Saturday, February 28, 2009

Author Visits!

Check out a few of the great authors coming to the Chicagoland area during the month of March:

On March 2nd at noon, the Bookstall in Winnetka will be hosting a lunch with Jacqueline Winspear, author of the popular Maisie Dobbs mystery series. Winspear will later speak at 6pm at the Seminary Co-Op bookstore in Chicago.

Also on March 2nd Tim Dorsey will sign his latest novel at the Borders in Oak Brook at 7:30.

On March 3rd at 11:30, the Lake Forest Bookstore will host a lunch with Adriana Trigiani.

Also on March 3rd at 7:30 pm at the Borders in La Grange, Frank Delaney will sign his latest novel Shannon.

Also on March 3rd at 7pm at the Barnes and Noble in Old Orchard, Joanne Fluke will sign her latest novel.

On March 15th at 2pm at the Borders in Oak Brook, Jodi Picoult will sign her latest novel. She will also speak on March 16th at 12:30 at the Borders on State Street in Chicago.

On March 20th Lisa Lutz will speak at the Barnes and Noble in Evanston at 7pm.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Please don't take my bananas!

In Fred Pierce's Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff, he has a chapter on the banana, and how the variety of banana that we eat (the Cavendish) is in danger of being wiped out due to disease. For some reason, this chapter fascinated me. I guess because bananas seem like such a simple thing, and Man can do anything, right? Surely we should be able to save the banana. But this is a humbling reminder that Nature is a force that can continue to elude us, even with something as seemingly simple as the banana.

Anyway, I was intrigued and I needed to know more about this banana situation, so I checked out Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel. I suppose this book is really more than I ever wanted to know about bananas, but it is interesting. For instance, I didn't know that the Cavendish banana is not the only variety of banana out there. Apparently there are hundreds of different varieties of banana throughout the world, ranging in size from a pinky finger to a large mango, with skin colors ranging from green to crimson and purple and flesh ranging from white to orange. Also, did you know that it is actually a sterile banana plant that produces the fruit that we eat? And obviously, a sterile plant can't reproduce, so in order to grow bananas, cuttings have to be taken from the sterile plant and grown. In nature, organisms evolve over time to become stronger, more resistant and less susceptible to disease, etc. But because bananas come from sterile plants that do not reproduce, they have not had the opportunity to evolve and are a very fragile plant, easily susceptible to disease. The Cavendish banana is currently under threat from disease. This has happened once before. Before the Cavendish, the Gros Michel was the popular variety of banana that most people ate, but it succumbed to disease and was wiped out by the 1950s. Banana scientists are trying to come up with an alternative, in case the worst should happen. But creating a new variety of banana that is more resistant to disease and that people will enjoy, is very difficult. Banana's are a "plant breeder's nightmare." Because bananas come from a sterile plant, this means there are no seeds they can use for breeding. Every once in a while, some seeds will be found in a plant, but this is rare, and even then the success rate for producing an edible banana is low. I certainly hope they are able to find a solution. The future of millions of breakfasts hang in the balance here.

And now I will leave you with more fascinating banana facts:
In 2007 Chiquita was fined $25 million in by the U.S. Department of Justice for payments made to an acknowledged "terrorist organization" in Columbia.

Dole was sued in 2007 in U.S. courts for using chemicals that render workers sterile.

In 1999, U.S. banana consumption is 100 bananas per person per year.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Beat the Reaper

Staying up until 1am to finish a book is not something I do very often, but I did last night with Josh Bazell's Beat the Reaper. Dr. Peter Brown is a sleep-deprived, pill-popping intern at a run-down Manhattan hospital. When he enters the room of Nicholas LoBrutto, he realizes he knows this man from his former days as a mafia hitman. Peter Brown is actually Pietro Brwna, and currently in the Witness Protection Program. When LoBrutto threatens to rat him out if he doesn't survive his surgery, Peter must make sure the incompetent and unethical surgeon, Dr. Friendly, doesn't screw up. In between his encounters with a sexy drug rep, a patient with a pain in his ass, and his eager med students, Peter tells the story of how he came to be a hitman.

I had a lot of fun reading this novel. Bazell has produced a unique novel; not your run-of-the-mill crime novel. The pacing is swift. The tone is darkly comic, which I loved. Peter's footnotes provide really interesting tidbits on science, the healthcare business, and the mafia. And although Peter is technically a bad guy, he's a compelling character that I found myself rooting for. But be prepared for alot of violence (the ending is MESSED UP!). This is definitely one you don't want to miss. I read that Leo DiCaprio is going to produce (and maybe star in?) the film, and Bazell is working on another novel with this character.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon, Anyone?

Since I've been having a little trouble lately finding books that hold my interest, I recently checked out the audiobook of Julie Powell's memoir Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen: How One Girl Risked Her Marriage, Her Job and Her Sanity to Master the Art of Living. I read this book a few years ago when it was first published. I loved reading the book and even gave it as a gift to a few friends, so I knew the audiobook would be a sure thing. And I was right. I think I may have even enjoyed it more the second time around because Julie narrates the audiobook, so I get to hear the story in her own voice. If you are unfamiliar with the book, Julie decides that she is going to cook all 524 of the recipes in Julia Childs' cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Have you ever looked at this cookbook? It's a wonder. Some of the ingredients are completely unknown to me, and the amount of butter she uses will make your arteries clench in fear. Challenged with a tiny apartment kitchen, difficulties procuring marrow bones, and the gruesome task of killing several lobsters, Julie makes her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, even if they do frequently eat well past 9pm. This is a funny, sweet, touching story and if you haven't read it, you are missing out. The movie version is set for release this fall, I believe, with Amy Adams playing Julie and Meryl Streep playing Julia. And I just read yesterday that her new book will also be released in the fall. Here's the description from PW: "Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession. With her marriage challenged by an irresistible love affair, Powell decides to immerse herself in a new obsession: butchery." Love affair? Oh no! Are Julie and Eric on the rocks? I hope not. And butchery? Gross. I've got to get my hands on an advanced copy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine

Lauren Willig is one of my favorite historical fiction writers. Her novels are the perfect combination of history, adventure, chick lit and romance all in one. Willig writes a fantastic series that started with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. The latest in this series is The Temptation of the Night Jasmine. The main character of the series is Eloise Kelly, who is working on her dissertation on English spies during the Napoleonic wars. Her research led her to Colin Selwick, whose family's archives contain documents revealing the movements of various English spies. Throughout the series the sparks have been flying between Eloise and Colin and finally, in Jasmine, the two are a couple. When Eloise spends a week at Selwick Hall, she convinces herself that Colin is following in the family tradition and is working as a spy himself! Meanwhile, we are taken back to the early 1800s, where Robert Landsdowne has returned from India to claim his title as the Duke of Dovedale. But Robert has not returned just to claim his title and settle down into a quiet country life. Robert is in pursuit of a man who shot a British colonel in the back. It turns out that this rogue is guilty of more than murder and Robert must tread carefully if he is to expose the depths of this man's deceit. Add one young lady, Charlotte Landsdowne (Robert's cousin-albeit distant), and we have another exciting adventure with a passionate romance. And, my favorite couple, Henrietta Selwick and Miles Dorrington are back to assist Charlotte and Robert, which adds to the fun. Willig always delivers a good story and her latest will not disappoint!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Running With Books Enemy #1: Winter

My apologies for so few posts lately. But I have been quitting just about every book I start. Pillars of the Earth: too long. A Mercy: too literary. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: too many difficult names. Eclipse: too formulaic. The Hemingses of Monticello: too hard. I just can't seem to get into anything. What is wrong with me? Wait a minute...didn't this happen about the same time last year? Let's investigate.... Yes, according to my February 23, 2008 blog post, I was fighting off a reading slump then too. Could this be a pattern? Is it possible that it is winter's fault that I can't stay focused? Could it be that winter is the reason why I'm taking twice as long to finish a book than normal? Blasted winter! Not only do you have to make everything slushy, gray and ugly, ruin my shoes and keep me locked indoors, but now you have to take away the one small pleasure I have? What have I done to deserve such cruelty? Winter, you have not beat me yet. I will push on, with Lauren Willig and Adriana Trigiani, and if all else fails, I will turn to my trusted friend Harry Potter, but I will triumph. And next year, I'm taking a vacation.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore's novel Blindspot, a Novel by a Gentleman in Exile and a Lady in Disguise is sure to be a hit with fans of historical romance fiction. Stewart Jameson, a portrait painter, flees Edinburgh in 1764 to escape debtor's prison and sails for Boston. Upon reaching Boston, he sets up shop and advertises for an apprentice. When Francis Weston arrives on his doorstep, he has no idea that his new apprentice is actually Fanny Easton. Fanny is the daughter of Boston's estimable justice Edward Easton, but is now a fallen women, cast out of her home, barely surviving in the Manufacturing House. Fanny has always dreamed of becoming a painter and decides to disguise herself in order to escape her current situation. The narration alternates between Fanny and Jameson as we see Jameson worry about his creditors and struggle to scrape up new clients. Fanny begins to fall in love with Jameson and Jameson begins to have feelings for Weston, which he struggles with. Meanwhile, the murder of a local abolitionist is blamed on two slaves and Jameson's friend, a Black doctor, is determined to prove their innocence. Although Publisher's Weekly called the novel predictable with a cheesy plot, I thought it was great fun. The mystery was a little weak, but the period detail is outstanding, the characters are likable and the romance is spicy.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

An Evening with Steve Berry

Steve Berry is one of my favorite thriller writers. His novels are fast paced, suspenseful, and always center around an historical figure or artifact. Berry is currently on tour for his newest novel, The Charlemagne Pursuit and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to hear him speak last week. I've had his new novel on my shelf since December and usually I read his novels as soon as they are released, but unfortunately I have fallen behind and haven't had a chance to read this one yet. The Charlemagne Pursuit is another novel in Berry's Cotton Malone series and this one features a mystery surrounding Charlemagne. I was glad to hear Berry speak because it gave me some new insight into the character Cotton Malone. I've always said that the name Cotton drives me nuts, but apparently there is a story behind the name, and Berry will tell us that story...eventually. I have also said that I have a hard time picturing Cotton in my head. Someone in the audience asked Berry if movie rights have been sold to his books, and if so, who would he cast as Cotton. Berry said that movie rights have not been sold, but if he had to cast Cotton, he would pick someone like George Clooney. Berry has at least two or three more adventures planned for Cotton and said that he plans to keep the series from becoming predictable by "changing Cotton's world." I'm not entirely sure what he meant by this, but I think we saw the beginnings of this in his last novel, The Venetian Betrayal, with the creation of new countries or federations. Berry also mentioned something new he is trying with fellow thriller writer James Rollins. Rollins is similar in style to Berry, and although they write for different publishing houses, when Rollins's next paperback is released in May, it will contain the first chapter of Berry's next book The Paris Vendetta. When Berry's book is released in paperback, it will contain the first chapter of Rollins's next book. I love hearing authors speak because it's so interesting to hear about how they write, their research process, their editing process, etc. It's different for every author, but it's so amazing how much work they put into their writing.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

All the Latest...

New book deals of interest...Opium Fiend by an anonymous American writer now living in Southeast Asia who went from being an expert on rare 19th-century opium smoking paraphernalia to a 30-pipe a day addict. Jenny Gardiner's Parrothood is being touted as a Marley & Me with parrots. Since parrots live such long lives, hopefully we won't have to endure a sobfest at the end, like Marley & Me. Vikas Swarup, who wrote Q&A, the novel that became the movie hit of the year, Slumdog Millionaire, has signed a deal for his next novel, Six Suspects.

Books to movies...Film rights have been sold for The Story of Edgar Sawtelle with Oprah and Tom Hanks producing. Neil Gaiman's Newberry award-winning Graveyard Book will be made into a movie. Dr. McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey) has bought the movie rights to Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain, which he will produce and star in. Television rights for M.J. Rose's The Reincarnationist have been sold to Fox.

Awards...The National Book Critics Circle announced the finalists for its awards. The finalists in fiction are: Roberto BolaƱo for 2666, Marilynne Robinson for Home, Aleksandar Hemon for The Lazarus Project, M. Glenn Taylor for The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart, and Elizabeth Strout for Olive Kittredge. You can check out the rest of the nominees here. The finalists for the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature are Elisa Albert for The Book of Dahlia, Sana Krasikov for One More Year, Anne Landsman for The Rowing Lesson, Dalia Sofer for The Septembers of Shiraz, and Anya Ulinich for Petropolis.

In other news...Things are not looking good in the publishing industry. Many publishing houses continue to lay off employees. Publisher's Weekly recently laid off its editor-in-chief Sara Nelson. Reed Business Information, which owns PW, as well as Library Journal and School Library Journal has decided to make SLJ's editor Brian Kenney the editorial director of all three publications. Reed is also shutting down Criticas, a guide used by many librarians to select Spanish-language titles. The Washington Post is dropping its Book World section. February 15th will be its last issue. Content will now be divided between the Outlook and Style & Arts sections. BookExpo Canada, scheduled for June, has been cancelled, allegedly due to lack of industry interest. Are you sufficiently depressed?

And now for some fun facts to lighten the mood...JFK was a bad library patron! When President Kennedy served in the Senate in the 1950s, he checked out the 1930 biography A. Lincoln by Ross F. Lockridge from the Library of Congress and never returned it!! The book was recently found amongst President Kennedy's papers. The book has been listed as missing in the Library of Congress's online catalog and will be returned to the Library.

Remember that dreamy scene in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice where Colin Firth dives into the lake after returning to Pemberly? That wasn't actually Colin Firth doing the diving. A stuntman was used for the dive because they worried that Firth could catch Weil's disease, which comes from rat urine in the water. Nice, huh? For a single man in possession of a good fortune will not be so desirable if he has a rat pee disease. Also, the portrait of Mr. Darcy (Firth) that hung in Pemberly in the movie was recently sold at auction for about $16,000.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Where does it all come from?

Have you ever thought about where your coffee beans come from? Do you wonder if "fair trade" coffee is really fair? Many products are labeled with an origin, but what about things like your wood flooring or your wedding ring or the tchotchkies in your living room? Where do they come from? And who are the people that make these items? Fred Pearce decided to find out where all of our "stuff" comes, which he chronicled in Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff. The book is divided into sections: food, clothes, metals, and stuff from China. My favorite section was about food because, you know, I like food. Pearce travels to Africa to see where coffee beans, cocoa and green beans come from. He also tracks down the source of most of our wild fish and prawns, as well as palm oil (which is in 1/3 of all products) and bananas. By far, the most interesting chapter was about the banana. I've heard rumors that the banana is in danger of disappearing, but I always brushed it off as an urban legend. But it's actually true. There is a very real possibility that in our lives, the banana as we know it will cease to exist. Fascinating banana facts, and overall, a fascinating and very readable book. From the gold mines in South Africa to the Great Mall in China, Pearce provides us with an inside look at where it all comes from and the effect our "stuff" has on the planet and the people who make it.