Archive for November, 2010

LIBRARY JOURNAL ANNOUNCES TOP TEN BEST BOOKS OF 2010

Monday, November 29th, 2010

 Library Journal  has announced its top ten best books list reflecting fiction and nonfiction titles that stood out as the very best in 2010.  The list–compiled with the input of librarians and LJ‘s book reviewers–represents an assortment of books appropriate for a broad reading audience. Several of LJ‘s Book Review editors chronicled their deliberations on Twitter under the hash tag #bestbooks10.

This is the list.  Click on a title to go straight to HCPL’s catalog and place your reserve or read a summary of the book.

  American Terroir by Rowan Jacobson 

  By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

  Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

  How to Live, Or, a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Blakewell 

  Room by Emma Donoghue

  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

  The Passage by Justin Cronin

  The Tiger by John Vaillant

  The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Walker Evans Decade by Decade

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Friday, November 26th, 2010

  For me, Louise Penny, author of Bury Your Dead, last in the series of Inspector Gamage crime stories (Find this book in our catalog), has become the present-day mistress par excellance of the traditional closed-community mystery!  That is not to say that her books can be described in any way as cozy.  Three Pines, the fictional village in Quebec where most of Penny’s mysteries are set, is certainly an isolated and on the face of it idyllic community filled with eccentric characters, but there is nothing quaint or cute or comfortable about it.  Penny explores the nature of evil, the canker in the heart of the rose.  She also examines the present-day political issues of violence and crime and terror in the wider world outside Three Pines.

Bury Your Dead  has been described as reminiscent of the works of Donna Leon, P.D. James, and Elizabeth George, not least, I believe, because of  the perceptive and reflective Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of homicide with the Surete du Quebec.  Gamache is a devoted family man and man of principle, just as is Commissario Brunetti.  He is intuitive and sympathetic, just as is Adam Dalgleish.

In Bury Your Dead Gamache is staying with his old mentor in Quebec City while he recovers physically and mentally from a case gone wrong that ended in horrific violence.  Quebec City is actually another community closed like Three Pines with fascinating inhabitants, historic buildings, and eccentric traditions.  It is the time of the Winter Carnival, evocatively described in the book.  An eccentric archaeologist is found dead  in the basement of an historic English library and Gamache is pulled off vacation to help the local cops.  In doing so, Gamache must examine the riddles of 400 years of Quebec history.  Meanwhile, Gamache has been receiving daily letters from Three Pines asking him to reopen an old murder case there, and so he sends his right-hand man Beauvoir to casually reexamine the case while he too is on recuperative leave.  Both detectives have been severely damaged by the gun battle that ended their most recent case.  Throughout the current twin investigations we  gradually learn what happened with this other earlier case gone violently wrong.  Enjoy working out how the three parallel cases are intertwined!

Business Book Award

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

  Raghuram G. Rajan won the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award 2010 for Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy (Find this book in our catalog)

Summary in our catalog:  “Raghuram Rajan was one of the few economists who warned of the global financial crisis before it hit. Now, as the world struggles to recover, it’s tempting to blame what happened on just a few greedy bankers who took irrational risks and left the rest of us to foot the bill. In Fault Lines, Rajan argues that serious flaws in the economy are also to blame, and warns that a potentially more devastating crisis awaits us if they aren’t fixed.Rajan shows how the individual choices that collectively brought about the economic meltdown–made by bankers, government officials, and ordinary homeowners–were rational responses to a flawed global financial order in which the incentives to take on risk are incredibly out of step with the dangers those risks pose. He traces the deepening fault lines in a world overly dependent on the indebted American consumer to power global economic growth and stave off global downturns. He exposes a system where America’s growing inequality and thin social safety net create tremendous political pressure to encourage easy credit and keep job creation robust, no matter what the consequences to the economy’s long-term health; and where the U.S. financial sector, with its skewed incentives, is the critical but unstable link between an overstimulated America and an underconsuming world.In Fault Lines, Rajan demonstrates how unequal access to education and health care in the United States puts us all in deeper financial peril, even as the economic choices of countries like Germany, Japan, and China place an undue burden on America to get its policies right. He outlines the hard choices we need to make to ensure a more stable world economy and restore lasting prosperity.”

Mystery and Suspense Awards at Bouchercon 2010

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Mystery and suspense authors were honored recently during Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco, where category winners were named for the Anthony, Macavity, Barry, Shamus and Derringer awards.

Here are some of the outstanding titles available at Harford County Public Library.  Click on a title to go directly to our catalog.  See more on the Awards here.

  Anthony Awards – Best Novel – The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
“The peace of Three Pines is shattered when a stranger is found murdered in the village bistro and antiques store. Once again, Chief Inspector Gamache and his team are called in to strip back layers of lies, exposing long-buried secrets.”

  Anthony Awards – Best First Novel – A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield (see also my previous blog about this title)
“Stella Hardesty dispatched her abusive husband with a wrench shortly before her fiftieth birthday. A few years later, she’s so busy delivering home-style justice on her days off, helping other women deal with their own abusive husbands and boyfriends, that she barely has time to run her sewing shop in her rural Missouri hometown. Some men need more convincing than others, but it’s usually nothing a little light bondage or old-fashioned whuppin’ can’t fix. Since Stella works outside of the law, she’s free to do whatever it takes to get the job done—as long as she keeps her distance from the handsome devil of a local sheriff, Goat Jones. When young mother Chrissy Shaw asks Stella for help with her no-good husband, Roy Dean, it looks like an easy case. Until Roy Dean disappears with Chrissy’s two-year-old son, Tucker… Sophie Littlefield possesses all the verve and confidence of a seasoned pro. This debut novel rings true at every heart-stopping turn, utterly bewitching us with its gutsy, compassionate voice and boasting some of the most captivating, complex characters in crime fiction today.”

  Anthony Awards – Best Paperback Original – Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley
“In the dead of a Michigan winter, pieces of a snowmobile wash up near the crumbling, small town of Starvation Lake — the same snowmobile that went down with Starvation’s legendary hockey coach years earlier. But everybody knows Coach Blackburn’s accident happened five miles away on a different lake. As rumors buzz about mysterious underground tunnels, the evidence from the snowmobile says one thing: murder. Gus Carpenter, editor of the local newspaper, has recently returned to Starvation after a failed attempt to make it big at the Detroit Times. In his youth, Gus was the goalie who let a state championship get away, crushing Coach’s dreams and earning the town’s enmity. Now he’s investigating the murder of his former coach. But even more unsettling to Gus are the holes in the town’s past and the gnawing suspicion that those holes may conceal some dark and disturbing secrets, secrets that some of the people closest to him may have killed to keep.”

National Book Awards Announced November 17

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

  Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon was the surprise winner of the Fiction cataegory of the National Book Awards  (Find this book in our catalogRead more…  

This is what it says in our catalog about the book:  “Thoroughbred horse trainer Tommy Hansel has a scheme to rescue his failing operation by shipping four ringers to Indian Mound Downs, run them in cheap claimers at long odds, and then get out fast before anyone notices.  The problem is, at this rundown riverfront half-mile racetrack in the West Virginia panhandle, everybody notices from the start: Kidstuff the farrier, track super Smithers, an old groom Medicine Ed, gypsy owner Deucey Gifford, eventually even the ruled-off bookmaker Two-Tie, and a sadistic trainer, Joe Dale Bigg.  But no-one factors in Hansel’s go-for girlfriend, Margaret Koderer.  Much like the beautiful, used-up, tragic creatures she comes to love, Maggie is almost a force of nature, an adventuress with enough personal magnetism to send the sure thing back to the source of all luck.   Lord of Misrule is a darkly realistic novel about a young woman living through a year of horse racing while everyone’s best laid plans go brutally wrong.”

  The Nonfiction winner is: Patti Smith, author of Just Kids (Find this book in our catalog)

“Smith’s evocative, honest, and moving coming-of-age story reveals her extraordinary relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Part romance, part elegy, “Just Kids” is about friendship in the truest sense, and the artist’s calling.”

Fame and Notoriety for Two of Harford’s Sons

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

  My Thoughts Be Bloody: the Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth That Led to an American Tragedy  by Nora Titone (Find this book in our catalog)

Summary in catalog:  “The scene of John Wilkes Booth shooting Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre is among the most vivid and indelible images in American history.  The literal story of what happened on April 14, 1865, is familiar: Lincoln was killed by John Wilkes Booth, a lunatic enraged by the Union victory and the prospect of black citizenship. Yet who Booth really was—besides a killer—is less well known. The magnitude of his crime has obscured for generations a startling personal story that was integral to his motivation.  My Thoughts Be Bloody, a sweeping family saga, revives an extraordinary figure whose name has been missing, until now, from the story of President Lincoln’s death.  Edwin Booth, John Wilkes’s older brother by four years, was in his day the biggest star of the American stage.  He won his celebrity at the precocious age of nineteen, before the Civil War began, when John Wilkes was a schoolboy.  Without an account of Edwin Booth, author Nora Titone argues, the real story of Lincoln’s assassin has never been told.  Using an array of private letters, diaries, and reminiscences of the Booth family, Titone has uncovered a hidden history that reveals the reasons why John Wilkes Booth became this country’s most notorious assassin.  These ambitious brothers, born to theatrical parents, enacted a tale of mutual jealousy and resentment worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy.  From childhood, the stage-struck brothers were rivals for the approval of their father, legendary British actor Junius Brutus Booth.  After his death, Edwin and John Wilkes were locked in a fierce contest to claim his legacy of fame.  This strange family history and powerful sibling rivalry were the crucibles of John Wilkes’s character, exacerbating his political passions and driving him into a life of conspiracy.  To re-create the lost world of Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, this book takes readers on a panoramic tour of nineteenth-century America, from the streets of 1840s Baltimore to the gold fields of California, from the jungles of the Isthmus of Panama to the glittering mansions of Gilded Age New York.  Edwin, ruthlessly competitive and gifted, did everything he could to lock his younger brother out of the theatrical game.  As he came of age, John Wilkes found his plans for stardom thwarted by his older sibling’s meteoric rise.  Their divergent paths—Edwin’s an upward race to riches and social prominence, and John’s a downward spiral into failure and obscurity—kept pace with the hardening of their opposite political views and their mutual dislike.  The details of the conspiracy to kill Lincoln have been well documented elsewhere.  My Thoughts Be Bloody tells a new story, one that explains for the first time why Lincoln’s assassin decided to conspire against the president in the first place, and sets that decision in the context of a bitterly divided family—and nation.  By the end of this riveting journey, readers will see Abraham Lincoln’s death less as the result of the war between the North and South and more as the climax of a dark struggle between two brothers who never wore the uniform of soldiers, except on stage.”

Jen’s Jewels with Anne Perry

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

There is just something about a holiday book that makes the season merry and bright. Whether it is a love story or a Victorian mystery, combining the true essence of this time of year with a captivating plot is the perfect combination for getting yourself in the holiday spirit.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Anne Perry is an expert on this very topic of combining holiday cheer and a great read. In her latest holiday release A CHRISTIMAS ODYSSEY, she takes the readers on a journey to the underworld in search of a prodigal son. Through dark alleys and in forbidden lairs of London, Perry conjures up the perfect Victorian holiday read with plenty of intrigue and suspense.

As part of this interview, Ballantine Books has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end of the column. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your holiday season.

Jen: With an esteemed reputation as one of the top Victorian mystery writers, your career has been a fascinating journey in itself. So that my readers may have a glimpse into the life of the woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and professional background.

Anne: My educational background is a lot of missed school, partly due to illness and a lot of early moving around. Later I was mostly self-educated; I did a lot of reading.

Professionally the only career I wanted was writing, but of course, I had to earn a living before I was published, so I did a variety of jobs, several involving travel. I lived in California for five years which I enjoyed a great deal and learned a lot.
Jen: Your first novel published in 1979 titled THE CATER STREET HANGMAN was the spark that ignited your career. Interestingly enough, this book went on to become a series which is now the “longest sustained crime series by a living author.” Describe for us its premise. And, what aspect of the two main characters, Thomas Pitt and his wife Charlotte, make them so appealing to your readers?

Anne: The Cater Street Hangmen was never intended to be a series – I was delighted to be published at all! Therefore it had no ‘premise’ for continuing. I found I enjoyed the period because it offered great dramatic contrast between glamour and squalor; London was a city in which almost anything in way of plot was possible, and since it was before scientific forensic medicine and ballistics etc crime could only be solved by common sense, acute observation and deduction, thus allowing the story to be more of a novel than a police procedural. I think the aspects of both Thomas and Charlotte that people respond to are their enthusiasm care for each other and I hope a degree of wits!

Jen: Your second series began in 1990 which features private detective William Monk. For those readers unfamiliar with this series, please share with us its premise.

Anne: The premise of the Monk series was the idea of a man discovering himself entirely from external evidence without any of the understanding which comes from memory, the knowledge why you do anything and what you feel and believe at the time. That, of course, is how we judge others! Gradually Monk comes to have a fairer and gentler view of other people at the same time as a deeper knowledge of himself, and forgiveness in both cases.

Jen: What are the biggest challenges you face with writing two series? And of the two, which is the most labor intensive and why?

Anne: It is always a challenge to make each book both individual and not to repeat yourself, but the Pitt stories deal with plots based in social problems, and political issues; whereas the Monk stories deal more with medical, military and legal problems, often concluding in a trial. In each I try to have a different background and something I need to research, to make it interesting for myself and I hope to the reader. For example, the last one deals with the Opium Wars and the 1867 Pharmacy Bill. The present one deals with the Jameson Raid in 1986/7 in Africa and the import into England of Port wine – among other things!

Jen: You also have written a series that focuses on World War I which features the main characters Joseph and Matthew Reavley. What attracted you to this era? And, please give us a brief synopsis of the storyline.

Anne: I chose World War I to write about because I think it is one of the greatest turning points in the history of Europe and the western world. It also faces the people involved with conflict and decisions more immediate and morally challenging than most of us will have to deal with, but perhaps all of us should know about. There are some profound decisions as to exactly what a person’s moral values are. What will you live or die for? It is very difficult to summarize the plot of five books covering nearly five years of history. It concerns a family of four adult siblings; one an army chaplain in the trenches, one a mother on the home front, one an officer in the Intelligence services and the youngest, an ambulance driver on the Western front. They all face tests of faith, loyalty, judgment and values. What do they believe in? The whole story traces the War from the assassination at Sarajevo through to the Armistice at the end, and covers issues of the change to individuals and nations.

Jen: Your latest endeavor belongs to your overwhelmingly successful Christmas series. A CHRISTMAS ODYSSEY is a dark yet suspenseful tale of life in the underworld of debauchery and deceit. What led you to combine Christmas with suspense?

Anne: It seems to be quite a tradition to connect Christmas with suspense, and possibly stories of the supernatural, right back to Dickens. It seems an appropriate season to think of something out of the ordinary, and which questions our values, and comes up with answers that will tell you what you believe to be important.

Jen: Your lead character Henry Rathbone is charged with the daunting task of locating Lucien, the wayward son of his dear friend James Wentworth. Why does he choose to accept the task? And, what makes him the right person for the job?

Anne: Henry Rathbone accepts the task of locating Lucien Wentworth as an act of friendship he could scarcely refuse. He is very far from the right person for the job to begin with but he becomes the right person through patience, loyalty and being willing to learn from others – and above all, courage.

Jen: Do you think Henry and Lucien are somewhat similar in respect to their outlook on life? And, who is the stronger character and why?

Anne: I really don’t think Henry and Lucien are alike at all. Lucien has been extraordinarily self indulgent, and infatuated with a young woman who had very little quality to admire.

Jen: In order to carry out the request, Henry enlists aid from a quirky cast of characters. Let’s start with Squeaky Robinson, the former whore-house keeper. What special talents, besides his utter indifference in the matter, make him a helpful addition to the crew?

Anne: Squeaky Robinson has many talents to fit him for the task of finding Lucien. He is familiar with the criminal underworld and the people in it, geographically and morally.
He has a strong ruthless streak and yet he finds he actually cares what Henry Rathbone thinks of him, to his amazement!

Jen: Crow, a pseudo medical doctor without a degree, spends his life helping those less fortunate residing in the slums. How does his innate distaste for the upper crust translate into his embarking on a journey to save a rich man’s son?

Anne: I don’t think Crow has a dislike for the upper crust – his dislike is for cruelty and waste, whoever exhibits it. It is not a class thing but a matter of compassion. Rich men’s sons can be hurt as much as anyone else’s son, or daughter. Crow, like any other doctor, does not distinguish.

Jen: How does Bessie, the teenager swept up in this undertaking, become the voice of reason in the group? In what way does this adventure enable her to find her inner strength?

Anne: Bessie is the voice of practicality. She has lived in this underworld and experienced its limitations. The adventure makes her realize that she has far more courage and ability than she thought, and she is also likable, and can make friends and be an ally.

Jen: Please take us on a brief tour of your website highlighting your favorite parts.

Anne: My favorite part of the website is the Letters section, because that is my connection with the readers. But I realize that the video section even though I would hate to watch myself! I like the colors of the book covers and I think the brief resumes are helpful.

Jen: Are you currently at work on your next novel? If so, what can you share with us?

Anne: I am currently working on a novel about four ahead of where we are at the moment; that is how it has to be to give the publisher a chance to plan ahead and do a really good job. I have written and delivered – ACCEPTABLE LOSS (Monk), DORCHESTER TERRACE (Pitt) and A SUNLESS SEA (Monk) and a Christmas story for 2011.

Jen: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by and chat with my readers. I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season!

Anne: Thanks for asking me these questions and all best wishes.

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Anne Perry. Please stop by your favorite book store or library branch and pick up a copy today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Okay, be one of the first five readers to e-mail me at jensjewels@gmail.com with the correct answer to the following trivia question and you’ll win. Good luck!

Name the lead character in THE CHRISTMAS ODYSSEY.

In December, I will be bringing to you my interview with Laura Alden, author of the hilarious debut novel MURDER AT THE PTA. You won’t want to miss it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jen

Brits

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Here are two new biographies you might like of Brits of a certain age:

  The Elephant to Hollywood by Michael Caine (Find this book in our catalog)

Summary:  “Caine shares the spectacular story of his life, from his humble upbringing in London’s poverty-stricken Elephant and Castle to his military service and lively adventures to legendary meetings with fellow stars and his glittering five-decade career.”

  Life by Keith Richards (Find this book in our catalog)

Summary:  “The long-awaited autobiography of the guitarist, songwriter, singer, and founding member of the Rolling Stones. With his trademark disarming honesty, Richards brings the story of a life fans have all longed to know more of–unfettered, fearless, and true.”

Book to Movie

Friday, November 12th, 2010

  The movie Fair Game, starring Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, and Noah Emmerich opened Friday, November 5.  It is based on Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government by Valerie Plame Wilson (Find it in our catalog)

“The object of the CIA leak case and the resulting conviction of the Vice-President’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, Valerie Wilson, has spoken publicly only twice since she was outed in July, 2003. Now she tells not only the real story behind the leak, but describes her life at the CIA and what happened when her cover was blown.”

Books You May Have Missed II – Staff Recommendations

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

More good books not to be missed!

  Beneath the Sands of Egypt by Donald P. Ryan

“Ryan, an archaeologist, Egyptologist, and writer who teaches in the humanities division at Pacific Lutheran U., provides a memoir of his experiences excavating sites in Egypt, including his rediscovery of Egypt’s famous female pharaoh, Hatshepsut, in the Valley of the Kings. He recounts his adventures from his first trip in 1981 as a graduate student to his discovery of Hatshepsut in 1989 and subsequent discoveries, as well as his education and experiences in Egyptology, the process of becoming an archaeologist, working with eccentric colleagues, and presenting archeology to the public.”

  Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

“Tender, passionate, and moving, Daphne Kalotay’s debut novel about ballet, jewels, love and betrayal is also a delicious form of time travel. I loved it.”–Jenna Blum, “New York Times”-bestselling author of “Those Who Save Us.”

  Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

“Richard Mayhew is a plain man with a good heart — and an ordinary life that is changed forever on a day he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. From that moment forward he is propelled into a world he never dreamed existed — a dark subculture flourish in abandoned subway stations and sewer tunnels below the city — a world far stranger and more dangerous than the only one he has ever known…Richard Mayhew is a young businessman with a good heart and a dull job. When he stops one day to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk, his life is forever altered, for he finds himself propelled into an alternate reality that exists in a subterranean labyrinth of sewer canals and abandoned subway stations below the city. He has fallen through the cracks of reality and has landed somewhere different, somewhere that is Neverwhere.”

  Sunshine by Robin McKinley

“They took her clothes and sneakers. They dressed her in a long red gown. And they shackled her to the wall of an abandoned mansion-within easy reach of a figure stirring in the moonlight. She knows that it is a vampire. She knows that she’s to be his dinner, and that when he is finished with her, she will be dead. Yet, when light breaks, she finds that he has not attempted to harm her. And now it is he who needs her to help him survive the day…”

  Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

“Dr. Peter Brown is an intern at Manhattan’s worst hospital, with a talent for medicine, a shift from hell, and a past he’d prefer to keep hidden. Whether it’s a blocked circumflex artery or a plan to land a massive malpractice suit, he knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. Pietro “Bearclaw” Brnwna is a hitman for the mob, with a genius for violence, a well-earned fear of sharks, and an overly close relationship with the Federal Witness Relocation Program. More likely to leave a trail of dead gangsters than a molecule of evidence, he’s the last person you want to see in your hospital room. Nicholas LoBrutto, aka Eddy Squillante, is Dr. Brown’s new patient, with three months to live and a very strange idea: that Peter Brown and Pietro Brnwa might-just might-be the same person …Now, with the mob, the government, and death itself descending on the hospital, Peter has to buy time and do whatever it takes to keep his patients, himself, and his last shot at redemption alive. To get through the next eight hours-and somehow beat the reaper.”

 Soulless by Gail Carriger

“”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” meets Jane Austen in this wickedly funny debut novel, which kicks off Carriger’s new series set in an alternate 19th-century London that not only knows about vampires and werewolves, but accepts them into the upper tiers of society.”

  His at Night by Sherry Thomas

“From the most powerfully original historical romance author writing today (Lisa Kleypas) comes a lush, seductive new romance about a lord and lady who seem a perfect match–until they discover each other’s secrets.”