Reviews

Ice Cold

Cops and forensic specialists are different from you and me, they've seen too many corpses and have had to reconstruct too many grisly last moments. In this fast paced thriller, Boston detective Jane Rizzolli works on the case of her friend Maura Isle's disappearance. They've worked together for years. Jane's sleuthing skills and Dr. Isle's medical knowledge have led to many mysteries being solved. Because she believes that she lacks the people skills and compassion needed by a doctor in a practice, Maura prefers working with corpses. If you've seen the TV show, yes, it's that same strong-women team from Boston of detective and coroner.

Ice Cold begins with Maura saying good-bye to her long-term boyfriend, Fr. Daniel Brophy. Because he is a Catholic priest, their affair must remain secret. Maura's on her way to a medical conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. While there, she reconnects with a med school friend who invites her out to dinner. Usually, Maura nixes such invitations but she's annoyed at Daniel and unhappy with the amount of time he allows himself to spend with her.

The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories

The Angel Esmeralda is Don DeLillo's first story collection, and man, can he craft excellent short fiction. Famous for his novels, including Libra and White Noise, DeLillo's prose is concise, clear, and adept at capturing the inner worlds of his characters. He's obviously not a prolific short story writer because the nine stories span the years from 1979 to 2011. They are set in many locations including: Manhattan, Greece, the Caribbean, a prison camp for wealthy offenders, and a rocket ship in outer space, among others.

My favorite piece is "Midnight in Dostoyevsky." It's about two college students at a wintry, unnamed campus, who love to argue about almost everything, including the big questions of life and a stranger's motivations and unknown family life.  At the story's beginning, they start contesting each other's opinions about another pedestrian even while they are passing him. They have a heated and involved dialogue about whether this old man's hooded winter garment is a parka, an anorak, or something else. These arguments aren't just idle chatter. For the two students involved, they put their intellectual and perceptive skills on the line, and being right is vital to their sense of pride.

Train Dreams

I don't read many novellas but this one, Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson made several "best new book" lists recently.  And it got rave reviews from quite a few other writers.

Grainier's first memory of trains is of being sent on one as a young child, with a fare receipt pinned to his shirt.  His destination was Fry, Idaho, but he never knew his parents or even the origin point of this trip. One older cousin said that he came from Canada and that the French language had to be whipped out of him. Another cousin said that family had sent him from Utah where he had spent his first years as a Mormon. But all his life, he had only trains and their tracks for the history of his early childhood.

How It All Began

I only brought one novel on my vacation to New Mexico, and How It All Began was the perfect one. Not that it's about New Mexico, no--it's almost wholly set in London with a few side trips to Cambridge and a "cathedral town."

The novel begins with an interesting premise, similar to the butterfly affect in New Zealand. What happens in the rest of the world when a butterfly starts a slight breeze wafting Down Under? In this case, it's nothing as natural or beautiful as a butterfly fluttering.  Instead, an older retired teacher and passionate book person, Charlotte, has been mugged on a city street. This ignites a chain of events that alters many lives.

First, her daughter Rose must come to the hospital and care for her. This leaves Rose's grumpy, egotistical employer, Henry, a former professor of history, at a loss. Rose had promised to accompany him to Cambridge where he was presenting a lecture on his field, 18th century England.

The Transit of Venus--Books

Tonight if you are lucky and the sky doesn't cloud up, you will be able to observe one of astronomy's rare celestial events, the transit of Venus. But be careful, and don't look directly at the sun without using safe viewing glasses or lenses. If you don't own those, you can attend one of the free events listed below. If you miss tonight's transit, alas, you won't catch another in your lifetime because the next one won't occur until 2117.

I've been reading about the transit of Venus and how an earlier one in the 18th century really expanded our knowledge of the solar system. It also was the earliest example of a large and cooperative international scientific expedition.

We have two new books that report on this scientific quest. Andrea Wulf's Chasing Venus: the Race to Measure the Heavens reports on the work and incredible adventures that were undertaken by scientists worldwide in trying to observe and make measurements for the transit that occurred on June 6, 1761. In an age when it took several months for a letter to cross the oceans and a few more months for a response, a scientist in England organized this great scientific undertaking. In remote corners of the world, scientists from Britain, Russia, India, Germany, the

Wild & Other Hiking Related Books

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,663 mile long trail reaching from the Canadian border in northern border in Washington, through Oregon, to the Mexico border in southern California.  Hiking this trail can take 4-6 months and it purposefully avoids civilization.  The Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains make for both difficult hiking and beautiful unspoiled scenery.

After a trying few years after the death of her mother, author Cheryl Strayed started her PCT trail hike despite her outdoor inexperience.  Her book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail chronicling her hike came out this past spring and was well reviewed. I promptly put this book on my to-read list as doing a long hike lingers at the bottom of my life to-do list.  

Looks like I will have to wait to read this memoir a little bit longer as this past week Oprah selected Wild as the first title of her new Oprah Book Club 2.0.  As of this morning there were quite a few holds on this book, but I'm thinking the wait just might be worth it.

Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Grace Brown, a 20 year old skirt factory employee, was murdered in 1906 just outside an Adirondack mountain resort by Chester Gillette.  Gillette was arrested soon after Grace's body was recovered in a lake and he was later executed in a New York prison. 

This gruesome true story serves as part of the backdrop for the very non-gruesome and excellent young adult novel, A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly.  The main character, Mattie Gokey, receives a bundle of letters from a guest at the resort and makes a promise to burn them.  But when Grace's body is later pulled out of the lake, Mattie becomes unsure what the right thing to do.  Maybe the letters hold answers? 

Mattie is also torn between her duty to her family and her dream of going to college.  Her family lives in a rural area and they work extra hard making a living off of the land, made especially difficult since her mother has passed away and there are three younger girls to look after. 

Books Plus for June

In Caleb's Crossing, Pulitzer-Prize winner Geraldine Brooks returns to the seventeenth century setting she captured so well in Year of Wonders, but this time around she's chosen the New World for her location. The novel tells the story of a deep friendship between a young Pilgrim servant girl, Bethia, and a member of the local Native American tribe, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauck, who later became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.

Before becoming a novelist, Brooks was an investigative reporter who covered the international beat. She brings her investigative and research skills to this novel, and a sense of narrative developed by writing many pieces of journalism and several nonfiction books.

Please join us this Sunday as we discuss this novel with its historical American themes. Here's what the New York Times said about it: "Caleb's Crossing could not be more enlightening and involving. Beautifully written from beginning to end, it reconfirms Geraldine Brooks' reputation as one of our most supple and insightful A-­novelists."

Books Plus meets the first Sunday of each month. All are welcome. Join the discussion or simply come to listen.

No registration necessary. Drop in.

2 p.m., First Sundays

See the full summer schedule below.

Pop by Gordon Korman

A book about football in the summer? Sure! Pro teams are already running organized team activities, and high schools & colleges will be training hard while most of us are sipping lemonade. Gordon Korman's Pop is the perfect summer football book. Marcus is the new kid in upstate New York's Kennesaw, a former star quarterback at this old Kansas high school.

We All Scream for Ice Cream!

Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner and hot days are near. For many people this means firing up the grill.  Interested in shaking up your grill routine?  The library has loads of cookbooks with many new ideas -- for both meat eaters and vegetarians.

Maybe grilling isn't your thing.  Once the weather turns hot, and the fresh fruits start arriving at the Market and the grocery stores all I want to do is make ice cream.  I recently checked out the excellent Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts by Peggy Fallon and marked about 20 pages of interesting and often easy recipes to try including Chocolate Chipotle Ice Cream, Black Forest Frozen Yogurt with Chocolate and Cherries, and Quick Caramel-Pecan Light Ice Cream.  There are also chapters on sorbets and non-dairy frozen desserts.

The Ultimate Ice Cream Book by Bruce Weinstein delivers over 500 recipes covering many different types of ice creams, sorbets and granitas.  He also gives ideas for recipe variations and toppings.  Pictures aren't included, but this serves as a fairly straight forward reference and would be great for beginners. 

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