Archive for October, 2008

Loving Frank: a Novel by Nancy Horan

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Find this book in our catalog.

Last month my book club got together to discuss this novel based on a little-known period in the life of Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect of the Prairie Style. Loving Frank is written from the point of view of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, who with her husband really did become a client of Frank’s in Chicago in 1903. The two families became friends, but Frank and Mamah were increasingly attracted to each other, having in common their love of art and nature. In 1907 they succumbed to their passion and began an affair that ended only with Mamah’s horrific murder at their home, the renowned Frank Lloyd Wright house, Taliesin. Frank built the house for Mamah. Though scholars pay little attention to the period of their affair, Nancy Horan maintains that Mamah influenced Frank’s work considerably. As the book notes say, “In this groundbreaking historical novel, fact and fiction blend together. While scholars have largely relegated Mamah to a footnote in the life of America’s greatest architect, author Nancy Horan gives full weight to their dramatic love story and illuminates Cheney’s profound influence on Wright.”
As do many other aspects of the book, the degree to which Frank was influenced by the opinions of any other person was the subject of some very in-depth discussion at our book club. We all agreed this book is an ideal title for a book club because it contains so much to talk about! Horan shows Frank’s personalty to be self-absorbed, opinionated, and vain and we had a lot to say on the subject.
Several of my friends were deeply moved by the idea that Frank had found the love of his life. Both parties were hounded by the Chicago press for leaving their families and both felt the loss of their children most keenly, but felt they had a sort of artistic obligation to abandon their marriages if there was no love in them. The book is very interesting in its description of early 20th century ideas on free love and feminism and also about the conventional place of middle class women of the time. We were able to talk a lot about these ideas. We discussed to what extent in the book Mamah and Frank lived their ideals and to what extent they followed their own selfish wills.
The book is also full of absorbing details about art, architecture, styles, and culture between 1900 and 1914. Conversations, letters and diary entries reveal Frank Lloyd Wright’s aesthic ideals, as well as Mamah’s inmost thoughts and aspirations.
It was a time of great social and artistic upheaval, which we felt was exhaustively researched by the author; for instance, she found forgotten letters from the real Mamah Borthwick to her mentor, Swedish philosopher and feminist Ellen Key, which cast a light on Mamah’s struggle to find her own identity. The book’s narrative, as it says in the book notes, “Portray[s] the conflicts and struggles of a woman forced to choose between the roles of mother, wife, lover, and intellectual. Horan’s Mamah is a woman seeking to find her own place, her own creative calling in the world, and her unforgettable journey, marked by choices that reshape her notions of love and responsibility…” You will decide for yourself whether or not Mamah was successful in finding her own place in the world.

Awards Round-Up late October – National Best Books; Margaret Atwood accepts Prince of Aturias Prize

Friday, October 31st, 2008

USA Book News Names Best Books 2008 Winners
More than 500 winners were named for the National Best Books Awards, sponsored by the online magazine and review Web site.
A complete list of the winners and finalists of the National “Best Books” 2008 Awards are available online at

Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature
Margaret Atwood was awarded Spain’s prestigious prize for literature, named after Crown Prince Felipe, on Friday, October 24 in Oviedo.

Click here to read what the Award foundation has to say (in English) about Atwood’s achievements.

Atwood’s latest nonfiction book, Payback:Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (Find this book in our catalog) has hit the bookstores and libraries just in time for the worst world economic crisis since the Great Depression. This is what the summary in our catalog has to say about the book: “In Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, literary legend Margaret Atwood delivers a surprising look at the topic of debt – a timely subject during our current period of economic upheaval, caused by the collapse of a system of interlocking debts. In her wide-ranging, entertaining, and imaginative approach to the subject, Atwood proposes that debt is like air – something we take for granted until things go wrong.”–BOOK JACKET.

Books like the mysteries of Tony Hillerman, RIP

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

The New York Times Reported on Monday, October 27, 2008 that Tony Hillerman died Sunday at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque. He was 83. Click here for the article.

Tony Hillerman became a best-selling author with his series of mysteries set in the Southwest and featuring two protagonists in the Navajo tribal Police, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. He wrote with the avowed purpose of instilling in his readers a respect for Native American culture. “It’s always troubled me that the American people are so ignorant of these rich Indian cultures,” Mr. Hillerman once told Publishers Weekly. “I think it’s important to show that aspects of ancient Indian ways are still very much alive and are highly germane even to our ways.”

I believe I have read most of his mysteries and I revelled in the depth of cultural details revealed. Most stories revolve around the conflict the protagonists feel between the modern world and their personal need to retain contact with their roots. Usually the mystery is solved by applying ancient and also common-sense wisdom, though the mysteries are satisfyingly complex, multilayered, and involve very modern crimes.

The books are humorous and wry in places because Hillerman brought great human insight to his books. In the short space of a mystery novel he managed to draw believable and engaging protagonists, and also believable bad men.

Everyone’s actions are driven by the social, cultural, and economic situations on the contemporary reservation, which is described very vividly, as is the stark and beautiful scenery of the area, which inevitably plays a great part in the plots.

You can find Hillerman’s books in our catalog. If you would like similar books by other authors, you could check out Novelist, a book recommendation website provided by the library and found on Readers Place.

Some similar books are:

The Three Sisters by James D. Doss Find this book in our catalog
Turquois Girl: an Ella Chah Novel by Aimee and David Thurlo Find this book in our catalog
Spirit Sickness by Kirk Mitchell Find this book in our catalog

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Laurel Gray Hamilton’s life begins to unravel when the ghost of her daughter’s best friend visits her. Needing help, she turns to her tempestuous older sister, Thalia. The two are polar opposites as far as their lifestyles and temperaments and they clash head on. Laurel is a mild suburban wife with a rather distracted husband. They live in a community of manicured lawns and apparent perfection. Thalia and her gay husband run a small theater. Thalia despises her sister’s life and Laurel does not understand Thalia’s. Yet they share a love of Laurel’s daughter, Shelby, and each in their way strives to protect her. Bet, Shelby’s visiting pen pal from DeLop plays a pivotal role.

The author says the central theme of her book concerns poverty, but the poverty is not just literal, it is the poverty of relationships that are not honest, and the poverty of living a blinkered life. There are also many secrets being harbored, in the family, in the neighborhood, and what is on the surface is not always the same as what lies beneath. Location is also important. Victorianna, where Laurel lives is supposedly a middle class paradise, DeLop, a dirt poor collection of run down houses next to an abandoned mine, reflects literal poverty and is the place that Laurel & Thalia’s mother escaped from when she married their father. Ghosts also play a role, Molly, the drowned girl, and Uncle Marty who was shot. Are the ghosts real or imagined? You decide.

The Abingdon Library book group read this novel for October. It prompted a lot of discussion. It was interesting and raised many issues. Secrets, ghosts, how we dispense charity, relationships, honesty, how we approach life.

For book groups and interested readers, there is a very good blog of discussion questions written by a teacher called Mary Zorro. See her blog at

Jackson wrote a previous novel called Gods in Alabama and prior to that, Between, Georgia. Both books were No. 1 Booksense Picks and made her the first author to win this accolade with back to back titles. She currently lives with her family outside Atlanta. For more about the author and her books go to her website at

In Secret Service by Mitch Silver

Monday, October 20th, 2008

One of our library customers sent me this book review of In Secret Service by Mitch Silver. Find this book in our catalog.

“Mitch Silver has written a captivating thrilling novel of at his first attempt in this competitive genre. I found it hard to put down. Silver’s approach was one that I have not seen before and made easy reading of a complex plot that spans the period from 1936 to the present.
The cast of characters includes many well known people from both sides of the Atlantic. A few examples are: Winston Churchill, Ian Fleming, Hitler, Rudolf Hess, Anthony Blunt (a notorious Russian mole in the British Secret Service), Princess Diana, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Mrs. Simpson from Baltimore) Errol Flynn, FDR as well as many other well known personalities.
The story links Ian Fleming’s historical intrigues of James Bond and crafts them into a modern day mystery in which the heroine, Amy Greenberg a lecturer in the Arts faculty at Yale, inherits a manuscript of Ian Fleming’s confidential memoirs that leads her unwittingly into the world of intrigue, treason and mortal danger.
It is sometimes difficult to distinguish fact from fiction; however, the author provides clarification in a note at the end of the book.
If you enjoy spy thrillers you must not miss this one!
I think that this novel should be particularly appealing to book clubs. Silver’s unique style and the way he has linked an historical myth with a contemporary spy thriller mystery should provide a recipe for some lively and interesting debate.” Submitted by Mike Pratt
Anyone can send me a book review by clicking on “Feedback” on our Home page. You can also share your reading by going to Readers Place and creating for yourself a My Next Good Book account.

Anthony and other Mystery Awards at Bouchercon in Charm City

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

This year’s American Guest of Honor at Bouchercon 2008 in Charm City this October 9-12 was Baltimore’s own Laura Lippman. She was also was a triple award winner: her What the Dead Know won the Barry, MacCavity, and Anthony Awards for Best Mystery Novel. Find this book in our catalog.

Other winners at the conference included Irish author Tana French, whose In the Woods won the Barry, Macavity, and Anthony Awards for Best First Novel. Find this book in our catalog.

Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover which won the Private Eye Writers of America 2008 Shamus Award for Best First Novel.

Reed Farrell Coleman’s Soul Patch, took the Shamus for Best Hardcover. Find this book in our catalog.

Nominees for National Book Awards announced

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

The nominees for the National Book Award were announced October 15. The National Book Awards are given each year by the National Book Foundation. Click here for more info.

Here are the lists of nominees for books for adults:

The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon
Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner
Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen
Home by Marilynne Robinson
The End by Salvatore Scibona

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust
The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed
The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer
Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives by Jim Sheeler
The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order by Joan Wickersham

Watching the Spring Festival by Frank Bidart
Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems by Mark Doty
Creatures of a Day by Reginald Gibbons
Without Saying by Richard Howard
Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith

National Book Award Week starts November 17

Books to Movies October

Friday, October 10th, 2008

New movies based on books:

The Duchess. Based on the biography, Georgiana: the Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman Find this book in our catalog
From the Summary in our catalog: “…this wonderfully readable biography offers a rich, rollicking picture of late-eighteenth-century British aristocracy and the intimate story of a woman who for a time was its undisputed leader. Lady Georgiana Spencer was the great-great-great-great-aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales, and was nearly as famous in her day. In 1774, at the age of seventeen, Georgiana achieved immediate celebrity by marrying one of England’s richest and most influential aristocrats, the Duke of Devonshire. Launched into a world of wealth and power, she quickly became the queen of fashionable society, adored by the Prince of Wales, a dear friend of Marie-Antoinette, and leader of the most important salon of her time. Not content with the role of society hostess, she used her connections to enter politics, eventually becoming more influential than most of the men who held office. Her good works and social exploits made her loved by the multitudes, but Georgiana’s public success, like Diana’s, concealed a personal life that was fraught with suffering…”

Blindness. Based on Blindness by Jose Saramago. Find this book in our catalog.
From the Summary in our catalog: “A city is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” which spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and raping women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides seven strangers-among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears-through the barren streets, and the procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing.”

Choke. Based on Choke by Chuck Pahahniuk. Find this book in our catalog.
From the Summary in our catalog: “”Fight Club” established Palahniuk as a brilliant satirist of deranged times. Victor Mancini, the protagonist of his new novel”Choke, ” needs to pay for elder care for his mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. An antihero for millennial America, Victor finds that his whole existence is a struggle to wrest an identity from overwhelming forces. Copyright #169; Libri GmbH. All rights reserved.”

Body of Lies. Based on Body of Lies by David Ignatius. Find this book in our catalog.
A CIA agent tracks a terrorist in Jordan under the direction of an arrogant U.S. government official.

October is National Reading Group Month

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Celebrate National Reading Group Month (NRGM) throughout the month of October! An initiative of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA), NRGM promotes the joys of shared reading, strengthens the community of the book, and promotes a more literate, engaged community.

Book Group Buzz, a Booklist Online blog, is the official partner blog for NRGM. You can find a link to Book Group Buzz in the right sidebar of this blog. According to Book Group Buzz, their contributors, “Offer informative, wise, witty, and salutary posts, as well as links to a wide range of free book group-related guides, tips and other resources.”

Random House Reader’s Circle is also celebrating National Reading Group Month with a special month-long event: Book Club Fest. During the month there will be podcasts of author interviews, sweepstakes, recipes, newsletter sign-ups, and much more.

Look up our ReadersPlace for a list of good books for book groups.

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein

Monday, October 6th, 2008

Available as a book or audio CD. 2007.

And now for something completely different – no not Monty Python, but a small quirky book that teaches philosophy through jokes. The authors of Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, call Groucho Marx their philosophical grandfather and use jokes to illustrate the vagaries of philosophical thought.

One of the wonderful things about being a librarian is the chance to come across material you might never have looked for or even noticed on the shelves, but somehow it comes into your hands and suddenly you are reading something you didn’t expect to read. I took this home for my husband who read it twice he enjoyed it so much, and who recommended it to friends. Then I read it. It is a long time since either of us studied philosophy, and this was a great refresher. It is not difficult to read, the jokes are funny and truly act as illustrations of the topics. If you can’t remember what Kant or Sartre or Descartes said, why Sherlock Holmes never used deduction, or what Platonic Virtue is, here is your chance to find out. If you want something to tease your brain and give you a laugh at the same time, give this book a try.

The authors majored in philosophy at Harvard, pursued their careers, appeared on NPR’s Weekend Edition, and their book became a New York Times Bestseller.

They also wrote Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington, taking world leaders and politicians to task while deconstructing their quotes.