission by itself.

cinderella girl cover

What is it about Scandinavian authors and dark, twisted mysteries?  For some reason, there seems to be a correspondence between Scandinavian countries and police procedural mysteries with horrifying crimes (think of Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and sequels; think of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, etc., etc., etc.), which are almost always enthralling reads.  This month we have the book Cinderella Girl by Carin Gerhardsen, set in Finland, with all the hallmarks of another good Scandinavian read.  There’s a child in danger, a three year old girl who wakes up alone in her house to find herself trapped there, the family gone, the place abandoned and locked.  At the same time, a teenage girl is viciously murdered aboard the ocean liner Cinderella, and the investigation into her death reveals that a killer is afoot and that the murdered girl’s younger sister is in grave danger and must be found quickly if she’s going to escape the killer.  

the man on the washing machine cover

In modern day San Francisco, Theophania Bogart is hiding out after an ugly family scandal when she gets herself dragged into a web of murder and smuggling that starts with one of her neighbors falling to his death from a third story window opposite the building where she lives.  The doctor who initially examines the dead man concludes it was an accident, a death related to the recent earthquake, but Theo doesn’t believe him, and one thing rapidly leads to another and Theo finds herself scrambling desperately to stay on top of things, keep her secrets and keep herself alive. Theo has a crisp, funny voice and her story pulls you right in and keeps you turning pages until you find out the answers to the whole convoluted mess.