Monday, February 28, 2011

The Film Club / by David Gilmour

What if you could get away with skipping school in order to watch movies all day? One kid did. It's essentially the deal author David Gilmour made with his teenage son Jesse. No longer seeing the purpose of an education, the youth had let it be known at the beginning of the 10th grade that he was planning to quit school after his sixteenth birthday. Gilmour allowed his son to get his wish (and be allowed to live at home) under the following condition: that he, Jesse, promise to watch three movies a week with his father. Beginning "the film club"--the tag denoting the duo's nightly sessions in the basement--with Truffaut's The 400 Blows, Gilmour and son ran the gamet of from classic cinema like Roman Holiday to popular movies (Basic Instinct) and everywhere in between. There were no lectures preceding or following viewing any of the films, no tests on the finer points of cinematic art: just a father and son watching movies together. Gilmour, a former film critic and current TV host in Canada, orchestrates one of the more extreme (or maybe not so extreme as all that though at least original) child-rearing experiments in recent memory. Apparently the little parenting gamble worked, at least to some degree: Jesse began attending college-level courses after getting his GED equivalent. (B GILMOUR)

No Mardi Gras For The Dead: An Andy Broussard & Kit Franklyn Mystery / by D.J. Donaldson

Dr. Kit Franklyn, one of the top criminal psychologists in New Orleans, is also an amateur horticulturist who just loves experimenting with new plants. She's a woman who likes her work and her homelife to be separate. Which is why it's so annoying that her dog Lucky has had to go and dig up a human jawbone in Kit's own garden. Acting quickly, Kit calls longtime partner and good friend Chief Medical Examiner Andy Broussard, a man whose forensic skills are as keen as his cajun cooking. Together with a team of investigators, Kit and Andy exhume the skeleton of a young woman who's been dead for quite some time. It's also clear that the woman, whoever she was, did not die a natural death, that evidence coming after only a brief glance at her crushed skull.

It's now up to the pair to trace the evidence back in time to the original inhabitants of Kit's home and, hopefully, the culprit. It doesn't take long for the remains to be dated back over two decades previous to an incident involving not only the home's previous tenants, but certain select members of the city's medical community. The victim herself is also identified as Francie O'Connor, a 27-year-old woman working as a prostitute at the time of her death. For a while it seems like a cold case until two more murders occur in the French Quarter around the time of Mardi Gras, the victims of which bear an eerie resemblance to the way Francie herself would have been murdered--blunt force trauma to the head--so many years ago. Though it's a bit dated, this mystery and its predecessor Blood On The Bayou are strikingly reminiscent of the plethora of forensic pathology mysteries churned out today, both with the vivid detailing of medical procedures relating to crime and the situational clues which link the past to the present. And of course there's the always razor-sharp leading characters whose no-nonsense attitude toward crime is perpetually invigorating. Plus it's a book chock full of colorful references to the always exotic New Orleans during Mardi Gras. (MYS DONALDSON)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Danse Macabre / by Stephen King

So just what is horror? As an emotion, it's generally what prompts our fear and dread. As a genre within literature and popular entertainment, it is many things. Stephen King was asked this question many years ago in the form of a solicitation for a book idea. After pondering the experiment, he forged ahead, penning his own ideas on horror and its many facets in the book Danse Macabre. Over thirty years after its initial publication, the book is still around, having been republished over the years with various adaptations referencing newer stories, novels, comic books, films and even video games. The latest edition, published just last year, entails all of the author's personal thoughts and recollections on the genre from the time he was a kid hearing doomsday stories involving the Cold War all the way up until now where he stands as America's unquestioned master of the macabre. (302.23 KING)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

Rumer Godden, who died in 1998 at age 90, was a prolific writer. This book was her fifteenth, and is a multilayered presentation of life in an English Benedictine convent from the late 1950’s to the late 1960’s. The “House of Brede”, the Benedictine convent in the book, is fictional, but Ms. Godden lived for three years in a gatehouse to an English monastery, so that she became well acquainted with Benedictine organization and their way of life.

The author vividly characterizes many of the inhabitants – two of the postulants in particular. One, Phillipa Talbot, is the principal character, whose story opens and closes the book. She comes to the abbey in her 40’s, a career woman who has risen high in a government ministry, who has her life “beautifully arranged.” Yet God has called her, it seems – for when she wanders into a church, someone beckons her to take his place in a line for confession, and she finds herself asking the priest for a meeting. In a crisis Phillipa did not expect, she says not that things in her life seemed empty, but that she began to look beyond them “into an emptiness.” Ms. Godden borrows these and many other expressions from Christianity to explain why faith and these faith communities persist. She does a good job of showing how, although living apart, the nuns are linked to the outside world through prayer, visiting and correspondence.

When the book was first published in 1969, one reviewer found the book lacking in its depiction of spiritual struggle, of what really happens to those who decide to enter monasteries. Yet the book has attracted readers with a wide spectrum of faith experience, from the very religious to agnostics and atheists. Suffice it to say that stories of sacrifice to a cause have always found an audience, and that this story, with its endearing and personable personalities, is above all, “a good read”.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Night Moves (DVD) 1975 / a film by Arthur Penn; starring Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, James Woods, Susan Clark & Melanie Griffith

"Nobody's winning. One side's just losing slower than the other."

Harry Moseby is getting tired of his job. He's tired of a lot of things, the problems in his marriage not least among them, but mostly it's the mundane, depressing work is private investigator practice is giving him. It's always the same bitter divorce cases and teenage runaways, the same sleazy LA types, movie people and hangers-on, who want someone to catch their cheating spouse in the act or find out who's dealing drugs to their kids. So when a wealthy Hollywood woman hires him to find her missing daughter Delly, he ponders that it just might be his last case. It's the usual set of sordid circumstances, or so it seems, in which the girl's left home after a falling out over a man Delly was seeing. The case leads Harry to Florida where the presumed runaway is holed up with her stepfather and another woman, Paula. She's certainly not interested in returning home to her mother but Harry thinks he can persuade her, something he gets done with a little help from Paula and a little coercion of Tom. Before they head out though, there's an odd incident involving a downed biplane offshore which catches Harry's attention. Little is thought of it and Harry succeeds in getting Delly back home safe.

Of course all is not safe, or even remotely back to normal. Still in the process of getting things settled in his own personal life, Harry get's the news that Delly has died on the set of a movie where she'd been working as a stunt double. Though it's been made to look like an accident, Harry starts to think that it's anything but and before long certain pieces of an entirely new puzzle involving the downed biplane, Delly's mother and what was really going on in Florida slowly come together. Oddly, Night Moves has never been considered an elite 70's crime/detective film, at least not in the same vein as Chinatown, The Conversation or The French Connection. Even more odd is that the latter two films both had Hackman as the lead each of the preceding years. In a role in which he's reunited with director Author Penn (Bonnie and Clyde, Alice's Restaurant), Hackman plays the same sort of grizzled tough guy he was in French Connection though this time around with perhaps a little less edgy aggression. In any case it's a true gem, definitely worth the time and effort to locate and view (it's not a very readily available film). And it's one of the few films that truly demands the unwavering attention of the viewer as the mystery and the mayhem unravel and newer twists are introduced at every turn.  (DVD NIGHT)

Roseanna: A Martin Beck Mystery / by Maj Sjowell

Though modern times have seen the emergence and continuing wave of crime fiction from Scandinavia, it wasn't long ago that few would have lent scant appraisal to a detective novel originating from countries like Sweden, Norway or Denmark. Now it's almost the other way around. Highlighted by the mammoth
success of Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy, "Nordic Noir" has gained a prominent place in mystery circles, new titles and authors seeming to emerge every year with intriguing plots and characters moored in the generally cold and dark atmosphere of the region. But before the Millenium Trilogy, or any of the other notable works, there was the husband and wife writing team of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. Their Martin Beck mysteries burst onto the scene in 1965 with Roseanna and continued the series until 1975 when Wahloo died. The Laughing Policeman even won an Edgar in 1970. Roseanna is a book tinged with intrigue, fascination and suspense, subtly doing what so many other mystery authors have tried and failed at over the years to accomplish: describe people and society tangled up in hostilities which inevitably lead to violence, crime and punishment.
One summer in the lakes region of Sweden, a young woman is dredged up in a canal, dead and presumably murdered. An autopsy confirms that she was also molested. Nothing is known about her origin and with no one coming forward with any information, the case soon grows cold. Detective Martin Beck of the country's Special Homicide Commission is about to shelve it when, through a near accident, it's discovered that the girl is an American tourist named Roseanna McGraw. With aid from Interpol, Beck and his subordinates are able to trace the girl back to her permanent residence in Lincoln, Nebraska where she worked as a librarian. Having no way to conduct an investigation overseas, the Swedes rely on American Detective Lieutenant Kafka to interview McGraw's friends and neighbors, soon learning that the girl was something of a free-spirited libertine who'd been traveling across Europe alone following a falling out with her roommate. She had been aboard a Swedish canal cruise ship at the time of her death.

The new information leads Beck and his department to narrow the suspects down to passengers aboard the ship and finally to a man they think might have done it. But without any evidence they'll need to catch him in the act. Roseanna has been called one of the best police procedurals ever written with Martin Beck listed among the great fictional detectives of literary history. It's a very concise book with noticeably little extraneous material interfering with the plot. It's also pretty dark and graphic. Almost forecasting the thematic associations their successors would incorporate a generation later, the authors portray Sweden as a very sedated country on its surface, its citizens rather passive and reserved to a point. But beneath this somber veneer lies a world where the darkest human evils are capable of being unleashed and where crimes of the most heinous nature inevitably crop up. Beck himself is a character who mirrors this dichotomy. At once a tranquil family man whose henpecking wife never lets him alone, he's also a master investigator, methodical and meticulous until the moment of critical engagement when his skillful maneuvers extract the truth. (MYS SJOWALL)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed by Judy Pasternak

“Yellow dirt” is the translation for “leetso” – the Navajo Indian word for uranium. Starting in the early 1940’s, the federal government contracted with private industry and the Navajo nation, constructing mines on the Navajo reservation in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. The first mineral they were seeking was vanadium which helped to harden steel for warships. But mixed in with vanadium and radium was uranium, an element that was needed to build the atom bomb. After World War II was over, there was still a huge demand for nuclear production because of the Cold War. It turned out that the tribal lands contained huge amounts of uranium and so the saga began. The Navajo government provided the workers and got a small percentage of the profits. The mining companies provided the equipment and operators, and the U.S. government got the uranium.

Early on reports began to surface of how hazardous uranium is. When it is mined and the uranium leached out of the ore, the remaining dirt still contains uranium. As uranium breaks down, it gives off a gas which you can’t see or smell, but is deadly. Miners in Europe as far back as the 1500’s were documented as falling prey to a “mountain sickness” which we know now was lung cancer, caused by uranium gas.

The miners were not protected as they worked, and they sat and ate their lunch while covered in the yellow uranium dust. After the uranium boom was over in the early 1960’s, the mines and their huge waste piles needed to be cleaned up. This was done minimally or not at all. Actual mine sites were filled in, with no thought to the damage done to the groundwater or attention paid to houses that were built with cement mixed with the yellow dirt. The pits left by the mines filled with groundwater and families and sheep used that water, not knowing the dangers. Not only lung cancer but other cancers and crippling birth defects became suspect among the families exposed to the gas and water.

Judy Pasternak’s book documents different people’s struggles to broadcast the devastation and find someone accountable, at the local, state and federal level. She herself, as a journalist, helped bring the story to the public in a Los Angeles Times series in 2006. A key figure in finally bringing the Navajo government, the federal government, and the mining companies to the table was Henry Waxman, a Democratic congressman, in 2008.

The story continues today, with companies wanting to mine for uranium again on reservation land, with a process that they call safer and not as invasive as earlier methods. The litigation and clean up efforts continue also, with parent companies such as El Paso Natural Gas Corporation wrangling with the Department of Energy about who is responsible for this terrible legacy.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The News Where You Are / by Catherine O'Flynn

Frank Allcroft is a regional evening news anchor whose penchant for telling unfunny jokes on the air has somehow engendered him to viewers. For a man who makes a living as a television personality, Frank is remarkably secure with the whole thing. He has neither the vanity to feel mocked nor the pretentiousness to exploit his situation. It's become such a routine that he doesn't even prepare any of the jokes anymore, relying on a panel of beat writers and producers to come up with the material. His life apart from work is a happy one. Frank is a husband and father to two great women, wife Andrea and 12-year-old daughter Maureen "Mo", and even finds time to visit a third--his crotchety, protesting mother who always does her best to act grumpy while coyly getting her way. When his old friend and mentor Phil Smethway, once an immensely charming and humorsome TV presenter but a chronic alcoholic, dies in a mysterious hit and run accident, Frank begins looking for answers on his own. His search leads him to another dead man, a bum, more or less, named Michael who's just been found dead on a park bench. It turns out that this second elderly gentleman was one of Phil's best (and only) friends at the time he died and Frank proceeds to dig into Michael's own particularly odd history, ultimately learning all he needs to and more as the truth steadily comes to light.
More of a study on how past relationships form our worldviews than a conventional mystery or crime novel, O'Flynn's follow-up to her bestselling first novel What Was Lost (MYS OFLYNN) is a smart bit of storytelling about the life of a ("frankly") very normal man confronting some personally pivotal matters. Frank isn't a guy with too many problems (although it may be he's just not as effected by them) and he's a character who seems keen to the fact that his natural affinities always avoid extremes. Never terribly worried or concerned about his career and not overly obsessed with making relationships work, it might seem that descriptions of Frank are a bit dull. But O'Flynn manages it nicely, providing a steady supplement of backstory and context as the central narrative evolves. Periodically, the reader's introduced to Frank's upbringing where as a child he'd get in trouble for messing around in his father's office. An architect put in charge of constructing some of the city's (Birmingham, UK) most important structures, Frank's father was a tireless visionary who, though kind and loving to his son, favored his career more and more as the boy grew. Now as many of the buildings his father once so carefully designed are torn down and replaced, Frank confronts the progressive nature of society while coming to terms with the inevitability of death and transition, a symptom O'Flynn describes admirably well. This is a good book, well worth the short time it takes to read and though none of the characters, even Frank, are especially well-developed, there's something about the author's take on perception and motivation that grab the attention. (FIC OFLYNN)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Butcher: Anatomy Of A Mafia Psychopath / Philip Carlo

Anyone who's seen the godfather won't soon forget Luca Brasi, the Don's personal hitman and one truly ruthless human being. Thomas "Tommy Karate" Pitera was the real life version. A brutal wingman, or capo, in the Bonanno crime family who allegedly killed 60 people, Pitera wasn't just a hired assassin, he was a carefully trained killer who specialized in particularly gruesome methods of murder. Born in Brooklyn in 1954 into a modest family whose reputation was both upstanding in the community and well-acknowledged within mafia circles, a young Tommy instantly found favor with mob heavyweights in the Bonanno family. The Bonannos were a well-known racketeering outfit who grew increasingly more into drug dealing with time. Street violence was always inevitable.

It wasn't until the mid-eighties when Pitera returned to the US after spending two years in Japan studying martial arts that the Bonannos began to fully utilize his skills. Pitera possessed a wide repertoire of aggressive fighting tactics, an efficiency in killing and a flare for surprise attacks. He was also a certifiable sociopath with no remorse or conscious about killing whomever, whenever, wherever. Often he would disguise himself in various wacky get-ups (priests, women, street vendors, etc.) to score a hit, admitting later that he just enjoyed the startling effects it would have on his victims. It wasn't long before Pitera was one of the most feared footsoldiers in New York City, lodging an estimated 34 murders over the course of only a few years.

His bloody rampage would come to an end in 1990 when the DEA got a hold of certain Bonanno drug clientele who led them to mob members and ultimately Pitera. Heading the operation was Jim Hunt, an agent who followed a lengthy trail of evidence and shady testimonials to catch Pitera and his crew after a set of severely sadistic murders--dismembered corpses were found in Pitera's apartment on the day he was indicted--caused an uncommon amount of commotion within the gangland syndicate. Author Philip Carlo knows his subject well. Having published several well-recieved books on the mafia already, his handle on the mob and its associations with the most extreme forms of violence is that of an experienced chronicler of the criminal element in society. This well-detailed depiction of this grisly bit of mafia history is enhanced by 16 previously unpublished photos and is as gruesome a portrait of a killer as it gets. (364.1523092 CARLO)

Monday, February 14, 2011

These Things Hidden / by Heather Gudenkauf

"I have no money, no job, no friends and my family has disowned me, but I'm ready. I have to be."

There aren't many secrets in tiny Linden Falls. So when 
popular teenager Allison Glenn is sent to prison for an unspeakable crime, it's not just her previously flawless reputation that gets tarnished. Her family suffers too, so much so that they want nothing to do with her after her release five years later. Her parents even deny Alison's existence, cutting ties with their daughter in abrupt fashion and doing the whole "never mention her name" bit. No one seems to pity Allison: her former friends whisper maliciously about her, classmates jealous of her beauty and talent glory in her downfall and others join in the constant mocking of her younger sister Brynn in the school hallways. Brynn herself mirrors her parents disdaining attitude but can't help be drawn back to the night of the incident and the real truth about what took place. It may seem like Brynn's burden to bare, and her parents to a lesser extent, but others are involved.

Others like Charm Tullia who seems removed from the Glenn family's circumstances but perhaps not so far as she'd like. Currently caring for her ailing stepfather while going to school to become a nurse, Charm would like to forget the past but also can't hide from the truth and what she knows. Also involved are Claire and her husband Johnathan, the local booksellers who've recently adopted a little boy, Joshua, who was found abandoned near the town's firestation. Knowing little about the Allison incident yet drawn in all the same by the web of secrets steadily permeating through the town, the young couple and their young son soon find that they too are a part of the past, a very big part indeed. Gudenknauf's The Weight of Silences was a dazzling debut. And while These Things Hidden doesn't carry the same allure and novelty, it's no slouch either. A literary thriller of sorts in which the oh-so-horribly scandalous incident driving the narrative isn't revealed until much later, the author paints a vivid portrait of interconnected lives and how even the smallest choices matter. With tidily hinted clues implanted throughout, the story is one which will peak reader interest all the way until the final penultimate revelation sets everything anew and changes everyone's lives forever. (FIC GUDENKAU)

Human Nature: Poems / by Gary Soto

Fresno, California native Gary Soto has said that he was never a good student growing up, in part because following the death of his father, he, his mother and siblings all had to work full time at a variety of jobs to make ends meet. Nevertheless his interest in literature prompted his interest in writing and eventual college degrees from Fresno St. and UC-Irvine. Since the mid-seventies, he's published numerous prose and poetry collections like The Tale of Sunlight (1978) for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. His additional work has included stories for youth and children including the much heralded Baseball In April (J FIC SOTO). His 1985 memoir Living Up The Street won an American Book Award. He's also held faculty positions at various California institutions, UC-Berkeley and Cal St.-Fullerton to name a couple, over the years as a visiting professor of literature. Within his latest poetry collection, Human Nature: Poems, Soto represents himself well.

"I'm fifty something,
Myopic. What I think is a flower
On a bush and a sign of natural life,
What I think is worth a closer look . . .
Is a condom, an ugly swagging thing."
--from "Human Nature"

"I'm in love with a girl in the third row,
And if I can't get her,
Then I can turn my head thirty degrees
To another in the fifth row.
this is the math that matters,
A subtraction of rows, a narrowing down
To the equation of who might love you
This breezy fall."
--from "Algebra"

"Later, at the Rose Garden,
A youngish man comes up, snaps his fingers,
And says excitedly, 'I had your class. You're professor. . .
Professor. . . What was the class?
It was so good. . .'
. . .
'Oh, yes, that class, it was . . .'
Both of us snapping fingers,
Both of us without remembered names."
--from "The Way It Is"

Soto is one of those writers who just seems to get it, and who, consequently, gets the reader to 'get it'. His phrases, descriptions and economy of words all just seem to engender life, any life, all life with uncanny familiarity. To Soto's credit, nothing is very elaborate about his writing. There are no flowery descriptions or overly obtuse metaphors to deal with. He's almost always upfront about where his consciousness lies and though his willowy style emotes very little, you always get a sense of where he stands. The world of his youth, of memory, the world which bemuses him, the steady pattern of the mundane and the subtle clarity of routine are all intertwined in a voice which is never quick to judge or react but generally accepts the world in quiet acknowledgement. A Mexican-American whose work is concentrated but not restricted to hispanic themes, Soto has said that his objectives have never been socio-political. He merely strives to provide portraits of people in the rush of life. He does it very well. (811.54 SOTO)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Blame / by Michelle Huneven

In high school, Patsy MacLemoore was valedictorian. She was also "Party Hardiest", voted the person most likely to have a good time. Always someone who could burn at both ends, she hasn't let two DUI's, a suspended license and numerous broken relationships keep her from attaining a Ph.D. in history and a professorship at a mid-level college all by the age of 29. Patsy lives full-speed ahead, a drink never far from her hand, a party never far away, all the way up until the unspeakable happens. While pulling into her driveway one night, definitely not sober, she hits and kills a middle-aged woman and her teenage daughter. In the following days and weeks, Patsy tries to piece together what happened and then, despite the best efforts of an experienced lawyer, finally accepts her fate--four years in prison.
The county jail, of which Patsy's been in quite a few times previous, is nothing like being incarcerated in the state penitentiary where male guards openly monitor female inmates in the latrine, the food is never fully cooked and violent altercations are always only a side-step away. There's also mandatory sobriety and AA meetings which Patsy must attend and where, to her horror, she finds herself in the same boat with people who claim a few months or years without alcohol as their life's best achievement ("an amazingly pathetic perspective"). With time though, Patsy makes her peace with aspects of her past, reconciling with those she's hurt, even reconnecting with the father/husband of her victims and forging ahead full-fledged with AA until she's sober. By the time she's released after two years on good behavior, the once arrogant, boozy life of the party is a whole new person returning to a whole new life.

Huneven paints a good portrait of a life rehabilitated in this provocative tail of personal injury, guilt, redemption and mercy. The circumstances surrounding Patsy's fall from grace, her exile and suffering are refreshingly down to earth. Patsy is still the same person more or less after her release. She just makes better choices. Her new relationships are different; she's no longer as bossy. Her academic work of teaching, researching and writing is substantially better and her life is generally more productive. What sets this at a level above the rest of the swath of books on abuse, repercussions and rehab is the startling twist near the end which reconceives an entirely new perspective on crime and punishment. Definitely a must-read somewhere down the line. (FIC HUNEVEN)

Just Shy of Harmony / by Philip Gulley

Things could be better for Sam Gardner. The pastor of the Harmony Friends Church in Harmony, Indiana, Sam is tired of writing sermons that seem to fall on deaf ears. The success of the burgeoning megachurch down the road, which can't fail to win members with message series like "Ten Mutual Funds Jesus Would Die For", has him stressing as well. He has faith that things will go better. But so do certain quirky elders of his congregation who have their own ideas about how to run things. Dale Hinshaw for instance, who's never shy about mentioning Sam's salary or reminding people of how he "felt the call" toward ministry once upon a time himself, just knows that his idea for scripture egg project (in which bible verses would literally be implanted in the yokes of hatched eggs) could help win back Sam's diminishing congregation.
Another idea, to plant lottery tickets in the church hymnals, this notion reluctantly agreed upon by everyone a while back, has actually born fruit. Lifelong member Jessie Peacock has hit the jackpot after her pew's hymn book was found to contain the winning ticket. Now if she could only be persuaded to accept the money. Elsewhere in Harmony, mechanic Wayne Fleming has recently been deserted by his wife of ten years for reasons unknown to him or anyone else. He and his three children are alone but things seem to be looking up at the moment with his new friendship with local single lawyer Deena Morrison who's had her own issues with caring for her ailing mother. The pair, having met at Harmony Friends Church where special things seem to happen in spite of adversity, share a growing fondness for each other and for Sam's gospel-based preaching.
Much like Jan Karon's Mitford series, Philip Gulley's Harmony is a cozy small town where the church is the center of the action. Of course nobody's perfect, even among church folk, and there are those Dale Hinshaws of the world who maintain spectacularly self-centered viewpoints. Gulley is good at humorously depicting scenes of narrow-minded squabbling about petty grievances and untethered ideas, but he's also adept at showing the compassion of those who graciously suffer the fool and reach out in unexpected ways to help others. Sam's honest struggles with life and faith (i.e., bemoaning the fact that his most commonly communicated words to his two sons are "can't afford it") are well laid out and readers will appreciate the book's subtle message of generosity, kindness and constancy of faith. Plus there's a genuinely good-hearted humor which can't fail to interject comic relief into the mutliple character narrative. (FIC GULLEY)

Take a look at some of the President's books

Every year, the American Booksellers Association presents books to the President and his family for their reading pleasure. Take a look at the titles that the Obama family were presented with this year:

ABA Presents Books to President for White House Library | Bookselling This Week

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Adventures in Art: Newer Crime & Mystery Fiction Involving Art and Antiques

The Good Thief’s Guide To Paris: A Mystery / by Chris Ewan
Charlie Howard leads quite the double life: he’s a crime writer who’s also a professional burglar. One evening following a Paris book signing, a drunken Charlie spills his secret to a fan and, with some encouragement, agrees to show him the tools of his other trade by breaking into what he thinks is the man’s apartment. But it isn’t. The apartment actually belongs to someone possessing a seemingly useless painting which Charlie’s new acquaintance wants to get his hands on. (MYS EWAN)

The Bellini Card: A Novel / by Jason Goodwin
In Istanbul in 1840, Yashim is a Turkish eunuch who works behind the scenes at the behest of the Sultan investigating any mischief that might arise within the diplomatic community. Recently Yashim and his Polish emissary friend Stanislaw Palewski have accepted an assignment to look into a missing 15th century portrait of Mehmet the Conqueror done by Giovanni Bellini. The painting, a prized relic of the Sultan’s court, is thought to be in Venice which is where Yashim and Stanislaw must travel to find it. (MYS GOODWIN)

Among Thieves / by David Hosp
Attorney Scott Finn thinks he’s just helping to acquit his client Devon Malley of involvement with a recent clothing store burglary. But when some of Malley’s cronies begin turning up dead, things start to look a little fishy until Finn learns that Malley was involved in an infamous art heist from twenty years ago in which over $300 million worth of paintings were stolen and never recovered. Now the hunt for a killer also becomes a search for the missing artwork. (MYS HOSP)

Our Lady of Immaculate Deception / by Nancy Martin
Meet Roxy Abruzzo, a Pittsburgh local who’s as sassy as she is savvy about art and antiques. The owner of Bada Bling Architectural Salvage, Roxy soon finds herself in quite the predicament when she steals a pricy sculpture from one of the city’s wealthiest residents, the recently murdered Julius Hyde. Though she has a perfectly good reason for the heist, her little escapade sets off a slew of mayhem as Roxy must outwit the police, the estate of the late Mr. Hyde and even members of her own family to escape prosecution. (MYS MARTIN)

Painted Ladies / by Robert B. Parker
Boston Private Investigator Spenser has seen a lot of strange cases, but nothing remotely similar to his current assignment: to provide security during a private ransom exchange at local art museum for a stolen painting. Having been hired by art professor Dr. Ashton Prince, Spenser suspects something’s amiss as soon as he meets the cagey old scholar and knows something’s up when the exchange mysteriously falls through and the painting remains stolen. (MYS PARKER)

Murder In The Abstract / by Susan Shea
An art preservationist and chief fund-raiser for the Devor Museum in San Francisco, Danielle “Dani” O’Rourke is hosting a gala one evening when a young artist falls to his death from Dani’s office window. With no other leads to go on, the police have fingered Dani as a chief suspect and without a solid alibi, having been indisposed at the time of the fall, Dani must find the real culprit before it’s too late. (MYS SHEA)

The Same River Twice / by Ted Mooney
What do a Parisian fashion designer, an American independent filmmaker and the Russian Mafia have in common? They’re all after a particularly pricey collection of smuggled Russian folk art. It’s a high-stakes game which turns deadly before it’s all through in this caper set in the early 1990’s just after the fall of the Soviet Union. (FIC MOONEY)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Muhammad: a Story of the Last Prophet by Deepak Chopra

Deepak Chopra began his professional life in his native India as a doctor and became a certified doctor of endocrinology when he came to the United States. Eventually he was disenchanted with traditional medicine and began exploring alternate paths for healing and spirituality. Today he does not practice medicine but acts as a guru to many, dispensing products and practices through his institute and website and sharing his philosophy of inner spirituality in his books.

He has written books about Jesus and Buddha similar to this one – “fictional” biographies. Being someone who has only “heard of” Muhammad and not read of him, I found Chopra’s story engaging and a quick read. One thing that makes the book accessible is its structure, with different characters appearing to fill in a different aspect of the story. Muhammad is shown as not wanting the fame thrust on him as the “mouthpiece” of Allah, and even not wanting to be chosen.

Muhammad says many enigmatic things in the book, like “God is not someone you can seek. He is in all things, and always has been. He created this earth and then disappeared into it, like an ocean disappearing into a drop of water.” What is impressed on the reader is how the Arabian peoples were separated from the civilized world by their harsh desert climate, and they lacked unity. Islam is the force which brings them together. Chopra suggests that one reason Islam spread as it did because of its preaching of equality, where “none has preference over another”.

Chopra records how Muhammad and his followers were banished to Medina from Mecca and how they eventually took up arms against their enemies, ushering in their first jihad, or holy war. This silenced their opposition and eventually helped win their rise to ascendency throughout the Arab world and beyond. Chopra consistently paints Muhammad’s decisions as coming from God, as expressing God’s wish to deal with those who have turned their face from Him. However, while this book has been described as a humanizing portrait of Islam’s founder, there is nothing in Chopra’s account that humanizes Islam’s God, “Allah the All-Merciful.”

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Critic's Choice

Recently the National Book Critics Circle announced their 31 nominees for the 2010 year in review. The Circle awards the best English-language literature published within six major categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction and poetry. This is the only awards presentation for which the selection committee is entirely composed of established literary critics. Since 1975 it's been associated with some of the top writing in America. Among this year's nominees are Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom (FIC FRANZEN), The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography by Selina Hastings (B MAUGHAM) and musician Patti Smith's personalized memoir Just Kids about her early period in New York City (782.42166092 SMITH). The winners for each category will be announced at a ceremony in New York City on March 10.