Friday, September 28, 2012

National Book Critics Circle Finalists

Biography and autobiography are two categories in which the National Book Critics Circle gives awards; here are some finalists from recent years.
The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story - by Diane Ackerman
During the 1930s, Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo, lived on the grounds with his wife, Antonia, and their son. After the Germans occupied Poland, Jan slipped away to join the resistance while Antonia remained to care for the zoo. The Zookeeper's Wife vividly portrays how Antonia took advantage of Nazi scientific interest in recovering purebred animal species to keep the zoo going. The zoo also provided refuge and rescue for hundreds of Jews -- right under the noses of German officials. For more true stories about Polish Jews surviving under the Nazis, read Hidden, a memoir of the Holocaust by brother and sister Fay Walker and Leo Rosen.
Alexander Hamilton - by Ron Chernow
Many people see Alexander Hamilton's face on a daily basis, since his portrait graces the ten-dollar bill. Some people even remember that there was a scandal involving a duel with Aaron Burr -- which Hamilton lost. Although Hamilton was a key figure during the American Revolution and the founding of the democratic Republic, he "seldom is accorded the affection reserved" for other Founders (Booklist), including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. To remedy this, biographer Ron Chernow demonstrates Hamilton's brilliance and his philosophical opposition to all forms of tyranny -- including slavery -- in this comprehensive, sympathetic, and engaging portrait.
Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science that Changed the Course of World War II - by Jennet Conant
Technological and scientific developments provided a major component of the war effort during World War II as the United States raced to improve radar and navigation systems and develop advanced weapons. An obscure research unit in New York contributed to several of these innovations, as biographer Jennet Conant recounts in her story of Alfred Loomis, who made the work possible. Loomis, a wealthy financier, established laboratory facilities in his mansion in Tuxedo Park and invited leading scientists to work on such projects as microwave technology for use in radar. The results were essential to the Allied war effort, and this vivid account of "high-spirited, freewheeling methodology" (Library Journal) brings Loomis and the researchers to life.
His Excellency: George Washington - by Joseph J. Ellis
George Washington, first President of the United States, has enough mythology surrounding his historical record to give him a god-like image -- but the mythology isn't really necessary. Washington's actual achievements and his personal qualities justify his shining reputation. Biographer Joseph Ellis' fresh and well documented presentation of Washington's life details his superior achievements and also "leaves readers with a deeper sense of the man's humanity" (Publishers Weekly). For a wider view of significant players in early American history, providing more context for Washington's story, read Ellis' Founding Brothers.
The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology - by Simon Winchester
Biographer Simon Winchester delights in delving into the lives of people who are little known despite having made major contributions to human knowledge. The Map That Changed the World presents a man whose research laid the foundation for the modern science of geology -- William Smith, who in 1815 made the first complete map of the geological strata in England. Winchester enlivens the tale of Smith's achievements with details of his personal struggles and financial failure, painting a sympathetic portrait of the blacksmith's son whose colorful and accurate drawings show how layers of rock reveal the history of the Earth itself.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Rainy Day for Murder

Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs: A Dixie Hemingway Mystery - by Blaize Clement
Cozy Mystery. While picking up an African gray parrot at the vet's, pet sitter and former Sarasota County sheriff’s deputy Dixie Hemingway befriends Jaz, a distraught young teenager who's brought in an injured wild rabbit. When some unsavory folks interested in Jaz show up later, and then the girl disappears, Dixie's worried. To add to her troubles, Dixie's concerned for her brother's partner, a cop who's been working undercover longer than scheduled, and for an old friend who claims her husband has been kidnapped. Despite the efforts of Dixie's sometime boyfriend, Lieutenant Guidry, Dixie investigates. Fans of lighthearted mysteries with plenty of animals will want to check out this fun, Florida-based series.
Blood Rain: An Aurelio Zen Mystery - by Michael Dibdin
Police Procedural. Assigned to a job in Sicily, cynical Italian cop Aurelio Zen faces one of his most difficult cases. Not only does he have to spy on the State Police's anti-Mafia group, he has to deal with a strange murder when a rotting corpse is discovered in a railroad car. At least his adopted daughter, a computer expert, is working on the island, too...or maybe that's not such a good thing. Blood Rain , which Kirkus Reviews calls "cunning, bloody, and irresistible," is the 7th in a series of 11 books. Fans of author Michael Dibdin, who died at age 60 in 2007, might want to try Andrea Camilleri's Sicily-set Inspector Montalbano series.
The Right Attitude to Rain - by Alexander McCall Smith
Cozy Mystery. When a cousin from across the pond visits her in Edinburgh, well-to-do Scottish philosopher Isabel Dalhousie finds herself spending time with quite a few Americans, including Texas tycoon Tom Bruce. Before long, the always curious Isabel wonders if Tom's beautiful, young fiancée is more interested in his money than him, and finds herself investigating the couple, even as her own friendship with a man 14 years her junior deepens. This is the charming 3rd in a popular series that often features murder-less tales. If you like gentle mysteries that may or may not feature dead bodies and don't mind a hint of the supernatural, try Nancy Atherton's Aunt Dimity series.
The Scent of Rain and Lightning: A Novel - by Nancy Pickard
Mystery. What really happened in Rose, Kansas, 23 years ago on the night that Hugh-Jay Linder was killed and his young wife disappeared, leaving their three-year-old daughter, Jody, without parents? Ne'er-do-well Billy Crosby was convicted of Linder's murder on circumstantial evidence -- but his son, Collin, who was seven years old at the time, has always believed that his father was innocent. Now a lawyer, Collin has gotten Billy released and a new trial ordered. When the pair return to town, Jody is forced to reexamine her tragic past...and what she thinks she knows. The New York Times says that "Pickard has the storytelling gift."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Debut Mondays: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.

Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him—allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.

And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.

A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise—and utterly irresistible—storyteller.

Friday, September 21, 2012

It's a bird... It's a plane... It's...a seventh-grader?!?

In the books listed below, kids and teens with superpowers save the world -- or at least their own corners of it.
NERDS: The Cheerleaders of Doom - by Michael Buckley; illustrated by Ethen Beavers
Adventure. This 3rd book of the NERDS series, in which the heroes are kids with technologically enhanced "nerd" characteristics, finds Matilda Choi, a.k.a. "Wheezer," facing off against Gerdie Baker, a former member of NERD who's gone to the dark side -- the cheerleading squad. Gerdie has invented a machine that can travel between dimensions, and she and the other cheerleaders are merrily stealing everything they can from the alternate worlds they're visiting (with no thought to the damage they're doing to the space-time continuum). It's up to Wheezer to infiltrate the squad and stop them -- before it's too late! Readers fond of ridiculous plots and no-holds-barred mayhem will love every minute of this wild, goofy ride.
Above World - Jenn Reese
Fiction. Thirteen-year-old Aluna has lived her entire life under the ocean with the Coral Kampii in the City of Shifting Tides. But after centuries spent hidden from the Above World, her colony's survival is at risk. The Kampii's breathing necklaces are failing, but the elders are unwilling to venture above water to seek answers. Only headstrong Aluna and her friend Hoku are stubborn and bold enough to face the terrors of land to search for way to save their people. But can Aluna's fierce determination and fighting skills and Hoku's tech-savvy keep them safe?
The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance - by Glenn Dakin
Steampunk Fantasy. Theo Wickland has been confined to three rooms of his guardian Dr. Saint's mansion for his entire life. But on Theo's 12th birthday, burglars invade Empire Hall -- and Theo discovers that he has the ability to melt criminals with merely a touch of his hand. This is only the beginning of Theo's adventures, for he escapes from Empire Hall and joins the Society of Unrelenting Vigilance, whose members reveal the truth about Dr. Saint. Action-packed and suffused with a creepy atmosphere, this 1st volume in the Candle Man series will leave you breathless for the sequel. 
Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation - by Matt Myklusch
Fantasy Adventure. Jack Blank -- so called because he has no memories of either his parents or his real name -- lives in a bleak orphanage in New Jersey and finds his only solace in reading comic books. But when a robot zombie straight from the pages of one of Jack's comics shows up at St. Barnaby's Home for the Hopeless, Abandoned, Forgotten, and Lost, Jack somewhat accidentally destroys the mechanical beast and is then whisked away to the Imagine Nation, an island populated entirely by beings with superpowers. There, Jack finds not only his destiny, but also clues to his mysterious past. Fast-paced and packed with battles, fascinating heroes and villains, and plot twists, this 1st Jack Blank adventure (The Secret War and The Accidental Hero are next) will also thrill fans of complex world-building.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Best Thrillers You've Never Heard Of

The informationist : a thriller - Taylor Stevens
Dealing information to wealthy clients throughout the world, Vanessa Munroe hopes to leave her unconventional past behind her until a mission to find the missing daughter of a Texas oil billionaire forces her to return to the central Africa region of her youth.
Bone by bone - Carol O'Connell
Twenty years after his teenaged younger brother mysteriously disappears into the woods of northern California, former Army investigator Oren returns home for the first time and is horrified when bones he believes belong to his brother are delivered to him.
Guilt by association : a novel - Marcia Clark
One of the prosecutors during the O. J. Simpson trial offers a debut legal thriller in which Los Angeles D.A. Rachel Knight must try to bounce back from her grief over the murder of her colleague, Jake, if she is ever going to take over his toughest case, but she finds herself risking her reputation--and her life--to dig even deeper into Jake's death.
The savage garden - Mark Mills

Assigned to write a monograph about a famous sixteenth-century garden, aimless young Cambridge scholar Adam Banting visits the enigmatic garden only to discover clues that the woman to whom the garden was dedicated may have been murdered, a finding that points to a related and more recent killing.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Debut Mondays: The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo

Meet the Keller family, five generations of firstborn women—an unbroken line of daughters—living together in the same house on a secluded olive grove in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California.
Anna, the family matriarch, is 112 and determined to become the oldest person in the world. An indomitable force, strong in mind and firm in body, she rules Hill House, the family home she shares with her daughter Bets, granddaughter Callie, great-granddaughter Deb, and great-great-granddaughter Erin. Though they lead ordinary lives, there is an element of the extraordinary to these women: the eldest two are defying longevity norms. Their unusual lifespans have caught the attention of a geneticist who believes they hold the key to breakthroughs that will revolutionize the aging process for everyone.
But Anna is not interested in unlocking secrets the Keller blood holds. She believes there are some truths that must stay hidden, including certain knowledge about her origins that she has carried for more than a century. Like Anna, each of the Keller women conceals her true self from the others. While they are bound by blood and the house they share, living together has not always been easy. And it is about to become more complicated now that Erin, the youngest, is back, alone and pregnant, after two years abroad with an opera company. Her return and the arrival of the geneticist who has come to study the Keller family ignites explosive emotions that these women have kept buried and uncovers revelations that will shake them all to their roots.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Debut Mondays: Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Shomer

Before she became the nineteenth century’s greatest heroine, before he had written a word of Madame Bovary, Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert traveled down the Nile at the same time. In the imaginative leap taken by award-winning writer Enid Shomer’s The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, the two ignite a passionate friendship marked by intelligence, humor, and a ravishing tenderness that will alter both their destinies.  
In 1850, Florence, daughter of a prominent English family, sets sail on the Nile chaperoned by longtime family friends and her maid, Trout. To her family’s chagrin—and in spite of her wealth, charm, and beauty—she is, at twenty-nine and of her own volition, well on her way to spinsterhood. Meanwhile, Gustave and his good friend Maxime Du Camp embark on an expedition to document the then largely unexplored monuments of ancient Egypt. Traumatized by the deaths of his father and sister, and plagued by mysterious seizures, Flaubert has dropped out of law school and writ-ten his first novel, an effort promptly deemed unpublishable by his closest friends. At twenty-eight, he is an unproven writer with a failing body.
Florence is a woman with radical ideas about society and God, naive in the ways of men. Gustave is a notorious womanizer and patron of innumerable prostitutes. But both burn with unfulfilled ambition, and in the deft hands of Shomer, whose writing The New York Times Book Review has praised as “beautifully cadenced, and surprising in its imaginative reach,” the unlikely soul mates come together to share their darkest torments and most fervent hopes. Brimming with adventure and the sparkling sensibilities of the two travelers, this mesmerizing novel offers a luminous combination of gorgeous prose and wild imagination, all of it colored by the opulent tapestry of mid-nineteenth-century Egypt.