Information, Answers & Reviews

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

ISBN: 
9781627792103

If you loved Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall novels, this collection of stories will convince you that she can capture modern people at least as well as medieval ones showing all their foibles and unachieved dreams. 

Mantel’s prose is startling clear, her metaphors striking but en pointe, and her feel for characters both rich and sure.  She has a ready feel for plot and for infusing her stories with a deep feel for the mysterious.

In the opener, “Sorry to Disturb,” she portrays a sick British ex-pat living in Saudi Arabia, who is almost a prisoner in her own apartment (because of women’s very restricted social and cultural standing there.) An Asian foreign man starts to visit her in the afternoons and though he is married, she immediately suspects his lack of good intentions. When he tells her that she reminds him of his first American girlfriend who was risque, she knows her perceptions are right. Read more »

Family Secrets

ISBN: 
9780670025558

Remember reading the Old Testament and seeing the list of “begats” that seemed to last forever?  This book examines human history as recorded in our DNA.  It’s full of fascinating lore: recently geneticists and statisticians have proved that African countries where the slave trade was rampant  have not only a much higher sense of distrust toward friends and strangers, but also have much poorer economies today over a hundred fifty years later.

And Genghis Khan really did father thousands of children, yet at the same time he lived up to his name as the Destroyer. During the two centuries of the Mongol raids that he initiated, 40 million people died. So many that much of the inhabited earth became reforested. This was the only time in recorded history that the CO2 in the atmosphere actually dropped enough to measure.

Genghis Khan also lives on for his particular Y chromosome. Not only did he pass this on to countless sons, but he and his armies killed so many men with different Y chromosomes that his became the predominant one in many parts of Asia. Read more »

Booksplus Discussion, Sunday Nov. 2 at 2: Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society

ISBN: 
9781451675238

What happens when an energetic, middle-aged Bostonian moves to a sleepy town in Florida in 1962? First, she starts a radio show under the persona of Miss Dreamsville and secondly forms a book club. Ex-Bostonian Jackie Hart starts a ruckus when she invites people of other races and sexual persuasions to the club in a decidedly racist, homophobic town where a divorcee is considered socially-risque and improper.

Narrated by a lovable octagenerian, Dora, who does not fit into Naples herself, this novel discusses important issues such as racism, feminism, and homophobia while presenting an interesting mix of characters. With a backdrop of serious and important issues, it provides a humorous and entertaining read.

In her debut novel Amy Hearth manages to take on both the Ku Klux Klan, North versus South, the nature of community, and newcomer angst to Naples, Florida. Read more »

The Shootist

ISBN: 
097360890440

A while ago I wrote about one of my favorite John Wayne Movies, The Quiet Man.  The Quiet Man was a romance and a departure from the War and Western films that John Wayne was most well known for.   My second favorite John Wayne film, The Shootist is also a departure from his usual role even though it is a western, it is the story of an older gunfighter now battling a greater battle; cancer. Seeking a place to spend his last days, he takes up residence in a boarding house run by a widow who is against everything the gunfighter’s life represents while her teenage son harbors a secret desires to be just like the old shootist .

The cast for The Shootist is among the best.  Besides “The Duke” as the shootist J.B. Books, the film features Lauren Bacall as boarding house owner Bond Rodgers and Ron Howard as her son Gillom.   Despite the film’s title you won’t find a lot of shoot outs in the film.  It’s the story a dying man, who wants to die with dignity and perhaps regain a little taste of the life he could have had if his life had not taken the violent turn it did.  Yes, John Wayne is still the tough guy, but his view is now tempered as he faces his cancer and the knowledge that there is nothing he can do to win his battle against it.  Each character must in the end examine themselves as they are faced with Books’ mortality and eventual death. 

Blue Ruin

ISBN: 
013132612850


Here's one of my favorite American movies I've seen this year. I heard about this while it was making the rounds on the festival circuit last year and finally got a chance to check it out recently. It won the FIPRESCI prize at the Cannes Film Festival last summer (the international critics' prize for best independent feature). While it's worth checking out for the Virgina set cinematography, it is primarily a suspense film about how revenge never goes the way you want it to.
Read more »

The Storied Life of A.K. Fikry

ISBN: 
9781616203214

Like bookstores? Like islands off the coast of New England? Favor novels that feature an orphan and a single dad? Drawn to love stories especially ones where the couple start off at each other's throats? Have a thing for rare manuscripts especially those of Edgar Allen Poe? If so this charming book-celebratory novel is just your thing.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry begins with publisher’s rep, Amelia Loman (“a tall dandelion of a woman") disembarking from a ferry to visit a small bookstore on Alice Island to go over the winter accounts for her publisher, Knightley Press. The owner, the very curmudgeonly A.J. Fikry, is decidedly unfriendly and shocked by the fact that the old book rep has not come. Loman tells him that he has died and then proceeds to push her favorite book, a memoir by a widower dealing with his bereavement. 

For Fikry this hits too close to home but he does not tell Alice why. He has recently lost Nic, his intelligent and beautiful wife while she was pregnant with their first child. Fikry begins a delightful rant about all the books he does not like: postmodern, post apocalyptic, magical realism, ones with multiple fonts, children’s books, poetry, YA, etc. Read more »

Man Booker Prize Awarded to Australian Novelist

ISBN: 
9780385352857

The Man Booker Prize winner for 2014 was announced on Tuesday. Richard Flanagan, a popular and highly-regarded Australian novelist, won it for his book The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a historical novel set during WWII.

It’s about the construction of the Thai-Burma railroad, known as the Death Railway. For an odd bit of symmetry, Flanagan’s father, who worked on this railway during World War II, died on the very day that Flanagan finished his book.

If you follow book news, you already know that this is the first year that American authors have been allowed to compete for the Booker, and two Americans made the short list: Karen Joy Fowler (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves) and Joshua Ferris (To Rise Again at a Decent Hour). Read more »

Murder in the Stacks

ISBN: 
9780762780877

If one single event stands out in the memory of my first semester in State College, Pa., it’s the murder of an English graduate student that happened in the library.  Before reading this book, I would have guessed it occurred just a week or two into term, rather than toward its end—so much did it color life for the rest of my college experience in Happy Valley, Pa.  Yes, this remote mountain valley in almost the exact center of Pa. is actually named that.

Most of my dorm-mates felt absolute terror after the murder.  They literally would not leave the building alone after dark.  I remember big gangs of young women walking together in a phalanx toward the library to study.  I joined them one night, but that was it.  I could not time my departures and arrivals and function in such a timid, emotionally-wrought group.

And though this horrible crime happened decades ago, it still has not been officially “solved.” But the author, a Harrisburg journalist, has come up with some compelling facts that point to a specific fellow grad student. A student in fact that went on to continue his PhD studies and remained on campus for four or five more years. Read more »

Without You, There is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite

ISBN: 
9780307720658

This well-written memoir about teaching in a college in North Korea the year Kim Jong-il died sent shivers up my spine. The author, Suki Kim, an American writer, who spent part of her childhood in South Korea and is fluent in the language, had visited North Korea several times. Each time she felt divorced from the people and prevented by her “minders” (they were actually called that) from getting a true understanding of what contemporary life was like in the country.

Emotionally, Kim felt connected to the country because part of her family lived there. Kim’s mother had often told her stories about how her eldest brother disappeared and was never seen again when he was taken from a truck during the Korean War.  The family was divided from other aunts and uncles and cousins who lived across the divide.

Kim, primarily a journalist, had taught at a college in the states and sometime around 2010 heard that a Bible college, financed by Americans, was soon to open near Pyongyang. The very idea sounded strange—a culture that scorned religion was allowing westerners to open a bible college by the capital? Read more »

The Quiet Man

ISBN: 
9781555269005

John Wayne is one of the most famous and beloved actors of all time.  He had an acting style that was uniquely his own.  While he is best known for his westerns and war films, my favorite John Wayne film, The Quiet Man, falls in neither category.  John Wayne plays boxer Sean Thornton returning to his Irish boyhood home from America after retiring from the ring and from fighting altogether after one of his opponents dies from the blows he suffered in their fight.  His desire is to return to the simple life he knew as a boy and the town he grew up in.  It doesn’t take long before he finds love with Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’hara), but it is this love that is going to make his life far from simple. Read more »

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