Archive for April, 2008

May 4-10 is Be Kind to Animals Week

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Did you know the American Humane Association created Be Kind to Animals Week back in 1915 to acknowledge the unique bond between animals and humans?

Try these books about beloved pets and also animals in need:

Rescue Me! by Bardi McLennan Find this book in our catalog

Good Dog. Stay by Anna Quindlen Find this book in our catalog.
Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote Find this book in our catalog.

The Other End of the Leash by Patricia B. McConnell Find this book in our catalog.

Babylon’s ark : the incredible wartime rescue of the Baghdad Zoo by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence Find this book in our catalog

Care of the wild feathered & furred : treating and feeding injured birds and animals by Mae Hickman [and] Maxine Guy Find this book in our catalog

Reading for Cinco de Mayo

Monday, April 28th, 2008

According to Wikipedia, “Cinco de Mayo… is primarily a regional and not an obligatory federal holiday in Mexico. The date is observed in the United States and other locations around the world as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride. A common misconception in the United States is that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day; Mexico’s Independence Day is actually September 16, which is the most important national patriotic holiday in Mexico.

The holiday commemorates an initial victory of Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin over invading French forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Click here for an award-winning website which gives a fuller, but somewhat partisan history of the battle and the struggle of Mexico for self-governance.

Try these stories with Mexican or Mexican American protagonists:

Like water for chocolate : a novel in monthly installments, with recipes, romances, and home remedies by Laura Esquivel Find this book in our catalog

Names on a map : a novel by Benjamin Alire Sáenz Find this book in our catalog

Fantasmas : supernatural stories by Mexican American writers Find this book in our catalog

The Pearl by John Steinbeck Find this book in our catalog

The View from Mount Joy by Lorna Landvik

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

The Abingdon Branch group met in April to discuss The View from Mount Joy. I was not present for this meeting as I was in the Pacific North-West in Portland and Seattle, during a very cold & cloudy week where I managed not to see Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Rainier, so I certainly didn’t get any views from any mountains. In general, however, the group enjoyed this book though some didn’t like some episodes of bad language. This novel is set in the early seventies and mentions drug use and has language appropriate to the characters.

Publishers Weekly says:
Landvik’s latest light drama opens as Joe Andreson transfers into a Minneapolis high school as a class of ’72 senior. Like everyone else, Joe has a major thing for head cheerleader Kristi Casey—a version of Reese Witherspoon’s character in Election. Joe gets some action, but is estranged from Kristi by graduation. As the years pass, and they stay in touch sporadically, Joe, who narrates, can’t quite let go of his infatuation. He becomes an innovative grocer, still unmarried at mid-book, and Kristi transforms into a Bible-thumping radio/televangelist. Joe builds solid relationships with his mother and her new husband, and reconnects with high school friend Darva Pratt (who returns to town with her daughter, Flora), while Kristi sets her sights on the White House. Landvik (Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons) deftly mixes humor and pathos in Kristi’s ditzy On the Air with God radio show, starkly contrasted by her quietly powerful portrait of Joe, a man with real family values. (Sept.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

A list of discussion questions may be found at:

Lorna Landvik has written several novels including Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons, and The Tall Pine Polka. She lives with her family in Minneapolis.
Information on the author can be found on the Random House website at:

Read to celebrate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in May

Friday, April 25th, 2008

Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month was enacted by Public Law 102-450 on October 28, 1992. The purpose of the law was to honor the achievements of Asian/Pacific Americans and to recognize their contributions to the United States. May was selected for the recognition because two significant events in history took place in that month: Japanese immigrants first arrived in the United States on May 7, 1843, and the transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869 (Golden Spike Day).

Try these stories with Asian American and Pacific Islander protagonists:
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri Find this book in our catalog
The Love Wife: a Novel by Gish Jen Find this book in our catalog
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan Find this book in our catalog
Shimura Trouble by Sujata Massey Find this book in our catalog
The Descendants: a Novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings Find this book in our catalog.

The US Census Bureau lists over twenty-five Asian and Pacific Islander groups. The larger groups include: Vietnamese, Chinese, Filipinos, Indian, Pakistani, Korean, Japanese, Cambodian, Laotian, Indonesian, Thai, Burmese, Malaysian, Taiwanese, Sri Lanka, Bangladeshi, and a variety of Pacific Islanders from the Hawaiian Islands, Polynesian Islands, and New Zealand. Click here for details of The Asian/Pacific Heritage Association.

ThrillerFest 2008

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

I was reading Suzanne Beecher’s Dear Reader column this morning and she mentioned this year’s International Thriller Writers’ ThrillerFest coming up in July in NYC.

Click on the ITW website for more info on ThrillerFest, the largest event of its kind, a meeting place for authors, readers, budding writers, and publishing industry professionals. This year features two special add-on events, CraftFest and AgentFest, where authors of all levels can meet the professionals.

Thriller fans can also go to the ITW website to sign up for the BIG THRILL email each month. Get news and information on the latest thrillers being published that month along with in-depth stories and interviews.

By the way, Suzanne’s column appears in the Harford County Public Library Fiction Book Club. Interested in having this online book club delivered to your e-mail? Go to Readers Place Online Book Clubs, sign up and every day, Monday through Friday, you will receive in your email a five-minute selection from a chapter of a book. By the end of the week, you’ll have read 2-3 chapters. Every Monday we start a new book. Sign up and start reading.

Water for Elephants on NY Times List for One Year

Friday, April 18th, 2008

According to Judith Rosen in Publishers Weekly, 4/17/2008, the paperback edition of Sara Gruen’s novel Water for Elephants has been on the New York Times bestsellers list for 52 consecutive weeks and has 1.8 million copies in print. The hardcover edition was on the Times list for 13 weeks and has 285,000 copies in print.

Water for Elephants, a title extremely popular with book clubs, is available at our library in hardback, paperback, audio book, and in large print. Find the hardback.

This is the summary available in our catalog: “Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski’s ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.” “Jacob was there because his luck had run out – orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive “ship of fools.” It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn’t have an act – in fact, she couldn’t even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.”
Click here for Sara Gruen’s website
Click here for sample discussion questions at

Orange Prize Nominees

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

The Orange Prize shortlisthas been announced:
* The Outcast by Sadie Jones (Find the book in our catalog, together with a summary)
* Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill (Find the book in our catalog, together with a summary)
* Lottery by Patricia Wood (Find the book in our catalog, together with a summary)
* When We Were Bad by Charlotte Mendelson (Find the book in our catalog, together with a summary)
* The Road Home by Rose Tremain
* Fault Lines by Nancy Huston
The prize celebrates fiction by women, is open to any novel written in English, and will be awarded at London’s Royal Festival Hall on June 4.
Click here for more information.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

I have just finished reading this book for my book club. We should have plenty to talk about when we get together to discuss this surpassingly well-written examination of grief.

Joan Didion, acclaimed essayist, novelist and screenwriter, describes the first year of mourning and grief she experiences after her husband of forty years drops dead at the dinner table on December 30, 2003. The circumstances are made even more dreadful because her daughter is at that time in hospital in a coma suffering from pneumonia and septic shock. Joan cannot begin her grieving properly because she cannot tell Quintana of the death of her father until she wakes up in hospital some weeks later and the funeral cannot be held until Quintana can attend. Very soon another disaster strikes, when Quintana suffers an embolism as a result of her previous illness and for a time is again in a coma.

Didion employs several sorts of magical thinking in order to postpone grief and remain the “cool customer” she appeared to be to the social worker in the hospital. She needs to know the exact circumstances of her husband, John Gregory Dunne’s death, so that by thinking about what she could have done to save him, she might undo his death. She refuses to throw away John’s shoes, because that would be to admit the possibility that he won’t need them again. Didion uses her novelist’s research skills to find out everything known about the process of grieving, so that she can understand what she is experiencing; but this does not prevent her from realising that she is actually mad, and grief comes in waves to attack her. These waves are the occasion of reminiscences of her life with John and of Quintana’s childhood, which become a penetrating examination of the nature of marriage and of motherhood.

I recommend it to anyone who enjoys, good, spare prose, depictions of emotions that truly resonate though they are described without hyperbole, and honest and open personal memoirs. I would think twice about recommending The Year of Magical Thinking to anyone who is grieving. Though Didion recognizes that she is going through the well-documented stages of grief, this is not a hopeful book. It took me a while to realize why I was sad and slightly angry that week I was reading the book. I was feeling grief too, for all the people who must grieve; yet I made sure I finished the book.

Here is what some reviewers said:
“she chronicles a year of grief with her signature blend of intellectual rigor and deep feeling.” (Booklist starred review)
“Didion describes with compelling precision exactly how grief feels, and how it impairs rational thought and triggers “magical thinking.” The result is a remarkably lucid and ennobling anatomy of grief, matched by a penetrating tribute to marriage, motherhood, and love.” (Booklist)
“the predominant atmosphere is one of authentic suspense that makes for a remarkable page-turner. As always, Didion’s writing style is sheer and highly efficient.” (Library Journal)
“the book reverberates with passion and even, occasionally, ironic humor” (Book Page Reviews)
“As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work.” (Kirkus)
“In a sense, all of Didion’s fiction, with its themes of loss and bereavement, served as preparation for the writing of this memoir, and there is occasionally a curious hint of repetition, despite the immediacy and intimacy of the subject matter. Still, this is an indispensable addition to Didion’s body of work and a lyrical, disciplined entry in the annals of mourning literature.” (PW Reviews)

Click here for some discussion questions for the book.

Science fiction news

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

I was reading Locus, the magazine of the science fiction and fantasy field, for April 2008, when I noticed one or two bits of awards news that might be of interest (awards lists are great sources of books to be put on your personal “to be read” list).

John Harrison’s Nova Swing won the 2008 Philip K. Dick Award, given for distinguished science fiction published in the US as a paperback original in 2007. The announcement was made March 21, 2008 at Norwescon 31, the convention of the Northwest Science Fiction Society in Seattle. Find this book in our catalog.

The Hugo Awards nominations have been announced as reported by me in this blog on March 24. Now click here for the official Hugo blog, where you can find out how to become eligible to vote on your favorite and also receive free books.

The Nebula Awards, administered, voted and presented by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) to acknowledge excellence in science fiction writing, will be awarded at the convention April 25-27, 2008 at Houston, TX. Click here to see the final ballot.

Awards round-up 4/10/08

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Kurt Andersen has won the 2007 David J. Langum Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction for his best-selling novel Heyday. Find this book in our catalog
Andersen is a columnist for New York magazine and host of Studio 360 on public radio.
Book Description:
In the middle of the nineteenth century, modern life is being born: the mind-boggling marvels of photography, the telegraph, and railroads; a flood of show business spectacles and newspapers; rampant sex and drugs and drink (and moral crusades against all three); Wall Street awash with money; and giddy utopian visions everywhere. Then, during a single amazing month at the beginning of 1848, history lurches: America wins its war of manifest destiny against Mexico, gold is discovered in northern California, and revolutions sweep across Europe–sending one eager English gentleman off on an epic transatlantic adventure. . . .Amid the tumult, aristocratic Benjamin Knowles impulsively abandons the Old World to reinvent himself in New York, where he finds himself embraced by three restless young Americans. Beckoned by the frontier, new beginnings, and the prospects of the California Gold Rush, all four set out on a transcontinental race west–relentlessly tracked, unbeknownst to them, by a cold-blooded killer bent on revenge.
Click here for more of the publisher’s description in our catalog.
The Czech novelist Arnost Lustig has been named the eighth winner of the Franz Kafka award for literature.
Previous winners include Harold Pinter, Philip Roth and Haruki Murakami.
Ian McEwan, J.K. Rowling, Khaled Hosseini and Francesca Simon took top honors at the Galaxy British Book awards.
McEwan’s On Chesil Beach Find this book in our catalog won the Reader’s Digest Author of the Year award. Rowling earned this year’s Outstanding Achievement honor, adding it to her collection of four previous Galaxy awards. Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns Find this book in our catalog earned the Richard & Judy Best Read of the Year, given by the hosts of a hugely popular TV show book group.