Sunday, August 30, 2015

This week at the library...

Central Library, 7:00 p.m.

The club will meet to discuss Plonger,
by Christophe Ono-Dit-Biot.

Buena Vista branch (story time room), 7:00 p.m.

The club will meet to discuss The Lock Artist, by Steve Hamilton, a 2011 Alex Award-winner. This club is for enrolled teens only. To be placed on the wait list, please contact

Buena Vista branch, 7:00 p.m.

To Boldly Go . . . Well, You Know:

Dr. Marc Rayman, Dawn Chief Engineer and Mission Director, will give a fascinating and entertaining presentation on the Dawn mission and its use of ion propulsion as well as its two exotic destinations, Vesta and Ceres (the first dwarf planet ever discovered). He will also share the excitement and profundity of controlling a spacecraft in deep space.

The ambitious and exciting Dawn mission, launched in September 2007, is one of NASA’s most remarkable ventures into the solar system. The alien landscapes Dawn reveals provide humankind with a new perspective on the solar system. Remnants from the time that planets were formed, Ceres and Vesta hold clues that will help scientists understand the dawn of the solar system.

Central Library, 10:00 a.m.

Join us for a fun introduction to movement, coordination, rhythm, and dance!

A reminder that Burbank Public Library will be CLOSED on Sunday and Monday, September 6 and 7, for the Labor Day holiday, reopening on Tuesday for regular hours.

Friday, August 28, 2015

What we're reading: Series fiction

I guess I shouldn't gloat, because it is only due to the necessary closure of the Central Library for a second week that I was able to do this, but I walked up to the New Fiction shelves a week ago today and scored the latest John Lescroart, the latest Charlaine Harris, and the latest Elly Griffiths! Such riches. I love a good series, and was happy to have a fiction immersion week with the continuation of some favorites.

Day Shift is the second in Charlaine Harris's new series about Midnight, Texas. Midnight Crossroad was the first book to star protagonist Manfred Bernardo, the young psychic medium who played a minor role in Harris's Harper Connelly series, and Day Shift continues the saga about this dip-in-the-road Texas town with one stoplight, a few failing businesses, and a bunch of really weird "people." I put that in quotes because I'm not sure all of the town's inhabitants qualify, some being more than human and some being, well, not less, but other.

My verdict on this book is: I'm torn. Parts were great, parts were only okay. I liked gaining more insight into previously established characters. The main story, in which one of Manfred's psychic clients dies and he gets accused by her crazy son of, first, stealing her jewelry, and second, causing her death, was good, and the involvement of the other characters (and the introduction of a few from other series) to help him was big fun. But there were too many unrelated ends left dangling, red herrings that didn't lead anywhere, and sub-plots that seemed unnecessary except to tie certain things up with a bow when they could have been solved another way! Not to mention whole story lines that opened up early on, only to remain completely unaddressed by the end.

It says on the cover of the first book (but significantly not on the second one) that this will be a trilogy, but I don't see how Harris could wrap all this up with just one more book. I think it's bound to go further, but I'm hoping it doesn't go as far as the Sookie Stackhouse books, which were great for four or five books and then petered out absurdly. The Harper Connelly series was four books, and that was perfection. Don't jump the shark, Ms. Harris--you're doing okay so far!

The Fall is #16 in John Lescroart's Dismas Hardy franchise, and it's a good one. I'm really happy to say that, because I was a little disappointed in the last two, and almost didn't pick this one up.

I have read all of Lescroart's books about Dismas Hardy and Abe Glitzky since the beginning (The Vig). With these long series, even if the authors set each of their subsequent books a few scant months apart, as the series grows longer, the protagonist grows older, and it looks like their solution is to bring in the next generation. I noticed, for instance, that in Michael Connelly's latest Harry Bosch mystery (#19, The Burning Room, which I loved), Harry has a new rookie partner (Lucky Lucy Soto) who shows promise as a protagonist, not to mention Harry's teenage daughter, Maddie, who plans to join the police force.

I haven't been a big fan of Lescroart's segue to Hardy's investigator, Wyatt Hunt, and have felt that his focus on formerly minor characters in the "Hunt Club" books has been less than completely successful. But in this book, Hardy's daughter, Rebecca, has passed the bar, joined the firm, and is taking on her first (mostly) solo murder trial. Lescroart wisely inserts Dismas and Abe into the mix just enough to keep things believable and related to past books, but not so much that "The Beck" isn't the star of the show; I found her a much more gratifying and believable heir to the Hardy throne.

The plot is compelling: A young African American girl is thrown over a bridge to her death, and a political contender for San Francisco's mayor inconveniently points out that justice hasn't been served in a lot of cases lately in which African Americans were the victims. So the police and the district attorney's office make initial blunders in a rush to judgment over the identity of the murderer that solidify into a case they may not be able to win. I was dismissive of the red herring that kept popping up rather obviously but that was seemingly ignored by too many people, only to be thrilled when it took a second unexpected and wholly surprising turn. The book was entertaining, suspenseful, and satisfying. I'm glad to be able to say that, because I so enjoyed about 85 percent of the previous books in the series, and it's nice to be able to give a solid endorsement to this one! You could read this as a standalone, I think, and still get a lot out of it--but why? Go for the depth of history and story that reading the series will give you (while feeling free to skip the ones that don't resonate) and you'll have a wealth of good reading ahead of you.

The Ghost Fields is #7 in the Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffiths. A field that was sold by the local gentry to a real estate developer is being bulldozed in preparation for building holiday homes when an old World War II plane is unearthed. To the 'dozer driver's dismay, there's a body in the cockpit, so the police call in forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway to do her thing. What she discovers is that this body was buried elsewhere until someone apparently dug it up, hid it in this plane, and covered the plane up again. When the body turns out to be Frank Blackstock, a relative of the former owners of the field, a man who was supposedly lost at sea when his plane (a B-17 with a crew of a dozen) was shot down, the police, headed by DCI Harry Nelson, take a closer look at the Blackstock family.

These books are hard to review as mysteries. It's a given that when your protagonist is a forensic archaeologist, many of your cases are going to be cold cases; but in this one in particular, I felt like there was so little attention paid by the police to the clues provided them that it simply solved itself by attrition, rather than by anyone's purposeful intention. It does play out intriguingly as each further clue is revealed, but it's frustrating, too, because you wonder why no one is arresting anyone!

On the other hand, as a writer, as a developer of compelling characters, and as a setter of scenes, you can't beat Elly Griffiths. If you are a person who values setting as an active part of your story, you will be as beguiled as I have been by her lyrical descriptions of the marshy, wild, wind-blown countryside of Norfolk. If you like quirky people, unlikely romances, irritating colleagues and co-workers, charming children, you will fall in love with her characters too.

So, despite the weirdly unsatisfying, largely ignored mystery in this one, I still give it high marks, because I loved once again spending time with Ruth, Harry, Kate, Cathbad, Judy, Cloughie, and the rest of the Griffiths gang in their marshy home by the sea.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What we're listening to: Contemporary Fiction

[Cover]In poet Jill Alexander Essbaum's debut novel, Anna Benz is an American woman in her late 30s, married to a Swiss banker and living in Zurich. After 10 years of marriage and three children, Anna still feels adrift in the new country, without a job or a car of her own, and with a meager knowledge of the fundamentals of German. Her husband, Bruno, is cold and distant, and her mother-in-law treats her with disdain or occasional cold politeness. To alleviate her loneliness, Anna finds solace in relationships with other men that are meaningless but difficult to give up.

Hausfrau evokes Anna Karenina in modern times, both by its subject and its writing style. A thorough look at one couple's unhappy marriage is combined with the writer's lyrical prose and a hefty dose of psychology to create a book that is heartrendingly honest and compelling as much as it is bleak and thoughtful. Essbaum's candid, explicit language creates a refreshing and enjoyable contrast to the lyrical writing.

Despite its bleak outlook, I thought this book was a worthy read and would make a great book club selection. It is not only an examination of a failing marriage but also a deeply psychological look at what it is to be in control of one's own life.

Talented narrator Mozhan Marno makes the audiobook a pleasure to listen to with her confident but lyrical voice. Her narration translates the gravity and the melancholy from the first sentence to the dramatic ending. The German words used throughout the book are another reason I preferred to listen rather than read.

Editor's note: Although Anush listened to this, we also have it in both book and e-book formats.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

September Book Club Meetings

Due to Rosh Hashanah, which falls this year from sundown on Sunday, September 13 through the evening of Tuesday, September 15, the adult book clubs will meet on Tuesday, September 8.

The Brown Bag Book Club will meet at noon at the Central Library as usual.

The Brown Bag Book Club will read and discuss Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, by Beth Hoffman.

Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her mother, the slightly psychotic Camille--a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. But when Camille is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee is whisked off to Savannah by her previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell. The eccentric women of Gaston Street take CeeCee in, and keep her entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.

The Scene of the Crime Book Club will meet at 7:00 p.m. in the Buena Vista story time room.

The club will read and discuss Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal.

In the year 1940, Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms large. But none of this deters Maggie Hope, in London to sell her late parents' house. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her true desire is to be a code breaker, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her some opportunities she will not let pass, but in the process, she is also exposed to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to change history. Maggie finds that her quick wits may be all that stand between an assassin and Churchill himself.

All are welcome to attend these book clubs. For more information, call Naomi at 818 238-5625.

The Genre-X Book Club meets on Thursday, September 17, at 7:00 p.m., at the Central Library. Genre-X is a book club for Millennials and Gen-Xers to hang out, drink coffee, and read short, interesting books. For this meeting, the club will read and discuss I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov.

In I, Robot, Isaac Asimov chronicles the development of the robot through a series of interlinked stories: from its primitive origins in the "present" to its ultimate perfection in the not-so-distant future--a future in which humanity itself may be rendered obsolete. Here are stories of robots gone mad, of mind-reading robots, and robots with a sense of humor. Of robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world--all told with the dramatic blend of science fact and science fiction that is Asimov's trademark.

For more information about this club, call Jeff at 818 238-5580.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

This week at the library...

Central Library, 7:00 p.m.


Free art class for beginners who want to try their hand at sketching, led by Noah Fontana. This class will cover such drawing basics as light, perspective, composition, and value. Supplies are provided.

Noah Fontana works as a story artist, animator, illustrator, and visual development artist. He has done animation work for Netflix, Comedy Central, and Explosm, along with working as lead storyman and background designer on the animated series Living with Poseidon.

This class is now full, and there is a waiting list. Contact Laura or Joan at 818 238-5562.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Central LIbrary Open on Monday!

The Central Library reopens this coming Monday, August 24. Construction is complete, the collection is (mostly) tagged, and some sections have been rearranged for greater convenience!

Our regular hours:

               Monday-Thursday 9:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
               Friday 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
               Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

See you soon!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What We're Reading: Short Stories

Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club is a collection of short stories by critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Saenz. These stories revolve around a cast of characters from different walks of life who experience love, friendship, and loss. What they all have in common is the setting--each character has ties to El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. The Kentucky Club, a bar in Juarez, makes an appearance in each story, whether as a place visited by the characters or in memories uncovered from the past. In the first story, two men of Mexican descent meet in El Paso and fall in love, but one's attachment to (or obsession with) Juarez rips them apart. In another story, a brother and sister try to cope with the tumultuous relationship and early demise of their mysterious parents, each growing up to chase their own dragons.

Benjamin Alire Saenz received a Printz honor for his young adult novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and a PEN/Faulkner award for this collection of short stories. Saenz, who is also a poet, infuses his fiction with the same emotional, lyrical quality that makes his books a pleasure to read. His treatment of family issues, love, and loss are beautiful, heartwarming, and many times heart-wrenching in his honest portrayals of pain. This honesty is what makes his readers feel close to his characters despite the socioeconomic, cultural, or gender/sexual divide that might exist between the reader and the characters. The ability to bridge this divide is what makes Saenz remarkable. He is also an author who appeals to a diverse readership, from romance, to literary fiction, to short stories.