Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Beat Book Bets - 2/19/2013

There's nothing better on a cold Winter's night than a warm fire and a cool book. To provide that latter here is another batch of quality reads chosen for you by the ubiquitous bookie. 6 novels, 2 non-fiction, 2 young adult, 2 independent readers, even a book for the kiddos. While you enjoy your new read give the bookie a toast with your hot toddy!

Three Graves Full - Jamie Mason
(FICTION/CLOTH "There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.” How true for poor antihero Jason who ends up killing a man and burying him in his backyard only to find that he wasn't the first person with this idea. As he covers his tracks he finds two more bodies there and so begins the intense and often times hilarious turn of events as Jason tries to cover up his crime and those he did not commit. Driven by guilt and an instinct for survival he diverts detectives while unearthing the truths of the three deceased. Think Jerry Lundegaard from Fargo played by William H. Macy, a common man driven to despicable acts only to get the full whoop-ass of Fate. Truth told, he should star in the eventuual film adaptation of this crowd-pleaser of a novel.

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles - Ron Currie, Jr.
(FICTION/CLOTH)  If you are a writer or one who loves the fine art of writing you tend to love novels about the craft, stories that get underneath process. Currie's novel Everything Matters! wow the lit crowd. Now he trumps himself with this imaginative take on novels being the offapring of the novelist. Like John Irving with his Last Night in Twisted River the main character is a fictionalization of the author who's latest manuscript is destroyed in a fire. He mourns its loss as much as the passing of his father and his own love lorn life. He decides a geographic switch woulk be best and heads for an island retreat where he fakes his own death in order to escape his self-imposed grief. The hasty act proves to catapult his into celebrity. Soon Currie the character (the author?) finds that being dead is far more difficult that dealing with the trials of the living. His dizzying yet technique at storytelling will enthrall all who dare go for the ride.

American Elsewhere - Robert Jackson Bennett
(FICTION/CLOTH) Ahhh! The American Dream! Little pink houses John Cougar Mellencamp crooned. We all know that striving for an ideal comes with costs. no more than Wink, a little uncharted slice of utopian suburbia lit by a pink moon. Beneath the veneer is, you guessed its.... secrets. Mona returns to her hometown to realize that the town of her childhood is not at all as she remembers. That Children of the damned and make the kids a neighborhood and you'll begin to get the tone of this deftly written tale of American Gothic. I'm sure film director David Lynch can't wait to get his hands on this downright spooky novel.

The Dinner - Herman Koch 
(FICTION/CLOTH) This bestselling phenomenon has been hailed as the international equivalent of Gone, Girl. Two families meet at an upscale restaurant not to enjoy the cuisine or each others' company but to avoid then confront a horrific act committed by each others' offspring. It starts as an uneasy comedy of manners and turns dark and spiteful as the meal continues. This reminded me so much of the play Carnage where to couples has to put all their past discretion over the coals to fess up to the inevitable. The conversation goes from congenial to primal and the evening progresses with a finale that is worthy of the setup. This has already become the water cooler read of the rest of the world and the debate should continue hear in the states as well. 

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
See Now, Then - Jaimaca Kincaid
(FICTION/CLOTH) Sometimes the only way to come to terms with one's life is to strip it bare in a fictionalized version of itself, Such it is with Kincaid in her novel of the caustic end of a marriage and the unsure future that follows. How Mrs. Smart's love turned to hatred alludes her but rages in her veins. She fights against it to prevent herself from making further bad decisions. She married a well to do man who in part protected her from deportation. She had children with him, beautiful children, one who her husband sees as more that just beautiful. What follows is a Pygmalion of cruelty as she learns to read, write and think for herself realizing that there is more to life than a lecherous and hateful overlord. But hatred can be inherited. Will she be able to save herself and her children before his bitter soul turns her children from her? Read on.

Ghostman - Roger Hobbs
(FICTION/CLOTH)  It is so refreshing to find a new and original voice in the genre of mystery/thriller. Hobbs bursts onto the scene with this smart novel about the underbelly of the criminal life. Be careful when you make a deal with a devil, or in this case, a ghost. Jack is the bat signal for criminals, an untraceable nobody with skills up the wazoo who can get the job done. He is hired to cover up a botched robbery in Atlantic City. The feds are already on to this phantom uber criminal. Everybody wants the payoff and Jack needs all of his infamous experience to get out of this pressure cooker alive. Each action is countered, each lead a MacGuffin requiring Jack to implement his skills like a jazzman. This novel with its intricate pacing and intelligent writing is the beginning of a new crime story superstar.
(Harper Perennial)
The Little Book of Heartbreak; Stories Soldiers Won't Tell You about What They've Seen, Done, or Failed to Do in War - Kevin Sikes
(NON-FICTION/CLOTH) The one thing that leaves me daunted in the presence of our heros is their stoic nature when it comes to what happened "over there." Its their demons, left in the dark, weaving nightmares and P.T.S.D. to all who supress the horrors no mortal should witness. This is a rare glimpse into the the source of the burden they will carry til the end of their days. Eleven soldiers, many marines, talk about the killing, the ramparts, the atrocities the burn behind the retina. Sikes deftly fades into the background allowing the stark honesty of the soldier's accounts speak for themselves. May the healing powers of storytelling help heal the sould of these brave men and women would are forced into an ugly world where the line between right and wrong blurs.
(Random House)
With or Without You - Domenica Ruta
(NON-FICTION/CLOTH) In the suburban squallor of Danvers, MA Ruta lives a life that stronger people would want end. Her world is literally built amidst trash. He drug dealer mother has her hooked on the Oxy and dressed like a rag doll. Domenica educated herself, always in a book, and knew that there was more to life than this. She soon learns that you can leave but the past has a tendancy to tag along. She leaves Danvers with the monkey still on her back and now has to fight her addiction to gain the life she read about. A powerfully gritty testament to the trials of the abused and the addicted documents how clinging to a dream can see you through even the darkest of times.
The Whole Stupid Way We Are - Nicole Griffin
(YOUNG ADULT/CLOTH)  Winter in New England? I know we've already had enough of the white stuff but it makes for a great backdrop in this finely crafted novel about a girl's fascination with the troubled loner. Skint (what a great loner name) won't even wear a coat when it's stinkin' cold out.Turns out Skint worries more about other people than he does himself. That's where Dinah comes in, she's a born helper.Skint has more troubles on the home front than he lets on and when Dinah pushes her way into his life she becomes ensnared in the drama. The characters are three dimensional and their tales comes with no easy, storybook answers. Life is hard, you just better learn to bundle up.
Mind Games - Kiersten White
(YOUNG ADULT/CLOTH)  From her refreshing debut Paranormalcy where she chronicles the loves and adventures of a teen psychic I've always enjoyed Kiersten's writing. She knows how teens think and she can write those feelings down on the page in a manner accessible to them. She also has a crafty way of using the supernatural to expose those conflicting emotions. She now amps up both the fantastic and the angst-driven in this futuristic ode to sisterhood. Fia's instincts are right on and valuable to a group of corporate baddies. Annie, her sister, has similar powers but they are more subtle, more open to interpretation. The are thrown into a school of children with similar powers to work for the evil conglomerate, kind of a girl-power Maze Runner. Now they have to work against their captors without being found out. Intense and character driven, this novel will appeal to any teen who believes every day is a fight to just be themselves. 
(Katherine Tegen)
Destiny, Rewritten - Kathryn Fitzmaurice
(INDEPENDENT READER) Destiny is Fate, Fate, Destiny. There is nothing you can do to change that and 11 year old Emily is told over and over again. Her fate is to be a poet like Emily Dickinson. That doesn't suit Emily. She has other plans her English teacher mom will have no part of. Then Emily loses her signed copy of Dickinson's poetry and with it a family secret. The search for the book sends Emily on the adventure she so desired in the face of fate.Emily's new world is a intricately drawn place to explore and it is a joy to tag along while she discovers her true purpose.

(Philomel )
A Tangle of Knots - Lisa Graff
(INDEPENDENT READER)  The novel is just that, intertwining voices telling us tales  from slightly different perspectives in this joy ride through  a fairy tale world. Little orphan Cady has a Talent, everybody does. Her's is for concocting the most elegant cakes. This makes the Talent thief lick his lips and she soon finds herself locked up with other children with unique Talents the bad man has collected. Throw in a an old recipe she discovers along with the knowledge that she may not be an orphan at all and the adventure really begins. More than a fancy confection, Tangle of Knots cooks up a delightful tale about  never giving up on things you care for deep inside

Open This Little Book - Lisa Graff
(CHILDREN)  A kids book as a series of Russian Nesting Dolls? What a concept! Chronicle Books are the kingpins of presenting concept books, be they creative cookbooks for adults or fanciful books for children.(Check out the cloth-bound cover for the young adult title The Space Between The Trees to see their dedication to creative presentation.) Start reading this charmer and alas, another book. Read on and the, again another even smaller book. and again, and again. It is more fun than a pop-up and more a celebration of the joy on a physical book. (can't do THIS on a Kindle!)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Best Book Bets 2/12/2013

If March comes in like a lamb and comes out like a lion then this February came in like a mountain lion threatened with neutering. The bookie has been without power going on four days ( the lair is a nippy 34 degrees.) Four inches of salty mud water has permeated the perimeter yet the dauntless defender of literary quality has managed to give you the best picks of the week. Thanks to Cravings in Marshfield MA, a) for having power and heat, b) for having cloud Wi-Fi up, c) for not being annoyed by a writer/reviewer bivouacking in the corner of their establishment, and d) just being all smiles while serving a community at wit's end. When your venture to the South Shore (in better climes) make sure to stop by (the pome frittes are to die for, just not by hypothermia.) ALSO- VALENTINE PICKS FOR KIDDOS (if you can get to a bookseller.)

Vampires in the Lemon Grove - Karen Russell
(FICTION/CLOTH Clocking in just over 30 years old, Karen Russell has become a force of nature in the literary word and anything after her passionate tour de force, the Pulitzer nominated Swamplandia! is welcomed by hungry arms. What she gives us this time out is a collection of short stories, three which have already been chosen for best of compilations. A teen mulls through angst by means of a talisman in a seagull's nest, slave worker's in a silk factory have a Kafkaesque transformation that frees them, massaging tattoos evokes healing powers rather than Bradbury's demons... you get the picture. Each tale uses a device of literal metaphor to delve into the trials of the heart. Each tale is rooted in the real world no matter how "out there" the premise. While I still hunger for her next full length baby I am satiated by the sheer audacity of her writing. Each sentence makes me smile.

The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs - Nick Trout
(FICTION/CLOTH) One of the best dog books the bookie could recommend is the non-fiction novel penned by this Boston vet, Tell Me where It Hurts. From the sullen bandaged bulldog on the cover to the heartwarming connectivity of the veterinarians, it's everything a dog lover looks for in a book about the loyal and lovable companions. This time out Trout weaves a novel set in a world is rooted in. Dr. Cyrus Mills took a hiatus from his hometown and his father's veterinary practice. His father's passing brings him home to the Bedside Manor for Sick Animals. The business is failing and Cyrus intends on selling the business and getting back to his isolated life as pathologist. In spite of his nature of keeping a distance from the emotional he can't help but be pulled in by the menagerie of uniquely lovable animals, their maladies, and the equally quirky patients. When it comes to the healing of the heart, oft times a dog can lead you as is the case of the doctor who begins to find himself able to call the manor and the town home.

Out of the Easy - Ruta Sepetys
(FICTION/TRADE) The French Quarter in the 1950s was rife with secrets and sin. Josie, the seventeen year old daughter of a prostitute has secrets of her own. She plans her way out of New Orleans and her impending destiny. Her plans are stalled when she is implicated in the death of a man in the New Orleans streets. It makes her question her bond to her mother and her madam Woodley and the underworld life she grew up in. She needs to discover the truth but also needs to get out before her opportunities disappear like her mother's dreams. Sepety's gift at building the town brick by brick and secret on top of secret gives the novel a strong southern gothic vibe.

The Lost Art of Mixing - Erica Bauermeister
(FICTION/CLOTH) Just in time for Valentine's Day the author of the extremely popular School of Essential Ingredients creates a sequel that uses the preparation of food and spirits as an allegory for the social mixing of her characters. Lillian is the consummate hostess and her personality making her restaurant a success. She tries to keep her staff, each with their own little dramas from effecting the reputation her food and presentation has earned. Expect liaisons, fights, regrets, and forgiveness as the cast of characters are vinegar and oil one moment, Fra Diavolo sauce the next before settling into a gastronomic bliss bonded by friendships that trump all their diverse lusts and ambitions. Bon app├ętit.

Truth About Love and Lightning - Susan McBride
(FICTION/TRADE) Another Valentine treat is this new novel by McBride. She is known mostly as a solid chick lit author with Little Black Dress, The Cougar Club. This time out though she raises the bar to great effect. A tornado has just ripped Gretchen's life apart. Her life is equally disheveled. Her pregnant daughter with now intentional on marrying the father moves in. A mystery man with amnesia arrives at her door with the rubble of the storm. Her daughter Abby believes him to be her long lost father. There is more to The Man Who May Be Sam than Gretchen has shared and the secret might ignite a new storm. The novel is an emotional meditation on the insidious nature of untruths and the remarkable bond of people who truly love one another.

Above All Things - Tanis Rideout
(FICTION/CLOTH)  If you are searching for a new historical novel that is a testament to the power of love and devotion look no further. The event the story is woven around is the ill-fated attempt by George Mallory to conquer Mt. Everest but the real story is of na different type of bravery, that of his wife, Ruth, who loves a man as much as he loves living on the edge. The novel is built on a series of motages that keep coming back to that fateful day. George's story reads like Jon Krakauer as he braves the elements and contemplates that which he left behind. Ruth's tale is more meditative, the recollections of a survivor, be it World War I, a  challenging relationship with a driven man's man, and the loss of her dreams of what they could be one day. The author's slavish research pays off as the reader is transported into each snapshot of an era that demanded resiliency from all who lived it.
The Little Book of Heartbreak - Meghan Laslocky
(NON-FICTION/CLOTH) Does the exchange of heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, dozens of roses, and lacy teddies make you want to yak? We got what your green skinned devil needs, a prescription for mending a broken heart. No, not Ben & Jerry, a box of wine, Bee Gee records or the umpteenth viewing of Sleepless In Seattle, what Meghan Laslocky advises might really work, not fan old fires. Her solution is reading as therapy. Here she tells you how to build the perfect "Over You" mix tape and is a compendium of the disastrous romantic endings of many celebrities and historic figures (hey, at least you're in good company.) Also included is correct listening, reading, and viewing list to get your groove back.

Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austin's Masterpiece - Susannah Fullerton
(NON-FICTION/CLOTH) What could be more perfect for the literary love muffin in your life than the authoritive volume on thae patron saint of romance, Jane Austen, and her crowning triumph that forever defined the modern romance, Pride and Prejudice. This is not a dry academic volume though its research is exhaustive. Its funny, giving us sly insights into Austen, her life, her inspirations and the world she tolerated. Can you believe that her first draft of the masterwork was have been completed when she was merely twenty? Wow. The book also chronicles her life post novel and how the novel has effected ever romantic novel that followed. Constantly fascinating, it at times it reads like a novel all its own. If your valentine loves Austen this is a must.
Pivot Point - Kasie West
(YOUNG ADULT/CLOTH)  Addie is a Searcher (aren't we all?) who lives in a futuristic town called The Compound.  A searcher is an existential medium that can see the repercussions of one's actions before a decision is made. She lives with the Norms (who are also searching but not in a psychic sens.) Enter Trevor, the emotionally intuitive artist who gets her. Together they both see a future outside of the Compound. A school jock type has the hots for her and may make their plans go astray. Thus is life in hormonally charged high school or in a dystopian prison. Part melo-drama, part psychic thriller, it is an nonthreatening read for all teens (aren't they all searchers?)
Janie Face to Face - Caroline B. Cooney
(YOUNG ADULT/CLOTH)  Cooney has had a long and successful career writing for teens but it was in 1990 when she published The Face on the Milk Carton that she gave the reading public one of the first young adult novels in memory that didn't dance around the reality of gritty criminal monsters in our midst. Now 5 novels in this chapter is the grand finale of the series where all will be revealed. Hopefully all of Janie and Reeve trials and tribulations will be vindicated, not without a final struggle for their lives that's for sure. (No, I'm not going to post a spoiler alert here.) 
When No One Is Watching - Eileen Spinelli, illus. David A. Johnson
(INDEPENDENT READER) This book is an ode to all of the shower singers in the crowd (you know who you are.) With hairbrush or bar of soap in hand and no one around, you are a superstah! This charming book presents an awkward wallflower of a girl. When she's alone she feels free to, well, be herself. When she gets a BFF with Loretta she finds someone else who feels the same way and together they can just let it all hang out. Isn't that what friends are really for?

Maggot Moon - Sally Gardner
(INDEPENDENT READER)  Who would think that the best dystopian novel of the year would be written at an independent reader level? Standish, a misfit with eyes of miss-matched colors, Standish who is judged by others for not being very bright, Standish tells us his story about how he paints outside the lines in his world known as The Motherland. One day and one rogue football chased reveals the truth behind the bleak existence he lives in. What if the moon landing was faked for realsies and you where the only person who knew? Standish literally finds the devil is in the details of his world. Teaming up with his friend Hector they journey past the fence to discover the truth behind the Motherland.  100 easily digested chapters reveal the wonder that tears through gloom in this funny, epic, triumph of the outcast.

"Hey there, no angel, we make perfect valentines- match made in heaven"

I Haiku You - Betsy Snyder
(CHILDREN) This book is a great gift for the young and the young at heart. I can picture it nestled in a hope chest to be shared with the next generation. Betsy Snyder is an award winning author at the deft nature of her simple turns of phrase play your heartstrings. She knows her stuff. The words transport you to innocent time when you would dare cooties for your first kiss. Whether you buy it for a young'n or your lovey dovey this little treasure will become a family treasure, a Valentine that will last longer than roses and chocolate-covered strawberries (though I'd love to read this aloud while eating them.)
“You be my jelly.  
I’ll be your peanut butter,
 Let’s stick together” 


The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever - Brenda A. Ferber/ illus. Tedd Arnold
(CHILDREN) Its hard to find a book about Valentine's Day that won't make a little boy cringe. Most are all lace and cupids. Leon has the love bug...; bad. The boy who denies his doe eyed infatuation  battles the Valentine he intends to give her and he ends up chasing his romatic heart through town as if it was Frosty the Snowman. "Valentine's Day is all about CANDY!" says the card. Leon knows its about a little bit more. O.K., the little tyke you read it to will cringe but he'll get it too.

We Go Together - Calef Brown
(CHILDREN) This small gift-book sized charmer is another collection of romantic snippets that is well suited for adult Romeo and Juliets as it is for family storytime. The collection, subtitled A Curious Selection of Affectionate Verse celebrates the strength of friendship rather than the kissy kissy. 14 poems celebrate playful words and the meanings cloistered beneath. Brown';s illustration share the same sense of whimsy.
 “We go together, like fingers and thumbs.
Basses and drums., Pastries and crumbs.
We go together, like apples and plums.
Molars and gums., Genuine chums."

I Loathe You - David Slonim
Here's the book for the child that wants NOTHING to do with Valentine's Day save for the candy. Like me, that precocious child probably has an unhealthy fascination with monsters. (covering up the fact that they are really, REALLY, spooked out by them.) Here's the trick, a book about true love loathe, a monsterly love only another little monster would appreciate.
Here's a taste (gross!)

I loathe you more than tooth decay
More than blizzard snow in May
More than garbage in a dump
More than splinters in my rump
No matter what, through thick and thin,
I loathe you there and back again!

Happy Valentine's day to all my literary monsters out there - The Literary Bookie