Archive for November, 2008

Awards round-up for late November

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Borders Original Voices Awards
The nominees for the 2008 Borders Original Voices Awards, which
recognize “fresh, compelling and ambitious works from the new and
emerging talents,” have been selected by the bookseller’s corporate and
store employees. A committee of corporate staff members will select the
winners in each of the four categories. Here are the nominees in the adult cataegories:
* Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles
* The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
* The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
* The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
* The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes
* The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
* The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the
Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler by
Thomas Hager
* The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese food by Jennifer 8 Lee
* The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in
the World by Eric Weiner
* The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by
Helene Cooper
* The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a
Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale
* We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken
Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives Forever by
Benjamin Mee

2008 Costa Book Awards Shortlist announced. The Costas are UK awards which “recognise some of the most enjoyable books in five categories – First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book – published in the last year by writers based in the UK and Ireland.” The overall winner of the Costa Book of the Year will be announced on January 27th.

Winners of the 2008 World Fantasy Awards were announced at the World Fantasy Convention in Calgary, Alberta:
* Novel: Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
* Novella: Illyria by Elizabeth Hand
* Short Story: “Singing of Mount Abora” by Theodora Goss
* Anthology: Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural edited by Ellen Datlow
* Collection: Tiny Deaths by Robert Shearman
* Life Achievement: Leo and Diane Dillon and Patricia McKillip

2009 International Impac Dublin Literary Award Longlist announced. The award is the most valuable annual literary prize for a single work of fiction published in English in the world.

Dylan Thomas Book Prize is won by The Boat. Vietnamese-Australian writer Nam Le is the second winner of the biannual Dylan Thomas Book Prize, which is awarded to a writer under 30 and working in English. The prize was established by the University of Wales in 2004.

Glen Dimplex New Writers Award. The awards recognize writers who have been published in Ireland and Britain for the first time in the past year. Sally Nicholls won with Ways to Live Forever. HCPL has copies in the Middle School Fiction section.

George Carlin presented posthumously with Mark Twain Prize for American Humour at the Kennedy Center.

Standing in the Rainbow by Fannie Flagg discussed at Joppa book group

Monday, November 24th, 2008

The Joppa Book Discussion Group met on November 20 to discuss Fannie Flagg’s book, Standing in the Rainbow. There were 8 attendees.

Everyone seemed to enjoy this book. Some had read it before. When asked what they would like to discuss about the book, most participants responded they would like to talk about the book’s depiction of how things used to be in the years after World War II: things were far simpler, safer, people were much friendlier to strangers, and life was slower. Book group members shared stories that they remembered from those times or had happened to their families. One person talked about the milkman delivering milk when she was young in the 60′s and placing it in the refrigerator when her family wasn’t home. Another talked about her family’s German shepherd dog meeting the milkman at his first stop in her town and riding with the milkman to each stop, getting off the truck and then getting back on and riding to the next stop. The German shepherd would get off the truck when it reached the last stop which was their house. The milkman said that he was the best paid milkman, because people were afraid of the dog! Participants felt the book was very believable and indicative of the time period it covered.

This is the synopsis of the book in our catalog:
“Good news! Fannie’s back in town–and the town is among the leading characters in her new novel. Along with Neighbor Dorothy, the lady with the smile in her voice, whose daily radio broadcasts keep us delightfully informed on all the local news, we also meet Bobby, her ten-year-old son, destined to live a thousand lives, most of them in his imagination; Norma and Macky Warren and their ninety-eight-year-old Aunt Elner; the oddly sexy and charismatic Hamm Sparks, who starts off in life as a tractor salesman and ends up selling himself to the whole state and almost the entire country; and the two women who love him as differently as night and day. Then there is Tot Whooten, the beautician whose luck is as bad as her hairdressing skills; Beatrice Woods, the Little Blind Songbird; Cecil Figgs, the Funeral King; and the fabulous Minnie Oatman, lead vocalist of the Oatman Family Gospel Singers. The time is 1946 until the present. The town is Elmwood Springs, Missouri, right in the middle of the country, in the midst of the mostly joyous transition from war to peace, aiming toward a dizzyingly bright future. Once again, Fannie Flagg gives us a story of richly human characters, the saving graces of the once-maligned middle classes and small-town life, and the daily contest between laughter and tears. Fannie truly writes from the heartland, and her storytelling is, to quote Time, “utterly irresistible.” From the Hardcover edition.” Find this book in our catalog

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Friday, November 21st, 2008

For November the Abingdon Book Group read this charming novel about a lady detective living in Gaborone, Botswana. Unlike many other mysteries, Mma Ramotswe solves a number of small mysteries rather than focusing on one larger one. Except for the matter of a lost boy, the mysteries tend to be rather tame. This is not a blood & guts book, but rather a gentle delving into the lives of various chracters living in her area. McCall Smith’s descriptions of Africa are wonderful & his love of the country shines through. Despite its gentle nature, the novel faces up to the hardships of workers in the diamond mines, the problems with droughts, & the abuse of women by their husbands. The Abingdon Group shared rooibos tea to get into the spirit of the book. This is Mma Ramotswe’s favorite drink & seems to be common throughout Africa. If you want to try some, many supermarkets now sell it & it is available with added flavors such as vanilla. The tea comes from a rooibos or Red Bush plant grown in South Africa & has many claims to health giving properties. This site has more information.

If you like this novel, this is the first in a series and there are many others to try. See the author’s website at

Here are some Discussion Questions for other Book Groups & Readers.

1. Unlike in most other mysteries, in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Mma Ramotswe solves a number of small crimes, rather than a single major one. How does this affect the narrative pacing of the novel? What other unique features distinguish The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency from the conventional mystery novel?

2. What makes Precious Ramotswe such a charming protagonist? What kind of woman is she? How is she different from the usual detective? Why does she feel “called” to help her fellow Africans “solve the mysteries of their lives” [p. 4]?

3. What is surprising about the nature of the cases Mma Ramotswe is hired to solve? By what means does Alexander McCall Smith sustain the reader’s interest, in the absence of the kind of tension, violence, and suspense that drive most mysteries?

4. Mma Ramotswe’s first client, Happy Bapetsi, is worried that the man who claims to be her father is a fraud taking advantage of her generosity. “All he does,” she says, “is sit in his chair outside the front door and tell me what to do for him next.” To which Mma Ramotswe replies, “Many men are like that” [p. 10]. What is Mma Ramotswe’s view of men generally? How do men behave in the novel?

5. Why does Mma Ramotswe feel it is so important to include her father’s life story in the novel? What does Obed Ramotswe’s life reveal about the history of Africa and of South Africa? What does it reveal about the nature and cost of working in the mines in South Africa? 6. Mma Ramotswe purchases a manual on how to be a detective. It advises one to pay attention to hunches. “Hunches are another form of knowledge” [p. 79]. How does intuition help Mma Ramotswe solve her cases?

7. When Mma Ramotswe decides to start a detective agency, a lawyer tells her “It’s easy to lose money in business, especially when you don’t know anything about what you’re doing. . . . And anyway, can women be detectives?” To which Mma Ramotswe answers, “Women are the ones who know what’s going on. They are the ones with eyes. Have you not read Agatha Christie?” [p. 61]. Is she right in suggesting women are more perceptive than men? Where in the novel do we see Mma Ramotswe’s own extraordinary powers of observation? How does she comically undercut the lawyer’s arrogance in this scene?

8. As Mma Ramotswe wonders if Mma Malatsi was somehow involved in her husband’s death and whether wanting someone dead made one a murderer in God’s eyes, she thinks to herself: “It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin” [p. 85]. What philosophy of life is Mma Ramotswe articulating here? Why do the ongoing daily events of life give her this sense of peace and stability?

9. Why does Mma Ramotswe marry Note? Why does this act seem so out of character for her? In what ways does her love for an attractive and physically abusive man make her a deeper and more complicated character? How does her marriage to Note change her?

10. Mma Ramotswe imagines retiring back in Mochudi, buying some land with her cousins, growing melons, and living life in such a way that “every morning she could sit in front of her house and sniff at the wood-smoke and look forward to spending the day talking with her friends. How sorry she felt for white people, who couldn’t do any of this, and who were always dashing around and worrying themselves over things that were going to happen anyway. What use was it having all that money if you could never sit still or just watch your cattle eating grass? None, in her view; none at all” [p. 162]. Is Mma Ramotswe’s critique of white people on the mark or is she stereotyping? What makes her sense of what is important, and what brings happiness, so refreshing? What other differences between black and white cultures does the novel make apparent?

11. Mma Ramotswe does not want Africa to change, to become thoroughly modern: “She did not want her people to become like everybody else, soulless, selfish, forgetful of what it means to be an African, or, worse still, ashamed of Africa” [p. 215]. But what aspects of traditional African culture trouble her? How does she regard the traditional African attitude toward women, marriage, family duty, and witchcraft? Is there a contradiction in her relationship to “old” Africa?

12. How surprising is Mme Ramotswe’s response to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s marriage proposal? How appropriate is the ending of the novel?

13. Alexander McCall Smith has both taught and written about criminal law. In what ways does in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency draw upon this knowledge? How are lawyers and the police characterized in the novel?

14. Is in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency a feminist novel? Does the fact that its author is a man complicate such a reading? How well does Alexander McCall Smith represent a woman’s character and consciousness in Mma Ramotswe?

15. Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe books have been praised for their combination of apparent simplicity with a high degree of sophistication. In what ways does in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency have the appeal of simple storytelling? In what ways is it sophisticated? What does it suggest about the larger issues of how to live one’s life, how to behave in society, how to be happy?

Penguin Books builds Afghan school as tribute to Khaled Hosseini’s supporters

Friday, November 21st, 2008

I thought the hundreds of people who have borrowed a copy of The Kite Runner (Find this book in our catalog)or A Thousand Splendid Suns (Find this book in our catalog)from the Harford County Public Library, or the scores of readers who have chosen to discuss these books in their book clubs, would be interested and moved to hear that Penguin Books has recently built and opened a school in Afghanistan. made the announcement on their blog on November 19.

This is what the announcement said in part: “New York, New York, November 19, 2008 . . . Penguin Group (USA), a member of the Penguin Group, one of the world’s largest English-language consumer trade book publishers, is proud to announce that it has built a primary school in Afghanistan, in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the United States Association for UNHCR. The school is located in Arababshirali, roughly 150 miles from Kabul, in Kunduz Province. The school, which recently opened its doors to 270 students, grades one through six, is a tribute to American booksellers, librarians, and educators who supported Khaled Hosseini’s #1 New York Times-bestselling and internationally acclaimed novels, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, published by Riverhead Books, an award-winning and critically acclaimed imprint of Penguin Group (USA).”

National Book Awards – Winners

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Last Night the National Book Awards were presented in a fabulous ceremony on Wall Street in New York. Click here for details of the winners and interviews with winners and nominees.

Winners for 2008 available at Harford County Public Library are as follows:
Fiction – Peter Matthiessen for Shadow Country: a New Rendering of the Watson Legend. Find this book in our catalog.
Nonfiction – Annette Gordon-Reed for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. Find this book in our catalog.
Poetry – Mark Doty for Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems. Find this book in our catalog.
Young People’s Literature – Judy Blundell for What I Saw and How I Lied. Find this book in our catalog.

What Should Maryland Read in 2009?

Friday, November 14th, 2008

What Should Maryland Read in 2009?

One Maryland One Book 2008 was a smashing success! People were reading and talking about A Hope in the Unseen from Worcester to Allegany, St. Mary’s to Cecil. (If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, we encourage you to pick up a copy!) Now, MHC is moving into the selection process for One Maryland One Book 2009 and we want your suggestions! We’re looking for a book that’s:

  • engaging and has general appeal
  • not too lengthy
  • of interest to both high school students and adults
  • and able to stimulate discussion on race, identity, civil rights or multicultural experiences in Maryland and America.

Send your suggestions to Andrea Lewis by Wednesday, November 12, 2008.

I received the above press release today from the Maryland Humanities Council (MHC). MHC promotes humanities programming throughout Maryland, encouraging dialogue that explores human values, strengthens our community, and connects us to the wider world.

Slumdog Millionaire – book to movie

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

The movie Slumdog Millionaire, the story of how impoverished Indian teen Jamal Malik became a contestant on the Hindi version of “Who Wants to be A Millionaire?” opened in select cities yesterday, November 12. It’s based on the novel Q and A by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup. Find this book in our catalog.

Book Summary in our catalog:

“Vikas Swarup’s spectacular debut novel opens in a jail cell in Mumbai, India, where Ram Mohammad Thomas is being held after correctly answering all twelve questions on India’s biggest quiz show, Who Will Win a Billion? It is hard to believe that a poor orphan who has never read a newspaper or gone to school could win such a contest. But through a series of exhilarating tales Ram explains to his lawyer how episodes in his life gave him the answer to each question.Ram takes us on an amazing review of his own history-from the day he was found as a baby in the clothes donation box of a Delhi church to his employment by a faded Bollywood star to his adventure with a security-crazed Australian army colonel to his career as an overly creative tour guide at the Taj Mahal.Swarup’s Q and A is a beguiling blend of high comedy, drama, and romance that reveals how we know what we know-not just about trivia, but about life itself. Cutting across humanity in all its squalor and glory, Vikas Swarup presents a kaleidoscopic vision of the struggle between good and evil-and what happens when one boy has no other choice in life but to survive. Book jacket.”

Awards Round-Up November 2008

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

The Edgar Allen Poe Society and Poe House honored
On Wednesday, November 12, The Mystery Writers of America honored Baltimore’s The Edgar Allen Poe Society and the Poe House. Click here for the press release. The two organizations won the Raven Awards, which will be presented at the Edgar Awards banquet on April 30 in New York City. In a statement, MWA president Harlan Coben called the choices appropriate because “not only does 2009 mark the anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s 200th birthday, but Mystery Writers of America has long-considered Poe a patron saint.” The Raven Award is named after Poe’s famous poem and “is bestowed by MWA’s Board of Directors for outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. “

National Outdoors Books Award
The winners of the 2008 National Outdoor Book Awards, honoring the best in outdoor writing and publishing, have been announced and can be found here.

Books for a Better Life Finalists
To see the finalists for the 2009 Books for a Better Life Awards, sponsored by the New York City Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, click here. Winners will be announced February 23 in New York City.

The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington by Jennet Conant

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Most people will probably know of Roald Dahl as the author of the phenomenally popular children’s books, James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As well as other children’s novels, he wrote also best-selling short stories, two autobiographies, many magazine articles, and pro-British propganda during WWII.

Dahl was a young RAF pilot who suffered serious injuries to his head and spine in a ‘plane crash. He recovered partly, but since he continued to suffer blinding headaches and could not fly, in 1942 he was assigned to the British Embassy in Washington as an Assistant Air Attache. Dahl was incensed to be sent to a job that he felt was a side-line position and proceded to parlay it into something more. He set about using his good looks, wit, and considerable charm to gain access to the most powerful figures in American political life. He started to freelance as an intelligence gatherer and pass on tidbits of gossip he heard in the salons of Washington to William Stephenson, Churchill’s chief spy in the U.S. Stephenson’s British Security Coordination, with headquarters in New York City, was the preeminent intelligence agency in North America, even over some US agencies. It was a perennial thorn in the side of Herbert Hoover and the FBI.

The jacket notes call this book “an extraordinary tale of deceit, double-dealing, and moral ambiguity – all in the name of victory.” Stephenson was running a dirty tricks, propoganda, and counter-intelligence operation to try to combat isolationists in America who would prevent America entering the War. Spying on your allies on the allies’ own turf is unconscienable, and Stephenson would probably have been shut down but for the support he had from some powerful American political figures. One criticism I have of this book is that it does not make all of the relationships clear. Everything is very murky, though these were murky times.

The author does a stellar job of portraying the times. She describes many of the Washington hostesses, politicians, tycoons, and journalists with many of their idiosyncrasies. If you like society insider news and gossip you will like this book and will likely recognize many big names of the forties.

Roald Dahl quickly ingratiated himself in society and became many hostesses’ choice to round out the numbers at table. He was outspoken and immoderate, however and also quickly stepped over an invisible diplomatic line with the Ambassador and the Air Chief Marshall. He was sent home in disgrace, but was rapidly reinstated after he persuaded the BSC to take him on officially. He continued to be an air attache in Washington, this time with a promotion, but now he was covertly working alongside actors, writers, and playboys, such as Ian Fleming, Noel Coward, and Leslie Howard, to plant gossip to influence American politics and to gather intelligence on what America thought about the War and post-war economics.

These were the times that Ian Fleming drew on in his creation of James Bond. The co-conspirators called themselves “The Baker Street Irregulars,” after the band of urchins who gathered intelligence for Sherlock Holmes in the stories of Conan Doyle. They were playing a game, with potentially very serious outcomes. Dahl became a lover to Clare Boothe Luce, the congresswoman, a friend to Eleanor Roosevelt, and like a son to Drew Pearson, the columnist and to Charles Marsh the newspaper tycoon. I’m not sure, however that Jennet Conant ever is able to show a concrete outcome for the British from all these relationships. Perhaps it was all smoke and mirrors? I am sure you will have fun reading the book to find out for yourself! Find this book in our catalog.

Other similar books you might like:
In Secret Service by Mitch Silver. Find this book in our catalog. This is a novel about how Amy Greenberg, an American who is summoned to Ireland to claim an inheritance. It turns out to be a manuscript written by Ian Fleming about his covert work before and during the War, involving the abdication of Edward VIII and his marriage to Wallis Warfield Simpson.
Roosevelt’s secret war : FDR and World War II espionage by Joseph E. Persico. Find this book in our cataolg.
Roosevelt and Churchill : men of secrets by David Stafford. Find this book in our catalog.

In Memoriam Michael Crichton

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Michael Crichton, author of many bestselling novels, including Jurassic
Park and The Andromeda Strain, died Tuesday. He was 66.

Cricton’s best known works, which often saw the misuse of cutting edge science create doomsday scenarios, include Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain.

According to Novelist, Crichton is known for, “high-concept thrillers that successfully combine the speculative imagination and technological detail of science fiction with the irresistible plotting and pathos of suspense.” If you like books like these you will enjoy:

The Grid by Philip Kerr Find this book in our catalog
Neanderthal by John Darnton Find this book in our catalog
Blood Music by Greg Bear Find this book in our catalog
Amazonia by James Rollins Find this book in our catalog
Meg by Steve Alten Find this book in our catalog