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Once Upon a Time in the West

The Best Shot in the West Born into slavery in Tennessee in 1854, Nat Love left home to seek work when he was just a teenager, hoping to send money home to his large family. Patricia and Frederick McKissack's The Best Shot in the West: the Adventures of Nat Love describes how his skill with horses, willingness to work hard, and a fair amount of bluffing led to a career as an expert roper and marksman. He also became an acquaintance of Wild West legends such as Bat Masterson and Billy the Kid. This fictionalized biography is based on his memoir, published in 1907 after he had retired from the cowboy life and was working as a Pullman porter. Exciting episodes include bucking broncos, runaway horses, and Apache raids, not to mention his capture by hostile Native Americans, the drunken theft of a cannon from a U.S. Army fort, and the cowboy competition that gives the authors the right to call Love “The Best Shot in the West.”

 

Randy DuBurke’s muscular, colorful art features flying bullets, billowing dust, and driving rain. Panels tend to be large, the better to depict the wide open spaces of the Great Plains and the cattle, horses, and buffalo that Love lived and worked among. Exciting and picturesque, Nat Love’s life makes for a great graphic novel.

Paula W.

 
 

Not Just for Adults

Not Just for Adults

posted by:
August 21, 2012 - 7:55am

ChangelingPhilippa Gregory has launched a new series with her most recent novel Changeling. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl, among many other titles. This historical fiction, however, is written with the teen audience in mind. In a departure from her previous books, which were based on actual people from the era of Tudor England, Gregory decided to have some fun and develop a story around completely fictional characters. The novel explores the myths and superstitions that predominate the Medieval period, when the Church believed the end of days was imminent.

 

It is 1453, and these are dark times in Christendom. Constantinople, the religious capital of the east has just fallen to the Ottoman Empire. Evil seems to be infiltrating Europe from all sides, and for the most part, the church appears powerless to stop its advancement. Pope Nicholas V has established a secret group called the Order of Darkness, whose task is to travel the countryside and investigate strange happenings, discover the mysteries that plague the people, and report back to Rome. This is Luca Vero’s assignment. He is an Inquirer for the Church and in the first story alone encounters witchcraft, madness, and werewolves.

 

During his quest he is accompanied by his witty and entertaining manservant Freize, and Brother Peter, a clerk of the church. Through the course of their adventures they are joined by Isolde, a displaced noblewoman, and her best friend Ishraq, a Moor with whom she has grown up. This very diverse band travels together while Luca attempts to ascertain what people fear, and investigate unusual happenings in a constant search for the truth. Gregory has written an entertaining story with likeable characters that teens will enjoy. If you find your copy of Changeling is missing, check your parents' room!

Jeanne

 
 

Vigilante Justice

Vigilante Justice

posted by:
August 21, 2012 - 7:30am

The DemandsMark Billingham returns with The Demands, the tenth novel featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne. Police officer Helen Weeks walks into her local news agent, on the day that the shop owner, Javed Akhtar, is about to crack. He pulls a gun on Helen and takes her hostage, demanding that she contact Tom Thorne and persuade him to investigate a murder. Akhtar’s son Amin was arrested in an altercation that lead to a fatality and was sent to a prison for young offenders. There he was wounded in his cell and sent to the hospital wing, where he committed suicide. It was an open and shut case that did not warrant an investigation, but Akhtar is not so sure. He knows that his son could not have committed suicide and the only way to reopen the case is by taking drastic measures of his own. What follows is a knuckle-biting thriller as Tom Thorne hunts for the killer while Helen is trapped with a man who is at the end of his rope.

 

Fans of Billingham will remember police officer Helen Weeks from the stand-alone thriller In the Dark. Helen was pregnant with her son Alfie and was trying to solve the murder of her partner, Paul. Weeks is a strong, interesting character with a good sense of self preservation, and her return to the Thorne series is a welcome addition. Billingham’s writing gets better with each subsequent novel, and he is a master at building and sustaining tension and suspense throughout his novels. In the Dark works as a gritty police procedural and gripping suspense thriller that is sure to please. 

 

Fans of Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride or Ken Bruen will definitely enjoy these novels. Mark Billingham has truly entered the ranks of the best crime novelists of today.

Doug

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American Royalty

American Royalty

posted by:
August 20, 2012 - 7:03am

Mary's MosaicJack 1939Here in America, we don’t have a Charles, Diana, and Camilla nor a William and Kate. We do, however, have the Kennedy clan. From the enchanted Camelot era to the recent tragedy of Robert Kennedy Jr.’s wife’s suicide, this extended family’s accomplishments and foibles play out in the press and provide fodder for books to satisfy a public curiosity which shows no sign of waning. Two recent releases, the true crime Mary’s Mosaic by Peter Janney, and the fictional Jack 1939 penned by Francine Mathews, mine the Kennedy history and mystique while each traveling a very different path.

 

Who really killed Jack Kennedy?  Trying to sort out the conspiracy theories surrounding the President’s death is akin to falling down a rabbit hole.  Author Peter Janney takes on the 1964 murder of Washington DC denizen Mary Pinchot Meyer in Mary’s Mosaic and ties the fatal—and unsolved-- shooting of the well-connected Meyer to the events surrounding the assassination of her lover and confidante JFK. Heavily researched and footnoted, Janney posits that the CIA engineered both deaths because Meyer’s pacifism and use of marijuana and hallucinogens were influencing President Kennedy’s views leading to policy decisions contrary to what the CIA felt best for the nation. Janney implicates CIA officials including his own father, Wistar Janney, and Mary’s former husband Cord Meyer in the tangled web of DC agendas and cover-ups. Reading like a who’s who of the Cold War era, Mary’s Mosaic will appeal to those well-versed in the Warren commission report as well as Kennedy family buffs.  

 

Jack Kennedy and family also make an appearance in Francine Matthew’s novel Jack 1939. Set in the Europe of pre-World War II, Kennedy is anointed a secret agent by President Roosevelt who is bucking for a third term in office; Jack’s mission is to interrupt the German machinations interfering with Roosevelt’s ambitions. Matthews, a former CIA analyst, mixes history with a spy thriller in this fascinating and fast-moving story of what-if conjecture.

 

Lori

 
 

Goodbye, Norma Jean

Marilyn & MeMarilyn at Rainbow's EndMarilyn in FashionOn August 5, 1962, the nation was shocked to learn of the death of Marilyn Monroe. She rocketed from from popular movie star to legend and her star has never faded. Three new volumes commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Marilyn’s death share different aspects of her story. 

 

In Marilyn & Me: a Photographer’s Memories, Lawrence Schiller writes a personal account detailing his early career days as a photojournalist. One of Schiller’s early assignments was Marilyn Monroe, and he shares the particulars of the friendship he built with Marilyn on the sets of two of her last movies, including the unfinished Something’s Got to Give. This is an intimate memoir of a young photographer's relationship with Marilyn Monroe just months before her death and contains his extraordinary photographs, some of which have never been published.     

 

Darwin Porter attempts to solve the mysterious circumstances surrounding Marilyn’s death in Marilyn at Rainbow's End: Sex, Lies, Murder, and the Great Cover-Up. A Hollywood journalist, Porter outlines a fairly thorough listing of the conspiracies and dark secrets behind what some see as Hollywood's most notorious mystery. While making a case that Marilyn was murdered, this investigative book lays out the evidence and allows the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.  

  

Marilyn in Fashion by Christopher Nickens and George Zeno combines elaborate photography and behind-the-scenes accounts to reveal how Marilyn meticulously crafted her image, right down to her shoes. From the pink satin Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend’s gown, and the pleated white dress from The Seven Year Itch, to the revealing nude sheath worn to sing happy birthday to President Kennedy, Marilyn had an enduring sense of personal style. In an era of Peter Pan collars, poodle skirts, and saddle shoes, Marilyn made fashion sizzle with sex appeal, and her look is imitated to this day.

 

Maureen

 
 

2012 RITA Winners Announced

2012 RITA Winners Announced

posted by:
August 17, 2012 - 8:10am

New York to DallasBlack HawkMeasure of Katie CallowayEarlier this month, Romance Writers of America announced this year’s winners of their coveted RITA awards for excellence in romance writing.

 

Fan favorite Nora Roberts took the award for Romantic Suspense with New York to Dallas, written under her pseudonym J.D. Robb. The novel, which is part of her popular In Death series, follows detective Eve Dallas as she tries to catch escaped serial rapist and killer Isaac McQueen. With the help of her millionaire husband Roarke, Eve must confront her own personal demons and capture McQueen in this intense suspense novel.

 

Joanna Bourne’s Regency-set spy romance The Black Hawk won the RITA for Historical Romance. Injured by an assassin, Justine DeCabrillac is forced to seek the help of Adrian Hawker her life-long adversary and occasional lover. The killer has a plan to destroy Adrian as well, so the two must trust each other and work together to bring down their common enemy. Bourne’s writing is a fun blend of passionate romance and intrigue, and readers will quickly see the skillful writing that won her this award.

 

The award for Inspirational Romance went to The Measure of Katie Calloway by Serena Miller. Katie Calloway and her brother flee her abusive husband in Georgia, and she makes a new life for herself as a cook in a logging camp in Michigan. She begins to fall in love with the camp owner, Robert, but complications arise.  Her husband Harlan begins to search for her with plans to kill Katie and marry a rich woman. Can her new relationship with Robert survive her secrets? Miller’s strong characters add depth to this warm historical tale.

 

The full list of winners is available here.

Beth

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Playing with Identity

Playing with Identity

posted by:
August 16, 2012 - 2:19pm

Playing Dead“Have you ever wondered about who you are?”

 

Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin begins with a letter Tommie McCloud receives from a stranger, which throws her own identity and childhood into question. This leads the child psychologist and former rodeo competitor on a journey from her native Texas hometown, where she has just attended her father’s funeral, to the Chicago mob scene and meetings with a whole cast of seedy characters. At the heart of the story, though, the question remains: who is Tommie and who are her real parents? Through her journey, she collects little bits of information that eventually come together to reveal a family history far different than Tommie grew up knowing.

 

What sets this story apart from the usual family drama? First is the setting. Heaberlin, a former award-winning journalist and small-town Texas native, evokes a landscape with open ranges, oppressive heat and historical family ties to the land. Second is the plot structure. There is no solid ground. This is a story which continues to unravel, with every piece of the puzzle leading to more questions. Third is a flair for the dramatic. Rodeo competitions, hit men, kidnappings, unsolved murders and a mother with dementia (who of course holds important family secrets) all factor in to the story. A tale of twists and turns, Playing Dead will appeal to anyone who likes family sagas, mysteries or action/adventure stories. 

 

Melanie

 
 

Standout Voices in Contemporary Poetry

Life on MarsSlow LightningCrazy BraveYou wouldn’t think that the expanding universe, the glam-enigma of David Bowie, and the grief for a father could all be explored in one collection of poetry, however, Tracy K. Smith has done just that in her latest collection Life on Mars. In her poem “Don’t You Wonder Sometimes?” Smith contemplates The future isn’t what is used to be.  "Even Bowie thirsts/ For something good and cold.  Jets blink across the sky/ Like migratory souls." Smith addresses pivotal world events with rage and amazement, from Abu Ghraib prison to the D.C. Holocaust Memorial Museum shootings. Each poem is an odd and strikingly unfeigned examination yet, when read as a whole, the collection serves as a journey of intergalactic magnitude.

 

Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral, 2011 recipient of the Yale Series of Younger Poets award, is a seemingly effortless yet complex interweaving of Spanish and English that challenges both literal and linguistic borders. This undaunted Latino voice contorts the boundaries of sexuality, immigration, and cultural consciousness. Each unexpected word crackles. "My right hand/ a pistol. My left/ automatic. I’m knocking/ on every door./ I’m coming on strong,/ like a missionary./ I’m kicking back/ my legs, like a mule. I’m kicking up/ my legs, like/ a show girl." If you’re looking for unflinching poetry that writhes across the page, this ruggedly poignant collection shouldn’t be missed.

 

Crazy Brave is a lyrical coming-of-age memoir by leading Native American poet and musician, Joy Harjo. Born in 1950’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harjo recalls her early struggles with an abusive stepfather, her seminal years at the Institute of American Indian Arts high school in Santa Fe, and her personal journey of inspiration. Harjo, a Muscogee (Creek) Native American, interlaces brute realism with tribal myths to create a haunting variation of the American dream. From the jazz of Miles Davis to transcendental memories of her ancestors, this slim but eloquently raw autobiography has wide readership appeal for those interested in the process of creativity, social injustice, U.S. history, and women’s rights.

 

Sarah Jane

 
 

More Fun in the Magical Car

More Fun in the Magical Car

posted by:
August 15, 2012 - 7:57am

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies AgainIn Frank Cottrell Boyce's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, we meet The Tootings, your average twenty-first century British nuclear family: there's Dad, recently laid off from his job assembling tiny things; Mum, who works at Unbeatable Motoring Bargains; black-clad teenage Lucy; Jem, who tries to keep his head down; and Little Harry, the baby. Dad's sudden joblessness is a bit worrying to the rest of the family, but not to him. He's a very optimistic type, and rejoices in all the time he suddenly has on his hands to fix things around the house. He's a something of an inventor, like Caractacus Pott, the dad in Ian's Fleming's original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, published in 1964. And like the original dad, his inventions do not work very well.

 

He's driving the family crazy, in fact, and so, to distract him, Mum brings home a decrepit pop-top 1966 camper van for him to fix up. A real rustbucket, but a vehicle from back in the days when any reasonably careful adult could figure out how to fix his or her own car. Dad and Jem take the whole thing apart, assess their needs, and then hit up the local junkyard for parts.

 

What they find at the junkyard, and the effect it has on the camper van when they install it, plus the brief wink to Fleming's original inspiration for the story, are pleasures this writer would not dilute for any reader.

 

Although the story is inventive and picturesque, with billionaire crooks and a visit to Madagascar and a guest appearance on a French reality show called Car Stupide, most of the humor in this very funny novel is a result of the family's interactions with each other. Occasional British terms (lift, motorway), while initially puzzling for young readers, are quickly made clear by the context. Joe Berger's lively cartoon illustrations depict each phase of Chitty's reincarnation in loving detail and bring the resourceful Tootings to life.

Paula W.

 
 

Forecast: Adventure with Chance of Danger

The Storm MakersJennifer E. Smith’s first middle grade novel The Storm Makers begins on a deceptively peaceful morning on a farm in Wisconsin. It was early when 12 year-old Ruby McDuff spied the tall, disheveled stranger in a wrinkled blue shirt with silver buttons. With her nosed pressed to the glass of her bedroom window, she watched him yawn before strolling out of the family barn and away toward the main road.

 

Miles away from the nearest town and a day’s journey from the blissfully normal suburb where they used to live, the McDuff‘s tiny farm isn’t exactly walking distance from anywhere. So what could explain the stranger with the long legs and bright buttons ambling away down the lane?

 

Once, Ruby would have leapt to wake her twin brother, Simon. Once, they would have made up stories together about where the stranger had come from, or searched together for clues. That was all before, though. Before they had turned 12; before their parents left their jobs to live off the land; before, when Simon and Ruby had been two parts of one whole. These days Simon has been distant in a way he never was before. Alternately restless and sullen, teasing and resentful, Simon’s moods seem as changeable as the weather lately. Even the dogs seem to avoid him.

 

Yet even as they seem to drift apart, avoiding each other this summer seems impossible. An oppressive drought has settled in and boisterous, heated winds toss dust from one end of the farm to the other, coating all who venture outdoors in a fine, powdery grime.  Little can the twins imagine how this drought, the stranger in the barn, and a coming storm will change everything they have known, about their world and about themselves. For Simon is a Storm Maker, one of a group of incredibly rare individuals with the power to influence the weather. And he just may have flared up in time to stop a disaster of untold proportions. That is, if Ruby can protect them both from the dangerous ambitions of the most powerful Storm Maker.

 

A spirited read, The Storm Makers is recommended for readers who enjoy a blend of adventure, magic and mystery.

Meghan