Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Year in the Life

A rather new type of biography / memoir has become quite popular lately – and that is the book about a person who tries out something new for a year or so and then writes about it. We have a number of these types of memoirs and many of them prove to be very readable and amusing.

Here are a few titles –
The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs
This is a very funny account of Jacobs’ spiritual journey through the Bible – including the Old Testament strictures against cutting one’s facial hair and avoiding clothes made of mixed fibers.

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julia Powell
Julie Powell felt old (at 30!) and trapped in her life, and so resolved to spend a year cooking every recipe (all 524 of them) in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. As the B&N review says “her unexpected reward: not just a newfound respect for calves liver and aspic, but a new life – lived with gusto.”

Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Looney Bin by Norah Vincent
Vincent had written another book of this type entitled, Self Made Man, wherein she spent a year posing as a man. According to her, this experience so depressed her that she spent several months in a mental hospital, which then gave her the idea for this current book. Over the course of a year, Vincent spent time in three different mental institutions. These experiences led to a very personal, at times heartbreaking account of life among the mentally challenged.

If you have recently read a "year in the life" memoir, why don't you share it with us by making a comment? Meg

[The idea for this post was found in The Reader’s Shelf, a Library Journal column by Neal Wyatt.]

Monday, May 18, 2009

Nora Robert's Circle Trilogy

I must admit I am not usually a reader of romance novels. And Nora Roberts is not one of my favorite authors. But in the Circle Trilogy (Morrigan’s Cross, Dance of the Gods and The Valley of Silence) she has, in my humble opinion, created a story that is very entertaining, has moments of humor and power and a set of characters that are complex and memorable.

The Circle Trilogy is about a sorcerer, a witch, a scholar, a shape-shifter, a warrior and “one who was lost.” These six come together (from both Medieval and modern times) to fight the demon Queen Lilith, a vampire of tremendous power and trickery. Hoyt, the Sorcerer, is brought forward in time to the present by the goddess Morrigan to gather an “army” to fight Lilith. His twin brother Cian (pronounced Key-an), had been turned into a vampire by Lilith, has lived for MANY years, and is currently in New York City running a disco/bar. Glenna, a modern day witch, joins them there and they soon fly to Ireland to find the rest of the “army” and to train for battle.

The rest of the “army” consists of Moira (the scholar), Queen of Geall (pronounced guile) and Larken, her cousin (a shape-shifter) who both travel from the distant past to join Hoyt’s army. In Ireland they also meet Blair, a modern day Buffy (read vampire slayer) and the “army” is complete. It is these characters that kept me reading – through all three books – they are funny, brave, romantic (it is a romance, after all) and well-developed. Their dialogue is realistic and brings these six to life - although sometimes I wanted to knock a few of them over the head for their stubbornness.

The trilogy is a page-turner, even if not the height of literature. The review in BookList said “Best-seller Roberts' Celtic-flavored Circle trilogy features superbly crafted characters, three passionate romances, and a bewitching blend of magic and myth. “ I, too, recommend all three – which must be read in the order in which they were written. Meg

Monday, May 11, 2009

Agatha (Christie) has a lot to answer for

If you like your mysteries with a touch of “tea and crumpets” in them, then the books that were nominated (and those that won) the Agatha Awards are just for you. The Agatha Awards, named after Agatha Christie, are presented at the Malice Domestic annual conference, this year held on May 1-3 in Arlington, Virgina. The Agatha Awards “salute the traditional mystery.”

What is a “traditional mystery?” According to the Malice Domestic web site, traditional mysteries are “books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie as well as others. For our purposes, the genre is loosely defined as mysteries that: contain no explicit sex; contain no excessive gore or gratuitous violence; usually feature an amateur detective; and, take place in a confined setting and contain characters who know one another.”

Nominated for Best Novel this year were:
Six Geese A-Slaying by Donna Andrews (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen (Penguin Group)
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (St. Martin’s Press)
Buckingham Palace Gardens by Anne Perry (Random House)
I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
This year's winner was The Cruelest Month.

Other catagories that Agatha’s are given for include Best First Novel, Best Non-Fiction, Best Short Story and Best Children’s/Young Adult Mystery. Meg

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Five Skies - April's Book Discussion Title

The Thursday Evening Book Group discussed the Reading Across Rhode Island selection for 2009 at their latest meeting. Ron Carlson’s novel Five Skies was chosen this year for the project, which aims to get everyone in the state reading the same book. This story of three men working on a construction project to build a daredevil’s ramp over a gorge in Idaho is a study in characterization, setting, relationships, male psychology, loss, and redemption.

Darwin is a man who recently lost a wife, he is the cook and foreman of the project. Arthur is a big burly guy who is AWOL from his previous life and also mourning the loss of his brother. Ronnie is a younger man who is struggling to find direction after years of bad judgment and some jail time.

Members liked the slow revealing of the characters’ backgrounds, the great descriptions of the physical surroundings, the gradual bonding of the men. Our group is all women at this time, and most of us had trouble with the mechanics of the work. Some questioned whether the author was correct in his depictions of the carpentry and engineering behind the building of the ramp; others were completely unfamiliar with the tools and equipment, making it difficult to get the full sense of what the men were accomplishing.

We discussed this as a “man’s book” that women could still like, due to the sensitive portrayals of the men. Men often don’t speak of feelings, but this book showed how men can relate to other men. Members saw a special fondness for Ronnie exhibited by the two older men. Readers rooted for Ronnie to overcome his obstacles, and were touched by the sense of responsibility for him that the older men exhibited. One reader suggested that a way of looking at the story, is that the building up of Ronnie was for the older men, the healing balm for their own losses, as the building of the ramp and learning the work, was the healing catalyst for Ronnie.

Short of giving away the ending, let’s just say, all were stunned by the final pages, yet somehow redemption and dealing with loss does lead to a resolution for the characters. The big sky, in all its renditions, remains as a powerful force. PL


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