Book group tips, reading lists, & lively talk of literary news from the experts at Booklist Online
Tuesday, May 14, 2013 5:00 am
Debut with a Twist: Nick Dybek’s When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man
Posted by: Misha Stone
I am often on the look-out for debut novels and coming-of-age novels are a huge draw for me as well. I ended up seeing a paperback copy of Nick Dybek’s When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man on display in a bookstore and was intrigued by the description.
Beautifully written but understated, Dybek’s debut is narrated by Cal, a teenager in the late ’80s in a fictional Washington State town, Loyalty Island, where most of the men go away to crab in Alaska every year. Dybek evokes a rugged, Northwest outpost where the town’s whole economy depends on its sole industry. When John Gaunt, the owner of the boating business, dies and his college-bred son, Richard, inherits, Cal learns that his father and the men of Loyalty will do anything to keep their livelihood.
When Cal’s mother, who subscribes to Film Comment and neglects her son to listen to records in the basement, leaves for California before the birth of her second child just before Cal’s father ships out to Alaska, Cal goes to live with his classmate Jaime for the season. An uneasy friendship builds between Cal and Jaime. And when Cal shares with Jaime a secret he discovers that could tear their community apart, things get even more uneasy and unpredictable.
When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man gets its title from Treasure Island and the stories Cal’s father spins of Captain Flint’s adventures and exploits before his life on the sea corrupts him. The metaphor is an apt one in this tale of fathers and sons, a story about loyalty and betrayal, about connection and disconnection and about the price we pay to live lives we can’t see beyond.
Nick Dybek creates a powerful and unexpectedly dark coming-of-age novel with an unreliable yet wistful young narrator. There is mystery, drama and a surprise twist I didn’t see coming at the end. I can’t wait to run into someone else who has read it so I can discuss this ending; I still feel stormy and conflicted about it, even though Cal provides enough haunted foreshadowing to provide insight and depth to what unfolds.
Monday, May 13, 2013 8:53 am
Discussable Duets: The Artistry Behind the Mystery
Posted by: Kaite Stover
Novels that use plots “ripped from the headlines” are usually excellent selections for book groups. When the headline gets back into newsprint, it’s even more interesting for readers.
A recently published book group favorite, The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro, takes a literary look at a 23-year-old crime and, since it’s fiction, takes the initiative to solve the crime. The book also tells the story of Claire, a young painter who makes a foolish error early in her career that effectively tanks it. Instead of holding shows in galleries, Claire struggles to pay the bills by painting reproductions of masters. One day a well known art dealer, Aiden, visits Claire with a painting believed to be stolen in the great Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist. He wants her to paint a perfect replica, then he will return the painting, Claire gets a one woman show of her original work, and everyone is satisfied. As Claire begins to work on her reproduction, she begins to suspect the original may actually be a fake and in order to prove it, she begins doing research on the Gardner Museum, it’s holdings, and Isabella Gardner herself.
Pair this compelling artistic thriller with a nonfiction account of the theft, The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser. The author inherited the case files from Harold Smith, the art detective who devoted his life to solving the theft. As this 2008 book concludes, Boser has theories about the crime, but only that.
In March of 2013, Boston authorities announced new leads in the case. Boser responded in The New York Times with an op-ed piece.
Readers will enjoy discussing a real life mystery and sifting through the clues along with the authors and detectives.
Thursday, May 9, 2013 8:47 am
Housewives with shiny knives
Posted by: Kaite Stover
The announcement for a new anthology of crime stories couldn’t come at a better time. As you may have gathered, May is Mystery Month at Booklist and Short Story Month everywhere.
In August, fans of both can enjoy an anthology with a great title: Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense. Editor Sarah Weinman has gathered fourteen stories from authors who wrote some of their best work between the 1940s and 1960s.
If the term “domestic suspense” sounds rather tame, read Weinman’s great definition of it here. It gave me chills. I think we’re on the verge of a new term, “kitchen noir.” And there’s nothing more terrifying than a hard-boiled Betty Crocker.
Wait ’til the book groups get their hands on this one.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013 8:12 am
Crime in short form: Akashic’s Urban Noir series
Posted by: Kaite Stover
May is Short Story Month. This is a great time to ease a book group into approaching the short story with more than just trepidation. And what better way than to coat the short story in a little urban grit to make it go down smoother?
Start with Akashic Books ‘noir’ series and look for your book group’s city. If it’s not present, give it time.
Akashic is combing the world for atmospheric noir stories that capture an urban setting and city’s character and characters. The books go coast to coast, Boston Noir to Seattle Noir, and international, from Paris Noir to Delhi Noir.
Groups can discuss the elements of noir and how the authors were able pack them all into a short story. Readers may also enjoy discussing the historical neighborhoods of their cities.
Consider asking the readers to all read a different story from a collection and present it to the group.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013 7:05 pm
The 2013 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Awards
Posted by: Gary Niebuhr
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
The Expats by Chris Pavone (Crown Publishers)
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books)
BEST FACT CRIME
Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted
the Last Days of Old China by Paul French (Penguin Group USA – Penguin Books)
The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics
by James O’Brien (Oxford University Press)
BEST SHORT STORY
“The Unremarkable Heart” – Mystery Writers of America Presents: Vengeance
by Karin Slaughter (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company – Mulholland Books)
The Quick Fix by Jack D. Ferraiolo (Abrams – Amulet Books)
BEST YOUNG ADULT
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Disney Publishing Worldwide – Hyperion)
BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY
“A Scandal in Belgravia” – Sherlock, Teleplay by Steven Moffat (BBC/Masterpiece)
ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD
“When They Are Done With Us” – Staten Island Noir by Patricia Smith (Akashic Books)
Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, San Diego & Redondo Beach, CA
Sunday, May 5, 2013 8:40 am
Crime Fiction with Issues: El Gavilan
Posted by: Kaite Stover
Book groups like mystery novels and they like books that provide many topics for discussion. For book group facilitators who make great efforts to find crime fiction that fits the bill, have a look at El Gavilan by Craig McDonald.
McDonald has been gaining popularity for his Hector Lassiter books, crime fiction with literary and historic elements. His first standalone, El Gavilan, belongs in a class that includes Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos.
Former border patrol agent Tell Lyon is starting over in a small Ohio town. He tragically lost his family in a fire set by a drug lord. As the police chief of a town that straddles two counties, Tell finds himself being manipulated by two sheriffs with differing views of crime and criminals.
But the issue at the heart of the book is the American Dream—who gets to pursue it, who decides, and what is it exactly? This is a theme readers can really sink their teeth into in addition to discussing the clues McDonald drops about the murder.
Expect readers to say there seems to be too many plot threads and for some characters not enough development. The story is complex and McDonald is trying to get readers to consider the issues of illegal immigration as the plot unfolds and character traits are revealed, not through paragraphs of preachy exposition. All of the plot elements come together at the end of the book and the most intriguing characters are the ones readers will hope make a second appearance in another book.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013 8:34 am
BiblioWeb: Read Watch Play
Posted by: Kaite Stover
I went down under to find the next blog on my favorites list. Read Watch Play celebrates reading in all forms and their credo is available here.
For every month in 2013 RWP is running themed discussions on their blog and twitter feed. April was #CrimeRead month and while we’re dubbing May the merry month of mysteries, get some good ideas for reading from the delightfully bloodthirsty gals at the NSW Readers’ Advisory Group.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013 12:23 pm
Manly Men reading Manly Books
Posted by: Kaite Stover
When I give workshops about book groups the #1 conundrum presented during the Q&A is “how do we get more men to attend?” My stock answer is always, “Men are reading. But most of the men I know don’t want to schedule a time to talk about what they’re reading. The book conversation is happening when the hood is up, the steak is on the grill, or during halftime.”
But now GQ provides a list of “new classics for the 21st century” and they claim that these are guy-bait. What I love best about the list? Those readerbros at GQ are man enough to include women on the list–Zadie Smith, Marilynne Robinson, Alice Munro and Jhumpa Lahiri.
Seriously, there are some great titles on the list and all are suitable for discussions. Many have already made the book group circuit, but in case your group hasn’t read everything and you’d like to entice male readers, check out the 21 gems on this list. And they included my favorite, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.
Sunday, April 28, 2013 9:38 pm
Book Group Toolbox #36: Practical Classics
Posted by: Kaite Stover
There are lots of books in my Book Group Toolbox, but this one, Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touches Since High School, is going to be the source I consult when the group wants to read a classic.
Author Kevin Smokler understands why and how classics can become shoved aside by adult readers after hideous experiences in high school classes. Then he makes an excellent point, some classics will be far more appreciated by readers with more life experience under their belts than a teenager. This point made me wonder why some classics are chosen for English classes if the student readers may not be able to connect with the characters or story line. Classic works that resonate with students will stay on a readers favorite’s list for years. Classic works that don’t are being set up to fail and that doesn’t seem fair to the book or the reader.
Smokler wants to rectify that thought. He has chosen 50 classics that are typically taught in high school English/Language Arts classics. Head scratching fact: Smoker learned that there is no way to find out the number and titles of the most assigned books for high school reading. His criteria for selection closely resembles that used by book group facilitators everywhere. Smokler chose books with a lively pace; he understands that readers with busy lives will want a book that is compelling. He has also chosen books with a length between 200-400 pages and a primary appeal of storyline or narrative.
There are ten sections in the book with five titles each. Each title comes with a short essay defending it’s place in a readers life and urging the adult reader to attempt a re-reading with older, wise, eyes. Except for The Scarlet Letter. Smoker makes a great case for this book *not* being all that great in adulthood after school days. Yet, TSL deserves a place his own book, Smoker writes, because “some books aren’t meant to be our friends.” They’re job is to challenge us as readers and get us ready for the next stage of readership.
Book groups will find the essays invaluable as background info for leading discussion or choosing a classic. And I wouldn’t be surprised a book group that decided one year to read all classics, did most of their selection using Practical Classics.
Saturday, April 27, 2013 8:22 am
Serendipity in the Stacks #4: Jackie by Josie
Posted by: Kaite Stover
Most readers will be familiar with Caroline Preston’s latest novel, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. However, don’t let her first novel, Jackie by Josie, slip past your reading radar.
Book groups looking for a discussable summer selection will enjoy this light-hearted look at the business of biography. Jackie is a doctoral student suffering a bout of writer’s block/boredom when she’s offered a summer position as a researcher to a celebrity biographer of the trash-n-tell genre of life stories who is writing a book on the recently deceased Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie jumps at it and leaves her distracted academic husband, Peter, to go on his own summer jaunt with a flirty grad student who makes Jackie nervous. Jackie bundles up their three-year-old, Henry, and moves in with her boozy mother for the summer.
Jackie starts doing the kind of research that would never get tenure in an academic setting. She’s staring at photographs of Jacqueline and making notes on fashion and hair styles and studying seating arrangements for White House dinner parties.
Preston stretches a bit to make connections between Josie’s life in the mid-1990s and Jackie’s in the 1960s and ’70s. But that shouldn’t keep book groups from enjoying the book and finding topics to mull over. For one, they should consider the vast amount of information that goes into crafting a biography and how a writer sorts through it all to find the essence of the subject matter. Readers can also discuss the various epigrams that appear before each chapter and how they reflect Josie’s current situation and how Jackie may have changed her own mind about some of the things she said when she was younger.
Cleverly masquerading as standard fluorescent-colored Chick Lit, there’s more to this novel of a young woman’s life and quirky relationships than a reader will predict.
Friday, April 26, 2013 1:21 pm
Alif in Wonderland
Posted by: Neil Hollands
G. Willow Wilson’s debut novel Alif the Unseen is an unusual and appealing blend of political thriller, Arabian Nights fantasy, and literary fiction. The protagonist is the title character, a young Arab-Indian man living in an unnamed Persian Gulf state. He makes his living as a hacker, but for the most part, instead of trying to break into the computers, he works to protect his clients from the biggest hacker of all: the state security forces that troll chat rooms, blogs, and other Internet gathering places in hopes of catching dissidents.
When a girl he met online cuts him loose after a marriage is arranged for her, Alif goes into a manic funk, obeying her final wish to have no contact so thoroughly that he creates a program that will prevent her from being able to find him or anything he posts online. This program can take the input from a computer user, even if it is carefully protected, and identify the user after just a few posts, even a few keystrokes. Everything goes wrong, when The Hand, the feared head of the state security services steals the program from Alif’s computer. Alif has unwittingly given him a tool to track down any opponent of the state who uses a computer.
Alif has to go on the run, dragging Dina, a neighbor girl who grew up with him and a devout Muslim, with him. He’s also carrying what seems to be the Alf Yeom, the daytime equivalent of the Thousand and One Nights, and possibly a source of mystic information about the world of the jinn. He turns to a criminal overlord called Vikram the Vampire for help in hiding, and that’s when things turn really strange, as Vikram and his cohorts turn out to be more than just common street criminals.
There are plenty of fantastical elements in Alif the Unseen, but the novel will work perfectly well for book group members who don’t normally read fantasy. Wilson’s characters are well drawn, suspense and pacing are good throughout, and your group could support a full discussion about life and activism in a modern Arab state, about the status of women there, and about the difficulty of forming relationships in such an environment, to name just a few themes.
This is that rare title that manages to feel both exotic and relevant to the contemporary world, and that makes it a great choice for a variety of readers.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013 12:22 am
Into the Beautiful Ruins
Posted by: Neil Hollands
Jess Walter’s most recent novel is Beautiful Ruins, and his title aptly describes all of the exquisite moments in the somewhat broken lives of his characters. The novel opens in Porto Vergogna, a tiny cliffside village too small even to be included in the nearby Cinque Terre, the five beautiful villages on the Ligurian Sea that are the favored destination of travelers who want remoteness on the Italian Riviera. A beautiful American actress arrives by boat, sent away from the set of Cleopatra with a cancer diagnosis. She checks in to the hotel just inherited by Pasquale Tursi, a young dreamer who hopes to lure travelers to the Hotel Adequate View with the homemade beach and cliffside tennis courts that he labors daily to build.
Flash forward to the present, where Claire, a production assistant, has been driven to desperation by the daily barrage of schlocky pitches that come to the offices of Michael Deane, a once-famous producer who has fallen on less glamorous times. She vows to quit and take a job as the archivist in a Scientologist film museum if she doesn’t hear a good pitch by the end of the week. The last two pitchmen of the week are a failed young writer who dreams of making Donner!, a film about the doomed pioneer party, and an Italian man with very little English… the now much older Pasquale Tursi.
Walter’s novel progresses through a variety of such chapters–the misadventures of a dissolute singer at the Edinburgh film festival, a chapter from an American writer’s unfinished novel based on his experiences in WWII, a scene from a community theater production in Northern Idaho, and a manic alcoholic quest with Richard Burton by boat. Through these instances, he creates a montage of the key events in these ruined but beautiful lives, a novel of moments which reveals a new surprise about the connections between seven or eight characters with each chapter.
This novel is a great choice for book groups, full of likable characters with difficult choices, poignant failures, surprising successes, and most of all, a treasure trove of “what ifs” that beg discussion. It’s a cinematic story that begs to be made into a film, although as you’ll discover if you read the book, that would be somewhat ironic. If you discover that you like this Washington State writer, there is a small stack of diverse and underappreciated books to explore after Beautiful Ruins. Try Citizen Vince, The Financial Lives of Poets, The Zero, or Walter’s new book of stories, We Live in Water.
Sunday, April 21, 2013 9:28 pm
Reading for Real-World Inspiration: Waimea Women Business Owners Book Group
Posted by: Misha Stone
I just visited my cousin, Rebekah, owner of the Kohala Divers business in Kawaihae on the Big Island, and she was generous enough to write for Book Group Buzz about her book group.
About a year ago a wonderful woman in Waimea, Hawaii, Gale Bates, proposed the idea of a business themed book club in our up country town. She sent out invites to all of the female business owners in our community and the word spread. I feel lucky to have gotten the invitation and since day one it has transformed me and my business practices!
Owning a Scuba diving business that offers instruction, tours and retail has been a constant learning experience. Most of my life experience has been in an employee status doing what I love. Some of the books we have been reading have improved my management, marketing, and general business practices dramatically.
The first book we read was The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott. This book really opened my eyes to so much I could do to improve my business presence online. I am still incorporating the advice daily in advertising and strategy.
A couple of other favorites we have read are Start with Why by Simon Sinek. If you have a business, want to start one, or want to find a career path, this book is a must! I often stop to remember my “Why”and then make much better choices.
Another personal favorite is Fish: A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results by Stephen Lundin. It is about the Pike Place Fish Market’s strategy in Seattle of a fun work environment. This book helped me put into words and theory the feeling I want for my business.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg was fascinating on so many levels. I had to stretch it at times to relate to business but it applied to that and so many others aspects of life.
The best part of our particular book club I think is the energy that 15 or so women passionate about what they do will do to a room. We happen to meet monthly in a historic restaurant that overlooks the green hills of our beautiful Waimea country side. We switch up who recommends books and who presents topics each month and I will admit we often get so wrapped up in talking to each other that we have little time left to discuss the book but that is part of the beauty of being in a group of people who are that interesting.
We are currently reading Flip the Funnel: How to Use Existing Customers to Gain New Ones by Joseph Jaffe. I am already learning imperative customer service techniques and I have only just begun the book.
Feel free to suggest more books to the Waimea Business Book Club!
Thursday, April 18, 2013 12:39 pm
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Posted by: Gary Niebuhr
“There were two worlds here, behaving as if their own was all that mattered.”
Despite the fact that we have not seen the sun in months, spring is in the air and that means it is time for the first Greendale Reads book discussion of 2013. Our title this month was Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.
Flight Behavior is one of those books were you say, “Let me briefly tell you what it is about,” and then talk for ten minutes in some convoluted fashion trying to explain what this book is all about.
Let me briefly tell you what Flight Behavior is about. A rural Tennessee woman named Dellarobia Turnbow discovers that the monarch butterflies who normally winter in Mexico are roosting on her family land thus creating additional tension between herself, her husband, her son, her relatives and the surrounding town and people.
Now let me briefly tell you what Flight Behavior is really about. Science stressed by global warming,; the lifespan of a monarch butterfly and their journey both from birth to death and from one haven to another; low self esteem; marriage; child rearing; coming of age; scientist as superman; Tennessee as a sense of place; and the role of religion in everyday life.
The central character of Flight Behavior is Dellarobia Turnbow who starts out the book hiking to an illicit affair in order to spark up her life which has been deaden by her marriage and her in-laws. To her great surprise, she not only discovers the butterfly colony but she because a media darling when it looks like they can use her for sound bites that swing from religious miracle to suicide. Dellarobia is a delightful character to spend a book with. She can be both depressingly hostile, self-deprecating, and funny as she wants with her rapier wit and catty observations about everything.
Perhaps Dellarobia’s strongest characteristic is also the one that she and others do not recognize. Her potential. While all around her in this book the issue of the environmental collapse is crucial, my goal was to stick with the novel long enough to find out whether this sympathetic character would recognize her abilities and escape or drown in a sea of unfulfilled expectations.
I won’t tell. Your book group will as Flight Behavior is one of those literary entertainments that will guarantee a lively discussion.
Sunday, April 14, 2013 11:30 am
What Makes a Perfect Reader?
Posted by: Neil Hollands
A post at Book Riot, “The 42 Traits of the Perfect Reader,” has been making the rounds on the internet. It’s intended as a satire of snooty readers, but may also generate whimpers of sympathy for some of its points, especially from those who are feeling a bit beleaguered by the continued diminution of highbrow culture.
The 42 points would make a good icebreaker or game to start your next book group meeting. Who in your group fits the most of the traits? Who disagrees with the most? Which traits are you secretly afraid that other readers expect from you? Which traits deserve real support? Here’s a great chance to bring all those shadowy suppositions about what make a “serious” reader out into the light.
Thursday, April 11, 2013 12:01 am
Sutton, by J. R. Moehringer
Posted by: Neil Hollands
In the prologue to Sutton, J. R. Moehringer (previously known for his memoir The Tender Bar) admits that the history in his novel about bank robber Willie “the Actor” Sutton is largely invented. In real life, Sutton was tight-lipped with the press, and when he did speak to them, he often fed them misinformation.
Normally, that would be a turn off for me and many other readers of historical fiction, but in this case the creation of a new identity is appropriate for the character: Sutton’s success as a bank robber depended on the costumes and makeup that he used to get employees to open the doors to him when the bank was closed. Using that as his starting point, Moehringer plays with this idea of the false identity to great effect.
The story takes place on Christmas Day in 1969. Pardoned in a surprise, Sutton makes a deal with a newspaper for an exclusive. A cub reporter (it’s Christmas and the veterans are home with their families) and a hippie photographer drive Willie around New York City, revisiting, in chronological order, all of the important places of his life. Starting with the Irish Brooklyn slums where Willie grew up, they visit the places where he met his friends, courted his first girl, the sites of his legitimate jobs, the jewelry stores and banks he robbed, and the places where he hid between thefts or after his many prison escapes. Even though Willie is seriously ill, he leads the younger men, who only want to know whether he was involved in the death of the man who last turned him in, on a sometimes merry, sometimes melancholy chase around the city.
Sutton is particularly devoted to Bess, the rich girl who he assumed was his ticket out of mediocrity, who ultimately inspired his life of crime. His devotion to her is the one constant in a life of blind alleys. One of the central questions in the book is whether her love is as steadfast as his.
While Willie is largely his creation, Moehringer captures the historical trappings of New York from the turn of the century to 1969 believably. The Sutton he portrays is tenacious and creative, a raconteur and an underdog. Willie is hard not to like despite his life of crime, but this is the tale of a man who has spent his entire life building new identities for himself, a man who may not even be able to separate his own truth from the legend anymore. You’ll be kept guessing and happily surprised by the twists that the author reveals right down to the last page of the novel.
As a memoirist and a novelist, Moehringer has obviously thought long and hard about the notion of the created self, of the vagaries of memory and self image. Those ideas are at center stage in Sutton, and ultimately raise this historical fiction to a cut above. Your book group will have a good time trying to get to the bottom of the enigma that was Willie “the Actor” Sutton.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013 6:02 am
Me Before You Before I Could Stop Myself
Posted by: MaryKate Perry
First I said forget it, absolutely not, I won’t read it. Then I picked it up gingerly and scanned the first few pages, pausing to roll my eyes in case anyone was watching. Then I ducked down an alley and devoured it.
When I heard about the set up of Jojo Moyes novel, Me Before You (working class young woman in small English village becomes caregiver for wealthy, brilliant and angry quadriplegic and both are forever changed et cetera), I adhered to my rule: I won’t read a book that is going to become a film that Julia Roberts is going to insist she is young enough to play the lead in.
I assumed this would be a conventional and predictable romance but it’s fair to warn fans of the romance genre that they might not find this book entirely satisfying. However, as a book group book I will say it goes down easy (my group just read Cleopatra and we are now soldiering through The Professor and the Madman - all fascinating stuff, but I for one am tired) while managing to ask some of the big questions: What would make you want to live? And since I brought it up, what would make you want to die? Is great love enough to live for? What is life, if spent confined to a chair? Is it still a gift? What does it mean to have a full life? Who can we say has transformed us?
Yes, there is some sappiness here but Moyes compassionately offers us a window into characters who at first seem unsympathetic or formulaic. No one is a one-dimensional villain in this story. Mostly, I simply enjoyed reading it because it was diverting and though sad, also uplifting.
I can feel Julia Roberts brushing up on her English accent right now. And Keira Knightly is feeling huffy about it.
Monday, April 1, 2013 12:01 am
ABBC 2012: Literary Fiction
Posted by: Neil Hollands
The All-the-Best-Books Compilation (ABBC) is finished for 2012! I’ve compiled 180 different best-of-the-year lists and awards into one big spreadsheet, in the process finding over 2700 books that were mentioned as one of the best books published in the U.S. in 2012.
You can download the final ABBC spreadsheet at my other blogging home, Williamsburg Regional Library’s Blogging for a Good Book. My final post on the subject at that site lists all of the titles in every category that received ten mentions or more. Atop this year’s list was Gillian Flynn’s mix of thriller and literary novel Gone Girl, with 65 mentions.
In previous weeks, I’ve highlighted the top books in many of the other categories, today I’ll finish up with a post about the contemporary literary fiction of 2012.
The top spot in this category, with 42 mentions, goes to Ben Fountain’s debut, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Billy is a soldier cited for heroism in Iraq, brought back to the U.S. for a publicity tour, culminating in a halftime show during a Dallas Cowboys game. The book captures Billy’s day with the Cowboys’ owner, cheerleaders, film people, and football players and his memories about his history and his comrades from the Iraq War, the day before he gets shipped back there himself. Fountain blends poignant war story with a commentary on the state of America and plenty of dark humor.
In second, with 34 mentions, is Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. Walter follows two connected plots: one from the 1960s, in which Dee, an ailing American actress comes to a tiny town on the Italian Riviera and forms a brief relationship with Pasquale, the young owner of a somewhat comical pensione; the second follows contemporary events that occur when the Hollywood pitch meeting between an unhappy production assistant and a fledgling novelist is interrupted by Pasquale, now much older. Cleverly plotted, and featuring eight memorable POV characters, this is another winner from the versatile author of Citizen Vince and The Financial Lives of Poets.
The third position goes to Maria Semple, with 30 laurels for her book Where’s You Go, Bernadette. It’s the serio-comic story of Bernadette–an architect, the leader of the power-mothers in Seattle, and a woman used to getting her way–who develops agoraphobia. A virtual assistant in India has to handle some of her most basic errands. Daughter Bee documents mom’s problems and serves as the main narrator for this clever satire.
In fourth is another debut novel, The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers, with 27 mentions. It’s another Iraq War story, in which two young soldiers navigate a gauntlet of dangers during a perilous battle for the city of Al Tafar. The story then backtracks, following the pair through basic training, and also jumps forward to one of the soldier’s struggles after the war. Informed by Powers’ own experiences in the war, this is a powerful, quick-reading book that would make a fine choice for book groups.
One vote back in fifth place with 26 mentions are two books by veteran authors. Louise Erdrich’s latest is The Round House. A 1988 attack on a North Dakota reservation woman has left her unable to cope with the world. Her husband a tribal judge is unable to make progress in the official investigation, so her thirteen-year-old son, thrown by the loss of the mother he knew, goes looking for answers with three friends, a search that involves reservation life, Ojibwe legends, and Star Trek: the Next Generation.
It’s tied with Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. A story of three generations in two connected families, one Jewish, the other African-American, in the Brokeland neighborhood on the edges of Berkeley and Oakland. The husbands run a used record store together, the wives a midwifery practice, but both businesses are struggling, as well as both families. Chabon’s gift with language is well suited to the jazz and pop culture riffs of this unique family saga.
Why stop there? These are just the top five in a list of 214 books in this category. Get the full ABBC spreadsheet to research more of these books, most of which are just coming out in paperback now and would make prime book group selections.
Sunday, March 31, 2013 8:43 am
Forthcoming in April
Posted by: Kaite Stover
Here are some books I’m looking to add to the book group rotation in 2013-2014. All are bowing in April.
Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley: I have a book group that likes to read books about women’s lives and relationships. This story about a mother and her two daughters who escape a religious cult will appeal to those readers. The novel is set in the present and this element will have readers discussing the role religion plays in contemporary society as well as how the characters define family and faith.
Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder: A 30 day biography of one of the greatest female poets of the 20th century. Before Sylvia Plath became a literary legend she spent one heady, hedonistic summer in New York as the guest editor for Mademoiselle magazine’s annual college issue. Winder examines Plath’s life during this whirlwind month and how Plath’s experiences shaped the woman who would become the tragic poet.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler: I’m hoping that fans of The Paris Wife will also enjoy this biographical novel. NPR recently broadcast an interview with the author about her forthcoming book and her relationships with her husband, F. Scott, and Ernest Hemingway. Any book group that hasn’t discussed The Paris Wife yet, might consider pairing these two novels.
The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley: I have groups that love to read debut works from new authors. This looks like a winner. It’s being touted as a blend of The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. A young woman rescues who she thinks is a badly burned soldier from World War II and soon learns differently. Decades later, Adam and Evelyn have raised a family of beautiful accomplished daughters with otherworldly talents. The writing is captivating and the story is a page turner.
I am confronted again with that old adage, “so many books, so little time.”
Saturday, March 30, 2013 9:38 am
BiblioWeb: The Book Smugglers
Posted by: Kaite Stover
Wanted to share my latest biblio-web find, The Book Smugglers.
This pair of self-professed OCD “book junkies” review science fiction and young adult titles (essentially whatever they like). They post four book reviews a week and trade out reviews of movies, music, television, other cross over items. Once a month they two blog runners will post a review of a book they wrote together.
Be prepared for opinionated, lively writing. The gals have been busy. This blog has been around since 2008. I’m certain book groups looking for a quirky SF of Fantasy novel or teen book with appeal for adults will find something here.
Cool blog name, too.
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