Friday, December 19, 2008

For readers who like suspense!

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
"Do you think he did it?" Mickey Haller's investigator Cisco asks about a client, a Hollywood studio mogul accused of murdering his wife and her lover. "Probably," Mickey answers, "but it doesn't matter." Mickey first appeared in "The Lincoln Lawyer." Now he's back in court, defending clients who are usually guilty. He has no qualms about what he does - it's the American justice system, after all, and he plays an important role. Besides, it's a living, and he stands to earn a quarter of a million representing the movie guy. Connelly's writing is smooth, and it's great to see Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch, the L.A. detective who's left retirement and re-joined the force, as characters in the same book. They are on different sides of a case, and so are at each other at the beginning, each one trying to trip up and psych out the other. They eventually come to a somewhat amicable working arrangement. This is an outstanding legal thriller. There are several surprises at the end. Are you wondering what a "brass verdict" is? You'll find out - at the end of the book.
Michael Connelly's Web Site

Rules of Deception by Christopher Reich
Jonathan Ransom, a doctor working for Doctors without Borders, is drawn into a dangerous situation after his wife dies in a skiing accident in Switzerland. She receives a mysterious communication, which he pursues. He is shocked to discover that she was not who he thought she was. There is a plot involving a terrorist group who has invented a tiny device disguised as a butterfly that can perform sophisticated surveillance work. When the engineer who designed the device is murdered, the Swiss counterterrorism agency investigates. I have to give this one a mixed review. I liked the characters of Ransom and the Swiss counterterrorism expert. Although the pace is good and the various plots move along, the book is too long. There are a lot of characters, and I didn't necessarily want to know the life story of each and every one of them. There are some surprising plot twists I enjoyed. In general, I would recommend this to thriller fans, in spite of its shortcomings.
New York Times Review

Exit Music by Ian Rankin
Is John Rebus really retiring from the Edinburgh police force? What will Rebus fans do if this is the last Rebus mystery? I suspect (and hope) it isn’t. In this book. Rebus is trying to clear out his files, but is distracted by the murder of a Russian poet in what looks like a random robbery. When there’s a 2nd death in a suspicious fire, Rebus suspects the 2 death are related. He also sees his last chance to get the best of his arch-enemy, gangster “Big Ger” Cafferty. The relationship between Rebus and his partner Clarke is well done. I'm very fond of Rebus, and I like this series a lot!
Ian Rankin's Web Site

The Bad News Bible by Anna Blundy
Faith Zanetti, tough-talking foul-mouthed foreign correspondent for a British newspaper, has been posted to Jerusalem. She swears a lot and drinks too much, but her toughness is the shell she uses to cover up her vulnerability, hurt and distress at the horrors she's seen in the places she's been posted. I like Faith - she's funny and has a good heart.
Faith Zanetti's Web Site

Reviewed by Suzanne

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two thrillers, an audiobook and a haunting memoir

Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg
“On July 5, 1996, my daughter was struck mad.” This is the first line of Greenberg’s memoir recording the events of his daughter’s summer of psychosis. He deals with the illness, its effect on his daughter and the effect on his family. A touching read.

Trigger City by Sean Chercover
This mystery takes place in the gritty underbelly of Chicago. P.I. Ray Dudgeon is not afraid to take on the biggest, baddest, most corrupt bad guys and bring them down. I look forward to reading more of Sean Chercover.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (on audiobook)
This is a really fun book to listen to. There are several readers doing the voices and their rendition is perfect! Very enjoyable!

The Treatment by Mo Hayder
In this sequel to Birdman, British police inspector Jack Caffery is on the trail of a totally sick, psycho child killer. This is a great thriller but is not for the faint of heart.

Reviewed by Julie

Friday, December 5, 2008

"It's the economy, stupid!"-Help for your financial woes

So – the stock market is tumbling, businesses are failing, and our (financial) sky is just falling in general. What to do? Time to get back to basics: getting organized, figuring out what you really need, and revisiting Budgeting 101. There seems to be financial advice everywhere you look – where should you start? The following four books are great basic “how to” guides for getting your financial life in order.

Easy Money by Liz Pulliam Weston
One of the internet’s most widely read personal finance writers has put together an easy to follow primer on money management. Covers the basics well, but does an even better job outlining how to simplify your financial life and avoid costly, stupid mistakes. Good for the personal finance beginner or those who want a refresher on certain topics.

Kiplinger’s Money Smart Women by Janet Bodnar
Basic, no nonsense advice for every stage of a woman’s life from the Deputy Editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine.Bodnar spells out the differences between men’s and women’s financial needs and money management styles. Covers budgeting, credit, mortgages, retirement saving, investing, caring for children and elderly parents, and more. Contains easy to use worksheets,straightforward examples and lists of other resources.

Money Can Buy Happiness by M.P. Dunleavey
MSN columnist Dunleavey examines the disconnect between how we spend our time and money and which things truly make us happy. Contains simple exercises to help you figure out whether your spending is in line with your values, as well as some very basic financial advice. This is full of good reminders not to get lost in the minutiae of money management before figuring out what you are trying to manage to begin with.

On My Own Two Feet by Manish Thakor & Sharon Kedar
Good primer on money management for young women. Covers saving, budgeting, insurance needs, investing, and the financial ramifications of some major life events. Easy to follow, good charts and examples, and conversational tone. Great for recent grads and those who need a quick brush-up on their personalfinance skills.

Reviewed by Macaire

Monday, November 24, 2008

Some top-notch mystery writers

Ross Macdonald
Ross Macdonald is one of the best of the classic American private eye writers. He writes in the style of Raymond Chandler, that is, wealthy Los Angeles, full of sin and corruption; very atmospheric. “Most mystery writers merely write about crime. Ross Macdonald writes about sin.”—The Atlantic Monthly

The Barbarous Coast
In this novel detective “Lew Archer navigates through the watery, violent world of wealth and privilege, in this electrifying story of obsession gone mad.”
The Doomsters
Lew Archer is hired to investigate the suspicious deaths of a senator and his wife. He runs into a history of double-crossing and dirty-dealing. Now someone has it in for the senators’ family and Archer has to find out who before another body winds up on a slab.

P.J. Parrish
Author of the successful Louis Kincaid series is similar to author Dennis Lehane because of her ability to create “sympathetic main and secondary characters and through her skill at creating suspense and sustaining a mood.” Her first Louis Kincaid novel An Unquiet Grave was fantastic!

South of Hell
This novel finds “Louis Kincaid and his lover, female detective Joe Frye, …team[ing] up to find out what happened to Jean Brandt, who was reported missing by her husband from their Michigan farmhouse in 1981.” Lee Child says: "Crime fiction at its finest. Beautifully written, beautifully imagined and packed with raw power."

Hard Case Crime books are always good if you’re looking for an old-time hard-boiled mystery. They include both classic mysteries as well as new noir novels. And best of all the covers are in the grand pulp style. They’re easy to identify so grab one today!

Max Allan Collin
Collins has many books in the Hard Case Crime series. He’s “violent and volatile and packed with sexuality…classic pulp fiction.”—USA Today
The First Quarry
Quarry was the first hit man to star in his own series of crime novels. This is the prequel to the popular novel The Last Quarry. See Quarry in his first job: “infiltrating a college town and eliminating a professor whose affair with one of his beautiful, young students is the least of his sins…”

Stan Jones

Frozen Sun
This title is in the Nathan Active series. Active is an Inupiaq State Trooper in Alaska, Inupiat by birth but raised by adoptive parents in Anchorage. This background allows for an exploration and investigation of the fault lines between Alaska’s various peoples, through the lens of crime fiction. In this novel he is in pursuit of a young woman who went missing years before. The search takes him to Anchorage and an island fishing camp. He creates a vivid portrait of the area using native language devices.

Reviewed by Julie

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mystery Mini-Reviews from Julie

In the Heat by Ian Vasquez
Miles Young, an over-the-hill boxer, is hired to find the daughter of a wealthy woman in this mystery set in the country of Belize. This is Vasquez’s first novel and it’s a good one.

Birdman by Mo Hayder
Detective Jack Caffery is on the trail of a truly sick & twisted killer. Hayder is a terrific writer: the characters are fully developed & the plot is full of unexpected twists & turns. This is a creepy but exciting read!

The Shadow Walker by Michael Walters
In modern day Mongolia, in a series of brutal killings, an Englishman is killed. To help in the investigation a British policeman is sent to Mongolia to work with the police & the head of national security to find the killer. This is a very interesting, well written & exciting mystery.

Reviewed by Julie

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More Good Mysteries from Julie

Mark of the Lion by Suzanne Arruda
Jade Del Cameron, an adventurous, independent young woman, explores post WWI Africa in search of her dead fiancés half-brother. If you like Amelia Peabody, you’ll love Jade Del Cameron! Very entertaining!

The Marshal and the Murderer by Magdalen Nabb
Marshal Guarnaccia, a Florence policeman, may look like he’s asleep on his feet but his brain is always working to figure out who done it.An easy and entertaining read.

Ammunition by Ken Bruen
Ammunition in this book is what you know about someone that gives you power over them. This is a rather cynical look at a police department but is an entertaining and fast read.

The Lemur by Benjamin Black
This is a creepy mystery where nothing seems or feels right. A writer hires a researcher who is then murdered, but murdered in exactly the same way as a death in the past. Is it a coincidence or did the same killer do both jobs?

Reviewed by Julie

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Few Good Mysteries and Thrillers

Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski
"His name was Paul Lewis.... ....and he didn't know he had seven minutes to live." This is a book that is in fast forward-the action never stops or even slows down! Once you start it, you can't stop!

Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill
This is a Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery set in Laos. Dr. Siri and his nurse Dtui investigate the mysterious case of a body found encased in a rock .too complicated to explain. These are fun, easy to read books. Siri and Dtui are a hoot! With lots of Laotian atmosphere (ghostly atmosphere at that!)

Reviewed by Julie

Killing Rommel bySteven Pressfield
This outstanding military thriller is based on the real life story of the Long Range Desert Group, an elite WWII BritishSpecial Forces unit whose mission was to destroy Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Pressfield captures the adrenaline and fear of battle and the camaraderie of the brave men whose mission was so dangerous they knew many of them would die so realistically I kept forgetting it’s fiction. The historical background is accurate and some of the characters are real. The fictional characters are so well imagined, and the action so detailed, you feel you are there. Pressfield's previous books are military historical fiction about Thermopylae and Alexander the Great. This is his first set in the modern era. His website has a 10-minute documentary about Rommel, "the greatest fighting general of WWII", desert warfare tactics, the Battle of El Alamein and about how the Long Range Desert Group were able to break the back of the Africa Korps. There's also an hour-long interview with Pressfield.
Steven Pressfield's website

Collision by Jeff Abbott
Abbott’s characters are often ordinary, intelligent people who are unwittingly caught up in dangerous situations and become victims. This one takes a while to jell as the various plots are laid out, but stick with it, it’s worthwhile! Ben Forsberg, who is grieving his wife’s murder 2 years previoucly, becomes the target of a secret government agency. Lots of action, crosses and double-crosses, and the ending is a stunner!

Assassin byTed Bell
Alex Hawke is everything a thriller hero must be - strong, fearless, determined and resourceful. In this one, a personal tragedy derails him briefly, but he’s soon back in the thick of the action, pursuing evil-doers and seeking revenge, supported by a cast of colorful and likeable comrades. The book is long; there's too much time spent on the villain's backstory, and the action is over the top. That said, the Hawke series is action-packed with well-drawn characters, and I'm now a confirmed Hawke fan.

The Whole Truth by David Baldacci
A fantastic thriller! A Shaw (no first name, just A) is a contract terrorist hunter and hitman for a shadowy government agency. He’s trying to get out of his dangerous profession and settle down with the woman he loves. But nothing is simple in the world of international terrorism. Baldacci's most popular books are his "Camel Club" series.

Reviewed by Suzanne

Monday, August 18, 2008

A miscellany of mysteries & a graphic novel

How the Dead Live by Derek Raymond
This was a bit slow starting out but once you get used to his writing style he’s great! I love the way he says so much in so few words:
It’s the capacity of knowing that’s the real agony of existence; maybe we would all of us be more honest without knowledge.
I’m looking forward to reading more of him. He died in 1994 and there are only 5 in this series so I might actually get to read all of them.

Epileptic by David B.
This is my very favorite graphic novel! It is an incredible story of growing up with an epileptic brother, plus a look at the medical crazes in France of the 70’s. It is complete fascinating!

A Grave in Gaza by Matt Beynon Rees
Teacher Omar Yussef is working with the UN to investigate the imprisonment of a UN teacher in this, the 2nd in the series. As well as a great mystery, Beynon Rees teaches you so much about Arab culture and customs. This is a great series!

Lie in the Dark by Dan Fesperman
This is a mystery story that takes place in Sarajevo at the height of the war. Our police detective, Vlado, investigates a case of stolen artwork which involves entanglements with the government, the UN and the military. Very exciting!

Little Girl Lost by Richard Aleas
Detective John Blake investigates the murder of his high school girlfriend which leads him into the world of strip clubs and mobsters. Nominated for an Edgar and Shamus award for best first novel.

Above Ground by Don Easton
Jack Taggart (Cpl. in the RCMP) seeks vengeance after an innocent man with his name is killed & his infant child is paralyzed by a vicious drug dealer. This is a satisfying, tough read full of danger and which questions “what is justice?”

Reviewed by Julie

Monday, August 11, 2008

Good Eats!

The Organic Food Shopper’s Guide by Jeff Cox

If Michael Pollan’s books In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma inspired you to change your eating habits, you will find that this book is a good resource to have. Cox starts out with a chapter called “Why Buy Organic Food?” in which he spells out the benefits of organic versus conventionally produced food. Then it’s on to chapters devoted to groups of foods, further broken down by individual type. For each type of food Cox provides information on growing season, varieties, how to determine freshness, tips for storage and preparation, and some simple recipes. He winds it up with a chapter at the end called “Kitchen Staples,” where he discusses such items as coffee, chocolate, and cooking oils. Cox also provides resources for learning about and locating organic foods. This is a good primer for those just venturing into organic foods and a handy reference for the more experienced shopper.

Reviewed by Macaire

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Spies and a thriller

The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst
Alan Furst and I share an obsession with the Spanish Civil War. His last two books are set in the late ‘30’s, when the Spanish Republic was desperately hanging on in the fight against Franco and his Fascists, a fight the republicans eventually lost. But Furst’s books The Spies of Warsaw and The Foreign Correspondent are not about that war. In both of them the protagonists are resisting the Fascist threat that is menacing all of Europe, not just Spain. They are fighting the good fight, risking their lives trying to subvert the Nazis, which as we all know was a futile effort in the end. Nonetheless, they are heroic in the manner of true heroes. They are ordinary people putting their lives on the line to fight evil. Furst writes intelligent and compelling spy fiction. His characters are thoughtful and very human, with human failings. He mixes in just the right amount of romance, creating relationships that are believable but that don’t swamp the plot.
Alan Furst's website

City of Thieves by David Benioff
Kolya is the grandson of a Cossack who likes to quote passages from Russian literature and Lev is the son of a Jewish poet who was taken from his home by the secret police and never heard from again. They are an unlikely pair. They meet when they are arrested in wartime Leningrad, Kolya for desertion from the army and Lev for plundering. The NKVD colonel in charge who can order their execution, gives them a reprieve, offering to trade their lives for a dozen eggs, needed for his daughter’s wedding cake. This would seem to be a simple task, but for the fact that the city is under siege by the German army, and the inhabitants are starving and turning to cannibalism. As Kolya and Lev search the city and beyond for the eggs, they are affected by the horrors of war they witness and those they hear about. In spite of the cold and the hardships and the seeming impossibility of their task, Kolya never loses his optimism and his sense of humor. This is a book with a lot of heart. Benioff has created a memorable character in Kolya.
Interview with David Benioff

Christopher’s Ghosts by Charles McCarry
I picked up this book because it was described as a spy thriller. When I started reading it, it seemed to be something different, and at first I was disappointed at the lack of action. I almost abandoned it, but I’m glad I didn’t, because I was irresistibly drawn into the lives of the characters and the horror of their situation. In 1939 16-year-old Paul Christopher, son of a German mother and an American father, is living in Berlin with his parents. SS officer Stutzer, who has an obsession with Paul’s mother, harasses the boy and his girlfriend, harassment that ultimately ends in a sadistic act. The second part of the book is a traditional spy thriller, which has Christopher sneaking around East Berlin. I enjoyed this part, also, more so because he so carefully set up the situation and the relationships in the first part.

Reviewed by Suzanne

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Crime and Something Completely Different

Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas
An ex-detective investigates the suicide of a friend. This is fast-paced hard case crime with a surprise ending. Exciting!

Cross by Ken Bruen
Many of the characters in this story have heavy crosses to bear including our hero Jack Taylor. Bruen is always good and this one’s no exception!

Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover
Chicago P.I. Ray Dudgeon has been hired by Hollywood to protect a locations scout who happened to see something he shouldn’t have. Winner of many awards, this book has a great sense of place, fully developed characters and is very suspenseful. This one’s truly a winner!
Sean Chercover's website

Deadly Beloved by Max Allan Collins
This is the first Ms. Tree novel ever, before this she was a comic book heroine. This book is as incredible, as short and as entertaining as a comic book. A quick, fun read!

What Burns Within by Sandra Ruttan

I knew this book would be good because she dedicated it to Ken Bruen.
Buildings are burning down, little girls going missing and women getting raped all at the same time, literally. It’s a tough case but the RCMP (this is Canadian after all) solves the puzzle. This is one you can’t put down!

And now for something completely different…

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

A melodrama in the best sense of the word this novel is full of tragic stories, grandiose emotions and star- crossed lovers. Not my kind of thing normally but I did get into this one.

Reviewed by Julie

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Reader Recommends a Favorite Author

I've been trying to get through the many books I have bought and have stacked up around my house! I finally got to Can't Wait to Get To Heaven by Fannie Flagg, and I'm sorry it took me so long! Fannie's writing style is easy, her dialogue is real, and there were parts that made me laugh out loud. Her characters are real and believable and you can easily picture each person and situation. I fell in love with Aunt Elner and all the other characters. I think the characters are so believable because we probably know someone just like each one.

This is the story of what happens when elderly, feisty Aunt Elner who insists on living in her own house independently climbs up the ladder to pick figs one morning despite her niece's nagging that she not do this anymore. She suffers a mishap that takes Aunt Elner, her family, and the whole town as well as the reader on quite a journey.

This is a fun, easy, nice read. It's not deep but it's just a fun book with a sweet story.

Reviewed by Patty

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The New James Bond and other thrillers

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks
Bond is back! I was intrigued by this book because I'm a James Bond fan, though of the movies, not the books, and because Faulks is a fine writer. His novel Birdsong is one of the best WWI novels around, and my book discussion group read On Green Dolphin Street which is set in the Cold War period. There are aspects of that book that still haunt me.
I couldn’t wait to find out what Faulks would do with the popular hero, and he does Bond proud. Thriller readers may find it a little slow to start, but once the action takes off, it's terrific. I loved his characterization of Bond, and the ending left me smiling with satisfaction.
I read in the Times of London that a lot of diehard Bond fans are disappointed by the book, but my advice would be to lighten up and enjoy it!
Interview with Sebastian Faulks in the London Sunday Times

In the Woods by Tana French

Dublin detective Rob Ryan & his partner investigate the disappearance
& murder of a 12-year-old girl. Twenty years earlier, Ryan and two friends
disappeared in the same woods. Ryan reappeared days later with blood
in his shoes and no memory of what happened. No trace of his friends
was ever found. Ryan is certain the cases are linked. This is an excellent
police thriller. Some parts of it were so creepy that when I was at home alone reading it I found myself looking over my shoulder. French won the Edgar Award for the best first novel for this book.
The Likeness, the sequel to In the Woods is due out in July ’08.
Edgar Award Nominees and Winners

The Accident Man by Tom Cain
Samuel Carver is a hired assassin (but he only kills REALLY BAD people!) who contracts for a hit on (he thinks) a terrorist. He later finds out he was set up, and his actions caused the accident that killed Princess Diana.
This is a fair to middling thriller. It's departs from the thriller model by having bad things happen to the hero, who at the end is pretty much a mess. I think perhaps the author left the hero in such a bad state because he's planning a sequel. The book definitely came through with exciting action, although there was too much sappy romance for my taste. I will happily read the sequel, if there is one, because I want to find out how the protagonist gets his revenge.

The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber
This quirky novel belongs to that genre called "literary thrillers" and is cram-jammed full of sub-plots, deceptions, stories within
stories, double crosses, movie lore, Russian mobsters, Jewish gangsters, an
ex-con priest,’s dizzying but fun. Jake Mishkin, who narrates, is a
philandering but charming intellectual property lawyer. The plot revolves
around the search for the manuscript of a lost Shakespeare play – written
in the bard’s own hand. It’s incredibly complicated and silly at times and totally addictive. Gruber's latest is The Forgery of Venus.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A travel book, noir crime fiction & something completely different

Long After Midnight at the Niño Bien by Brian Winter
The author spent 4 years in Argentina during which time he fell in love both with the country & with the tango. He made me fall in love too. What better could you ask from a travel writer?!

Priest by Ken Bruen
Bruen’s way with words is exceptional. In addition to the wonderful first line is another great one: “My existence had become so haphazard, the odd had become the norm.” Bruen’s great!

Queenpin by Megan Abbott
Winner of the 2008 Edgar for best paperback original, Abbott’s Queenpin is a return to the noir fiction of the 50’s but with a feminine twist. She has truly nailed the atmosphere and speech of the early noirs. Lots of fun to read!

Cruel Poetry by Vicki Hendricks
A reviewer classified this as “Florida noir erotica” which is a very good description of the book: lots of sex and a great crime tale. It is addictively engrossing!

The Blonde by Duane Swierczynski
The plot is rather incredible but the book keeps up a relentless pace. It’s a fun ride!

And now for something completely different… I will listen to books that I normally wouldn’t read so I listened to My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. I wanted to see what her books were like because she is very popular right now. I’m glad I listened though instead of reading this book because, in my 15 min. trips to and from work it’s hard to work up a good cry. Reading this book has to be a real cry fest. The story is incredibly sad but it is also thought provoking. The audiobook is very easy to listen to and keeps you hanging on to every word.

Reviewed by Julie

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Follett's Long-Awaited Sequel

World Without End by Ken Follett

Don't expect to finish this in an afternoon as it is a tome of 1000 pages and too heavy to carry to the beach. It is, however, a novel that will engross you. This is, finally, the sequel to Follett's successful Pillars of the Earth which outlined the tribulations of Jack the Builder in his quest to design and erect Knightsbridge Priory in medieval England. Obviously extensively researched, both books offer fascinating facts about medieval life, of knights and serfs, tavern owners and market sellers, royalty, religion and guilds. World details the love story of Merithin, the poor boy who becomes a wealthy architect, and his childhood friend Caris, the wool merchant's daughter who becomes the prioress of Knightsbridge. Rich with intrigue and diabolical characters, touching on Edward III's never-ending war with France and the Great Plague as well as details of everyday life, it will keep you on edge until the very end. And, you won't want it to.
Reviewed by Barbara

Monday, May 5, 2008

Julie's Favorite First Lines

There have been some memorable first lines in my reading history. In college I read lots of mysteries, particularly of the hard-boiled kind. The first line that grabbed me then was from Mickey Spillane’s Vengeance Is Mine:

THE GUY WAS DEAD AS HELL. He lay on the floor in his pajamas with his brains scattered all over the rug and my gun was in his hand.

I was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. I think that I read all of his books but that was by far the best, most memorable first line. It has stuck with me to this day. Maybe now that I’ve written it down I can finally forget about it.

Of course, I was an English major in college so I read a lot of the classics too. Mickey was just for fun. So on the more serious side the best first line was that from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . .

This is recognized as the most famous first line and it’s deserving of its fame. It is a great one.

While in graduate school I took a break from studying to read some modern classics. It makes sense, as an undergrad I read from the very high, the classics, and the very low, Mickey Spillane. As a graduate student I suppose I had graduated to more modern fiction where maybe the high and the low are a little less distinguishable. Here the book that most grabbed me, from beginning to end, was Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. The first line of this book has to be one of the most seductive ever written:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

How could you not read on after that? Nabokov is a true poet. I love it.

Now as a middle-aged geezer my reading tastes are still all over the place. For the most part I’ve done with the classics and am back to reading for fun. Still many mysteries, some travel literature and occasionally something completely different. My latest author discovery is Ken Bruen, the Irish noir writer. Here is a great first line from his book Calibre:

Shit from Shinola. You have to hand it to the goddamn Yanks, they have great verbals, man. I love they way they cuss.

You can certainly tell from this that Ken Bruen owes more to Mickey Spillane that to my other favorites. You can also tell where my brain is these days, unfortunately. Oh well…

So I looked at the first line of the book I’m currently reading. It’s another Ken Bruen, Priest, another good first line:

What I remember most about the mental hospital
The madhouse
The loony bin
The home for the bewildered
is a black man may have saved my life.

I’m still working on the complete works of Ken Bruen and I’m looking forward to every one of them. I hope you’ll read this and give him a try too.

So what are your favorite lines? Take a look at the book you’re reading right now. How does its first line compare to these? Send your comments…Let’s see who can find the best first lines.

Submitted by Julie Stump

Friday, May 2, 2008

Book Recommendations: Mystery and Memoir

Silence of the Grave
Arnaldur Indriđason
This is an excellent Icelandic police procedural. A corpse is found
buried on a hillside. This is a very cold case; it's been buried for 40 some years. This is a quick read with intelligent characters and deals with some timely and touching subjects.

Sleeping Arrangements
Laura Shaine Cunningham
Cunningham is a writer who had a rather interesting life being raised by her O.B. (old bachelor) uncles. Her memoir is funny, quirky and completely enjoyable.

Girls of Tender Age
Mary-Ann Tirone Smith (Book on CD)
In this touching memoir the author uncovers the repressed memory of the
murder of a childhood friend in a working class Hartford, CT
neighborhood. Read by the author, it is an unforgettable story.

Recommended by Julie

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Chick Lit Grows Up

Nice to Come Home To
By Rebecca Flowers

Pru Whistler has always been a planner, with a life that is neat, tidy, organized, and dependable. So imagine her dismay when, ten days after losing her job, she looks up and sees “the woman she was supposed to be by now.” And who is that? An attractive young urban matron – wardrobe by J. Jill, condo in an upscale neighborhood furnished by Pottery Barn, and successful husband and adorable children straight out of Central Casting – with a busy fulfilling life that she manages effortlessly. Instead, Pru is unemployed, recently dumped, and essentially rudderless. Pru’s efforts to find her way in the world without a plan are both funny and touching. Tossing away her preconceived notions along with her Daytimer, Pru sets out to reinvent her life with the help of an odd collection of friends and family. Nice to Come Home To is a very satisfying and entertaining story; anyone who has ever had to make a major decision about where their life is headed will be able to relate to it. This is author Rebecca Flowers first book, and I am really hoping there will be more to follow.
Rebecca Flowers website.

Reviewed by Macaire

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Just Because You're Paranoid....

...doesn't mean no one will try to frame you for murder.

by Linwood Barclay

Sci-fi writer Zach Walker is a character. Paranoid about safety and security issues, he drives his family nuts. To teach his wife a lesson about supermarket security, he “steals” her unattended purse from the shopping cart, then realizes he has taken the wrong woman’s purse. When that woman turns up murdered, Zach is in trouble up to his eyeballs, and enlists the aid of his neighbors, who turn out to have secrets of their own. Despite the dead bodies turning up, this has the feel of an amusing romp and Zach is a funny, self-deprecating anti-hero.

Visit Linwood Barclay's website

Reviewed by Barbara

Friday, April 25, 2008

Jhumpa Lahiri's Newest is a Winner

I just read Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, and it was one of those books which had me savoring every word and feeling sad when I finished it. These are short stories which are almost the length of novellas. I am, in fact, still thinking about the last set of stories entitled Hema and Kaushik.

She writes beautifully. Her style is spare and you read it slowly because you don’t want to miss one word. She has a gift for picking just the right moment to capture in the lives of her characters and of ending in a way that is different than one would expect.

I highly recommend it.
Reviewed by Gail
Slate review of Unaccustomed Earth

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

In Defense of Food

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Pollan’s follow up to The Omnivore’s Dilemma examines the issue of what we eat by looking at the modern Western diet as a product of what he calls “nutritionism.” According to Pollan, nutritionism is an ideology which states that “Foods are essentially the sum of their nutrient parts.” He argues that by taking the nutrients out of the context of the foods in which they naturally occur, and by taking food out of the context of culture, we are destroying relationships that have developed over centuries. This, combined with the industrialization of food production at all levels, has resulted in a host of diseases that currently plague Western nations. Pollan’s solution to this problem is what he calls the “Eater’s Manifesto,” which states “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables.” Easier said than done. The author spends that latter part of the book laying out a loose plan that will enable the average person to live according to the Manifesto. For example, if your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, don’t eat it. He offers many other bits of advice as well, covering everything from where our food should be grown (locally, if possible) to how we should eat it (not alone, and certainly not in the car.)
Though very well researched and thoroughly footnoted, In Defense of Food is very readable. Pollan’s common sense examination of nutrition fads (oat bran bagel, anyone?) points out the ridiculous extremes we now go to in order to satisfy “scientific” requirements that may be proven baseless by the very next study to come along. He makes a strong argument for completely changing our current relationship with food. His presentation is both entertaining and informative, and I would recommend this book to anyone interested in diet, health, or our current food culture.
Reviewed by Macaire
Michael Pollan's website

Monday, April 21, 2008

Looking for good mysteries?

Julie reads more mysteries than anyone I know, and she likes to discover new authors. Try these two she recommends.

An Unquiet Grave by P.J. Parrish
Mystery, suspense, thrills, chills.this book has it all! When a cemetery connected to a deserted sanitarium is dug up for relocation and one of the caskets contains rocks, Louis Kincaid steps in to investigate. Winner of the Thriller and the Shamus awards, An Unquiet Grave is not for the squeamish but it's one that once you start it, you just can't put it down! I know I'll be reading more of P.J. Parrish.
See P.J. Parrish's website for more information.

The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin
This historical mystery takes place in 1830 Istanbul, the Ottoman Empire.
Our detective is Investigator Yashim, one of the court eunuchs. Yashim leads us on a tour of the city, introducing us to the culture, charms and treachery of that particular place and time while solving the mystery of 4 murdered soldiers. This was a fascinating and exotic read and the winner of the Edgar Award best novel.
Jason Goodwin's website

Friday, March 21, 2008

Follow Your Bliss!

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

The author, an NPR correspondent, set off on a trip around the world searching for answers to what makes people happy and where they are the happiest. Armed with information compiled by serious researchers, he visited happy countries like Iceland (yes Iceland!) and unhappy ones like Moldova, where distrust and lack of hope have left people certifiably miserable. Interviewing and observing as he went, Eric discovered a world of different attitudes and perspectives but many common themes to achieving a blissful existence. This was an enjoyable and enlightening book; reading it was truly a happy experience!

Eric Weiner's website
Interview with Eric Weiner

Reviewed by Judie

Friday, March 14, 2008

Try these mysteries

Wife of Moon by Margaret Coel

Murders on the Arapaho reservation in Colorado stemming from a murder 100 yrs. before, solved by a lawyer and a priest. Exciting, with sympathetic characters.

Summer of the Big Bachi by Naomi Hirahara

Bachi: “when you snap…at your wife, and then trip…on a rock in the driveway.” Sins from 1945 in Hiroshima come back to haunt a group of Japanese living in L.A. With sympathetic and complex characters.

Slip of the Knife by Denise Mina

The ex-boyfriend of a Glaswegian journalist is murdered. It looks like an IRA execution, but is it? Confronting numerous roadblocks, Paddy Meehan investigates while trying to keep her son from danger. A complex and exciting read.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

First Lines

I love opening a book and finding a first sentence that startles me or makes me smile. The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff begins with this line: “The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.” Doesn’t that make you want to know who is speaking, why he or she has been disgraced and what happened to the monster? Templeton is modeled on Cooperstown, NY, the author’s home town. I’ve been to Cooperstown, which is on a lake - Otsego, not Glimmerglass, although the state park across the lake from Cooperstown is called Glimmerglass. There is a legend that a monster lurks in the depths!
Read this delightful interview with Lauren Groff.
Another favorite first line is this one from This is not Civilization by Robert Rosenberg: “The idea of using porn films to encourage the dairy cows to breed was a poor one.” The idea was the brainstorm of Anarbek Tashtanaliev, manager of a cheese factory that makes no cheese in a village in Kyrgyzstan. Anarbek is one of the most endearing fictional characters I have met. When Peace Corps worker Jeff Hartig is posted to Anarbek’s village, he is overwhelmed with hospitality. Jeff later moves on to work in Istanbul, where Anarbek travels there to ask a favor from the American. This is a sweet and melancholy novel about cultural alienation, responsibility, compassion and good intentions gone awry.

Do you have a favorite first line? Share it by writing a comment.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Down River by John Hart

If you’ve read all of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels
try Down River by John Hart

I listened to the excellent audio version of Down River on compact disk read by Scott Sowers. It’s a knotty thriller about family misunderstandings, betrayal and deception. The story is told in the first person by Adam Chase, who’s returned to his home town in North Carolina after five years in exile in New York City. He left his home after being acquitted of capitol murder in the death of a high school classmate and has returned only because a friend contacted him asking for help. Now that friend has disappeared. Everyone in town remembers him, and not favorably. Most of them shun him because they think he was guilty of the murder and got off because of family influence. Chase is estranged from his family, and his re-entry into their lives is complicated and uncomfortable. The plot is complex and has a touch of the Southern gothic about it. It’s Hart’s second novel, and he’s a promising writer. I was struck by how much the voice of the book’s narrator is like James Lee Burke’s protagonist Dave Robicheaux. I don’t mean to make Hart sound like he’s copying Burke; he’s written an original story with an appealing and complicated main character. Sowers’ narration is excellent. I grew up in the South, and he gets the accents just right.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I saw the movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly this past weekend. The film is based on the memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby, who at age 42 was paralyzed by a stroke. As a result of brain damage, he could move only one eyelid. The movie is the account of how he dictated his book. The book is the basis for this film. It’s a surprising and complex movie. It’s not about limitations, about being physically incapacitated. It’s about learning to live after a huge loss and about the relationships that sustain us. The tenderness between Bauby and his aging father is particularly well-portrayed, as is that between him and his young son. At one of the major turning points in the movie, Bauby says in spite of his lost faculties, he has two things left. I won’t tell you what they are; you’ll have to see the movie. I plan to read the book, and maybe see the movie again – it’s that good! Julian Schnabel, who directed the movie, is a kind of Renaissance man and an artist, and his artistry and imagination are evident in the movie. How many people could make a riveting movie about a man who can do nothing except blink one eye?

Watch the movie trailer

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Favorites of the Library’s
Nonfiction Book Group

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath told of the Okies who fled the Dust Bowl. Timothy Egan recounts the stories of those who stuck out the hard times, refusing to leave their land. He begins with the history of the settlement of an area one explorer called “a desolate waste of uninhabited solitude.” Real estate speculators enticed settlers to fictitious towns. Settlers came to this area called No Man’s Land for lack of a better place to live, because they had hope and because they believed the soil could never be used up. A combination of natural and man-made disasters - hailstorms, plagues of locusts, severe cold and heat, and worst of all the “moving earth”, the dust storms that blackened the sky—made their lives a day-to-day struggle.

Supercapitalism by Robert Reich
“Of all the nations of the world, America is assumed to best exemplify the idea that capitalism and democracy go hand in hand,” Reich says in the introduction. He also believes that rampant free-market capitalism has become bloated and has weakened our democratic system. Why do consumers expect corporations to be socially responsible, Reich asks, when they purchase the cheapest goods, regardless of where or under what conditions they were produced? Corporations do not exist to be socially responsible; they are in business to increase stockholder profits. Reich’s suggestions for strengthening democracy include the elimination of the corporate income tax and removing corporate cash from politics.

Nixon and Mao: The Week that Changed the World by Margaret Macmillan
In 1972, traveling to China was “like going to the moon.” President Nixon’s decision to go to China posed several risks. Conservative Republicans opposed any diplomatic overtures by Americans to that steadfastly Communist country. Furthermore, Nixon would be humiliated if Mao refused to meet with him. Kissinger was dispatched on a secret advance trip, which even the State Department did not know about, to appraise the receptiveness of the Chinese. This is a fascinating look behind the scenes at the banquets, the competing egos of the Chinese and American officials, and the wrangling over the wording of the final joint communiqué.