Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rob gives us The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane

Babe Ruth is there. So is J. Edgar Hoover. Boston Police Chief Stephen O’Meara and Communist leader Louis Fraina are there too. Dennis Lehane’s novel The Given Day incorporates some well-known and some lesser-known historical figures into a gripping story of 1918 Boston. The flu pandemic, the police strike, World War I and the crackdown on radicals are woven into the story so well, they might as well be characters. The two main protagonists, one black one white, see the world and all the forces arrayed against them, in sharp focus. In Lehane’s skillful hands, we discover page by page just how much that clear vision can shield them from those forces. And Lehane is not timid about portraying the ugly realities of class and race in the World War I era. If you’ve enjoyed Lehane’s earlier books, The Given Day will be a departure, but a departure well worth it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Megan suggests: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Three unconnected stories of individuals facing hard times come together in this suspenseful novel by Dan Chaon. I wasn't sure if I was going to like this one, given the three disparate but equally grim story lines. The excellent writing and intriguing characters got me, however. The book also has a great twist at the end that I didn't see coming.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sue Recommends Hell's Corner by David Baldacci

Hell's Corner is #5 in the Camel Club Series featuring Oliver Stone by David Baldacci. This is by far the best of this political thriller series, and if the earlier books caused you to question what is really going on in politics and the Intelligence Departments of the government, this one will cause you to lose most of your trust.

Oliver Stone, a former government assassin, is asked by the President to play a role finding information in events with the Mexican drug cartels. Before he can begin, a bomb in Lafayette Park, directly across from the White House, with the British Prime Minister possibly the target, sends him and an MI6 female agent into looking into who is responsible and why it occurred. There are so many false trails set in their paths, people being killed, and possible involvement by the Mexican cartels and Russian government that you wonder if Stone can discover the truth. What is real, how are the events that occur related, and who can he trust when he believes that he is being set up?

It is absolutely addictive and the plot so well constructed that you will not be able to put it down or get out of your car if you are listening to the audio book (read by Ron McLarty and Orlagh Cassidy). The story works as a standalone but you will garner so much more about the characters if you read the earlier books in the series.

Another must read! SH

Sue Recommends The Confession by John Grisham

Grisham takes the nonfiction book he wrote, An Innocent Man, and produces, The Confession, a suspenseful legal thriller with twists that keep you on the seat of your chair. Donte, an innocent high school football star is on death row for a conviction of rape and murder.

The conviction was based on a confession gained through illegal means by the police, lies, and inappropriate behavior in the judicial system.

In the meantime, the real killer wants to save Donte 4 days before his execution. Who is this man, why does he want to come forward now, and will he be in time?

Grisham is at his finest with this new novel. He makes the reader doubt the power given to the judicial system in determining life and death of citizens because it is only as good as the people involved in the process. A must read. SH

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mike's Picks for Best Graphic Novels of 2010

2010 was a bumper crop year for graphic novels, so I've highlighted five below that I think are standouts in the field. I hope you enjoy the list, and please let me know in the comments section what graphic novels you think should be on the list!

Chris Ware: Acme Novelty Library, vol. 20

Chris Ware is most famous for his brilliant and meticulous artwork detailing his stories of people, trapped in a socially awkward landscape resulting from normal personality quirks magnified on a grand scale—the comic book hoarder, the kid bullied in the playground, etc. Enter installment 20: the life of Jordan Lint who had appeared briefly in previous volumes as the tormentor of Rusty Brown. Ware designs the book brilliantly, with each page represents a year in his 72 year-long life, during which Lint suffers the hard knocks of life and poor decision-making.

Kurt Busiek: Astro City The Dark Age, vols. 1 & 2

Kurt Busiek may be the best writer in comics working currently, with a unique postmodern perspective of superheroes. His Astro City series takes a keen look at the tension that builds in the world of superheroes—both among their own ranks and with the ordinary people suffering the fallout from living in a city overpopulated by them. The Dark Ages series is Busiek at his best, focusing on the ordinary vs. superhero conundrum with heart-rending effect as two brothers whose young lives were impacted by the murder of their parents follow very different lives as a consequence.

Joyce Farmer: Special Exits

Joyce Farmer, a revered underground comics cartoonist, has written her first full-length graphic novel and it may be the most powerful publication of the year. Chronicling the last four years of the lives of Lars and Rachel, Special Exits is a humorous, insightful, and ultimately heartbreaking story that’s based on Joyce Farmer’s own experiences with the death of her father and stepmother. It’s a difficult story to read, where old age and fears keep the elderly couple from venturing beyond the doorstep of their South Los Angeles home, but it also creates a profound appreciation in the reader for being able to share in their experiences and lives.

Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris: Ex Machina, vols. 1-10

Two powerhouses of modern comics, Brian K. Vaughan from Y: The Last Man fame and Tony Harris, illustrator of Starman, joined forces on a thrilling postmodern superhero story that wrapped up this year. Like all good superheroes Mitchell Hundred received his powers via a freak accident with a piece of alien technology and found that he could communicate with machines. Dubbing himself the “Great Machine,” Hundred blundered his way through his childhood fantasy of saving the world—until he saved the second tower of the World Trade Center during the September 11th attacks. What happens after is when the series really gets rolling, however, because he gives up life as a superhero and becomes a servant to the public as the mayor of NYC.

Mike Carey & Peter Gross: The Unwritten, vols. 1 & 2

Imagine if the last book of Harry Potter went unwritten because the author mysteriously vanished; and imagine that the son of said author is, being the person the book’s hero was patterned on, cashing in on the legacy his absent father created. Enter the mystery: the son doesn’t seem to exist at all, there having been no record of his birth, school records, etc. What ensues is a literary thriller that’s sure to interest fans of other high-art Vertigo titles like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Bill Willingham’s Fables.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Winter is Coming

A Game of Thrones
by George R. R. Martin

In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall.

At the center of the conflict lie t
he Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Magic, mystery, intrigue, romance, and adventure fill these pages and transport us to a world unlike any we have ever experienced. Already hailed as a classic, George R. R. Martin’s stunning series is destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.

A fantasy of epic, no titanic proportions, this is the first of a projected 7 book series. Currently four books have been written. Whether writing battle, romance, intrigue, or politics the believable characters carry the story. My favorite is the Tyrion, the black sheep of the Lannister family, who is stunted by dwarfism and mockingly nicknamed "the Imp". Many chapters end on a cliffhanger which keeps the reader going through all 835 pages. Soon to be a HBO series.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rob Recommends David Sedaris on CD

I became a fan of David Sedaris from the first time I heard him on NPR lo those many years ago. I still crack up when I hear Santaland Diaries. For those unfamiliar with him, Sedaris is a storyteller. Readers learn all the intimate details of his growing up, his eccentric family, his gay awareness and later his relationship with his boyfriend Hugh. All of his books are funny and worth reading. The humor is varied enough so that there will be sly humor, wincing painful humor, smile-to-yourself pieces, I've-got-to-share-this humor, laugh out loud stories and the old eyes-tearing-I've-got-to-stop-reading humor. As good as his books are to read, I highly recommend listening to him read his stories. He's as much a performer as he is a writer and he is the reader for all of his audiobooks in the Library.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Megan suggests: She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders

I was talking to a coworker the other day about people who undergo sex change operations. It's something she was having trouble understanding, so I told her to read She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan. A creative writing professor at a liberal arts college in Maine, married with two kids, James Finney Boylan decides he was meant to live life as a woman. The book is about his life leading up to that point and explains a lot of the actual process of going about changing genders. A really interesting and well-written book -- I loved the parts about Finney Boylan going out with his drinking buddy Richard Russo.