Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Atwood Trilogy!

Hooray!  In an interview with GalleyCat, Margaret Atwood said she plans to write a third novel to form a trilogy with Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood.  That is definitely something to look forward to!  In my opinion, you can never have too much post-apocalyptic fiction.

It will also be interesting to see how she moves the story forward in a third novel; Year of the Flood showed the world-changing events of Oryx and Crake from a completely different perspective.  It made me want to go back and read the first novel again, because so much more was going on than was immediately apparent.

That aspect of the books reminded me of The Sparrow, a brilliant novel by Mary Doria Russell.  It was obvious what had happened to the unfortunate first contact team in that story, until you read the sequel, Children of God, and realize how much even the participants in the events of the first book misunderstood and misread what was happening to them.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Book Review: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Book Review:  Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374158460
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374158460

Jonathan Franzen manages to provoke such strong reactions that it's difficult for me to form an opinion of his work free of the aftertaste of controversy.  This was certainly true when The Corrections came out in 2001; after Oprah Winfrey selected the novel for her book club, Franzen made controversial remarks about her viewers and seemed to fear that having an Oprah sticker on the front cover of his novel would drive away his true audience, those who presumably don't watch daytime talk shows.  Oprah subsequently withdrew her invitation.

Franzen's apparent lack of appreciation for all Oprah has done for books and authors annoyed me so much that I actively avoided The Corrections until years later, and only conceded to buy it when I found a used copy for $2.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered a very well written, emotionally engaging account of a dysfunctional family; in other words, a perfect fit for Oprah's book club.  Ulysses it was not.

Fast-forward to the year 2010, when I open my mailbox to see that Time has declared Franzen the Great American Novelist.  Presumably Time made this declaration in large part to stir up controversy and sell magazines, not to actually place the crown of greatness on Franzen's head to the exclusion of all other living American authors.  Still, the cover gave me a knee-jerk sensation of dislike.  Franzen's latest novel, Freedom, wasn't even in stores yet and already I wanted to hate it.  

Just to make things more interesting, a tweet from author Jodi Picoult (with subsequent backup from Jennifer Weiner) took the New York Times to task for giving so much attention to writers like Franzen while ignoring women and genre-fiction authors.  A Huffington Post interview with Picoult and Weiner makes clear they don't have an issue with Franzen specifically, but once again Franzen appeared as the poster child for literary elitism.  Someone even took the time to make a fake Twitter feed under the name Emperor Franzen.

Now that I've read Freedom for myself, I am once again bemused by the incredible amount of attention this author manages to generate.  Don't get me wrong--it's a very good book.  It has believable, engaging characters.  It asks big questions about how to live and how to be a good person.  The story manages to include mountaintop removal, the war in Iraq and the threat to songbirds from non-native house cats, all in a sweeping family epic of disappointment, betrayal, anger and forgiveness.  

Patty, a former basketball star and stay-at-home mom, loves her husband Walter, a Minnesotan with passionate views about social justice and the environment. Richard Katz, Walter's former college roommate, also loves Walter for his goodness; he inspires in Katz the desire to be a better man himself, although clearly it doesn't always work.  Somehow, though, I never loved Walter the way Patty and Richard do.  It became increasingly hard for me to understand or sympathize with Patty and Walter's relationship; not that it wasn't believable, just crushingly depressing and frustrating to watch.  The novel's ending at least offered some solace, but it was hard not to think of those wasted years and cringe.

Is it the great American novel for the 21st century?  If I have to answer right now, I'm going with no.  I liked it, but I'm not sure I'll remember the details by this time next year.  (Barbara Kingsolver's novel Prodigal Summer, another sweeping novel that asks how to be happy while showing the interconnectedness of life and our environment, was love at first read; I still vividly remember the story, right down to the history of kudzu and the death of the chestnut tree in Appalachia.  I recommend the book at every opportunity.  To me, that's the sign of a great novel, American or otherwise.)  

I do wonder whether I would have liked this book more if I had never heard of Jonathan Franzen.  Did all the crazy hype raise my expectations to unnatural levels, while his persona of snobbery made me secretly want to dislike the book?  Who knows?  It was interesting, though, to read the description of once-obscure rocker Richard Katz as he reacts to hearing his surprise hit album getting airplay on NPR, perhaps the equivalent of losing your literary street cred by making Oprah's book list.  

This book was also notable for its striking descriptions of depression, in all its possible forms.  Most of the main characters in the book suffer from it at some point.  Katz goes back to deck-building to avoid the banality of success, and notes: "He strongly disliked the person he'd just demonstrated afresh that he unfortunately was.  And this, of course, was the simplest definition of depression that he knew of:  strongly disliking yourself."  It reminded me of a quote from Aldous Huxley's Eyeless in Gaza: "Hell is the incapacity to be other than the creature one finds oneself ordinarily behaving as."  Most of the people in this book get stuck in exactly that sort of hell, at least for a while, and don't know how to get free of it without hurting the people they love the most.  

  • Genre:  Aspiring Great American Novel 
  • Read it if: you only read books reviewed at least twice by the New York Times, you have strong feelings about the cerulean warbler, or you are powerless in the face of relentless hype
  • Skip it if: reading about depression makes you depressed, or if your child has ever swallowed a penny and you would like to avoid vividly reliving that sensory experience (this time involving a wedding ring!)
  • Movie-worthy:  Sure.  Cast Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman and it will probably be nominated for an Oscar.
[The next day:  Oprah is reportedly picking Freedom for her final book club selection! A nice twist.] 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Review: Murder Between the Covers by Elaine Viets

Book Review:  Murder Between the Covers by Elaine Viets

Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Signet; First Thus edition (December 2, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451210816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451210814

In this second installment in the Dead End Job series by Elaine Viets, poorly paid wage slave Helen has just started a new job at a bookstore called Page Turners.  Unsurprisingly, someone soon turns up dead and it's up to Helen to clear the name of her friend and neighbor before it's too late.

Flawed, likable Helen and the wacky things she encounters in her dead end jobs make this series so appealing; it doesn't take a genius to identify the murderer before Helen does, but most of the fun lies in vicariously experiencing life as a bookstore clerk.  It also helps that Viets has solidly grounded her character's dead end job experiences in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where wacky things seem disproportionately likely to happen in the first place.  

Check out the author's website for an entertaining interview about the research she did for each book, like working in a Barnes & Noble in Hollywood, Florida.

I've already acquired the rest of the books in this series and plan to read them in between heavier literary meals--they're perfect treats when I need a light-hearted read (or when I start to miss working!)  

  • Genre: Mystery for laughs
  • Read it if: you enjoy both Studs Terkel's Working and drinking box wine by the pool
  • Skip it if: you take your murder mysteries very seriously
  • Movie-worthy: would definitely make a fun made-for-TV movie 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Book Review: The Chocolate Lovers' Club by Carole Matthews

Book Review:  The Chocolate Lovers' Club by Carole Matthews

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (February 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312376669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312376666

Warning: don't read this book if you are a recovering chocoholic.  By the end of the first few chapters I was fending off some serious chocolate cravings and spending way too much time thinking about my perfect chocolate (Ghirardelli Intense Dark Twilight Delight, with 72% cacao, if you must know.)  

Chocolate is the shared obsession and preferred panacea for the group of friends featured in this entertaining novel:  Lucy, the zany Bridget Jonesy first-person narrator, kicks the story off with the latest antics of her faithless boyfriend and introduces the rest of the cast:  Nadia, a stay-at-home mom with a spendthrift husband; Chantal, an American with a wealthy but distant husband; and Autumn, whose ne'er do well brother has shown up at her door, bringing some serious trouble along with him.  The group has not only a deep love of chocolate, but some serious man trouble in common.

Although the perspective shifts to follow the rest of the group, Lucy is the novel's comedic common thread and ensures that no serious plotline will derail the ultimate (mostly) happy ending each woman deserves.  I finished the book with a smile on my face, wishing only that a delicious place like Chocolate Heaven existed in my neighborhood (although my waistline and bank balance would both suffer for it!)

  • Genre:  Choco-chick lit
  • Read it if:  you love Bridget Jones, chocolate, and comeuppance delivered with maximum comedic effect
  • Skip it if: you insist all fiction conform to reality
  • Movie-worthy:  could be a very fun flick, but only if they handed out free chocolate at the door

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book Review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Book Review:  The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Night Shade Books (April 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597801585
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597801584

In this stunning vision of an all too plausible future, Bangkok is a city under siege.  Only a series of levees and coal-powered pumps keep the rising oceans from drowning the Thai capital.  All the things we take for granted--oil, free flowing electricity, abundant food--are distant memories.  Genetically engineered foods are both a constant threat, presumed to be the source of horrific plagues, and the only hope for survival.  Thailand has refused to allow the multinationals to take over its food supply, relying instead on a secret cache of seeds; it stands alone, the last unconquered country.

Against this backdrop of sweltering heat and constant threat, humans scheme and plan, oblivious to the larger forces at work.  An ethnic Chinese refugee from genocide in Malaysia, plotting to regain some sliver of the status and power he once possessed; an undercover "calorie man," seeking out Thailand's genetic secrets; an incorruptible Thai officer and his unsmiling deputy; and finally, the "windup girl" of the title, a genetically-engineered woman, created by the Japanese as the ultimate servant, hard-wired to obey.  

For three years, I lived as a farang in Bangkok, and to my inexpert eyes, Bacigalupi does a brilliant job of capturing the essence of Thai culture as it might become in some dystopian future.  More importantly, he creates believable characters who elicit our sympathy despite their deepest flaws. With this book, the author has captured something about the human spirit, the will to survive even when death might be preferable, the urge to strive for something beyond mere survival.  

On the cover of my copy, a blurb from author Lev Grossman declares "I hope he writes 10 sequels."  So do I!

  • Genre: Futuristic tropical dystopia
  • Read it if:  you love Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, Blade Runner, or Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go
  • Skip it if:  you are squeamish, don't believe in global warming, or dislike seeing lots of foreign words in italics.
  • Movie-worthy:  Yes!  If Christopher Nolan directed, it could be the Blade Runner of the 21st century....

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Book Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

Book Review:  The Passage by Justin Cronin

  • Hardcover: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (June 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345504968
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345504968

The moment I heard The Passage described as "The Stand but with vampires," I knew this was a book I had to read.  The end of the world?  Viral vampires?  It sounded like good cheesy fun.

In fact, this was a 100% cheese-free thrill fest with surprising emotional impact, definitely worthy of comparisons to Stephen King's classic.  Cronin sets up a classic horror film conceit, but his literary skill and genuine compassion for even the most villainous characters allows the story to aspire to a higher level of meaning.  Clearly, Cronin hopes to engage the reader in some spiritual thought-provocation; Biblical references crop up regularly, and the vampires roam the Earth in a state of anguish that could easily qualify as damnation.  Only Amy, the unfortunate little girl who is introduced on the very first page of the book, has the power to save them and possibly save the world.  (And isn't the root of the name Amy love? Hmmm...)

Be warned, though:  despite its epic length, The Passage is just the beginning of a longer journey.  The ending leaves no doubt that a sequel (at least) is required to explore the history of life on Earth after the vampires arrive, and the author has mentioned plans for a trilogy.

Justin Cronin has been seemingly everywhere.  Check out a few of the following sites for interviews:  PowellsBooks Blog, Book Page, NPRGood Morning America (Stephen King phones in to praise The Passage during this interview with George Stephanopoulos!)

One sidenote:  relatively early in the story, the Memphis Zoo is described in terms that would make no sane person (or animal lover) want to go there.  For the record, that must be the future pre-apocalypse Memphis Zoo, because the present day zoo is AWESOME.

  • Genre:  Post-apocalyptic vampire epic
  • Read it if:  you love The Stand by Stephen King or World War Z by Max Brooks
  • Skip it if:  you think all vampires should look like Robert Pattinson or Alexander Skarsgard
  • Movie-worthy:  this would make a brillliant movie--if they could do it justice.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Book Review: City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley

Book Review:  City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley 

Hardcover: 352 pages

  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; 1 edition (February 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312603606
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312603601

Brace yourself:  to fully appreciate this noir murder mystery, it might help to have some good bourbon and a pack of Chesterfields on hand.  Chain smoking and a regular dose of the hard stuff fuel Miranda Corbie, PI, as she seeks justice for a young Japanese man murdered in Chinatown.  

Set in San Francisco in 1940, City of Dragons is a full immersion trip to a fog-beset town of steep hills, organized crime and cops indifferent to the fate of a Japanese kid or a Chinese escort.  As Miranda walks the streets of this city, we see a little known slice of San Francisco history come to life.  

Stanley reveals tantalizing bits of Miranda's back story, but leaves so much unexplored or unexplained that the novel practically begs for a series.  What happened to Miranda's long lost love, Johnny?  Why did Miranda become an escort after returning from the Spanish Civil War?  Will she ever be able to love again?  Questions like these will echo in your head long after you put down this remarkable book.  

While I'm waiting for a sequel, I plan to snag a copy of Kelli Stanley's first acclaimed historical mystery, Nox Dormienda, a noir set in, of all places, Roman occupied Britain in 83 A.D.  

  • Genre: historical fiction/noir murder mystery
  • Read it if:  you love The Maltese Falcon but wish Sam Spade had been a woman.  
  • Skip it if: you recently quit smoking
  • Movie-Worthy?:  Absolutely!  May I suggest Angelina Jolie as Miranda and Christina Hendricks as her friend Bente?   

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summer Reading!

It's summertime and the summer reading lists are everywhere!  

The Gotham Writers' Workshop has compiled the following helpful list in its newsletter:

If that list isn't comprehensive enough for you, Oprah has several recommendations as well, including Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann.

Entertainment Weekly recommends a book a day, including The Passage by Justin Cronin.

In other words, there are so many books coming out this summer that even the most voracious reader should have an overflowing tote bag of good reads.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book Review: The Heights by Peter Hedges

Book Review:  The Heights by Peter Hedges

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult (March 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052595113X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525951131

This novel, the latest from What's Eating Gilbert Grape? author Peter Hedges, follows Kate and Tim, a married couple living with their two young sons in Brooklyn Heights.  As the story opens, Tim is a history teacher at a private school and Kate is a stay-at-home mom; they try to make the most of their tiny apartment and avoid comparisons to their more affluent neighbors.

The highlight of this story, told from alternating perspectives, has to be the vivid, detail rich-characterization of Tim and Kate.  Tim floats along, buoyed by his unwarranted self-confidence, while Kate takes a much dimmer view of the world and her own flaws.  A new arrival in the Heights, the mysterious Anna Brody, shakes up the neighborhood and Tim and Kate's marriage.

While Tim and Kate are vividly realized, the secondary characters never come to life in the same way: Anna Brody remains a cypher, Bea Myerly a cartoon character, Claudia Valentine an improbability.  (I can say with certainty I've never heard Claudia Valentine's obsession discussed among any group of moms, with our without alcohol.)  This could be because we only see most of these characters through Tim and Kate's eyes--when given the chance to comment, Bea categorically rejects Tim's description of her--but it still watered down the overall effect of the story.

Yet watching Tim and Kate's downward spiral still makes for a strangely entertaining read.  I had high hopes for this book when I read that Hedges had also written and directed one of my favorite movies, Dan in Real Life; although I can't say I love the book as much, it was fun while it lasted.

  • Genre: literary fiction
  • Read it if: you loved Little Children by Tom Perotta and want to compare and contrast
  • Skip it if: you don't like books involving playdates
  • Movie-Worthy?:  It's already in the works!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Session with the Biblioracle

Not sure what to read next?  If you're lucky, the Biblioracle may be open for consultations. John Warner, a writer for online magazine The Morning News, occasionally sets up shop as the Biblioracle--list the last five books you read, and he'll recommend your next read.

I was fortunate enough to submit my list in time to receive the following recommendation:  Not Sidney Poitier, by Percival Everett.  I've never heard of this book but it sounds like the kind of thing I enjoy.  Unfortunately, my local library doesn't have it, so I'll have to wait until I can justify buying new books again before I can get my hands on a copy. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Review: Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Book Review:  Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ace Hardcover; 1 edition (May 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0441018645
  • ISBN-13: 978-0441018642

Dead in the Family is the 10th book in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, and if you haven't read the other nine, stop right here and go find yourself a copy of Dead Until Dark, the book that started it all.  Jumping in at this point would be a mistake, especially since Dead in the Family opens with an unusually glum Sookie recovering from the terrible wounds she suffered in book nine (Dead and Gone.)

Although Sookie can read human minds, that's not much help when she's dealing with her vampire boyfriend Eric and his problems, both professional and personal.  She also finds herself caught up once more in the drama of Alcide's werewolf pack and just to keep things interesting, her fairy cousin Claude surprises her by asking to move in.  In other words, it's just another day in Bon Temps, Louisiana.  

Sookie, though, has changed; when she learns who kept Eric from coming to her rescue when she needed him, she wants the culprit dead.  She's also starting to think about the toll time will take on her while Eric stays young forever, and the children she will never have if she stays with him.  Eventually Sookie will have to make some big choices, but has her blood bond with Eric narrowed her options?

The book ends with at least one big question unresolved, leaving the reader prepped for number 11.  I, for one, can't wait.

  • Genre: deliciously guilty pleasure (note:  I don't actually feel guilty)
  • Read it if:  you've already read the other nine books in the series
  • Skip it if:  I lost you at the phrase "her vampire boyfriend"
  • Movie-Worthy:  it's already a TV series, so why not?

Book Review: The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? by Padgett Powell

Book Review:  The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? by Padgett Powell

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1St Edition edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061859419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061859410

It sounds like a gimmick, too clever for its own good:  how else could you write a novel (if that's what this is) using only a series of questions?  I picked up this brief book expecting a quick amusing read.  Instead, the questions stopped me at every turn, left me bemused, thoughtful, immersed in unexpected memories triggered by seemingly random questions.  

This book demands a slow, attentive reading.  The unnamed narrator addresses you, the reader, with some very personal questions.  The narrative insists on a response, even if it's just a quick  mental yes or no, maybe or it depends, and some queries require significant consideration before the reader can move on to the next question, usually an apparent non sequitur.  Yet despite all the randomness, the narrator gradually reveals, through repeated questions and thematically similar scenarios, a certain preoccupation with mortality.  The questions repeatedly touch upon the notion of assessing your own life, determining exactly what kind of person you are, in scenarios both realistic and bizarre, commonplace and profoundly off-putting.  

I read an article once that said unresolved questions preoccupy our minds much more than neat resolutions; not knowing with any certainty who was asking all these questions and why, what the questions were for, even in a strange way what my own answers meant--all this uncertainty has kept me thinking about The Interrogative Mood for days, and I have a feeling these unanswered questions will stay with me for a long time to come.

  • Genre: existential questionnaire?
  • Read it if:  you love Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker or filling in those little self-knowledge quizzes in magazines
  • Skip it if: you insist on things like plot, characters and declarative sentences
  • Movie-Worthy:  I can't imagine how this could be made into a movie.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lost Man Booker Prize awarded

Due to changes in the rules and publication deadline for the  Man Booker Prize in 1970, nearly a year's worth of novels were not eligible for consideration.  The Lost Man Booker Prize is intended to make up for that oversight by naming the best novel published in 1970.  After an international vote on the Man Booker Prize website, the verdict is in and J.G. Farrell's novel Troubles has been named the winner.  Farrell died in 1979.

A book group I belonged to in Bangkok read the excellent second novel in Farrell's Empire trilogy, The Siege of Krishnapur, which won the Booker Prize in 1973 and was shortlisted for the "Best of the Bookers" Prize awarded to Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children in 2008.  Now I will have to jump on the bandwagon and read Troubles as well.  Another title for the TBR pile!

Book Giveaways

If there's one thing I love more than books, it's free books.  About.com has put together a list of book giveaways and contests.  If you're feeling lucky, take a look!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Book Review:  The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press (April 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385343663
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385343664

  • Why did a wealthy businessman leave his family to establish a middling international paper in Rome?  That question is only answered conclusively in the final pages of The Imperfectionists, an astonishing and heartbreaking look at the flaws, hidden emotions and unseen selves of everyday people.  
  • Each chapter reveals the true heart of someone associated with the newspaper, until, by the end of the story, we know more about each of them than the coworkers they see every day could ever guess, more than the characters are able to express, more than they may even understand about themselves.  The threads of loneliness, grief, isolation and insecurity running through these lives make the occasional glimpses of joy, connection and fulfillment all the more precious.  
  • Why do people do the things they do?  What is wrong with that bitter, raging coworker or the eccentric elderly lady who won't throw out her old newspapers?  When it comes to human behavior, so much depends on experiences and motivations the world never sees.  Ultimately, this book is a reminder to heed Plato's advice and "be kind, for everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle."  
Rachman shows incredible kindness toward his characters; we feel for them and wish them happiness, as much as they can manage.  

  • *Genre: Brilliant literary fiction
  • *Read it if:  you love great characters, great writing, or Rome
  • *Skip it if:  you dislike feeling emotions
  • *Movie-Worthy: it would make a great indie film!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Review: The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose

Book Review:  The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose

  • Mass Market Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Mira; Reprint edition (October 1, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0778325768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0778325765

The Reincarnationist follows Josh Ryder, a photographer gravely injured in a suicide bombing in Rome, as he seeks an explanation for the strange "memory lurches" he experiences after the explosion.  Was he really a priest in long ago Rome, persecuted for refusing to abandon the ancient rites?  Was he the scion of the wealthy Talmadge family in turn of the 20th century New York?  Josh seeks answers with the Phoenix Foundation, an organization that interviews children who appear to have knowledge of past lives.  His work with the Foundation and his increasingly frequent memory lurches embroil him in the search for a set of ancient and mysterious Memory Stones, said to hold the key to past lives.  Someone is willing to kill to get them.  Is history repeating itself?  Can Josh's memories save him and those he cares about in the present?

These are the questions posed in this supernatural murder mystery.  Unfortunately, The Reincarnationist never builds the levels of tension and suspense required to make this a propulsive read.  Rapid fire pacing and a well-structured plot might have helped distract from the often awkward writing style.  As it was, I kept finding reasons not to read this book.  When doing the laundry is more enticing than picking up a paperback thriller, that is a bad sign indeed.  

The Reincarnationist sold many, many copies, however--enough to prompt a sequel, The Memorist, and the just-released third book in the series, The Hypnotist. The book even inspired a short-lived TV show on Fox, Past Life

I'm mailing this book to my mom, who loves the idea of reincarnation.  Once she's read it, I'll post her comments as an alternative perspective.  

For more on M.J. Rose and her books, please see her website.

  • Genre: Supernatural thriller with elements of romance
  • Read it if:  you love Kate Mosse, Dan Brown and the idea of reincarnation
  • Skip it if: you hate The Da Vinci Code
  • Movie-Worthy: Apparently, it wasn't even Fox TV show-worthy.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Book Trailers

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video should be worth at least a million, one would think.  That's the logic behind the book trailer concept: give potential readers a visual glimpse of the story's plot, setting or tone and jolt them into a purchase.  

Personally, a good review or a friend's recommendation is much more likely to inspire me to actually read a book,  and seeing someone else's interpretation of the characters on screen can be jarring or even off-putting.  The worst trailers look like strange music videos with low production values.  The best tell you just enough to let your own imagination go to work.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult.  Narrated by the author, this trailer is more like a slideshow with a voiceover synopsis.

Under the Dome by Stephen King.  This trailer does a good job of conveying the essence of the plot without giving anything away.  

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.  Southern. Gothic. Teenagers.  Using only music and images, along with the sound of rainfall, this trailer successfully provides a taste of this YA supernatural thriller.  

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen & Ben Winters.  Warning: video includes (silly) sea monster violence.

To see more book trailers, including one for T.C. Boyle's latest novel, The Women, check out Bookscreening.com.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Keeping up with new books

There are so many new books coming out right now that I want desperately to read, yet my bookshelves are already overflowing. It's a good dilemma to have, but still a little frustrating. While tracking down reviews of Sloane Crosley's upcoming book, How Did You Get This Number, I came upon this blog entry from Bookconscious, describing the perils of feeling compelled to read too much.  

I could relate completely to her compulsion to read the entire New York Times (you have to get your money's worth!), and my house is littered with half-read magazines that I am definitely going to finish very soon.  Still, she managed to read 14 (!) books in the past month while I'm puttering along at a mere eight to 10 books a month.  So ultimately the post just made me want to read more books, more quickly.

One of the many books Bookconscious devoured was Crosley's latest book of essays, the aforementioned How Did You Get This Number, and she recounted laughing out loud in public while reading it--the ultimate recommendation for a book that's supposed to be funny.  I enjoyed Crosley's debut essay collection, I Was Told There'd Be Cake, so this is going on my ever-longer must read list.

Also on the list:  Jane Smiley's just-released novel Private Life, about an early 20th-century marriage between a woman who's experienced more than her share of tragedy and an eccentric scientist.  

Smiley is best known for her Pultizer Prize-winning 1992 novel A Thousand Acres, but she has demonstrated a remarkable versatility over the years--she has written about the ancient colonists of Greenland (The Greenlanders), life at a Midwestern university (Moo), the world of horses and horse racing (Horse Heaven), a Decameron-inspired Hollywood house party (Ten Days in the Valley), greed and materialism in the 1980s (Good Faith) and much more.  These books have little in common other than the ability to absorb the reader into a fully realized world with believable, engaging characters.  

Next up on my TBR pile however, is definitely The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.  I was vaguely aware of the plot--an English-language paper in Italy founded for a mysterious reason--but it was Christopher Buckley's review in the New York Times that turned this into an absolute must read for me.  Buckley, author of Thank You For Smoking and Boomsday, states in the very beginning of the review that The Imperfectionists is so good he had to read it twice.  

Now I have to get off the computer and get back to my current book, The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose, or I'll never manage to get to all these other books...