Thursday, July 31, 2008

And the nominees are...

The 2008 longlist for the Man Booker Prize was recently released, and the nominees are:

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
From A to X by John Berger
The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant
A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

The shortlist will be announced in September and the winner on October 14th.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My Next Tattoo

Choosing a tattoo requires a lot of thought. It has to be something meaningful, that you will love forever. I just came across this blog, Contrariwise, which posts tattoos of quotes from books, poetry and music. Some of the tattoos are pretty cool. A lot of quotes from Vonnegut, a few Le Petit Prince. I loved the Fight Club tattoo. This opens up a whole bunch of possibilities I had never considered. Books from my childhood, like Ramona, Harriet the Spy and Nancy Drew, might all make good tattoos. Or maybe a quote from Hemingway or e. e. cummings. The obvious one for me would probably be the "it is a truth universally acknowledged..." but I'm not sure that would make for a good tattoo. What would you chose, if you were to get a literary tattoo?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sleeping Arrangements

Not many fans of Sophie Kinsella realize that she is actually Madeleine Wickham. Wickham also writes novels under her own name, which have been very popular. I read her novel Cocktails for Three a while ago and enjoyed it. Wickham could still be considered "chick lit" but not nearly as light and silly as the Shopaholic series. I thoroughly enjoyed Wickham's new novel, Sleeping Arrangements.

Chloe and her family desperately need a vacation. When her friend Gerard offers his extravagant villa in Spain, she gratefully accepts. When Chloe, her husband Phililp and their two children arrive, they find that Gerard has also promised the villa to another family for the same week by mistake. Hugh and his wife Amanda, along with their two girls and nanny, have already settled in and the two families must figure out a way to share the villa. Unbeknownst to Philip and Amanada, Chloe and Hugh know each other, having had a relationship many years ago. With both of their marriages under pressure, Chloe and Hugh find the old attractions flaring up. Is it possible that Gerard's "mistake" is actually a set up?

Although Wickham's book does not have the humor of the Shopaholic series, this is a good story. It is well written with an interesting plot, good dialogue and great descriptions of the Spanish villa. The narration bounces between the vacationers, which keeps the story moving along. Great summer reading!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Chasing Harry Winston

I fell prey to bestseller-itis this week. I normally don't read books just because they are on the bestseller list and everybody else is reading them. But everyone has been asking for Lauren Weisberger's latest, Chasing Harry Winston, and the cover has sparkly diamonds on it, so I decided to indulge. It is summer, after all. It turns out that the story is pretty good.

Three best friends, single and almost thirty, decide to make some changes in their lives. Emmy has recently been dumped after a long-term relationship and decides that instead of looking for her next monogamous relationship, she is going to have a few flings. Adriana, who has had nothing but flings, decides to commit to a serious relationship. And Leigh, who is engaged to the perfect man (perfect for everyone else, just not for her), decides to break off her engagement. The changes they make in their love lives lead to new opportunities in their careers and new experiences.

This is a good read for fans of chick lit. I wouldn't say it's my favorite in this genre, or even in the top 10, but it makes for good summer reading. Each character has her own unique personality, and I especially enjoyed the verbally abusive pet parrot. The outcome for each character is somewhat predictable, but the story is entertaining, nonetheless.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dear American Airlines...

"...Enclosed please find my sciatic nerve. Due to the wear and tear on it from hours upon hours in this miserable f**king O'Hare seating- these patent-pending O'Chairs- I am sending it to you for speedy repair. A return envelope is also enclosed, which you may address to me care of the wheelchair bank across from Gate K8, Chicago, Ill." *

American Airlines has cancelled all flights, and Bennie Ford is stuck in O'Hare airport, awaiting a flight to California for his daughter's wedding. Faced with the prospect of missing the wedding, he begins to compose a letter to AA to demand, not request, his money back. His letter begins as a rant to the airline, but as he explains the reason for his trip, he reflects on his life, his addiction to alcohol, his mother's struggle with bipolar disorder, and his estrangement from his wife and daughter. The ranting over the state of air travel is humorous, but the rest of the book is filled with Bennie's rambling, disjointed thoughts. The story of his mother is quite interesting, and I would have enjoyed reading more about her character, but we only get little pieces of her story. Fortunately, this is a short novel (under 200 pages). I would not have stuck with it much longer.

*From Dear American Airlines: A Novel by Jonathan Miles

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

And the winner is...

Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher won the £30,000 Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction."The judges were unanimous: this is one of those great non-fiction books that uses the techniques of fiction to magnificent effect," said judging panel chair Rosie Boycott. "On first reading, it is an absolute page-turner. Then, when you reread it, you realise how many levels it has, how much it tells you." I told you this was a great read!

Monday, July 21, 2008

The God of Animals

How many times have you read a novel that you didn't think you would like, but ended up loving it? When Aryn Kyle's novel The God of Animals was released last year, it got wonderful reviews, but I didn't read it. A young girl coming of age on a horse Not interested. But it was chosen for this month's book discussion, so I couldn't avoid it. I'm so glad, because I really enjoyed this novel. Twelve-year-old Alice Winston lives on her family's horse ranch in Colorado. Her 17-year-old sister has just run off to get married, her mother is shut up in her bedroom and her father is preoccupied with the struggling ranch. Alice's only friendship is an imagined relationship with a classmate who recently drowned. Although the plot is quite ordinary, the characters are not. Kyle has created very interesting and well-developed characters with a lot of depth to their relationships. I loved the main character, Alice. She is tough, smart, a bit of a smart mouth and felt very real to me. I won't give too much away, but there is no cliched happy ending to the story. Although I do like a nice happy ending, I appreciate that Kyle does not wrap everything up neatly with a pretty bow. It adds to the "realness" of the story. A great read, and a great book for discussion.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Best of the Booker

For the 40th anniversary of the Man Booker Prize, the Best of the Booker was awarded last week to Salman Rushdie for his novel Midnight's Children. Midnight's Children won the Booker Prize in 1981 and was also chosen as the Booker of Bookers in 1993. Rushdie's novel was chosen by public vote, from a shortlist of six novels, which also included:

Pat Barker's The Ghost Road
Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda
JM Coetzee's Disgrace
JG Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur
Nadine Gordimer's The Conservationist

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Moneypenny Diaries

I've never been a huge James Bond fan. Although I have seen a few of the movies, I have never read any of Ian Flemings novels. But Kate Westbrook's The Moneypenny Diaires appealed to me because I always felt Moneypenny was overlooked and thought she deserved more attention. The Diaries, recently released in the U.S., is the first in a trilogy previously published in the U.K.

Although forbidden to reveal anything about her work as personal secretary to M, Jane Moneypenny secretly kept diaries detailing her work for the Secret Service. The first in the trilogy chronicles the year 1962. While the Cubans have the American and British governments in a scramble, Bond is recovering from his bride's murder and Moneypenny is seeking answers surrounding her father's mysterious disappearance during WWII. Jane sees quite a bit of action herself, as she is involved in rescuing 007 from the Soviets in Cuba and gathering evidence of Cuba's missiles. Back in Britain, her inquest into her father's disappearance gets her involved with the wrong side, and reveals a leak in the Service.

Jane's diaries are edited by her niece, Kate Westbrook and each chapter reflects a month in 1962. At the beginning of each month, Kate interjects her own recollections of her aunt and she also includes copious footnotes with Jane's entries. Although I enjoyed Jane's entries, the footnotes and Kate's memories distract from the flow of the story and eventually just become annoying (I ended up skipping over these parts). But Jane's work for the Service and her relationship with 007 kept me hooked, and I look forward to the next installment.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Author's Note

Do you ever read the author's notes at the beginning of memoirs? Most of them point out that names have been changed, events are based on their own memories, etc. It seems that with the number of embellished memoirs, all authors are including these blurbs. Martin Kihn at Publisher's Weekly has created a great author's note.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Just Eat It

We all know that fast food is terrible for us. Processed foods are full of chemicals and additives and wreak havoc on our bodies. All the latest "whole food" diet-y books are telling us that in order to be healthy, we must eliminate these foods from our diet and stick to whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Well, I'm sure that's fine for people like Oprah, who can afford to have a personal chef create healthy and tasty meals for them. But people, I work full-time. And the last thing I want to do after a long day at work is come home and stand over the stove, attempting to create a healthy meal that usually ends up tasting like cardboard. Sometimes, fast food is just easier. I admit it. I eat fast food on occasion. I'm not proud of it, but that's reality. And I know I'm not alone. That's why I liked David Zinczenko's book Eat This, Not That! Zinczenko recognizes that people eat fast food. He's not telling you don't eat it, but he is making suggestions on how to make that fast food meal a bit healthier. The book provides calorie, fat, sodium and/or sugar counts for foods at many popular fast food chains, and lists the healthiest items on the menu (although still not very healthy). For instance, one might think that the grilled chicken club at McDonald's would be a healthy choice. Not so. The quarter pounder without cheese is actually a better choice. And the delicious broccoli cheddar soup at Panera-not a great choice. The book also provides a "menu decoder" which explains what various menu items really mean. For example, Lo mein means wok-fried noodles that uses a lot of oil and fatty pork or beef. And home fries on the breakfast menu is just another version of french fries. He also provides suggestions on making holiday meals healthier. Instead of pecan pie at Thanksgiving, go with the pumpkin pie. Sadly, Peeps made the Not That! list for Easter. Lots of great tips, and a real eye-opener, this book is worth a look.

P.S. Don't read this book when you are hungry.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

Kate Summerscale's true account of a shocking murder in Victorian England is a great read for fans of true crime and/or Victorian mysteries. Early one morning in 1860, in a small village near Bath, the Kent family awoke to find their 3-year-old son missing from his crib. After a search of the house and grounds, the little boy was found at the bottom of the outhouse with his throat cut. Almost immediately it was determined that the murderer must have come from inside the house. The family members and their servants all became suspects. When the local police could not determine the identity of the killer, they requested help from Scotland Yard. The first detective force was formed in England in 1842, and consisted of eight officers. Jonathan Whicher, one of the original detectives, was sent to investigate the crime. Whicher immediately suspected Constance Kent, a daughter from Mr. Kent's first marriage. Constance was arrested, but the local magistrates decided not to try her, due to lack of evidence. Defeated, Whicher returned to London, where he was subjected to scrutiny and criticism. The crime went unsolved for several years, casting a shadow of suspicion on several people. The crime captivated England and even influenced detective fiction, including the writings of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins' detective novel The Moonstone. Summerscale uses police reports, court testimonies, letters and press releases to provide detail, re-create dialogue and court room scenes, and give insight into the "characters' " lives. The story is intriguing and as captivating as a great mystery novel.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th of July!

Looking for a patriotic book that celebrates America? Look no further than Stephen Colbert's I Am America (and so can you!). A true patriot, Stephen shares his thoughts on the American family, race, religion, sex and everything that's destroying our country. If you love Colbert's popular show on Comedy Central, The Colbert Report, this book is like the Report on steroids. The audiobook is narrated by Colbert, so it's like listening to a very long episode of the show. Great fun, lots of laughs. Extra points for patriotism if you buy the book instead of checking it out at the library (Stephen says he does not give freebies).

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Personal Days

I don't know if I have admitted this here before, but before I realized that librarianship was the perfect career for me, I spent several years working in Corporate America. Like many new college grads, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and I needed to pay the bills. The job was misery like I had never experienced before, but looking back on it now, I can laugh at the absurdity of it. If you have ever worked in Corporate America, you'll get a kick out of Ed Park's first novel Personal Days. Set in an unnamed company, a group of employees are trying to predict who will be next in the Firings. While their numbers slowly dwindle, they contemplate the best e-mail sign off, spend time crafting the perfect voice mail message, and work on their "layoff narratives." The boss keeps copies of The Art of War by Sun Tzu and Machiavelli's The Prince in his office and loves to use phrases like "Think outside the box," "Step up to the plate" and "Help me help you." The novel is clever, funny and really captures the corporate culture. A definite must read for fans of the movie Office Space.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What can I get for $500?

I love looking at the book section of the New York Times because on the back page a rare bookseller always has an advertisement for their books. I love to look at the books and the prices and think about what I could afford (nothing) and if I had the money, what I would buy. If I had the money to waste, I would love to own a first edition of one of Jane Austen's novels. Last week a rare, first edition of Jane Austen's Emma sold at auction for a little over $350,000. So clearly, I will never own a first edition Jane Austen. I can't even afford her hair.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Author Visits!

Brad Thor will be promoting his latest novel, The Last Patriot, at the Barnes & Noble at Old Orchard in Skokie on July 2 at 7:30pm.

Salman Rushdie will read from his latest novel, The Enchantress of Florence, on July 10th at 6pm at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago.

Ann O'Farrell will sign her new book, Norah's Children, at the Book Stall in Winnetka on July 10th at 7pm. Norah’s Children is about a Irish family in the 1920s who must endure the death of the mother — with a surprising ending that segues into a sequel already in the making.

Stephen J. Cannell will read from his latest novel, At First Sight, at the Barnes & Noble at Old Orchard in Skokie on July 10th at 7:30 pm.

Billie Letts, bestselling author of Shoot the Moon and Where the Heart Is, signs her newest novel, Made in the U.S.A. at the Book Stall in Winnetka on July 12th at 2pm.

James Rollins will be visiting the Warren Newport Public Library in Gurnee on Wednesday, July 16th at 1pm to discuss his latest novel, The Last Oracle.

Chicago Tribune writer, Julia I. Keller will discuss & sign her book, Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel: The Gun That Changes Everything and the Misunderstood Genius Who Invented It at Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Forest Park on July 16th at 7am. (The time seems strange, but this is the time posted on the website.)