Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cowboy hats in the City of Brotherly Love

I am always looking for a good book- a great book. There are so many books published each year that it is hard to keep up. You end up wading through through piles of poor to fair stories to find that one gem that finally shines. What makes the reading experience so much better is to be given a recommendation by someone else- someone who likes the kinds of stories you do, someone whose reading interests are similar to yours. When you talk to, chat with, or exchange emails with someone, you can quickly ascertain if they like similar types of books.

Recently I was having a conversation with my book rep from Penguin, Eric, and as it so happened, our interest in books are somewhat similar. While looking through the catalogs of books, we came across a series that Eric suggested I read, or at least pick up one of the books and give it a try. I did, and now I’m hooked.

I just finished Kindness Goes Unpunished by Craig Johnson, a Walt Longmire Mystery and I’m grateful Eric recommended it. This is actually the third book in the series, but reads nearly like a stand alone novel. The characters are written well and are fleshed out quickly enough that even though I didn’t read the two books prior to this, I felt I understood their backgrounds and knew them after only a couple of dozen pages.

Walt Longmire, Absaroka County, Wyoming sheriff, travels to the Philadelphia with his close friend and Cheyenne Indian (don’t call him a Native American), Henry Standing Bear, to visit his daughter Cady, a workaholic, up and coming lawyer. Before Longmire has a chance to see his daughter, she is knocked unconscious and ends up in the hospital in a coma. Longmire sets out to discover what really happened to his daughter the night she was hurt and ends up entangled with Cady’s ego-centric boyfriend, Philidelphia’s drug kingpin, a dirty assistant district attorney and a mysterious “white Indian” who is trying to protect him. Work into the story the family of his deputy, Victoria Moretti (Vic), aka The Holy Terror, and you have all sorts of fireworks ready to be lit. The American west meets east coast swagger.

Well written, filled with subtle humor and lacking nothing in good plot or characters, Craig Johnson has written a book that branded me a fan. I am going back to read the first two books of the series, Cold Dish and Death Without Company and hoping he has a fourth book in the works- at the rate I devoured Kindness Goes Unpunished, I’ll be done with the first two within the week.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Learn to live from those who've died

Question: Why would anyone sit down and read a book full of obituaries?

Answer: Because these are amazing, touching, funny stories of everyday people who did something extraordinary with their ordinary lives (thus the subtitle).

ObitIn Obit by Jim Sheeler, a reporter who wrote obituaries for a living for the Boulder Planet and the Denver Post, collects obituaries written to share lives and experiences of those that have gone before. These are not the obituaries on page B10 that every newspaper carries, but extensions of these. They are three to five page stories of what people did in their lives that reminds each of us how to be better human beings. They are poignant, funny, sad, heartrending, heartwarming and always touching. Although each is the story of a life from someone who lived in Colorado, I think we all know of someone in our own communities reflected in these essays.

If my own obituary eventually reads anything like the individuals in this collection, I would be wholly satisfied with my life.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Don't 'Kindle' the flames just yet...

Let me just preface this entry by saying that I’m not a Luddite or technophobe- if I was, would I be writing this blog?

Kindle,’s attempt to do to the printed book what the iPod did to the CD, was released today. I read the article in Newsweek. I read the article in the New York Times. I watched the promotional videos on Amazon. I thought about the Kindle, worried about it briefly, and then came to yet the same conclusion I have a dozen or so times before- the printed book is not yet dead.

About 1997 I read an article talking about the future of the book. The digital book was to be the wave of the future. All sorts of advancements were coming down the road in the next few years that would allow hand held devices to not only replace books, but to allow us to carry hundreds with them. Ten years and numerous attempts later nothing has yet displaced that block of wood pulp and ink.

Here’s why, with a book, paper is superior to an LCD screen:

1). Books have been portable a lot longer than computers. The technology in books has been perfected over centuries and is unlikely to be replaced so easily.

2). Price. Invest in a book and only a book. You don’t have to spend a quarter to a third of a mortgage payment just for the ability to read a book. For a minor investment, you get permanence, not bits of electricity floating about in the ether.

3). Ever tried to get your favorite author to sign an ebook? Or, ever tried to give an ebook as a gift, inscribed with a personal thought?

4). Try lending an ebook to a friend.

5). Every donated an ebook to charity or sold it to a used bookstore for a little extra cash?

6). The feel, the heft, the smell of a printed book just can’t be duplicated by an ebook. Unless Kindle comes with a scent generator- is that possible?

7). Lastly, no batteries required.

Good luck Kindle, but does the word Rocketbook mean anything to you?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Where's the mystery?

The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang was not quite what I was expecting from the description on the book cover. It certainly billed itself as being a mystery being solved by the female protagonist of the story- Wang Mei, who has set up a detective agency in Beijing. It turned out to be much less of a "mystery" than a story about the intricacies of family and Chinese culture, and social and political intrigues within China.
While well written, I approached it (because of the cover description) as a mystery story and came away disappointed. What does the publisher expect of the reader when they put "A Mei Wang Mystery" as a subtitle?
I thought the author tried a little too hard to make some of the wording feel like awkward English, like a Chinese person might speak if they learned English well, but not fluently. For example, in the hospital, Mei and her sister hire what amounts to a nurse's assistant to help take care of their mother, yet the author refers to her as a "help-worker" throughout the book. This is just one instance, but it occurs regularly throughout the book and makes the reading slightly awkward in some places. Strangely, in most other places, the characters/authors command of English is the equivalent a native speaker.
This may simply be the attempt of a first time novelist (both the wording and the lack of a real mystery) to establish a character in a first book then build the character in subsequent books where the language and story both improve. I would need to read a second book (if indeed, this is meant to be a series) and see the improvement before I were able to recommend this to others.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

And the winner is...

The national book awards were given out last night in New York City. The winners were:

Tree of SmokeFiction
Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke

Legacy of AshesNonfiction
Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA

Time and MaterialsPoetry
Robert Hass, Time and Materials

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Young People’s Literature
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

These all are amazing books and I encourage you to pick up at least one for a great read.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Nothing missing here

I have long been a fan of crime fiction, everything from hard-boiled detective stories, to mysteries, to legal thrillers. There always seems to be an element of excitement in reading about criminals that you grow to like who seem as if they are going to get away with the perfect crime. Or, the lawyer who, in court is being run over roughshod by their opponent, only to find the legal catch and is able to pull out the win.

Missing WitnessOf course, in the last two decades, the king of the legal thriller has been John Grisham. I began reading him from nearly the beginning and waited in anticipation for the next novel to arrive. But, when I read “The Street Lawyer” I had and immense letdown and I stopped reading Grisham novels for a number of years. Grisham novels rely on plot twists and turns and cliff hangers at the end of chapters which sometimes are not resolved until a chapter or two later. Most of his books are fast paced and drive the reader along with the characters through the stories.

Just yesterday I finished a novel, a legal mystery, which drove me through the book because of the characters rather than with them. “Missing Witness” by Gordon Campbell is an amazing legal mystery whose story is great, but whose characters carry the story from beginning to end.

The story is told by Doug McKenzie, a recent law school graduate who goes to work for a Phoenix, Arizona law firm, mainly because he wants to work with and learn from one of the great criminal defense lawyers of his day, Dan Morgan.

McKenzie and Morgan catch a murder case by request of the Ferris Eddington, a rich rancher whose son was killed. The problem is, Eddington wants his daughter-in-law Rita, who has been accused of the murder, defended. With reservations, Morgan and McKenzie take the case and find themselves in a legal brawl with Maximillian Hauser, the district attorney prosecuting the case.

Morgan is cocky and sure-footed, while McKenzie is learning that law school and law practice are two entirely different animals. The defense of Rita Eddington throws an ethical dilemma at the two defense attorneys and ultimately creates an even larger dilemma, one which Doug McKenzie finds he cannot cope with without relying on individuals whom he trusts more than Dan Morgan.

Halfway through the book, it appears that the story is ending as the trial of Rita Eddington concludes, but Campbell is just getting the story started. What is Morgan capable of doing in order to protect his client and what will McKenzie do to quiet his conscience and defend and innocent girl?

Highly readable, exceptionally well written, amazing story telling, while creating characters that ring true showing their strengths and their flaws. If you read legal mysteries you must give Missing Witness a try. If you don’t, read it anyway- you won’t be disappointed. Meanwhile, I will be waiting in anticipation for Gordon Campbell’s next book.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Just behave, would you?

God Behaving BadlyWhatever happened to the gods of Olympus? They seemed to be doing quite well 2500 years ago. Once the Roman’s co-opted them as part of their pantheon they still had a good run for hundreds of years more. But, once Constantine accepted Christianity, the Greek/Roman gods predominance was over. Christians has this awful tendency to be a monotheistic people (Father, Son and Holy Ghost as the triune God). Polytheism was dead in the west.

So, it might come as a surprise that Zeus, Hera and the gang are still around and just as much alive today as they were when Alexander the Great was conquering the world. Only, now, they are living together in a dumpy house in London and their immortal powers deteriorating. Apollo is a psychic on a daytime television show while Aphrodite makes a living as a phone-sex operator. Dionysus runs one of the hottest clubs in London, where of course, everyone dances and gets drunk on his wine. Artemis is a dog walker and Aphrodite’s son Eros, well, he’s converted to Christianity. Not quite the good old days.

Two mortals, Neil and Alice, who like each other terribly but can just never seem to admit it to one another, get caught in the middle of one of Aphrodite and Apollo’s fights. Things quickly go from bad to worse and Neil must not only confront the gods, but take a trip to the underworld to save Alice and the world.

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips is a funny take on what might happen if the Greek gods existed today and were living among us. For all we know, maybe they do. Just remember, the gods were always a little R-rated, and they haven’t changed much in this book.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Get along little doggie, get along

One of my favorite things to do is open boxes of books as they arrive at the store; its like Christmas everyday. As I dig, I find treasures that I’d forgotten I’d ordered. Others I’ve been waiting in anticipation for.

Gallop!“Gallop!” is one of those books that I’ve been anticipating. Each time a box came from Workman Publishing, I’d dig through, hoping to find it and then being disappointed when it didn’t arrive.

Well, today “Gallop!” finally arrived!

This book is soooo cool! It is a book for kids and adults stuck in the high tech world of the Internet, video games, and movies. Warning: there are no batteries, no electrical cords, no LCD screens, or DVD’s. This is a picture book with moving pictures. You heard me- moving pictures!

“Gallop!” is a “Scanimation Picture Book.” What does that mean you ask? When you open the cover of the book and all succeeding pages, like a pop-up book, the opening of the page causes magic to happen. Looking at the front cover you seen a picture of a horse (see the cover above). When you open the cover, the horse begins to gallop- not just one move, but continuous movement. His legs move, his head moves, his body moves. Every animal in the book, from cats to monkeys, run, leap, fly or swing, amazing you with each page you turn.

A simple rhyme goes with each picture making this ideal for the smaller kids, but adults are going to play with this as well, asking themselves the entire time- how’d they do that?

Friday, November 2, 2007

I know it when I see it...

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said, in a case dealing with pornography, "I know it when I see it." Well, ol' Justice Stewart might get kind of confused (were he alive) had he heard the title of this little gift book, then opened it up for a peek.

Porn for Women by Cambridge Women's Pornography Cooperative is one of those books whose siren song title perks up the ears of those who hear it. "You're selling porn for who in your store?" one lady asks. "That's disgusting. Are you sure it's not for men?" asks someone else. "Take me to it," directed another. Once in their hands, the reaction is quite different, and yet, very similar.

"This is absolutely hilarious," they all gasp between fits of laughter while flipping the pages.

We all know what gets the guys excited, but have you ever thought (yes, guys, this means you) about what excites women? And, guys, it's not what you think. Picture this: A hot looking guy, perfectly shaved and manicured, wearing an expensive dress shirt that is completely unbuttoned, showing his rock hard chest and six-pack abs while looking a women deep in the eyes and saying "God, that's so interesting. Tell me more!"

Men who dust, get up in the night for the baby, and cook dinner while telling the women they love "Have some more chocolate cake; you're looking too thin." That's what women want and that is what this book is full of. Pictures of great looking guys, page after page of them, doing the laundry, vacuuming the house and running off to the store for groceries, all the while telling their wives and girlfriends, "Don't worry, I'll take care of that!"

This book is a gift-sized paperback, ideal for stuffing in a Christmas stocking or under a pillow. Women will love this book and guys might just get a clue from it.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Alcatraz ain't just a prison

No one, not even my wife, buys me books as gifts anymore. Sad, but true. I guess I have too many books and no one knows what it is I have or haven’t read yet. Since I’ve been reading like mad lately, I’m on the lookout for the books that are going to be the best gifts for the book lovers on your lists this year. And trust me, I’ve found some good ones!

One of my recent favorites is a children’s book. Other than Harry Potter, I hadn’t spent a lot of time with children’s books over the last few years, but I have recently rediscovered the amazing books that are being written for children and young adults.

Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson is one of those books that both children and adults can read and enjoy. When I received my copy, I sat down to read, got caught up in the story, and didn’t sleep, stand up, eat, or go to a library until I was done (I still haven’t gone back to a library- read it; you’ll understand why).

Alcatraz Smedry is a boy who has an amazing power- he breaks nearly anything he touches. His power has caused him to be bounced around from foster home to foster home his entire life. But, on his thirteenth birthday, everything changes. He receives a gift in the mail- a bag of sand, which is promptly stolen. Once he receives (and loses) this gift, nothing will ever be the same. He learns about his family, his powers, and about the cult of evil librarians who suppress truth and spread misinformation in an attempt to control the world.

Alcatraz must infiltrate a library and retrieve the bag of sand, which was stolen by the librarians, before they can use it to achieve world domination. It is up to Alcatraz and a crazily wonderful cast of characters to save the world.

I highly recommend this book for boys between 8 and 13 years old and even more highly to boys between 14 and 99. You can’t go wrong with Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians- just be sure to get it from a bookstore and avoid the library completely.