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 December 2008 Book Reviews:



The Eagle and the Crown: Americans and the British Monarchy

by Frank Prochaska

reviewed by A.B. Mead


The American Revolution wasn't caused by the existence of a monarch, but rather the fact that King George III was behaving like a tyrant. The Revolution might not have been necessary had the king shown more common sense toward the colonies. Queen Victoria made the monarchy not only safe in the eyes of most Americans, but noble. At a time when President Andrew Jackson was consolidating power, leading to what some feared would be an "elective monarchy," benign Victoria projected a stable alternative. Because she reigned for over 60 years, imprinting at least two generations of Americans with the idea of a kindly British monarchy, by her death in 1901 it was simply too late:  the monarchy was good. That she was female, a mother, and a widow only increased sympathy for her and her position. Edward VIII, while still Prince of Wales, visited the U.S. just after World War I, embodying class for an America "in which routine and blandness typified everyday life." The royals were not only upright, they were stylish too. That England has had another female monarch with a long reign (It will be 57 years next February, at which time Elizabeth II will have reigned during 12 U.S. presidential administrations) means that many Americans have been born, lived their lives, and died never knowing another British sovereign. America still views itself as a new nation, and, as such, draws comfort from the land that gave it birth, and the monarchs that embody that nation.






The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons, and Growing Up Strange

y Mark Barrowcliffe

reviewed by Kevin Lauderdale


If you learned vocabulary words like chaotic, aerie, and grimoire while downing Jolt cola and rolling twenty-sided dice; if you thrill to the memory of graph paper and exquisitely-painted lead figures; if the name Greyhawk means anything, then this is the book for you. Originally published in England, The Elfish Gene tells the story of then-twelve-year-old Barrowcliffe's discovery of, and subsequent obsession with, (is there any other possible fate?) the roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons during the 1970s and 80s. The book isn't just about playing the game; it's about how it affected his life. For those who play(ed), the book is devastatingly funny, as when young Mark meets a teen-aged girl and sizes her up:  "Slattern.  Armour class 9 (light top and denim skirt), hit points 3, habitat: bus stops, weapons:  corrosive Liverpudlian voice and scorn." To those for whom D&D was just something those geeky guys in the chess club did, the book may be slightly confusing and will certainly serve to reinforce the stereotypes. But only because they're true. Barrowcliffe's friends argue about magic item characteristics and who was standing where when the goblins attacked to the point where it threatens to become a Monty Python sketch. Then they decide to see what a real fireball spell would be like using a balloon and lighter fluid ("The bathroom was tiled, I reasoned, and therefore had nothing that could catch fire."). . . with the usual results. Players can not help but see themselves in this book, and their groans of recognition at the author's adventures will range from nostalgic to cathartic.






Above Top Secret: Uncover the Mysteries of the Digital

by Jim Marrs

reviewed by Jeff Ayers



We live in an amazing world.  Time marches on and history is created, but some inhabitants of our globe feel that many of the important geopolitical events or economic and social trends are the products of secret plots generally unknown to the general public.  These people are called conspiracy theorists.  UFOs, Roswell, and the assassination of JFK are subjects that never seem to disappear.  Jim Marrs takes his journalist skills and investigates the credibility of several mysteries that some people claim are true and others consider wacko.  He lays out the facts, and while he can’t give concrete answers, he does give enough information to make skeptics question the evidence.






Titanic’s Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler

Brad Matsen

reviewed by Scott Pearson




A fascinating and, at times, haunting re-exploration of the Titanic disaster, whether you are a weathered “Titaniac” or a newcomer without sea legs. In the opening chapters Chatterton and Kohler get drawn into the mystery of why the ship sank so quickly, and then they dive to Titanic’s final resting place more than two miles beneath the surface of the Atlantic. The middle section details the ship’s construction, the still heart-wrenching nighttime sinking, and the immediate aftermath. The final chapters reveal a startling new interpretation of the sinking based on what Chatterton and Kohler found during their Titanic dive and also present convincing evidence that Titanic’s builders suspected the ship of having had fatal design flaws. Some editorial quirks challenge the reader along the way. Dialogue that is not verbatim from transcripts or recordings (the majority in the book) is presented without quotation marks; parsing shifts from dialogue to exposition can be confusing in this unorthodox presentation. The  new theory of the sinking is breezed through in a rather offhand fashion on page 224. The remaining 100 pages, as the divers attempt to gather confirming evidence—both from the sister ship Britannic (sunk by a mine during World War I) and from the archives of the company that built the ships—conclude the book somewhat anticlimactically. That said, the book still holds the reader’s interest throughout, bringing to light surprising new twists to a story people think they know by heart.



Dilbert 2.0: 20 Years of Dilbert

Scott Adams

reviewed by Jeff Ayers


It’s hard to believe that one of the most popular comic strips has been around so long.  Always relevant and fresh, Adams nails life in the corporate world.   

This celebration opens with Scott Adams taking the reader through a journey of Dilbert’s origins.  He explores his love of cartooning and provides examples of his early work and inspirations.  Then he provides a ton of Dilbert cartoons, going in order from the first one to the most recent, providing commentary on many of them.  While the book does not have every single cartoon, it does come with a disc of all of them.  The book already weighs at least 10,000 pounds, so including them all would have easily tripled the weight.   

If you are a fan of Dilbert, it is worth the price, even at its hefty size.  The insight into Adams’ mind and the progression of the strip is fascinating and definitely worth hiding in your cubicle.








The Knife of Never Letting Go

by Patrick Ness

reviewed by A.B. Mead




Something happened in the tiny community of Prentisstown around the time Todd Hewitt was born. A germ killed all the women and left the men telepathic. Now they hear the thoughts of all the nearby animals:  the dogs, squirrels, crocodiles, sheep, and, of course, themselves. The men and boys live in the constant din of Noise. Every thought that crosses someone's mind is broadcast for everyone in the cut-off community to hear whether they like it or not. Todd is approaching his 13th birthday when, while out in the woods, he finds a place with no Noise. Impossible. Equally impossible, he finds a girl roughly his own age. Before he knows it, the two men who raised him tell him he must flee for his life. Now Todd, his dog, and the girl are being chased by a Prentisstown posse led by a man who seems unable to die. The story moves along at a break-neck pace with mystery after mystery piling up until everything you thought you knew falls apart. To tell you much beyond what happens in the first chapters would do you readers a disservice. Let's just say that to begin with, most of what Todd has been told all his life isn't true. Furthermore, this book isn't even the genre you think it is . . .

 Young Adult  

Paper Towns

by J
ohn Green

reviewed by Hayden Bass


Quentin Jacobsen, high school senior, has long been fascinated by Margo Roth Spiegelman, his next door neighbor. Years ago, as children, they found a body together, and since then he has associated her with a sense of mystery and adventure that lies just outside his reach.  So when Margo knocks on his window one night asking for his help in an elaborate and mostly legal revenge plot, Q can't say no.  He hopes that this night will lead to a new phase in his relationship with Margo.  But the next day, Margo is gone, leaving behind only a string of uncertain clues that Q feels compelled to follow, though they may or may not lead to her hiding place.

John Green, author of Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines, specializes in creating realistic, geeky-cool teen guys who idealize (and agonize over) the girls in their lives.  Paper Towns follows this same formula, but takes it a step further.  Quentin slowly realizes that he has been trying to solve the wrong mystery, and that there is a moral failing in his idealization of Margo Roth Spiegelman.  "The fundamental mistake I had always made . . . was this: Margo was not a miracle.  She was not an adventure.  She was not a fine and precious thing.  She was a girl."  It is only after making this discovery that Q finally begins to put together the pieces of the puzzle, and is able to create his own adventure.

As ever, Green's dialogue is funny, fast-paced, and believable as teen-speak.  Thought Paper Towns covers familiar territory, it is sure to be a hit with his many fans.





My Reading Log
  by Jeff Ayers, Associate Editor



Thirty years ago, Jim Davis caused a sensation with the launch of his comic strip, Garfield.  It remains a phenomenon today, and what better way to celebrate his anniversary than with Garfield: 30 Years of Laughs & Lasagna: The Life & Times of a Fat, Furry Legend!   (Ballantine Books, $35.00).  The format of the book follows the evolution of the sarcastic cat with occasional commentary by Jim Davis.  This is an essential gift for the cat and Garfield lover in your family.



Even if you aren’t a Garfield fan, you have to check out Garfield Minus Garfield.  (Ballantine Books, $12.00).  Created by Dan Walsh, this web comic sensation basically takes old Garfield strips and completely removes the cat from them, making his owner, Jon, even more of a pathetic loser.  Jim Davis was such a fan that the last twenty pages are strips he did himself.  The book has the new strip with the old cat-filled one beneath it for comparison.  Very funny and worth a quick read.


Kendra Trahan tackles the latest addition to the Disneyland Resort in Disney’s California Adventure Detective: An Independent Guide to Exploring the Trivia, Secrets and Magic of the Park Dedicated to California.  The Park will be celebrating its eighth birthday in February, and very little has been written about it until now.  Trahan examines all of the different sections, rides, and architecture to give the reader more appreciation of the thought and effort that went into the design of Disneyland’s neighbor.  If you are a fan of the Park, carry this book with you next time you visit. 


Finally, Library Journal has just announced their best books of the year and I had the privilege of choosing the five best thrillers.  Here they are: 

Berry, Steve. The Charlemagne Pursuit. Ballantine. ISBN 978-0-345-48579-3. $26. 

Cotton Malone's efforts to learn the truth behind his father's death lead him to Antarctica and elsewhere on a quest inspired by clues from Charlemagne's tomb. Berry's most personal and intense thriller to date. (LJ 9/15/08) 

Connelly, Michael. The Brass Verdict. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-16629-4. $26.99. 

Mickey Haller, introduced in The Lincoln Lawyer, becomes a target after he takes on the cases of a murdered attorney. His only hope lies in LAPD detective Harry Bosch. The exciting pairing of Connelly's two main protagonists makes for one of his best novels in years. (LJ 9/1/08) 

Jacobson, Alan. The 7th Victim. Vanguard: Perseus. ISBN 978-1-59315-494-3. $25.95. 

FBI profiler Karen Vail investigates the strange serial offender known as the Dead Eyes Killer. Jacobson's years of research into the FBI profiling unit propels this novel above the standard serial killer schlock, and his protagonist is also one of the strongest characters to come out of a thriller in a long time. (LJ 9/15/08) 

Land, Jon. The Seven Sins: The Tyrant Ascending. Forge: Tor. ISBN 978-0-7653-1534-2. $24.95. 

Michael Tiranno, owner of Las Vegas's Seven Sins Casino, tries to stop a personal vendetta against him and everything he loves. Readers addicted to high-adrenaline action will enjoy the thrill ride. (LJ 5/1/08) 

Rollins, James. The Last Oracle. Morrow. ISBN 978-0-06-123094-3. $26.95. 

The Sigma Force face their most challenging adventure involving the Oracle of Delphi, autistic savant children, and a frightening bioengineering experiment that could change the world forever. Rollins outdoes himself with this rousing blend of history, science, and action adventure. (LJ 5/15/08) 

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