For those of us who struggled with high school chemistry at the hands of a sadistic middle aged teacher having an affair with the trigonometry instructor (and I know you’re out there) we can now make another attempt at understanding the periodic table, and thank God, I say. Writer Sam Kean, in The Disappearing Spoon, makes the subject matter so wonderfully approachable--he welcomes you in, pours you a cold one, and just starts telling great stories about the elements.

There’s neon rain, gas warfare, ruthless scientists, passion, betrayal, adventure and obsession. What cool prank can you pull with gallium and a cup of tea? Why was cadmium the Godzilla killer? And did you hear about Marie Curie’s sullied reputation? There are some black and white illustrations and photos, and one of them is of an old ceramic urn-like device called a Revigator, a pottery crock lined with nuclear radium. Users, back in the day, filled it with water which turned radioactive overnight. The manual suggested drinking six or more refreshing glasses a day. Yum. Maybe there’s a chance for me to love chemistry after all.

(Originally published on Nov. 16, 2010.)

Have you heard about this great period British T.V. series? It’s about class divisions and war, and there’s romance, too. I got so caught up in it one night I watched the final episode instead of reading the last ten pages of Mockingjay.’s not Downtown Abbey.

Danger UXB aired on British T.V. in 1979, then later in America on Masterpiece Theatre. It takes place in Blitz-era England, where the inexperienced Lieutenant Brian Ash leads his ragtag company of Royal Engineers as they disarm unexploded German bombs (the titular UXBs.) It’s a nail-bitingly inexact science of hunches and luck. Likable, established characters blow up.

Ash’s men do the dirty work, digging and hauling, but Ash, as an officer, does the dirtiest work of all; it’s up to him to tap and prod the UXB’s fuse just so, often while in mud up to his knees or dangling from ladders propped against burning buildings. A tiny misjudgement of pressure or time could obliterate him. After the satisfaction of not dying, the men head back to their dreary barracks, while Ash kicks back some gentlemanly tipple in the relative comfort of the officer’s club and alternately broods over and delights in his affair with a married woman.

As with many British television series, Danger UXB had an intentionally short run (just one season), and while it takes its time establishing very human dramas, it also doesn’t namby-pamby about: thirteen episodes and boom, it’s over. Anthony Andrews’ Ash is hapless, cocksure, capable, and adorable all at once (you may recognize him from his pitch-perfect Sebastian in the 1981 television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited). Alas, just as in the conclusion of the Hunger Games trilogy (yes, I finished it), even surviving the gory losses of war brings no truly happy endings for Ash and the men in his section. The damage is done. And there’s something very immediate to see an English-speaking country that’s the front of a war. This didn’t happen so long ago, really. This could be us again.

OK so I've finally read The Hunger Games (previously reviewed by Jen). I avoided it because I wasn't in the mood for a dystopian novel, and it sounded like reality TV (which I hate) gone amuck. They didn't tell me I would fall in love with Katniss! She's a tough girl who has kept her family alive since the age of twelve, is coming of age with a pure lack of self-involvement, and is unaware of her effect on others. At its core this book is about loyalty, courage, honor, love. That book I would have read long ago.

It makes me think of other tough girls who I have loved.

Terrier by Tamora Pierce

You could pick up any series by Tamora Pierce and you'd find a tough girl that worms her way into your heart. The first one I picked up was Terrier, about Beka Cooper. She's a rookie Pierce's parlance, a dog, or I should say a puppy, in the Provost's Guard. She chose the tough beat where she grew up, but despite her beginnings, she has some advantages, including consultations with ghosts, dust spinners that spit out hidden conversations, and a very special cat. I'm currently listening to the third, Mastiff, and still loving her no-nonsense voice, strong with loyalty, duty, and astute investigation.

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Plain Kate has a few things working against her.  She lost her father and must support herself with her woodcarving skills. She lives in a world where magic is sinister, and the townspeople accuse her of being the witch who caused their bad luck. Then she makes a deal with a real witch, and she escapes the town accompanied by, wait for this, her very special cat. (Come to think of it, there's a special cat in Hunger Games too...hmmmm.)

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Katsa may be the most feared assassin in all the seven kingdoms.  Born with the Grace to kill, she is the property of the king.  She doesn't like being the thug that her Grace makes her, and she's behind the secret Council that would change the way things work.  Then she meets Po, from another kingdom where people with these special abilities are free to make their own choices.

Oh, and all of these books...quite well written...with complexity, flowing prose, and no extra or missing plot points.

Reading poetry is often an introspective activity, but sometimes it's enjoyable to share and discuss a poem that is particularly moving. If you feel this to be true, we'd love to have you join us 'virtually' this Monday, May 21st from 12 to 1 p.m. to read and discuss poetry. Our guest will be Mary Szybist, who will be answering your questions about her poem "Girls Overheard While Assembling a Puzzle."

Mary's first book, Granted, (Alice James Books, 2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her poems have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry, Tin House, The Iowa Review, Best American Poetry 2008, The Kenyon Review, and other journals. She teaches at Lewis & Clark College.

To participate, just make sure to 'like' Multnomah County Library on Facebook, and then log in at 12 to add to the conversation. You'll find the complete text of the poem below, just in case you'd like to be prepared.

Girls Overheard While Assembling a Puzzle

Are you sure this blue is the same as the
blue over there? This wall's like the
bottom of a pool, its
color I mean. I need a
darker two-piece this summer, the kind with
elastic at the waist so it actually
fits. I can't
find her hands. Where does this gold
go? It's like the angel's giving
her a little piece of honeycomb to eat.
I don't see why God doesn't
just come down and
kiss her himself. This is the red of that
lipstick we saw at the
mall. This piece of her
neck could fit into the light part
of the sky. I think this is a
piece of water. What kind of
queen? You mean
right here? And are we supposed to believe
she can suddenly
talk angel? Who thought this stuff
up? I wish I had a
velvet bikini. That flower's the color of the
veins in my grandmother's hands. I
wish we could
walk into that garden and pick an
X-ray to float on.
Yeah. I do too. I'd say a
zillion yeses to anyone for that. 

 - Mary Szybist

Do you ever take books to bed with you? I don’t mean reading before you turn off the light. I mean taking books, multiple books, to bed and sleeping with them.

I used to do this a lot before I was married. Sometimes it was too difficult to commit to reading just one book at bed-time, so I’d grab two or three, knowing full well I’d wind up dozing off with the light still on. I stopped, because my husband understandably is not keen on sharing the bed with a nocturnal makeshift library, but I miss it. If there is not enough time in life to read every book, you can at least have many books close to you. 

To be surrounded by books, even books we don’t read or open, is both a privilege and a burden; having moved four times in as many years, we’ve whittled our books down to what we deem the bare necessities, and even then the shelving and organizing of books is always the most toilsome moving-in task. At those times, I feel like our books own us.

One solution? Read Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books, in which writers share their own book-keeping habits. It’s a bibliophile’s voyeuristic fantasy come true. Leah Price, a professor of English at Harvard, interviewed the authors and took photos of the bookcases, both elegant and makeshift, that dominate their dwellings. Junot Diaz has a few volumes of the O.E.D. that are still in shrink-wrap. Jonathan Lethem’s books are pleasingly, exactingly arranged. Phillip Pullman’s books overrun his house, spilling off shelves and teetering in stacks.

I was happily engrossed in Unpacking My Library while my husband was trying to hold conversation. “Are you even listening to me?” he asked. No, I was not. I was reading a book about the books owned by people who write books. I bet at least one of them takes books to bed, too.

Setting: war time hospital, British nurses and doctors brave and true. Ah, we’re in for a pleasant propaganda piece, Mrs. Miniver style..

But no: that doctor is leering at that nurse. He’s cruel and filled with hubris. And that nurse is hiding something. Ahh! They’re all hiding something!

Here comes Alastair Sim, three parts Columbo and one part Chevy Chase, to sort them.

Green for Danger!

Ichiro by Ryan Inzana

On a visit to Gramps in Japan,

Ichiro hatches a plan:

to catch a tanuki

(it's just a bit spooky)

and spring from his cell Hachiman.

So far this year I've read a number of good books so I'm going to name the best of the lot for you. The Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed is a debut novel worth reading. In many ways it's a traditional high fantasy adventure story but with a setting that evokes the middle east. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is an aging 'ghul' hunter and while he's grown weary of the fight, he gets drawn back for one last adventure. It's a very good stand-alone fantasy adventure and I really look forward to the author's next book.

I finished the last book in Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, Timeless. I've mentioned the series in a previous entry better than a year ago. It deserves a second mention. If you don't want to take the time to read a novel, try the manga adaption of book one. Vampires, werewolves, steampunk  urban fantasy... What more could one ask for?

I also got sucked into reading a non-genre series, the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich. They are hilarious in their own special way--I've been getting odd looks from both cat and husband at the random bursts of snickering and snorting coming from the couch when I read these. Also, in in the right perspective they really are every bit as much a fantasy as anything else I read, despite being set in New Jersey and being about an incompetent and improbably lucky bounty hunter. The Stephanie Plum books aren't even the popcorn of the book world...they're cotton candy.

Ever since I was little, I've loved houses. I'd page through the Sears catalog and pick out furnishings for my future home. When I started house-hunting for real, I found out that people even ordered houses from Sears!

In some books a house is more than just the setting, it's a main character. After reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, I hope to visit the mansions of Savannah, Georgia, some day.

Merry Hall in England is another grand character. Beverley Nichols details the renovation of this Georgian mansion and its gardens that's fun to read, but I'm glad it's not me doing all that work! Laughter on the Stairs and Sunlight on the Lawn complete the trilogy.

Since decorating, like gardening, is a process and that you don't have to finish, I continue to look for inspiration. My current "wish book" is Modern Vintage Style by Emily Chalmers. With scrumptious photos of amazing pattern and color combinations, I fall asleep dreaming of garage sale treasures yet to be found.

Walking by the new book shelf, The New Bespoke: Couture-Inspired Rooms That Seamlessly Combine One-of-a-Kind Objects with Hand-Made Furniture by Frank Roop caught me eye. It's modern vintage at a higher level! Totally out of my league, but I can savor the gorgeous colors and textures in the photos and pretend I'm a kid again, decorating a dream house.

The Princess and the Warrior

While crossing the street one day,
Sissi’s squashed in the usual way,
Though a truck stopped her breathing,
Bodo helped her start wheezing,
Through a straw he found at the cafe.

Librarian vices in no particular order: cookies, curiosity, coffee, and concertos. Luckily for us, and you, we get to celebrate all of these things April 16th from 12-1 pm at Mondays on the Mall. Come and join us for “Café Day” at The Congress Center, SW 5th and Salmon, and chat with a librarian, ask us anything (especially stumpers!), get a free cookie and a coffee, and hear some live music. We’ve compiled some of our favorite pastry and cookie cookbooks, which you can read about below. Hope to see you there!

Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich
Awarded the 2010 IACP Baking Book of the Year, this cookie book is uniquely organized by texture - Flaky, gooey, crispy, chewy, chunky….one of each, please.

One Sweet Cookie: Celebrated Chefs Share Favorite Recipes by Tracey Zabar
Imagine having a cookie swap party with your favorite chefs. Mario Batali, Todd English, and Daniel Boulud are all represented here, along with many other signature creations.

Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar: 100 Dairy-Free Recipes for Everyone's Favorite Treats by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero.
THE rock stars of the vegan world, Moskowitz and Romero, apply their expert knowledge and non-preachy attitudes to dairy-free cookies with delicious results.

Gluten-Free Cookies: From Shortbreads to Snickerdoodles, Brownies to Biscotti - 50 Recipes for Cookies You Crave by Luane Kohnke
Need cookie recipes that avoid the G-word? Try these using Kohnke's own flour blend, which was chosen by taste testers as the closest to wheat flour in taste and appearance.

Cutie Pies: 40 Sweet, Savory, and Adorable Recipes by Dani Cone
From the owner of High 5 Pie in Seattle comes this book filled with miniature sweet and savory cutie pies, flipsides (turnovers), pie-jars, pie-pops, and petit-5’s (muffin-tin pies).

The Rosie's Bakery All-Butter, Cream-Filled, Sugar-Packed, Baking Book by Judy Rosenberg
In an updated reissue of Rosie’s original book from 1991, you will find not only 300 rich and tasty recipes (40 never before published), but also tons of mouthwatering photos.

One Girl Cookies: Recipes for Cakes, Cupcakes, Whoopie Pies, and Cookies from Brooklyn's Beloved Bakery by Dawn Casale & David Crofton.
The Brooklyn bakery self-described as an “Urban Mayberry” was started by one girl who borrowed from her family’s heirloom recipes, ultimately creating a dessert destination.

The Treats Truck Baking Book: Cookies, Brownies & Goodies Galore! by Kim Ima
Since no Portland booklist would be complete without an entry from a food truck, we’ll include this well-designed one from the Vendy Award winner for Best Dessert Vendor.

Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours by Sarabeth Levine
Legendary NYC master baker delivers the goods with over 100 recipes for re-creating her perfectly buttery, flaky pastries and scrumptious desserts; lots of “technique” photos, too.

Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito
Featured on The Today Show and Martha Stewart, Lewis and Poliafito are hip, cool, and forward-thinking bakers who urge you to try these new-fangled confections.

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick

Information can come from a drum,
Or encased in a bit that’s quantum,
But in this book Gleick proposes,
It’s communication that drove us,
To the edge of our knowledge kingdom.

Got a *liter-ick of your own you'd like to contribute? Do so in the comments.

*A book review in the form of a limerick.

"Limericks are my passion." So says Sarah, our rhyming librarian who has discovered that mashing up book reviews and limericks leads to a good thing - liter-icks!

Well, we'll let you be the judge. And if you discover a similar passion in yourself, won't you please share? (We're talking the kind that is good for audiences of all ages, please.) 

How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival

When the scientists of Berkeley colluded,
To experiment with habits ill-reputed,
Their horizons expanded,
As with mystics they chanted,
And “Bell’s Theorem is grand,” they concluded.

Did I mention that your very own Multnomah County Library has the best collection of sheet music and other music instruction materials in any public library west of the Mississippi? I have some of it checked out right now, plus lots I’ve bought, but still I can never find ‘that tune’. You know, the one I can’t get out of my head, that tune. You can search for individual tunes in the catalog by putting the title in quotes as a keyword search and limiting to sheet music (More search options > Material Type > Music score). The problem is that not all larger collections of sheet music have the full table of contents in our catalog (for reasons irrelevant here).

There are a number of possible work-arounds. You could use a song index in book form where you can look up songs by title and see which of a finite set of sheet music collections they might be in, and then check to see if we have said collections in our collection. We have reference copies of a number of these that live on the Third Floor of Central Library.  (A keyword search in the catalog for <song index> gives a decidedly over-inclusive result, a subject search for <indexes-songs> an under-inclusive one.) Or you could go to the web sites of some of the bigger publishers of sheet music from whom we buy fake books (say Hal Leonard). I’ve done that and it works OK too.  Or you could go to World Cat (which generally has the full contents) via our website and do a title phrase search for the name of the song and limit it to things we own (thanks to our music librarian for walking me through this process).

Or, you could get frustrated decide to learn to play by ear, take out some of our material on ear training and never have to rely on sheet music again. More work in the short run, bigger pay off in the end. Maybe someday I’ll get my stuff together and actually do this. The music collection certainly does have its quirks, so don’t hesitate to call our Reference Line (503-988-5234) for assistance.

Mothers know the weird duality of being able to sleep at the drop of a blankie combined with the super spidey-sense that allows us to hear four-year-old eyelids popping open at, say, 2:37 a.m. for no discernible reason. I have an interest in sleep which I compare to the interest armchair travelers have in far-off and exotic lands to which they never actually travel. My personal feeling is that parental sleep deprivation is nature's way of attempting to dull or cushion the other body blows children dole out on a daily basis.  

A recent example would be Child the Elder's decision to microwave butter in an orange enameled cast-iron pot. If you're wondering, it takes exactly one minute and thirty-seven seconds to blow a hole through the interior wall of the appliance and this will be accompanied by impressive sound effects and fire. If a younger child is present for the explosion, you will also have much terrified screaming to accompany the wails of "I didn't know it was metal!  It doesn't look like metal!" from the responsible party. The pot itself will emerge completely unscathed--and completely unlike your nerves, despite the sleepiness. A well-rested parent might have noticed the child putting the pot in there in time to intervene, but where's the fun in that?

But enough about parents. James Mollison's book Where Children Sleep is an intriguing photo-essay of the circumstances in which children rest all over the world. A two-page spread is devoted to each individual child with one page containing a portrait and paragraph about the child's life and the other a picture of the place in which that child sleeps. It is a vast and sobering continuum, from the mansion bedroom of a child in New Jersey to a discarded sofa on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. The details in each picture speak volumes and add layers to the spare text. In one paragraph we are told that Alyssa's "shabby house" in Kentucky is "falling apart." Indeed, the photo of Alyssa's bedroom shows a missing ceiling with insulation hanging from the rafters above a once regal angel doll, wings battered and drooping and gray with dirt.

If this sort of photography is your cup of tea, I would also highly recommend Material World: A Global Family Portrait and What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets by Peter Menzel and 1000 Families by Uwe Ommer. All of these titles offer fascinating looks at the eye-opening contrasts in circumstances for humanity around the globe. They are enough to wake a person up--no destruction of small appliances required.

I really like Jim Butcher's books, especially the Dresden Files. So, when I saw a new novel, Fated by Benedict Jacka, that has a cover blurb by Jim Butcher reading: "Harry Dresden would like Alex Verus tremendously--and be a little nervous around him. I just added Benedict Jacka to my must-read list." Well, now I'm intrigued. That's obviously the next book for me! After all, I have many long "Cold Days" to wait before the next book of the Dresden Files and I would like to find some great new books between now and then. Benedict Jacka even gives the Dresden Files a nod in this quote from the first chapter: "I've even heard of one guy in Chicago who advertises in the phone book under "Wizard", though that's probably an urban legend."

This urban fantasy does an excellent job of setting up the world that Alex Verus inhabits. Set in London, there are many familiar elements for a reader used to urban fantasy: magic is real, but rare and your average mortal overlooks it. There's even a council of the more powerful mages, divided into Light and Dark. But it works! The Dark mages hold a rather Nietzsche-like philosophy of 'might makes right'. The Light mages don't come up that much in this book but they're just *sure* that they can work with the Dark mages. There have been forty odd years of peace after all!  Because trusting that guy who thinks that if you can't stop him from doing whatever he wants it's your own fault for being weak... Yup, that's such a good idea...

Our protagonist, Alex Verus is a diviner. That's all the magic he has. He has no offensive or defense magic except that if he thinks about a question he can know the answer - at least in so far as the human mind can follow the possible branching futures. So, if someone is shooting line of sight bolts of death at him he can see which hiding places let him not die right now. He can use those moments in hiding to see paths which might trick his enemy to the roof's edge. If he needs to see something with more possible branches it might take him hours or days of looking down each path of the future, one path at a time, to see the path that leads to the outcome he wants. He can acquire magic items to help him, he can acquire allies, he even owns a gun but there's no future in which Alex is going to become a more versatile mage. The allies that are introduced in the first book include a minor air elemental and a woman named Luna who is cursed with luck. Bad things never happen to Luna. Bad things happen to anyone she passes by. Actually touching another person isn't a good idea for Luna since she's not evil.

This is the start of a trilogy. The publisher is putting out the next two books over the course of the next several months to try to build up this new author's readership. A lot of the first book is world building, but it's a really interesting world. I wanted nothing more than to see what was around the next corner. I'm really looking forward to Cursed and Taken this spring and summer. One book by this author wasn't nearly enough. I finished this book in a single sitting because I just couldn't put it down.  And having finished the first book in this series I'll say that I can see Harry Dresden and Alex Versus sitting down in a quiet pub for a beer or two and enjoying the company.

The world can be an over-whelming mess of a place sometimes. Trying to deal with sorrow, tragedy and anger can push us to confront pain or flee it. Sometimes being in that place can lead us to do something really big, something that will form a personal mythology - a touchstone for the rest of one's life.

Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail starts with an emotionally strained young woman taking her first steps on a path from the Mojave desert to the Bridge of the Gods.
Four years prior, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and died within 7 weeks. As the eldest, she tried without success to keep her family from crumbling under the weight of that loss. A divorce and experimentation with drugs led her further down the rabbit hole.  Not knowing how to cope, Strayed got a big idea. She decided to hike the Pacific Crest trail. She had never backpacked a day in her life.

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,663-mile wilderness route stretching from Mexico to the Canada and traversing nine mountain ranges and three states. The first day she sets foot on the trail, Strayed is carrying a backpack the size of a trunk that will open up sores on her body, and wearing boots that will cause her so much discomfort that she will hurl them over a mountain. By the end of the journey she will have found a sense of inner strength that will be a solace to her on other spiritual, psychological and physical journeys. There have been countless re-tellings of this story, but Strayed avoids cliche by presenting the details in such an honest and emotionally compelling way that you feel as though you've earned something just by reading the book.

The story explores many themes: Strayed, a single woman alone in the middle of nowhere, deliberately makes herself vulnerable in order to grow stronger. Those who have taken similar journeys may also recognize that the wilderness of just a decade ago is not the same as today's - when I was young, being in the wild represented both challenge and real danger without the lifelines of technology to come to the rescue. Certainly, there's still danger in undertakings of this kind, but the concept of absolute solitude has gotten that much smaller.

Strayed has been much in the media lately. She made the news when it was announced that she is the author of the Rumpus's online advice column Dear Sugar. You can also listen in on her recent interview on OPB's Think Out Loud. And for the more visual among you, take a peek into Strayed's thoughts about her journey with this slide show.

I first saw the 1941 ball of fluff Tom, Dick and Harry on AMC back in the Bob Dorian days. Recently it finally became available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Ginger Rogers stars as flighty Janie, who becomes engaged to three men in the course of three days.  Each night Janie has a strange, frenetic dream of her future with the man she pledged herself to that day. She slowly rubs the face of an elderly woman, saying “My husband works for your husband.” She poses for the paparazzi, saying “I’m so dazzling that everyone has to wear sunglasses.”  She has a passel of babies who are miniature versions of her various fiances, and before it’s over she dreams of marrying all three at once.

On the surface, Janie is an empty headed young lady who sees getting a rich man as the height of all that is possible for her. But, sometimes subtly and sometimes not-so, the movie is skewering the whole idea of that desire.

The waking hours are great -- the little sister name Butch, Phil Silvers as an ice cream salesman, and a very young Burgess Meredith as fiance #2 all shine almost as brightly as Ginger. But the dreams are the summit of achievement in the history of highly comedic dream sequences.

With the gift-giving season over, many more people now have ebook readers.  (Amazon sold over 1 million Kindles each week in December 2011.) A friend of mine was reading A Billion Wicked Thoughts (see also: Sex at Dawn; Bonk; Why We Love); she told me about a chapter that revealed that the reading of romances has risen along with the sales of ebook readers.  Not only are more people reading romances, these books are also getting more explicit, and romances are becoming a mainstay of other genres as well.

I have noticed this favorite fluff is fantasy.  The major plot point is now the romance, and the good parts are now >ahem< really good, especially if I stray away from the YA books. I've also noticed there are subgenres to the paranormal romance subgenre, namely, werewolves, vampires, fairies and of all things, medieval Highlanders.  Of course, if you follow a series long enough (and these things always seem to become a book series) many of these sexy creatures show up eventually.

Here's a sampling, some of which are available as downloadable ebooks. However, you may have to wait just as long, or longer, for your ebook to become available, so why not go for it...flaunt your fluff and check out that hard copy of these sexy tales.

The Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost
First in series: Halfway to the Grave.
Cat is half-vampire, she hates vampires, and she hunts them.  She's good at it...or so she thinks...until she meets a very old (and of course sexy) vampire. Humorous homages to Buffy the Vampire Slayer throughout, down to the name of her main vamp, Bones.

The Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
First in series: Darkfever
Not quite as full of explicit scenes as her earlier Highlander series, Moning goes darker and more complex with this intrigue full of dark Fae and other creatures.  Her Highlanders make a cameo appearance.

Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
First in series: Dead Until Dark
Who hasn't heard of these?  HBO's True Blood is based on these books. How do I explain the appeal? Yes, there are the steamy vampires who are outed, and attempting to be accepted by humans.  But Sookie, she seems like she could be your next door neighbor, just trying to cope with blocking your thoughts from her head, getting her bills paid, and keeping her house clean.

I recently returned from a trip to the Cape Coral area of Florida. While on Sanibel Island, I spotted a place called Doc Ford's. My sister said, "Oh, Doc Ford is the marine biologist in the novels of Randy Wayne White. I've read a few of his mysteries and enjoyed them."

Since I've come back I've read a couple of his mysteries and want to read more. (I've not read them in order, although, I think that they should be read this way because the characters grow and change and the stories build on one another.)

I picked up Shark River first. It's a story of murder, kidnapping, drugs and revenge. Add a Bahamian woman with a treasure map who claims to be Doc's long lost sister and the stage is set for a wild ride.

Maybe it's the sense of place and wonderful descriptions of sea life, mangrove swamps and the habits of horseshoe crabs; or maybe its the patterns of speech of Doc's Bahamian cousin in Shark River that attracted me. Perhaps it's my experience of a tiny bit of the Florida that he describes.

I saw much bad driving in Florida, but Randy Wayne White describes it best: "We went south on U.S. 41- an illustration of crazed manners and automotive chaos. In South Florida, melting pot driving habits are so unpredictable and dangerous that defensive driving is not enough."

If you want quirky characters, fast action, humor and good writing, give the mysteries of Randy Wayne White a try.