Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Revenge of the Spellmans

Lisa Lutz's Spellman Files series is an absolute delight to read. A blurb on the latest installment, Revenge of the Spellmans, says "The Spellman Files is like Harriet the Spy for grown-ups." So true. I loved Harriet when I was a child, and emulated her by spying on my family and neighbors (though nothing interesting ever happened like it did for Harriet). Isabel Spellman's adventures are so much fun, I actually find myself thinking about becoming a PI. That's not too much of a stretch from librarian, is it?

If you aren't familiar with the series, Isabel Spellman works as a PI for her family's investigation firm. Her family is always into her business: following her, tapping her phone, etc. Her 16-year-old sister Rae is an absolute hoot: blackmailing Isabel, negotiating to get what she wants, and always getting into mischief. When we last saw Isabel, she landed herself in court-ordered therapy and decided to take a hiatus from her job with the family's investigation firm. In Revenge, Isabel is still on hiatus from her job, temporarily tending bar while she tries to figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life. When her brother asks her to house sit while he is on vacation, Isabel discovers that her brother's house has a basement apartment that isn't being used. When he returns from vacation, Isabel secretly moves into the apartment to save herself some money. This causes some sleepless nights for Isabel, as well as some difficulties getting into and out of the apartment without getting caught. Isabel agrees to take an investigation job for a friend who thinks his wife may be having an affair. But when she begins to investigate, she finds that there is a much bigger secret to be uncovered. Meanwhile, someone is blackmailing Isabel again and her parents are putting pressure on her to decide whether she will come back to work. Rae is having difficulty adjusting to her best friend's new girlfriend, has taken to stealing Isabel's car, and may or may not have cheated on the PSAT.

Readers who are looking for a great mystery will probably be disappointed, as the mystery is not the main focus of Lutz's books. There are always a few questions Isabel has to solve, but the real enjoyment comes from the characters and their relationships with each other. Lutz has created a cast of unique, quirky, humorous characters. She has captured the voice of Isabel, a sarcastic thirty-something who still doesn't know what she wants to do with her life, very well. The Spellmans are certainly a dysfunctional family, but they care about each other and stick together. And some of Isabel's friendships may be unconventional, but they are touching. When authors write a series, there is always the risk that they will start coming across as formulaic and monotonous, but that isn't the case with this series. Of course, Isabel always seems to find herself in some kind of predicament and Rae is always getting into mischief, but Lutz is so creative and humorous that the stories always seem fresh. The book jacket mentions that the Spellman Files is being adapted for film! I wonder who will play Isabel?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

All the latest...

President Obama signed a two-book, six-figure deal with Crown for an abridged, young adult version of Dreams From My Father and another nonfiction work that will not be written until after his presidency.

Former President George W. Bush has finally signed his book deal. The book is tentatively titled Decision Points and will focus on 12 of Bush's most difficult personal and political decisions. The book will be published by Crown in 2010. I've heard that he received a $7 million advance (compared to Clinton's $15 million advance).

In response to former Governor Rod Blagojevich's six-figure book deal, the Illinois legislature introduced House Bill 4078. The bill would require “any elected official who is convicted of a felony or of a misdemeanor involving a violation of his or her official oath of office to forfeit any monetary rights derived from any media depiction or detailing of the crime for which the person was convicted as a term of their sentence. The forfeiture lasts during the term of the sentence and any period of probation, parole or supervised release." Read more from PW.

According to the Telegraph, a test screening of the latest Harry Potter film earned poor reviews. Viewers complained that the film contained pointless scenes, focused too much on the romances between Ron/Lavender and Harry/Ginny, and missed out many crucial characters and plot lines. They better fix it! I'm not waiting an extra 8 months for a disappointing movie!

When Robert Bolano died, he left many unpublished manuscripts. It seems that a possible sixth part to his behemoth 2666 has been found. 2666 recently won the NBCC award for fiction. I've been attempting to make my way through this novel, but it's not doing anything for me. More to come on this later, hopefully.

The International Association of Culinary Professionals announced the finalists for their 2009 Cookbook Awards. You can view all the finalists here. Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito's Baked: New Frontiers in Baking was named in the baking category. Apparently the judges didn't hear about my Red Velvet Disappointment. The James Beard Foundation apparently did hear about the Disappointment, as Baked does not appear amongst their award nominees.

The publication of Catching Fire, the sequel to Suzanne Collins's fantastically fantastic The Hunger Games, has been bumped up from September 8th to September 1st. Film rights to The Hunger Games have been sold. Sweet. Can you imagine that movie?

An Australian company has created a way to make paper from wombat poop. Surprisingly, I wasn't shocked when I read this. I seemed to recall, somewhere in the deep recesses of my subconscious, hearing about something like this before. Yep, if you don't care for wombats, how about elephants? I'll take my books made out of trees, thank you very much. If this is the future of print books, I may have to switch to a Kindle.

The Man Booker International Prize is awarded every two years to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language. You can see the complete list of the 2009 nominees here. From the USA: Evan S Connell, E.L. Doctorow, and Joyce Carol Oates.

In response to author and publisher concerns that the text-to-speech function available on Amazon's Kindle 2 would violate copyright, Amazon decided to disable the text-to-speech feature by default and allow publishers to enable the feature on a title-by-title basis. Several disability groups are protesting this decision.

Sony has made over 500,000 public domain titles available for free for use with the Sony Reader.

Harlequin is launching a new line aimed at teens. Harlequin Teen debuts in August with its first publication, My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent.

The finalists for the 2009 National Magazine Awards have been announced. Take a look.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

And the winner is...

The winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards were recently announced. The winners are:

Fiction: Robert Bolano's 2666
General Nonfiction: Dexter Filkins The Forever War
Biography: Patric French The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul
Autobiography: Ariel Sabar My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq
Criticism: Seth Lerer Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter
Poetry: a tie between Juan Felipe Herrera Half the World in Light and August Kleinzahler Sleeping It Off in Rapid City

Monday, March 16, 2009

All the latest...

Alexander McCall Smith has signed for 3 more books in his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, a standalone novel La's Orchestra Saves the World and the first book in a new series Corduroy Gardens (I'm guessing is from his online novel Corduroy Mansions, at the Telegraph). Keep 'em coming.

Rebecca Johns's first novel Icebergs was a finalist for the 2005 PEN Hemingway award, and was a wonderful novel. She has sold her second book, The Countess, which tells the story of Elizabeth Bathory, one of the most prolific female serial killers in history. Sounds intriguing!

Marina Fiorato has signed for another historical fiction novel. The Madonna of the Almonds is a novel of passion, betrayal, art and the creation of amaretto liqueur in 16th century Tuscany. Sign me up. Where do I get a copy?

Captain Chesley Sullenberger signed a $3.2 million dollar book deal for his memoir. You remember him: the pilot who safely landed that plane in the Hudson and saved all those people. Kudos to him.

Jen Lancaster, my favorite snarky memoirist (Bitter is the New Black, Bright Lights Big Ass, Such a Pretty Fat), has signed for two more books. My Fair Lazy will be published in May of 2010 and Involuntary: My Year of Giving Dangerously will be published in 2011. Her newest book, Pretty in Plaid, is scheduled for release this May. Yay!

Martha Stewart's Cupcakes book, due out in June, is already one of Amazon's top pre-order titles in the food category, proving that cupcakes are still hot. And why wouldn't they be? Did you see the cupcake issue of the Martha Stewart Living magazine?? Mmmm.

One of the biggest book deals is Audrey Niffeneger's new book, which sold for almost $5 million to Scribner. The book, Her Fearful Symmetry, will be released this fall and is a supernatural story about twins who inherit an apartment near a London cemetery and become embroiled in the lives of other residents and their aunt's ghost. It's been 6 years since Niffeneger's novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, was published. It sold for $100,000.

Jon Krakauer's book Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tilman was originally scheduled to be published in October of 2008. Publication was delayed and has been rescheduled for this September.

Dan Brown has been all hush hush about his next book, leaving fans to speculate on when the next book will be published. Ron Howard recently said that the book is finished (although a spokesperson said that they do not have a title or a publication date yet). Howard directed the film versions of Brown's popular novels The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons (out in May).

Friday, March 13, 2009

Reality TV Gone Wrong

Angelina Benedetti has a column for Library Journal called "35 Going On 13," and in November 2008 she compiled a list of the year's best teen fiction for adults. Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games was on the list and the premise sounded intriguing.

In the distant future, the United States no longer exists, having been replaced by the nation of Panem, which is made up of 13 districts and the Capital. When District 13 rebelled, the Capital destroyed it. To keep the other districts in line, the Capital requires participation in the Hunger Games each year. One boy and one girl from each district are chosen in a drawing every year. They are placed in an arena where they must survive while hunting each other, while the rest of the nation watches on TV, placing bets on their chances. The last one left alive wins the freedom to go home. This year, Peeta Mellark and Primrose Everdeen are chosen from District 12, but Katniss Everdeen steps in to take her younger sister's place, knowing that Prim would never survive. Katniss is a fairly skilled hunter, having to find food to feed her starving family, so she is fairly certain she can survive the wilderness. But she is not very strong or skilled at combat, so her chances for defending herself aren't as good. Katniss and Peeta team up, pretending they are in love with each other, in order to win the viewing public's support and increase their chances of survival. But when the game begins, nothing is what it seems. Alliances are forged and broken, and no one can be trusted. The harsh elements, lack of food, frequent injuries, and constant fear of death take their toll as Katniss struggles to survive so she can return to her family.

I don't read a lot of young adult novels, but I thought this was an exceptional read. Collins creates a world that is shocking and fascinating at the same time. Her detailed descriptions of the arena make you feel like you are right in the middle of the Hunger Games. Katniss is an interesting and likable character, full of spunk and a drive to survive. Her fate, as well as Peeta's, makes for an engrossing, edge-of-your-seat story.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rich Like Them

The area in which I live and work is fairly affluent, and everyday I pass by many enormous, beautiful homes and I frequently find myself wondering: who are the people that live in these homes? In the small town where I grew up, the "rich" people were the doctor and the lawyer. But with so many of these large houses in this area, I figure they can't all be doctors and lawyers. So what do these people do? How did they get these houses? And more importantly, how do I get one too? Apparently, I'm not the only one wondering. Ryan D'Agostino decided that he would discover the secrets to people's financial success by visiting homes in the most affluent towns in America. He chronicles his findings in Rich Like Them: My Door-to Door Search for the Secrets of Wealth in America's Richest Neighborhoods. I was surprised to hear that most of the people he met made their money from either real estate investments or starting their own companies. Most either had that one good idea or had found "undiscovered" areas for real estate investment. Beyond this though, D'Agostino doesn't really reveal anything earth shattering. The "secrets" to the success of his interviewees are mainly: work hard, keep working hard even when you succeed, don't be afraid to take risks, save your money and be passionate (read: obsessive) about what you do. Nothing new there. But I think that the people who get wealthy are the people who are constantly thinking outside the box; constantly thinking about new ideas, new opportunities, and areas for improvement. I was surprised at one person's advice to change your career if you hate it, because that's exactly what I did, except no one gets wealthy being a librarian. I guess the difference between me and a wealthy person is that the wealthy person would start their own company as a consulting librarian. Hmmm. I guess I think more like Gertrude Stein, who said: "I do want to get rich but I never want to do what there is to do to get rich."

Monday, March 9, 2009

And the Winner is...

The Pen/Faulkner Award was recently awarded to Joseph O'Neill for Netherland.

The first Warwick Prize for writing was given to Naomi Klein for Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. The new prize will be given for an excellent and substantial piece of writing in the English language, in any genre or form. The theme for the first prize was complexity.

The Lincoln Prize, awarded by Gettysburg College for scholarship on President Lincoln, was awarded to two books: Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief by James M. McPherson, and Lincoln and His Admirals: Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Navy and the Civil War by Craig L. Symonds.

Barnes and Noble has announced the winners of their 2008 Discover Awards for new writers. The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips won for fiction. Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff won for nonfiction.

The Langum Charitable Trust Prize for best American Historical Fiction went to Kathleen Kent for The Heretic's Daughter.

The Romantic Novelists' Association named East of the Sun by Julia Gregson as the 2009 Romantic Novel of the Year.

Friday, March 6, 2009

All the Latest...

New book deals:
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has found help for his financial woes, since the Senate seat deal didn't pan out for him. Blagojevich has signed a six-figure book deal with Phoenix for his story "exposing the dark side of politics." Due out in October. Great. Can't wait.

Little, Brown will publish David Foster Wallace's unfinished novel, The Pale King, early next year. Wallace had been working on the novel for many years, but died on September 12, 2008.

Annie Barrows, who co-authored The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with her late aunt, Mary Ann Shaffer, signed her next novel, set in the 1930s and inspired by her own family history, a love story set against the backdrop of a country under the siege of the Depression, but also a story about an oddball family and the effect they have on an exotic city girl from the east, sent by her father to take a job in the WPA, who rooms with a quirky family down south.

Philip Roth has his 30th and 31st novels lined up. In the Fall of 2009, look for Humbling, a novel about an elderly actor with a counter plot of erotic desire. In 2010, look for Nemesis, a novel about a wartime polio epidemic during the summer of 1944 in a Newark community.

A UK publisher has bought 11 more books from Robert Bolano, which will be published over the next 2 years. Bolano's The Savage Detectives and 2666 have gotten a lot of attention from critics.

Condolezza Rice has signed a 3-book deal for $2.5 million. The first book will cover her time in the Bush administration. The second book will be a family memoir and the third book will be a young adult version of her family memoir.

James Patterson has gotten on the Scandinavian bandwagon and is teaming up with Scandinavian writer Liza Markland for a new thriller set primarily in Stockholm. The novel is scheduled to be published in Sweden in 2010.

Sara Gruen's new novel The Ape House, which was originally scheduled to be released later this spring, has been delayed until later this year or early next year.

Books to Movies:
If you watched the very end of the Oscar awards this year, they showed a montage (I love a good montage) of films scheduled for release throughout the rest of this year. Several are based on books: The Soloist, based on the memoir by Steve Lopez; Angels and Demons, based on the novel by Dan Brown (I'm glad to see that Tom Hanks has a better haircut in this movie), The Taking of Pelham 123, based on the novel by John Godey; Public Enemies, based on the account of the birth of the FBI by Bryan Burrough; Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (I shouldn't even have to tell you the author of this one); Julie and Julia, based on the memoir by Julie Powell, Sherlock Holmes, based on the stories from Arthur Conan Doyle; and Gomorrah, based on the account of organized crime in Italy by Roberto Saviano.

Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go will be adapted for film with Keira Knightley starring in the lead role.

John Grisham's latest novel The Associate will also be adapted for film.

Set your Tivo: HBO will air the 2-hour pilot episode of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency on March 29th at 8pm. The show is based on Alexander McCall Smith's enormously popular mystery series.

The Chinese Premier Wen Jiaboa recently donated 200,000 electronic books to the Cambridge University Library. The collection consists of Chinese books published since 1992 in all areas of the humanities. This probably means nothing to most of you, but I just found it interesting to see his name in the news because I just read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, and the Premier has a role in this novel.

In bad news: The Borders bookstore on Michigan Avenue in Chicago is scheduled to close in 2010.

Things that annoy me: Apple products (Macs, iPods, iPhones, etc). I never jumped on the Apple bandwagon. I use a PC; I have always used other (read: better) brands of MP3 players and now I have a Blackberry Storm (which is better than the iPhone!). But I'm getting tired of being ignored when it comes to accessories and applications. Just because I don't use an iPhone doesn't mean I don't want a cool skin or armband holder. Yes, I know they make these for other brands, but the choices are very limited compared to the iPod/iPhone choices. And I'd like all those cool apps for my Storm too, but the iPhone has the market cornered there too. Now my beloved Amazon is ignoring us non-iPhone users by providing a free application for the iPhone that allows users to download and read their Kindle books on the iPhone. So iPhone users can avoid the $350 cost of a Kindle and just use the device they already have while the rest of us have to shell out a sizable chunk of change if we want the Kindle books. So now I'm adding Amazon to my list.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Very Valentine

I always enjoy Adriana Trigiani's novels for the independent female main character, strong family ties, love story, and some form of artistic talent (whether it be fashion, interior design, or even cooking). Her latest novel, Very Valentine, has all of these elements in big doses: Valentine Roncalli, an independent young woman determined to make a career out of her passion; her nosy, opinionated, devoted Italian American family; her rocky relationship with a cute chef; and the business of custom-made couture shoes.

Valentine lives and works with her grandmother in Greenwich Village in the family's custom wedding shoe business. But in the 21st century, custom-made shoes are slowly loosing to the cheaper, mass-produced ones and the Angelini Shoe Company is barely staying afloat. Faced with the possibility that the building must be sold and she will loose her career and her home, Valentine must come up with a financial plan that will keep the company in business. Valentine also struggles to balance her career and her love life, when she meets a cute chef, Roman Falconi. When a romantic vacation in Italy with Roman turns out to be anything but, Valentine finds the answers to her problems.

A good read, with memorable characters and wonderful details of the shoes, food and Italy. This is the first in a planned trilogy and I'm looking forward to following Valentine's story.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Delightfully Distracting Dexter

I've been a bad library patron. I have 7 overdue library books at home right now! What force is driving my deviant behavior? A serial killer. You may recall that I discovered the audiobook of Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeffry Lindsay this last Thanksgiving. I ended up listening to the second book in the series, Dearly Devoted Dexter, on our Christmas drive. Well, Showtime has created the series Dexter, based on the novels and I was curious to see how well this would translate to TV. So I checked out the first disc of Season 1 from the Library a few weeks ago and have been on a Dexter bender ever since. I can't get enough. I have spent several hours parked in front of the TV doing nothing but watching this show. I'm almost finished with Season 2. Season 3 has not been released on DVD yet, so maybe I'll find some time to get back to the books soon. Word is that the show is signed on for seasons 4 and 5. Between Dexter and The Tudors, Showtime is really disrupting my reading this year.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Down (or Up) the Nile

In 1996, Rosemary Mahoney took a cruise ship up the Nile River in Egypt. She was so taken with Egypt and the Nile that she decided she would row up the Nile by herself. She chronicles her adventure in Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff. Rowing was a hobby for Rosemary and she felt she couldn't truly see the Nile from a commercial cruise ship. Rosemary decided that she would buy a small Egyptian rowboat and row 120 miles from Aswan (the beginning of the Egyptian Nile) to Qena (just north of Luxor) by herself. Although somewhat anti-climactic, her obstacles procuring a boat, dealing with the locals, and making the trip provide a vivid picture of the Egyptian landscape and its people. But shouldn't it be Up the Nile? The Nile flows north, so if she started in the south and rowed north, technically wouldn't you say up, rather than down?