Archive for May, 2009

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

In a series of short stories, Jhumpa Lahiri explores what it is like to be a well educated, reasonably prosperous and successful American of Asian Indian extraction in a land that is of one’s birth and yet a foreign land notwithstanding. The characters of the stories seem always to be searching, restless in their struggle to find an identity, a place, a sense of belonging that grows both from the land around them and from what remains inside themselves. Alienation prevails or is overcome as the young men and women of these stories struggle to find their place in family, land, and nationality, in short, in unaccustomed earth.

Submitted by D. L Sebly, staff

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon (Find this book in our catalog)
If you like adventure stories, with a quest or a road trip, you will love this, especially if you have fond memories of reading classic boys adventures like The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle. This book reads like a pastiche of those old stories, using some of their merry and hearty language, and yet this book is way more!

Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay came from a passion for classic comic books. This time the breathless action, the raucus humor, the cliff-hanging suspense, and the colorful characters are said by the publisher to owe their inspiration to sources such as The Arabian Nights and the works of Alexandre Dumas. I was also reminded of the movie “The Princess Bride.”

Pale, black-clad Zelikman ben Solomon of Regensburg is a moody, itinerant physician who has paired up with Amram, a huge, grey-haired, black-skinned ex-soldier with a battle axe. Rootless, with interesting and unspoken pasts, they make their way through the Caucasus Mountains in 950 A. D., living from hand-to-mouth as blades for hire or as con artists. They are forced by circumstances into becoming escorts and bodyguards to a young prince of the Khazar Empire whose entire family was murdered and who is traveling home to recover his rightful throne. On the way they encounter many dangers from robbers, mercenary armies, and evil emperors. There is much spitting on swords and beheading, of good guys and bad. As well as, writes Michael Chabon, “Jews with swords,” there are intrigues, secrets, plots and betrayals. There are even elephants!

Rhyming Life & Death by Amos Oz

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Rhyming Life & Death, by Amos Oz

The Author (no name applied) gives a presentation at a community center, together with a reading of his literary works. Along the way, in this brief evening, he sees and meets several other people, who then become possibilities of characters for his writing. Reality and fiction blend into a seamless progression of story. What happens in the real time of the surface narrative and what happens in the imagination of the author merge into a fuller story for the reader. Oz raises the issue of what is the process which a writer uses to create a work of fiction. Both a narrative about the writing process and a narrative about several ordinary people meeting in a community center on a hot summer evening, Rhyming Life & Death takes on a life of its own, with the threads of fiction woven together from beginning to middle to end.

Submitted by D. L. S.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

The Abingdon Book Group read this historical fiction book for their May meeting. There is a wonderful write up of the book posted by Elizabeth on Friday, October 31, 2008 that can be retrieved through a search or through the archives. Suffice to say that this novel concerning the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright & his lover, Mamah Borthwick Cheney, is a wonderful book group read. There are so many topics to cover including, infidelity, feminism, the roles and expectations of women in the early 1900s, being true to oneself & what that means, how genius covers many faults, & much more. Several of the group had done some online research into the background of the story & this led to a discussion of the difficulty in determining what may or may not be factual. We thought this author gave her book an authentic flavor of the characters, the events, & the period. Her narrative was detailed & descriptive. No matter the personal views of the group we all thought the story was the most terrible tragedy.

We are going to be very interested to see what Nancy Horan writes next.

Here are some links for further information.

Random House author site

Photos of Frank and Mamah

Book Group Discussion Guide

The Anatomy of Deception: a novel of suspense by Lawrence Goldstone

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

The Anatomy of Deception (Find this book in our catalog)

Publishers Weekly called this book a, “top-notch historical page-turner.” Set in Philadelphia in the late 1880s, this book should appeal to a wide audience. I picked it up because it deals with the early days of modern medicine, and though it’s main location is the seedier side of underworld Philadelphia, it also deals in part with characters who had a very real role in the foundation of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Goldstone combines his fictional characters in a masterly way with real life surgical luminaries such as William Osler and William Stewart Halsted, while scrupulously in his author’s note denying that these real-life people were in any way involved with any wrong-doing. The fact is, that surgical students and surgeons like them easily could have been so involved because society criminalized or at least condemned the dissection of cadavers for research and teaching.
Anatomy of Deception is called, “an ingenous blend of history, suspense, and early forensic science.” Goldstone evokes the dark horror of the time when gentlemen surgeons were little more than butchers, making it a point of honor to conduct operations in record time with no regard to loss of blood or elementary hygiene, which they thought a waste of time. The survival rate from these operations was almost non-existent, but the surgeons had no care for the fate of their patients, especially if the were poor. The author paints a picture of a medical establishment that thought the “lower orders” deserved no better.
William Osler, however, is painted as one who does care. He conducts a surgical class for promising young men and one woman who have an interest in making a difference. One such student is Dr. Ephraim Carroll. He is destined for a stellar career under the wing of Osler, who has been invited to Baltimore to set up a revolutionary new surgical department. Then Ephraim gets involved with another student with a mysterious lifestyle and his career looks as though it may be ruined. What has Ephraim’s student friend to do with the corpse of a beautiful young woman in the morgue and also what does Dr. Osler know about the case? Then the other student dies and Ephraim confirms that he was poisoned. He feels compelled to solve a mystery that involves the society drawing rooms of Philadelphia as well as its back alleys. Ephraim is drawn into a maze of secrets, murder and unimaginable crimes and it looks as though his very future is threatened.
I enjoyed the sense of darkness and of a pervasive moral turpitude that the author evokes. The atmosphere of the book and the time period should appeal to to fans of The Alienist by Caleb Carr and of The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. Fans of these two books will also like the forensic details. This is an excellent period piece in the tradition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Poe but also a suspenseful and very ingeniously crafted mystery.

City of Shadows by Ariana Franklin

Friday, May 15th, 2009

City of Shadows by Ariana Franklin (Find this book in our catalog)

City of Shadows is an entralling novel of historical suspense set in Berlin of the 1920s and 1930s. Fraught with rampant inflation, poverty, unemployment and malnutrition, and by the political turmoil of a failed Weimar Republic, it is a decadent time when the more fortunate or more desperate classes of society frequent clubs which cater to every imagineable debauchery. Fear and class hatred abound as does racism and anti-Semitism, all helping and fostered by the rising National Socialist Party of Adolph Hitler.

Esther Solomonova is a Jewish Russian emigre. Fluent in many languages and desperate for employment, she has accepted a job running the international affairs of a scheming adventurer and cabaret owner, “Prince” Nick. Scenting an opportunity to make a great deal of money, Nick takes under his wing “Anna,” who is claiming to be the heir to the Romanov fortune, the grand duchess Anastasia. She supposedly had escaped the assassination of the rest of her family at Ekaterinburg and now has turned up in a Berlin asylum. Esther knows a great deal about how to behave in good society, so Nick installs her in an apartment with Anna to help groom Anna for her unveiling to the world.

Anna is clearly terrified and claims she is being hunted by a huge mysterious killer. Soon people who come into contact with Anna begin to die, so the killer must really exist. Eshter enlists the help of a Berlin police officer, Schmidt to try to find out who in Anna’s past could want her dead. The trail leads into the Nazi party machinery and on a train trip across Poland, into the past, and into the mind of a mass murderer. As they find out more, Esther and Schmidt find out they are in increasing danger from more than one quarter.

This book is not only a cracking mystery, filled with suspense, and with crimes and tragedies from the horrifying past, but also a chilling depiction of how a society can be manipulated by fear and hatred into the willing acceptance of tyranny and genocide.

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

Submitted by Donna Sebly, HCPL staff

It probably wouldn’t hurt any of us to take something of a revisionist look at early American history, at least as far back as the Puritans who arrived on the Mayflower and the numerous ships that followed. While many of you might yawn at this prospect (“Rodger Williams yet again?”), before you raise your hand to your opened mouth, consider picking up a copy of Sarah Vowell’s most recent book The Wordy Shipmates.

Vowell, known for her stories on This American Life and other NPR venues, takes a look at John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, and other Puritans, not so much in a new light, because the evidence she reveals is what students of American history already know, but more with new eyes, to allow us to see these old figures of history in a way maybe not quite thought of before. She presents more a reminder of what these folks were like and especially what they were like to each other.

Contentious, for one; bickering, for another; even at each other’s throats…well, yes, we might have known that already, since basics in the history of the Puritans tell us in no uncertain terms that Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson both left Massachusetts under profound pressure, and they weren’t the only Puritans found to be not quite pure enough to stay in early Boston. But in what might be criticized as a superficial revision, Vowell allows us to see once again how these very argumentative, battling, bickering theological hair-splitters laid some of the basic foundations for our argumentative, battling, bickering but ultimately united nation. She does this with wit and sarcasm, and some might say somewhat snarky words and views, but doesn’t that make all of this history more fun than the way in which our high school textbooks presented this story of the early British settlers in New England?

And if you like this new dimension added to American history, you can always try Vowell’s Assassination Vacation, which presents a fresh look at the assassinations of three Presidents of our country.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

submitted by Donna Sebly, HCPL Staff

Part travelogue, part American history, Assassination Vacation is Sarah Vowell’s journey, both inward in her analysis and outward in her actual travels, to sites of Presidential assassinations and points and points-of-view related. Vowell, known for her witty and engaging commentary and stories on NPR, finds that a retelling of what led up to the killing of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley can be, well, almost fun, in a sad sort of way. In some cases dragging her hapless young nephew Owen along with her, she reveals motive and personality of the assassins as well as the history surrounding the President and the times. Along the way, Vowell tells something of herself, for example, her devotion to President Lincoln especially, with her touching near-reverence of the man and his words and deeds. She also salvages the more obscure Garfield, noting his devotion to reading and studying. We travel with her as she takes us on various side roads – from the escape route of John Wilkes Booth through southern Maryland to the life journey of the deranged Charles Guiteau, Garfield’s assassin.

Some may find Vowell to be darkly amusing; others, gratingly annoying in her analysis of events and interjection of her personal witty asides. Still, if you want to take an armchair journey through chapters of American history, a journey that meanders from place to place, from perspective to perspective, this might the book for you.

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

Friday, May 8th, 2009

This review was submitted by Betsy Bensen, a librarian in the Bel Air Branch -

“Most readers have a soft spot for the child character who is an orphan. In recent years, Harry Potter has become the most famous of these characters, but there were plenty before him such as Pip from Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. In The Good Thief (Find this book in our catalog) by Hannah Tinti, we are introduced to twelve-year-old Ren who has lived at a Catholic orphanage since he was abandoned as a baby. Besides having no family, Ren is missing his left hand. Because of his disability, he has been passed over year after year by local farmers willing to adopt a boy in exchange for an extra pair of working hands.

Ren’s luck changes when a stranger named Benjamin Nab claims that he is Ren’s brother and adopts him. Nab turns out to be scam artist who takes Ren on a wild ride through nineteenth century New England. Having lived a sheltered life at the orphanage, young Ren is bewildered by his new dangerous world complete with a cast of grave robbers, thieves, murderers, a dwarf and a giant. Ren learns to adapt to his new life because he is afraid of being abandoned again or sent back to the orphanage. However, he continues to long for a real family and yearns to know the truth about his past. A surprise ending gives the lovable Ren what he has always wished for – but with a strange twist.

This debut novel is being compared to Dickens, Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson. It can certainly stand proudly beside those classics because it is a wonderfully engaging book. The characters are far-fetched, quirky, or downright evil, but Tinti often reveals their good side. They are never quite what they seem including Ren whom we discover has a knack for thievery. The good versus evil struggle is told with humor and originality in a fast-paced plot.

Marketed as an adult novel, it may also appeal to young adults who enjoy a good old adventure story starring a boy hero whose heart is in the right place.”

Obituary note – Marilyn French

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Marilyn French, noted feminist and author of The Women’s Room (Find this book in our catalog), died Saturday, May 2. She was 79.
Her obituary in the New York Times called her, ” a leading, if controversial, opinionmaker on gender issues who decried the patriarchal society she saw around her. ‘My goal in life is to change the entire social and economic structure of Western civilization, to make it a feminist world,’ she once declared.”