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.