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.