Tuesday, August 31, 2010

2009 Cover Art for Fantasy Books -- yes, there are still plenty of hooded figures

Every summer, Orbit Books (an SF publisher) charts the progression of fantasy cover art for the last year. Apparently 2009 saw a serious decline of damsels in distress and a rise in damsels not in distress. It was a bad year for unicorns, too. Take a look here for the whole thing. It's pretty amusing, even for an SF fan like myself.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Jim Crow’s Children: The Broken Promise of the Brown Decision by Peter Irons

Peter Irons, professor emeritus of political science at the University of alifornia at San Diego, wrote this book in 2002. Eight years later, its message still speaks to what we offer as education to our children. Irons traces the beginnings of American slaves seeking equality, noting how any education they acquired helped fuel their efforts to be citizens in their own right. We see Thurgood Marshall, the black lawyer fighting for the right for African-Americans to be educated in white schools from 1936 to 1954, when the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka struck down the idea that separate schools could ever be equal, because of the slur and the indignity such schools inflicted on the hearts and minds of African-American children.

But the battle was not over by any means. Irons goes on to show how school district after school district resisted integration, complaining about federal interference and in many cases insisting that their schools were open to all, explaining segregation as a matter of neighborhoods, where people happened to live. Busing was finally introduced in many areas to facilitate integration, and caused a backlash of anger from many white parents and community leaders, leading to violence in some cases. Irons follows this “winding-down” of integration tactics as equality through bussing became less and less popular, with a majority of Supreme Court justices reflecting these sentiments.

Irons concludes that segregation is alive and well in this country, since most African-American students attend schools that have mostly black students, and that most white students attend schools with only a few minority students. The fact that schools serve their neighborhoods is an indication to many that segregation is a fact, one that people have chosen. Irons, however, cites statistics to show the crushing and debilitating impact that substandard schools have on their students, failing to offer an opportunity for these children to achieve something for themselves or for their communities.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice

Anne Rice recently decided that she doesn’t want to be a Catholic anymore, after having come back to the faith 12 years ago. (She had grown up as Catholic and left the church when she became an adult.) Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, Ms. Rice’s historical fictional book of Jesus’ childhood, was published in 2005 as part of a trilogy. The second book, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana came out in 2008, and she is still writing the third. It remains to be seen if her discontent with not only the Catholic church, but all other Christian denominations will affect her last and most important imagining of Jesus’ life on earth.

Ms. Rice spent several years researching the historical evidence for the Gospel narratives which depict Jesus’ life and death. As a result of this research, Jesus’ life in Out of Egypt is vividly set against the political turmoil of the day, as various Jewish insurgents struggle against the rule of Herod’s family, appointed by the Romans. The story begins as Jesus’ family comes back to Palestine from Egypt on hearing of the first Herod’s death, who had sought to kill Jesus when he was just an infant. Upon their return, there is terrible fighting in Jerusalem and pillaging by revolutionary bands throughout the countryside.

What Ms. Rice has done for the curious and for the faithful is to tell the story from Jesus’ perspective. He is clearly older when he is narrating the story, but he confines himself to relating how everything appeared to him at that age, and how Jesus as a seven, nine, ten and twelve year old boy watches, listens, ponders, and tries to make sense of who he is.

Ms. Rice depicts a Jesus who has power and knowledge within him, and shows him sensing these qualities and slowly coming to terms with them, asking God to allow them only to fulfill God's will.

He is given bits and pieces of the history of his birth through the book, with Ms. Rice cleverly keeping us just one step ahead of his overwhelming discoveries. While family love and kinship are abundant in Jesus’ life with his extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles, so too is death; and Jesus is afraid from having seen murder and riot in Jerusalem. He is aware of evil-- too aware, one might say, and struggles to understand how horror and darkness can exist in God’s universe. Interestingly enough, the most shattering knowledge he finally gains is not the truth of his identity, but how children were killed in his place, as Herod had sought to make sure that no such child would survive and challenge his rule. His eventual acceptance of his life and his yet unknown destiny make for stirring reading, in a prose that resonates with its simple yet evocative characterization of that long ago time and place.

Scattershot: My Bipolar Family / a memoir by David Lovelace

"What I knew of the world mutated continually, all a huge metaphor now--broken and heavy and rolling straight toward me." (p. 179)
What if both your parents were certifiable manic-depressives? For David Lovelace, who grew up as the middle of three children born to an artist mother and Presbyterian minister father, this was just the case. It was his mother, Betty Lee, in whom the disease first found a victim. Only then in 1949, as she was first succombing to severe depression and suspended manic episodes, it was delusional schizophrenia which the doctors believed her symptoms most reflected. She would remain in and out of institutions over the next forty years, always on and off medications, unendingly and tragically devastated by the disorder's symptoms. His father's own inclinations of illness began as his erratic behavior over the course of David's young life began spiraling out of control. Continued eccentricities and peculiar (though often funny) habits became increasingly visible to a confused and disturbed David all the way up until David's own diagnosis in 1986, a year when he, his father and younger brother were all likewised committed. Only David's sister, Peggy, was left alone by the disease, her sanity a godsend for the whole family throughout the years.
Much like Kay Redfield Jamison's An Unquiet Mind (B JAMISON) or even Jeannette Walls' more recent work The Glass Castle (362.82092 WALLS), Lovelace meshes the problems of mental illness and dysfunctional family life with endearing, picquant candor, illuminating the world of loved ones affected by mental illness as much as those stricken with the affliction. Despite spending years fleeing his childhood home and his family's seemingly doomed existence, the author reveals that he's come to accept things as they are, optimistic about how life can win out over disease and illness. Lovingly, he reveals each of his family members as an especially unique individual, stating that the clan's mutual creativity and distinct personalities are as much a result of the "family condition" as a product of it. (616.895 LOVELACE)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Island / by Elin Hildebrand

It's the event Birdie Cousins has been waiting for: her daughter Chess (Francesca) is finally getting married. Everything's been planned for the day of the wedding. All the elegant, lavish plans are set in motion for the refined ceremony and subsequent celebration to be held at the family's Nantucket island home with funds provided upfront by Chess's father/Birdie's ex-husband Grant. Then the bottom falls out. First Chess calls her mother to tell her she's broken off her engagement to heartthrob fiance Michael Morgan for no apparent reason other than prenuptual jitters. Next, Chess quits her prestigious editing job at a major lifestyle magazine, and then Michael himself dies tragically in a Rock climbing accident; the mini-vacation with his brother Nick was supposed to be a way of taking his mind off his recent heartbreak. Chess is now more than just a mess; she's become a wreck of emotional guilt and depression, pushed to drastic extremes like shaving her head and holing herself up in her apartment permanently.
Birdie's unsure of what action should be taken--Chess has always been the responsible, got-it-together girl. Other than enlisting the aid of her second, younger daughter Tate, it's hard to think of the right thing to do. Finally Birdie decides a family retreat is what's needed. Mom and both daughters will spend a month long holiday on the same Tuckernuck Island beach house where the wedding ceremony was to take place. Birdie's sister India, an artist-socialite who's overcome the vast tragedy herself with the suicide of her celebrity sculptor husband, will complete the party.
This is Hilderbrand's latest in a long line of successful "beach reads", all of which have been set in and around the same Cape Cod region where she and her family live year-round. The Island reads pretty much like the cover looks: everything's nice and non-threatening. Everyone is well-off and well-settled, if not downright rich and famous. Stuff happens for a reason with personal growth and lessons learned by all in the end. It's easy to get into the characters, all of whom are sympathetic in their own way, exuding warmth and positive qualities in nearly all situations. And Hilderbrand's language and prose moves things along at a pleasant pace. It's the kind of "never-never land portrait"* of life that can't help but find an audience. (FIC HILDERBRAND)
*Publisher's Weekly

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A History Of The World In Six Glasses / by Tom Standage

It seems that the entire history of the world as we know it can be reduced to 6 drinks. And that's not just fodder for idle barstool conversations--or a mere drunken hypothesis. Author and historian Standage backs up his claim with some pretty fascinating evidence and quirky yet true factoids, examining how some of the world's most pivotal civilization's, over time, were deeply in-depted to the development and mass dissemination of one very diverse six-pack. In vague chronological order, Standage explains how beer, wine, spirits (hard liquor), tea, coffee and cola have not only been downed en masse over the centuries, but have all contributed in a very special way to shaping our world.
The author starts things off with a nod to his personal favorite, beer, and its role as a drink which became staple in more agrarian societies which could employ domesticated farming methods in place of migratory hunting and gathering practices. The drink was deemed laudable in part because of its uplifting effect, but also no less because the fermentation process--incorporating harvested hops and barley--made the drink a safer alternative to other beverages (water sources at the time always of questionable purity). The superiority of wine throughout the classic period is not discounted and is seen as a unifying force behind the Mediterranean civilizations of the ancient times, the drink a source of land and financial capital, not to mention a catalyst for customary feasts and a primary aspect of private life. The era of mercantile trade and global mass-acculturation helped the societies of the Middle-east, Arabs primarily, disperse their various spiritous beverages--rum, brandy, whisky, etc.--and their likewise revolutionary (and lucrative) distillation processes.
Coffee and tea are presented as the major role players each were in the booming imperial age. Coffee, with its rather humble Middle-eastern beginnings where it was used for daily meal sustenance, soon became one of the most fashionable drinks in Europe and then the New World where it found a soaring market and ripe soil in South America. Tea shares something of a rather controversial lineage. English merchants essentially used Tea, and its coveted station in British domestic life, to offset trading losses when Opium was outlawed and inadvertently thrust the Chinese into financial ruin. Cola, specifically Coca-cola, and the onset of the carbonated drink is seen as a symbol of American commercial empire and the rise of western cultural dominance, the drink's ever-present marketing image deemed an appropriate posterchild for the modern age. All in all, this book is pop history at its best and the anecdotal pieces are sure to catch on with interested readers. (394.12 STANDAGE)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Southtown: A Tres Navarre Mystery / by Rick Riordan

Before he shifted gears to become an immensely successful children's author of such books as The Lightning Thief and Percy Jackson and the Olympians, San Antonio native Rick Riordan wrote mysteries. His Tres Navarre novels about a South Texas private eye didn't have much to do with children, fantasy or mythology and instead depicted the seamy underbelly of San Antonio with its hidden criminal element, showing the harsh, often violent conditions which went with the territory. Southtown is a crackerjack P.I. novel, detailing the aftermath of a violent prison break by five men, one of whom will stop at nothing to see his own brand of vengeance played out.
The Floresville Five is what they're being called by the media. The five fugitives, 3 of which were serving life sentences for murder, are still on the loose after a prison break from the south Texas maximum security penitentiary. The escape was a bloodbath of an affair in which six men originally plotted a getaway in the prison chaplain's SUV; only the plan went horribly wrong leaving the chaplain, one of the fugitives and two guards behind as casualties. The mastermind behind the whole thing is a nasty character named Will Stirman, a former "coyote" who made a business of smuggling illegals across the border for his own nefarious purposes. Having been ripped off in a deal gone bad and having been caught in the process, Stirman was serving a life sentence when he burst out of the incarceration unit.
This is bad news for everyone, but especially Erainya Manos, a private eye currently tied up in mostly boring, low-level work with what seems to be the same circle of San Antonio lowlifes. Erainya's former husband, the now deceased Fred Barrow, was part of the bounty-hunting team which originally put Will Stirman away. Only they didn't play by the rules. In addition to taking more than their share of the profit (some loose change gone unaccounted for), Barrow and his partner Sam Barrera accidentally killed two of the wrong people--Stirman's wife and son--and tried to cover the whole thing up with lies. Now, despite the fact that Erainya had virtually nothing to do with the whole mess, Stirman is out to get her and plans to use her son Jem for his purposes. Fortunately she's got a good friend and clever partner in Tres Navarre. A former English professor turned private detective, Tres will do anything and everything in his power to protect Erainya and Jem, even if it means endangering his own life.
Riordan's skill at storytelling is on full display in this, his fifth Tres Navarre novel, after debuting the wily sleuth in Big Tequila and building his persona through The Last King of Texas. Navarre is the perfect vessel for the author to deliver his story, one well-layered with believable villains and even more believable good guys (most of whom have a hard time walking the straight line themselves). The book is also true to its setting, and Riordan's roots, as a work deeply entrenched in the culture and heritage of San Antonio and South Texas. Readers are sure to never be disappointed with Riordan's work and won't miss a beat with this, one of his best. (MYS RIORDAN)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Family Album / by Penelope Lively

UK author Penelope Lively won the Man-Booker award for her riveting 1987 novel Moon Tiger about a globe-trotting woman's conflicted love affairs during the middle of the twentieth century. Known for telling stories through multiple points of view, her fiction predominately focuses on domestic spheres, most specifically families and small, concentrated social networks. Her latest book Family Album visits a sprawling family of six-children, all visibly well-adjusted but internally troubled and mutually encumbered by life's problems.
Alison Harper is one of those women who's always wanted a large family. Something of a throwback, she thinks, to an era many years ago when large families of six or more children were the norm and everyone did things together (i.e., meals, housework, birthday parties, picnics, etc.) is her ideal. Reality isn't far from her dream actually. It's at Allersmead, their sprawling country estate highlighted by an old but spacious house, that Alison and husband Charles, a writer of obscure non-fiction books, live with their six children--two boys and four girls--and an au paire housekeeper, Ingrid. Things are nice from the outside looking in. Yet despite an external facade which fronts a flourishing home life, blissful childhoods for each of her kids and a happy marriage, Alison is being torn apart by the stress of a world beyond her control--one which can't hide her own violent emotional outbursts, shady secrets ongoing behind her back, and Charles' increasing emotional indifference.
All the children are normal by relative standards, and even amiable toward one another, but problems are evident early on. Paul, the oldest, is something of a disappointment to his father who views his son's rebellious streak, poor academic record and experimental drug use with utter disdain and cool derision, a trend only furthering Paul's dissent into a problematic adulthood. And while the remaining siblings--the middle three girls Gina, Sandra and Clare followed by Roger and Katie, the youngest--are successful in their endeavours, few remain close as time passes, each choosing life outside the family sphere. Gina, Clare and Katie, foreign correspondent, professional dancer and teacher respectively, remain far away from Allersmead until each, not totally by their own choosing, return decades later. The beautiful Sandra lives abroad in the world of modelling and fashion design, always with a steady parade of male companions while Roger, a doctor, is now a continent away in Toronto. All have remained childless.
Lively is good at depicting normal stuff, which is not-so-happy and unhappy stuff more often than not though at least truthful and accurate in many cases. Through the minds of each family member at various times ranging from the early years in the late 1970's to the present, multiple points of view are presented filling the reader in on the untidy bits of the family's existence. This manner of burrowing beneath the surface reveals the messy, unpleasant and even disappointing episodes in the family's tenure to go along with a smaller but still evident portion of jubilant times, but it's not as if the chiefly damaging issues are horribly scandalous or grossly disturbing. The Harpers, though not a terribly close-knit or even an especially loving modern clan, reflect the problems inherent in life at large, a vision Lively extraordinarily evokes in uniquely provocative and starkly compelling fashion. (FIC LIVELY)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Don't Be That Girl: A Guide To Finding The Confident, Rational Girl Within / by Travis Stork & Leah Furman

"Don't be that girl or you'll end up with that guy." (p. 3). So says Travis Stork, an ER doctor from Tennessee, who was chosen as the bachelor for the eighth season of the same-named reality television show. His subsequent experiences--both on TV and in his own time--helped him parlay his wisdom into book form. That girl, Stork claims, might fit any combination of undesirable qualifications. But of the variety of women he's met, the ones deemed most preferable and well-suited to successful relationships most certainly do not fall into the following categories: 1) Agenda Girl, 2) Yes Girl, 3) Drama Queen Girl, 4) Bitter Girl, 5) Insecure Girl, 6) Desperate Girl, 7) Working Girl & 8) Lost Girl.
Nothing is more important, if you're a woman, than finding the right guy. But if categorized within one or more of these 'girl-types'--there's quizzes and surveys to determine if you are--then you're no doubt, as Stork puts it, "walking, talking man-repellant" (p. 10). But there's hope. The author discusses all of these damaging qualities in depth, but he also illuminates how you can steer clear of potentially plaguing personality flaws and reposition yourself apart from these eight types of which you "absolutely, positively do not want to be . . .", thus providing you with "both long-term and short-term solutions to help you stop acting crazy right here and now." (p. 10). Despite its laughable, unintended comedic quality, this book can be found in the self-help section. (155.6423 STORK)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Arctic Drift: A Dirk Pitt Novel / by Clive Kussler & Dirk Cussler

Clive Cussler has lived a lifestyle almost to match his adventure-seeking, thrill-getting protagonist Dirk Pitt. Currently the chairman of NUMA (National Underwater & Marine Agency), Cussler has been searching for sunken and buried treasure for about as long as he's been writing bestselling novels--he holds the record for discovered shipwrecks at over 60. He collects rare antiques and custom-made automobiles, has lead gold mining expeditions and is on the board of both the Royal Geographic Society and the American Society of Oceanographers. His latest Dirk Pitt caper (the 20th in the series) places the hero in the midst of an environmental caper where some dastardly deeds are threatening the future of the planet.
As global warming threatens to doom planet earth, a new research discovery near the North Pole is being looked at which could actually help put a stop to the problem. But Canadian oil tycoon Mitchell Goyette has a very vested interest in the Arctic region currently under scrutiny and cares nothing for such environmental concerns. It's strongly hinted that he may be at the bottom of a current pollution epidemic, some contaminated water samples recently having been found in British Columbia by none other than Dirk Pitt Jr. and sister Summer. Goyette could also be linked to a series of unexplained deaths which has sparked something of an international incident of late, the heated war of words between the US and Canadian delegates in Washington reaching powers that be who call upon Dirk Pitt Sr. to intervene on the situation. But when a deadly explosion catches him off guard at his own D.C. post, obviously intended to dissuaed any plans he may have, Dirk knows he needs to find answers and soon.
One thing which may be linking everything together is a mysterious, unidentified metallic mineral substance recently unearthed, thought to have been originally discovered on a 19th century Arctic voyage in search of the fabled Northwest Passage. Only that expedition never reached its destination, never even got close as every last man perished in cryptic fashion. Pitt and his loyal sidekick and lifelong colleague Al Giordino set off on their deadliest voyage yet to search for answers hopefully concealed within the tundra region near the Arctic circle. But they'll have to weather more than just frigid temperatures and glaciers as Goyette is firm with his own sly, treacherous maneuvers and will do everything to see his interests sustained. Does the same destiny await Dirk and his gang which doomed the ill-fated voyage over a century ago? Cussler's latest won't disappoint his loyal fans with this thriller which features the author's trademark suspense and breakneck pace. As adventure novels go, it's win-win all the way. (FIC CUSSLER)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Shichinin No Samurai (Seven Samurai) DVD (1954) / a film by Akira Kurosawa; starring Takashi Shimura & Toshiro Mifune

In sixteenth-century feudal Japan, a small village is at the mercy of marauding bandits who roam the countryside on horseback, the armed thieves basically pillaging at will against the defenseless peasants. After learning in advance of a planned raid set to take place during the peak of harvest season, the villagers decide protection is needed. The men they need are samurai warriors, specially skilled swordsmen known as Ronin distinguished for their prowess in hand-to-hand combat and bravery in battle. There's the problem of expense of course; the samurai are essentially mercenary soldiers normally well-paid for their services. But the villagers, feeling that no alternatives are left to them, travel to the local town to try and persuade some of the warriors to fight for their cause.
Initially, all the men deemed worthy promptly scoff at the villager's request and meager compensatory offer. But one warrior, Kambei, takes pity on the humble peasants, all of which will no doubt perish without the provisional aid, and soon enlists six other Ronin toward the cause. Working fast to build up the battlements of the farming compound and prepare the peasants for combat, the seven samurai foster a mutual kinship with their civilian counterparts, further fortifying the village for the trouble ahead. But as the impending raid approaches, fear and anxiety creep in as loyalties are crossed and the tenuous ties between warriors and farmers are strained to the breaking point.
In the 1950's, nothing in America or elsewhere had prepared the world for a film quite like Seven Samurai, likely the Japanese equivalent of Gone With The Wind, Casablanca or Citizen Kane (and some will argue of its superiority to these). Not only was it Kurosawa's most well-known film--as well as his most ambitious and most expensive up to that point--but it would become the most well-regarded and esteemed Japanese (and arguably Asian) film ever made. Regardless, the movie will forever be known as a milestone in motion picture history, a beautific film of powerful meaning, cinematic richness, and lasting significance (Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven was the successful American remake). One thing is incontestably certain, world cinema has never been the same since its breathtaking debut. (DVD SEVEN)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Daniel Deronda / by George Eliot

Born to unknown parentage, Daniel Deronda has been raised by respected gentleman Sir Hugo Mallinger since infancy. Now a grown man, Dan's a well-educated, well-traveled and well-groomed proper Victorian gentleman. Yet not all's quite right; intuition tells him he needs to re-examine his life from a root perspective, to pursue a more philosophical mode of existence. And so, after a series of circumstances in which he rescues a young woman, a Jewess, from the river, Deronda begins a twisting, soul-searching journey, one leading him down an unforeseen path of enlightenment and self-revelation.
Meanwhile not far away, Gwendolen Harleth is a beautiful, adventurous young girl from a middle class family. Well-versed and privy to the fact that she's a desirous prospect among men, Gwendolen has the role of the minxish coquette down pat and though discrete to the proper degree, sees no reason she shouldn't enjoy her life to the fullest. But when her father dies, leaving her mother widowed with limited assets, the family is forced to move in with relatives, a situation obliging Gwendolen to "marry up", thus providing financial leverage for herself and her family. Wealthy neighborhood bachelor Henleigh Grancourt seems a timely match for Gwendolen. The nephew of Sir Hugo Mallinger and heir to a vast fortune, he's well-regarded and can provide the type of life Gwendolen feels she deserves. But things change quickly as, after the wedding, Gwendolen finds Grancourt to be a cruel, emotionally abusive man who's already fathered several children with a previous mistress, a woman he'd previously promised to marry. Now trapped in a fate she never could have anticipated, Gwendolen foresees a bleak, foreboding future as her life becomes one of relentless, daily misery.
Eliot's final completed novel, published just before her death in 1880, was also her only book set in contemporary Victorian society; her others usually dated back a generation or two previous. As well as rendering themes associated with ethical soul searching, the perils of marriage and conflicting intellectual paradigms, the story is notable as an early reference to Jewish mysticism, namely its associations with Kabbalah and proto-Zionism. Deronda's introspective quest for personal truth contrasts well to Gwendolen's egotistical, self-seeking nature and the pair's ironical relationship and correlating problems elicit a clever nuance. This complementary dichotomy of characters was a signature literary device Eliot had used previously in Middlemarch and Adam Bede and an arrangement which Tolstoy and others would similarly incorporate into their own work. (FIC ELIOT)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pirate Latitudes: A Novel / by Michael Crichton

By 1665, much of the Americas had been colonized by Europeans and though nations such as England, France and Holland were in on the steal, the vast majority of the new world was under Spain's rule. The Spanish Main, as it was called, encompassed almost the entirety of the Caribbean as well as most of the more advantageous ports of call in North, Central and South America. The region was the primary trading spot and departure point for titanic amounts of riches--gold, silver, gems and spices--accumulated by Spanish merchants and explorers. The lucrative shipping alley was also ripe terrain for privateering (lawful, legitimate attack on and commandeering of merchant ships) and, of course, the other far more profitable venture likewise classified as privateering--piracy.
In Port Royal, Jamaica--the island colony being one of the few exclusively British territories--English seamen and privateer Captain John Hunter has undertaken a very dangerous operation; but one which, if it succeeds, will bring home one of the largest quantities of riches ever conceived of (£500,000), much less possessed by anyone in the privateering racket. But the charted escapade is a daunting one, a suicide mission only a few willing souls dare undertake. Hunter and his collection of nefarious, though capable men (and one 'woman'), all well-experienced cutthroats, plan to stealthily encroach upon the rear side of an obscure island where the Spanish Galleon containing the prized bullion is docked. Their plan is to somehow gain access to the ship by maneuvering up the steep opposite end of the island, through dense jungle, and somehow past over 150 guards, all armed and protected by a sturdy fortress compound on a ridge just above the harbor. All involved know of the danger, but the reward and the adventure are too much to pass up.
Crichton's latest thriller was also his last, penned just before his death in 2008. But his swan song effort ranks among his best. Not only is Pirate Latitudes a satisfying adventure novel, it's instructional too just like, well, every single one of the author's other books. In the same mold of historical favorites Eaters of the Dead, The Great Train Robbery and Timeline in which Crichton's touch effortlessly creates appeal, the novel illuminates a particular aspect of history which is already well-represented in fiction (and non-fiction), but perhaps never rendered with such clever and fascinating detail. (FIC CRICHTON)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Nordic Noir: Scandinavian Crime Fiction

The Ice Princess / by Camilla Lackberg; trans. by Steven T. Murray
Erica Falck, a moderately successful Swedish author, returns to her recently deceased parents small coastal fishing village to deal with their estate issues only to discover that her best friend from childhood has committed suicide. Or has she? When Erica decides to seek out some answers, she discovers more than she bargained for concerning the true goings-on in her quaint childhood hometown. (MYS LACKBERG)

Black Seconds / by Karin Fossum; trans. from the Norwegian by Charlotte BarslundIn
Oslo, grizzled Inspector Sejer must seek out answers behind the disappearance of a young girl. In this, Fossum’s seventh Inspector Sejer novel, familiar themes of vicious criminals lurking among the everyday world and psychological suspense are intriguingly brought to the forefront. (MYS FOSSUM)
The Inner Circle / by Mari Jungstedt; trans. from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally
On a small island off the coast of Sweden, several archaeology students are working at a site unearthing some ancient Viking relics when one of the group, a girl named Martina Flochland turns up dead, her body hung from a tree. Inspector Anders Knutas must now sift through the evidence, including some actual Viking warrior remains, to find the culprit. (MYS JUNGSTEDT)

Mind’s Eye: An Inspector Van Veeteren Mystery / by Haykan Nesser; trans. from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson
A man named Janek Mitter falls asleep after a night of heavy binge drinking only to awake the next morning to find his wife dead in the bathtub--murdered. Then, only weeks after Mitter is swiftly convicted of the crime (despite only circumstantial evidence) and sentenced to a mental institution, he’s found brutally murdered in his own bed. It’s now up to Inspector Van Veeteren to see the real killer brought to justice. (MYS NESSER)

To Siberia / by Per Petterson; trans. from the Norwegian by Anne Born
In the years leading up to World War II, two young Danish youths live a near-blissful existence in the Jutland countryside. But with the onset of the war, the German occupation and the plight of their nation, their idyllic childhood is cruelly brought to a close and their world changes tragically forever. (FIC PETTERSON)
Echoes From the Dead / by Johan Theorin; trans. by Marlaine Delargy
Twenty years ago on the island of Oland off the eastern coast of Sweden, a young boy named Jens vanished without a trace. Now in the present day, a package suddenly appears in the mail of the boy’s grandfather bearing the lost youth’s sneaker worn the day he disappeared. (FIC THEORIN)
The Quiet Girl / by Peter Hoeg; trans. by Nadia Christensen
Kaspar Krone is a well-known performer in a traveling circus. He’s a clown, well-known for his hearty, laugh-inducing performances. But his real face isn’t the only thing his makeup conceals; he’s also a gambling addict in debt for a very large sum of money to some pretty shady characters now out for blood. (FIC HOEG)