Wednesday, November 24, 2010

May Contain Traces of Magic / by Tom Holt

Chris Popham is a fairly normal guy with some increasingly abnormal problems. A salesman of such magical, could-have-only-imagined-before products like the portable parking space, powdered water and insta-glam facial cream, he finds he's losing his touch a bit. The magic shops he sells to are having some issues of their own, but that doesn't seem to be any of his business. Or is it? He's also got women trouble. His longtime girlfriend Karen has been steadily falling out of love with him for some time while, at the same time, a trainee at work named Angela has the hots for him. Then his car's Satellite Navigation starts acting funny, talking back to him in rather uncustomary fashion. Things really start getting out of whack when he begins encountering demons both in person and on the frequency of his malfunctioning SatNav. While they don't seem to be after Chris personally, they're definitely in hot pursuit of something, a human they keep calling the "One who is to Come". With all the wierdness afoot, Chris starts to wish that things would go back to relatively normal day-to-day routine, something now seemingly impossible as circumstances in his life begin spinning ever more out of control.
Holt, author of the similarly wacky and brilliantly imaginative Blonde Bombshell: A Comedy of Intergalactic Proportions (FIC HOLT), has written in the the area of humorous SF and comedic fantasy for a while now and is definitely the way to go if you're in the mood for something completely different. Holt's a good writer though, part Douglas Adams part Neil Gaiman, he knows his subject matter (whatever it may be) and keeps his storyline intact and characters original proffering something wholly alternative to the world of Sci-Fi/Fantasy literature. Chris is a bit of an anti-hero and yet he's an easy protagonist to identify with and the author's sardonic voice brings him across well even amidst the crazy plot twists. Don't expect things to work according to the laws of physics however as things will definitely happen out of the ordinary sphere of conceptual reality and objects will most certainly contain 'traces of magic'. (SF HOLT)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will / by Judith Schalansky

"Paradise is an island. So is hell." (p. ii)
Wanna get away? It is the fantasy of more than a few people to someday own their very own island (it's a reality for some as well) of which they could live out the rest of their days in solitude surrounded by serene natural beauty. Of course it's more likely that the islands they dream of retiring to don't require owning multiple aircraft, a fleet of charter boats, well-paid crewmen and satellite technology just to locate. German author Schalansky details some of these nondescript (nondescript for a reason) islands, most of which are uninhabited save for a scientific research station or two in this quirky travel book on places you're almost certain never to have had the displeasure to set foot on. Schalansky makes no pretense about why she'll never set foot on any of these places stating that most are "inhospitable even for aspiring Robinson Crusoes". Most can't accommodate even the most well-equipped research teams for any legitimate length of time.
Possession Island, for example, of the Crozet Archipelago in the very southern part of the Indian Ocean is 2,000 miles from Antartica and roughly the same distance from Madagascar, the nearest landmasses, and over 1,000 miles from the nearest island in Amsterdam Island, also a 'never set foot on' destination. The French discovered it in 1962 and promptly named one of the volcanic peaks after author Jules Verne. They also named a river near the southern portion of the 50 sq. mi. island the Styx River for obvious reasons ("This barren archipelago is so difficult to get to, you might think the only way to reach it was to be dragged by the constat drift of the west wind . . ." p. 58). Other islands included in this oddly fascinating and well-annotated atlas are St. Helena, made famous as Napoleon's final exile, Easter Island with its giant heads of mysterious origin and Fangataufa which has been the test site for a handful of atom bomb detonations. But really, this is kind of a cool book if only for the author's sardonic, but knowledgeable style of talking about a few of the world's most waayyy out-of-the-way places. (910.914 SCHALANS)

The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, A Life / by David Lawday

Among the more epic events which have ruffled the course of western civilization, the French Revolution is one incident remembered within a notably violent context. It was indeed a very bloody affair. Ending the reign of a monarchy that had ruled for nearly a millenium, the 1789 storming of the Bastille and removal of the aristocracy were only the beginning as unending political insurgency, the Reign of Terror and the struggle for power witnessed heads rolling (literally) from the executioner's guillotine for a solid ten year period until the tensions eased and Napoleon ascended to power. Perhaps no one individual had as much influence on the initial onset of the revolution than Georges Jacques Danton, a robust proponent of political reform who stirred the public with his masterful oratory gifts and forceful, impassioned call to action.
Despite his physically imposing presence, which coupled with his skillful rhetoric abetted his rise to power among the revolutionary ranks, Danton is depicted by author David Lawday as a gentle giant of a somewhat sentimental nature. A family man with two children, he was fonder of the power of speech than physical aggression and more prone to ordered diplomacy when it came to restructuring the government than the systematic execution of the aristocracy. The overthrow of the Bastille saw him made the Minister of Justice when he was then only 29, a position allowing him the freedom to employ the tactics needed to uphold the movement's threshold of power and keep those constituents loyal to the monarchy at bay during the Revolution's most critical stages. The political counterpart to Robespierre, whose trail of bloodshed seemingly knew no end, Danton boldly walked the line between patriotism and rebellion, strongly opposed to the anarchy he saw sweeping throught the country. Heading this new French regime proved costly however. His legislation included initiatives which, though successful in meeting mutually agreed upon objectives, inevitably drew the ire of his more bloodthirstly opponents who convicted him of treason and sentenced him to death in 1793 when he was only 34. Lawday, a former professor of history at Oxford, leads us from Danton's roots as a magistrate's son to the blood-red streets of Revolutionary Paris where the statesman would make destiny his own. (B DANTON)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

D.B.: A Novel / by Elwood Reid

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Elwood Reid worked as a bartender, a teacher, a cook and even a carpenter in the wilds of Alaska before he was able to earn a living as a fiction writer. He is a 1994 graduate of the University of Michigan where he majored in English, lettered as an offensive lineman on the football team and later recieved his M.F.A. His 1999 short story collection What Salmon Know was well-recognized for its vivid portrait of the hardscrabble, yet dignified lives of working class American males. D.B. is the semi-factual tale of "D.B. Cooper", a man who in 1971 orchestrated the only successful airline hijacking in American history.
On November 24, 1971 Northwest Airlines Flight 305 took off from Portland International Airport bound for Seattle. Shortly after takeoff, a man going by the name of D.B. Cooper handed a note to the flight attendant which read "I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked." Upon arrival in Washington state, Cooper allowed passengers to exit the airplane in exchange for $200,000 and a parachute before ordering the pilot to once again take off with a course set for Mexico City. Cooper was never seen or heard from again, having exited the plane in-flight somewhere over the Pacific Northwest and vanishing without a trace despite a massive FBI investigation and ongoing manhunt over the next several years.

The man known as D.B. (Dan B.) Cooper at the time of the plane heist was (and remains) a man named Phil Fitch. A Vietnam veteran thoroughly fed up with his non-descript life, his going-nowhere job and a wife who's left him for something better, Fitch had made the decision to attempt the daring exploit out of little more than elevated frustration and a need to prove to himself that he is in fact capable of greatness. The hijacking having been got off successfully reconfirms to Fitch what he's always suspected but never verified--that he is indeed a man of destiny for whom a life of anonymous drudgery is unfit. Things since haven't been quite as exciting. Drifting aimlessly in the years following his crime, Fitch has been in Mexico for the better part of his life as a fugitive, floating around with other expats and similarly situated refugees, many the by-products of 1960's/70's counterculture movement who ironically share much of the same philosophy of anti-convention and an untethered lifestyle though none of the daring ambition.
Paralleling Fitch's own shiftless, anti-climactic life is Frank Marshall, the FBI agent who'd originally headed the investigation into the hijacking. With the frustrating failure of the still unsolved case after years of inconsequential evidence and fruitless leads, Marshall has been mired in his own personal rut owing largely to too much time on his hands and not enough closure. Due in part to his participation in the Cooper case but also due to a myriad of other near-miss assignments, Marshall has been retired prematurely by the bureau and has spent the last few decades feeling the weight of his own purposeless existence. On a whim when he decides to aid an ambitious young agent look into the Cooper case, Marshall suddenly stumbles upon a shred of evidence which leads him back on the trail of the elusive fugitive and a quite unexpected revival of his flair for life. In a short time, as the case finds its way back in to the public conscious, both men--Cooper and Marshall--are set on a course which will inevitably witness a rather awkward resolution to the distinguishing pinnacle of each of their lives.
In this finely crafted re-imagining of one of the most high-profile hijackings in American history, Reid accomplishes something few other writers really do: fully realize the human condition within two divergent, though not so different characters--one having achieved the romantic ideal through criminal means, the other sticking to the honest life and yet self-perceived as a failure. And though everything outside the actual 1971 event and subsequent disappearance of D.B. Cooper, including Cooper's real identity as Fitch and Marshall, is hypothetical, it's not hard to go along with the story. Reid is good at highlighting the motivations of his characters and providing the background detail as to why someone like Fitch or Agent Marshall could yearn for something more in life. It's not even much of a leap for the reader to tap in to why Fitch would have the sheer audacity to pull off something on such a scale as an airplane hijacking for purely personal reasons just like it's comfortingly familiar perceive his subsequent life as a still dissatisfied individual. (FIC REID) 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt

David Leavitt’s historical novel is about Srinivasa Ramanujan, one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, and his sojourn in England from 1914 to 1919. He had written from India to the Trinity mathematician G.H. Hardy concerning his work, and eventually Hardy and his fellow researcher, J. E. Littlewood, arranged for Trinity to bring Ramanujan from India to England and give him a scholarship to live on.

What Leavitt has done with the existing record of these years of collaboration is to take liberties and imagine the characters’ thoughts and actions. The only character whose thoughts are not shown is Ramanujan himself. Hardy was supposed to be a shy and introverted person, and his colleague Littlewood once called him “a non-practicing homosexual.” Leavitt is not satisfied to leave Hardy in this state, however, and in the book you are treated to quite explicit sexual scenes. In my view, Leavitt extrapolates too much twentieth-century awareness of sexuality to all the characters (except Ramanujan), and the book suffers as a result.

For all the intellectual heights that Hardy and his colleagues inhabit, Leavitt portrays their emotional expressiveness as stumbling and half hearted. While we understand that the Victorian era was repressive in its attitude toward impulse and spontaneity, Leavitt would have you believe that they made up for that behind closed doors. But the mathematical dialogues and explanations are fascinating, and more than make up for the more tedious parts of the book.

National Book Awards announced

Yesterday the National Book Foundation announced its 2010 National Book Award winners. The fiction prize went to Jaimy Gordon for her novel The Lord of Misrule. The book was a surprise winner to most award-watchers -- its official publication date was just this month, and it was published by a tiny independent press called McPherson, with an initial print run of just 2,000 copies. The first consumer review of the title was published in Tuesday's edition of the Washington Post (click here to read it).

The nonfiction prize went to punk rock icon Patti Smith, for Just Kids, her memoir of her long friendship and early love affair with artist Robert Mapplethorpe. The poetry prize went to Terrence Hayes for Lighthead, which has been well-received this year in the poetry community. The award for young people's fiction went to Kathryn Erskine for Mockingbird, which follows a fifth-grade girl with Asperger's syndrome as she attempts to deal with grief over the shooting death of her beloved brother and make sense of the world around her.

For a full list of the winners and nominees for this year's National Book Award prizes, as well as transcripts and videos of author interviews, click here for the National Book Foundation website.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Five Second Rule and Other Myths About Germs: What Everyone Should Know About Bacteria, Viruses, Mold and Mildew / by Anne Maczulak, Ph.D

So just what can happen if you don't wash your hands before you eat? How safe is sushi? Can it harm a dog to drink out of a toilet bowl? What's the worst area in the home for germs? As it turns out, it depends. It has to do with things like direct and indirect transmissions, the degree of prior interaction, proximity to various pathogens, strains of virus in the vicinity, and, perhaps most of all, the condition of your immune system. Maczulak, a top-tier microbiologist and frequent guest on Martha Stewart's radio show, dishes about the truths, myths and old wives tales of the invisible world of toxins which plague our lives in this delightfully informative book. As it turns out some of the traditionally handed down advice on how to avoid various unwanted viruses and bacteria aren't so far off the mark. Then again, some of the most commonly employed directives like applying iodine to exposed wounds or using a water purifier in your sink aren't always surefire methods of avoiding viruses or illness.
Of course what's not a myth is that microbes in the form of bacteria, fungi and other types of pathogens (millions of them) are lurking on surfaces and objects all around you. But what you may not know is that this invisible world of microbes is in a large way beneficial in helping your body to function properly. Without them we couln't exist, nor would our bodies be able to adapt to the external world. The author does a good job addressing the FAQ's but also backs up her analysis with hard science, employing diagrams, and multiple microscopic images to back up her arguments about everyday issues. One key aspect of the book is how Maczulak answers questions about what to use when your cleaning, about whether or not to use disinfectants and why antibiotics might not always be the best solution if you have a cold. So is the five second rule valid? It may depend on what kind of cookie it is and just how hungry you are. (616.904 MACZULAK)

Ridicule (1996) DVD / a film by Patrice Leconte; starring Charles Berling, Jean Rochefort, Fanny Ardant & Judith Godreches

"The soul of wit is to no one's place."
"In this country, vice is of no consequence, but ridicule can kill."
In pre-Revolutionary France, Gregoire Poncedulon de Malavoy is a low-level magistrate whose province in the southwestern part of the country is being overrun with pestilence due to a malfunctioning drainage system. Malavoy, an engineer as well as a baron, thinks he can solve the problem but he'll need the permission and backing of the King (Louis XVI) to do so. Arriving at lavish Versailles, the young baron finds that rather than concerning themselves with more serious matters of running the country, the king and his consorts are perpetually engaged with le bel esprit--the art of wit. And while the atmosphere effects an air of frivolity, it is in fact the meanest, most malicious brand of discoursing and gamesmanship in which cutthroat wars of words (actual staged contests) routinely serve up the public humiliation and permanent disenfranchisement of anyone not up to par--no matter what their title or pedigree. More detailed issues of governance are relegated to slow-moving bureaucrats who, as Malavoy soon discovers, intentionally stall the process of bringing matters such as the baron's request before the king out of little more than careless indifference. Most of the people the baron speaks with about his little problem seem somewhat annoyed he even brings it up ("Poor people, they're not only dying, they're boring").
Even just to get close to his majesty, Malavoy finds that he will have to employ his own rather clever but amateurish wordsmythe skills and develop a savage, scathing tongue of his own if he is to be admitted into the inner circle of the king's patronage. He seems to have no chance at all until he meets the clever, but discerning (and less vicious) Marquis de Bellegarde who coaches him up on the finer points of repartee. Before long Malavoy, owing to the marquis' advice but mostly to his own ability to effect biting insults in the direction of the most deserving members of the court, finds himself climbing the ladder toward a royal appointment. At the same time he finds the stakes of the game growing more and more dire as his own honor and character become entangled with the pernicious objectives of the other members of the court, most notably the lusty and calculating Madame de Blayac. A real snake in the grass but a woman who's in good with the king, Blayac has her own designs on Malavoy, even as his affections indelibly lie elsewhere, and has no reservations about tripping up the baron's plans.
Ridicule is a film set in a time and place where all compliments are two-faced, every truth is dubious, wit carries the day and sincerity is detested. Of course it could be any time or place, our own for example. And while it's a film about language and rhetoric, very little is actually said. None of what the characters verbalize actually means much if anything because being casually clever is everything and straightforwardness is a sure path to rejection. The tongue is the real instrument of choice among the royal court, insults and ridicule the currency of the power brokers. In an odd way, it's upstarts like Malavoy who most intrigue, rustics from the provinces perceived as something of a novelty among the more well-bred cosmopolitans. Being acid-tongued carries a price of course, and not only within heat-of-the-moment verbal confrontations in which the next one-upism could make or break you. For the France of that time was powderkeg atmosphere in which the ever-increasing smugness of the royal court and aristocracy offset the growing restlessness of a powerless bourgeoise and hoards of suffering peasants, a particularly vital part of world history the film ever-so-slyly alludes to. (DVD RIDICULE)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Breaker's Reef / by Terri Blackstock

When the body of well-liked teenager Emily Lawrence is murdered in the quaint coastal village of Cape Refuge, GA, it sets the whole town aghast. Virtually everyone was connected to the Lawrence family in one way or another and all feel the brunt of the shock. Police Chief Matthew Cade tries to handle things as best he can, going on the few leads he's got while trying to keep his overeager deputy Scott Crown from bumbling things up. But when another murdered body--a second girl--turns up, everyone in Cape Refuge including Cade and his amateurish squad comes to the solemn conclusion that it's the same perpetrator--a serial murderer who's likely to kill again. Several suspects emerge including a newly arrived novelist named Marcus Gibson whose eccentricities, including skulking around town in the middle of the night, odd former relationships and scatterbrained thoughts, lend many to pin him as the culprit.
Another thing tying Gibson to the case is Sheila Caruso. An ex-con and single mother of two teenagers, Sheila has been working as a secretary for the Gibson when she suddenly makes a startling discovery about author and his selective subject matter which includes an scenario from one of his earlier novels which matches the circumstances of the second murder almost exactly. A close friend of Chief Cade, Sheila lets him in on the details only for new evidence to turn up targeting Cade himself as the murderer. Someone seems to have it in for both Cade and Sheila, a notion confirmed when Sheila's daughter Sadie goes missing. Soon things in Cape Refuge escalate to an almost unbearable pitch with the tension testing Sheila's faith in a way she never could have imagined.
This is the fourth and final installment in Blackstock's Cape Refuge series and is a good testament as to why she's been such a unique success. Christian fiction isn't always this multi-dimensional; many associate the genre almost solely with sentimental love stories and prairie sagas. But Blackstock isn't afraid to explore darker material of vice and violence or depict life's less pleasant or downright awful situations while mixing in the themes of grace and redemption. And while the content surrounding the two grisly murders is nowhere near as explicit as other more mainstream thrillers are apt to describe it, the book is nonetheless an exciting tale of mystery and suspense, its fast-paced narrative as well as its emotional and spiritual conflicts making for a good read. Readers unfamiliar with the author or the series shouldn't worry about catching up on things as Blackstock does a good job to ease the backstory along as she's providing the details of the present situation. (FIC BLACKSTO)

Friday, November 12, 2010

All Hail Cleopatra!

Check out this review of Stacy Schiff's new biography of Cleopatra -- the Egyptian queen was far different than the image she's gained from popular culture. We have the book in both regular and large print. Click here for the review: All Hail Cleopatra!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

E=MC²: Simple Physics: Why Balloons Rise, Apples Fall, and Golf Balls Go Awry / by Jeff Stewart

"What exactly is Physics? Well, in a way, it's everything." (p.1)
Physicists--including those who "enjoy smashing tiny bits of stuff into even tinier bits of stuff"--have no doubt that absolutely everything can be explained through physics principles simply because absolutely everything is subject to the laws of nature. Of course takes quite a bit of brainwork to understand said concepts such as the frequency of electromagnetic waves,
Newton's motion laws, relativity or, say, the magnetic flux within a transformer. And then to understand how all of creation including our own bodies and even our own thoughts can be described in terms of these seemingly complex theories can seem a bit daunting. Fortunately Physics Professor Jeff Stewart, along with the good folks at Blackboard Books and Reader's Digest, have come up with a fascinatingly simple way to understanding such things as Planck's Constant, Archimedes Principle or Kepler's theories on planetary motion. The book is divided up into carefully thought out sections outlining the various physics principles which are most relative to our everyday lives. It's fun and even humorous in places making it a good way to educate yourself on all those things which were forgotten after the test. (530 STEWART)

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

A first novel which has received considerable acclaim, The Lotus Eaters chronicles the career of Helen Adams, a photojournalist, during the Vietnam War. It reads like the author was there herself - travelling with soldiers in the field, eating food from roadside stands, helping women villagers weed rice paddies, maneuvering her way in a man’s world and in a war torn country.

She is 32 at the war’s end, and has been so caught up in the violence and sense of mission that war imposes on its players, that she is left rootless and unable to move on with her life. The beauty of the book is its vivid account of the mayhem and craziness imposed on a third world country - with wily and resourceful Vietcong against the American boy Marines, who are struggling to figure out how to fight this war.

Helen has two love affairs, one with the award-winning journalist Darrow, who has his own reasons to pursue this dangerous profession, and the second with his Vietnamese assistant Linh, who has lost everything and doesn’t want to be connected to anyone anymore. The book is well plotted, going back and forth in time to give you more nuggets of understanding – of Helen, of Darrow and of Linh.

Some reviewers assert that the book shows how love triumphs over war. In my view, the love is more incidental. What Tatjana Soli cares about, in the end, is Helen: Helen and her odyssey to bear witness, both dreading and fearing death while moving up to meet it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Gravedigger's Daughter / by Joyce Carol Oates

By the time Joyce Carol Oates graduated from Syracuse as valedictorian in 1960, she'd already won several short story contests and was well on her way to becoming one of most prolific fiction authors in American literary history. Her 1969 book them, focusing on the downtrodden lives of an extended family of lower-class midwesterners, won the National Book Award and three of her novels in the last two decades have been nominated for Pulitzers. The sheer volume of her published works and seemingly irrepressible stream of assorted literature (adult and YA novels, short stories, plays, poetry, essays, criticisms, etc., all in addition to teaching at Princeton) is something of a phenomenon on par with writers like Danielle Steel and Stephen King. 2007's The Gravedigger's Daughter vaguely references the life of Oates' own grandmother tracing the life of an abused woman, the daughter of German immigrants, through the travails of mid-century American life. .

In 1959, Rebecca Tignor is a young wife and mother living in upstate New York where in addition to her homemaking duties, she works in a tubing factory. Despite the fact that she lives reasonably well and loves her husband Niles and son Niles Jr., Rebecca is a bit of an unfortunate soul. Her husband Niles, a traveling salesman gone most of the time, wilfully cheats on her readily expecting his carousing and fornication to be overlooked as "just a part of who he is". Plus her job keeps her away from her still small child much of the day. There's a deeper resonance to her grief though. The child of German immigrants who gave birth to her during the actual crossing, Rebecca's life as the only daughter of Jacob Schwart, once a school teacher and budding intellectual turned gravedigger and cemetery caretaker, was not an easy one. In fact it was downright cruel and horrific. At 13, after a particularly bad experience in which he'd been brutally made the scapegoat of Nazi German atrocities in WWII, Jacob Schwart killed his wife Hannah (Rebecca's mother) before turning the gun on himself. The ghastly murder-suicide, personally witnessed by Rebecca, has followed her everywhere.
But then an odd incident in which she's mistaken for another woman suddenly changes her destiny. Dismissing it initially as just another coincidence, Rebecca rethinks her options after nearly being killed herself during a violent argument with her husband. Abruptly taking on the identity of the woman called Hazel Jones, Rebecca and her son (renamed Zacharias) carve out a new path, leaving their New York home altogether and setting out on the road where she takes on odd jobs periodically all the while maintaining the identity of Hazel. But just when she thinks she's escaped her afflicted world of violence and abuse, reinvented herself inside a new persona and claimed a more prosperous livelihood, Rebecca finds the past catching up with her all over again.
The Gravedigger's Daughter is not a very happy story. Not a whole lot of Oates' fiction is. Beginning way before Rebecca's birth, we're shown the oppressive circumstances leading to the Schwart family's escape from Germany, far from welcoming arrival in America and perpetually bleak circumstances within a world removed from the war overseas yet self-destructing all the same. Jacob Schwart is a very, very angry man; and not without reason though it could be argued he's a bit too self-absorbed and ill-equipped as a father. A once-proud, self-made individual brought down in the world both physically and emotionally, he soon cracks under the severe humiliation as an unwanted outsider, a breakdown causing him to turn his wrath on those closest to him--his family--ultimately begetting a legacy of violence and abandonment to his daughter. Oates is very good at integrating the two stories, narrating both Rebecca's flight from her home with intermittent flashbacks to her torrid youth and also the plight of the Schwart family, their seemingly cursed situation, acute instances of harassment and the near disintegration of their entire lineage. (FIC OATES)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Big Sleep / by Raymond Chandler

LA Private Eye Philip Marlowe has been around the block a few times and knows more than he'd like to about the city's seamy underbelly. When he's hired by a wealthy retired general to investigate an extortion case, Marlowe thinks the job to be a welcome break from the more sordid affairs he's grown used to. The case of General Sternwood chiefly involves his two daughters, Carmen and Vivian, both beauties and somewhat scandalous for their wild ways. Carmen is involved with a man named A.G. Geiger who's been blackmailing the old general for increasingly large sums of money and, as Marlowe abruptly finds out, may be mixed up with the older daughter Vivian's estranged husband Terence Regan.
Things swiftly turn deadly when Marlowe hooks on to Geiger's trail only to discover him lying dead--murdered--at his home with Carmen Sternwood in the vicinity. When the next lead takes him to the location of one Joe Brody, a crony of Geiger's, Marlowe questions the man only until Brody himself is shot during the inquiry. With the case intensifying and the bodies piling up, Marlowe's asked by the DA as well as General Sternwood to back off; but to no avail. In too deep to back out now, Marlowe starts digging deeper into the case, re-evaluating the other Sternwood daughter, Vivian, and soon uncovering more corruption, more dirt and more violent confrontations right up until the very last secret . . . and the very last bullet.
Nothing sets the tone of hardboiled crime fiction like Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. Perhaps no other character, with the exception of Dashiell Hammet's Sam Spade, epitomizes the grim, sordid world of private investigating and its knack for cleverly revealing the darker elements of human behavior. Rated among the best novels of the twentieth century, 1939's The Big Sleep is a masterpiece of crime and mystery fiction, meshing the elements of private secrets, personal confrontations, grotesque evils and professional affairs which inevitably lead to very intimate encounters. Additionally it's the way Chandler writes dialogue, all the clever back-and-forths which make for exquisite reading and even more scintillating live action--Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe in several movie adaptations (and Robert Mitchum later on) in which the character quotes and conversations remained largely intact from the book. It's also a story highlighting the admirable gritty nature of the protagonist, a character as good as a man can be within a world where pretty much everyone is corrupt. (MYS CHANDLER)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

LZ-'75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin's 1975 American Tour / by Stephen Davis

"LZ-'75 is a personal portrait of the greatest rock band in history, at the apogee of its flight. For Led Zeppelin, everything they had done until then led up to the epic music they would create in 1975: a year of travel, incredible artistic success, personal exaltation, near-death traumas and creative rebirth under painful hardship and dislocation. It was the top year for the band. After 1975, Led Zeppelin would never be the same again." (p. 5)
From the 1960's onward The Beatles and Rollings Stones among others may have paved the way for the rock era's golden age, but only one band would claim the title as greatest rock band in history according to music journalist Stephen Davis. It wasn't just Led Zeppelin's deafening volume, clangorous beats or songs bordering on pandemonium which set them at a level above the rest. It was their variety. Their ability to assimilate blues and soul with more traditional rock stylings, folk rythms and varied instrumental arrangements helped sustain their creative edge and spur their popularity as a global phenomenon. Moreover it was the way they combined hard driving heavy metal with distinct elements of myth and mysticism which helped establish them as unquestionably one of the most influential and successful rock bands ever (if not the most).
Davis, author of numerous other Rock bios and memoirs, recounts the year when he was only 22 and the most popular band in the world allowed him to accompany them on their 1975 North American tour. Doing almost 40 shows in 29 different locations, the tour marked the pinnacle of the band's success as a live act. And though their legacy would continue, their legend growing as the years progressed with their fanbase expanding through each new generation, nothing would or could compare to the in-concert atmosphere the group created.
From Bonham's frenetic percussion to Paul Jones' sledgehammer bass to the genius of Plant and Page, the tour highlighted the band's most prolific album to date, Physical Graffiti, in addition to promoting their already portentious body of work. The regularly sold out shows became legendary as the band's polished performances helped promote Zeppelin's signature, no-doubt-about-it sound and enthrall its already rabid fans. Davis lets the reader in on the group everyone wants to know about but few have had the privelege to get close to. Led Zeppelin was (and remains) notorious for their privacy and restrictive policies. They granted virtually no interviews and had by that time made enemies of most prominent members of the press including the editors at Rolling Stone magazine. Davis was the exception, recalling all he heard and witnessed inside this intricately detailed reflective journal based on the author's own thought-to-have-been lost notebooks he'd originally toured with. (782.4216 DAVIS)

Monday, November 1, 2010

New Political Fiction

The Rules of the Game / by Leonard Downie
Sarah Page is a Washington Post reporter covering the national politics and the current presidential race. When Page’s investigation of the new Democratic nominee exposes corruption at the highest levels, she finds that some things are more important than the truth (i.e., national security) when it comes to big time politics. (FIC DOWNIE)

Pursuit of Honor / by Vince Flynn
Washington, D.C. is in physical and political disarray after a terrorist attack on the National Counterterrorism Center (NCC) has killed 185 Americans. In the wake of things, White House officials as well as members of Congress are incensed about the extreme counter-terrorist initiatives taken which have seemingly endangered many lives. But NCC operative Mitch Rapp knows his business just like he knows the immediate measures he and other members of his agency must take in order to ensure National Security. (FIC FLYNN)

Ultimatum / by Matthew Glass
In the near future, Joe Benton is president of the United States when he learns that the global warming damage and rising seas will mean that over thirty million coastal US residents will need to be relocated. Doing his best to negotiate internationally for help in the process, Benton comes up against his toughest political battle as the US butts heads with China in a high-stakes diplomatic affair. (FIC GLASS)

The Capitol Game / by Brian Haig
A small independent company makes a miraculous scientific discovery: a metallic polymer which can reinforce any substance with the equivalent of 30 inches of steel. One of the privileged few to catch wind of the invention, Wall Street Banker Jack Wiley intends to enlist one of the country’s most powerful corporations, the Capitol Group, to takeover the small company. But he runs into problems when various Washington officials and members of the Pentagon begin investigating the deal. (FIC HAIG)
Marine One / by James Huston

When the White House official helicopter, Marine One, crashes during flight killing everyone including the President, an investigation is immediately undertaken. WorldCopter, the parent contractor of Marine One, hires US attorney Mike Nolan to help defend the company against legal allegations and look deeper into the tragedy. Nolan arrives on the scene to discover some non-quite-right things about both the accident and the intended destination of the flight--Camp David--which gets him thinking that there may have been more than one reason for the fatal accident. (FIC HUSTON)
The Confirmation / by Ralph Reed
There are many, many problems to confront during newly-elected U.S. President Bob Long’s tumultuous first few months in office. But he might catch a break when a chance to appoint a conservative judge to the Supreme Court falls into his lap, an act which would appease the masses of evangelicals and right wing partisans who voted him into office. Of course things are never that easy as Long’s appointee Marco Diaz succumbs to a series of vicious character allegations by the democratic caucus. (FIC REED)

The Overton Window / by Glenn Beck
Wealthy bachelor Noah Gardner is more interested in living the high life than anything having to do with politics. But when his new girlfriend Molly Ross introduces him to a conspiracy theory called the Overton Window, laying the premise that American public perception could be manipulated en masse, Noah begins to pay a little more attention to the country’s well-being and swiftly takes action when the Overton Window plan is initiated. (FIC BECK)
Capitol Betrayal: A Novel / by William Bernhardt

Disappointed Washington lawyer Ben Kincaid has just lost his bid for a Senate seat and is at the white house working on legal issues for the new President Roland Kyler when the nation comes under missile attack. Kincaid and the rest of the White House Staff retreat to the underground bunker where amidst all the chaos, Kincaid must help mediate an increasingly tense atmosphere which includes an attempt by the vice-president to seize power. (FIC BERNHARDT)