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The Man With the Golden Pen

Bond on BondBond fans (and we know who we are) have a nearly boundless appetite for trivia and anecdotes about Britain's most famous Secret Service agent. But who would have guessed that one of James Bond's biggest fans would turn out to be the man who portrayed him in seven films during the 70s and 80s? In Bond on Bond: Reflections on 50 Years of James Bond Movies, Roger Moore displays a comprehensive knowledge of and appreciation for all things Bond. This includes the movies as well as Ian Fleming's original novels and stories, and even tie-in titles such as Charlie Higson's Young Bond books for teen readers.

 

Also unexpected is Moore's wry, self-deprecating sense of humor. He pokes appreciative fun at the gadgets, cars, and over-the-top plots of many of the movies. He spares his own performances least of all, saying, "I've never been guilty of method acting—or even acting, if you want to argue a point." His stories of malfunctioning secret weapons, cranky Bond girls, and location nightmares are balanced by his obvious affection for his co-workers and for the master spy he refers to as "Jimmy." Timed to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Bond on film (Dr. No, starring Sean Connery as Bond, premiered in 1962), Bond on Bond is a surprisingly funny and fresh book, far superior to other recent books of Bond miscellany.

Paula W.

 
 

Drawing Our Nation’s Capital

District ComicsOur neighbor to the southwest is examined chronologically in District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, DC. Edited by Matt Dembicki, founder of a comic creators’ collaborative called D.C. Conspiracy, this graphic anthology looks both at the familiar, and especially, the less well-known events that has shaped the culture and history of the city. Each vignette, some no more than ten pages, is written and/or illustrated by a different person, which makes for a great variety of tone and artistic style.

 

More commonly known aspects of DC history are covered, such as L’Enfant’s design of the city; Dolley Madison’s rescue of priceless items from the White House as the British burned the building during the War of 1812; and the foiled assassination attempt on Harry Truman by Puerto Rican nationalists. Two particularly moving pieces deal with Washington’s role as a focal point of the grief of the nation. One focuses on the work that Walt Whitman did volunteering to help wounded Union troops at Washington hospitals during the Civil War. The other is the story of the man who played Taps at Arlington Cemetery following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Another important historical event that gets its due is what was known as the Bonus Expeditionary Force, or B.E.F., which “occupied” DC after World War I. This group of veterans did not feel they received appropriate benefits after the war, converged on the city, and were later forcibly removed from their protest area in a fashion that seems eerily similar to the Occupy movement of today. Personal stories are featured as well, including that of janitor James Hampton, who built an incredible altar to his spiritual beliefs in a rented garage – so amazing it later made its way to the Smithsonian. Lawmakers, spies, journalists and athletes, too, take their places among the many stories in this handsome collection.

 

Todd

 
 

And Justice for All

And Justice for All

posted by:
October 22, 2012 - 8:45am

The Round HouseAward-winning author and owner of the Birchbark Books store in Minnesota, Louise Erdrich is of both European and Native American descent. Her Ojibwe heritage is an integral part of her latest novel, The Round House, which revolves around a crime committed against a woman of the Chippewa tribe.

 

Narrated by thirteen-year-old Joe, the story opens with a brutal attack on Joe’s mother Geraldine, a tribal enrollment specialist. Deeply traumatized and unable to cope, Geraldine withdraws to her bedroom, stymieing the police investigation. Joe’s father, a tribal lawyer, is convinced the violence was not random and enlists Joe’s help in reviewing pertinent legal cases which he believes will lead them to the perpetrator. With the help of friends and extended family, Joe uncovers evidence pointing to Linden Lark, a white man with a family history of checkered relations with the Chippewa. Unfortunately, while Geraldine knows the assault took place near the Round House, the reservation’s spiritual center, she cannot pinpoint the exact location and the area includes both tribal lands and state-owned property. With no clear jurisdiction, the case cannot be prosecuted and Lark is freed.

 

Erdrich braids together elements of native culture and mythology, Southern Gothic style, and the commonality of the male adolescent experience, all of which drive Joe’s decisions.  The devastating impact, both past and present, of alcohol on Indian families is unmistakable. Relations between the tribal members and the white community are repeatedly shown as tenuous, the truce uneasy. 

 

The Round House is a multi-faceted jewel.  It is a coming-of-age story, a view of contemporary Native American reservation life, and a thriller turning on legal niceties while relentlessly moving to an inevitable conclusion. Erdrich’s afterword includes information about organizations working to correct the difficulties of prosecuting reservation crimes, especially sexual assault against Native women. 

 

Lori

 
 

There’s No Place Like Home

There’s No Place Like Home

posted by:
October 22, 2012 - 8:15am

The Soldier's WifeBritish Major Dan Riley is returning home to his family after a six month tour of duty in Afghanistan in The Soldier’s Wife, by Joanna Trollope. International bestseller Trollope uses her sixteenth novel to explore the issue of military re-entry and its ripple effect on family members.

 

Dan is returned safely to his wife, Alexa, their three-year-old twins, and his stepdaughter Isabel, but he struggles to adjust. On the surface his family seems to support him, including his proud father and grandfather, both retired military men.  But underneath, tensions are boiling.  Alexa has been offered an exciting teaching position which she cannot accept because of Dan’s likely promotion and yet another move. Isabel is in boarding school, the only good option for the transient military families, and is miserable and running away. And Dan is spending all his time on the base, unable to break the bonds he forged during battle and unwilling to communicate and open up to his wife.

 

Soon everyone who knows the Riley family is trying to help them save their marriage, but it’s up to Alexa to decide if she can sacrifice her needs and those of her family to support Dan’s commitment to his work. And Dan needs to learn to share emotionally with his wife in an effort to bridge the distance between them. Trollope illuminates the complexities of modern life in this story of a family striving to balance duty and ambition. With her signature cast of universally appealing, multigenerational characters, The Soldier's Wife is a timely and nuanced look into the lives of soldiers, their families, and their homecomings from the front lines.

 

Maureen

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What the Servants Know

What the Servants Know

posted by:
October 22, 2012 - 7:55am

The St. Zita SocietyFans of Ruth Rendell will be delighted to read her new psychological thriller, The St. Zita Society. In this novel we meet the householders and staff of Hexam Place, a posh neighborhood where nothing is as it seems on the surface. June Caldwell, professional companion and caregiver to Princess Susan Hapsburg, has taken it upon herself to bring fellow staff together to discuss problems and offer up solutions. They meet in the corner bar, and have named themselves the St. Zita Society. 

 

Rendell introduces the reader to an interesting group of characters, including handsome chauffer Henry who has an eye for the ladies, the mysterious gardener Dex, and Rabia, the young widowed nanny who has lost children of her own and seems to be overly attached to her young charge. We also meet some of the wealthy homeowners, like the Still family who are surviving a difficult and loveless marriage, and Roland and Damian, a couple who rent out flats in their home to the insufferable Thea and the aging Miss Grieves. As any reader of Rendell will know, something is bound to go terribly wrong and plunge several characters into a situation that will be difficult if not impossible to escape from. In the St. Zita Society, a faulty bannister, an unfaithful wife and a nosy elderly neighbor will become the recipe for disaster.

 

Rendell, well known for the Inspector Wexford novels, often writes stand-alone thrillers that explore the psyches of several main characters. Many of her novels have become successful movies on the BBC, and most recently her novel 13 Steps Down has been adapted for television. The St. Zita Society will satisfy any fan of Rendell’s work, but will also appeal to new readers who would like a sinister snapshot of life on a wealthy London street.

 

Doug

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Secrets and Lies

Secrets and Lies

posted by:
October 19, 2012 - 7:05am

The Secret KeeperReaders know that Australian author Kate Morton can be counted on to bring them a fascinating story. Her new novel The Secret Keeper examines the idea that we don’t always know the ones we love as well as we believe we do. In the summer of 1961, 16-year-old Laurel had left a family party to daydream in the tree house. She saw a man come to her house and speak with her mother Dorothy. Suddenly, she witnessed her mother stabbing the man to death. The police ruled that it was an act of self-defense, but Laurel knew there was more to the story. The family never spoke about it again, and Laurel’s siblings were never told what happened. That day changed Laurel’s world and her family forever.

 

Fifty years later, Dorothy’s life is near its end. The family gathers to celebrate her 90th birthday, and Laurel returns to her childhood home where she begins piecing together clues about Dorothy’s life before she met and married Laurel’s father. The story of Dorothy’s past takes the reader to wartime London and into the lives of Dorothy, Jimmy, and Vivien. Laurel finally learns the truth about Dorothy’s life in London and the evening in 1941 that resulted in a secret that Dorothy kept for the rest of her life.The story is filled with twists and turns, leaving the reader as intrigued by Dorothy’s past as Laurel is. In The Secret Keeper, Morton intertwines past and present to create a riveting story that will stay with the reader long after the last page is finished.

Beth

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Magical Music and Cambridge Spires

The Bellwether RevivalsBenjamin Wood’s debut novel The Bellwether Revivals begins with a mystery: a crime scene with two people dead and a third barely alive. But what happened prior? The rest of the book is about the events leading up to that moment. Oscar Lowe is a working-class twenty-something who makes a living as a care assistant at a nursing home. Eden and Iris Bellwether are ambitious siblings from a privileged background who both study at Cambridge. A chance meeting brings Oscar into their elite circle, which he soon finds is convoluted and laden with social traps. Oscar begins a relationship with Iris but finds that threatened by the increasing eccentricities of Eden, who believes himself capable of healing through hypnosis and the power of his music. Eden is also the clear leader of their group of friends, which begins to take on cult-like characteristics as Eden’s delusions become more grandiose. When Eden starts to feel he’s losing control of Iris and his parents, real tragedy ensues.

 

A classic story in one sense of the clash between the haves and have nots of society, this is also a gothic tale which delves into diverse topics such as mental illness, social isolation and music theory. Moreover, it is an intergenerational story, where those who were once young and charting the pathway to new innovations are now dependent upon and look up to the younger generation of today. Similar to The Talented Mr. Ripley or School Ties, Wood paints a picture that shows that being wealthy isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Fans of British novels and psychological drama will enjoy this story of complex relationships and intrigue. 

Melanie

 
 

Dreamboat Ann - and Nancy

Kicking and DreamingHeart has been around for decades, breaking into the largely male world of rock music earlier than most female performers. In Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll, Ann and Nancy Wilson alternately describe their extraordinary lives in the music industry. Picking up stories that the other starts, the format reads smoothly, and indicates the strong ties these sisters have shared all these years. Beginning with the childhoods they experienced as daughters of a major in the Marines, Ann, Nancy, their older sister Lynn and their mother moved constantly, finding it hard to put down roots. Because of this, their family (known as “The Big Five”) focused inwardly. Ann, a classic middle child, dealt with body image and stuttering problems that vanished when she found her voice. Later, Nancy, the youngest, found comfort in relationships with her band mates.

 

The story of the band’s genesis and first big break is vividly recounted, along with the bumps along the way. Their first hit “Magic Man” was released while they were briefly living in Vancouver, and they became stars in Canada before in their native country. This period brought success after classics like “Dog and Butterfly” and “Barracuda” became showstoppers. After some rough times and disappointing album sales in the cocaine-fueled early 80s, Heart’s second-act rebirth came with hits like “What About Love”, “These Dreams” and “Alone”. Included, too, is the interesting story of how Ann, to this day, refuses to sing their controversial 1989 hit “All I Want to Do is Make Love to You”. Full of tidbits about musicians the women have come to know over the years, including Stevie Nicks, Elton John, John Mellencamp, and many in the Seattle rock scene, this is a strong memoir about a life on the road, but also the story of two sisters who broke through a glass ceiling and came out on top.

Todd

 
 

Six Degrees of Celebrity

Hello Goodbye HelloCraig Brown tackles the world of celebrities and their fascinating encounters with one another in Hello Goodbye Hello: a Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings. Brilliant in conception, with each vignette comprised of exactly 1,001 words, Brown entertains the reader with amusing anecdotes of how the celebrated and gifted interacted. Some of the meetings are unlikely and many are just plain weird.

 

From an opening story in which Adolf Hitler is knocked down by a careless English driver in 1931, to the Duchess of Windsor’s meeting with the Fuhrer over tea, and throughout the ninety-nine tales in between, this book is proof that truth is stranger than fiction. Brown employs a chain-link structure to his narrative so one encounter smoothly leads directly into the next one. Some meet-ups are delightfully pleasant as between mutual admirers Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain. Less successful encounters include Groucho Marx trying to impress T.S. Eliot by quoting his poetry, and Eliot commenting that he was familiar with his own work and didn’t need a recitation. And a last group of meetings are miserable failures, including one between literary pair James Joyce and Marcel Proust, who barely spoke to one another. Brown, a BBC Radio host and Daily Mail columnist, delivers an absorbing, humorous collection of snapshots in the lives of famed personalities.  For readers unfamiliar with some of the characters at play in this circle, Brown provides brief biographies. His snarky asides and enlightening footnotes add to the stories of these often incongruous, sometimes poignant, but always entertaining meetings.  

Maureen

 
 

Lost Connections

Lost Connections

posted by:
October 16, 2012 - 7:03am

The Distance Between UsWhile America continues to debate immigration reform, Mexican-born author Reyna Grande has placed a human face on her own family’s painful struggles to emerge from the shadows. In her moving memoir, The Distance Between Us, the physical journey of illegally emigrating from one of the poorest states in Mexico to a Los Angeles Latino neighborhood a quarter century ago extracts a high emotional cost in the quest for a better life. As a young child in Iguala, Mexico, Reyna Grande believed that the country on “the other side” gobbled up parents. When Reyna’s own parents leave for “el otro lado” to find work, she and her older siblings are left behind with a cruel grandmother. Reyna depends on her older sister, Mago, who becomes the “little mother”--understanding too well the breach in trust that has occurred. They ache helplessly for their absent alcoholic father and indifferent mother, who returns only to leave again.

 

The author never forgets her roots, nor does she make excuses in telling this coming of age story. She examines with sharp focus and a renewed compassion the actions of her flawed parents and the life-altering repercussions for all involved. Through the grim realities of her early life and the "broken beauty" of her native country, she captures her own voice as a young child with matter of fact clarity.  When her father finally returns for her and her siblings, the border crossing on foot is perilous. "We became lizards, rubbing our bellies against the cold, damp earth, trying to find a place to hide," she recalls. Sadly, entry into the U.S. brings its own hardships, brought on by living with an explosive father. Readers of Angela’s Ashes and The Glass Castle will recognize the familiar, true theme of a family's breakdown, and the resilience and tenuous steps that lead to understanding and forgiveness. Teen readers of memoir will benefit from gleaning a perspective on a modern immigrant experience so close to home.

Cynthia