Archive for December, 2008

In Search of Scottish Identity

Monday, December 29th, 2008

In Search of Scottish Identity (a short reading list)
As we approach Hogmanay, or New Year’s Eve, it seemed appropriate for me to revisit this light-hearted list I recently compiled on the theme of Scottish American heritage.

As I began my search in HCPL I found some wonderful serious and recent books on the nature and development of the national character, the Scottish diaspora, and on Scottish contributions to the world. These accessible but learned books consciously make an effort to avoid the stereotypes that are popularly attached to the Scottish character.

As I broadened my search however, I had a great deal of fun in discovering that many authors actually celebrate the wild, tartan kilted Highlander of fey or warlike tendencies. The stereotypes live on to different degrees in a whole range of enjoyable fiction!

Books About the Complexity and Richness of Scottish Identity and Culture:
How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman
The Invention of Scotland: myth and history by H. R. Trevor-Roper
Scotland: the story of a nation by Magnus Magnusson
In Search of Scotland published by BBC Scotland
Heritage of Scotland by Nathaniel Harris

(Even cooking)
The Scottish Kitchen by Christopher Trotter

Some Scots are Women
The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith
The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday by Alexander McCall Smith

Some Scots Live in Modern Cities
Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

Not All Scots Live in Scotland
The Songcatcher: a ballad novel by Sharyn McCrumb

But Sometimes the Stereotypes Hold true – at least in literature
Scots on the Rocks by Mary daheim
44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith
Death of a Cad by M. C. Beaton
Death of a Bore by M. C. Beaton

Sometimes We Wish They Were True!
The Highlander by Heather Grothaus
A Highlander Never Surrenders by Paula Quinn
Highlander Ever After by Jennifer Ashley

(P.S. I would be happy to try to create a similar list for any other ethnic group in America you suggest)

Chasing the Flame: Sergio Viera de Mello and the Fight to Save the World by Samantha Power

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World by Samantha Power. Published February 2008 (Find this book in our catalog)
Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power has written an epic tale – part thriller, part tragedy – the political career and tragic death of the incomparable humanitarian Sergio Vieira de Mello. A reviewer wrote: “If there is a single individual who can be said to have been at center stage through all of the most significant humanitarian and geopolitical crises of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, it was Sergio Vieira de Mello…In nearly four decades of work for the United Nations, Sergio distinguished himself as the consummate humanitarian, able to negotiate with-and often charm-cold war military dictators, Marxist jungle radicals, reckless warlords, and nationalist and sectarian militia leaders. By taking the measure of this remarkable man’s life and career, Power offers a fascinating answer to the question: Who possesses the moral authority, the political sense, and the military and economic heft to protect human life and bring peace to the unruly new world order?”

At Home in Covington by Joan Medlicott

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

At Home in Covington by Joan Medlicott, 2004 (Find this book in our catalog)
Set in a small North Carolina mountain town, this story is part of a series about three open-minded ladies of a certain age, but the book can be read and enjoyed alone. Amelia, Grace and Hannah, finding themselves single and with relaxing family ties, have moved in together into a Victorian farmhouse in Covington. At this stage of their story, the ladies are in their early seventies. Each one has come to terms with her life and is confident and comfortable with herself; however, they find that life is inevitably filled with change, not all of it pleasant. The events of 9/11 have just happened. Grace’s son’s partner dies from AIDS, and her son returns to Covington, forcing Grace to confront a difficult relationship. Hannah receives in the mail a mysterious diary that opens up for her a past that she thought she had laid to rest and that calls in question her decision to marry Max. Amelia organizes a Caribbean cruise for the three to give them a break from their worries. Is the cruise going to be a success, or will the three start to question their friendship? Along with all the worries there are joys: the birth of a new baby, the loving support of companions. Both new readers and series fans will plunge right into the warmth and charm of this celebration of female friendship.

The Oath by John Lescroart

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

The Oath by John Lescroart (Find this book in our catalog)
Called “scalpel-sharp” by one reviewer, this medical thriller takes a look at how each of a group of doctors at Parnassus, a struggling San Francisco HMO, manages, or not, to live up to the Hippocratic Oath. Attorney Dismas Hardy must prevent Dr. Eric Kensing from being arrested for the murder of Kensing’s boss, Tim Markham, the CEO of Parnassus. Markham, in ICU following a hit-and-run, died not of his injuries but of a potassium overdose given to him in his IV. Kensing, the attending physician in ICU, had a motive to kill Markham, who was having an affair with his wife. Kensing and Markham had also clashed regularly over the penny-pinching care administered to Parnassus patients. To protect his client, Hardy must find a suspect with a better motive and opportunity for murder, and in his search discovers that Markham is actually the 12th person to have been killed recently while in the Parnassus ICU. Hardy must put himself in danger before the killer is exposed.

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

The Abingdon Book Group had a lovely treat for the holidays, not only did they get to discuss Miss Flagg’s very cute book, they did this at a local Indian restaurant. The food & the company was vibrant & everyone had a good time. This is an easy book to read & although not a holiday title, definitely has feel good appeal & is a good read for this time of year. Elner Shimfissle falls out of her fig tree, knocks herself out, and goes on a temporary visit to heaven. Meanwhile her family, friends and neighbors, thinking she is dead, all tell of how she has impacted their lives. The setting is Elmwood Springs, Missouri. It is small town America where everyone knows everyone else. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear what a lot Elner has done and how much she has meant to the folks she knows. Criticism may be that the book is too cutesy and the characters not wholly believable. However it is a charming and entertaining story & recommended for the reader who likes a cosy read.

Fannie Flagg has been an actress and a writer and has been nominated for both the Academy Award and the Writers Guild of America Award. Her book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe was made into a Universal Pictures movie titled simply Fried Green Tomatoes. She lives in two locations in California & Alabama (where she was born).

There are some interesting questions about the book for the individual reader or for book groups, on Fannie Flagg’s webpage at Random House.

The Taking by Dean Koontz

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

The Taking by Dean Koontz
The Taking by Dean Koontz (Find this book in our catalog)“A few minutes past one o’clock in the morning, a hard rain fell without warning. No thunder preceded the deluge, no wind.” Thus begins The Taking by Dean Koontz. The rain wakes Molly Sloan, a 28-year-old author, who until now has been living quietly in a house in the woods with her husband, Neil. Bit by bit we learn, however, that Molly has suffered violence in the past, violence that influences Molly’s present. The rain glitters oddly and smells faintly repellant. The rain also affects a pack of coyotes, who come up onto Molly’s porch and seem to be looking to her for leadership. Woken by a nightmare of an oppressive force overhead, Neil joins Molly in front of the TV and they learn of extreme weather all over the world. Gradually all communications go dead, but not before Neil and Molly have realized that probably the end of the world they know has come and that they must go to town to seek other people and safety in numbers. Readers of all ages will enjoy this book, which is hard to categorize – science fiction, horror, or speculative fiction. The Taking will certainly make you think! Readers in the late teens or early twenties will relate to the main character, Molly Sloan, who is scared, puzzled, loving, caring and brave. The other characters are convincing and well-drawn, though the writing is succinct and concentrates on the action and the mystery of what’s happening to all the humans, who are trapped, are changed, or disappear in violent and gruesome ways. This book is a page-turner, going rapidly from one horror to the other, yet so well written that the monstrous events seem logical and totally believable. Molly gradually begins to make sense of the horrors she is witnessing and decides what it is that she is called to do.

Editor’s Winter Reading Suggestions – 1st one:Family Trade

Monday, December 15th, 2008

The Harford County Public Library Winter Reading Program will be starting in January (check with your local branch for their kick-off celebration date). I thought for the next two and a half weeks I would post here reviews of all sorts of different books I have recently finished to give you some ideas outside of the usual bestsellers for your own winter reading.

I am going away to Wales to visit my Mum and Dad for the Holidays and will not be back until the New Year. To cover my absence, I have scheduled a lot of reviews, one to be published automatically every three days or so. They will be a mixed bag of genres. Most will have been published two or three years ago. Perhaps these reviews might stimulate you to try something different from your usual fare?

This is the first book:

The Family Trade by Charles Stross, 2004 (Find this book in our catalog)

This is book one of The Merchant Princes series by Stross and probably should be read first in the series. It definitely should not be read by anyone who expects a neatly sewn-up and satisfying ending; it will, however, appeal to all readers who like their intellect challenged and their preconceived notions turned upside down. In this fast-paced story filled with constant danger, action, and shifting realities, Miriam Beckstein is given a locket and is transported by it to a parallel world, where knights on horseback chase their prey with automatic weapons. This world diverged from our own world in the Dark Ages, when, after a catastrophic war, the Vikings left Europe and colonized the whole of North America. Fans of alternate history will be interested to see how this world developed on an alternate path from ours and is still feudal, with colonies on each coast and a wasteland in between in control of antagonistic Native American tribes. Miriam discovers she is a lost countess in this world, a powerful heiress in the kingdom of Gruinmarkt, whose balance she has upset by her reappearance. This upset places Miriam in acute danger as she travels back and forth between the kingdom and our well-known Boston and New York. Science fiction fans will enjoy the exploration of the concept of parallel worlds, the detail with which the kingdom of Gruinmarkt is described and the technology of “world walking.”

Booksprouts another resource for starting or running a book club

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

Booksprouts: The Online Community for Book Clubs

The other day a friend drew my attention to this website called Booksprouts. Booksprouts’ goal is to make book clubs a fun and easy experience for everyone.

Reading is an usually solitary experience but it doesn’t always have to be. Sometimes it is nice to bring in other individuals. Talking about books can enhance your reading experience and tighten social contacts.

If you feel like sharing your reading experiences with people close to you, one way to do this is start a book club. Booksprouts recognizes that this can be difficult to do. Friends may live and work far apart, and it is hard to find the time when everyone in a group can meet. Booksprouts’ solution to the problem of time and geography is to provide a forum for online book groups.

It is hard to organize a book group, and once you are organized it is hard to choose the books to read. Booksprouts say they make it easy to start a club, join a club, invite your friends, choose a book, and discuss. Booksprouts introduces Book Choices to help book clubs agree on what to read, they automatically create and organize online discussion spaces for each book, and they help clubs manage their member lists and their club meetings.

I looked at the Booksprouts website and found it very easy to understand and navigate. You can search for a book group to belong to by geography, subject, author, or title. You can start your own book group. You can find books by title, subject or author and you can see a list of current hot books. You could use the site just as a resource to find books to discuss in your existing group.

The site is still in Beta mode, so I did not see many reviews of the site. At least one public library is using it. The reviews I did see could not understand how the site will make money. I found the Booksprouts blog which gives a rationale of why they started the site. At the moment it is free to sign up to join or create a book group. Some groups are open and some are invitation only.

Some reviewers wondered why we need yet another book sharing site, mentioning LibraryThing, Shelfari, etc. You should check the site out for yourself. If you have been struggling with finding a suitable book group, online may be the way to go.

Awards round-up December 2008

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Guardian first book award
The Rest is Noise (Find this book in our catalog) Alex Ross’s much acclaimed history of 20th century music is undisputed winner of the 2008 prize
Click here for the Guardian article.
This is the summary in our catalog:
“The Rest Is Noise takes the reader inside the labyrinth of modern sound. It tells of maverick personalities who have resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators. Whether they have charmed audiences with pure beauty or battered them with pure noise, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art.” “Alex Ross, in this sweeping and dramatic narrative, takes us from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. The end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.”–BOOK JACKET.”

Another website choice for finding the next good book to read

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Looking for your next great read?
A group of book enthusiasts from Duluth, MN created a new website to help you find that next great book to read. It is called Connect-the-books and is located at The website catalogs over 100,000 books and 125,000 reading lists and allows users to display and print out a list of 25, 50, or even 100 books related to any book. So, if you’ve just finished a good book, enter it into the search field and the site will display books connected to that book.

Pros and Cons of Connect-the-Book
My opinion is that it could be a great way for library users to get suggestions for new books to read. But it is only one of several sources for suggestions available and should be used with caution: it can be overwhelming and misleading, and it may lead to a dead-end.

Advantages of this site are the huge numbers of titles available and the fact that the connections from one book to the other have been made by real readers. The connections are made by a “proprietary method” (since the site is funded by part of the proceeds of sales it generates at, I am assuming it is propritary to Amazon). Anyone who has used Amazon will have found that some of the connections between books are tenuous at best. I found some of the connections on Connect-the-Books were misleading. The number of books you can connect to is so large that you can be overwhelmed by choice. Tom Gibbons of Connect-the-Books wrote, “Because we use actual users lists for connecting books, users can be surprised by unexpected book connections.” Some surprises are good; but just be on the look-out for some mismatches.

Connect-the-books does not display any advertisements, though links are provided to for users who wish to read more information about the books and possibly purchase them. A small portion of the revenue from these purchases is used to support the administration of the website. Be aware of this influence; though I did not detect that this limited the choice of books, which is huge.

I did find, however, that several titles with recent 2008 publication dates that I put in the search box did not have any connections yet: I reached a dead end. The site updates the connections only two or three times a year; so, if you want to find similar books to recent things you have read you may not find them.

Why Not Check out MyNextGoodBook?
Harford County Public Library offers MyNextGoodBook on the HCPL website. Anyone can create an account and keep reading lists, either private or to share. You can see what others have been reading, join an online book club, or view HCPL staff recommended lists.

The advantage that MyNextGoodBook has over Connect-the-Books, and other similar sites such as GoodReads, LibraryThing, and Shelfari, is that it is locally based. Click on MyNextGoodBook and search for similar books to a particular title or search for recommendations in a wide array of subjects. Create your account and start sharing your reading with people in your community. When you find a thread from one book you have liked to another you will often be able to click on a link which will take you right to our catalog to reserve the book for pick up. What could be simpler than that?