Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Heard about a Book...

I have read several good reviews for 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein.

From the publisher:

After Cass Seltzer’s book becomes a surprise best seller, he’s dubbed “the atheist with a soul” and becomes a celebrity. He wins over the stunning Lucinda Mandelbaum, “the goddess of game theory,” and loses himself in a spiritually expansive infatuation. A former girlfriend appears: an anthropologist who invites him to join in her quest for immortality through biochemistry. And he is haunted by reminders of the two people who ignited his passion to understand religion: his mentor and professor—a renowned literary scholar with a suspicious obsession with messianism—and an angelic six-year-old mathematical genius who is heir to the leadership of a Hasidic sect. Each encounter reinforces Cass’s theory that the religious impulse spills over into life at large.

36 Arguments for the Existence of God plunges into the great debate of our day: the clash between faith and reason. World events are being shaped by fervent believers at home and abroad, while a new atheism is asserting itself in the public sphere. On purely intellectual grounds the skeptics would seem to have everything on their side. Yet people refuse to accept their seemingly irrefutable arguments and continue to embrace faith in God as their source of meaning, purpose, and comfort.

Through the enchantment of fiction, award-winning novelist and MacArthur Fellow Rebecca Newberger Goldstein shows that the tension between religion and doubt cannot be understood through rational argument alone. It also must be explored from the point of view of individual people caught in the raptures and torments of religious experience in all their variety.

Using her gifts in fiction and philosophy, Goldstein has produced a true crossover novel, complete with a nail-biting debate (“Resolved: God Exists”) and a stand-alone appendix with the thirty-six arguments (and responses) that propelled Seltzer to stardom.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Heard about a Book...

I have read several reviews that the debut novel Swamplandi by Karen Russell is very good.

From Goodreads.com:

The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline—think Buddenbrooks set in the Florida Everglades—and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as the World of Darkness. Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Her mother, Swamp landia!’s legendary headliner, has just died; her sister is having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her brother has secretly defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their sinking family afloat; and her father, Chief Bigtree, is AWOL. To save her family, Ava must journey on her own to a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, a harrowing odyssey from which she emerges a true heroine.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Just Started...

Cheryl has just started Labor Day by Joyce Maynard, a gift from Paul at Christmas.

From the author's website:

With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, thirteen-year-old Henry -- lonely, friendless, not too good at sports—spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about the soft skin and budding bodies of his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele -- a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly's with his estranged father and new stepfamily. As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his "Husband for a Day" coupon, he still can't make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart.

But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life's most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect piecrust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others—especially those we love—above ourselves. And the knowledge that real love is worth waiting for.

In a manner evoking Ian McEwan's Atonement and Nick Hornby's About a Boy, Joyce Maynard tells a story of love, sexual passion, painful adolescence, and devastating betrayal as seen through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy—and the man he later becomes—looking back on the events of a single long, hot, and life-altering weekend.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Heard about a Book...

The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah (Geoffrey Strachan, Translator) is getting several good reviews. Check it out.

From Goodreads.com:

As 1944 comes to a close, nine-year-old Raj is unaware of the war devastating the rest of the world. He lives in Mauritius, a remote island in the Indian Ocean, where survival is a daily struggle for his family. When a brutal beating lands Raj in the hospital of the prison camp where his father is a guard, he meets a mysterious boy his own age. David is a refugee, one of a group of Jewish exiles whose harrowing journey took them from Nazioccupied Europe to Palestine, where they were refused entry and sent on to indefinite detainment in Mauritius.

A massive storm on the island leads to a breach of security at the camp, and David escapes, with Raj’s help. After a few days spent hiding from Raj’s cruel father, the two young boys flee into the forest. Danger, hunger, and malaria turn what at first seems like an adventure to Raj into an increasingly desperate mission.

This unforgettable and deeply moving novel sheds light on a fascinating and unexplored corner of World War II history, and establishes Nathacha Appanah as a significant international voice.

Just Started...

Cheryl gave me Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr for Valentine's Day, recommend to her by Vivien Jennings at Rainy Day Books!

From the author's website:

Michelle LeBeau, the child of a white American father and a Japanese mother, lives with her grandparents in Deerhorn, Wisconsin—a small town that had been entirely white before her arrival. Rejected and bullied, Michelle spends her time reading, avoiding fights, and roaming the countryside with her English Springer Spaniel, Brett. She idolizes her grandfather, Charlie LeBeau, an expert hunter and former minor league baseball player who is one of the town’s most respected men. Charlie strongly disapproved of his son’s marriage to Michelle’s mother but dotes on his only grandchild, whom he calls Mikey.

This fragile peace is threatened when the expansion of the local clinic leads to the arrival of the Garretts, a young black couple from Chicago. Betty Garrett is hired as a nurse, and her husband, Joe, works as a substitute teacher at the elementary school. The Garretts’ presence deeply upsets most of the residents of Deerfield—especially when Mr. Garrett makes a controversial accusation against one of the town leaders, who is also Charlie LeBeau’s best friend.

In the tradition of To Kill a Mockingbird, A River Runs Through It, and Snow Falling on Cedars, Nina Revoyr’s new novel examines the effects of change on a small, isolated town, the strengths and limits of community, and the sometimes conflicting loyalties of family and justice. Set in the expansive countryside of Central Wisconsin, against the backdrop of Vietnam and the post-Civil Rights era, Wingshooters explores both connection and loss as well as the complex but enduring bonds of family.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Heard about a Book

For Valentine's Day, NPR reviewed this book, The Fermata by Nicholson Baker. Check it out.

From Goodreads.com:

The Fermata is the most risky of Nicholson Baker's emotional histories. His narrator, Arno Strine, is a 35-year-old office temp who is writing his autobiography. "It's harder than I thought!" he admits. His "Fold-powers" are easier; he can stop the world and use it as his own pleasure ground. Arno uses this gift not for evil or material gain (he would feel guilty about stealing), though he does undress a good number of women and momentarily place them in compromising positions--always, in his view, with respect and love. Anyone who can stop time and refer in self-delight to his "chronanisms" can't be all bad! Like Baker's other books, The Fermata gains little from synopsis. The pleasure is literally in the text. What's memorable is less the sex and the sex toys (including the "Monasticon," in the shape of a monk holding a vibrating manuscript) than Arno's wistful recollections of intimacy: the noise, for instance, of his ex-girlfriend's nail clipper, "which I listened to in bed as some listen to real birdsong."

Heard about a Book...

I have always be interested in J.D. Salinger including his books and uncollected short stories that appear in back issues of The New Yorker and other wartime magazines like Colliers. Barely a year after his death (see February 9th) comes a new biography—J.D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski—that The New York Time Book Review says "...adds to the record."

About the book:

One of the most popular and mysterious figures in American literary history, J. D. Salinger eluded fans and journalists for most of his life. Now comes a new biography that Peter Ackroyd in The Times of London calls “energetic and magnificently researched”—a book from which “a true picture of Salinger emerges.” Filled with new information and revelations—garnered from countless interviews, letters, and public records—J. D. Salinger presents an extraordinary life that spanned nearly the entire twentieth century.

Kenneth Slawenski explores Salinger’s privileged youth, long obscured by misrepresentation and rumor, revealing the brilliant, sarcastic, vulnerable son of a disapproving father and doting mother and his entrance into a social world where Gloria Vanderbilt dismissively referred to him as “a Jewish boy from New York.” Here too are accounts of Salinger’s first broken heart—Eugene O’Neill’s daughter, Oona, left him for the much older Charlie Chaplin—and the devastating World War II service (“a living hell”) of which he never spoke and which haunted him forever.

J. D. Salinger features all the dazzle of this author’s early writing successes, his dramatic encounters with luminaries from Ernest Hemingway to Laurence Olivier to Elia Kazan, his surprising office intrigues with famous New Yorker editors and writers, and the stunning triumph of The Catcher in the Rye, which would both make him world-famous and hasten his retreat into the hills of New Hampshire.

Whether it’s revealing the facts of his hasty, short-lived first marriage or his lifelong commitment to Eastern religion, which would dictate his attitudes toward sex, nutrition, solitude, and creativity, J. D. Salinger is this unique author’s unforgettable story in full—one that no lover of literature can afford to miss.

Other biographies about Salinger:

In Search of J. D. Sal­inger by Ian Hamilton (1988)
Salinger by Paul Alexander (1999)
At Home in the World by Joyce Maynard (1999, new edition 2010)
Dream Catcher by Margaret Salinger (2000)

Heard about a Book...

I'm not sure I understood everything V.S. Ramachandran said during his interview on Fresh Air, but his new book, The Tell-Tale Brain, talks about the brain sees the world around us sounds fascinating.

About the book:

The twentieth was the century of physics, with the grand unified theory its quest and goal. The twenty-first is shaping up as the century of neuroscience, with its quest and goal the reaffirmation of human exceptionalism. Boldly asserting, right off the bat, that Homo sapiens is “no mere ape,” Ramachandran tells us why the day of neuroscience has dawned. The discovery of mirror neurons (see Marco Iacoboni’s exciting Mirroring People, 2008) has made a real science out of psychology, for it gives the study of consciousness and the host of mental states contingent on it something physical to theorize about and experiment with. A physician (like Oliver Sacks, a neurologist) as well as a researcher, Ramachandran uses his neurology patients’ predicaments to inspire inquiries into how we see and know, the origins of language, the mental basis of civilization, how we conceive of and assess art, and how the self is constructed. Always careful to point out when he is speculating rather than announcing research findings, he is also prompt to emphasize why his speculations, or theories, are not just of the armchair variety but can be put to the test because of what neuroscience has already discovered about the active structures of the human brain. ~Ray Olson~

Heard about a Book...

I heard about a NPR interview with Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan about her memoir/cookbook on Singaporean cuisine call A Tiger in the Kitchen. It sounds very interesting and delicious! (Check out Caramel-Walnut Upside-Down Banana Cake.)

About the book:

After growing up in the most food-obsessed city in the world, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan left home and family at eighteen for America—proof of the rebelliousness of daughters born in the Year of the Tiger. But as a thirtysomething fashion writer in New York, she felt the Singaporean dishes that defined her childhood beginning to call her back. Was it too late to learn the secrets of her grandmothers' and aunties' kitchens, as well as the tumultuous family history that had kept them hidden before? In her quest to recreate the dishes of her native Singapore by cooking with her family, Tan learned not only cherished recipes but long-buried stories of past generations.

A Tiger in the Kitchen, which includes ten authentic recipes for Singaporean classics such as pineapple tarts and Teochew braised duck, is the charming, beautifully written story of a Chinese-Singaporean ex-pat who learns to infuse her New York lifestyle with the rich lessons of the Singaporean kitchen, ultimately reconnecting with her family and herself.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Heard about a Book...

Once again an entire series of famous children stories has escaped me, only to be discovered upon hearing about the death of the author. Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall Adventures, died on February 5th. He published many fantasy adventures for children. Here is a list of the Redwall Adventures in the order they occur in time (publication date in parentheses):

Lord Brocktree (2000)
Martin the Warrior (1993)
Mossflower (1988)
The Legend of Luke (1999)
Outcast of Redwall (1995)
Mariel of Redwall (1991)
The Bellmaker (1994)
Salamandastron (1992)
Redwall (1986)
Mattimeo (1989)
The Pearls of Lutra (1996)
The Long Patrol (1997)
Marlfox (1998)
The Taggerung (2001)
The Tribes of Redwall: Badgers (2002)
Triss: A Tale of Redwall (2002)
Loamhedge (2003)
Rakkety Tam (2004)
High Rhulain (2005)
Eulalia! (2007)
Doomwyte (2008)
The Sable Quean (2010)
The Rogue Crew (2011)

About Redwall:

A vivid world known as Mossflower Wood comes to life in this fine fantasy-adventure, the first volume in Jacques' popular Redwall series. The kind and peaceful mice who live in Redwall Abbey are preparing for the worst. They've heard the rumor that Cluny the Scourge, an evil one-eyed rat, and his gang are coming to invade the Abbey. The mice believe that only the powerful sword of their legendary hero Martin the Warrior can save them. Unfortunately it's been lost for years. But young, bumbling mouse Mathias gathers up all his courage and sets off to find the sword so he can protect his friends and the beloved Abbey. He faces lots of danger and excitement along the way.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Reading List...

Pat is reading or has read several novels, all she reports "are very good books."

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls (see March 22nd)
Looking for Mary by Beverly Donofrio
The Brothers Bulger by Howie Carr
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (see January 7th)

Looking for Mary from the author's website:

In a sequel to the cult classic Riding in Cars with Boys, Beverly Donofrio has written a pitch–perfect conversion story. Looking for Mary is an irreverent, genuinely moving memoir o
f one woman’s search for faith and meaning—and forgiveness from her son and God for being the neglectful, too–young mother she’d once been.

Entering her fortieth year, Donofrio, a “lapsed Catholic,” inexplicitly begins obsessively collecting so much Virgin Mary kitsch at yard sales her house could be considered a shrine. Her search for kitsch, however, soon
becomes a spiritual quest and leads her to the holy city of Medjugorje. There, she learns that if you’re looking for Mary, Mary has already found you. She leaves her pride she is returns to her life with love and hope. In Looking for Mary, Donofrio offers a universal story about a woman who—in a quest for God—finds herself.

Just Started...

Cheryl has started another romance novel by Santa Montefiore, The Perfect Happiness. Before the holidays, she read The French Gardener and enjoyed it (see November 11th).

From the publisher's website:

A wife who has forgotten her own beauty and allure. A distant, distracted husband. A smart, candlelit dinner party, witty conversation, and a charmingly rugged vineyard owner from South Africa. So begins Santa Montefiore's powerful and poignant new novel in which a woman who finds herself in a common predicament must confront the most unlikely aspects of herself.

"I hope you don't mind my writing to you," begins the first e-mail bestselling children's book author Angelica receives from Jack. Surely it can't do any harm to indulge in a mild flirtation. After all, she wouldn't risk her stable marriage and the happiness of her treasured children. But things don't stop at an e-mail, and when Angelica goes to Cape Town for a book tour, her affair with Jack begins in earnest. On their last day together, he makes a stunning confession, and now everything Angelica thought she knew about love and passion, safety and experience, right and wrong are entirely upended once again.

A tender book about the true meaning of love and happily ever after, The Perfect Happiness is for any woman who has ever looked up from her steady, secure life and secretly wondered "what if..."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Just Started...

Cheryl has just started The Richest Season by Maryann McFadden.

From Goodreads.com:

After more than a dozen moves in twenty-five years of marriage, Joanna Harrison is lonely and tired of being a corporate wife. Her children are grown and gone, her husband is more married to his job than to her, and now they're about to pack up once more. Panicked at the thought of having to start all over again, Joanna commits the first irresponsible act of her life. She runs away to Pawleys Island, South Carolina, a place she's been to just once.

She finds a job as a live-in companion to Grace Finelli, a widow who has come to the island to fulfill a girlhood dream. Together the two women embark on the most difficult journey of their lives: Joanna struggling for independence, roots, and a future of her own, as her family tugs at her from afar; and Grace, choosing to live the remainder of her life for herself alone, knowing she may never see her children again.

Entwined is Paul Harrison's story as he loses his wife, his job, and everything that defines him as a man. He takes off on his own journey out west, searching for the answers to all that has gone wrong in his life. One thing remains constant: He wants his wife back.

Joanna, however, is moving farther away from her old life as she joins a group dedicated to rescuing endangered loggerhead turtles, led by a charismatic fisherman unlike anyone she's ever met.

The Richest Season is a stunning debut about three very different people, each changing their lives when such transformations are usually long over. It will resonate with any woman who's ever fantasized about leaving home to find herself.

Heard about a Book...

I am always on the lookout for a good romance novel for Cheryl—I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson is getting good reviews. From The New York Times review: "Just as Allison Pearson’s 2002 best seller, I Don’t Know How She Does It, proved she had perfect pitch for channeling a stressed-out working mom in hedge-fund-crazy London, so her new novel, I Think I Love You, shows she has the same gift for channeling an insecure 13-year-old in 1974 with a mad crush on the pop star David Cassidy. You know, David Cassidy of “The Partridge Family”—he with the Bambi eyes and feathered mop top, who was the love object of millions of young girls in that era of bell-bottom pants, platform shoes and Mary Quant eye shadow. "

From Goodreads.com:

Two friends Petra and Sharon live for David Cassidy. His fan magazine is the girls' Bible and they memorise every word that he sings and writes, in the hope of becoming the future Mrs. Cassidy. But unbeknownst to Petra, and to millions of other hopefuls, David's letters may not be all his own work.

Heard about a Book...

I am seeing many good reviews for Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler.

From Goodreads.com:

From the incomparable Anne Tyler, a wise, gently humorous, and deeply compassionate novel about a schoolteacher, who has been forced to retire at sixty-one, coming to terms with the final phase of his life.

Liam Pennywell, who set out to be a philosopher and ended up teaching fifth grade, never much liked the job at that run-down private school, so early retirement doesn’t bother him. But he is troubled by his inability to remember anything about the first night that he moved into his new, spare, and efficient condominium on the outskirts of Baltimore. All he knows when he wakes up the next day in the hospital is that his head is sore and bandaged.

His effort to recover the moments of his life that have been stolen from him leads him on an unexpected detour. What he needs is someone who can do the remembering for him. What he gets is—well, something quite different.

We all know a Liam. In fact, there may be a little of Liam in each of us. Which is why Anne Tyler’s lovely novel resonates so deeply.

Heard about a Book...

Having many nieces, when I read the The New York Times review of Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein, I realized this is the phenomenon I had just witnessed as they grew up and became teenagers!

Excerpt from The NY Times review:

Yet the princess phase, at least in its current hyper-feminine and highly commercial form, is anything but natural, or so Peggy Orenstein argues in Cinderella Ate My Daughter. As she tells the story, in 2000 a Disney executive named Andy Mooney went to check out a “Disney on Ice” show and found himself “surrounded by little girls in princess costumes. Princess costumes that were—horrors!—homemade. How had such a massive branding opportunity been overlooked? The very next day he called together his team and they began working on what would become known in-house as ‘Princess.’ ” Mooney’s revelation yielded a bonanza for the company. There are now more than 26,000 Disney Princess items on the market; in 2009, Princess products generated sales of $4 billion.

Heard about a Book...

I heard an interview about what sounds like a great cookbook on NPR yesterday—America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook: Over 130 Soul-Filled Recipes by Chef Jeff Henderson and Ramin Ganeshram, Editors. This cookbook sounds delicious!

From the NPR story:

Chef Jeff Henderson has been on a mission to collect soul food recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation—and the stories that go with them.

And it was quite difficult, says the star of Food Network's The Chef Jeff Project and the best-selling author of Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras. That's because the African-American community, he says, doesn't always write its recipes down.

"I remember asking my grandfather before he passed away for a recipe for his gumbo," Henderson tells NPR's Michele Norris. "And he was like, 'Boy, I don't have no recipe; you better get in this kitchen and watch how I do it.' We just don't document. And it's so important for us to start documenting history so we can tell our own story about many contributions that we make."

Henderson collected more than 130 recipes from across the country for his new book, America I Am: Pass It Down Cookbook.