Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pick of the Month -- Gentlemen and Players

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris (on audiobook)
Setting: St. Oswald's Grammar School for Boys, England
Rating: 5.0
"It is the game, not he who plays it," Roy Straitley, Latin master at St. Oswald's, tells his nemesis at one point. But oh, this book is about the players as much as the game. The narration alternates between Straitley and Snyde, whose father once was the school's porter. It also flashes back to Snyde's childhood, one spent yearning to be part of St. Oswald's. Eventually, Snyde steals a school uniform and sneaks into St. Oswald's, becoming fast friends with student Leon. But all this pretense leads to drastic consequences, and 15 years later, Snyde is back, masquerading as a teacher and seeking revenge, maybe even murder. Can Straitley, now near retirement, stop Snyde? This book was riveting, and made all the better by narrator Steven Pacey, who with just slight changes of voice, brings us the two narrators. The book will definitely be on my top 10 this year, and I give it a perfect rating, not finding one thing wrong with it!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Kindle That!

In Sunday's review of books, New York Times reviewer Marilyn Stasio has this to say about books vs. the Kindle:

"Honestly, the ideas some people try to put in our heads. Like the absurd notion that you shouldn’t choose a book by its cover. What better reason to reach for one of the compact, beautifully designed, irresistibly tactile Penguin paperback editions of Georges Simenon’s great Inspector Maigret mysteries than the pure desire to hold such a pretty thing in your hand? And then, maybe open it. Read a page or two. Get lost. I confess I made my first two selections (“The Hotel Majestic” and “The Bar on the Seine,” $12 each) on the sheer basis of looks because, regardless of the fact that classic Maigret is an incomparable pleasure even in a ratty edition, this particular series is a work of art. As executed by Jesse Marinoff Reyes, each cover is black, with the silvered lines and squared-off typography of Art Deco, and edged in color with a different geometric design. Many also have period cover photographs by Brassa├» that are their own invitation to step inside a long-lost Parisian world. To look is to lust; to touch is to swoon. So — Kindle that, people!"

I, personally, have nothing against the Kindle. I listen to audiobooks, after all. Still, I do love the tactile feel of turning the page, and seeing the words on the page. And while I don't usually buy books based on the covers, I do admire a well-crafted book. I've bought some vintage books based just on the "look" of them -- after all, I had no real need for that little yellow edition of "The Observer's Book of Common Fungi."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New author websites

It's always hard to know if a new author will hit home with you. That's why it's so important that they have websites or blogs where you can, well, sort of test-drive them. One good example is over at the Detective Kubu site. Detective Kubu is a new series (one book published, one in the works) by Michael Stanley (the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. It's set in Botswana, but don't confuse it with Alexander McCall-Smith's Precious Ramotswe. This series seems quite different. For a preview, check out the short story on their site.

Over at Mystery Turtles, nine authors blog about their lives and about getting published. In the latest post, author Morgan Mandel wonders if the price of gas will affect the number of books being published since, for some people, buying books is a luxury.

For those with thoughts of becoming a writer, Radine Trees Nehring has written a multi-part blog entry on what it takes to get published. It's very comprehensive.

Murderous Musings is another website I'll have to bookmark. Here six authors talk about everything -- from the Dexter novels to their murder weapon of choice (for their characters, of course!).

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

July reads

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (audio)
Protagonists: Edward and Florence
Setting: Chesil Beach, England
Rating: 4.5
As always, McEwan is a masterful manipulator of words -- and the reader's emotions. There's not much I can say about the book without giving away what happens. It does mostly center on one night -- the wedding night of a young, inexperienced couple. Edward is looking forward to it; Florence is terrified. It's a story of love, chances not taken, and regret. I especially recommend the audiobook, which has an interview with McEwan, explaining the choices he made in the book.

We Shall Not Sleep by Anne Perry
Protagonists: Reavley family
Setting: Western Front, 1918
Rating: 4.6
In this, the last of the five-book arc that spans World War I, the war is almost over, anticipated to end in a few weeks. But the Reavley siblings are rushing to uncover the man they call "the Peacemaker," who was behind their parents' murder and who seeks to break any stability that peace may bring. They get their break when his German counterpart crosses the line to meet with intelligence services officer Matthew Reavley. But before they can get him to London, a nurse is viciously murdered on the front, and the Reavleys have to find her killer before they can move the German officer. Although this book was not as strong as others in the series, it wraps up all the loose ends nicely -- and finishes on a perfect note. I highly recommend this series.

I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Protagonists: Rev. Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne
Setting: Millers Kill
Rating: 4.8
It's been two months since the accident that killed Russ' wife, and he and Clare haven't spoken in all that time. But then an accident involving undocumented Mexican migrants brings them together, and soon they are solving a string of deaths. Meanwhile, a new character, Hadley Knox, is introduced -- one that Spencer-Fleming has said may spin off into another series. Spencer-Fleming manages to pair a controversial topic -- illegal immigrants -- with a trio of love stories, the main one, of course, being the relationship between Clare and Russ. The author, however, isn't done with the Clare and Russ story -- this book ends on another cliffhanger.

Stalin's Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith
Protagonist: Arkady Renko
Setting: Moscow
Rating: 3.6
Renko, an investigator for the prosecutor's office, is given a thankless assignment: investigate sightings of Stalin (yes, the dead dictator) on a subway platform. At the same time, Renko is investigating (not officially, of course) two colleagues he believes are corrupt -- heroes of the Chechen War, to boot. Throw in a homeless boy, a chess master whom Renko had taken into his home and who has now disappeared, and a lover who leaves Renko for one of the Chechen war heroes, and you have several plot devices that somehow manage to come together in the end. The book was a little too convoluted for me, but nevertheless an interesting look at modern Russia.

Ruling Passion by Reginald Hill (third in the series)
Protagonists: Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe
Setting: Thornton Lacey
Rating: 4.3
Peter Pascoe and his girlfriend Ellie set off for a countryside visit to their friends. But on arrival, they find a grisly scene: three of their friends dead and one of them missing. The missing man is the main, and only, suspect, but Peter and Ellie know he couldn't have killed his wife and friends. As usual, Hill delivers a wonderful story full of humor (amid the murders and other crime). Take for example, one slow-speed chase across a cluttered antiques shop involving Dalziel, already in bad humor from having to diet. More than 30 years after it was written, still fresh and funny!

Rating system:
5.0: Wow -- must read!
4.0: A book I'd recommend
3.0: Mediocre to good
2.0: Pretty Bad