Archive for July, 2008

Rescuing Sprite A Dog Lover’s Story of Joy and Anguish by Mark R. Levin

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

The Abingdon book group recently read Rescuing Sprite by Mark R. Levin. As the title indicates, it is the story of a man who adopts a rescued dog. All of the group are or have been pet owners and this session provoked both sad and amusing stories of our own pets. However, only one person in the group liked this book and said she had used a lot of tissues as it is very sad. We thought it was poorly written, very unsophisticated, “written at a fourth grade level” was one comment, and the tone of the book was very self-pitying. We all felt terribly sorry for the dog, and for the writer who had lost his best friend. Many people have had to face this same situation and deal with their grief and may identify with the owner. For those people this may be a useful book to read.

We thought a more interesting and more entertaining read was the bestseller Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan. To be released as a movie in December 2008, starring Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, Alan Arkin, & Eric Dane. Also on a different note The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery(2006)is a delightful book about how a pig affects its family.

Mark R. Levin is a nationally syndicated talk radio host and president of Landmark Legal Foundation. He has also worked as an attorney in the private sector and as a top adviser and administrator to several members of President Reagan’s cabinet. The author of the New York Times bestselling book Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America, Mark holds a B.A. from Temple University and a J.D. from Temple University School of Law.


Monday, July 28th, 2008


Michael Pollan’s growing fame as a journalist of gardens, food, and other subjects central to the human experience is well deserved. He approaches his subjects with a mostly open mind, writes clearly and elegantly, and sees even the most horrific facts of life with a twist of wry humor.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is cleverly conceived and organized. The author has imagined four different types of dinners (mainstream supermarket, large-scale organic, sustainable agriculture, and hunting/foraging) and delved deeply into the sources, problems, and moral issues surrounding each meal. While on his journey he uncovered some eye-poppingly disturbing attributes of “factory” cattle lots, the corporate hijacking of corn (and its appearance in myriad altered states in all of our packaged foods and drinks), and the difficulties facing anybody trying to buck the system and produce food responsibly on a small scale.

But Pollan is not for everyone, as our July meeting revealed. The group divided up between two camps: those that couldn’t read the book at all and gave up quickly, and those who couldn’t put the book down and loved it. Pollan’s complex vocabulary and long sentences are not for everyone. The feeling of needing a dictionary for every sentence and the soporific effect of the sometimes rambling arguments was off-putting to some.

Those group members with more patience for nonfiction, however, were greatly affected by The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Several readers observed, only half-jokingly, that they were unlikely ever to buy meat from the supermarket again. The great machine of industrial food production is largely hidden from our view, and Americans have stopped worrying about the origins of what they eat. Yet the truth is disturbing: meat animals fed foods they are not designed to digest, the heavy use of antibiotics and other drugs on cattle and pigs designed to keep stressed animals going, the co-opting of the corn and soybean sectors by a handful of enormous yet private companies, and the food industry regulations designed to prevent anybody with a different idea about food from competing with the giants of food production.

Interestingly, those in the group who found the book riveting did not seem to absorb or notice the more optimistic parts of the book, those that talked of sustainable agriculture and the benefits of locally produced food. Perhaps the choice to avoid chain supermarkets is not open to everyone.

The upshot was that those who couldn’t finish The Omnivore’s Dilemma were eager to begin on August’s title, while those who enjoyed the book were pleased to learn that Pollan’s most recent book, In Defense of Food, contained more in the same vein.

Check the calendar of events for future titles to be discussed by the Norrisville book group.

Randy Pausch – In Memoriam

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Randy Pausch, a former Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist whose “last lecture” about facing terminal cancer became an Internet sensation and a best-selling book, died Friday, July 25. He was 47.

Our Technical services Manager drew my attention to this MSNBC article on Randy Pausch and how his “last lecture” came to be: it was originally a speech last fall, part of a lecture series Carnegie Mellon called “The Last Lecture,” where professors were asked to think about what matters to them most and give a hypothetical final talk. Pausch was actually diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer in September 2006. His lecture celebrated living the life he had always dreamed of instead of concentrating on impending death, and was viewed by millions on the Internet.
Harford County Public Library has copies of the book, the large print book, the audio book and the downloadable audio book. Find this book in our catalog

Thrillerfest – Thriller Awards Announced

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Early this month I wrote that the Third Annual Thrillerfest was due to meet in Manhatten July 9-12. This International Thriller Writers’ conference duly took place and featured stars such as Lee Child, Alafair Burke, Katherine Neville, Steve Berry, a host of others, and their fans.

2008 Thriller Award winners announced on July 12 were:
2008 ThrillerMaster: Sandra Brown
The Silver Bullet Award for contributions to the advancement of literacy was presented to both Macy’s and to David Baldacci.
Best Novel – The Ghost by Robert Harris Find this book in our catalog
Best First Novel – Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill Find this book in our catalog
Best Paperback Original – The Midnight Road by Tom Piccirilli Find this book in our catalog
Click here for the official Awards site

Awards round-up July 18

Friday, July 18th, 2008

Here is news of recent book awards that I have been gathering up over the last few days. Awards encourage excellence in all kinds of writing. Award books are often good choices for book discussion groups. These four awards cover a wide range of publishing, and should give you lots of reading suggestions to work on: Strand Magazine Critics Award (for mysteries and short stories); Best of the Booker (for literary fiction); Dylan Thomas Literary Prize (English language literature from around the world); Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction.

Strand Magazine awards – Winners of 2007 Strand Magazine Critics Award are Laura Lippman for best novel (What the Dead Know) and Marcus Sakey for best first mystery novel (The Blade Itself). The winners were announced at an invitation only cocktail party in Manhattan. Click here for the article in Strand Magazine. Strand is a magazine for mystery and short story lovers.

Best of the Bookers – Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children won the Best of the Booker award after being judged–through an online public vote that drew more than7,800 responses–to be the greatest book ever to win the Booker Prize. Click here for the Guardian newspaper article announcing the award. Best of Booker is a new award celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Bookers.

According to the BBC : “A long-list of 14 books being considered for the Dylan Thomas literary prize has been announced. The award is given to English language writers under 30, drawn from around the world.
The biennial £60,000 prize has become one of the largest literary awards, with the winner announced in November. The list includes authors from Dylan’s native south Wales, and the rest of UK, South Africa, Kenya, the US and Iran.

Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction – Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, “a detailed account of the famous murder, in 1860, of a three-year-old child of a respectable middle-class family,” won of the US$60,064 Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction, according to the Guardian. Judges said: “this is one of those great non-fiction books that uses the techniques of fiction to magnificent effect… On first reading, it is an absolute page-turner. Then, when you reread it, you realise how many levels it has, how much it tells you.” (see my earlier posting about this book). Click here for more info about the prize.

Beach Reads

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

On June 30th, Good Morning America and Parade Magazine released a list of beach reading. They recommended titles in fiction, mystery and general non-fiction. Their selections included:
Chasing Harry Winston Find this book in our catalog by Lauren Weisberger
How to be Single Find this book in our catalog by Liz Tuccillo
Love the One You’re With Find this book in our catalog by Emily Griffin
Netherland Find this book in our catalog by Joseph O’Neill
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle Find this book in our catalog by David Wroblewski
Palace Council Find this book in our catalog by Stephen L. Carter
Billionaire’s Vinegar Find this book in our catalog by Benjamin Wallace
Girls Like Us Find this book in our catalog by Sheila Weller
The Prince of Frog Town Find this book in our catalog by Rick Bragg

Anybody got another beach read to share? For further recommendations you might like to try ReadersPlace, which currently has a list of beach reads suggested by HCLP librarians.

Great airplane reading?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

On NPR’s Morning Edition on July 10, Nancy Pearl, celebrated reader’s advisor and inspiration for a famed librarian action-figure, addressed the dilemma of choosing a perfect airline carry-on book. Click here for more on the story.

Nancy said: “I’ve finally realized what makes a perfect carry-on book: You want a book — either fiction or nonfiction — that’s complex enough to smother your annoyance when the guy in the row ahead reclines his seat into your lap, but not so intellectually challenging that it demands a dictionary. No plotless wonders with paragraph-length sentences; you need to be able to put the book down when the person sitting by the window needs to step over you to get to the bathroom. Mostly you want something that’s intriguing enough to make you forget that you’re 34,000 feet in the air and, in your heart of hearts, you don’t really understand how the plane stays up.”

These are my choices of intriguing page-turners:

Tell me where it hurts : a day of humor, healing and hope in my life as an animal surgeon by Nick Trout. Find this book in our catalog.
An insider portrait of a veterinarian and his furry patients. This is humorous and touching, and intriguing because of the blend of old-fashioned instincts and cutting-edge technology.

The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman Find this book in our catalog.
Three women are drawn together in London for an impending marriage and by a tragic accident witnessed by one of them at age twelve. Lucy blames herself for the accident and spends four decades searching for the Third Angel – the angel on earth who will renew her faith. This draws you in by its strangeness and the sense of history repeating itself. It also has a ghost.

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander Find this book in our catalog.
Emily questions the role in Victorian society to which she, as a woman, is relegated. To escape her overbearing mother she accepts a loveless marriage, but when her dashing husband is killed on safari soon after their wedding she is intriqued to find evidence in his diaries of a life she knew little about. Her inquiries take her into the realm of stolen museum treasures and into danger where no-one is really what they seem. What’s intriguing about this is the mystery of the identity of the art thieves. The setting of Victorian Society is very detailed.

The Bride’s Kimono by Sujata Massey Find this book in our catalog.
I enjoy all of Sujata Massey’s mysteries – they will transport you with the cultural background of the protagonist, Rei Shimura, a young Japanese-American antiques dealer. This absorbing, romantic, and sexy murder mystery was particularly well-reviewed. Rei is commissioned to bring a parcel of valuable kimonos from Japan to Washington. One of the kimonos disappears, and Rei has to dicover its significance in an ancient Japanese love triangle, and also unmask a murderer.

The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber Find this book in our catalog.
This is a great page-turner that should make you forget everything else. Jake Mishkin, whose seemingly innocent job as an intellectual property lawyer has put him at the center of a deadly conspiracy and a chase to find a priceless treasure involving William Shakespeare. As he awaits a killer – or killers – unknown, Jake writes an account of the events that led to this deadly endgame, a frantic chase that began when a fire in an antiquarian bookstore revealed the hiding place of letters containing a shocking secret, concealed for four hundred years. In a frantic race from New York to England and Switzerland, Jake finds himself matching wits with a shadowy figure who seems to anticipate his every move. What at first seems like a thrilling puzzle waiting to be deciphered soon turns into a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, where no one is to be trusted.

What would your preferred airline reading be?

Jhumpa Lahiri adds Frank O’Connor Prize to her honor role of awards

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth Find this book in our catalog US$55,055 Frank O’Connor prize for a short story collection, according to the Guardian newspaper on July 5, 2008, which reported that the contest’s jurors chose to dispense with “the ritual of issuing a shortlist” because Lahiri’s work “was so plainly the best book.” Click here to find out about the Frank O’Connor award.

This is what it says about Unaccustomed Earth in our catalog: “From the internationally best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a new work of fiction: eight stories that take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand as they enter the lives of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers.” “In the title story, Ruma, a young mother in a new city, is visited by her father, who carefully tends the earth of her garden, where he and his grandson form a special bond. But he’s harboring a secret from his daughter, a love affair he’s keeping all to himself. In “A Choice of Accommodations,” a husband’s attempt to turn an old friend’s wedding into a romantic getaway weekend with his wife takes a dark, revealing turn as the party lasts deep into the night. In “Only Goodness,” a sister eager to give her younger brother the perfect childhood she never had is overwhelmed by guilt, anguish, and anger when his alcoholism threatens her family. And in “Hema and Kaushik,” a trio of linked stories – a luminous, intensely compelling elegy of life, death, love, and fate – we follow the lives of a girl and boy who, one winter, share a house in Massachusetts. They travel from innocence to experience on separate, sometimes painful paths, until destiny brings them together again years later in Rome.”

Norrisville Book Discussion Group June – Half Broken Things

Monday, July 7th, 2008


Norrisville’s Book Discussion Group agreed that Scottish author Morag has crafted a fascinating book. This Silver Dagger Award winner is inhabited by three fascinating, flawed, damaged human beings who somehow manage to find each other and create a gruesome caricature of a close-knit family. Jean is a sixty-something-year-old house sitter. She has no friends, no family, nothing to anchor her—and now her agency has written her a letter informing her that her services are no longer needed after she completes her current nine-month assignment taking care of an elaborate mansion in a small rural town. Given the circumstances, she finds it impossible to resist taking on the persona of lady of the manor. Yet she still dreams of a non-existent family, centering around an imaginary long-lost son who will come and save here from her bleak future. Amazingly, the “son” shows up, another loser barely surviving on the meager spoils of various robberies and looking for a safe haven. With him is a young pregnant woman, another lost soul whom life has treated poorly. They immediately take to each other out of common yearning, and go farther and farther out on the limb of fantasy to keep their tiny bubble of safety intact.

According to the group, Morag’s real triumph involves seducing the reader into feeling sympathy for these lost souls, only to pull back in revulsion at their delusional amorality. Are these characters to be pitied or abandoned by the reader? Do they deserve a measure of happiness, or are they too warped to deserve anything other than jail time or worse?

For the most part, Morag makes clever use of the various characters points of view. However, her switching from third to first person in following Jean had most of the group confused at the beginning and almost despairing of catching onto the story. Fortunately, the group hung in there, and Morag’s slow but steady building of the story ultimately caught the group in her storytelling web.
Half Broken Things does not have a happy ending. Yet its characters and plot are so interesting that it’s worth reading anyway.

Submitted by Alan Zuckerman, the Norrisville group discussion moderator. Please call 410-692-7850 for information about future group meetings.

3rd Annual Thrillerfest July 9-12

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Thrillerfest takes place in New York City this year from July 9-12. At the 2004 Bouchercon World Mystery and Suspense Conference in Toronto a group of thriller authors got together to establish a new organization to celebrate and promote specifically thrillers. International Thriller Writers, Inc. (ITW) was founded to award literary prizes and promote connections in the thriller-writing world. Thrillerfest this July will be their 3rd annual convention. See for more info.

See also My Next Good Book for a list of Staff Picks – Favorite thrillers.