Thursday, September 29, 2011

Top 100 SciFi and Fantasy

Not sure what to read next? Let this Guide to Navigating NPR's Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books decide exactly what novel you're in the mood for.


Monday, September 26, 2011

The Leftovers by Tom Perotta

When I read the reviews for The Leftovers, I was sure it would be a perfect read-a-like for the hugely popular Left Behind series. Well, it is nothing like that at all. I can tell you this this much: a Rapture-like occurence takes place, leaving behind millions to wonder what has happened to their friends and loved ones. Not to mention what is going to happen to them. And there's where it all turns strange - from a cult walking around in white doing nothing but smoking cigarettes to people turning on one another to a young woman thinking she is pregnant with the chosen one. Very odd book!


Portrait of a Monster: Joran van der Sloot, a Murder in Peru, and the Natalee Holloway Mystery by Lisa Pulitzer

Like many, many people, I was glued to all of the cable news networks when the story of the disappearance of Natalee Holloway came out in 2005. And like many, many people, I could not believe that no one was ever charged with a crime. When the news of the murder in Peru came out, along with the fact that the major suspect was Joran van der Sloot, once again I sat night after night hoping for some answers. And what did I get - a big nothing.

So when Portrait of a Monster came out, I had hoped for some new information. There are some bits and pieces, but mostly it is a biography of Joran. Very well done, I might add; especially when it talks about his family members and friends. Still, I must admit that I was hoping for more.


Friday, September 23, 2011

The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Years ago, when working in the retail book world, customers and staff trainees would often ask what qualified a book for the Classics section as opposed to Fiction. My stock answer was, “Dead authors who works have withstood time and still have something to say to us today.” When reading current fiction, one wonders if, say, Dickens or Tolstoy or Austen’s works were recognized as potential classics when first published. Again, one would hope some readers would have felt a mental tremor when reading their words.

I was not familiar with Zafón’s work when I picked up The Angel’s Game, but was caught from the start. As I continued reading, I felt those tremors I mentioned above growing chapter by chapter. When I finished reading it, I called a friend and told her, “I feel as I did the first time I read The Red and The Black (Stendhal). I truly believe I have just read something destined to become a classic.”  

In 1920’s Barcelona, David Martín is a writer. His mother abandoned his father (and David) years before. When his father is killed outside the newspaper offices where he works as a janitor, David is effectively orphaned. The editor offers him a job as a runner and he spends the next years learning the business. He is taken under the wing of Pedro Vidal, a dilettante-writer on the staff, who encourages his dreams of writing. When he is fired from the paper, Pedro puts him in touch with a publisher willing to take a chance on him.

As he begins his new life as a writer, he has started down a path that will lead to obsession, forbidden love, a potential fortune, and a battle for both his sanity and his soul. As Faust had his Mephistopheles, David Martín has Andreas Corelli – who offers him a fortune if he will write a book to his (Corelli’s) specifications. Vidal, Christine (David’s secret love and Vidal’s wife), Isabella, bookseller Sempere, all cycle in and out of David’s spinning-out-control-world. What is real, whom to trust, what is worth fight for (or against), does any of it really matter?

Darkly gothic and eerily contemporary, The Angel’s Game is a book I will read again and again.  


Sixkill by Robert B. Parker

I was heartbroken when Parker died last year and therefore eagerly anticipated the last Spenser novel. I can only assume it was not truly ready for publishing when he died. It felt glib, formulaic, and shallow – something none of the previous ones evinced. I realize any series has certain traits that are definitive to it, but the better writers (of which I counted Parker) could maintain these without them becoming trite. Spenser always had smart comments, both mentally and verbally, but this time he came off as smug and superior. Long time characters Susan Silverman and Rita Fiore fared no better and Spenser’s sidekick, Hawk, was m.i.a. If you loved Parker’s writing and the Spenser books especially, you might want to let this one go by.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Take Your Eye Off the Ball by Pat Kirwan

If you’ve ever watched a football game and wondered what all the gobbledygook the quarterback shouts out before the snap means, this is the book for you. Author Pat Kirwan explains and analyzes everything from the process an NFL quarterback must go through on each play to how things are done in the front offices of the various NFL teams. Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look is the perfect book for the start of football season. Read it now and blow away all your football friends with your newfound understanding of the game.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster's Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture by Joshua Kendall

Philologists, rejoice!  Here is an engaging, if slightly convoluted, book about the father of American letters.  Noah Webster was a champion of Federalism through his prolific writing, and a colleage of Washington, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton and Jay.  Before compiling the eponymous dictionary, he published the "Grammatical Institute," including America's most popular spelling guide, a grammar book and a reader.  He also founded numerous newspapers and literary magazines.  Kendall's portrait provides us the "rest of the story" about our country's early years and gives Webster his place of prominence in American history.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

It’s summer, it’s Paris, and French lessons could never just be about language skills!
Three Americans: Josie, a high school French teacher; Riley, a woman whose husband’s company sent him to their Paris office; and Jeremy, the husband of an American film star shooting in Paris – have all hired French tutors from the same agency.
Three young Parisians: Nico, who believes he’s in love with fellow tutor Chantal; Chantal, who’s been having a tumultuous affair with fellow tutor Philippe; and Philippe, who, as Chantal says, “…loves falling in love. He does not love being in love.”
By the end of the day we spend with them, much is revealed and much accomplished. As each pair strolls the boulevards of Paris, conversing in French, more than words are pulled from deep inside. Relationships end and begin, a torn soul starts to heal, sharing a secret allows a youth to become a man, and a heart reconfirms its home.
Great literature? No. But one gets a feel for Paris and the characters are basically well-defined and engaging. A fresh croissant is almost without substance in the hand and on the tongue, but who has not found its delicate, buttery flakes to be satisfying in the extreme?