Thursday, January 31, 2008

White Ghost Girls

This month the library's evening book discussion group read White Ghost Girls by Alice Greenway. The story takes place in Hong Kong during the summer of 1967. Two young American sisters, Frankie and Kate, are living in Hong Kong while their father is photographing the Vietnam War. Ignored by their mother, who is more concerned with creating an illusion of serenity, the girls spend the summer swimming and exploring. On a trip to the marketplace, the girls escape the watchful eye of their amah and are involved in an incident that changes their lives and their relationship with each other. Frankie becomes more and more reckless and her desperation to win her father's attention leads to a tragic event.

Greenway creates an exotic setting with lush descriptions of Hong Kong. Frankie and Kate are well-developed characters and their relationship with each other, as well as with their parents provide much to discuss. This was a great read and made for a great discussion!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Book Buzz

Margaret Truman, author of a popular mystery series set in Washington D.C., passed away yesterday in Chicago at the age of 83.

Oprah has selected her next book club pick, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. Tolle is the author of The Power of Now, another favorite of Oprah's.

It's been almost five years since Dan Brown published The DaVinci Code, and the book industry is desperately waiting for the publication of his next thriller. Brown announced that the new book will be about Freemasonry and the Founding Fathers, and is tentatively titled The Solomon Key, but he is keeping mum on a release date. His publisher says "Dan Brown has a very specific release date for the publication of his new book, and when the book is published, his readers will see why."

Edgar Award Nominees

The nominees for the 2008 Edgar awards from the Mystery Writers of America are:

Best Novel
Christine Falls by Benjamin Black
Priest by Ken Bruen
The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
Soul Patch by Reed Farrel Coleman
Down River by John Hart

Best First Novel by an American Author
Missing Witness by Gordon Campbell
In the Woods by Tana French
Snitch Jacket by Christopher Goffard
Head Games by Craig McDonald
Pyres by Derek Nikitas

Best Original Paperback
Queenpin by Megan Abbott
Blood of Paradise by David Corbett
Cruel Poetry by Vicki Hendricks
Robbie's Wife by Russell Hill
Who is Conrad Hirst? by Kevin Wignall

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Follett to appear on Oprah

For those of you who read along with Oprah, Ken Follett will be appearing on her show tomorrow to discuss his book Pillars of the Earth, Oprah's most recent book club pick. He will appear after a segment with a jump-roping dog and a man who blows record-breaking bubbles. Seriously.

Girls of Riyadh

Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea tells the story of four young women, Sadeem, Gamrah, Lamees and Mashael, who live in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. The girls are from the wealthy class and are well educated. Each girl is hoping to find love, while navigating strict social rules and customs. I actually had no intention of reading this book, but when I found out my favorite narrator, Kate Reading narrated the book, I decided to give it a shot. Some of the writing and dialogue seems odd, but that may just be the translation (the book was originally published in Arabic). I liked each woman's story and hearing about the Saudi culture, but I had hoped for more growth from the characters. By the end I wanted to shake these women and tell them to stand up for themselves! Forget those men! I had hoped to see them begin to question and challenge the suffocating rules they are forced to live under. But their lives continue in pretty much the same way, which left me a little sad.

Not surprisingly, when the book was originally released in Arabic in 2005, it was banned in Saudi Arabia (the author's home), although it became a bestseller in the Middle East. In the author's note, she says that she hopes readers will realize Saudi Arabia "is a very conservative Islamic society. The women there do live under male dominance. But they are full of hopes and plans and determination and dreams."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Geraldine Brooks on People of the Book

Terry, one of our fantastic readers' advisers, recently attended a talk by Geraldine Brooks on her latest novel, People of the Book. Here's what she had to say:

How lucky can you be to hear one of your favorite authors discuss her most recent novel!!! Geraldine Brooks, an Aussie, former reporter, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and author of People of the Book, talked of her circuitous route which led her to hear of and finally write a novel about the famed Sarajevo Haggadah. This illuminated codex was probably scribed in 15th century Spain and made its way to Sarajevo, surviving inquisitions and wars. Brooks finds her voice through an Australian book conserver, Hannah Heath, who examines the Haggadah and finds stains in the text, artifacts in the binding, and the absence of a clasp on the book. Brooks weaves these into stories and takes us on the journey of the Haggadah traveling from Spain to Sarajevo. This was a great read and like all Brooks' fiction, beautifully written. Can't wait for Brooks' next novel which will be about the first Native American who graduated from Harvard in... Guess the date.... Nope, it was 1666.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Reading Resolution #1

So, one of my reading resolutions was to read a James Patterson book. I realized that I have taken somewhat of a haughty attitude toward his work. But, I figured there must be something to his books, since they seem pretty popular with the masses and I thought I had better actually read one before passing judgment. A reader suggested that I start with any of his Alex Cross books, but having seen the movie version of Kiss the Girls, I was afraid they might be a little creepy for me. I decided to start with 1st to Die, the first in the women's murder club series. A serial killer begins killing newlyweds on their honeymoon and detective Lindsay Boxer enlists the help of her friends, a reporter, a district attorney and a medical examiner, to help her solve the crime. I'll admit that it wasn't bad. The story was fast-paced and kept my attention. The mystery was interesting and kept me guessing who the killer was. Although the idea of a group of women solving crime was appealing to me, I had a hard time finding it plausible that a police detective would enlist the help of friends to solve a crime. The only person I could see her getting help from would be the medical examiner. But, quite a few mysteries feature very implausible crime solvers, such as the chef-turned-detective, so I can't fault it too much for that. All in all, an entertaining read, but I don't feel compelled to follow these characters.

Ishmael Beah's Memoir Challenged

Ishmael Beah's bestselling memoir, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, tells of his childhood in Sierra Leone during its civil war. As a young boy, he is displaced from his home, forced to walk through the desert and jungle, and is finally captured and forced into the army. If you haven't read it, you should check it out. Amazing story.

Recently, the Australian ran an article challenging Beah's story, citing a discrepancy in the dates of events. In the memoir, Beah claims that in 1993, when he was 12 years old, rebels attacked his village. When he was 13, he was captured and forced to fight in the army. The Australian says that an "investigation" into Beah's story revealed that the events Beah described did not actually occur until 1995, and he was only soldier for a few months, rather than the 2 years Beah claims. Beah is standing by his story and the dates of events. The Australian does concede that the supposed inaccuracies are probably a result of Beah's memory being impaired by trauma, drugs and extreme youth.

While I agree it may be possible that the trauma of the events may have affected his memory, let's look at the big picture here people. So maybe he has some dates wrong. What does that change? Is what happened to him any less horrific because he was 15 instead of 13? Is it not so bad because he was only forced to kill people for a few months, rather than a few years? I didn't think so.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New novel from Rushdie

Salman Rushdie will be releasing a new novel this June entitled Enchantress of Florence, which will be an historical novel set in....Renaissance Florence. I will add this to my list of Rushdie novels I keep saying I'm going to read but still haven't.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bourdain joins the blogosphere

Exciting news people! Anthony Bourdain has a blog. Have I ever mentioned how I love him? Maybe once or twice. I just love his writing, and now we can all enjoy it on a regular basis!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

To burn or not to burn...

Before Vladimir Nabokov died, he had begun work on a new novel called The Original of Laura. However, he expressed his wishes that the notes be burned after he died rather than published. The notes have sat in a Swiss bank vault untouched, and his surviving heir is torn between following his father's wishes and the demands of the literary world.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Don't quit the gym!

Last week I was talking about reading resolutions, and apparently I'm not the only one that makes them. This writer for the Guardian made a resolution to quit her gym membership, and with the money saved, she is going purchase a subscription to an audiobook service so she can download books to her MP3 player, and then walk to work while listening to books. Apparently this writer does not have access to a library-or maybe her library just isn't as cool as ours. The Deerfield Public Library has a subscription to NetLibrary, which allows you to download books to your MP3 player for free! There is a wide variety of books-from classics to all the latest in fiction and non-fiction. So you can still keep your gym membership, and have books to listen to while working out! We also have plenty of audiobooks on CDs, for those of you still lugging around a portable CD player (like me). And, keep your eyes out for an ingenious little device called a Playaway, that should be arriving in the library very soon. A Playaway is a small device-about the size of a small MP3 player- that has one audiobook preloaded on it. There is no downloading required. Just pop in a battery and your headphones and press play. It's very easy to use and very portable-I absolutely love them and cannot wait until they arrive!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Venetian Betrayal

Steve Berry's latest thriller The Venetian Betrayal is his sixth novel, and the third in his Cotton Malone series. I hate to say this, but I didn't love this book. I thoroughly enjoyed his first three novels, which were stand-alones, but the Cotton Malone series he has been writing lately is not growing on me, and I think this is the worst. First, and I know I've said this before, but the name Cotton drives me nuts. I don't remember if Berry ever explained where the name came from, but it just doesn't fit. But mainly I just felt this novel was quite convoluted and often confusing. Berry typically incorporates a mystery involving some historical figure or artifact and some kind of conspiracy to keep it hidden. This book is no exception, but it just got a little carried away.

The countries of the former Soviet republic have consolidated into the Central Asian Federation, which is led by a woman named Irina Zovastina. Zovastina is obsessed with Alexander the Great, and is searching for his hidden tomb. She believes that the tomb will contain a mysterious draught that will cure any illness. She is also amassing biological weapons in hopes of overtaking the Middle East. An Italian is working with her to develop the biological weapons and their cures. I'm not sure if she wants this draught as a cure to her biological weapons or to cure her girlfriend, who is dying of AIDS. Anyway, the Italian has discovered the draught (although he doesn't realize it's the same draught Zovastina is searching for) and has discovered that it can cure AIDS, but has been hiding it from Zovastina. He is about to release the cure and make himself very wealthy. She's killing everyone that gets in her way, Cotton's trying to stop her, there is a double double agent involved.

The search for the tomb of Alexander the Great is an interesting concept, but there is just too much going on here. Too many plot lines. The short chapters and fast pace make it a quick read, but sadly it falls short of my expectations.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Thomas Jefferson has a LibraryThing account

I love LibraryThing and have been using it for a while to keep track of the books I read. LibraryThing is also a social site that allows you to join discussion groups, chat about books and look at what everyone else is reading. A group on LibraryThing that calls itself the "I See Dead People ['s Books]" group has created an account for Thomas Jefferson. They have cataloged 4,889 of the books in his own personal library, as well as added his comments and tagged each item using his own classification system. They have also completed libraries for Tupac Shakur and Mozart and are building libraries for Ernest Hemingway, Benjamin Franklin, and William Faulkner. It's pretty neat. LibraryThing even shows you what books you share in common with other members. Sadly, Thomas Jefferson and I have no books in common. I do have books in common with Ernest Hemingway, though! He and I both have Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in our libraries. I feel so literate.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Love Over Scotland

The Miami Herald called Alexander McCall Smith a "wry but gentle chronicler of humanity and its foibles." I think that is right on the mark. His latest book, Love Over Scotland, is the third in his 44 Scotland Street series. I absolutely love this series, which features the residents of Scotland Street. Pat, now an art history student, works part-time at Matthew's art gallery, while Matthew harbors a crush on her. Big Lou is upset when her fiance Eddie plans to open a strip club with the money she lent him. Domenica, the anthropologist, is now off studying pirates in the Straits of Malacca, leaving Angus Lordie (and his dog Cyrus) missing her companionship. Bertie, the 6 year-old prodigy is dreading a trip to Paris with the Edinburgh Teenage Orchestra, while his parents are trying to sort out their stolen car. There are no major dramas here, no mysteries, just the everyday lives of these fascinating characters. It's a gentle, but intelligent story, with interesting characters and everyday life in Scotland. A great read.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Chicago Ranks 40 as Most Literate City

That heading is not meant to be boastful. The recent study of America's Most Literate City ranked Chicago as #40 (out of 69), down from #39 in 2006. The study ranks cities with populations greater than 250,000 by their support for and commitment to reading. Indicators used in ranking cities are newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment and internet resources. Minneapolis was ranked #1. We were even beat by Milwaukee. Come on Chicago! Get it together!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Fifth Vial

Remember that urban legend about the guy who gets drunk in Vegas, passes out, and ends up waking up in a bathtub full of ice with a huge scar, only to find out that he was drugged and his kidney stolen? You've probably heard some version of that story. Michael Palmer's The Fifth Vial is a sophisticated take on that story. A young medical student, Natalie Reyes, travels to Rio de Janeiro to attend a medical conference. While in a cab, she is kidnapped. As she tries to escape, she is drugged and shot. When she wakes up, she finds that she has been unconscious for days and has lost a lung from the gunshot. Upon returning to the states, she begins to suspect something is amiss and as she begins to investigate her stay in Brazil and uncovers something much more sinister.

This is a fast-paced, action-packed story that should satisfy fans of medical thrillers and those who enjoy a good conspiracy. I listened to this book on CD and really did not like the narrator. His accents were terrible and I had some trouble distinguishing the characters. Despite this, I did listen to the entire book, which says a lot for the book. Normally, if I don't like a narrator, I stop listening within 10 minutes. But the book held my interest enough to overlook the narrator. A few aspects of the story seemed a little absurd and the Epilogue wrapped things up a little too neatly for my taste, but it's a good thriller nonetheless.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Reading Resolutions

Happy 2008! I don't really make New Year's resolutions anymore. No more resolutions to exercise, eat right, take vitamins, less road rage, etc. They never last long and I end up feeling like a failure. The only resolutions I do make have to do with reading. It's the only thing I have a chance at succeeding at. My resolution for 2007 was simply to read more (duh). After reviewing my reading list for 2007, I found that I read 125 books over the year! My first successful resolution! I also resolved to read more in genres I don't normally read, which I accomplished (sort of) by reading two science fiction books by Isaac Asimov. So, for 2008 I'm going to:
1.) renew my resolution to read more and try to top 125
2.) read the books that are already on my shelf instead of buying more books
3.) read a challenging book that I've been putting off, such as Rushdie's Satanic Verses, Follett's The Pillars of the Earth, or anything by Hemingway
4.) read a James Patterson book (I've never actually read any of his books, and I feel like I probably shouldn't poo poo him until I've actually read one of his books)

What are your reading resolutions for 2008?