Friday, April 30, 2010

Heard about a Book...

This looks like a fascinating book - Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Where are these guys in the Olympics?...

From NPR's review:

Born to Run is like those dreams many of us have, which start simply and end in the land of the bizarre. In this case, the simple question of why most American runners suffer injuries despite expensive sneakers brings Christopher McDougall to the unforgiving terrain of Mexico's Copper Canyons, home to an indigenous population of ultra-runners, the Tarahumara Indians.

They call themselves the Raramuri, or the 'Running People.' They never suffer illness. Eating a diet of ground corn, mouse meat and homemade alcohol—and sleeping no regular hours—the Tarahumara men and woman somehow pack the endurance to run cliff-side races topping one hundred miles and sometimes lasting two days. Their economic system of bartering and pre-Aztec language are an anthropological mystery, but local legend leaking from the canyons has it that men can chase a deer until exhaustion renders the beast an easy kill.

McDougall recounts his quest to understand these near superhuman ultra-runners with adrenaline-pumped writing, humor and a distinct voice. Pulling you with him through sun-crisped canyons, plopping you into the path of sweat-less super athletes, and crushing your faith in Nike, he never lets go from his impassioned mantra that humans were born to run. "Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees," he writes, "we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain."

Classic...

Cheryl showed me one of her childhood favorites the other day, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Bettey Smith, originally published in 1943.

From Goodreads.com:

The beloved American classic about a young girl's coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg, Brooklyn has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness—in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Heard about a Book...

On NPR's Here and Now I heard an interview with author Ron Rash. His most recent novel is Serena which was a 2009 finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

From the publisher's website:

The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where they plan to create a timber empire. Although George has already lived in the camp long enough to father an illegitimate child, Serena is new to the mountains -- but she soon shows herself to be the equal of any man, overseeing crews, hunting rattle-snakes, even saving her husband's life in the wilderness. Together this lord and lady of the woodlands ruthlessly kill or vanquish all who fall out of favor. Yet when Serena learns that she will never bear a child, she sets out to murder the son George fathered without her. Mother and child begin a struggle for their lives, and when Serena suspects George is protecting his illegitimate family, the Pembertons' intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel as the story moves toward its shocking reckoning.

Heard about a Book...

I found several blogs that recommend a fantasy fiction series for young adults by Megan Whalen Turner, The Queen's Thief series. The books in order are The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings. The Thief, won a Newbery Honor award in 1997.

About The Thief from the author's website:

The most powerful advisor to the King of Sounis is the magus. He's not a wizard, he's a scholar, an aging solider, not a thief. When he needs something stolen, he pulls a young thief from the King's prison to do the job for him.

Gen is a thief and proud of it. When his bragging lands him behind bars he has one chance to win his freedom—journey to a neighboring kingdom with the magus, find a legendary stone called Hamiathes's Gift and steal it.

The magus has plans for his King and his country. Gen has plans of his own.

Reading List...

More from our bookstore visit (alphabetical by author):

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery - We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her
employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - Both a novel and short stories, The Things They Carried is a collection of interrelated short pieces which ultimately reads with the dram
atic force and tension of a novel. Yet each one of the twenty-two short pieces is written with such care, emotional content, and prosaic precision that it could stand on its own. It depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, the character Tim O'Brien who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy), and occasionally each other. In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage and fear. They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home. Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers (the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances), and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have. We hear the voices of the men and build images upon their dialogue. The way they tell stories about others, we hear them telling stories about themselves.

The Bronze Ho
rseman by Paullina Simons - Leningrad 1941: the white nights of summer illuminate a city of fallen grandeur whose beautiful palaces and stately avenues speak of a different age, when Leningrad was known as St Petersburg. Two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha, share the same bed, living in one room with their brother and parents. It is a hard, impoverished life, yet the Metanovs know many who are not as fortunate as they. The family routine is shattered on 22 June 1941 when Hitler invades Russia. For the Metanovs, for Leningrad and for Tatiana, life will never be the same again. On the fateful day, Tatiana meets a brash young officer named Alexander.

An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor - Barry Laverty, MD, can barely find the village of Ballybucklebo on a map when he first sets out to seek gainful employment there, but already he knows that there is nowhere he would rather live than in the emerald hills and glens of Northern Ireland. The proud owner of a spanking-new medical degree, Barry jumps at the chance to secure
a position as an assistant in a small rural practice. At least until he meets Dr. Fingal Flahertie OReilly. The older physician, whose motto is never let the patients get the upper hand, has his own way of doing things, which definitely takes some getting used to. At first, Barry cant decide if the pugnacious OReilly is the biggest charlatan he has ever met, or possibly the best teacher he could ever hope for. Ballybucklebo is a long way from Belfast, and Barry soon discovers that he still has a lot to learn about country life. But if he sticks with it, he just might end up finding out more about life and love than he could ever have imagined back in medical school.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reading List...

More books that looked good from our visit to the bookstore (alphabetical by author):

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister - Once a month on Monday night, eight students gather in Lillian’s restaurant for a cooking class. Among them is Claire, a young woman coming to terms with her new identity as a mother; Tom, a lawyer whose life has been overturned by loss;
Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer adapting to life in America; and Carl and Helen, a long-married couple whose union contains surprises the rest of the class would never suspect.

Men and Dogs by Katie Crouch - It was the spring of 1985. Dr. Buzz Legare went on a fishing trip in the Charleston, South Carolina harbor, taking the family dog with him. They found the dog later, floating alone in the small aluminum boat, but Buzz was never seen again.

Water, Stone, Heart by Will North - Newly divorced, Andrew Stratton lives in his head and not with his heart. He teaches architectural theory but has never built a building. He writes about “The Anatomy of Livable Places”– communities where form and material are in harmony–but has no sense of where he belongs. He is capable of deep, tender emotions but is unable to express them. When his wife leaves him for another man and excoriates his cautious nature in the process, Andrew is like a house shaken off a faulty foundation. Sifting through the rubble, he must figure out what should be salvaged and what should be scrapped.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees - Millions of readers across generations have laughed and cried with the March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Little Women. And there has never been a more beloved heroine in the history of American letters than Jo March, Louisa’s alter ego and an iconic figure of independent spirit and big dreams. But as Louisa knew all too well, big dreams often come at a cost. In her debut novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Kelly O’Connor McNees deftly mixes fact and fiction as she imagines a summer lost to history, carefully purged from Louisa’s letters and journals, a summer that would change the course of Louisa’s writing career—and inspire the story of love and heartbreak between Jo and Teddy “Laurie” Laurence, Jo’s devoted neighbor and kindred spirit.

Reading List...

Over the weekend, we went to the bookstore, and browsed the fiction tables, the staff pick shelves, and the best seller aisles. Here are some books that looked good to us (alphabetical by author):

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley - An enthralling mystery, a piercing depiction of class and society, and a masterfully told tale of deceptions—a rich literary delight.

The Last Child by John Hart - Thirteen year-old Johnny Merrimon had the perfect life: a warm home and loving parents; a twin sister, Alyssa, with whom he shared an irreplaceable bond. He knew nothing of loss, until the day Alyssa vanished from the side of a lonely street. Now, a year later, Johnny finds himself isolated and alone, failed by the people he’d been taught since birth to trust. No one else believes that Alyssa is still alive, but Johnny is certain that she is—confident in a way that he can never fully explain...

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan - "I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current." So writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she struggles to justify her clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives.

Once a Runner by John L. Parker Jr. - An inspiring and funny tale of one man’s quest to become a champion. Originally self-published in 1978 and sold at road races out of the trunk of the author’s car, the book eventually found its way into the hands of high school, college, and postgraduate athletes all over the country. Reading it became a rite of passage on many teams and tattered copies were handed down like sacred texts from generation to generation. Once a Runner captures the essence of what it means to be a competitive runner, to devote your entire existence to a single-minded pursuit of excellence. In doing so, it has become one of the most beloved sports novels ever published.

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín - Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to spon
sor Eilis in America, she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind. Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Heard about a Book...

I heard about a book that will be published next week for you Brontë sister fans—Romancing Miss Brontë by Juliet Gael. Indications are this debut effort by the author is very good (you can preview chapter one on the author's website).

From the author's website:

During the two years that she studied in Brussels, Charlotte Brontë had a taste of life’s splendors—of travel, literature, and art. Now, it is 1845, and she is back home in the desolate Yorkshire moors, duty-bound to a blind father and an alcoholic brother, watching her dreams unravel. With her sisters Emily and Anne, she conceives an ambitious plan to earn a little money: they will publish. Returning to the imaginary worlds that had been their solace since childhood, the sisters craft novels quite unlike anything written before. Against a backdrop of domestic chaos, they go about their business in utmost secrecy, writing under pen names and deftly spiriting manuscripts back and forth to publishers under the noses of unsuspecting family and friends.

Charlotte’s Jane Eyre becomes an overwhelming literary success, catapulting her into the spotlight of London’s fashionable literary scene, and into the arms of her new publisher, George Smith, an irresistibly handsome young man whose interest in his fiercely intelligent and spirited new author seems to go beyond professional duty. Just as life begins to hold new promise, unspeakable tragedy descends on the obscure little parsonage, throwing London and George into the distance and leaving Charlotte to fear that the only romance she will ever find is at the tip of her pen. But another man waits in the Brontës’ Haworth parsonage—the quiet but determined curate Arthur Nicholls. After secretly pining for Charlotte since he first came to work for her father, Arthur suddenly reveals his heart to her.

Romancing Miss Brontë is a fascinating portrayal of an extraordinary woman whose life and work articulated our deepest human longing: to love and be loved in return.

Heard about a Book...

I read a review by Marion Winik for Newsday (who is a good writer in her own right) about The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald. Winik likes the book and concludes her review by saying, "A little Irving, a little Doctorow, a little Winston Groom (“Forrest Gump”)—Grunwald’s fifth novel is storytelling for story lovers; realism with an enchanting touch of fairy tale."

From the publisher's website:

It is the middle of the twentieth century, and in a home economics program at a prominent university, real babies are being used to teach mothering skills to young women. For a young man raised in these unlikely circumstances, finding real love and learning to trust will prove to be the work of a lifetime. In this captivating novel, bestselling author Lisa Grunwald gives us the sweeping tale of an irresistible hero and the many women who love him.

From his earliest days as a “practice baby” through his adult adventures in 1960s New York City, Disney’s Burbank studios, and the delirious world of the Beatles’ London, Henry remains handsome, charming, universally adored—and never entirely accessible to the many women he conquers but can never entirely trust.

Filled with unforgettable characters, settings, and action,
The Irresistible Henry House portrays the cultural tumult of the mid-twentieth century even as it explores the inner tumult of a young man trying to transcend a damaged childhood. For it is not until Henry House comes face-to-face with the real truths of his past that he finds a chance for real love.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Heard about a Book...

I just listened to an interview on NPR's Fresh Air with New York Times foreign correspondent Dexter Filkins (by the way, if you don't regularly listen to Terry Gross on Fresh Air, you need to start). The interview was about his recent visit to Afghanistan—an extremely interesting person—but he has a book called The Forever War. It looks interesting...

From the author's website:

From the front lines of the battle against Islamic fundamentalism, a searing, unforgettable book that captures the human essence of the greatest conflict of our time.

Through the eyes of Dexter Filkins, the prizewinning New York Times correspondent whose work was hailed by David Halberstam as “reporting of the highest quality imaginable,” we witness the remarkable chain of events that began with the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, continued with the attacks of 9/11, and moved on to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Filkins’s narrative moves across a vast and various landscape of amazing characters and astonishing scenes: deserts, mountains, and streets of carnage; a public amputation performed by Taliban; children frolicking in minefields; skies streaked white by the contrails of B-52s; a night’s sleep in the rubble of Ground Zero.


We embark on a foot patrol through the shadowy streets of Ramadi, venture into a torture chamber run by Saddam Hussein. We go into the homes of suicide bombers and into street-to-street fighting with a battalion of marines. We meet Iraqi insurgents, an American captain who loses a quarter of his men in eight days, and a young soldier from Georgia on a rooftop at midnight reminiscing about his girlfriend back home. A car bomb explodes, bullets fly, and a mother cradles her blinded son.

Like no other book, The Forever War allows us a visceral understanding of today’s battlefields and of the experiences of the people on the ground, warriors and innocents alike. It is a brilliant, fearless work, not just about America’s wars after 9/11, but ultimately about the nature of war itself.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Just Finished...

Steve reports, "I've just finished The Country Ahead of Us, The Country Behind, a collection of short stories by David Guterson who also wrote Snow Falling On Cedars. I don't know why I picked it up—I'm not really a big fan of short stories—but it was pretty good. Not funny or action-packed, just simple stories that make you think.

"I don't remember whether I told you about
Snow by Orhan Pamuk which won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It was enjoyable, but in some ways very tedious and sad, and kind of difficult to relate to considering it is set in a very poor part of Turkey and concerns the politics of that area.

"I really enjoyed
Imperium by Robert Harris, which is a work of historical fiction about Cicero."

About The Country Ahead of Us, The Country Behind:

Like his novel
Snow Falling On Cedars, for which he received the PEN/Faulkner Award, Guterson's beautifully observed and emotionally piercing short stories are set largely in the Pacific Northwest. In these vast landscapes, hunting, fishing, and sports are the givens of men's lives. With prose that stings like the scent of gunpowder, this is a collection of power.

About
Imperium from Goodreads.com:

When Tiro, the confidential secretary (and slave) of a Roman senator, opens the door to a terrified stranger on a cold November morning, he sets in motion a chain of events that will eventually propel his master into one of the most suspenseful courtroom dramas in history. The stranger is a Sicilian, a victim of the island's corrupt Roman governor, Verres. The senator is Marcus Cicero—an ambitious young lawyer and spellbinding orator, who at the age of twenty-seven is determined to attain imperium—supreme power in the state.

Of all the great figures of the Roman world, none was more fascinating or charismatic than Cicero. And Tiro—the inventor of shorthand and author of numerous books, including a celebrated biography of his master (which was lost in the Dark Ages)—was always by his side.

Compellingly written in Tiro's voice, Imperium is the re-creation of his vanished masterpiece, recounting in vivid detail the story of Cicero's quest for glory, competing with some of the most powerful and intimidating figures of his—or any other—age: Pompey, Caesar, Crassus, and the many other powerful Romans who changed history.

Robert Harris, the world's master of innovative historical fiction, lures us into a violent, treacherous world of Roman politics at once exotically different from and yet startlingly similar to our own—a world of Senate intrigue and electoral corruption, special prosecutors and political adventurism—to describe how one clever, compassionate, devious, vulnerable man fought to reach the top.

Just Started...

Tom reports that "Sophie has discovered a new book called A Fabumouse Vacation for Geronimo, one of the Geronimo Mouse series books by Geronimo Stilton . This is the first book she has read in the series—#9 out of 39 books published by Scholastic Inc."

From Goodreads.com:

Sometimes a busy businessmouse like me needs a nice, relaxing vacation. But of all the rotten rats' luck -- every time I tried to get away, disaster struck. My aunt Dizzy Fur's mouse hole caught on fire, my office was flooded, and our printing press broke down! When I was finally ready to depart, all the good trips were booked up. I was stuck in a flea-ridden old hotel, sharing a room with a bunch of Gerbil Scouts! I couldn't wait to get back to my comfy home in New Mouse City....

Friday, April 16, 2010

Heard about a Book...

Read a blog that mentioned reading this story to her 10 year old daughter—From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. Turns out it won the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children's literature in 1968—it's a classic!

About the story:

When suburban Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, she knows she doesn't just want to run from somewhere she wants to run to somewhere—to a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and preferably elegant. She chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Knowing that her younger brother, Jamie, has money and thus can help her with the serious cash flow problem she invites him along.

Once settled into the museum, Claudia and Jamie, find themselves caught up in the mystery of an angel statue that the museum purchased at an auction for a bargain price of $250. The statue is possibly an early work of the Renaissance master Michelangelo, and therefore worth millions. Is it? Or isn't it? Claudia is determined to find out. This quest leads Claudia to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the remarkable old woman who sold the statue and to some equally remarkable discoveries about herself.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Just Started...

One vote for for Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (see April 12th). RobinB says, "I can't put it down. Very disturbing but well done as ususal for Quindlen."

Heard about a Book...

In doing some online reading about National Poetry Month, I came across Endpoint and Other Poems by John Updike, a book of poetry he finished compiling only weeks before his death last year.

From the publisher's website:

A stunning collection of poems that John Updike wrote during the last seven years of his life and put together only weeks before he died for this, his final book.

The opening sequence, “Endpoint,” is made up of a series of connected poems written on the occasions of his recent birthdays and culminates in his confrontation with his final illness. He looks back on the boy that he was, on the family, the small town, the people, and the circumstances that fed his love of writing, and he finds endless delight and solace in “turning the oddities of life into words.”

“Other Poems” range from the fanciful (what would it be like to be a stolen Rembrandt painting? he muses) to the celebratory, capturing the flux of life. A section of sonnets follows, some inspired by travels to distant lands, others celebrating the idiosyncrasies of nature in his own backyard.

For John Updike, the writing of poetry was always a special joy, and this final collection is an eloquent and moving testament to the life of this extraordinary writer.

A poem from this collection:

Baseball

It looks easy from a distance,
easy and lazy, even,
until you stand up to the plate
and see the fastball sailing inside,
an inch from your chin,
or circle in the outfield
straining to get a bead
on a small black dot
a city block or more high,
a dark star that could fall
on your head like a leaden meteor.

The grass, the dirt, the deadly hops
between your feet and overeager glove:
football can be learned,
and basketball finessed, but
there is no hiding from baseball
the fact that some are chosen
and some are not—those whose mitts
feel too left-handed,
who are scared at third base
of the pulled line drive,
and at first base are scared
of the shortstop's wild throw
that stretches you out like a gutted deer.

There is nowhere to hide when the ball's
spotlight swivels your way,
and the chatter around you falls still,
and the mothers on the sidelines,
your own among them, hold their breaths,
and you whiff on a terrible pitch
or in the infield achieve
something with the ball so
ridiculous you blush for years.
It's easy to do. Baseball was
invented in America, where beneath
the good cheer and sly jazz the chance
of failure is everybody's right,
beginning with baseball
.

~ from Endpoint and Other Poems, 2009 ~

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Heard about a Book...

I just listened to NPR's Terry Gross on Fresh Air interview Barbara Strauch, author of a new book called The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain; The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind. It sounds like a fascinating book, and for those of you who share "middle age" with me, there is hope...

From the publisher's website:

For many years, scientists thought that the human brain simply decayed over time and its dying cells led to memory slips, fuzzy logic, negative thinking, and even depression. But new research from neuroscien­tists and psychologists suggests that, in fact, the brain reorganizes, improves in important functions, and even helps us adopt a more optimistic outlook in middle age. Growth of white matter and brain connectors allow us to recognize patterns faster, make better judgments, and find unique solutions to problems. Scientists call these traits cognitive expertise and they reach their highest levels in middle age.

In her impeccably researched book, science writer Barbara Strauch explores the latest findings that demonstrate, through the use of technology such as brain scans, that the middle-aged brain is more flexible and more capable than previously thought. For the first time, long-term studies show that our view of middle age has been misleading and incomplete. By detailing exactly the normal, healthy brain functions over time, Strauch also explains how its optimal processes can be maintained. Part scientific survey, part how-to guide, The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain is a fascinating glimpse at our surprisingly talented middle-aged minds.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Heard about a Book...

The 2010 Pulitzer Prize Winner, Citation for Fiction—for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life—was awarded yesterday for Tinkers by Paul Harding.

From Goodreads.com:

An old man lies dying. Confined to bed in his living room, he sees the walls around him begin to collapse, the windows come loose from their sashes, and the ceiling plaster fall off in great chunks, showering him with a lifetime of debris: newspaper clippings, old photographs, wool jackets, rusty tools, and the mangled brass works of antique clocks. Soon, the clouds from the sky above plummet down on top of him, followed by the stars, till the black night covers him like a shroud. He is hallucinating, in death throes from cancer and kidney failure.

A methodical repairer of clocks, he is now finally released from the usual constraints of time and memory to rejoin his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler, whom he had lost 7 decades before. In his return to the wonder and pain of his impoverished childhood in the backwoods of Maine, he recovers a natural world that is at once indifferent to man and inseparable from him, menacing and awe inspiring.

Tinkers is about the legacy of consciousness and the porousness of identity from one generation the next. At once heartbreaking and life affirming, it is an elegiac meditation on love, loss, and the fierce beauty of nature.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Heard about a Book...

Just listened to NPR's Diane Rehm interview Anna Quindlen about her new novel Every Last One. We are big fans of Quindlen's books and this sounds like another good one.

From the publisher's website:

Mary Beth Latham is first and foremost a mother, whose three teenaged children come first, before her career as a landscape gardener, or even her life as the wife of a doctor. Caring for her family and preserving their everyday life is paramount. And so, when one of her sons, Max, becomes depressed, Mary Beth becomes focused on him, and is blindsided by a shocking act of violence. What happens afterwards is a testament to the power of a woman’s love and determination, and to the invisible line of hope and healing that connects one human being with another. Ultimately, in the hands of Anna Quindlen’s mesmerizing prose,
Every Last One is a novel about facing every last one of the the things we fear most, about finding ways to navigate a road we never intended to travel, to live a life we never dreamed we’d have to live but must be brave enough to try.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Just Started...

Cheryl just started Local Knowledge by Liza Gyllenhaal. So far, so good.

From the author's website:

Maddie Alden has always longed for more than her small, economically depressed upstate New York town could offer. The real estate boom that transformed the countryside after 9/11 seems to bring her just that: a chance for Maddie, the mother of three girls, to pursue a career as a real estate agent. In her first big sale to wealthy weekenders, Maddie meets the mercurial Anne Zeller who is the epitome of everything Maddie longs to be. Seeking Anne's friendship and approval, Maddie, without realizing it, slowly begins to let go all that is most dear to her.

Local Knowledge explores the clash of cultures between the long-established local community and the wave of new second-homeowners. It is a powerful story of two friendships — Maddie’s with Anne — and Paul’s with his best friend, the iconoclastic Luke Barnett, whose roots go back to the area’s the first settlers. Local Knowledge tells the passionate tale of two love-affairs and how an event — long buried in the past — resurfaces in the present and ultimately affects the fortunes of everyone involved.

Just Started...

On NPR's Talk of the Nation, I heard author Christopher Moore interview about his latest novel Bite Me: A Love Story. I thought he was a funny and interesting guy, so I poke around the web and decided to read an early novel, Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. So far it's very funny...a little sacrilegious, but funny!

From the author's website:

The birth of Jesus has been well chronicled, as have his glorious teachings, acts, and divine sacrifice after his thirtieth birthday. But no one knows about the early life of the Son of God, the missing years -- except Biff, the Messiahs best bud, who has been resurrected to tell the story in the divinely hilarious yet heartfelt work "reminiscent of Vonnegut and Douglas Adams" (Philadelphia Inquirer).

Verily, the story Biff has to tell is a miraculous one, filled with remarkable journeys, magic, healings, kung fu, corpse reanimations, demons, and hot babes. Even the considerable wiles and devotion of the Saviors pal may not be enough to divert Joshua from his tragic destiny. But there's no one who loves Josh more -- except maybe "Maggie," Mary of Magdala -- and Biff isn't about to let his extraordinary pal suffer and ascend without a fight.

Just Started...

Jim just started The Given Day by Dennis Lehane and says it's very good so far.

From the publisher's website:

Set in Boston at the end of the First World War, New York Times bestselling author Dennis Lehane's long-awaited eighth novel unflinchingly captures the political and social unrest of a nation caught at the crossroads between past and future. Filled with a cast of unforgettable characters more richly drawn than any Lehane has ever created,
The Given Day tells the story of two families—one black, one white—swept up in a maelstrom of revolutionaries and anarchists, immigrants and ward bosses, Brahmins and ordinary citizens, all engaged in a battle for survival and power. Beat cop Danny Coughlin, the son of one of the city's most beloved and powerful police captains, joins a burgeoning union movement and the hunt for violent radicals. Luther Laurence, on the run after a deadly confrontation with a crime boss in Tulsa, works for the Coughlin family and tries desperately to find his way home to his pregnant wife.

Here, too, are some of the most influential figures of the era—Babe Ruth; Eugene O'Neill; leftist activist Jack Reed; NAACP founder W. E. B. DuBois; Mitchell Palmer, Woodrow Wilson's ruthless Red-chasing attorney general; cunning Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge; and an ambitious young Department of Justice lawyer named John Hoover.

Coursing through some of the pivotal events of the time—including the Spanish Influenza pandemic—and culminating in the Boston Police Strike of 1919,
The Given Day explores the crippling violence and irrepressible exuberance of a country at war with, and in the thrall of, itself. As Danny, Luther, and those around them struggle to define themselves in increasingly turbulent times, they gradually find family in one another and, together, ride a rising storm of hardship, deprivation, and hope that will change all their lives.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Heard about a Book...

I am seeing a lot of good things being said about Shanghai Girls by Lisa See.

From the author's website:

In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, full of great wealth and glamour, home to millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister May are having the time of their lives, thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business. Though both wave off authority and traditions, they couldn’t be more different. Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and living the carefree life ... until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth, and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides.

As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the villages of south China, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the foreign shores of America. In Los Angeles, they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with their stranger husbands, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life, even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown’s old ways and rules.

At its heart, Shanghai Girls is a story of sisters: Pearl and May are inseparable best friends, who share hopes, dreams, and a deep connection. But like sisters everywhere, they also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. They love each other but they also know exactly where to drive the knife to hurt the other sister the most. Along the way there are terrible sacrifices, impossible choices and one devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel by Lisa See hold fast to who they are – Shanghai girls.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Heard about a Book...

I've seen several book blogs talk favorably about Fallen by Lauren Kate. Looks like another new young adult fiction writer in the paranormal romance genre...this time angels! And the author's website says book #2 is on its way...

From the publisher's website:

There's something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori.

Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price's attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at the Sword & Cross boarding school in sultry Savannah, Georgia. He's the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are all screw-ups, and security cameras watch every move.

Even though Daniel wants nothing to do with Luce—and goes out of his way to make that very clear—she can't let it go. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, she has to find out what Daniel is so desperate to keep secret...even if it kills her.

Dangerously exciting and darkly romantic, Fallen is a page turning thriller and the ultimate love story.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Heard about a Book...

I was poking around some book blogs and saw Tell Me Everything by Sarah Salway—it looks good.

From Goodreads.com:

It has been several years since she confided in her teacher, and Molly Drayton is still feeling the aftershocks. But when a chance meeting with a stranger leads to an offer of a room in exchange for telling stories, Molly jumps at the chance. Slowly, she builds an eccentric new family: Tim, her secretive boyfriend, who just might be a spy; Miranda, the lovelorn hairstylist; Liz, the lusty librarian; and Mr. Roberts, a landlord who listens, and his wife who is that very wonderful thing, French.

Much to Molly’s surprise, she finds that the stories she now tells are her key to creating a completely different life. Suddenly, her future is full of possibilities. The trouble is, Molly’s not the only one telling tales.

Sarah Salway’s witty, finely tuned, and poignant novel is an utterly entrancing chronicle of a unique coming-of-age, capturing the imagination as it explores what we reveal to others, how honest we are with ourselves, and the consequences of trying to bridge fact and fiction.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Just Finished...

Based on a recommendation from Rainy Day Books, Bailey just finished Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. She said it was a great book (see February 11th).

CJ Says...

For book club, CJ is reading Hornet Flight by Ken Follett.

From the author's website:

It is June 1941, and the low point of the war. England throws wave after wave of bombers across the Channel, but somehow the Lufwaffe is able to shoot them down at will. The skies—indeed the war itself—seem to belong to Hitler.

But on a small Danish island across the North Sea, Harald Olufsen, a bright eighteen-year-old with a talent for engineering, stumbles across a secret German installation. Its machinery is like nothing he has ever seen before and he knows he must tell someone – if he can only figure out who.

With England preparing its largest aerial assault ever, what Harald has discovered may turn the course of the war – but the race to convey the information could have terrible consequences for everyone close to him.

For his older brother Arne, a pilot in the grounded Danish Air Force and already under suspicion of the authorities. For Arne’s fiancee, Hermia, an MI6 intelligence analyst desperate to resurrect the foundering Danish resistance. And most of all for Harald himself – because as the hour of the assault approaches, it will all fall to him and his friend Karen to get the word to England.

And the only means available to them is a derelict Hornet Moth biplane abandoned in a ruined church, a plane so decrepit that it is unlikely ever to get off the ground.

Pursued by the enemy; hunted by collaborators; with almost no training, limited fuel, and no way of knowing if they will survive the six-hundred mile flight, the two will carry with them England's best—perhaps only—hope of avoiding disaster.

Just Started...

Jim reports he is reading The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. He says it's very interesting - the history of the "Dust Bowl".

From the publisher's website:

The devastation caused this year by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita serves as a grim reminder of the destructive power of nature and the long-term effects of a single storm. In The Worst Hard Time, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Timothy Egan brilliantly captures the untold story of the Dust Bowl, the decade of brutally punishing dust storms that ravaged the American High Plains during the Depression and became the "worst weather event" in American history, through the eyes of those who survived it.

Once one of the greatest grasslands in the world, the High Plains of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico went through a bonanza of overfarming in the 1920s. When the rains stopped and the wind picked up in the early 1930s, the stripped earth began to stir and blow to devastating effect, sending millions of tons of dust across much of the nation. In the High Plains, the power of these blinding black blizzards of dust was such that it was often impossible to "see your hand in front of your face," according to one survivor.

At its peak, the Dust Bowl covered close to one hundred million acres, and more than a quarter of a million Americans were forced to flee their ruined homes.

The Worst Hard Time captures the full drama, heroism, and terror of this unwritten chapter of the Greatest Generation, a time when the simplest thing in life — taking a breath — was a threat. The book is a testament to the power of human perseverance in the face of the most wretched of conditions, as well as a reminder that the environmental catastrophe of the Dust Bowl may be only a preview of what is in store for us in our ever-warming future.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Reading List...

Paul just gave us a pile of books, many previously mentioned here. He says maybe the best book in the pile is The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (see February 17th)
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (see March 30th)
The River of Doubt by Candice Millard (see February 10th)
The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
Couldn't Keep It To Myself edited by Wally Lamb
The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley

About
The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton:

Six years after her Pulitzer Prize-winning best-seller,
A Thousand Acres, and three years after her witty, acclaimed, and best-selling novel of academe, Moo, Jane Smiley once again demonstrates her extraordinary range and brilliance.

Her new novel, set in the 1850s, speaks to us in a splendidly quirky voice—the strong, wry, no-nonsense voice of Lidie Harkness of Quincy, Illinois, a young woman of courage, good sense, and good heart. It carries us into an America so violently torn apart by the question of slavery that it makes our current political battlegrounds seem a peaceable kingdom.

Lidie is hard to scare. She is almost shockingly alive—a tall, plain girl who rides and shoots and speaks her mind, and whose straightforward ways paradoxically amount to a kind of glamour. We see her at twenty, making a good marriage—to Thomas Newton, a steady, sweet-tempered Yankee who passes through her hometown on a dangerous mission. He belongs to a group of rashly brave New England abolitionists who dedicate themselves to settling the Kansas Territory with like-minded folk to ensure its entering the Union as a Free State.

Lidie packs up and goes with him. And the novel races alongside them into the Territory, into the maelstrom of "Bloody Kansas," where slaveholding Missourians constantly and viciously clash with Free Staters, where wandering youths kill you as soon as look at you--where Lidie becomes even more fervently abolitionist than her husband as the young couple again and again barely escape entrapment in webs of atrocity on both sides of the great question.

And when, suddenly, cold-blooded murder invades her own intimate circle, Lidie doesn't falter. She cuts off her hair, disguises herself as a boy, and rides into Missouri in search of the killers—a woman in a fiercely male world, an abolitionist spy in slave territory. On the run, her life threatened, her wits sharpened, she takes on yet another identity—and, in the very midst of her masquerade, discovers herself.

Lidie grows increasingly important to us as we follow her travels and adventures on the feverish eve of the War Between the States. With its crackling portrayal of a totally individual and wonderfully articulate woman, its storytelling drive, and its powerful recapturing of an almost forgotten part of the American story, this is Jane Smiley at her enthralling and enriching best.