Archive for August, 2012

PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction

Friday, August 31st, 2012




The PEN American Center announced the winners and runners up for the 2012 PEN Literary Awards August 29.  Winners and runners-up will be honored at the PEN Literary Awards Ceremony on October 23 in New York City.  See a complete list of winners and runners-up here.

Highlights include PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction for E.L. Doctorow.

This is what it says about the author in our catalog:  “Known for his novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, and essays, Edgar Lawrence (E.L.) Doctorow was born January 6, 1931, in New York, N.Y. Doctorow’s best known works include The Book of Daniel (1971); Ragtime (1975); Loon Lake (1980); World’s Fair (1985); Billy Bathgate (1989); and The Waterworks (1994). Media adaptations include Welcome to Hard Times, filmed in 1967 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; Ragtime, filmed in 1981 by Dino De Laurentiis; The Book of Daniel, a 1983 Paramount film; and Billy Bathgate, the 1991 film starring Dustin Hoffman. Doctorow’s writings have won him numerous accolades. Among them, National Book Award nominations were given to The Book of Daniel in 1972 and Billy Bathgate in 1990, and the award went to World’s Fair in 1986. The National Book Critics Circle Award was given to Ragtime in 1976 and Billy Bathgate in 1990. Billy Bathgate also received the PEN/Faulkner Award and the William Dean Howells Medal in 1990. Doctorow began his career as a script reader at Columbia Pictures and as a senior editor for the New American Library, 1959-64. He was editor-in-chief for Dial Press from 1964 to 1969, where he also served as vice president and publisher in his last year on staff. He was a writer-in-residence, 1969-70, at the University of California, Irvine, and was a member of the faculty at Sarah Lawrence College from 1971 to 1978. He became Professor of English and American Letters at New York University in 1982. Doctorow married the writer Helen Esther Setzer on August 20, 1954. They have three children, Jenny, Caroline, Richard. He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps from 1953 to 1955. Doctorow received an A.B. in philosophy (with honors) in 1952 from Kenyon College and did graduate work at Columbia University 1952-53. He has also received numerous honorary degrees. (Bowker Author Biography) That E. L. Doctorow is a professional writer in the best sense may be indicated by the fact that he has yet to write two books alike. A New Yorker by birth and schooling, he prepared himself for the writing trade by attending Kenyon College when its literary program under John Crowe Ransom was at full crest, going on to graduate work at Columbia University, and working as a script reader for Columbia Pictures before becoming an editor with New American Library and Dial Press. Among other works, he has written a serious western novel, a science fiction fantasy, a play, a collection of short stories, and three novels of quite different types, one of which includes a considerable amount of poetry. The practice in mixing the real with the fictional that Doctorow gained by writing The Book of Daniel (1971) was put to effective and spectacular use in Ragtime (1975). Real people involve themselves with the problems of the fictional people, and by the time the novel is concluded most readers feel that the fictional character Coalhouse Walker, for instance, must have actually existed since he was so dramatically involved with people we remember from the history books. Doctorow’s more recent books of fiction have not had the impact of Ragtime, but they show him continuing to experiment with form and style. Loon Lake (1980), set in the time of the Great Depression, takes a young drifter named Joe Korzeniowski to an opulent residence in the Adirondacks of an industrial magnate and his wife, a famous aviator. Joe’s tale of his picaresque wanderings among carnival people is juxtaposed with the questionable stability of the Loon Lake resort, and the novel seems rather heavily loaded with symbols of rebirth and regeneration. Doctorow’s frequent shifting point of view as well as his juggling of prose, poetry, and “computerese” make Loon Lake sometimes seem rather like the joint effort of a very talented class in creative writing. It may be no accident that Doctorow next tried his hand at a series of carefully wrought and deceptively simple short fiction that seems very traditional by comparison. The novella and six stories in Lives of the Poets (1984) are almost Chekhovian in their quiet, muted tone, but their use of recurring images and other interweaving devices would suggest that much is operating beneath the surface…” (Bowker Author Biography)


Classic Romances

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

According to Romance Writers of America, purchases of romance novels outstrip every other fiction genre.  Here are some older but still classy romances you may have missed.  Click on a highlighted title to go straight to our catalog.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig.  “Deciding that true romantic heroes are a thing of the past, Eloise Kelly, an intelligent American who always manages to wear her Jimmy Choo suede boots on the day it rains, leaves Harvard’s Widener Library bound for England to finish her dissertation on the dashing pair of spies the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. What she discovers is something the finest historians have missed: a secret history that begins with a letter dated 1803. Eloise has found the secret history of the Pink Carnation—the most elusive spy of all time, the spy who single-handedly saved England from Napoleon’s invasion. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation , a wildly imaginative and highly adventurous debut, opens with the story of a modern-day heroine but soon becomes a book within a book. Eloise Kelly settles in to read the secret history hoping to unmask the Pink Carnation’s identity, but before she can make this discovery, she uncovers a passionate romance within the pages of the secret history that almost threw off the course of world events. How did the Pink Carnation save England? What became of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian? And will Eloise Kelly find a hero of her own?”

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie.  “This is New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Crusie’s novel about long shots, risk management, true love, and great shoes. . . . Minerva Dobbs knows how to work the odds. Calvin Morrisey always plays to win. But when they face off, neither one is prepared. Because when real life meets true love, all bets are off. . . . Minerva Dobbs knows that happily-ever-after is a fairy tale, especially with a man who asked her to dinner to win a bet, even if he is gorgeous and successful Calvin Morrisey. Cal knows commitment is impossible, especially with a woman as cranky as Min Dobbs, even if she does wear great shoes and keep him on his toes. When they say good-bye at the end of their evening, they cut their losses and agree never to see each other again. But fate has other plans, and it’s not long before Min and Cal meet again. Soon they’re dealing with a jealous ex-boyfriend, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, a determined psychologist, chaos theory, a freakishly intelligent cat, Chicken Marsala, and more risky propositions than either of them ever dreamed of. Including the biggest gamble of all—true love.”

The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna M. Bourne.  “She’s never met a man she couldn’t deceive…until now. She’s braved battlefields. She’s stolen dispatches from under the noses of heads of state. She’s played the worldly courtesan, the naive virgin, the refined British lady, even a Gypsy boy. But Annique Villiers, the elusive spy known as the Fox Cub, has finally met the one man she can’t outwit.”


Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.  “Chicago Stars quarterback Dean Robillard is the luckiest man in the world: a bona-fide sports superstar and the pride of the NFL with a profitable side career as a buff billboard model for End Zone underwear. But life in the glory lane has started to pale, and Dean has set off on a cross-country trip to figure out what’s gone wrong. When he hits a lonely stretch of Colorado highway, he spies something that will shake up his gilded life in ways he can’t imagine. A young woman . . . dressed in a beaver suit. Blue Bailey is on a mission to murder her ex. Or at least inflict serious damage. As for the beaver suit she’s wearing . . . Is it her fault that life keeps throwing her curveballs? Witness the expensive black sports car pulling up next to her on the highway and the Greek god stepping out of it. Blue’s career as a portrait painter is the perfect job for someone who refuses to stay in one place for very long. She needs a ride, and America’s most famous football player has an imposing set of wheels. Now, all she has to do is keep him entertained, off guard, and fully clothed before he figures out exactly how desperate she is. But Dean isn’t the brainless jock she imagines, and Blue-despite her petite stature-is just about the toughest woman Dean has ever met. They’re soon heading for his summer home where their already complicated lives and inconvenient attraction to each other will become entangled with a charismatic but aging rock star; a beautiful fifty-two-year-old woman trying to make peace with her rock and roll past; an eleven-year-old who desperately needs a family; and a bitter old woman who hates them all. As the summer progresses, the wandering portrait artist and the charming football star play a high-stakes game, fighting themselves and each other for a chance to have it all. Natural Born Charmer is for everyone who’s ever thought about leaving their old life in the dust and never looking back. Susan Elizabeth Phillips takes us home again . . . and shows us where love truly lives.”


Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

(Find this book in our catalog)  Until 2006 the world had recognised Louis Comfort Tiffany as the creator & designer of Tiffany lamps. The son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of Tiffany & Co., Louis was a painter & designer of pottery, jewellery & stained glass panels. At the New York Historical Society’s Exhibit “A New Light on Tiffany” it was revealed that  it was Clara Driscoll & her department of women artists who had designed & created many of the lamps that Louis had previously been credited for. In her novel, Ms. Vreeland follows Clara’s life as she begins her work & sometimes frustrating relationship with Louis. When Clara falls in love though, she must decide whether to follow her art or heart as married women are not allowed to work for Tiffany. Besides being a portrait of Clara & Mr. Tiffany, the novel also reflects the hardships of single, poor & immigrant women. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in historical fiction or the role of women in society at the end of the 1800s.

Two other titles by Ms. Vreeland are Luncheon of the Boating Party & Girl in Hyacinth Blue.  More can be found on her website

 “Vreeland paints her canvas with the sure strokes of a talented artist.”
–Publishers Weekly

Posted by Julia


The Right Hand Shore by Christopher Tilghman

Monday, August 27th, 2012

  Christopher Tilghman, author of Mason’s Retreat and The Right Hand Shore (find this book in our catalog), will be visiting the Bel Air branch on Sunday October 28 at 2pm.  Read more about the library program.

“Fifteen years after the publication of his acclaimed novel, Mason’s Retreat, Christopher Tilghman returns to the Mason family and its decaying plantation on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. In his new novel, The Right-Hand Shore, the Masons and their former slaves attempt to create a just and viable community in the tumultuous years after the Civil War. Most of these hopes are dashed by the farm’s failure and an unsolved murder, but out of these tragedies comes a forbidden love affair that offers a chance for redemption.”



Th Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Friday, August 24th, 2012

(Find this book in our catalog)  Sometime in the not too distant future, most of the world’s inhabitants have been killed by a flu virus. Some have survived, others still live but have a blood disease that is a slow killer. Hig is one of the survivors. He lives at a small airport in Colorado with his dog Jasper & a neighbor, Bangley. Nearby are a family of Mennonites who have the blood disease. Bangley is ex-military, he has a perimeter, a watchtower & arms that include guns & grenades. Hig can fly & uses a Cessna to watch over their settlement. Together they can ward off the killers, other survivors who want what they have. Yet Hig yearns for more than survival, for connections, kindness  & the better parts of human relationships. So he flies off one day risking his life to find others who may not be killers. Peter Heller has written a beautiful, haunting & heartbreaking tale of devastation & loss, of grief & hope. This excellently written story will stay with you long after you have finished it. 

Heller has previously published several works of non-fiction & has been a contributor to a variety of magazines. He lives in Colorado.

Posted by Julia

Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rock Flats by Kristen Iversen

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

(Find this book in our catalog) Arvada, Colorado, is one of those places that can be breathtakingly beautiful in its rugged landscape interrupted by the Rocky Mountains.  It could have been a blessedly safe and nurturing home to Kristen Iversen and her brother and sisters, but since the town rests downwind of Rocky Flats, the beauty and safety of the land were only an illusion.  Rocky Flats was a facility, now closed,  in which plutonium triggers were made, the devices that actually set off nuclear bombs.  The plant’s site, due to contamination, will continue to poison the environment for generations to come.  Iversen, of course,  couldn’t know this  as a child, but only later as an adult.  For the time being, during her childhood, she reveled in that illusion of safety.

While Iversen grew up only vaguely aware of the dangers lurking in the area, families in her neighborhood suffered odd, ill-defined, and often deadly ailments:  cancers, skin rashes, ongoing fevers, never-ending fatigue, and more.  For Iversen, it was more than just Rocky Flats, though.  Her family was headed by an alcoholic father, and Kristen was much more aware of her father’s decline in his health and in his growing detachment from his family than of the ongoing danger surrounding her.  If full body burden refers to the level of radioactive material in a person’s body, material that will poison and continue to poison a person for years to come, then her family’s trials were only partially defined by the plutonium in the atmosphere and soil of Arvada.  Her father’s alcoholism was nearly as much a burden on the soul of the family as the plutonium was on the body.

Written largely in first person, Iverson’s story takes on an immediacy that entices readers to fall into her life, enjoying the warm summer winds coming down from the mountains or quaking in fear at the devastation of a fire at the plant, euphemistically called an “incident,” that spews toxins far and wide, while area residents go about their lives not knowing the evils in the air, water, and soil of their land.  Such incidents were frequent enough to pollute the surrounding wilderness and towns alike, making them unhealthy for millennia to come.  While Iverson picks up the pieces of her life and goes on to teach at a college far away from Rocky Flats, the detritus of her life lingers, offering both sorrowful reflection and inspiration to her writing.

D. L. S.

Book to Movie – Cosmopolis

Monday, August 20th, 2012

The movie Cosmopolis, based on Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name opeed on Friday,  August 17.  Directed by David Cronenberg, the film stars Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti and Juliette Binoche.

This is what it says in our catalog about the novel Cosmopolis (find the book in the catalog):

“It is an April day in the year 2000 and an era is about to end — those booming times of market optimism when the culture boiled with money and corporations seemed more vital and influential than governments.Eric Packer, a billionaire asset manager at age 28, emerges from his penthouse triplex and settles into his lavishly customized white stretch limousine. On this day he is a man with two missions: to pursue a cataclysmic bet against the yen and to get a haircut across town. His journey to the barbershop is a contemporary odyssey, funny and fast-moving. Stalled in traffic by a presidential motorcade, a music idol’s funeral and a violent political demonstration, Eric receives a string of visitors — his experts on security, technology, currency, finance and theory. Sometimes he leaves the car for sexual encounters and sometimes he doesn’t have to. Cosmopolis, Don DeLillo’s thirteenth novel, is both intimate and global, a vivid and moving account of a spectacular downfall.”

Also check the catalog for reviews and an author profile.


More Downton Abbey Readalikes

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

  The Absolutist by John Boyne (Find in our catalog) — “A masterfully told tale of passion, jealousy, heroism and betrayal set in the gruesome trenches of World War I. It is September 1919: twenty-one-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver a package of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft, the man he fought alongside during the Great War. But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan’s visit. He can no longer keep a secret and has finally found the courage to unburden himself of it. As Tristan recounts the horrific details of what to him became a senseless war, he also speaks of his friendship with Will–from their first meeting on the training grounds at Aldershot to their farewell in the trenches of northern France. The intensity of their bond brought Tristan happiness and self-discovery as well as confusion and unbearable pain. The Absolutist is a masterful tale of passion, jealousy, heroism, and betrayal set in one of the most gruesome trenches of France during World War I. This novel will keep readers on the edge of their seats until its most extraordinary and unexpected conclusion, and will stay with them long after they’ve turned the last page.”

  The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones (Find in our catalog) – “Set in an old manor house deep in the English countryside in the early years of the 20th century, this breakout novel tells the story of an unexpectedly dramatic day in the life of an eccentric, rather dysfunctional, and unforgettable family.”

  Elegy for Eddie byJacqueline Winspear (Find in our catalog) — the ninth in the Maisie Dobbs series, about a British WWI nurse, who began working at age thirteen as a servant in a London mansion. The series begins in 1929, so it’s a bit later than Downton Abbey.


The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

Monday, August 13th, 2012

  (Find this book in our catalog)  Who are The Gods of Gotham?  On reading this gripping historical novel set in New York City in 1845, you might at first be forgiven for thinking the title refers to the police force formed in that year and called in the “flash” language of the streets the “Copper Stars.”  They wore no uniforms, lest they look too much like a standing army, but just a rough copper star on the chest.  They seemed to have carte blanche do do anything it took to maintain order and also to help themselves out as the opportunity arose.

Timothy Wilde reluctantly became a Copper Star when his place of employment, his nest egg and his good looks were wiped out in a huge fire which devastated downtown Mahatten.  He was found his job in the notorious slum of Five Points by his brother, a Democratic party ward boss of dubious morals and lifestyle and limitless power and influence.

New York was already overflowing with Irish immigrants many of whom were living in abject poverty.  Crime rates were skyrocketing.  The Irish were in harsh competition with the New Yorkers for jobs, competition that often broke into violence.  There were several notorious gangs going by names such as The Plug Uglies.  Bad feeling against the Irish at all levels of society was increased by the fact that most Irish were Catholic and most New Yorkers Protestant.  Then even more immigrants started to arrive in response to the Irish potato famine.  To counteract the horrendous crime wave, despite opposition on all sides, a police force had to be formed.  Most of the police were recruited from the Irish, who mostly voted Democratic.  Many people feared the police would become just another gang of Democratic Party thugs.  When the book begins this is still an open question.

The idea was that the police would patrol their wards and by their presence prevent crime before it happened.  Very soon after Timothy starts his job as a patrolman he runs into a ten-year old girl out a night in a blood-soaked night gown and muttering that they will, “tear him to pieces.”   Timothy takes her home rather than turn her over to the grim House of Refuge.  Once somewhat recovered she tells wild tales of  bodies burried in the woods beyond 23rd street.  It turns out the girl has been held captive in a brothel that supplies children to its clients.  She know of  several children who just disappeared.  The girl takes police to the place she had heard spoken of and there indeed they find dozens of bodies of children, some not long buried.

The police commissioner knows that his force’s job must change to include not only preventing crime but also to detecting culprits.  He appoints Tim as his first unofficial detective to find out who is kidnapping and killing the child prostitutes of New York.  A thrilling and horrifying tale unsues that brings in elements of religion, madness, and perversion all set in the rich and detailed background of 1840s New York.  Everything is complicated by the Democratic Party machine’s plans to influence a forthcoming election and Tim’s brother’s dubious part in that.  Lyndsay Faye’s command of historical detail is remarkable.  One of the parts I liked best was Tim’s use of the newspaper boys to gather information.  The boys gather together in an old theater and put on plays.  This really did happen in the 1840s.

Perhaps the Gods of Gotham in the title are the Copper Stars who abrogated to themselves the godlike freedom to do as they pleased.  Perhaps, given the wave of religious hysteria about Catholics that swept the city, The Gods of Gotham refers to the two versions of God whose believers were battling for ascendancy.  Perhaps the Gods are the Democrats, the “Party” which is always evident behind the scenes, never visible but always pulling the strings? 


You may also like Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s doomed quest to clean up sin-loving New York by Richard Zacks, which is set in the 1890s but many of the problems began in the 1840s.


House of Silk which is a modern Sherlock Holmes novel authorized by the Conan Doyle estate and has many similar themes to Gods of Gotham though set in the underworld of London.

New Historical Fiction

Friday, August 10th, 2012

  The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen.  Summary: “Based on a remarkable true story, The Secrets of Mary Bowser is an inspiring tale of one daring woman’s willingness to sacrifice her own freedom to change the course of history All her life, Mary has been a slave to the wealthy Van Lew family of Richmond, Virginia. But when Bet, the willful Van Lew daughter, decides to send Mary to Philadelphia to be educated, she must leave her family to seize her freedom. Life in the North brings new friendships, a courtship, and a far different education than Mary ever expected, one that leads her into the heart of the abolition movement. With the nation edging toward war, she defies Virginia law by returning to Richmond to care for her ailing father–and to fight for emancipation. Posing as a slave in the Confederate White House in order to spy on President Jefferson Davis, Mary deceives even those who are closest to her to aid the Union command. Just when it seems that all her courageous gambles to end slavery will pay off, Mary discovers that everything comes at a cost–even freedom.”

  The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman.  Summary: “It is 1663 in the tiny, hardscrabble Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now present-day southern Manhattan. Orphan children are going missing, and among those looking into the mysterious state of affairs are a quick-witted twenty-two-year-old trader, Blandine van Couvering, herself an orphan, and a dashing British spy named Edward Drummond.” –From dust jacket.

  The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.  Summary: “Patroclus, an awkward young prince, follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate. Set during the Trojan War.”

  The Cove by Ron Rash.  Summary: ” living deep within a cove in the Appalachians of North Carolina during World War I, Laurel Shelton finally finds the happiness she deserves in Walter, a mysterious stranger who is mute, but their love cannot protect them from a devastating secret.”