Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wrapping It Up

At the end of every year all the booksellers and critics put out their "Best of" lists. Publisher's Weekly, Amazon, etc. And I just know everyone has been eagerly awaiting Running With Books's Best of 2008 list, right? Well at long last, my favorites of 2008...

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
The Seduction of the Crimson Rose by Lauren Willig
The Anatomy of Deception Lawrence Goldstone
The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin
The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir
Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale
The Rhino with the Glue-On Shoes by Lucy Spelman and Ted Mashima
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
The Sister by Poppy Adams
Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz
The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
The World According to Bertie by Alexander McCall Smith

Books that disappointed:
A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire
The Dracula Dossier by James Reese

Book that were a big waste of my time:
How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard

I also made some reading resolutions last year. Let's see how I did...
1.) Read more books than last year (125 in 2007). Yikes. I really slipped this year. Only 108.

2.) Read the books that are already on my shelf instead of buying more books. I did succeed in buying less books. Instead of buying them, I checked them out from the library (which seems to be the case with a lot of people, considering that book sales are down and library circs are up). But I still failed at this resolution, since I read the books on the library's shelves instead of my own.

3.) Read a challenging book, such as Rushdie's Satanic Verses, Follett's The Pillars of the Earth, or anything by Hemingway. Well, I did read most of Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa, which was a challenge for sure. And I also read The Great Gatsby, which isn't really a challenging book, but it is a classic, so I'm counting it. I make the rules here.

4.) Read a book by James Patterson. (I felt like I probably shouldn't judge him since I'd never actually read anything by him.) Done. Early in the year I knocked out Patterson's First To Die, so I can officially say that I've read him and now I can continue to turn my nose up at him.

So, I guess 2 out of 4 isn't bad. My reading resolution for 2009 is to read less commercial fiction (i.e. NY Times bestselling authors) and more classics and literary fiction. Here's to a happy, healthy New Year, filled with wonderful new reads!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Get Baked

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'm a sucker for cookbooks. I love looking at recipes and imagining myself creating the perfect meal or the perfect dessert and all my guests beg me for the recipe, but I tell them I cannot divulge my secret family recipe (even though I really got it from Cooking Light), and everyone is envious of my superior cooking skills. I also have a huge sweet tooth. Sugar + chocolate = happiness. So, imagine what a cookbook of only desserts does to me.

The latest cookbook that has everyone talking, blogging, etc. is Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito's Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. The book is a compilation of the recipes that they use in their bakery in New York. Published in October, it is already in its third printing and has sold more than 20,000 copies. The book has gotten rave reviews from food bloggers and has been featured on Martha Stewart and the Today show. Food & Wine magazine has named it one of their favorite cookbooks of the year. Even Oprah has given her endorsement, naming their Baked Brownie one of her "favorite things." When I first heard about this book, I knew I had to get my hands on it. Just look at the cover! Does that not make your mouth water? There are quite a few recipes that I wanted to try, but I knew I had to start with the Red Hot Velvet Cake with Cinnamon Buttercream Icing. I love Red Velvet, but usually only make it from a boxed mix. Now, before I go any further, I will admit that I am not the best cook. Although I love to bake, my results are often disappointing. Sometimes this is because I fudge the recipe a little, but most of the time I think it's just due to the fact that I'm missing some essential talent that good cooks have. But because I was making this cake for my friends, I was very careful to stick to the exact ingredients and instructions. Result: disappointment. Nothing at all like the beautiful cake in the picture. The cake, while tasty, was not at all red velvety. Not even a hint of red. It looked just like a plain old chocolate cake. The icing in the picture looked like an off-white icing, smooth and firm. The icing that I ended up with was runny and brownish-speckled. In fact, it was so runny that I couldn't use it and I ended up running to the store for a can of Pillsbury icing. Blech. The cake did taste good. It was moist and light and delicious, but not red, and since I had to use store-bought icing, that was a let down. I definitely wouldn't make this recipe again. I bought the ingredients to make their Millionaire's Shortbread, but after the Red Velvet Disappointment, I've been reluctant to try again. I think Matt and Renato should send me one of their Red Hot Velvet cakes, so I can experience it properly. And maybe some shortbread.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Irene, you've really gone too far this time...

Alexander McCall Smith is best known for his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, but I prefer his 44 Scotland Street series. This series features a small cast of interesting characters living in Edinburgh. His latest installment in this series is The World According to Bertie. In my opinion, Bertie is the most likable and interesting character in the series. McCall Smith writes in the preface that wherever he goes, people always ask him how Bertie is doing. Bertie, who is only six, has been the only child (until now) of Irene and Stuart. Irene considers Bertie her "project." She is determined that Bertie will become an exceptionally intelligent, well-educated, sympathetic, "evolved" young man. All Bertie wants to do is play with other boys in the park, but Irene forces Bertie to take Italian and saxophone lessons, play with girls, and attend yoga classes and psychotherapy. She makes him wear strawberry colored pants instead of jeans like the regular boys, and paints his room pink. In this installment, Irene has just had a baby. Bertie is overjoyed, because he thinks the baby will distract his mother's attention. Not so. Irene uses the baby as an opportunity to "educate" Bertie on nurturing. Bertie is expected to help change the baby and help pump the breast milk. Seriously. This woman makes me so mad! When will someone stand up to her? (I'm sure readers everywhere cheered when, in the last book, Angus's dog Cyril bit Irene.) Fortunately, none of the other characters are this bad-in fact, they are quite lovely people and I always enjoy peeking into their lives. The next installment, The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, is due out in the UK May (I'm not sure of the US publication date).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Civilized Rat

Not long ago I happened upon a funny looking book. The cover of Firmin by Sam Savage shows a scruffy rat reading a book and a large chunk is taken out of the book, as if a rat has chewed on its edge. I thought this was cute, so I decided to give it a try (although Firmin would be appalled, as he can't abide the cutesy rat literature). This is also why I recently read the nonfiction book about rats. I figured it would be nice to have a well-rounded look at rats.

I must admit that my expectations were not high when I picked this book up. Firmin is a rat and is the narrator of this surprisingly touching and contemplative novel. Firmin is a very intelligent creature, stuck in the body of a rat. He begins his story at his birth. Firmin was born in the basement of a bookshop; the runt of his litter. When he did not get enough nourishment from his mother, he turned to eating books. His literal love of books soon turned into a literary love, when he discovered he could read. The more he reads, the more intelligent he becomes. But this also makes him less rat-like and distances him from his family. As his brothers and sisters leave the nest, he stays on in the bookshop alone. Firmin longs to interact with humans and spends his days imagining a friendship with the owner of the bookshop. An outsider with his own species and with humans, Firmin doesn't seem to belong anywhere. He lives a very lonely life, full of self-loathing. This sounds depressing, and it is. The tone is melancholy and bittersweet, but I enjoyed this story. Firmin is a very well-developed and sympathetic character. It is a very short book (only 164 pages), but there is much to consider and it is not meant to be read quickly. I'm thinking this might make a good book discussion, but I'm not sure if I can get others on board with the whole rat thing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Audacity of Drivers

So, this week we have been plagued by horrible winter weather and with that comes the always frustrating, swear-inducing, want-to-pull-your-hair-out Chicago traffic. I managed to get through the terrible drive last night by listening to Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope. I don't normally read political books and I don't normally listen to non-fiction on audio, but Obama narrates the audiobook. I have to admit that I am a little enamoured with our new president, so I thought it would be nice to listen to him read. And I was right. He writes about his entry into politics and the Senate and his hopes for the country and the Democratic party. I found my attention drifting numerous times (as it always does when I listen to non-fiction), but I found his voice to be even and pleasant and it lulled me into a state of contentment. I did giggle though, when Obama describes a meeting with President George W. Bush shortly after he was elected to the Senate. Obama's attempt at imitating Bush's voice and accent is humorous. And I thought it was funny that W offered Obama hand sanitizer.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I've never seen a rat in the wild before. I've seen pet rats and I've handled rats in science classes, but I've never encountered a rat on the streets of Chicago, or anywhere else. I suppose that's a good thing. Some people are horrified by rats, but they don't bother me. Although I suppose that could be because the only rats I've ever seen have been clean and relatively tame. Maybe if I saw a dirty, greasy, hissing, wild rat, I would run the other way. But I found Robert Sullivan's Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants absolutely fascinating. Sullivan stakes out a New York City alley for one year to observe the resident rat population. Sullivan supplies the reader with remarkable facts about rats, such as their astounding rate of reproduction. It seems that rats do only two things: eat and have sex. A female rat can produce up to 12 litters of up to 20 rats each, per year. As for eating, rats seem to prefer carbs over vegetables. Sullivan's particular alley backed up to a Chinese restaurant on one side and an Irish pub on the other. Sullivan also details the fascinating history of New York's ongoing battle with rats, the history of rat fighting and the founding of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866 by Henry Bergh, the history of the sanitation workers' union, the tenant riots in the 1960's led by Jesse Gray, and a brief history of the plague (which, by the way, still occurs sporadically every year in America. Did you know that??). The book is well written, informative, interesting, and entertaining. And, you can impress your friends with your useless knowledge of rats.

Monday, December 15, 2008

All the latest...

The Guardian has chosen Alex Ross' The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century as the winner of its First Book Award. The Guardian newspaper awards the best new literary talent in fiction or non-fiction across all genres.

The Grammy nominees are out and the nominees for spoken word are: Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, Steve Martin's Born Standing Up, Stephen Colbert's I Am America (And So Can You!), Sidney Poitier's Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter and David Sedaris' When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

Johnny Depp's production company has acquired film rights to Nick Tosches' In the Hand of Dante. Depp is also planning film adaptations for Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary, Gregory Robert's Shantaram, and Brian Selznick's children's book The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Nintendo is releasing the 100 Classic Book Collection cartridge that will be compatible with the Nintendo DS portable game system on December 26th. So far, it is only available for delivery in the UK and Europe. Not sure if there are plans for release in the U.S.

A BBC report shows that 46% of men and 33% of women have lied about reading a book in order to impress someone. Have you ever done this? I wouldn't say that I've outright lied, but there have been occasions when I've just nodded my head and acted like I'm familiar with whatever book everyone is talking about. It's more about not looking stupid, rather than impressing others.

I am a huge fan of historical fiction and I've heard about a few historical fiction novels that are in the works:
Kathleen Kent (author of The Heretic's Daughter) has sold her next novel, The Giant of Edgehill, which is a love story set during the English civil war and early colonial America.
Kathryn Wagner is the author of Dancing for Degas, which is scheduled for publication in Spring 2010. The novel will be in the tradition of Chevalier's The Girl with the Pearl Earring, and portrays Paris in the late 19th century through the eyes of a young ballerina, Degas' muse.
Rebecca Stott (author of Ghostwalk) will release her next novel, The Coral Thief, in Fall 2009. The novel features a group of philosophers on a mission to reclaim art stolen by Napoleon.
The next "big" novel, due out in June 2009, will be The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. The author is a descendant of 2 women accused of being witches in the Salem Witch Trials and the novel is about a young woman who is haunted by the Trials (does this sound familiar?).

Many newspapers, magazines, booksellers and critics have published their Best of 2008 lists. Take a look:
Washington Post
New York Magazine
The Salon
Publisher's Weekly
New York Times
The Reader's Advisor Online has published a pretty comprehensive list. There are a few that I've seen on multiple lists: Toni Morrison's A Mercy, Joseph O'Neill's Netherland and Robert Bolano's 2666. Stay tuned for my list of favorites.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

When You Are Engulfed In Flames

David Sedaris' latest compilation of essays, When You Are Engulfed In Flames, is without a doubt, one of the funniest books I've read in a while. I've read a few of his other books, but I think this is the best yet. His last book, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, is mostly about his nutty, dysfunctional family. His family comes up a couple of times in this book, but most of the essays focus on himself and his partner, Hugh. Sedaris is very talented at turning everyday events and conversations into hilarious stories. He also seems to meet so many odd people. It made me wonder if it is just by chance that he has so many odd encounters, or does he make himself more open to meeting other people, regardless of whether they seem strange or not? Is he just odd himself, which leads him into strange situations and attracts other odd people? Or is he just making this stuff up, or embellishing? He does say on the copyright page that these stories are "realish" and I do recall him saying in an interview that as long as something is 97% true, that was enough to call it nonfiction. Whatever the case may be, his essays are entertaining and great for a laugh.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Year of Readers

We all know people who have participated in marathons or walks to raise money for various charities. These are great events and I admire their efforts. But I don't run. I do, however, read. The Year of Readers is a great event that combines reading with raising money for literary charities. The Year of Readers is a sponsored read-a-thon that begins January 1, 2009. Readers choose a literary charity, collect sponsors, and start reading. Books of any genre or type count (including graphic novels and poetry anthologies) but magazines and newspapers do not. Only books read from January 1st to December 31st, 2009 can be counted towards your sponsored read-a-thon. People can sponsor an amount per book or a lump sum amount. The Year of Readers suggests some literary charities, such as First Book, Book Aid International, African Library Project, and many others. But you are not limited to the charities listed on the Year of Readers website. You can pick any charity, as long as it has a link to reading. I will be reading for Room to Read, which was founded by John Wood, author of Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. If you are reading anyway, why not raise some money for a good cause at the same time?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Although I enjoy visiting my family over the holidays, I do not enjoy the 3 hour drive that it takes to get there. I've found that these trips provide the perfect opportunity to get in some uninterrupted time listening to audiobooks. However, since I share the car ride with my husband, who is not a reader, it's always a challenge to select a book that he will enjoy. For this year's Thanksgiving car ride, I selected Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeffry Lindsay. Not only did my husband listen and pay attention to the story, but he asked to keep the audiobook so he could finish it. Success!

On the outside, Dexter is a normal guy who works as a blood splatter expert for the Miami police. But there is a darker side to Dexter. Dexter is also a serial killer. But Dexter does not choose random victims for his crimes. He focuses his efforts on other killers. Using his position in the police to obtain information about suspects, he gets to the killers before the police. In this book, which is the first of a series, a serial killer is stalking the prostitutes of Miami. Dexter is intrigued and impressed with the killer's methods and is determined to solve the crimes. But there is something very familiar about these crimes. Is it possible Dexter is committing these murders himself, unconsciously?

At first I wasn't sure about a story narrated by a serial killer. But while I didn't really like Dexter, I didn't dislike him either. Yes, he is clearly sick, but I found him intriguing. And slightly comical. There are some aspects to the story that are a bit absurd, and the ending is a little weak. But the story is engrossing and I am looking forward to Dexter's next "adventures." Maybe for the Christmas drive?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Best American Travel Writing

The Best American series includes collections of short stories, essays, sports writing, travel writing, science and nature writing and more. I'd never read any of these collections, but when I heard that Anthony Bourdain edited and wrote the introduction for the 2008 collection of The Best American Travel Writing, I figured that would be a good place to start. I'm a sucker for Bourdain and will greedily eat up any little snippet he tosses out. The collection contains 25 essays that appeared during 2007 in publications such as The New Yorker, Travel + Leisure, Outside, National Geographic, and others. As one might expect from Anthony Bourdain, the essays that were chosen to represent the best travel writing are "evocative of the darker side" of travel. Although all of the essays are so well written and fascinating, some of my favorites include: Bill Buford's trip to cacao country in search of Extreme Chocolate; James Campbell's description of his 130-mile trek across the dense, unforgiving jungle of Papua New Guinea in Chasing Ghosts; J. Malcolm Garcia's African Promise, which exposes life in the corrupt and ruined country of Chad; Karl Taro Greenfeld's Hope and Squalor at Chungking Mansion, which describes the 17-story maze of curry stalls, brothels, meth dens, electronics vendors and guest houses that make up this "mansion" that is home to over twenty thousand residents in Hong Kong; Peter Gwin's Dark Passage, which gives a first-hand view of modern-day pirates in Malaysia; and John Lancaster's look at poverty tourism in Mumbai in Next Stop, Squalor. These essays certainly do illuminate the darker side of parts of the world that most of us never hear about and most of us will never see. But it is for this reason that I love travel writing and why these essays are so captivating. Absolutely fantastic reading.

Friday, November 28, 2008

All the latest...

John Updike has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement award for the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards.

The Mystery Writers of America will honor James Lee Burke and Sue Grafton with the 2009 Grand Master Award.

The Costa Book Awards are given each year to writers from the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The awards are given both for high literary merit but also for works that are enjoyable reading and whose aim is to convey the enjoyment of reading to the widest possible audience. As such they are a more populist literary prize than the Booker Prize. The nominees for the 2008 award are:

For fiction novel:
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
The Other Hand by Chris Cleave
A Partisan's Daughter by Louis de Bernieres
Trauma by Patrick McGrath

For first novel:
The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams (published in the U.S. as The Sister)
The Outcast by Sadie Jones
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Inside the Whale by Jennie Rooney

Universal Pictures has reached an agreement with Robert Ludlum's estate that will give the studio exclusive rights to the Jason Bourne character, as well as first dibs on all other Ludlum novels. The next Bourne movie is scheduled for release in Summer 2010. Hopefully starring Matt Damon.

A new novel by Elie Wiesel, called A Mad Desire to Dance, will be published in February. The novel is about a Polish Jew, who looks back on his life after surviving the occupation while his siblings were killed and his parents died in an accident.

Borders recently announced that although sales are still down, they have reduced their debt and operating costs and is no longer on the market.

Borders has also announced the nominees for its 2008 Original Voices Award. The nominees are:
Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler by Thomas Hager
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8 Lee
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner
The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale
We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives Forever by Benjamin Mee

David Ebershoff's novel The Danish Girl, loosely based on the life of Danish painter Einar Wegener who, in 1931, became the first man to undergo a sex-change operation, will be made into a film starring Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron. Filming is set to begin in 2009.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Lion Among Men

After trudging through Gregory Maguire's newest book in his Wicked series, A Lion Among Men, for about a week, I finally decided it wasn't living up to my expectations and I ended up skimming the last half of the book. The story begins many years after the death of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Civil War is brewing in Oz and the Cowardly Lion has been dispatched to track down Liir, Elphaba's son. As a descendant of the Eminent Thropp, Liir has a claim to govern Munchkinland and the Emerald City wants to make sure Liir will not stand in its way. The Lion is also tasked with finding the Grimmerie, an ancient book of magic, last seen in Elphaba's possession. The Lion attempts to interview Yackle, an old oracle who knew the Thropp family, for information that might lead to Liir's (or the Grimmerie's) whereabouts. In Hannibal Lecter fashion, Yackle insists on a quid pro quo arrangement, so the Lion is forced to tell the story of his life.

Maguire infuses the novel with his typical florid language, which at times is clever and at times is overdone. The plot unfolds slowly, as the events are interspersed with the flashbacks of the Lion's life. The majority of the action doesn't even occur until close to the end of the novel, which I found frustrating. But the main problem I had with the novel was the main character. I didn't think the Lion was a very interesting, or even likable, character. His story wasn't very interesting or illuminating, so the flashbacks felt boring and cumbersome. When I read Wicked, I absolutely loved it. I thought it was clever and original, and I found Elphaba to be an interesting, misunderstood, sympathetic character. Maguire captured something special with Wicked. But A Lion Among Men and his last novel, Son of a Witch, were very disappointing. I think the well has run dry here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dewey Readmore Books

The latest pet memoir to hit the bestseller list is Vicki Myron's Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. Unfortunately I only had time to skim this one. Vicki Myron was the director of a small public library in Spencer, Iowa. One very cold winter morning in January of 1988, Vicki came to work and heard a noise coming from the library's overnight book return. When she opened the book return, she discovered a very tiny, very cold kitten. After bathing him and warming him up, Dewey won the hearts of the entire library staff and it was decided that Dewey would stay at the library. Visitors to the library increased as Dewey won over the townspeople as well. This is a sweet story, full of funny tales of Dewey's antics and moving stories of the lives Dewey touched. The book will be made into a movie, with Meryl Streep playing the librarian.

Friday, November 21, 2008

And the winners are...

The winners of the 2008 National Book Awards are:

Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country for fiction
Annette Gordon-Reed's The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family for nonfiction
Mark Doty's Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems for poetry
Judy Blundell's What I Saw and How I Lied for young people's literature

The National Book Awards are among the most eminent literary prizes in the United States and are intended to celebrate the best of American literature. The winners each receive a $10,000 cash prize and a bronze sculpture; finalists each receive $1,000, a medal, and a citation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why a book?

Now that the holiday shopping season is upon us, we all go in search of the perfect gift to give our friends and loved ones. IndieBound has been developing slogans to encourage people to give books as gifts this year. My favorite:

"Why a book? Because a new tie never changed anyone's life."

Are there any books you will be giving as gifts this year? Last year I gave Julie Powell's Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen to several people because I loved it so much. I'm not sure what book(s) I would choose this year....

Monday, November 17, 2008

How Not To Die

If you're of the squeamish-type, you're probably not familiar with the Discovery Channel show Dr. G: Medical Examiner. The show features Dr. Jan Garavaglia, who is the chief medical examiner for the District Nine Medical Examiner's Office in Florida. On the show, Dr. G presides over numerous autopsies, using forensic science and technology to determine causes of death. I find this show fascinating. I think it's amazing how much you can learn about a person just by looking inside their body. Like all other TV personalities, Dr. G has jumped on the bandwagon and recently published her book, How Not To Die: Surprising Lessons on Living Longer, Safer and Healthier. She takes what she has learned from conducting autopsies to develop what she thinks are the most important things we can do to live healthier and longer lives. But if you've been paying any kind of attention to current health information, or ever read any of Dr. Roizen's books (You: The Owner's Manual), or have any common sense at all, most of the tips she provides won't be new to you. Mainly: don't drink, smoke, or use drugs, don't be fat, drive safely, use good hygiene, get regular exams, take a more active role in your health care and treatment, and reduce stress. Like I said, nothing earth-shattering here. But I did learn two useful things: 1. If you are in a car crash, it's better to have the window either all the way up or all the way down, but a window half open can be a bad thing. I don't think she really explains why, but I'll take that into advisement. (I have seen a new commercial for a car that is smart enough to know an impact is about to occur and will roll the windows up, so she must be on to something.) 2. Be careful of your doctor's tie. They frequently come into contact with a lot of germs and are rarely washed, so ties can harbor a lot of germs. I never thought about that. Fortunately, my doctor is a woman and my dentist wears scrubs, but it's a good thing to keep in mind. What I liked best about the book were the descriptions of various autopsies Dr. G has conducted and how she was able to determine the cause of death. For instance, she can usually tell a heart-attack victim from the way their stomach looks. Most people mistake a heart-attack for heartburn and will therefore take a bunch of Pepto, so when she performs the autopsy, the stomach is usually coated in pink. If you're interested in learning about the human body, this book has some interesting medical cases, but if you're expecting new secrets for living longer, you'll be disappointed.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Harry Meets Mickey

Defense attorney Mickey Haller returns in Michael Connelly's latest mystery, The Brass Verdict. Mickey has taken some time off from practicing the law after being shot by one of his clients in The Lincoln Lawyer. He is just thinking about getting back into the game when his attorney-friend is murdered and leaves his practice to Mickey. Suddenly Mickey has his hands full defending a high profile client on trial for murder and assisting in the investigation of his predecessor's death. And who should be running the investigation of the murdered attorney? Harry Bosch, the maverick detective of Connelly's best-selling series. Mickey and Harry develop a love-hate relationship while they try to work together to catch the killer.

A reviewer for the Chicago Tribune gave this novel a mixed review, which I disagree with. She says she found herself bored and felt the writing was uneven. But I thought Connelly's writing was excellent. The sharp writing and the fast-paced plot keep the momentum going. I love the character Mickey Haller. I enjoyed The Lincoln Lawyer and was thrilled to see him back again. He's intelligent, clever and although he has flaws, he knows it and is determined to overcome them. He even manages to make defending the bad guys seem noble. The reviewer at the Trib does say that even "on his worst day, Connelly is better than the majority of crime writers on their best." Absolutely. I think Connelly is one of the best writers of his genre, and The Brass Verdict is no exception.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

All the latest...

New out this month from Oxford University Press is Jeremy Butterfield's Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare, which provides a wealth of fascinating facts about the English language, such as: Where does our vocabulary come from? How do word meanings change? How is our language really being used? The book also includes Oxford researchers' top 10 most annoying phrases: 1. At the end of the day, 2. Fairly unique, 3. I personally, 4. At this moment in time, 5. With all due respect, 6. Absolutely, 7. It's a nightmare, 8. Shouldn't of, 9. 24/7, 10. It's not rocket science.

Memoirs about life with animals continue to be sure hits. Consider Marley & Me, Merle's Door, The Good Good Pig, and the latest, Dewey: The Small-town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron. So what could top that? A memoir by an animal. The 75-year-old chimpanzee who starred in several Tarzan movies and the 1967 version of Dr. Dolittle will release his autobiography in February, titled Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood.

Several awards were recently announced. The Dylan Thomas Prize, which recognizes the best young writer in the English-speaking world, went to Nam Le for his short story collection, The Boat. The Giller Prize, which is an award that goes to the author of a Canadian novel or short story fiction collection published in English, went to Joseph Boyden for his novel Through Black Spruce. The Whiting Writers’ Award is an American award presented annually to ten emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and plays. The 2008 winners are: Mischa Berlinski (fiction),
Rick Hilles (poetry), Donovan Hohn (nonfiction), Douglas Kearney (poetry), Laleh Khadivi (fiction), Manuel Muñoz (fiction), Dael Orlandersmith (plays), Benjamin Percy (fiction), Julie Sheehan (poetry), and Lysley Tenorio (fiction). The longlist for the 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award was recently announced. You can check out the list of 147 contenders here.

The last time I checked, we still have a month and a half left of 2008, but Amazon has already released its list of the Best Books of 2008. I was surprised Toni Morrison's A Mercy, which was just released, didn't make the list.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Curse of the Spellmans

Isabelle Spellman is back in her second adventure as a PI for her family's detective agency, in Lisa Lutz's The Curse of the Spellmans. The wacky antics of Isabelle and her family lead to many humorous, madcap adventures. Isabelle's suspicious nature leads her to take an obsessive interest in her family's new neighbor. Certain he is up to something, Isabelle's investigation lands her in jail more than once. Isabelle is also assigned to investigate a copycat vandal who has been attacking the same holiday lawn tableaux that Isabelle "altered" many years ago. Meanwhile, Isabelle's younger sister Rae has caught the attention of Social Services due to her friendship with a middle-aged police detective. Mrs. Spellman, unconcerned with the relationship, has taken to recording their conversations as evidence. Although this is a mystery series, the actual mystery is not the main appeal of the book. The quirky characters, their relationships with each other, and the trouble they get into are quite humorous and entertaining. This is a fun, quick read, that is sure to please fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. Start with the first book, The Spellman Files. The third book in the series, Revenge of the Spellmans, will be released in March.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Caravaggio's Angel

I love a good art mystery, so when Ruth Brandon's Caravaggio's Angel came across my desk last month, I snatched it up. Dr. Reggie Lee is a curator for the National Gallery in London and is planning an exhibition featuring Caravaggio's three paintings of St. Cecilia and the Angel. One of the renditions hangs in the Louvre, one in the Getty, and one is owned by a private collector. When Reggie approaches the Louvre to request a loan, she is initially approved, but later the approval is rescinded and the head of the Italian painting collection is found to have committed suicide. When Reggie tracks down the private owner of the other copy, it turns out to be the mother of France's Interior Minister. The Minister is determined to stop Reggie from exhibiting the paintings, and Reggie believes something shady is going on. Her investigation leads to more deaths and a mysterious fourth painting. As mysteries go, this one was disappointing. I didn't think the characters were very well-developed. The back stories of the key players in the mystery were somewhat confusing and I couldn't keep everyone straight. The questions surrounding the authenticity of the paintings aren't completely resolved, and the mystery was a little weak. Also, I was under the impression that St. Cecilia and the Angel was an actual painting done by Caravaggio, but the only painting I could find by that title was done by Carlo Saraceni. The angel pictured on the cover of the book is actually taken from Caravaggio's painting of the Angel and St. Matthew, which leads me to believe that this is a fictional work of art, which I find disappointing. I find it more compelling if it's based on an actual work. Unfortunately, not a must read.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Michael Crichton

Best-selling author Michael Crichton died yesterday at the age of 66 after an on-going battle with cancer. Crichton is known for his edge-of-your-seat scientific thrillers that imagine the disastrous consequences of advancing technologies, including cloning, genetics, nano and biotechnology. Although I loved his fiction, one of my favorite Crichton books is his memoir, Travels, in which he chronicles his travels (duh), as well as his exploration of different faiths and superstitions. I read it during college, and for whatever reason, it spoke to me at that time. A new novel was tentatively scheduled for release next month, but HarperCollins has postponed the publication indefinitely at this time. Let's hope we will have one last adventure from this great storyteller.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Author Visits!

Some great author events in the area this month:

On November 6th at 12:30 pm at the Chicago Borders bookstore on State Street, Roger Ebert will be signing his new book Scorsese.

On November 8th at 2:00 pm at the Bookstall in Winnetka, Kim Wilson, Wisconsin writer and garden enthusiast, signs In the Garden with Jane Austen, bringing Jane Austen’s gardens—real and fictional—to life, with excerpts from her novels and letters and tips for creating English gardens.

On November 11th at 12:00 pm at the Barnes and Noble at Old Orchard, Ina Garten will be signing her new book Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: How to Get Great Flavor From Simple Ingredients.

Also on November 11th at 12:30 pm at the Chicago Borders bookstore on State Street, Gregory Maguire will be signing his new book A Lion Among Men. Maguire is the bestselling author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, as well as Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Lost, and Mirror Mirror.

On November 12th at 7:30 pm at the Oak Brook Borders bookstore, Jeffrey Deaver will sign his latest novel, The Bodies Left Behind.

Also on November 12th at 7:00 pm at the Chicago Borders on Clark Street, Christopher Kimball of America's Test Kitchen will be talking about the newest books, The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book and The Cook's Country Cookbook.

On November 17th at 12:00 pm at the Bookstall in Winnetka, Ted Turner speaks about his memoir, Call Me Ted, the story of his amazing life as businessman, television revolutionary, sailor, Major League baseball owner, and private person.

Monday, November 3, 2008

One Fifth Avenue

One might think upon first looking at the cover of Candace Bushnell's latest novel, One Fifth Avenue, that it's going to be a fun, Sex and the City-ish story of stylish young women living in a New York apartment building. Not so much. The story is centered around the lives of the residents of One Fifth Avenue, which is the place to live in Manhattan. The building is occupied by an aging gossip columnist, a movie star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author and his gold-digging young girlfriend, a struggling novelist and his embittered wife and tech-savvy son, a hedge-fund manager and his wife, and an aging socialite wannabe (who doesn't actually live in the building, but spends a lot of time with the residents). Their lives are filled with affairs, betrayals, gossip and an obsession with the pursuit of wealth and status. I am still conflicted over how I feel about this book. On one hand, I absolutely hated every single character. There was not one character with any redeeming qualities. Most of their problems were of their own making, and I have a hard time empathizing with millionaires. But, on the other hand, I couldn't quit reading. I wanted to. I really wanted to just put the book down, but every time I thought about not finishing, I couldn't. I had to know how everything turned out. Maybe it was the train-wreck factor that kept me going. In any case, don't expect a funny, light-hearted story about romance and shoe-obsessed socialites. The tone is much darker, the story is much more serious and the characters' lives are not as fabulous as the cover would lead you to believe.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

All the latest...

Probably the biggest news this week is the death of Tony Hillerman. Hillerman died on October 26th at the age of 83. He was best known for his Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels.

The film version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, starring Viggo Mortensen, set to be released in theaters next month, has been pushed back to next year. Apparently the film is not ready for release.

Amazon's Kindle has received the coveted Oprah endorsement. On her show last week, Oprah announced that the Kindle is her "new favorite thing" and handed out Kindles to all her audience members. She is also offering a $50 coupon toward a Kindle purchase on her website. Amazon is also selling the Kindle version of Oprah's latest book club pick, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, for a 10% discount.

I'm happy to report that Kate Summerscale, author of the Samuel Johnson Prize-winning book, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, has signed a deal for her next book, The Lust of Mrs. Robinson. The book is said to incorporate marriage, divorce, diaries and sex in Victorian England. Can't wait.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hot, Flat and Crowded

Thomas Friedman's latest book, Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America is a continuation of his last book, The World is Flat. This book explores how the rise of the middle classes throughout the world (flat) has led to rapid population growth (crowded) and an increased demand for energy, food, and natural resources (hot). A world that is hot, flat and crowded causes a growing demand for energy, climate change, rapidly accelerating biodiversity loss, and a transfer of wealth to oil rich countries. My favorite blogger, the Citizen Reader, recently mentioned her distaste for Friedman, calling him a tool. I usually agree with her tastes in reading, but on Friedman we disagree. I like Friedman's writing style and I enjoy reading his opinion pieces in the New York Times. But, she is right that he basically takes a hot topic, adds his own two cents and produces an instant best-seller. Not much of what he says in this book is new information. If you've been paying attention to the state of the world, you have heard it all before. But, I like his spin on the topic, and his books make you think. The only complaint I really have with Friedman is the length of his books. His articles in the NY Times are just right-long enough to pique my interest, but not too long that I end up getting bored. But I found that there was just too much information to digest in Hot, Flat and Crowded and The World is Flat. Did he really need 400 pages to say what he needed to say?

Friday, October 24, 2008

And you thought your sister was bad...

If you enjoyed Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, Poppy Adams' The Sister is quite similar. The story has that dark, creepy, gothic feel that deserves to be read in front of a fire on a dreary, rainy day.

Ginny is awaiting the arrival of her sister Vivi, who is returning to their family home in Dorset for the first time in 50 years. Ginny, an eccentric recluse, has been living alone in the family home for years, continuing her family's study of moths. Vivi's return dredges up Ginny's memories of the past, and we learn about Ginny and Vivi's relationship and the circumstances surrounding Vivi's absence. When Vivi's version of past events conflict with Ginny's, Ginny is unable to reconcile herself with this new reality, which has terrible consequences for the two sisters.

The ominous tone and the crumbling mansion make for a great setting, but the story is quite intriguing as well. As Ginny narrates the story, you get the feeling that something is just not right, but you can't put your finger on it. Even at the end, you will still be trying to make sense of everything and there are some questions that are left up to the reader to answer. The story raises a lot of interesting questions, that I think would make for a good book discussion, as well.

P.S. The audiobook is narrated by Juliet Mills, who, I think, has the perfect voice for Ginny.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Corduroy Mansions

A few weeks ago I mentioned that Alexander McCall Smith is posting a new novel online at the Telegraph. A new chapter is updated daily. I hope you are able to take some time to read it, because I am finding it very enjoyable. Corduroy Mansions is a large house in London that has been broken up into apartments and is inhabited by a number of interesting and quirky characters. William French is a wine dealer who lives in the top flat of Corduroy Mansions and is struggling with his son Eddie's reluctance to move out on his own. William has decided to get a dog. Eddie hates dogs, so William hopes this will be enough to drive Eddie out. William's new dog is Freddie de la Hay, a vegetarian Pimlico terrier. Jenny, Caroline, Dee and Jo all share a flat in Corduroy Mansions. Jenny is an assistant to a politician, Oedipus Snark, who she hates, but keeps her job because he allows her to work flex time. Caroline is an art student, whose photograph appeared in Rural Living. We don't know much about Dee and Jo, yet, but I'm having a wonderful time getting to know these characters. Corduroy Mansions is quite similar in style to McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series, which I absolutely love. The plot is not the main appeal here. The characters are what make this book a delight to read. Although they are ordinary people, living ordinary lives, the characters are well-developed, intelligent and humorous. And although the novel is set in London, McCall Smith creates the feeling of a small-scale setting, making it seem quite cozy. Unfortunately, you can't curl up with a computer (at least not comfortably) because this would be a nice novel to curl up with a cup of tea.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Gathering

Of the shortlisted titles for last year's Booker Prize, I read two of the titles and disliked them both, so when I had to read The Gathering by Anne Enright (which won the Prize) for a book discussion, I was not looking forward to it. I expected that I would not like this one either. And I didn't. At first. It's really hard to describe what this book is about. On a very basic level, the book is about a large Irish family of 12 children. When one of the siblings, Liam, commits suicide, his sister Veronica must handle the arrangements for his funeral. The story is narrated by Veronica, who is struggling to remember and make sense of events that happened when she and Liam were children, which she believes were the catalyst for his subsequent alcoholism and suicide. Plotwise, nothing much really happens. But the language is absolutely amazing. Enright crafts beautiful sentences. Much of the book is about memories-trying to remember events, or imagine what might have happened, and making sense of memories. Veronica has difficulty remembering her sister's face as a child, and she says we don't "remember our family in any real sense. We live in them," which I thought was beautiful. Veronica's struggle with her memories, her brother's death and her current difficulties with her husband make her a very complex character, and although the plot is quite slow, there is much to think about when reading this novel. I'm definitely glad I read this, and think it probably deserves a second reading.

Monday, October 20, 2008

All the latest...

Lots of award winners and award nominations have been announced recently.

The Booker Prize winner was recently announced. The winner was Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger. "Born in a village in heartland India, the son of a rickshaw puller, Balram is taken out of school by his family and put to work in a teashop. As he crushes coals and wipes tables, he nurses a dream of escape- of breaking away from the banks of Mother Ganga, into whose depths have seeped the remains of a hundred generations. The White Tiger is a tale of two Indias. Balram’s journey from darkness of village life to the light of entrepreneurial success is utterly amoral, brilliantly irreverent, deeply endearing and altogether unforgettable."

The National Book Award nominees were also recently announced. The nominees for fiction are:
Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project, Rachel Kushner's Telex from Cuba, Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country, Marilynne Robinson's Home, and Salvatore Scibona's The End.

Larry Doyle's I Love You Beth Cooper was announced as the winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor.

The Nobel Prize for Literature went to French novelist Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio.

The Bouchercon World Mystery Convention is held annually and hosts the awards ceremonies for several mystery and thriller awards. Laura Lippman and Tana French were popular.

The Anthony Award is a fan-based award voted on by those attending the conference. The winners of the Anthony Awards are: What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman for Best Mystery Novel, In the Woods by Tana French for Best First Mystery, A Thousand Bones by P.J. Parrish for Best Paperback Original, Hardly Knew Her by Laura Lippman for Best Short Story, and Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower & Charles Foley Penguin for Critical Work.

The Shamus Award is given by the Private Eye Writers of America to recognize the private eye genre. The winners are: Soul Patch by Reed Farrell Coleman for Best P.I. Novel, Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas for Best P.I. Paperback Original, Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover for Best P.I. First Novel, Hungry Enough by Cornelia Read for Best P.I. Short Story and the Eye Award for lifetime achievement to Joe Gores.

The Macavity Awards are for the best mystery novels. The winners are: Tana French's In The Woods for Best First Mystery, Please Watch Your Step by Rhys Bowen for Best Mystery Short Story, The Essential Mystery Lists: For Readers, Collectors, and Librarians edited and compiled by Roger Sobin for Best Mystery Non-Fiction, and the Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery to Ariana Franklin for Mistress of the Art of Death.

The Barry Awards are voted on by readers of Deadly Pleasures and Mystery News magazines. The winners are: What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman for Best Novel, In the Woods by Tana French for Best First Novel, Damnation Falls by Edward Wright for Best British Crime Novel, The Watchman: A Joe Pike Novel by Robert Crais for Best Thriller, Queenpin: A Novel by Megan Abbott for Best Paperback Original, and "The Problem of the Summer Snowman" by Edward D. Hoch for Best Short Story.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Disappointment in Marrakech

I honestly can't remember why I picked up Lulu in Marrakech by Diane Johnson. It could be because of the setting. Or it could be because the cover is pretty and shiny. I'm easily distracted by shiny things. But this just goes to show that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. The pretense is that Lulu, on assignment for the CIA, takes up residence in Marrakech to investigate the flow of money from Europe and America to Islamic terrorist groups via Moroccan banking. When I see the words CIA and terrorist group in the description, I'm expecting a quickly paced story. But at 60+ pages into this story, nothing much of interest has happened, so that's about where I gave up. To be fair, the slower pace was not the main reason why I was not enjoying the book. The main thing that grated on my nerves was the language used by Lulu. The story is set in the present and Lulu is supposed to be a single American woman in her thirties. Yet some of the things she says just don't sound natural to me. She refers to her boyfriend several times as her "lover." First: I hate that word. It's so cheesy. That word should be saved for trashy romance novels. Second: Who actually talks like that? I have never heard any of my thirty-something friends use that word (or anyone else, for that matter). Who says "I'm going to visit my lover" or "Mom, I'm moving in with my lover"? No one, that's who. Lulu also says "we rose from the table to take a turn around the gardens." Is she channeling Elizabeth Bennett? If Lulu was British, I could maybe let that go, but has anyone ever heard a young American woman use that phrase? Yes, these are little things, but it was enough to put me off Lulu. Johnson is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a three-time finalist for the National Book Award, so clearly she must know a thing or two about writing. I think I was just expecting a different kind of story. I was expecting a fast-paced girl-spy book and that's not what I got. I'm sure the story is perfectly good for the type of novel it is, but I'll leave that up to someone else.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Lace Reader

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry has been one of the most talked about books this summer. Barry originally self-published the novel, but when word got out about its popularity, three major publishers put in bids for the book. Barry eventually signed with HarperCollins and the book was re-released this summer.

Towner Whitney is descended from a long line of "lace readers," meaning they can read the future in a pattern of lace. But a tragedy in her past has caused Towner to reject her abilities and she has not been back to her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts for 15 years. When Towner's great-aunt Eva goes missing, Towner reluctantly returns to Salem. When Eva's body is found in the water, questions of foul-play are raised. Admist dealing with her aunt's death, Towner is confronted by her memories (or lack thereof) of the past, her strained relationship with her mother and the presence of a psychotic religious cult leader with links to her past. A lot goes on in this novel, and sometimes it is hard to work out what is true and what isn't, but the story is intriguing and will keep readers guessing until the end. A review in the Washington Post mentions that this book is the first in a planned trilogy, and I am looking forward to revisiting these characters and Salem, again.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Guernsey Sweet Potato Pie Book?

Yes, the title of the book is a little hard to keep straight, but Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows' The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a true gem. The book begins just after the end of WWII. Guernsey is an island in the English Channel, which was occupied by German forces during WWII. Juliet Ashton is a writer, living in London, trying to come up with her next novel. She receives a letter from a man in Guernsey, Dawsey Adams, who found her name and address in a book he purchased from a used book store. Juliet begins corresponding with Dawsey, eager to hear about life on Guernsey during the war and the literary society he belongs to. Soon, Juliet also begins corresponding with other members of the literary society, which sparks an idea for her next book. The book, told in the form of the letters sent between the characters, is a wonderful read. The characters are charming and quirky, and their letters provide an entertaining look at life on this quaint island. Juliet is a smart, funny, spunky young woman and her letters are the most fun to read. When describing her new flat in London (her old flat having been bombed during the war), she says:

"I know that I am fortunate to have any place at all to live in London, but I much prefer whining to counting my blessings."

Barnes and Noble recently chose this book for this B&N Recommends and I can see why. This is one of the most satisfying, enjoyable books I have read in a long time. Don't miss it!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Eye of Jade

I love books set in China and books with a female main character, which is just what Diane Wei Liang's mystery novel The Eye of Jade includes. The story is set in present day Beijing and Mei Wang is a single woman who runs her own private investigation business. Mei's uncle comes to her for help in finding a valuable Han dynasty jade, which he believes was looted from the Beijing Museum during the Cultural Revolution and is now being sold on the black market. Sounds interesting, right? Well, it's not nearly as good as I had hoped. The mystery of the jade does not come up until well into the book. The beginning is mainly comprised of Mei's background-how she got to be in business for herself and her strained relationships with her mother and her sister. When the mystery of the jade does finally come up, it is slow going at first and never really gains much momentum. What I enjoyed was the description of life in Beijing and life in a Communist country: the struggles to achieve success and wealth, the difficulties when one doesn't conform, Mei's choice to remain single and run her own business, and the obstacles she faces. The story of Mei's past in a labor camp and the subsequent effect it has on her relationship with her mother is also a very interesting part of the story and would have made a good story on its own.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Author Visits!

Some great author visits in this area during the month of October:

Tonight, October 8th at 7:30 at the Barnes & Noble at Old Orchard in Skokie will be Jon Katz. Katz is well known for his memoirs that chronicle his life with his dogs. He will be signing his latest book, Izzy and Lenore: Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey, and Me.

On October 13th at 7pm romance writers Julia Quinn and Laura Guhrke will be at the Warren Newport Public Library in Gurnee.

The Warren Newport Public Library in Gurnee will be having another great author event on Saturday, October 18th at 1pm. The library will be holding their second Cozy Library Extravaganza, which features several authors who write "cozy" mysteries. Libby Fischer Hellmann, Robert Dalby, Denise Swanson, Cordelia Biddle, Helen Osterman, Deb Baker, Charles Dickinson, Julie Hyzy, and my favorite, Lauren Willig, are all scheduled to appear. I attended this event last year and it was great fun! The authors will each talk about their writing and answer questions. Books will be available for purchase and the authors will be signing.

On October 24th at 7pm at the Borders on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, John Grogan (author of Marley and Me) will be talking about his latest book, The Longest Trip Home.

On October 27th at 11:30 am at the Bookstall in Winnetka, Robert Baer will be discussing his latest book, The Devil We Know: Dealing With the New Iranian Superpower.

Also at the Bookstall on October 30th at 4pm, Martha Stewart will be appearing to promote her latest book, Martha Stewart's Cooking School. Tickets are required, please call for information.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Monster of Florence

Douglas Preston's latest book, The Monster of Florence, is not his typical fiction thriller. Preston tries his hand at nonfiction, with this true account of a serial killer who preyed on couples at lovers' lanes outside of Florence from 1974 to 1985. Preston moved to Italy in 2000, where he met Italian investigative journalist, Mario Spezi. Preston learns from Spezi that the property he purchased is the site of one of the killings of the Monster of Florence. Unfamiliar with the story, Preston pressed Spezi for details. Spezi, who has been investigating the Monster from the beginning, has seen the bodies of the murdered couples and seen numerous men arrested and released, but the crimes have never been solved. Preston and Spezi begin their own investigation together and eventually identify and interview a man they believe to be the killer. In a strange twist, the Italian prosecutors get bent out of shape with Preston and Spezi's investigation and charge the two with obstruction and jail Spezi, accusing him of being the Monster.

Preston's ability to craft a great thriller has helped him create a nonfiction book that reads like a fiction thriller. The story is captivating and pulls you in from the very beginning. Spezi's familiarity with the case provides great detail and insight into the crimes and the lives of the people who have been affected by these murders (both family members of the victims and the men who were publicly accused of the crimes). The strong setting and detailed "characters" remind me of John Berendt's excellent book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. A very satisfying read for fans of narrative nonfiction and true crime. Tom Cruise has purchased the movie rights, which he will produce and possibly star.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hemingway in Key West

For a librarian, a vacation to Key West would not be complete without a visit to Ernest Hemingway's home. Hemingway lived in Key West in the 1930s with his wife Pauline. During his time there, he worked on Death in the Afternoon, Green Hills of Africa, To Have and Have Not, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to do a little Hemingway reading. I've had Green Hills of Africa sitting on my bookshelf for several years, so I thought it would make perfect sense to read it in the place where it was written. I really don't remember what prompted me to buy this particular book; probably just because it was written by Hemingway. Green Hills of Africa is based on the month Hemingway spent on safari in Africa. Hunting animals. I must not have known the subject of the book, because I can't imagine that I would have ever been interested in reading about hunting. So I kind of skimmed over the hunting parts. When he wasn't hunting, Heminway spent much time reflecting on and discussing writing and other authors. He identifies Henry James, Stephen Crane and Mark Twain as the good writers, and believes that all modern American literature comes from Huckleberry Finn. He also has some thoughts on why there are so many bad writers:

"We destroy [authors] in many ways. First, economically. They make money. It is only by hazard that a writer makes money although good books always make money eventually. Then our writers when they have made some money increase their standard of living and they are caught. They have to write to keep up their establishments, their wives, and so on, and they write slop. It is not slop on purpose but because it is hurried. Because they write when there is nothing to say or no water in the well. Because they are ambitious. Then, once they have betrayed themselves, they justify it and you get more slop."

This certainly was not one of my favorites of Hemingway's works, but I like that part. I wonder if he considered himself to be one of these writers who fall into this trap.

One of the best parts of visiting the house is the abundance of cats roaming around. Hemingway had a six-toed cat named Snowball, and today there are 49 of Snowball's descendants living on the property (not all have six toes). There have been some arguements over whether the cats should be allowed to stay, and I just read that the cats won and will get to stay. Yay! Below, for your enjoyment, are a few pictures of the cats.

(The first two pictures were taken by me. The third was taken by Rob O'Neal for the Florida Keys News Bureau and appears in the attached article. It was too good to leave out.)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Are You There Chelsea?

I checked out Chelsea Handler's new book Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea with the intention of taking it on vacation. I thought it would be a good distraction to read on the plane. I started reading it two days before I left, couldn't put it down and finished it before my vacation. For those of you who aren't familiar with Chelsea, she is a comedian with a late-night show on E called Chelsea Lately and is also the author of My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands. In her latest book, she includes stories about her childhood, her family, and her experiences dating a red-head, dog-sitting and going to prison. Chelsea is foul-mouthed and quite raunchy, but the stories are so funny, I could not stop laughing. A few snorts may have even slipped out. This would have been a great beach read, if only I could have waited.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What did I miss?

My apologies for the lack of posts, but I was living it up in Key West. I managed to get some reading in during my busy schedule of relaxing, so I will have a few new reviews coming up. The first stop on my trip was the Ernest Hemingway house, so stay tuned for some thoughts on Hemingway, pictures of his house, and of course, the six-toed cats!

While I was away, the big financial crisis hit, and unless you've been living in a cave, you've surely been hearing about it too. Shelf Awareness compiled a list of books to help consumers understand how things could get so bad and how the mess might be cleaned up. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein, The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means by George Soros, and Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism by Kevin Phillips are just a few on the list. You can see the entire list here.

Another American is in danger of loosing his home. The home that Mark Twain built in 1874 in Hartford, Connecticut may soon be forced to close due to lack of money. Donations can be made to the home's website.

I've written a few posts about the controversy surrounding the publication of Sherry Jones' historical fiction novel, The Jewel of Medina. Over the weekend, "a group of three Islamic extremists put a firebomb in the North London home of Gibson Square publisher Martin Rynja. The police believe Rynja was under attack for his company's decision to publish Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina." Rynja has suspended publication of the novel "while he reflects and takes advice on what the best foot forward is." Plans for the American publication by Beaufort Books remain in place.

Banned Books Week began on September 27th and runs through October 4th. I've put together a short quiz about banned books, which is available in the library. Participants will be included in a drawing for a fabulous prize! The Haphazard Gourmet has created a series of recipes inspired by banned books. Their first recipe is the Ambushed Trifle, inspired by Joyce's Ulysses. Lots of fun.

Frankfort Public Library is doing away with the Dewey Decimal system in their library. I would be interested in seeing what they've come up with instead. I love Barnes & Noble, but every time I go in there, I always wonder how anyone is ever able to find anything. I see no rhyme or reason to their organization of nonfiction materials, and always find myself wishing for Dewey numbers.

The MacArthur "Genius" grants were recently announced. Of the 25 recipients, two are writers. Alex Ross, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Rest is Noise and novelist Chimamanda Adichie, will each receive $500,000 in "no strings attached" support over the next five years.

Forbes has released a list of the 10 highest paid novelists from June 2007 through June 2008. I'll give you 1 guess to name the top paid....J.K. Rowling, of course. Followed by James Patterson, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, Dean Koontz and Ken Follett.

Alexander McCall Smith is writing his first ever online novel, Corduroy Mansions, exclusively for the Telegraph. A new chapter will appear each weekday for the next 20 weeks. Corduroy Mansions is an unassuming large house in London's Pimlico, inhabited by an assortment of characters and one dog. You can receive each chapter by email or feed. You can also download an audio version as well.

John Banville has published the first chapter of his new novel, The Sinking City, in the Manchester Review.