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...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

As a mom, I can honestly say Poets.org has the best idea for a mother's day gift: An hour of peace and quiet to read or write.  It would be great to have that hour every day!

The blog Luxury Reading--because what is more luxurious than spending time with a good book?-- has an ongoing Mother's Day book giveaway.  Enter here by May 20th for your chance to win Just Let Me Lie Down by Kristin Ogtrop and four other mom-friendly titles. 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Author Interview Round-up

Everywhere you look, authors are talking about their latest books.  Here are a few of the most interesting interviews:

  • P.J. Tracy, the mother-daughter duo P.J. and Tracy Lambrecht, discussed the latest novel in their Monkeewrench series, Shoot to Thrill, on Bookreporter.com.  

  • Dead in the Family, the latest Sookie Stackhouse novel from Charlaine Harris, is in stores now.  The author answers questions from the New York Times in this interview (do you get the feeling that the interviewer wasn't very familiar with her books?)

  • Neil Gaiman declares his love for libraries in this interview featured on The Book Case, the BookPage blog.  

  • BookPage also features an interview with Tom Rachman, author of the new critically acclaimed novel The Imperfectionists.  

  • Kelly Corrigan discusses her new memoir of motherhood, Lift, at The WETA Book Studio.  You can listen to the interview here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Book Review: I, Sniper by Stephen Hunter

Book Review:  I, Sniper by Stephen Hunter

Simon & Schuster, December 2009
Hardcover, 432 pages
ISBN-10: 1416565159
ISBN-13: 9781416565154

Bob Lee Swagger is an aging sniper, a Vietnam vet, a man with a legendary intuition for guns.  He states up front that his subjects and verbs aren’t going to agree, that he’d rather be just about anywhere other than Washington, DC, that he doesn’t read the paper—he gets his news from Fox.  When a fellow sniper is framed for the murders of four ‘60s anti-war radicals, Swagger becomes involved despite his own reluctance to enter the fray once again, at his age, with a bum hip.

Stephen Hunter, author of I, Sniper and several other books about Bob Lee Swagger and his father, Earl Swagger, clearly respects guns and the many people in this country who love them and know how to use them.  The ignorance of the average East Coast journalist on this subject even becomes a significant plot point in the novel.  Woe unto anyone who judges Swagger’s intelligence by his accent or his cowboy attire.

Despite the cultural divide Hunter spotlights in this novel, even a latte-loving Blue State elitist can appreciate this taut, suspenseful thriller.  The detailed descriptions of various models of weapon, scope, etc. may be lost on a reader lacking firearms expertise, but the story never bogs down in these descriptions; instead, they give the tale an added element of authenticity, because these are exactly the sort of details Bob Lee Swagger would know and care about. 

While Swagger travels around the country uncovering the truth about the murders that take place in the novel’s opening scenes, Nick Memphis, an up and coming FBI agent, must deal with immense political and bureaucratic pressure to close the high-profile case.  Hunter --who was until recently a Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic for the Washington Post-- provides a sharply critical glimpse into the interaction between the private sector, government and the media as Nick’s refusal to close the case prematurely threatens his career.

Ultimately, it is Nick’s faith in Swagger that is tested, as Swagger takes action where the FBI can’t and applies his unique skills to administer justice.  Gripping until the very last pages, I, Sniper is non-stop action adventure and a fascinating read.

For more on Stephen Hunter, see http://www.stephenhunter.net/.

  • Genre: Thriller
  • Read it if:  you love suspense, action, conspiracies or Marty Robbins songs
  • Skip it if:  you are squeamish or Jane Fonda
  • Movie-Worthy:  Definitely.  I’d like to see Chris Cooper as Bob Lee Swagger, Colin Farrell as Anto Grogan.

Monday, May 3, 2010

New Books!

Is there any better feeling than finding a box full of books on your doorstep?  My latest book order arrived this morning and it's like Christmas in May.  I think I managed to select something for every possible mood.  Here are the titles:

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson - I recently finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I'm hoping to read this second book in the Millennium Trilogy before The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest comes out later this month.

The Reincarnationist by MJ Rose - The plot of this thriller revolves around past life experiences.  I selected it mainly because I think it's something my mom would enjoy--after I've read it, if it's good, I'll send it her way.

Daemon by Daniel Suarez - Paranoid techno-thrillers are always fun, and the sequel, FreedomTM is already on bookstore shelves.

You're a Horrible Person, but I Like You: The Believer Book of Advice - A wide array of funny people offer (hopefully) hilarious advice in this book, which I'm saving for a day when I'm in a really bad mood.

Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead by Robert Brockway - Nothing puts life's daily irritations into perspective like pondering all the different ways the world could end.

Yay!  But before I can start on any of these, I have to finish  I, Sniper by Stephen Hunter.  My review should be up soon.

2010 Edgar Winners

The Mystery Writers of America recently announced the winners of the 2010 Edgar Awards.  Of all the winning books, I'm most excited about In the Shadow of Gotham by first-time novelist Stefanie Pintoff.  This murder mystery takes place at the turn of the (20th) century, and features Detective Simon Ziele and a criminologist named Alistair Sinclair.  Publishers Weekly compared this debut novel to Caleb Carr at his best, which makes it an absolute must read as far as I'm concerned.  Pintoff's next book, A Curtain Falls,  follows the same main characters and is set to debut in hardcover this month.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Book Newsletters & Social Networking for Book Lovers

I'm always on the lookout for new books to read, and one way to learn about new titles is to sign up for every book-related info source I can find.  Here are a few of my favorites: 

Book Newsletters

Bookreporter.com's newsletter is chock full of information on new books and book news, as well as contests where readers can win books, sometimes as part of themed prize packages.   The newsletter has a wonderful range of genres, mainly because it is associated with so many blogs and websites: TheBookReportNetwork.com: ReadingGroupGuides.com, GraphicNovelReporter.com,FaithfulReader.com, Teenreads.com, Kidsreads.com, AuthorsOnTheWeb.com and AuthorYellowPages.com. 

Book Page, a monthly book review publication,  offers two newsletters:  the twice-monthly BookPageXTRA with reviews and contests, and the Book Page Book of the Day.  

The monthly newsletter from Powell’s includes staff picks, author interviews and book-related articles.  You can also sign up for daily reader reviews (the “Daily Dose”) or the Review of the Day.

Social Networking for Book Lovers

Goodreads and Shelfari let you connect with friends and share what you’re reading.  Both sites post reviews and offer recommendations based on your bookshelf.  Goodreads can sync with your Facebook account using Facebook Connect, while Shelfari has a free widget you can add to your blog or Facebook page.

LibraryThing  is a website that allows you to easily catalog your books, but it has expanded far beyond that.  Features include reviews, recommendations, interviews with authors and “zeitgeist” reports on reading trends.  You can also enter to win early reader copies of newly release books.

These are just the tip of the iceberg--I'll be sure to add other interesting book websites, blogs and newsletters as I discover them.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Spring Cleaning

I'm a pack rat by nature, but if I tried to hang on to every book I read there'd be no room left in the house for the kids or the dog.  Luckily, it's easy to pass books on for others to enjoy, while clearing a little shelf space in the process (for more books, of course.)  Here are a few ideas, depending on what you want to do with your books.

Give Them Away!

If you're fond of altruism and serendipity, you may want to check out Bookcrossing.com.  More than just a website, Bookcrossing is a philosophy: the world should be a giant library.  To that end, bookcrossers register each book they want to give away on the site, then leave the book at the nearest coffee shop or give it to a friend.  Future readers can post their own comments on the website so it's easy to see where your book has traveled and what other readers have thought of it.

Another option: donate your books to support the cause of global literacy.  Better World Books works with literacy partners like Books for Africa and Room to Read to ensure that people the world over have access to books.  Be careful, though--Better World Books offers free shipping and bargain bin prices, so it's hard to visit the website without placing an order!

The easiest alternative, of course, is stopping by your local library with a big box of books.  Most libraries regularly hold book sales to earn money and accept donations year round.

Trade Them For More Books!

Okay, so this won't actually free up any extra space on your bookshelves, but at least it will keep your supply of reading material fresh.  BookMooch is my favorite book trading site; users list books available for trade and earn points by sending and receiving books. The site lets you know when a book on your wishlist becomes available and you can use points to "mooch" the book.  PaperBack Swap takes it a step farther by allowing you to print exact postage from your computer, sparing you trips to the post office.  Swaptree will let you trade books for any other items users would be willing to exchange in return.

Sell Them!

Financing a serious book buying habit can be tricky in these difficult economic times, so you may want to sell your books.  I've had good experiences selling books to Powell's, where you can choose between virtual credit at the store or a slightly lesser price in cash through PayPal.   Just type in the ISBN numbers of the books you want to sell and Powell's provides an instant quote.  Sell more than three books, and you can print out a free shipping label to use when you put your books in the mail.