Hard Magic by Laura Anne Gilman 
submitted by Anthony

Warning, Hard Magic is the first in a series of “Paranormal Scene Investigations.” Also, the series is set in Gilman’s Retrievers universe. When I picked up the book, I was not paying attention and now I am hooked on yet another series, maybe two!

The protagonist, Bonita Torres, is straight out of college, unsuccessfully seeking jobs – something which is humorously portrayed in the opening chapter of the book. Bonita is also a Talent (a magic user) and because of this receives a mysterious recruitment offer. Intrigued, she goes to the interview and finds that it is for a position with a newly formed organization called Private Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations (PUPI).

Bonita and her team are guinea pigs, creating from the ground up a new field of criminal investigation – magical forensics – as they work to solve their very first case involving well-connected, high-profile suicides that aren’t what they seem to be. All of Bonita’s fellow puppies (a play on PUPI) have unique talents and bring different strengths to the investigation. Gilman deftly creates a sense of camaraderie and competition that feels authentic for a team that is well-blended yet unseasoned. The training sequences explain unfamiliar activities, forestalling any dampening of dramatic tension during action sequences.

As well, the team is challenged but does not have to fight off some crazy crisis - as is often the case with urban fantasy - which furthers the reader’s suspension of disbelief. There is nothing that will make one ask, “What the heck?” while getting to know the world in which the characters live. This is especially great for readers who have not previously read any of the Retrievers stories.

Those who like a lot of romance mixed in with the paranormal may be a little put off. Gilman does introduce at least two potential romantic interests for her main character, Bonita Torres, but keeps relationship material to a simmering minimum. There is no Happily Ever After (HEA) to be found in this novel. This is a positive for what Gilman seems to want to do, explore the founding of a magical CSI-type unit. With no HEA in sight, focus stays on the police procedural elements of the story.

Gilman’s characterization is well-rounded and the action moves along quickly enough that I never got bored by the fact that this is yet another occult detective story. I would recommend it to readers who like the Walker Papers by C.E. Murphy or the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

The second book in the series, Pack of Lies, has been released. Both titles can be found at the library and you can reserve a copy by clicking here.

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Stories of Crass 
submitted by Justin

I thought it time to revisit one of the most important bands of my youth, and possibly my adulthood, Crass. Though most of their albums have hit the 30-year mark, they still hold more relevance and urgency to me than most of the bands that they influenced. The ongoing reissue of their catalog, dubbed “The Crassical Collection," has coincided with a recent tour and biography by vocalist Steve Ignorant. After getting his book, The Rest is Propaganda, as an import, I was reminded that they were the first band to “live the life” and embody the DIY ethic to the extent that they did.

Although The Rest is Propaganda was the most enjoyable of all of the Crass-related books I've read, drummer Penny Rimbaud’s book, Shibboleth: My Revolting Life, offers another look inside of the band from a founding member. Rimbaud professes a love for books written by England’s own Beat Generation – “The Angry Young Men.” Unfortunately, he seems to fancy himself one of them. His book overflowed with over-the-top metaphor that would be more fitting in fiction. There were several points in the book where, without explanation, Rimbaud comes in and out of fiction and nonfiction as if it was his own consciousness. In addition to the abstract writing, the book was much more focused on Rimbaud’s early life as a hippy, and the death of an influential friend. This is his biography, however, and not the band’s. I think the contrast between Rimbaud and Ignorant’s biographies and writing styles really illustrates the qualities that each person brought to the band, which is the essence of what made it so special.

More recently written by journalist George Berger, The Story of Crass tries its hand at documenting the band as a whole. Berger comes across more as a music critic than a documentarian, and peppers the account with his own value judgments and flippant comments. At times he seems more eager to belittle the band than to tell its story. The reader can still glean enough from the facts that are presented, however, to piece together how much the band changed punk from a style and a “file-under” category to an ethos. It’s nice to have the information presented, and to get a good feel for the band. But the author’s bizarre writing style and many grammatical errors make this confusing and weak for anyone but the long-time fan.

CD's by Crass are available for check-out at LFPL. Just click the links below to reserve a copy:
Stations of the Crass
The Feeding of the 5000

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Briar King by Greg Keyes 
submitted by Luke

Great and terrible changes are coming to the lands. Beasts thought only to be legends have been seen, bringing death and ruin, and some say that the Briar King has awakened. The Briar King by Greg Keyes is the opening book in a four part epic fantasy saga, The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, which follows in the footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. LeGuin, and others.

It is the year 2,223 in the age of Everon, and it has been two millennia since humanity threw off its bondage to the Skasloi lords. Young Anne Dare, the princess of Crotheny is just starting to be aware of life outside of her childish fancies, while grizzled Aspar White, the King’s Holter is obsessed by the changes he observes in the King’s Forest. Young squire Neil MeqVren comes to the capital of Eslen hoping to earn his spurs and become a knight, only to find himself in the center of a maelstrom of political and religious intrigue and violence. Finally, there is Brother Stephen, traveling alone through the King’s Forest to his new abbey home only to begin to discover that the great evil that can fester in the heart of humanity is far closer than he ever dreamed of. All of these people are tied together to the future of this world, as is the Briar King, and all will be challenged beyond what they know in order to save all that is dear to them.

The Briar King is a well crafted, character driven tale that handles the questions of humanity versus nature, personal desires versus the greater necessity, and of course good versus evil.

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Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac by Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee 
submitted by Tom

This book can be summed up with one word: Love. I read this book about 20 years ago when I really had no understanding of the Beat Generation. So I missed the amount of love and respect that Kerouac's friends had for him and continued to have for him after his death. This book is more than it claims to be; it is an oral history of most of the Beat Generation with Jack as its center. From all the big wigs of Beat literary fame to the forgotten names of Kerouac's childhood friends and minor characters in his books, everything is covered.

In between each individual's comments is background filler added by Gifford and Lee. I think that they did a wonderful job of adding segue ways between comments. This allows a reader, who is new to the Beats, to understand the comments better. Some of the comments are very frank. This frankness makes the book a treasure. We get a view of the real Kerouac, who was many things to many people.

He was a sinner and a saint and it is all in here. In 1959, when On The Road was belatedly published, Kerouac became famous overnight. It was a fame that led many people to want a piece of him one way or another, and it led to his self-destruction and death at 47. He became a totally different person in the process. He became a drunk, who could be belligerent to all around him. But through it all, he loved his friends and they loved him.

He died in 1969 with little literary respect and still had not obtained it when Jack's Book was published in 1978. This book gives Kerouac the respect that he deserves as both a man and a writer, and for him the two were the same.

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Homer and Langely by E.L. Doctorow 
submitted by Debbe

I can’t be accused of being a hoarder. I gave away my children’s toys and donate clothes I no longer wear. One guest in my home asked “Where are the books?” My answer “I keep my books stored at the library.” I choose not to keep items, for which I might find a use, at some unknown future time. I recently read E. L. Doctorow’s Homer and Langley , based loosely on the Collyer brothers of New York City and their compulsive hoarding disorder. It affirmed my choice of lifestyle.

Compulsive hoarding isn’t a new phenomenon. Recently the problem has been highlighted by television talk and reality shows bringing therapists and/or professional organizers to the aid (in the interest of ratings) of compulsive hoarders. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, Homer and Langley Collyer were “media” stars. The New York Times Historical database has numerous articles about the brothers and their problems. Doctorow not only chronicles events but offers a sympathetic look into the minds and lives of those impaired. Homer, acting as narrator, begins the tale with his descent into blindness “I didn’t lose my sight all at once, it was like the movies, a slow fade out.” He relates his growing dependence on Langley; a World War I veteran, and a casualty, both physically and emotionally, of his battlefield experience.

Doctorow set his novel over a larger time span, World War I through the early 1970’s. The Collyers are observers and participants of the era. The brothers collect an assortment of people: gangsters, missionaries, hippies (who come and go); and items: Model T Fords, player pianos, television sets (that never leave); and thus relate the accounting of the years in likeness to the daily newspapers Langley amasses. These newspapers symbolize the repetition of events (as Langley espoused) and the similarity throughout time of the human condition.

This isn’t the first book based on the Collyer brothers. In 1954 Marcia Davenport wrote My Brother’s Keeper another fictional depiction and in 2003 Franz Lidz penned the non-fiction Ghosty Men: the Strange but True Story of the Collyer Brothers, New York's Greatest Hoarders: an Urban Historical.

Award winning author Doctorow’s other acclaimed novels include Ragtime, which won the first National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 1976; World’s Fair , winner of the 1986 National Book Award; Billy Bathgate, 1990 winner of the PEN/Faulkner prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and The March, which received the 2006 PEN/Faulkner Award, the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

One of my book discussion groups read Homer and Langley and it offered an excellent discussion. The library offers a book discussion kit.

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