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Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Seventh Plague - A Sigma Force Novel

When he was a boy, one of my fellow EfM colleagues was taken to see The Ten Commandments.  He still remembers how terrified he was that night that the green slime of one of the Plagues of Egypt was gong to creep down the wall of his bedroom.  His dad had to come in to calm him down.  Imagine if one of those plagues should strike the modern world.  How frightening would that be?  James Rollins shows us in his latest Sigma Force novel, The Seventh Plague (#630).

An archaeologist stumbles out of the desert after going missing for two years, but dies before he can reveal where he's been or what he has discovered.  His partly mummified body is the source of a strange and deadly disease which claims its victims within hours.  Sigma Force is called in when an old friend of Painter Crowe asks for their help while studying the body.  She is abducted on camera while the two are skyping.  Meanwhile, an attempt is made to snatch the professor's daughter at their cottage in a medieval English town.  Sigma operative Seichan recognizes one of the team as a member of the former Guild.  Nothing good can possibly come from their involvement, but who has hired them, and for what purpose?  Before Sigma Force can rest, they will have ventured from deepest, darkest Africa to the forbidding Arctic Canadian Island of Ellesmere on the trail of discoveries by Dr. Livingston, Mr. Stanley, Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain.

As always, the scariest part of these novels is the science behind the story which makes the nightmare scenarios so very plausible.  Could a microbe have been the source of the Nile turning blood red and spawning the plagues of frogs and locusts?  And could the Exodus of Jewish slaves from Egypt have happened much earlier?  These are some of the intriguing crumbs Rollins throws out to his readers.  Entertaining and thought provoking!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Whole Town's Talking

In Fannie Flagg's latest novel The Whole Town's Talking (#629) she includes everyone - even the folks in the Still Meadows Cemetery!  From the founding of Elmwood Springs, Missouri by Swedish immigrant Lordor Nordstrom through its heyday when even Hollywood stars include the town on tours, and its eventual decline after the interstate sucks the life out of downtown, we meet its citizens with all their foibles and faults and rock solid virtues.

There are good people and bad; everyday joys and sorrows, romances and unrequited love. successful businesses and criminal behavior.  It's all here, told with humor and compassion.  Ms. Flagg is such a skilled storyteller that she makes it seem not only plausible, but natural that when the citizens of Elmwood Springs die and are buried in Still Meadows Cemetery overlooking town, that they wake up to discover that their friends and relatives are there to meet them, and are anxious for news of those left behind.  But even at Still Meadows, there will come a day when some one's voice will no longer be there.  No one knows where they go, or when it will happen...

It's a delightful, touching, often funny set of insights into the life of a close-knit community.  Ms. Flagg has even included a nod to her previous novel, The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion which shone a long-overdue spotlight on the heroic work of the women who served during World War II in the WASPS.  (If you haven't read that story, you ought to!  See my post of 5/22/14.).  One of the ladies of Elmwood Springs finally gets her due here.

Put The Whole Town's Talking on your Must Read List.  You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Die Like an Eagle

What could be more lowering than to have your corpse discovered in a port-a-potty just before the beginning of a Little League game?  How about the possibility that it may have been a case of mistaken identity?

In Donna Andrews' latest mystery, Die Like an Eagle (#628), Meg Langslow has her hands full trying to keep things together for the Summerball league her twin boys and husband are all involved with for opening day.  Most families in Caerphilly, Virginia have moved their boys from the Litttle League teams run by Biff Brown to the alternate Summerball League.  The problem is Biff has decided to jump leagues as well, making up the local rules as he goes along, and keeping firm control of the League's finances, scheduling and team assignments.  His contract with the county to maintain the ball fields and maintain team morale - not so much.  Everyone in town seems to have an axe to grind with Biff, including Meg herself.  Biff hasn't returned a single phone call about a starting date on the Town Square project which is supposed to be completed by Memorial Day!  When the body is revealed to be his half-brother, everyone assumes that the intended victim was Biff.  Meg just can't keep herself from following the clues - after all, she did discover the body - but will Opening Day be ruined for the Summerballers?  Not if Meg has anything to say about it!

This is another enjoyable entry in this cozy mystery series set in a rural Virginia college town.  The cast of characters are all here, but some more surprises are revealed about them in the course of the story.  It's always fun to visit town.

Transformed Lives - Making Sense of Atonement Today

Transformed Lives - Making Sense of Atonement Today (#627) by Cynthia Crysdale was a required Interlude reading for my EfM program.  I understand that many readers found its message very profound.  Suffice it to say for me and my group that the kernels of wisdom were so thickly encased in layers of esoteric academic language that I found it nigh imporssible to decipher any wisdom or knowledge from it.  I was driven to create a glossary in the front of the book to keep track of the many theological terms which even after four years of study, I could not define in my own head.

To me, the most interesting thing about this book was the George Will column I came across published in my local paper on January 12th, describing a hoax which had been perpetrated on the academic community and finally revealed by its author.  His paper had been much admired and written about at the time.  Much of the language Mr Will (and that professor) used here was so reminiscent of Transformed Lives.  If you read that column, you'll understand what I mean.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Dressing A Galaxy - The Costumes of Star Wars

There are obviously Star Wars fans on the staff of my local library, because Dressing A Galaxy - The Costumes of Star Wars (#626) by Trisha Biggar was included in a dsiplay of an assortment of publications devoted to all things related to the series of films.

I do love looking at books filled with textiles and fashion, and this lush coffee table book was just filled with the official studio stills of the actors in their costumes, concept sketches and close-ups of the astonishing detail that went into making the costumes principally in Episodes I - III (which, if you're a Star Wars fan, you know were actually filmed after Episodes IV - VI  - the ones with Mark Hamil, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford.)

Trisha Biggar was in charge of costume design for these three films, and she explains some of the rationale of why the costumes in these episodes are so much more formal and elaborate.  The attention to detail down to the buttons, piping and trim with the matching jewelry and headpieces is amazing, especially considering that the scenes flash by so quickly on the screen that these fine points will never by consciously noticed.  They do, however, contribute to the overall sense of dignity and opulence for many characters, and contrasting circumstances for so many other characters.  It's wonderful to be able to sit and just revel in the colors, shadings and rich materials used here.

The fact that the costume concepts have to include not only humans, but also the denizens of other worlds, whether based on human actors, or computer-generated characters with its own CG wardrobing problems was interesting to read about.

If you love fine materials and appreciate quality craftsmanship, or are a Star Wars devotee, or even better, combine both of these interests, you'll spend some rewarding hours browsing through this volume.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Britt-Marie Was Here

Britt-Marie as she first appears in Fredrik Backman's novel Britt-Marie Was Here (#625) seems prickly, peculiar and uncomfortable, yet by the end of the book, I found myself  rooting for her to make the right choices.  She deserves every good thing that can come her way.

How does Mr. Backman do it?  Britt-Marie obviously falls somewhere along the autism spectrum, and she certainly displays strong components of OCD.  Yet by revealing bits of her back story as she struggles with the break-up of her marriage and transplantation to a dying town in the middle of nowhere when it's the only job the Unemployment Office can find for her ,you gradually come to realize the roots of the deep pain of what she perceives as her failures.

As she is forced to stand on her own two feet for the first time in her life when she lands in Borg she begins to make friends.  And what a motley collection they turn out to be!  If Britt-Marie meets a situation she doesn't know how to handle (She's totally lacking in social skills; she's been told so many, many times!) she cleans.  Borg's Recreation Center has never been so sparkling.  No matter what she does, she cannot seem to escape soccer.  On arrival in town, she's literally hit in the head with a soccer ball.  Who would ever have predicted that she would wind up as the coach of a ragbag time of kids in town?  Or that she will care about the people there, and that the favor is returned in the oddest ways.

But the hardest choices will have to be made when Britt-Marie's straying husband comes to town to fetch her back home.  Will she choose her former "normal" life, or will she continue to discover new strengths within herself?  No one in Borg will ever be the same after Britt-Marie.

Highly recommended!