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