Friday, October 1, 2010

Book of the Month - The Passage

The Passage by Justin Cronin

There aren't too many 766-page books that I can read in less than two weeks. As much as I love books, my leisure reading over the course of a day amounts to 15 minutes at lunch and 5 minutes before I fall asleep at night.

But Justin Cronin's 2010 sci-fi novel, The Passage, simply begs to be devoured. I was hooked by the second page, and enthralled by the time I got to the second chapter. It's the kind of book that you don't want to know too much about before you get started, so I will just say this: it's a vampire story, but it's nothing like the bestselling vampire titles you've seen recently. It's a bit like Stephen King's The Stand, and it certainly reminded me of Matherson's I Am Legend,but unlike these The Passage is absolutely impossible to put down. It will keep you up at night and it might just creep you out.

You can cram a lot of characters and situations into 766 pages, and Cronin does that. But I never got bored of any characters; if anything, I wish I'd read it a more slowly so I could have followed the relationships and personalities a little better. The only criticisms I could come up with are nit-picky so I won't even mention them here. The writing is frequently beautiful, such that the book never feels like the breezy, hyper-readable vampire yarn it really is. Mind you, I've nothing against breezy, hyper-readable vampire yarns. Cheers to Justin Cronin for writing one that was such a joy to read. LO

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Book of the Month - Tin Roof Blowdown

Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke

Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana and the area around the Gulf Coast on August 29th, 2005. This past week was the five year anniversary of that hurricane strike, and the area is still working to re-build after the devastation.

Tin Roof Blowdown is a complex and dark mystery, starring Burke's Sherriff's Detective, Dave Robichaeux, that takes place amidst the chaos and confusion that was New Orleans during and shortly after the Hurricane's landfall.

Mr. Robicheaux, currently working out of New Iberia, is on loan to the New Orleans Police Department because they are short staffed (to say the least). He is asked to investigate the murder and assault on two young men who were looting. Unfortunately for them, the house they chose to plunder belonged to Sidnet Kovick, a New Orleans mob figure, notorious for his wealth and cruelty.

Robicheaux's prime suspect in the case is a mild-mannered insurance salesman who lived next door to Kovick. Otis Baylor had chosen to ride out the storm at home. He owns a rifle similar to the one that did the shooting, and his daughter had been raped by four black men whose description matched that of the looters. To add to the complexity, Dave is also seeking a good friend, Jude Leblanc, who has disappeared into the storm and who might just be another victim of the looters.

Amidst the plot stands the descriptions of New Orleans during and after Katrina, a hurricane that struck with greater force than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. "New Orleans [had been] reduced to the level of a medieval society," with no electricity, grossly overburdened medical facilities, little law enforcement, and no place to put the dead - who lie rotting and bloated in the filthy water that surrounds and fills the city.

This is truly a powerful book that is not for the squeamish, and that offers a portrait of a city in ruins and citizenry in despair. It is a disturbing but highly worthwhle read. Meg

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Book of the Month - The Lace Reader

The reviewer for Bookletters said, “If you choose to read just one novel in these waning days of summer, it should be the lovely and terrifically paced The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry.” This book is part historical novel (did you know that lace making was a key industry in Salem, Massachusetts?); part romance and part mystery.

The opening sentences drew me in immediately. “My name it Towner Whitney. No, that’s not exactly true. My real first name is Sophya. Never believe me. I lie all the time.”

And it gets better. Towner has returned home to Salem after a long absence because her Aunt, Eva, has drowned in the harbor during her daily swim. The death is suspicious and involves an accusation of witchcraft (of course – it’s Salem, after all), a local evangelist and the tea room Towner’s Aunt has been running.

And through it all runs the thread of lace and lacemaking and the women who can read the future in the patterns the lace makes. This is “a mesmerizing tale that spirals into a world of secrets” that leave you pondering the difference between fact and fiction, real and make-believe, the scientific and the fantastical. Meg

Monday, June 28, 2010

Book of the Month - Dark Tide

Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo

Did you ever hear of the “great molasses flood” in Boston? I grew up hearing about this event – probably because it took place in and around Boston’s North End, and we had ties to and visited the North End frequently. But even I took the reality of this event with a grain of salt.

But it actually happened. Around noon on January 15th, 1919, a fifty foot tall tank FILLED with over 2 million gallons of thick, black molasses collapsed – creating a massive tidal wave (fifteen feet high, some say) that traveled at a speed of over 35 miles per hour and transformed Boston’s North End into a disaster area. Twenty one people were killed, many animals were destroyed, and the injury and destruction left in its wake were devastating.

Dark Tide by Steven Puleo presents us with a fascinating story – not only of the tragic flood, but of the social and cultural drama that led up to the tragedy – from the tank’s construction (in 1915) all the way through the inevitable lawsuit that followed. Mr. Puleo is an award-winning newspaper reporter and his style is highly readable. If you have never heard about the Great Molasses Flood – and would appreciate a detailed look at Boston’s history- this is the book for you.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Book of the Month - Willie Mays

Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend by James S. Hirsch

Just in time for baseball season! James Hirsch, author of the 2000 bestseller, Hurricane, (about Rubin Carter), produces a definitive biography of one of baseball’s greats – Willie Mays, considered by some to be the best player in baseball.

From a Bookletters review: “Willie is perhaps best know for “The Catch” – his breathtaking over-the-shoulder grab in the 1954 World Series. But he was a transcendent figure who received standing ovations in enemy stadiums and who, during the turbulent civil rights era, urged understanding and reconciliation.”

A great read to get you in the mood to “play ball.” Meg

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Book of the Month - Beauty

Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper

Remember Fractured Fairy Tales from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show? They took a standard fairy tale and mixed it up a bit, often with hilarious results. Jon Scieszka does the same kind of thing for kids with his The True Story of the Three Little Pigs or The Frog Prince, Continued.

Beauty by Sherri Tepper is not a fractured fairy tale so much as the tale of Sleeping Beauty told through a dark and sometimes bizarre and mysterious lens. Beauty is able to escape her wicked aunt’s curse, set for her 16th birthday, but that escape does not lead to happy-ever-after. Beauty is the half-daughter of a fairy queen herself, and the rest of the book explores the world of Faery and what it means to be “special.”

As Beauty searches both for her mother and for answers to the mysteries that surround her, we move, not only through Sleeping Beauty, but also glimpse elements of Cinderella, Snow White and even meet a frog prince. The land of Faery is not a place for the na├»ve and unaware, and Beauty’s journeys are fascinating and dangerous.

Beauty is a fairy tale for adults and even if you are not a fairy tale or science fiction fan, I highly recommend it. Meg

A note about the author: Sheri Tepper is a fairly prolific author of science fiction, horror and mystery novels. Beauty won the Locus Award for 1992.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book of the Month - Song Yet Sung

Song Yet Sung by James McBride

The Plot: Liz Spocott, slave, breaks free from her captors and escapes into the labyrinth of the creeks and swamps of Maryland’s Eastern shore. What follows is a chase story that involves slave catchers, small plantation owners, watermen, runaway slaves and a secret underground network of free blacks helping their fellows. Mixed into this adventure tale is also the story of Liz’s special talent of visioning the future. As the New York Times said, in its review, Song Yet Sung is a story of tragic triumph, violent decisions, and unexpected kindness.

I don’t generally like historical novels, but Song Yet Sung brought me to the Eastern Shore of Maryland before the Civil War and showed me a face of slavery and small farm living that has been hard to forget. The power of the tale – which is an exciting adventure, by the way, as well as an historical novel – comes from the fact that McBride never directly rails against the evils of slavery. He shows you – with a powerful narrative and complex and unforgetable characters – that no matter how much “the whites” cared for their slaves, or how much the slaves cared for their masters – the institution of slavery, by its very nature, is evil. And no good can come of evil – ever.

If you are looking for something really special to read in honor of Black History Month try McBride’s Song Yet Sung.


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