Sunday, October 31, 2010

Heard about a Book...

Just read a review about John le Carré's new book Our Kind of Traitor - the reviewers says, "I have no hesitation in saying if a better thriller than this book as been published this year, I'd like to see it."

From the author's website:

Britain is in the depths of recession. A left-leaning young Oxford academic and his barrister girlfriend take an off-peak holiday on the Caribbean island of Antigua. By seeming chance they bump into a Russian millionaire called Dima who owns a peninsula and a diamond-encrusted gold watch. He also has a tattoo on his right thumb, and wants a game of tennis…

John le Carré’s latest novel, Our Kind of Traitor, is set in contemporary, recession gripped Britain. A left-leaning young Oxford academic and his barrister girlfriend take an off-peak holiday on the Caribbean island of Antigua. By seeming chance they bump into a Russian millionaire called Dima who owns a peninsula and a diamond-encrusted gold watch. He also has a tattoo on his right thumb, and wants a game of tennis.

What else he wants propels the young lovers on a tortuous journey through Paris to a safe house in the Swiss Alps, to the murkiest cloisters of the City of London and its unholy alliance with Britain’s Intelligence Establishment.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Reading List...

On a visit to Rainy Day Books today, I saw a couple of books worth checking out.

A Secret Kept by by Tatiana de Rosnay - This new novel from the author of the acclaimed New York Times bestseller Sarah’s Key, plumbs the depths of complex family relationships and the power of a past secret to change everything in the present.

It all began with a simple seaside vacation, a brother and sister recapturing their childhood. Antoine Rey thought he had the perfect surprise for his
sister Mélanie’s birthday: a weekend by the sea at Noirmoutier Island, where the pair spent many happy childhood summers playing on the beach. It had been too long, Antoine thought, since they’d returned to the island—over thirty years, since their mother died and the family holidays ceased. But the island’s haunting beauty triggers more than happy memories; it reminds Mélanie of something unexpected and deeply disturbing about their last island summer. When, on the drive home to Paris, she finally summons the courage to reveal what she knows to Antoine, her emotions overcome her and she loses control of the car.

Recovering from the accident in a nearby hospital, Mélanie tries to recall what caused her to crash. Antoine encounters an unexpected ally: sexy, streetwise Angèle, a mortician who will teach him new meanings for the words life, love and death. Suddenly, however, the past comes swinging back at both siblings, burdened with a dark truth about their mother, Clarisse.

Trapped in the wake of a shocking family secret shrouded by taboo, Antoine must confront his past and also his troubled relationships with his own children. How well does he really know his mother, his children, even himself? Suddenly fragile on all fronts as a son, a husband, a brother and a father, Antoine Rey will learn the truth about his family and himself the hard way. By turns thrilling, seductive and destructive, with a lingering effect that is bittersweet and redeeming,
A Secret Kept is the story of a modern family, the invisible ties that hold it together, and the impact it has throughout life.

Rose in a Storm by John Katz - From New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz comes a moving and powerful novel, the first one inspired by life on his celebrated Bedlam Farm—and perceptively told from the point of view of Rose, a dedicated working dog.

Rose is determined and focused, keeping the sheep out of danger and protecting the other creatures on the farm she calls home. But of all those she’s looked after since coming to the farm as a puppy, it is Sam, the farmer, whom she watches most carefully.

Awoken one cold midwinter night during lambing season, Rose and Sam struggle into the snowy dark to do their work. The ever observant Rose has seen a change in her master of late, ever since Sam’s wife disappeared one day. She senses something else in the air as well: A storm is coming, but not like any of the ones she’s seen over the years. This storm feels different, bigger, more foreboding.

When an epic blizzard hits the region, it will take all of Rose’s resolve, resourcefulness, and courage to help Sam save the farm and the creatures who live there.

Jon Katz consulted with animal behavior scientists to create his unique and convincing vision of the world as seen through the eyes of a dog. Poignant, thrilling, and beautifully wrought, Rose in a Storm is a wonderfully original and powerful tale from a gifted storyteller.

The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris - In the wake of talk of a “postracial” America upon Barack Obama’s ascension as president of the United States, Michele Norris, cohost of National Public Radio’s flagship program All Things Considered, set out to write, through original reporting, a book about “the hidden conversation” on race that is unfolding nationwide. She would, she thought, base her book on the frank disclosures of others on the subject, but she was soon disabused of her presumption when forced to confront the fact that “the conversation” in her own family had not been forthright.

Norris unearthed painful family secrets that compelled her to question her own self-understanding: from her father’s shooting by a Birmingham police officer weeks after his discharge from the navy at the conclusion of World War II to her maternal grandmother’s peddling pancake mix as an itinerant Aunt Jemima to white farm women in the Midwest. In what became a profoundly personal and bracing journey into her family’s past, Norris traveled from her childhood home in Minneapolis to her ancestral roots in the Deep South to explore the reasons for the “things left unsaid” by her father and mother when she was growing up, the better to come to terms with her own identity. Along the way she discovered how her character was forged by both revelation and silence.

Extraordinary for Norris’s candor in examining her own racial legacy and what it means to be an American, The Grace of Silence is also informed by rigorous research in its evocation of time and place, scores of interviews with ordinary folk, and wise observations about evolving attitudes, at once encouraging and disturbing, toward race in America today. For its particularity and universality, it is powerfully moving, a tour de force.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Just Started...

I am reading The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (see February 25th). It's very good so far.

Heard about a Book...

I am fascinated with space travel and Packing for Mars : The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach looks very interesting.

From the author's website:

Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can't walk for a year? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 4,000 miles per hour? To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations -- making it possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth. From the space shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA's new space capsule (cadaver filling in for astronaut), Packing for Mars takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Heard about a Book...

Just listened to a fascinating person on The Diane Rehm Show, Garry Wills, author of Outside Looking In.

About the book:

Bookish and retiring, Garry Wills has been an outsider in the academy, in journalism, even in his church. Yet these qualities have, paradoxically, prompted people to share intimate insights with him- perhaps because he is not a rival, a competitor, or a threat. Sometimes this made him the prey of con men like conspiratorialist Mark Lane or civil rights leader James Bevel. At other times it led to close friendship with such people as William F. Buckley, Jr., or singer Beverly Sills. The result is the most personal book Wills has ever written.

With his dazzling style and journalist's eye for detail, Wills brings history to life, whether it's the civil rights movement; the protests against the Vietnam War; the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton; or the set of Oliver Stone's Nixon. Illuminating and provocative,
Outside Looking In is a compelling chronicle of an original thinker at work in remarkable times.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Heard about a Book...

This sounds like a very compelling story, To The End of the Land by David Grossman.

From Goodreads.com:

Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother, is on the verge of celebrating her son Ofer’s release from army service when he returns to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, she sets out for a hike in the Galilee, leaving no forwarding information for the “notifiers” who might darken her door with the worst possible news

Recently estranged from her husband, Ilan, she drags along an unlikely companion: their former best friend and her former lover Avram, once a brilliant artistic spirit. Avram served in the army alongside Ilan when they were young, but their lives were forever changed one weekend when the two jokingly had Ora draw lots to see which of them would get the few days’ leave being offered by their commander—a chance act that sent Avram into Egpyt and the Yom Kippur War, where he was brutally tortured as POW. In the aftermath, a virtual hermit, he refused to keep in touch with the family and has never met the boy.

Now, as Ora and Avram sleep out in the hills, ford rivers, and cross valleys, avoiding all news from the front, she gives him the gift of Ofer, word by word; she supplies the whole story of her motherhood, a retelling that keeps Ofer very much alive for Ora and for the reader, and opens Avram to human bonds undreamed of in his broken world. Their walk has a “war and peace” rhythm, as their conversation places the most hideous trials of war next to the joys and anguish of raising children. Never have we seen so clearly the reality and surreality of daily life in Israel, the currents of ambivalence about war within one household, and the burdens that fall on each generation anew.

Heard about a Book...

The long awaited conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy has been out for a couple of months—Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (see February 22nd).

From Goodreads.com:

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss's family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans -- except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels' Mockingjay -- no matter what the personal cost.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Heard about a Book...

I've read some interesting reviews about Obama's Wars, Bob Woodward's new book looking at how the Obama administration has dealt with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From Goodreads.com:

In
Obama's Wars, Bob Woodward provides the most intimate and sweeping portrait yet of the young president as commander in chief. Drawing on internal memos, classified documents, meeting notes and hundreds of hours of interviews with most of the key players, including the president, Woodward tells the inside story of Obama making the critical decisions on the Afghanistan War, the secret campaign in Pakistan and the worldwide fight against terrorism.

At the core of Obama's Wars is the unsettled division between the civilian leadership in the White House and the United States military as the president is thwarted in his efforts to craft an exit plan for the Afghanistan War.

"So what's my option?" the president asked his war cabinet, seeking alternatives to the Afghanistan commander's request for 40,000 more troops in late 2009. "You have essentially given me one option.... It's unacceptable."

"Well," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates finally said, "Mr. President, I think we owe you that option."

It never came. An untamed Vice President Joe Biden pushes relentlessly to limit the military mission and avoid another Vietnam. The vice president frantically sent half a dozen handwritten memos by secure fax to Obama on the eve of the final troop decision.

President Obama's ordering a surge of 30,000 troops and pledging to start withdrawing U.S. forces by July 2011 did not end the skirmishing.

General David Petraeus, the new Afghanistan commander, thinks time can be added to the clock if he shows progress. "I don't think you win this war," Petraeus said privately. "This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives."

Hovering over this debate is the possibility of another terrorist attack in the United States. The White House led a secret exercise showing how unprepared the government is if terrorists set off a nuclear bomb in an American city--which Obama told Woodward is at the top of the list of what he worries about all the time.

Verbatim quotes from secret debates and White House strategy sessions--and firsthand accounts of the thoughts and concerns of the president, his war council and his generals--reveal a government in conflict, often consumed with nasty infighting and fundamental disputes.

Woodward has discovered how the Obama White House really works, showing that even more tough decisions lie ahead for the cerebral and engaged president.

Obama's Wars offers the reader a stunning, you-are-there account of the president, his White House aides, military leaders, diplomats and intelligence chiefs in this time of turmoil and danger.

Heard about a Book...

Just listened to PRI's Here & Now talk about Mark Twain's new autobiography, Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 by Mark Twain, Lin Salamo (Editor), and Harriet E. Smith (Editor). Twain stipulated that it could not be published until until he had been for 100 years. It is due out November 15th.

From Goodreads.com:

"I've struck it!" Mark Twain wrote in a 1904 letter to a friend. "And I will give it away-to you. You will never know how much enjoyment you have lost until you get to dictating your autobiography." Thus, after dozens of false starts and hundreds of pages, Twain embarked on his "Final (and Right) Plan" for telling the story of his life. His innovative notion-to "talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment"--meant that his thoughts could range freely. The strict instruction that these texts remain unpublished for 100 years meant that when they came out, he would be "dead, and unaware, and indifferent" and therefore free to speak his "whole frank mind." The year 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of Twain's death. In celebration of this important milestone and in honor of the cherished tradition of publishing Mark Twain's works, UC Press is proud to offer for the first time Mark Twain's uncensored autobiography in its entirety and exactly as he left it. This major literary event brings to readers, admirers, and scholars the first of three essential volumes and presents Mark Twain's authentic and unsuppressed voice, brimming with humor, ideas, and opinions, and speaking clearly from the grave as he intended.

Heard about a Book...

There is a new Ken Follett, the first installment of a trilogy called Fall of Giants.

From the author's website:

Fall of Giants is a new historical epic. The first novel in the Century trilogy, it follows the fates of five interrelated families – American, German, Russian, English and Welsh – as they move through the world-shaking dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women’s suffrage.

Thirteen-year-old Billy Williams enters a man’s world in the Welsh mining pits…Gus Dewar, an American law student rejected in love, finds a surprising new career in Woodrow Wilson’s White House…two orphaned Russian brothers, Grigori and Lev Peshkov, embark on radically different paths half a world apart when their plan to emigrate to America falls afoul of war, conscription and revolution…Billy’s sister, Ethel, a housekeeper for the aristocratic Fitzherberts, takes a fateful step above her station, while Lady Maud Fitzherbert herself crosses deep into forbidden territory when she falls in love with Walter von Ulrich, a spy at the German Embassy in London….

These characters and many others find their lives inextricably entangled as, in a saga of unfolding drama and intriguing complexity, Fall of Giants moves seamlessly from Washington to St. Petersburg, from the dirt and danger of a coal mine to the glittering chandeliers of a palace, from the corridors of power to the bedrooms of the mighty.

As always with Ken, the historical background is brilliantly researched and rendered, the action fast-moving, the characters rich in nuance and emotion. It is destined to be a new classic.

In future volumes of the Century trilogy, subsequent generations of the same families will travel through the great events of the rest of the twentieth century, changing themselves – and the century itself. With passion and the hand of a master, Ken brings us into a world we thought we knew, but now will never seem the same again.

Heard about a Book...

I am reading good reviews for The Widower's Tale by Julia Glass. Check it out.

From Goodreads.com:

In a quirky farmhouse outside Boston, seventy-year-old Percy Darling enjoys a vigorous but mostly solitary life—until, in a complex scheme to help his oldest daughter through a crisis, he allows a progressive preschool to move into his barn. The abrupt transformation of Percy’s rural refuge into a lively, youthful community compels him to reexamine the choices he’s made since his wife’s death, three decades ago, in a senseless accident that haunts him still. No longer can he remain aloof from his neighbors, his two grown daughters, or, to his shock, the precarious joy of falling in love.

Meanwhile, Percy’s beloved grandson Robert, a premed student at Harvard, joins his visionary roommate in a series of environmental “actions” targeting the well-to-do; they begin as pranks but escalate insidiously, with dire consequences for Robert’s family and the people around them, including a Guatemalan gardener and a gay preschool teacher, whose lives intersect fatefully with those of the Darlings. With equal parts affection and satire, Julia Glass spins a powerful tale about the multigenerational loyalties, rivalries, and secrets of a family, inhabitants of a complacently prosperous world where no one is immune to unexpected change. Yet again, she plumbs the human heart brilliantly, dramatically, and movingly.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Heard about a Book...

Just released in paperback, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins looks like a fascinating book.

From the author's website:

Charles Darwin’s masterpiece, “On the Origin of Species”, shook society to its core on publication in 1859. Darwin was only too aware of the storm his theory of evolution would provoke but he would surely have raised an incredulous eyebrow at the controversy still raging a century and a half later. Evolution is accepted as scientific fact by all reputable scientists and indeed theologians, yet millions of people continue to question its veracity. In “The Greatest Show on Earth”, Richard Dawkins takes on creationists, including followers of ‘Intelligent Design’ and all those who question the fact of evolution through natural selection. Like a detective arriving on the scene of a crime, he sifts through fascinating layers of scientific facts and disciplines to build a cast-iron case: from the living examples of natural selection in birds and insects; the ‘time clocks’ of trees and radioactive dating that calibrate a timescale for evolution; the fossil record and the traces of our earliest ancestors; to confirmation from molecular biology and genetics. All of this, and much more, bears witness to the truth of evolution.

The Greatest Show on Earth comes at a critical time: systematic opposition to the fact of evolution is now flourishing as never before, especially in America. In Britain and elsewhere in the world, teachers witness insidious attempts to undermine the status of science in their classrooms. Richard Dawkins provides unequivocal evidence that boldly and comprehensively rebuts such nonsense. At the same time he shares with us his palpable love of the natural world and the essential role that science plays in its interpretation. Written with elegance, wit and passion, it is hard-hitting, absorbing and totally convincing.