Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Running With Books will be taking a break for the holidays. I'll return after the new year, hopefully with lots of good books to share. I have read a lot of good non-fiction lately, but I feel like most of the fiction I have been reading has only been so-so. It's disappointing. Over the next two weeks, my mission is to read some good fiction. I've got Alexander McCall Smith's Love Over Scotland, Richard North Patterson's Exile and Steve Berry's latest thriller on hand. I know I can't miss with these. And my shelves are filled with books I haven't gotten to yet, so I'm looking forward to getting to a few of these.

I hope your holidays are happy, and you find some time to relax with a good book!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Kitchen Confidential

Have you ever thought it might be fun to be a chef? Read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. It will end any misconceptions you may have about the life of a chef. I have enjoyed many of Bourdain's books in the past and as usual, this book does not disappoint. Bourdain's writing is entertaining, engaging, clever, crass, obnoxious and fantastic. Incidentally, the audiobook is narrated by Bourdain and is fantastic. Bourdain begins with the story of eating his first oyster in France as a boy and realizing that food could be more than just something one ate when hungry. From there, he describes his first job at a restaurant, his realization that chefs live like rockstars, and his entry into the Culinary Institute of America. He tells of his stints at various restaurants in New York City, working for members of an "Italian Fraternal Organization," running hectic kitchens and dealing with unconventional employees. Bourdain describes the ins and outs of restaurant kitchens and enlightens us as to why you don't order meat well done or fish on a Monday night. Thoroughly entertaining, as usual.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Recently a boy came to the desk asking for Babylon's Ark by Lawrence Anthony. After helping him find the book, I looked at the subtitle: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo, and thought it sounded interesting. Having recently read Diane Ackerman's The Zookeeper's Wife, about the Warsaw zoo during WWII, I thought this would be an interesting comparison. All I can say is: thanks kid. This was an incredible story that I'm glad I took the time to read. The author, a white South African, is a conservationist and environmentalist, and lives on a game reserve in Zululand. He says:

"I knew nothing about Iraq and the politics of war. But what I did know was that in all human hostilities animals have suffered horrifically and often anonymously. Unable to flee or defend themselves, they either were slaughtered wholesale in the initial assaults or died agonizingly from thirst and hunger later, locked and desperate in their cages. Or worse, they were callously shot by blood-crazed soldiers just for the hell of it."

So, Anthony decides to go to Iraq to help save whatever is left of the zoo's animals. Shortly after Baghdad was invaded, Anthony flies to Kuwait and begins badgering anyone who will listen, until they let him into Iraq. After a very dangerous journey, he finally arrives at the zoo and discovers appalling conditions. Only the animals that were too dangerous to steal (such as the bears, lions and tigers) were left. Because of the horrible looting, most of the animals had been taken, either for food or for sale on the black market. The animals were in worse condition than Anthony expected and he actually considered whether shooting them would be the most humane option. Working in an extremely dangerous environment, battling relentless looters, with little help and very little supplies, medicine, food and water, Anthony begins the slow and difficult task of nursing the animals back to health and saving the zoo. What impressed me was the help Anthony received from the American soldiers. One might think that when a soldier is in the middle of a war, with bombs and bullets a constant threat, he might be more concerned with staying alive than with helping a few animals. But this was not the case. All the soldiers that Anthony encountered were more than willing to help whenever they could. They gave the animals their shares of MREs, got a generator for the zoo, provided protection and help when Anthony shut down a private zoo holding animals in appalling conditions, and helped to recover some of Saddam's herd of priceless Arabian horses from a very dangerous neighborhood.

Although it seems odd to be using the words "great story" when talking about the Iraq war, this really was. Without focusing on politics and whether the war is right or wrong, Anthony takes us into the heart of Iraq, shows us the everyday realities of war, and how the bravery and compassion of a few good men can create hope.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

All the latest in book news....

The Rockford Public Library in Rockford, Illinois has bought a former Barnes and Noble bookstore to house its Northeast branch. The space is 23,000 square feet-three times the size of the branch's current location. Don't get me wrong-I love bookstores, especially B&N, but this is kind of satisfying.

The Tales of Beedle and the Bard, a limited edition, handwritten and illustrated book of fairy tales by J.K Rowling, sold for nearly $4 million at Sotheby's last week, the highest ever paid for a modern literary manuscript. Inc. is now the proud owner of one of only seven copies of the book. Reportedly, Rowling gave the remaining six copies to "people closely connected to the Harry Potter collection." Proceeds from the sale will go to Children's Voice, a charity co-founded by Rowling that campaigns for children's rights across Europe. You can see pictures of the book on Amazon's website.

The Golden Globe nominations were announced this week. Quite a few of the favorites were movies based on books, such as Atonement, No Country f0r Old Men, A Mighty Heart, Away from Her, Into the Wild, Love in the Time of Cholera and The Kite Runner.

John Grisham's brother, Mark Grisham is set to co-author (with David Donaldson) a novel of the Civil War and the events at Wingate Asylum, under the title Bedlam South. Publication will be in 2008.

Looking for the perfect gift for your favorite librarian? Try In the Library perfume.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rhett Butler's People

As a huge fan of Gone With the Wind, I ate up the sequel Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, which came out in 1992. When I heard about Donald McCaig's Rhett Butler's People, I was the first one on the hold list at my library. It was....OK. I will admit now that I didn't finish it. I read about half and it just didn't hold my attention. The story wasn't bad, it just wasn't what I expected or wanted. I thought it would be GWTW told from Rhett's point of view, with more insight into Rhett's background. It is, for the most part. But chapters jump around to different characters, such as Belle Watling, Melanie Wilkes, Rhett's sister and friends. And there are parts of the story where Rhett is completely absent. I guess that's why it's Rhett Bulter's People. Maybe I wanted more Rhett and less People. We do get some insight into Rhett's upbringing and how he got the reputation of a scoundrel. Of course, Rhett really is a good man, just misunderstood and misjudged (but we all knew that). But maybe what is so attractive about Rhett in GWTW is that we don't know much about him, and that makes him mysterious. Maybe it's the idea that he is a bit of a scoundrel. Take that away and what do you have? A really long novel that can't keep my attention.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Author Visit!

Tom Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation, brings to life the tumultuous decade of the 1960s in his latest book Boom! Voices of the Sixties. Brokaw will be signing his new book at the Chicago State Street Borders on December 13th at noon.

Only What We Could Carry

On this day in 1941, Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor, ultimately killing 2, 390 Americans and wounding 1,178. Shortly after, the United States entered WWII and thousands of Japanese Americans were relocated to internment camps throughout the country. Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese Internment Experience (edited by Lawson Fusao Inada) is a fascinating compilation of narratives, poetry, diary entries, letters, news accounts, and declarations that illustrates what life was like for these American citizens during their imprisonment. It shames me to say that I wasn't even aware that this had taken place until about 5 years ago. This was not something I was taught in school, or even in college, and while I read these narratives, I had to remind myself that I wasn't reading fiction. This happened, in my country-the land of the free, not so very long ago. Although all of the stories are touching, one that particularly affected me was the story of an all-Japanese American battalion that was one of the first to liberate the prisoners of Dachau, and many years later, a Japanese American soldier was reunited with one of the men he rescued from Dachau. A truly touching, frightening, eye-opening look at a part of history that we don't often hear about.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Winter

I hate winter. With a passion. I'll tolerate it until Christmas, but after that, I avoid the outdoors at all costs until spring. Oh sure, it's lovely to sit inside on a winter day, snuggled up on the couch, watching the beautiful snow falling while sipping cocoa. But most of us have to leave the house eventually. And that's why I hate winter. The cold wind whipping through my jacket. My glasses in a constant state of fogginess. Dirty slush fouling up my shoes and soaking my socks. The snowplow that dumps 10 feet of snow in front of my driveway. Sorry, where was I going with that tirade? Oh right-books! Fortunately, there are many, many new books coming out this winter that should keep us occupied until it thaws. There are lots of well known authors with new books coming out, and lots of not-so-well known authors that are getting great reviews.

In January, we will have new books by W.E.B Griffin, Sara Paretsky, John Grisham, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, Douglas Preston, Stuart Woods, Jayne Anne Krentz, John Lescroart, Barbara Delinsky, Bernard Cornwell, Jack Higgins, Luanne Rice, Rita Mae Brown, Russell Banks, Arturo Perez-Reverte and Geraldine Brooks. One new author to watch is Jeffrey Hantover, whose first novel, The Jewel Trader of Pegu, has been getting a lot of good publicity and reviews. The historical novel follows a Jewish jem trader from Venice to Burma as he seeks his fortune. I'm really looking forward to this one!

In February we will have new books by James Patterson, Robert B. Parker, J.D. Robb, Lisa Scottoline, Danielle Steel, Robert Crais, Sophie Kinsella, and Mary Kay Andrews. Lauren Willig's fourth book in her Pink Carnation series, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, will also be out this month. I absolutely loved the first three and I can't wait for the next one!

In March we will have new books by Jodi Picoult, Anne Rice, Jeffrey Archer, Steve Martini, Jonathan Kellerman, and Laura Lippman. Benjamin Black's sequel to Christine Falls, Silver Swan, as well as Lisa Lutz's sequel to The Spellman Files, The Curse of the Spellmans, will also be out this month. I enjoyed both of these mysteries (both firsts in a planned series) and am looking forward to meeting up with these characters again. Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong will also be out this month. This novel won the Man Asian Literary Prize a few months ago and has gotten great reviews.

Here's to staying warm with a good book!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Wrapping up 2007

The end of a year always culminates in lists: lists of the best ______ of the past year, lists of resolutions and lists of things to do in the upcoming year. Take a look at some titles that made the cut for the best books of 2007.

The National Book Critics Circle, Amazon, Bookmarks Magazine, Publisher's Weekly, and of course, the supreme leader of book reviews, the New York Times, have all published their picks for best books of 2007. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, Falling Man by Don DeLillo, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid, Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson (a National Book Award winner), A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu and Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill are just a few of the fiction titles that seem to keep popping up on multiple lists. Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat, A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, World Without Us by Alan Weisman and Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner (another National Book Award winner) are the popular non-fiction titles.

Did you read anything from these lists? I'm ashamed to say that I've only read a few. But, in my defense, I have many of these books on my shelves at home. I have just been so busy with other books that I haven't made it to these yet. I'll get there, eventually. At least I feel vindicated in buying these books. What were some of your favorite books from 2007? I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns and Gail Tsukiyama's The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, which I did not see on any of these lists, unfortunately. I also enjoyed Rhys Bowen's new series Her Royal Spyness, Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir, Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott and Bright Lights, Big Ass by Jen Lancaster. And of course, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Stay tuned for a list of books to read in the upcoming year!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Julie and Julia on the Big Screen

I just read that Columbia Pictures is making a movie of Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 534 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell, which I loved. It will be directed by Nora Ephron; Amy Adams (Enchanted) will play Julie and Meryl Streep will play Julia Child. Joy joy joy! Release date will probably be 2009. This will be a fun flick. If you haven't read this book, it's a great read.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This looks way more fun than Frisbee Golf

College students have brought the world of Harry Potter to life on campuses around the country with intercollegiate Quidditch matches! Check out the video clip-it looks like so much fun!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gentlemen of the Road

The thing I like about Michael Chabon's novels is that the stories are so different. Some authors seem to write the same type of story over and over, but with Chabon, it's something new every time. His latest, Gentlemen of the Road, is set in 950 A.D. in the Khazar empire. An unlikely pair of gentlemen of the road wander the land, making their living from the occasional con, barely escaping a few sticky skirmishes. Zelikman, a Jew, is "a slight, thin-shanked fellow, gloomy of countenance, white as tallow, his hair falling in two golden curtains on either side of his long face." Amram is a giant ax-wielding African with "skin that was lustrous as the tarnish on a copper kettle, and his eyes womanly as a camel’s, and his shining pate with its ruff of wool whose silver hue implied a seniority attained only by the most hardened men, and above all with the air of stillness that trumpeted his murderous nature to all but the greenest travelers." On one of their adventures, they meet Filaq, a prince of Khazar, whose father, the king, was murdered. Filaq is bent on revenging his family and reclaiming the throne of Khazar. Zelikman and Amram are swept up in the rebellion as they attempt to help Filaq reclaim the throne.

Chabon, who originally titled the work Jews with Swords, described the novel as a "swashbuckling adventure story" and it definitely is that. The story grips you from the very beginning with sword fighting, hasty escapes and these two very interesting characters. Chabon's typical rich, verbose prose is present here as well. I found myself consulting a dictionary and trusty Wikipedia several times while reading this story. It's a fun, quick read-great for anyone who likes a good, old-fashioned adventure story.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Amateur Gourmet

Several well known blogs have resulted in popular books and Adam Roberts' The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop and Table-Hop Like a Pro (Almost) is one of them. The book was born from his well known blog at In the book, Roberts recounts how his family ate out more often than eating in, which instilled in him an appreciation of homemade meals and the desire to create easy but delicious food. The book is more of a narrative, rather than instructional, as the title led me to believe. I thought there might be diagrams on proper cutting techniques, but he simply describes how to cut an onion, which does nothing for me without the pictures. But his point on the importance of using a sharp knife in the chapter Fear Not the Knife, is well taken. In the chapter Master the Market, he talks about how to shop for fresh foods at the local farmers market, which we've all been hearing about lately. The chapter Expand Your Palate seems a little out of place-I guess his point is to try new things, but it really seems to be stories about him trying to get his friends to try foods they hate. He then talks about cooking for a date and cooking for your family. Again, these are more personal stories of his experiences, rather than how-to's, although he does include a few recipes (which come from well known chefs, not his own). I did really like his chapter Fine Dine Like a Professional where he had lunch with food critic Ruth Reichl and got tips for making the most of your dining experience. Reichl suggests picking a few restaurants that you enjoy and becoming a regular; asking the chef what is especially good that day; order what you want; share your food and eat only until you are full-although these seem like common sense tips to me. He ends the book with a chapter on how to do dishes. Seriously. If you don't know how to do dishes, you've got bigger problems than not knowing how to cook. I suppose this would be a good book for a young person who is out on their own for the first time and has never even made spaghetti for themselves. Even so, there are better cookbooks for first-timers. And Julie Powell's Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen : how one girl risked her marriage, her job and her sanity to master the art of living is a much better read if you are interested in a cooking narrative. For the most part, if you've been reading the popular cookbooks, watching the Food Network, and can manage the basics, there really isn't anything new here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Author Visit!

Anthony Bourdain will be signing his new book, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach at the Chicago Borders on Michigan Avenue on November 28, 2007 at 7pm.

More than just a companion to the hugely popular show, No Reservations is Bourdain's fully illustrated journal of his far-flung travels. The book traces his trips from New Zealand to New Jersey and everywhere in between, mixing beautiful, never-before-seen photos and mementos with Bourdain's outrageous commentary on what really happens when you give a bad-boy chef an open ticket to the world.

And the winner is...

The National Book Award winners were announced last week. Denis Johnson won the fiction award for his novel Tree of Smoke. Tim Weiner won the non-fiction award for Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. Robert Hass won the award for poetry, with his collection Time and Materials.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

They Call Me Mister Pip

Lloyd Jones' Mister Pip was a favorite for the Booker prize, so I figured I had better give it a look. Just as I was disappointed with Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach (another favorite for the Booker), I was somewhat disappointed with this one too.

On a small island near New Guinea during the 1990's, a conflict is occurring between the island rebels and the invading "redskins." Matilda, one of the children on the island, recounts how the villagers attempt to go about their lives, but the war is always in the background. The sole white man on the island, Mr. Watts, agrees to take over as teacher for the village children. Mr. Watts introduces the children to "Mr. Dickens" by reading Great Expectations to them. The children love the story, especially Matilda, because it provides them with an escape from the everyday realities of the war. Matilda becomes fascinated with Pip, as well as with Mr. Watts. Her mother, on the other hand, dislikes that the children's heads are being filled with useless stories. When she hides the copy of Great Expectations, it has a disastrous result for everyone on the island.

At first, I thought this was a fairly good story. Not really substantial, but a good story nonetheless. But I don't think the author did a very good job of capturing the horror of the war and its affects on Matilda. When Matilda's mother steals Great Expectations, there are extremely violent repercussions, however Matilda gives very little thought to it. The story seems to be wrapped up rather neatly, with no lasting affects on Matilda, which just did not seem believable to me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Evening With Frank McCourt

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a talk and book signing with Frank McCourt. The Bookstall in Winnetka hosted Mr. McCourt, who has a new Christmas book called Angela and the Baby Jesus, and Lauren Long, the illustrator of the book. The book is based on a story McCourt's mother told him when he was 6, about when she was 6 years old and took the baby Jesus from the church nativity scene to keep him from getting cold. There are actually two editions of the book-both with the same text, but a larger size for children. The smaller size, which is illustrated by Long, has some lovely drawings and really captures the feeling of 1914 Limerick. It's a cute story, and McCourt is a great storyteller.

I've said before that I could listen to Frank McCourt talk all day. He has a wonderful Irish brogue that just makes anything he says sound great. I listened to all of his memoirs on CD, and it was wonderful to hear him speak in person. He is actually a very funny guy, and had the audience cracking up the whole evening. He talked about how strange kids can be sometimes and joked that they should be shipped out of the country after third grade and not allowed back until 19 (a thought I think many of us have from time to time). He also implored the audience "don't just buy one book. Don't be stingy!" He informed us that some of the proceeds for Angela and the Baby Jesus will be donated to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which if you remember from Angela's Ashes, helped the McCourt family survive by giving them food and clothes when they were poor. He reported that he is meeting with the screenwriter for a movie adaptation of Teacher Man. He said that he will have a say in this script, unlike in the movie of Angela's Ashes, because he wants to be sure that teachers are portrayed well. When someone in the audience asked if he will be writing any more memoirs, he declared that he is sick of himself and won't be doing any more memoirs. Fans will be happy to know that he is currently working on a novel that sounds like it will be set in Brooklyn. But according to him, "God only knows" when it will be published, so fans will have to be patient.

Follett Receives Oprah's Seal of Approval

Oprah has named Ken Follett's book, Pillars of the Earth, as her next book club pick. I've been meaning to read this one forever. It has been sitting on my shelf collecting dust, so I guess now might be a good time to dust it off. I have enjoyed several of his other books, but the size of this one is somewhat daunting, which is why I have been putting it off.

Follett will be writing a new trilogy called The Century Trilogy, which will cover the events of the 20th century from WWI, WWII and the Cold War. The first installment is scheduled for publication in 2010, with the second in 2012 and the third in 2014.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Can We Live Without China?

The title of A Year Without "Made in China:" One Family's True Life Adventures in the Global Economy by Sara Bongiorni is pretty self-explanatory. On Christmas Day, the author looks around her living room and notices that she is surrounded by products made in China. Wondering whether China is truly taking over the world, she decides to see if her family can survive for an entire year without buying any products that are made in China. The project turns out to be more difficult than she imagined. When her 4-year old son needs new tennis shoes, she ends up having to order a $65 pair of Italian tennis shoes, because all the tennis shoes in the stores are made in China. When her husband's sunglasses break, he must resort to wearing a pair of glacier climbing glasses until an inexpensive non-China pair can be found. And of course, toys are a huge issue. With two small children, supplying them with toys is nearly impossible. Inflatable pools, beach toys, Halloween decorations and light swords are all made in China. An invitation to a birthday party means a gift of Legos, since that is the only toy to be found that isn't made in China (although even that company begins manufacturing some of their toys in China). It's quite funny when her son walks through the toy aisles picking up toys and muttering "China" before returning them to the shelves. By the end of the year, her son is begging for "China things." Although you don't really learn anything about China and there is a lack of factual information to back up her study, the author's attempts to live China-free are amusing and even eye-opening. A quick, amusing read, but not for someone looking for hard facts.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Happy Birthday Tracy Kidder

Today is the birthday of Tracy Kidder (born November 12, 1945). Kidder is known for his work The Soul of a New Machine, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981 and chronicles the true story of a computer design team racing to complete the next generation computer.

You may be hearing more about Kidder in the upcoming months at the Deerfield Library, so stay tuned!

Man Asian Literary Prize Announced

Chinese writer Jiang Rong has won the first Man Asian Literary Prize for his novel Wolf Totem.
"A panoramic novel of life on the Mongolian grasslands during the Cultural Revolution, this masterly work is also a passionate argument about the complex interrelationship between nomads and settlers, animals and human beings, nature and culture. The slowly developing narrative is rendered in vivid detail and has a powerful cumulative effect. A book like no other. Memorable."

Worth $10,000, the prize is sponsored by the same company that sponsors the Booker Prize. The book will be published in English in March 2008.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer Dies

Pulitzer Prize Winning author Norman Mailer died today, at age 84. Some of his well known works are The Naked and the Dead, The Deer Park and the The Executioner's Song. His most recent novel, The Castle in the Forest, was published in 2007.

Take a look at this article from Time on "Why Norman Mailer Mattered."

Friday, November 9, 2007

Whitethorn Woods

I grabbed the audiobook version of Maeve Binchy's Whitethorn Woods because it is narrated by Paul Michael, one of my favorite narrators. It turns out, Michael doesn't actually narrate the entire book. Sile Bermingham narrates the majority of it, with Michael narrating the beginning and ending. I've never listened to her before, but she's quite good.

The Whitethorn Woods are woods near the Irish town of Rossmore. A well is located in these woods, and has been named St. Ann's Well because it is believed to be a source of miracles. A highway is proposed, which will go right through the woods and destroy the well. The town is divided on the issue and Father Brian Flynn is caught in the middle. Each chapter in the book is the story of someone who either lives in Rossmore, visits Rossmore, or is connected to Rossmore in some way.

Even though there are many characters, Binchy creates well-developed characters with distinct voices and unique stories that pulls the reader into their lives. A good read.

Author Visit!

The Bookstall in Winnetka will be hosting Joseph O'Connor on Monday November 12 at 7 pm. He will be signing and discussing his newest book, Redemption Falls, the number one bestselling book in Ireland currently.The story is an unforgettable romance of Irish immigrants in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Book Banning in West Virginia

A high school in Charleston, West Virginia banned two of Pat Conroy's books. Take a look at what he has to say about it. I especially like his point that banning the books will only encourage kids to read them.

"Because you banned my books, every kid in that county will read them, every single one of them."

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Heart-Shaped Box

I'm not much of a horror fan-I don't like horror films and I don't like being scared. But Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box has gotten such great reviews, I decided to give it a try for some spooky Halloween reading. I should have known....

Judas Coyne is an aging rock star with an obsession for macabre objects. His collection includes a snuff film, a human skull, a hangman's noose and a cookbook for cannibals. When he sees a suit for sale on an online auction that is said to be haunted with a ghost, he decides he must have it for his collection. As soon as the suit arrives, strange things begin to happen and Judas begins seeing the dead man. In an attempt to learn more about the ghost, he contacts the woman who sold him the suit. It turns out that she is the sister of Judas' former girlfriend who recently committed suicide. The ghost in the suit is their father, who blames Judas for the suicide. The ghost is intent on killing Judas to avenge his daughter's death.

And that's about all I can tell you. I was so creeped out, I stopped reading. I admit that I am a big baby. Nothing really scary or violent happens (at least up to that point), but it was pretty creepy. And, Judas has two dogs, and I just know something is going to happen to those dogs, which I couldn't stand to think about. What I can tell you though, is the premise of the story is very clever and it is obvious that Joe Hill is a very talented writer. I am sorry that I couldn't stick with it, because it's a good book. But I need to be able to sleep at night. I have passed this one off to my husband, who likes all thing scary and creepy, so hopefully he can tell me how everything works out. This would be a great read for those who appreciate a good scary story.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Author Visit!

The Bookstall in Winnetka will be hosting author Frank McCourt next Tuesday, November 13th. I have had a crush on McCourt ever since I listened to him narrate his three memoirs, Angela's Ashes, 'Tis, and Teacher Man. He is a great writer, and I could listen to his voice all day. He will be speaking about his new Christmas book, Angela and the Baby Jesus, which is about Angela (of Angela's Ashes) as a child, who feels compelled to rescue the baby Jesus from her church nativity scene and take him home.

Hope to see you there!

Time: Tuesday, November 13, 2007 7:00 PM
Location: Skokie School, 520 Glendale, Winnetka, IL 60093
No reservations necessary.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Zookeeper's Wife

Sometimes I feel like I read more non-fiction than fiction. But there are just so many great non-fiction books to read! The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman is one of them. Ackerman tells the story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski. Jan was the director of the Warsaw zoo before WWII and the Zabinskis lived on the grounds of the zoo. When Warsaw was invaded, the Nazis took the animals they wanted and shot the rest for fun. Although the zoo was no longer operating, the Zabinskis stayed put, first under the guise of running a pig farm to supply the soldiers with pork, then as a fur farm to provide the soldiers with fur for warmth. But the Zabinskis were secretly helping the Polish resistance. Jan brought food to many of the Jews in the ghetto. They also helped many Jews to escape, sheltering them in their home and in the empty animal cages. Amazingly, they were never caught.

This is a fascinating story of a very brave family. Ackerman gets much of her information from Antonina's diaries, which provide incredible details of their activities in the resistance, as well as day to day life in occupied Warsaw. A great read!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Running with Kites

I had the fantastic luck to score tickets to an advanced screening for the movie of the Kite Runner last night! (Librarians have connections.) The movie was originally scheduled to open in November, but has been pushed back to December 14th because of safety concerns for the actors. I had to schlep all the way downtown to see it, but it was well worth the hassle. I was hesitant to see it, simply because movies based on books are usually such a let down. But this was not the case here. The movie stays true to the book, leaving out only one major scene that I remember. The scenery, music and acting were fantastic. The little boy who plays Hassan is sooo cute and I loved watching the children fly the kites. The movie also did a great job of creating the same strong emotions I felt when I read the book. The scenes of the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan are quite disturbing. It was interesting to me that scenes I found particularly difficult to read, were not as bad to watch (maybe because I was prepared). And scenes that didn't affect me much in the book, really choked me up in the theater. Fans of the book should be pleased. If you haven't read the book, pick up a copy and get reading! Then go see the film in December.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

In their small North Carolina town, the Waverly's have always been considered "different" because of their special talents. Claire Waverly has a talent for food and runs a successful catering business. Her secret is the edible herbs and flowers she grows in her garden, which have a magical effect on the eater. Claire's cousin gives random gifts to people for no obvious reason, and the townspeople believe the apple tree in Claire's garden has special powers. Claire leads a simple life and is happy living alone, but her life is turned upside down when her long lost sister returns with a young daughter and no explanation for where she has been.

This is a sweet story, with quirky, charming characters. It's somewhat predictible, but that doesn't make the story any less enjoyable. Fans of Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic should enjoy this one.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

And the Award Goes To....

The Quill Awards were presented earlier this week, with Nora Roberts winning Book of the Year for her novel Angels Fall. Diane Setterfield won Debut Author of the Year for her novel The Thirteenth Tale (yay!). Cormac McCarthy won the general fiction award for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road and Laura Lippman won the mystery award for her novel What the Dead Know. In non-fiction, Walter Isaacson won the biography/memoir award for Einstein: His Life and Universe, Amy Sedaris won the humor award for I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, and Al Gore won the history/current affairs/politics award for his book, The Assault on Reason. The Quill Awards will be broadcast on NBC this Saturday, October 27th at 7pm.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Playing For Pizza

John Grisham's latest novel is not one of his typical legal thrillers. This is a short novel, featuring Rick Dockery, a third-string quarterback who has made so many blunders, no NFL team wants him anymore. Unable to give up his dream of playing football, Rick takes a job as quarterback for a football team in Italy. Since soccer reigns supreme in Italy, most people are unaware of the American football teams. None of the players, with the exception of the few Americans that are hired, receive a paycheck and simply play for the love of the game. They play on rugby fields, with only a few hundred people in the stands. Getting back to the basics, Rick begins to find his game, and realizes that life in Italy is not so bad.

This is a fun, quick read. Since I don't understand much about football, the descriptions of the games were a little confusing, so I skipped to the end of the games to find out the final score. But even with all the football, it was still an enjoyable read. Descriptions of life in Italy-the food, the people, the towns-were my favorite part.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

And the award goes to....

Anne Enright took home the Booker prize for her novel, The Gathering, in which the middle child in a large Irish-Catholic family travels to London to retrieve the body of her recently deceased brother. Enright's win surprised the bookies who were giving good odds to two favorites-Ian McEwan for On Chesil Beach and Lloyd Jones for Mr. Pip.

Friday, October 12, 2007

I know a dog and his name is Merle

With a $40+ billion pet industry, it's clear we are a nation of animal lovers. As such, there is a huge market for books about animals. Jon Katz is well known for his books about dogs, and John Grogan's Marley and Me has been a huge hit. Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote, just out this summer, has been described as a Marley-like memoir, and since I'm a sucker for those four-legged people with fur, I immediately put it on hold at the library. Now, don't get me wrong-I enjoyed reading Marley and Me, but I loved, loved, loved this book. Not just a memoir of a man and his dog, Kerasote also provides a fascinating and well researched discussion of canine evolution, psychology and behavior. Merle is the exact opposite of Marley. Extremely intelligent and well-mannered, you'd think this dog is too good to be true. While Marley's antics made us laugh, Merle's ability to learn and think for himself shocked me.

Kerasote takes an uncommon, although interesting, approach to "raising" Merle. He believes that domestic dogs are responsible and show good behavior when they are not confined but given their freedom. Whereas dogs that are crated, leashed and kept in fenced yards to not mature, are permanently halted in the puppy stage and need direction from humans their entire lives. On page 257, he makes an interesting, although strange, point that most dogs are suffering from a version of Stockholm Syndrome.

"our control, water, elimination and fun-we reduce dogs to a state of quiet capitulation, a softened version of the Stockholm Syndrome...virtually all dogs remain captives. Indeed, the activities they enjoy-roaming, seeing other dogs, and exploring interesting odors-are constantly thwarted by the demands of modern civilization and training methods that have been designed to bring about what one dog trainer...has called 'the reversal of millions of years of evolution and genetic propensity.' Is the loyalty people then receive from their dogs true devotion, or the numbed reaction of captives to captors?"

This is an interesting concept that I had never considered before, but now I feel like a terrible dog-mom. Kerasote rarely leashes Merle and installs a dog door so he can come and go as he pleases. Merle makes the rounds of their small town in Wyoming, and has lots of dog friends. He is very independent, but also very devoted to Kerasote and very well-behaved. Some critics have complained that Kerasote anthropomorphized too much with Merle, interpreting what Merle must be thinking. It is a little strange at first, but I think it helps us get to know Merle's personality. My only criticism is the practicality in this. Yes, I would love it if my dog could live this way, but for people that live in a city with traffic, dogs cannot roam free. Kerasote mentions that many animal organizations are proponents for looser leash laws and designated off-leash areas. According to the San Francisco SPCA: "limiting dog play results in under-socialized, under-exercised, under-stimulated dogs and often leads to behavior problems." So maybe that's a place to start.

WARNING: The last 100 or so pages of this book is a sob-fest. Obviously with a dog book, we know what's coming. It's inevitable. But that doesn't make it any easier to read. Kerasote journals Merle's aging and his declining health. When Merle can no longer make the rounds of their town, it is heartbreaking. Kerasote considers the idea of euthanizing Merle, but decides to let Merle die on his own time. He mentions how humans are sometimes too quick to euthanize animals because we are uncomfortable with watching them die. Kerasote is by Merle's side the entire time, caring for him and calming him. (Oh, I'm getting a little weepy just thinking about it.) Dog lovers will have a hard time with the last 100 pages. Although the end is extremely sad, it is a funny and touching story of the relationship between a man and his dog, as well as a fascinating look at canine behavior and a different way to think about raising dogs. Highly, highly recommended.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The World is Flat....and Scary

I'd been meaning to read The World Is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman for quite a while. But I kind of felt like it was one of those books I should read, but would be about as enjoyable as reading a David McCullough book (I know, I know, but his stuff puts me to sleep). But last week he was on the Colbert Report and was talking about how when you send your Toshiba laptop out to be repaired, it's actually a UPS person that fixes it. I was intrigued, so I thought I'd give it a try. I ended up getting the "updated and expanded" version, which is about 565 pages. Now, for me to read 565 pages of anything, it had better be entertaining, enlightening and life changing. I would say that this book was entertaining and enlightening, but not life changing, so I read the first couple hundred of pages and skimmed the rest.

Friedman basically says that many factors, including the web, outsourcing, insourcing and offshoring, have leveled the world's playing field. In order for us to compete in a flat world, we must become "untouchables," meaning we need to find jobs that cannot be outsourced, automated or digitized. Most of what he discussed was not news to me, but he has an interesting chapter called The Quiet Crisis, which talks about how our country is starting to lag behind in terms of producing people who can compete in this flat world. Compared to other countries, we have a lack of highly skilled scientists and engineers. He believes this is because young people are more interested in TV and video games than math and science. American children also lack ambition and creativity that is necessary to compete in a flat world.

It's an interesting book, and his writing and anecdotes are enjoyable which makes it less painful to read (or skim) 565 pages.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Happy Birthday Michael Palmer

Today is the birthday of best-selling suspense writer Michael Palmer. Palmer's latest hit, The Fifth Vial, is a medical suspense novel about illegal transplant organ trafficking.

Author Visits!

These are last minute, but both of these non-fiction authors have been getting a lot of press for their books.

Author Ted Kerasote will be discussing his new book, Merle's Door at the Bookstall in Winnetka today at noon. Call for details and reservations. This book is being compared to John Grogan's bestselling book about his dog, Marley and Me. I'm actually in the middle of reading Merle's Door now, and even though it is his story of his life with his dog, Kerasote includes quite a bit of information about the evolution, domestication and psychology of dogs. More to come on this book.

Pulitzer prize winning journalist Carl Bernstein will also be signing his new biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton, A Woman in Charge, at the Michigan Avenue Borders in Chicago tonight at 7pm.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Luncheon of the Boating Party

I loved, loved, loved Susan Vreeland's novels, The Passion of Artemesia and Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Both are beautifully written historical fiction novels with art history as the basis. When I heard about her latest novel, Luncheon of the Boating Party, which tells the story of Renoir's creation of his famous painting, I was thrilled. For some reason though, I just couldn't get into it. I checked out the book and didn't get very far. Then I tried the audiobook, and almost had it finished, but it was due back at the library and I found myself not interested enough to keep it over the due date. And I don't know why. The writing is just as beautiful as her other novels. The descriptions of Paris and the countryside, even the colors of the paints, are wonderful. We hear Renoir's story of his attempts to be successful at his dream and solidify his place in the Impressionist movement. And we also hear about the lives of each of the models in his painting, which is fantastic. I think I must just be in a reading funk, because I can't seem to finish anything lately. But I do feel bad about missing the ending. Can someone tell me how it ends? What happens with the painting? Obviously I know he finishes it, but does he get it done in time? Does he find a quatorzieme for the painting? Does it hang in the salon? Does he get together with Alphonsine?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Outlander Finale

Diana Gabaldon's final work in her popular Outlander series is set for publication in fall of 2009.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Read a Banned Book This Week

Banned Books Week, which runs from September 29 to October 6, celebrates "the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those...viewpoints to all who wish to read them." Over the years, many books that we now consider classics have been challenged or banned. John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway and Kurt Vonnegut are just a few of the famous authors that have been challenged or banned. Most of the books that are challenged these days are childrens books, but of the top 10 challenged books in 2006, two belong to Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye and Beloved). Many of those "classic" works of fiction, such as The Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are still challenged today.

But, maybe there is something to be said for challenging books. Labeling a book as bad or banned is a great way to get a kid interested in it. When I was a kid, I always wanted to get my hands on Judy Blume books, simply because adults thought they were bad and shouldn't be read by kids. When I was in college, I became interested in reading Salmon Rushdie's Satanic Verses. Not because I knew who he was, or even knew what the book was about. I wanted to read it simply because it had been banned in so many countries and the Ayatollah put a hit out on Rushdie. Ok, I admit that I never read the book. It was a bit over my head at that time. But I bought the book anyway, to show my support. So, in honor of Banned Book Week, I'm dusting off my copy of the Satanic Verses. Check out the American Library Association's website for more information, and celebrate your freedom to read by reading a banned book this week!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Author Visit!

The Ela Area Public Library in Lake Zurich will be hosting Erik Larson on Saturday, October 13th at 2pm. Larson is famous for his recent non-fiction work, Devil in the White City. At this event he will be talking about and signing his new book, Thunderstruck. Registration is required.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Food and Fiction

Can you believe I have never read a Diane Mott Davidson novel until now? She has been a popular mystery author for over 10 years, but I just got around to reading her first novel, Catering To Nobody. This is the first book in her series, featuring Goldy Bear, a caterer in a small Colorado town. While catering a funeral, her ex-father-in-law is poisoned and Goldy is a suspect. Intent on clearing her name, Goldy does some sleuthing on her own and uncovers some terrible secrets about her seemingly good natured ex-father-in-law.

This is what I would call a "cozy" mystery. The setting is a charming little town where everyone knows everyone else. The violence is minimal and there is no sex (at least not in this book-Goldy does marry in a future novel, so I assume there may be some eventually). I often find that some cozies are a little too cozy for me, and the amateur detective bit can sometimes seem a little far-fetched, but that's not the case here. The writing is very good. The descriptions of the town and the food are wonderful. There is a little pastry shop that Goldy frequents, and I can just see the cafe tables and smell the cinnamon roles. Goldy is a great character, who has picked herself up from an abusive relationship and is supporting herself and her son. But her life isn't perfect, and she deals with common issues, such as being able to pay the mortgage and dealing with a moody son who is entering puberty. The mystery kept me turning the pages until the end and Goldy's recipes are included, which I loved.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On Chesil Beach

Ever since I read Ian McEwan's Atonement, which I loved, I have made it my mission to read the rest of his novels. Unfortunately I started with his latest, On Chesil Beach. The story didn't really appeal to me from the beginning, but the audio version just came in, and I thought it would be a good way to pass a long car ride. I have to say it was a let down after Atonement. It is a short novel-about 200 pages. It is the story of a young couple in the 1960's, on their wedding night. Both are still virgins and are worried about the impending consummation. Edward is worried that he will "arrive too soon" and Florence is simply disgusted by the idea of having sex and is completely dreading it. So, the event is a disaster and the marriage is ruined. First-why is Florence so disgusted by the idea of having sex? There was something in the background story that led me to believe she may have been molested by her father when she was a girl, but it wasn't very clear so I'm not sure. I would have liked more development there. Second, the marriage falls apart based on this one event? Not really believable to me. And after the two part ways, we hear what Florence is doing in her career, but we don't get any insight into her thoughts or feelings after time has passed. Bottom line: the story didn't do anything for me, and I just didn't care about either of the characters.

Friday, September 21, 2007

And you thought your office was messy

The Guardian has a special report featuring writers' rooms. It's interesting to see the varied conditions that they work in, and I love some of the descriptions of the rooms. I love Margaret Drabble's room. If that were my office, I would probably spend more time looking out the window rather than writing. But she says she never looks out the window when she's writing. And note the handcuffs in Ian Rankin's room.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Match Me If You Can

Yesterday I had the wonderful experience of hearing Susan Elizabeth Phillips speak at a lunch for a group of librarians. She is a lot of fun-very funny and very sassy! In the past I have always steered away from the romance fiction genre. I guess because I've always thought of them as trashy novels with scantily clad women and shirtless Fabio-like men on the cover, featuring swooning women and an abundance of cheesy words like quivering and throbbing. But when a coworker recommended Phillips as a great romance writer, I hesitantly checked out Match Me If You Can. And I absolutely loved it.

Anabelle Granger inherits her grandmother's fledgling matchmaking business, and decides to turn it around by landing a huge client. She sets her sights on Heath Champion, a popular Chicago sports agent. Anabelle's determination wins her a chance to find the perfect match for Heath. Their stubborn personalities initially cause them to butt heads, but lead to a chemistry that neither can deny for long. Such a great story! Anabelle is a very real, very determined heroine. And you can't help but liking Heath, despite his arrogance. Obviously you know how the ending will play out, but it's a enjoyable ride nonetheless. It's fun, humorous and sexy. Without the quivering and throbbing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Arthur Miller

There is a very interesting article in Vanity Fair's September issue about Arthur Miller's son. Reminds me of The Memory Keeper's Daughter.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Bestiary by Nicholas Christopher

Xeno Atlas's mother dies during childbirth, leaving him with his increasingly distant and absent father. Left under the care of his grandmother, Xeno becomes fascinated with her magical stories of animal spirits. After her death, his father ships him off to boarding school. Here Xeno is introduced to medieval bestiaries, books which include both real and mythical animals. He becomes obsessed with the idea of an ancient missing bestiary, the Caravan Bestiary. The Caravan Bestiary is said to be one of the first bestiaries and includes all of the animals that were left off of Noah's ark. It becomes Xeno's dream to find this bestiary, if it still exists. As Xeno grows into a young man, his goal is put aside while he fights in the Vietnam war, but the bestiary is never far from his mind. When he resumes his search, he travels across Europe, digging through ancient manuscripts and archives, and at the same time, uncovering family secrets.

I initially picked up this book, because I like mysteries where there is a search for missing artifacts, artwork, etc. But this book is so much more than that. Christopher presents a rich story with beautiful prose and complex characters. The story is not just about the search for the bestiary, but also Xeno's search for answers and acceptance of his family and himself. This was a very satisfying read, and I'm looking forward to reading more by this author.

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms

I finally got around to reading my advanced copy of Gail Tsukiyama's The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, which was just released earlier this month. This lovely book takes place in Japan and follows two brothers, Hiroshi and Kenji Matsumoto, from boyhood into adulthood, spanning the years 1939-1966. Orphaned when they are young, the boys are raised by their grandparents. As teenagers, Hiroshi shows promise at sumo wrestling, while Kenji takes an interest in creating masks for the Noh theater. However, both are put on hold after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The hardships and devestation caused by the war make survival their only priority. Once the war is over, Hiroshi and Kenji resume efforts of achieving their dreams. Both find success in their careers, but suffer loss in love. This is a touching story of family, love, loss and resilience. Tsukiyama creates wonderful characters, not just in Hiroshi and Kenji, but in their grandparents, their senseis, and the women they love. The vivid descriptions of Japanese life, especially the sumo wrestling and the Noh theater, are exceptional and Tsukiyama deftly portrays the lasting effects of war on people's lives.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Steve Berry's Venetian Betrayal

Great news! Steve Berry's latest novel, The Venetian Betrayal, will be released in December. Publisher's Weekly reports that Berry has been signed to write three more novels, which will be published through 2011. Shortly after I became a librarian, I stumbled on his first book, The Amber Room, and was hooked. His books are fast paced, suspenseful, and have great story lines. I haven't been able to find a synopsis of The Venetian Betrayal, but my clever powers of deduction lead me to believe that it may take place in Venice, which is one of my favorite settings! His last two novels have featured the character Cotton Malone, and I believe this next one may be part of that series. I'm not so sure about this Cotton Malone yet. First, his name drives me nuts. Cotton? Really? Second, I just can't get a picture of him in my mind. Usually I have an idea in my head of what a character looks like, but Malone eludes me. Nonetheless, I still love his books and I'm sure his new book will be another great read!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Left Behind

The hotel chain Travelodge in Britain compiled a survey of the most discarded books left behind in their hotel rooms. Over 6,500 books are left behind throughout the year, and these are the top 10:

1. The Blair Years by Alastair Campbell

2. Don't You Know Who I Am? by Piers Morgan

3. Jordan: A Whole New World by Katie Price

4. Wicked by Jilly Cooper

5. Dr Who Creatures & Demons by Justin Richard

6. The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown

7. I Can Make You Thin by Paul McKenna

8. Humble Pie by Gordon Ramsay

9. The Story Of A Man And His Mouth by Chris Moyles

10. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

I don't know about you, but I've never left a book behind anywhere. At least not on purpose. But most of these titles seem like ones that I would leave behind. Except for Harry Potter, of course.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Author Visits!!

Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville has several exciting author events coming up this month. Diana Gabaldon is speaking tonight, September 5th. Diane Mott Davidson will visit on Wednesday, September 12th, and Gail Tsukiyama will visit on Thursay, September 13th. Haven Kimmel, author of the popular book, A Girl Named Zippy, will visit on Monday, September 24th to promote her new book.

The Bookstall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka will be hosting Laura Moriarty on Monday, September 17th. The author of the book The Center of Everything will be promoting her latest novel, The Rest of Her Life. On Thursday, September 20th, the store will host Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA at the Pritzker Military Library in Chicago. They will also host author Amy Bloom at the store on this date. She will be promoting her new book, Away.

Unfortunately, I don't think I'll get to any of these, so let me hear from you if you are able to attend!

Reading Habits

A recent AP-Ipsos poll on reading habits revealed some interesting, although not really surprising, results:

* 25% of adults surveyed had not read any books at all that year.

* Of those who had read, 7 was the average number of books read. Women averaged 9 books, while men averaged 5.

* Women and retirees were the most avid readers.

* Religious works and popular fiction were the most popular.

* One in five readers read romance.

* Men read more biographies and history books than women.

*Conservatives accounted for 34% of the non-readers, while liberals and moderates accounted for 22%. (Why this is important, or even interesting, I'm not sure).

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Missed out on a summer vacation this year?

I love to travel to foreign countries, but let's face it, the likelihood that I will visit the Congo is slim. Which is why I love travelogues like Redmond O'Hanlon's No Mercy: A Journey into the Heart of the Congo. I can visit these places from the air conditioned, bug-free comfort of my own home. CondeNast Traveler has published the 86 greatest travel books of all time, which includes a variety of authors, including Mark Twain, Bill Bryson, and Paul Theroux, as well as O'Hanlon. The list was compiled by a jury that included Monica Ali, Vikram Chandra, Geraldine Brooks, Peter Mayle, Erik Larson, Francine Prose, and Paul Theroux.

Friday, August 31, 2007

They Poured Fire On Us From the Sky

Last month, I wrote about my attempt at reading Dave Eggers' What is the What. Since I couldn't get through it, I picked up They Poured Fire On Us From the Sky by Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng and Benjamin Ajak. This is a true story of three Lost Boys from Sudan, who lived through terrible ordeals and were finally relocated to America. In the late 1980's, when Arabs from northern Sudan began attacking villages in the south, thousands of people were killed or displaced from their homes. Brothers Benson and Alepho and their cousin Benjamin were just 5-7 years old at the time. Separated from each other and the rest of their families, the boys started walking, along with many other displaced boys. Overall they walked almost 1,000 miles to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. Along the way they almost died from thirst, starvation, wild animal attacks, bombings, sickness and injuries. Alternating chapters between the boys, each one tells of their experiences and how they managed to survive and reunite with each other.

I enjoyed the beginning when they talked of their lives before the fighting broke out, and even though Americans might view their way of life as simple, they were happy, safe and well fed. I also liked the little bit about their adjustment to life in America: their first time using a soda machine, their first trip to Wal-Mart, etc. Most of all though, their stories just stunned me. I kept reminding myself how young these boys were when they endured this, and I just cannot believe they made it. This is a heart wrenching story about the effects of war on children, and an inspiring tale of their determination to survive.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Random Facts #1

Did you know that best-selling author Diane Mott Davidson went to Wellesley College and lived across the hall from Hillary Rodham Clinton? HRC convinced Davidson to join the Young Republicans with her (which HRC left in her sophomore year).

Monday, August 27, 2007

Books vs. Movies

Over the weekend I saw the eagerly anticipated (by me) movie, The Nanny Diaries. The movie is based on the novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. I absolutely loved this book, and while the movie was fun and entertaining, I didn't like it as much as the book. It seems that most movies released these days are based on books and in most cases, I enjoy the book much more than the movie. Even the Harry Potter movies, which I love, still don't live up to the books, in my opinion. There have been a few exceptions to this: The Painted Veil, Under the Tuscan Sun and North and South (the BBC movie based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, not that Patrick Swayze-Civil War movie) are the only movies I can think of that I've liked more than the books. I'm still deciding on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I've never actually read those books (GASP!), but I'm listening to the audio version now. I loved the movies, so I find myself frequently comparing the two. Maybe it just has to do with which version you experience first.

P.S. During the previews before The Nanny Diaires, a preview for the Kite Runner was shown. When I first heard they were making a movie based on one of my favorite novels, I swore to myself I wouldn't see it. I don't think I could bear to see the story changed in any way, and I'm not sure they will be able to convey the emotion I felt when reading the book. But I have to admit, it looks really good and I'm not sure I'll be able to resist.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single thirty-something woman must be in want of Jane Austen

A while ago, I mentioned my love for anything resembling Jane Austen. Sequels, re-tellings and modernized versions of her works as well as novels with Jane Austen as the main character continue to be enormously popular. Lately, there seems to be a rash of chick-lit fiction featuring women obsessed with all things Austen, so I decided to check out a couple of titles.

Austenland by Shannon Hale is about a young woman, Jane Hayes, who is a thirty-something single career woman. Obsessed with Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Darcy (specifically the BBC's movie version starring Colin Firth), Jane thinks she will never meet a man that could compare to him. When her great aunt dies, bequeathing her a three week vacation at a secretive Austen-like resort, Jane heads off to England. This resort is set up to be just like 19th century Victorian England. Jane is required to dress in the appropriate costume of the time, follow the customs, etc. During her stay, she snogs one of the servants (which is absolutely forbidden), and also engages in flirtation with one of the gentlemen. Since both men are paid actors at the resort, Jane is unsure whether these encounters are real, or just part of the act. Blah blah blah. Happily ever after. The characters who visit the resort are quite amusing, as is the idea of such a vacation. This is a fun, light read, but it's forgettable.

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler has another thirty-something single woman who is obsessed with Jane Austen. Courtney has just broken off her engagement with Frank, after she finds him canoodling with their cake decorator. After a night of drowning her sorrows in Pride and Prejudice, Courtney wakes up to find herself in another body, in another time. She wakes up in 1813 England as Jane Mansfield. Jane is 30 and still single, and has a mother who is more concerned with marrying her off than with her happiness. When Courtney finally realizes she is not dreaming, she must act the part or risk having Mrs. Mansfield toss her into an asylum. Apparently Jane had been having some sort of secret fling with one of the servants. Meanwhile, her mother has been trying to marry her off to Mr. Edgeworth, the neighborhood's most eligible widow, and it seems that Jane had also been having an on-again, off-again kind of relationship with him. Courtney/Jane tries to figure out how she got to 1813 and how she will get back to her real life, while keeping up the pretense of being Jane. Courtney/Jane tries to take advantage of the situation and enjoy what 19th century England has to offer, and slowly she begins to think of herself as Jane. Blah Blah Blah. Happily ever after. The author does a wonderful job with the descriptions of country life, London and Bath and Courtney/Jane's reactions to common 19th century practices (such as bloodletting, communal bathing and chaperons for a 30 year old woman) is amusing. However, I was a little confused with the whole switching bodies part. Why and how did it happen and where is the real Jane? Courtney/Jane ponders these questions, but there don't really seem to be any answers. In the end, it is also somewhat ambiguous as to whether Courtney gets back to her real life or if she stays in 19th century England. Maybe that's the point. In any case, it was entertaining even though it has some weak points.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Happy Birthday Ray Bradbury!

Ray Bradbury was born in Waukegan, IL in 1920 and is the author of many famous novels, including Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes and Fahrenheit 451. Two of his never before published novellas will be released in September under the title Now and Forever.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Are Best-Sellers Really the Best?

Each week, several major newspapers publish a best-seller book list. Most notably is the New York Times, but other popular lists include the Chicago Tribune, USA Today and the Washington Post. Many people turn to the best-seller list each week to find books they want to read. I think this is a real shame. Best-seller lists are not indicators of good books. They are not even indicators of which books sell the most copies. They indicate which books sell the fastest within a one-week period at certain bookstores. According to an article at Slate, a book that sells 20,000 copies in one week will reach the top of the best-seller list, even if it never sells any more copies. Whereas a book that sells 200 copies every week for 10 years, will never make the best-seller list. The New York Times doesn't even follow all the books published each year. The Times "tracks" certain books they believe have potential to become best-sellers, which often come from publisher tips. In addition, bookstores now allow publishers to pay to have a book displayed in the front window, so best-seller lists are often indicative of the books that have the most money spent on publicity. Each week, we see the same big-name authors on the best-seller lists: James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell, Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts, etc. This is not to say that these aren't good books. These are all very popular authors with large fan bases. However, there are so many wonderful writers and books that never make the best-seller lists or get pushed off after only a few weeks. Take the Man Booker prize for example. This is a very important literary award, yet most of the titles on the 2007 longlist are not titles that have dominated the best-seller lists. This is the case with many other literary prizes as well. If readers are turning only to the best-seller lists to pick their next read, they miss out on so many wonderful reading opportunities.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Billy Boyle vs. Christopher Foyle

I love historical fiction, and one of my favorite time periods to read about is World War II. My new favorite TV program is a British show, Foyle's War, that is set in England during World War II. Christopher Foyle is a detective who investigates murder, sabotage, stolen fuel supplies, etc., while the war goes on around him. It's a great show that depicts what life was like for the English during the war. While there is usually a murder, the violence is minimal. You could almost call it a "cozy." Most of the World War II books I have read are thrillers that usually involve espionage, which I enjoy, but I wanted to find a book that is more like Foyle's War: something that focuses on what was going on at home during the war, not necessarily in the thick of it.

In my search I discovered a new series by James R. Benn. Billy Boyle is the main character and the title of the first book in the series. His second book in the series, The First Wave, will be released next month. Billy Boyle is a Boston cop whose family ties to General Eisenhower got him an office job in London, rather than on the front lines. "Uncle Ike" wants Billy to use his detective skills to investigate problems within the ranks. His first case involves the Norwegian government that is living in England in exile. It is believed that a spy is amongst them and Billy sets out to find him. During his investigation, a high ranking Norwegian official is murdered, and Billy is also asked to solve the crime. Billy is no Christopher Foyle, but he is a likeable character. It's a good mystery without a lot of violence. Benn does a good job of describing the effects of the war on England. It has a somewhat slower pace than most WWII thrillers, but that's what I like about Foyle's war. I did get a little confused with all the characters and suspects, but aside from that, I enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to reading the next one.

It turns out that World War II is one of the hottest subjects in publishing right now (both fiction and non-fiction) and is expected to continue in the next decade. The Telegraph has an interesting article about the World War II publishing phenomena, and why it is so popular.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

There's a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell

I have said before that I've picked up a book simply because of the title, and that was the case with Laurie Notaro's There's a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell: A Novel of Sewer Pipes, Pageant Queens, and Big Trouble. How could you not be interested with a title like that? Well, it turns out that the book lives up to its crazy title. Charlie and Maye Roberts move from Phoenix to Spaulding, a small town in Washington, when Charlie gets a job as a professor at the local university. Maye is thirty-something, with no children and no job, and finds that it is not easy to make new friends. Her attempts at meeting people end in disaster. When her realtor tells her that winning the Sewer Pipe Queen pageant will surely win her many friends, Maye is determined to win the crown. All pageant entries must be sponsored by a previous Queen, and when Maye's sponsor is eaten by a raccoon, she is determined to find the most famous Queen, who seems to have disappeared, to help her win the pageant. Crazy adventures ensue.

The story starts out somewhat slow, and Notaro goes a little overboard with the similes ("new businesses popped up all over town like pimples on the forehead of puberty"). But Spaulding is a charming town, full of quirky residents, and Maye's attempts at making friends is quite funny. At then end, I found myself thinking this would make a good series. I would like to go back to Spaulding and spend more time with these characters.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Listen to a Book

Some people think listening to audiobooks is cheating. Like if you don't actually read the book yourself, it doesn't count. I think that's ridiculous. This isn't school. Who cares if you read or listen to the book? Better to listen to the book, than not read at all, I say. Audiobooks are a great way to fit in more books when you don't have time to sit down and actually read. I have found that listening to audiobooks while I'm stuck in traffic helps preserve my sanity. And it makes chores bearable. Parents are encouraged to read to their children. Children love it and always want a story before bedtime. Why shouldn't adults get the same enjoyment from having a book read to them? Besides, if the narrator is really good, you may get more from the book by listening to it than if you had just read it yourself. Since I have started listening to audiobooks, I have come to favor a few narrators. I have found that a good narrator can make a so-so book really good, and a bad narrator make a great book terrible. I have also found myself listening to books I might not normally read, simply because I like the narrator. My favorite narrator is Kate Reading. I would listen to her read anything. She has such a great voice and does a great job distinguishing between characters. Some of the books she has narrated that I enjoyed were Lauren Willig’s Secret History of the Pink Carnation, Ken Follett’s Jackdaws, Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, and Ann Rule’s Bitter Harvest. A few other great narrators I enjoy are Scott Brick, Paul Michael, Cassandra Campbell and C.J. Critt. Publisher's Weekly has a great interview with Scott Brick, where he talks about how he records a book. It's very interesting to learn what goes into recording and how long it takes. If there is a narrator that you enjoy, you can always find other books he or she has narrated by doing an author search of their name in the library catalog.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bitter is the New Black

The best way to sell a non-fiction book? A great title. I picked up Jen Lancaster’s memoir Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office because of the title. How could you not be intrigued? I loved it so much, I eagerly picked up her next book, Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly Ex-Sorority Girl's Guide to Why It Often Sucks in the City, or Who Are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door To Me?

Her first book, Bitter, is described as "the story of how a former sorority girl went from having a household income of almost a quarter-million dollars to being evicted from a ghetto apartment." This really sums it up. Lancaster is working in corporate America, making great money and suddenly looses her job. Her fiance is also downsized, so they leave their beautiful Chicago penthouse apartment, and she must learn to do without the designer clothes and bags, expensive martinis, manicures and haircuts. She braves the unemployment office carrying her Prada bag, and can't find a job because she is overqualified for everything. With all of her free time, Jen spends a lot of time online and develops her own blog, Jennslyvania, which leads to a book deal. Her second book, Bright Lights, picks up after Jen has sold her first book and is working on the second. Jen decided to continue writing, but she finds that being a writer isn't like Carrie Bradshaw's Sex in the City lifestyle. To pay the bills, she has to take temp jobs. She now shops at Target instead of on the Magnificent Mile and struggles with finding an affordable apartment in Chicago without living in the ghetto.

Lancaster reminds me of the character Karen from the TV show Will & Grace: funny, clever, crass, selfish, stuck up and sarcastic. To me, Karen was the best part of that show. I feel the same about Lancaster. Although her story is not uncommon, her personality, reactions to life and the way she tells her story is just hilarious. I made a spectacle of myself laughing uncontrollably while reading her books in public. These books are great fun! I believe she is working on her third book, which I am anxiously awaiting!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Sin in the Second City

Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America's Soul by Karen Abbott is about the world famous Everleigh Club, a brothel that operated in Chicago in the early 1900's. Sisters Ada and Minna Everleigh, wanted to elevate the "profession" and run an upscale club. Unlike other pimps and madams of the time, the sisters did not beat their girls or hold them against their will, but fed, clothed and paid them well, had them checked regularly by doctors, refused to employ girls under 18, and did not tolerate drugs or theft. There was actually a waiting list of girls interested in working at the Everleigh Club. The club only welcomed the wealthiest of men. Visitors had to provide references and proof of income. The elaborate decor, sumptuous feasts and beautiful women attracted patrons such as John Barrymore, Theodore Dreiser, Marshall Field Jr., and Prince Henry of Prussia. The success of the Everleigh Club made the sisters targets of rival madams as well as reformers. A rival madam tried to implicate the sisters in the death of Marshall Field Jr., and several ministers continuously worked to shut them down.

This is a great look at the seedier side of Chicago's history. Aside from the prostitution, the corrupt politicians, wealthy playboys, bribes, scandals, white slave trade, and Chicago underworld make for a very interesting story. It is written like a "non-fiction novel," which makes it very readable. However, that technique made me wonder how much was based on actual documentation and how much was just conjecture. Nonetheless, it's an entertaining story. Those who enjoyed Devil in the White City for the Chicago history, will find interest in this as well.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Jennifer Weiner Update

A few years ago, I took a weekend trip with a group of girlfriends. One of my friends gave us all copies of Jennifer Weiner's book Good in Bed and we all read the book together on the trip. We all loved it so much, we were constantly asking each other "what page are you on?" On the plane, we took turns bursting out with laughter. Since then, I have read and loved all of her books. Jennifer is bringing back Cannie Shapiro, the main character from Good in Bed, in her new book, Certain Girls. Library Journal gave a publication date of October 2007, but a comment on Jennifer's blog led me to believe that the book won't be out until Spring 2008. I'm trying to get to the bottom of this, because I'm really looking forward to another great read!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Adriana, Adriana

Can I tell you how much I love Adriana Trigiani? I had the pleasure of meeting Adriana at a book signing last year. She is absolutely hilarious and very kind. The line for the signing was the longest I have ever stood in, because she stopped and chatted with each person, treating everyone like an old friend. I just finished her book, Lucia, Lucia and absolutely loved it. I have read two of her other books, Rococo and Queen of the Big Time and loved those as well. She is probably best known for her Big Stone Gap series. I have not read this series yet, but it's definitely on top of my list! She is such a great storyteller. Her characters are strong, independent women (with the exception of Rococo-the main character is a man, but great nonetheless), who come from large Italian families. The stories focus on family, love, life and food. She uses wonderfully descriptive language which brings the time and place of her stories to life. Some of her books also include recipes, which adds charm to the stories. Her stories are just a joy to loose yourself in and leave you with a good feeling. If you haven't read any of her books, you are really missing out. Her website mentions that she has a new book coming out in Spring of 2008, which will be part of a new series. I can't wait!

Incidentally, I have tried a few recipes from her cookbook, Cooking with My Sisters: One Hundred Years of Family Recipes from Bari to Big Stone Gap. The baked zucchini and the wedding cookies turned out pretty good, but the braciole was a disaster and a waste of three hours and a lot of meat. This is probably due to the fact that my cooking skills are questionable and the meat I was using had the texture of a rubber band. But the cookbook is still fun to read-aside from the recipes, she includes stories about her own family.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Poet Laureate Named

Charles Simic has been named our country's 15th poet laureate. The position has been in existance since 1987. Laureates receive a $35,000 award and a $5,000 travel allowance.
The position does not come with any specific responsibilities, although previous laureates have initiated different projects.

Organize Your Book List

Tired of trying to remember what books you have read? Sick of carrying around scraps of paper with titles you want to read? There are a few new websites that allow you to list all of your books (books you've read, books you want to read, books you own, etc.). The sites allow you to save titles in a spreadsheet-style format and show pictures of the covers. You can "tag" and rate each book as well. Tags are descriptive terms that you choose to help you identify and sort your books. These sites are also social networking sites, which means you can see what other people are reading, look at other readers' tags, write and share reviews, and participate in on-line discussions about books. The great thing is that you can access this information from any Internet connection, so you don't have to carry around a bunch of lists anymore!

LibraryThing is probably one of the most well-known sites. You can catalog up to 200 books for free, but a one-time fee of $25 will give you a lifetime subscription and allow you an unlimited number of books. Shelfari and GoodReads are similar to LibraryThing. Both are completely free and allow you to include as many books as you wish.

I started using LibraryThing first. I like the layout and find it easy to use, but they only allow you to create one "shelf" or list. I wanted to create a list of books I have already read and a separate list of books that I want to read, but could not do this with LibraryThing. GoodReads does have this option, but I don't like the layout as much as LibraryThing. While all of these sites are social sites, it seems that Shelfari and GoodReads pushes the social aspect more, encouraging "Friends" like a MySpace account. So for now, I'm using both LibraryThing and GoodReads, but I am hoping that LibraryThing will develop the option for multiple "shelves."