Thursday, September 22, 2016

On the Shelf at Paragraphs – Armada

In 2011 Ernest Cline penned his wildly original, genre-busting debut novel, “Ready Player One.” Packed with irresistible ’80s nostalgia the novel was immediately embraced by geeks, bloggers, gamers, and readers everywhere. The novel received rave reviews across the board, has sold over a half million copies in the U.S., and is now set to be made into a film by legendary director Steven Spielberg. Fans were enthusiastic as they waited for the release of his second book.

With his new novel, “Armada” Cline has crafted another inventive, heartwarming, and completely nerdy adventure. “Cline once again brings crackling humor and fanboy knowledge to a zesty, crowd-pleasing, countdown-clock, save-the-planet tale featuring an unlikely hero, adrenaline-pumping action, gawky romance, and touching family moments.…Cline’s sly, mind-twisting premise and energetically depicted and electrifying high-tech battles make for smart, frenetic, and satisfying entertainment.”(Booklist) 

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe. Or do they? 

One morning when Zach is absently gazing out the window during a totally boring math class, he sees the flying saucer. Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders. 

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it. It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar? 

The themes in “Armada” are familiar. “It depends on how deep your knowledge of the ‘80s and geek culture goes,” Cline explains. “If you’re a literary person, you’re going to say that it’s like Ender’s Game. If your thing is the movies, it comes from that genre in the ‘80s when kids could do anything. They can find the treasure map and save their town, or their dad gets shot down in some far-off country and they can steal an F-16 to get their dad back. When people read Armada they’ll eventually realize, ‘Hey, Ernie isn’t ripping off The Last Starfighter. He’s ripping off Iron Eagle.’ It’s all around this idea of an absent father and the kid coming to rescue his father and even replace him in some way. It’s one of the big themes of Star Wars and Joseph Campbell’s mythology and Armada, too.” 
Armada is a fun and surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before. 

Ernie lives in Austin, Texas, with his family, a time-traveling DeLorean, and a large collection of classic videogames 

Originally published in hardcover in 2015, “Armada” is now available in a trade paperback edition.
Ernest Cline 
Published by Crown (Imprint of Penguin/Random House) 
Trade Paperback released April 16, 2016 
384 pages 
ISBN: 9780804137270

On the Shelf at Paragraphs: “Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon”

At the end of a long and contentious primary season and as we ramp up for what could be a peppery presidential campaign, I found it interesting to take a step back in history. I have always heard the many stories of Bobby Kennedy - the tough campaign manager for his older brother, his adversarial relationship with Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover, and finally the beloved champion of the poor and disenfranchised. But, I have never taken the time to look behind the myth. I feel political biographies are often difficult to trust and especially vulnerable to being more a reflection of the agenda and views of the author than a true study of the person’s life. That being said, I found the new biography by Larry Tye – “Bobby Kennedy, The Making of a Liberal Icon,” a fascinating read and honest assessment of the man and politician.

To capture the full arc of his subject’s life, Tye draws on unpublished memoirs, unreleased government files, and fifty-eight boxes of papers that had been under lock and key for the past forty years. He conducted hundreds of interviews with RFK intimates—including Bobby’s widow, Ethel, his sister Jean, and his aide John Siegenthaler—many of whom have never spoken to another biographer. Tye’s determination to sift through the tangle of often contradictory opinions means that “Bobby Kennedy” will stand as the definitive one-volume biography of a man much beloved, but just as often misunderstood.

Bobby Kennedy’s transformation from cold warrior to fiery liberal is a profoundly moving personal story that also offers a lens onto two of the most chaotic and confounding decades of twentieth-century American history. The first half of RFK’s career underlines what the country was like in the era of Eisenhower, while his last years as a champion of the underclass reflect the seismic shifts wrought by the 1960s. Nurtured on the rightist orthodoxies of his dynasty-building father, Bobby Kennedy began his public life as counsel to the red-baiting senator Joseph McCarthy. He ended it with a noble campaign to unite working-class whites with poor blacks and Latinos in an electoral coalition that seemed poised to redraw the face of presidential politics. Along the way, he turned up at the center of every event that mattered, from the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis to race riots and Vietnam.

Bare-knuckle operative, cynical White House insider, romantic visionary—Bobby Kennedy was all of these things at one time or another, and each of these aspects of his personality emerges in the pages of this powerful and perceptive new biography. (Random House)
Larry Tye has been an award-winning journalist at The Boston Globe and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Satchel”, as well as “Superman”. He lives in Massachusetts.

As Bobby Kennedy said 48 years ago after announcing the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. “What we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but is love, and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.” Many of us are too young to really remember who Bobby Kennedy was and in this highly-charged political season one may enjoy looking to the past for encouragement and hope that while our leaders are not perfect we do seem to survive even when things look most bleak. I know I did.
Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon

By Larry Tye
July 5, 2016
Hardcover: 608 pages
Publisher: Random House
ISBN: 978-0812993349

Monday, September 12, 2016

Meet the Author at Paragraphs - "The Paragraph Ranch"

Lubbock authors, Kay Ellington and Barbara Brannon, have collaborated on a series of joyful, realistic, and humorous novels set in West Texas on the fictional Paragraph Ranch. Both women are familiar in Texas literature circles and are creators of The Working Writer blog. They appear frequently at writer’s workshops and have lived parts of the story told in “The Paragraph Ranch”–and imagined lots more of it.

We are pleased to welcome Kay and Barbara to Paragraphs to read from and discuss their novels.
“The Paragraph Ranch” in its determination to be authentically Texan and its emphatic devotion to a very specific setting, will give Texans a kick out of recognizing themselves and being able to nod their heads and say, “I know exactly what they’re talking about.”” (The Texas Book Lover)

“The Paragraph Ranch” — Every writer knows you can’t go home again. But that’s just what is required of West Texas expatriate Dee Bennett-Kaufmann when her mother is badly injured in a mysterious car accident. Single-again “Dr. Dee” has never been on the “A-team” in her trendy East Coast MFA program. When a prestigious summer fellowship gives her the chance to finally finish her book, salvage her career, and spend some quality time with her college-age daughter, Dee’s certain her luck is about to change. Returning to care for her irascible, widowed mother threatens all of that. With so much at stake, Dee engineers a series of unorthodox strategies and creative tradeoffs to keep her options in play—and despite herself finds friendship, love, and the power of words in the unlikeliest of places.

“A Wedding at the Paragraph Ranch”, the second book in the series is also available. As new owner of the falling-apart family homestead in West Texas, Dee Bennett is wrangling ways to earn a living, mend fences with farm and family, and manifest her dreams as a writer—all while nurturing the budding relationship with her beau, outdoorsy photographer Max Miller. But when a drop-dead-gorgeous, high-powered handler for a candidate in a key statewide election blows into Claxton, rivalries bigger than politics and football develop. With stakes running high on the campaign trail, as well as in publishing dreams and love lives, a Bennett family wedding must be attended to. And Dr. Dee, with the assistance of her motley writing-group protégés, must search her soul and fend off a host of challenges to live the life she just might learn to love.

Kay Ellington, a native West Texan and an alumna of the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, has worked in newspaper audience and content development for thirty years from New York to California to the Carolinas and back again to Texas.

Editor and travel writer Barbara Brannon, author of The Ferries of North Carolina: A Guide to the State’s Nautical Highways, has spent most of her career in book publishing and led the groundbreaking Publishing Laboratory at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.