Monday, March 25, 2013

Best Imaginary Countries in Books

A good mythical country is not a place that doesn’t exist. It’s a place that does exist but you weren’t aware of it, either because you didn’t look at the map carefully, haven’t spent enough time in that particular part of the subarctic Eurasian hinterlands, or simply got confused by the exotic-sounding name. 

1. Costaguana - The setting of Nostromo, Joseph Conrad’s acid 1904 political novel about a revolution-torn, resource-cursed country plagued by the meddling of cynical and idealistic Westerners. Since it combines aspects of Colombia, Peru and most of all Panama (none of which Conrad ever visited, interestingly), its location is thought to be somewhere along the coastline of northern South America. 

2. San Lorenzo - An impoverished, densely populated Caribbean island run by a psychopathic dictator known as Papa. Not Haiti, surprisingly, but the home of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963 cold war satire about scientific hubris and the end of the world, Cat’s Cradle

3. Uqbar – You don’t know where it is and you never will, because the men who created it, a benevolent conspiracy of master-scholars in either seventeenth-century London or Lucerne, didn’t want you to. However, you could read “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” the lead story in Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones, which tracks down the conspiracy’s origin in the missing pages of a pirated encyclopedia, and soon leads to the discovery of an even larger conspiracy: an invented universe. 

4. Absurdsvanϊ– Before Gary Shteyngart’s 2007 novel, Absurdistan, few Americans outside Washington DC or the Halliburton headquarters in Houston had heard of this post-Soviet mini-republic (the “Norway of the Caspian,” as it was once briefly known) damned by an unfortunate name but potentially redeemed by geostrategic value.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Insane City by Dave Barry

A dark comic masterpiece—the first solo adult novel in more than a decade from the Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times–bestselling author.

Seth Weinstein knew Tina was way out of his league in pretty much any way you could imagine, which is why it continued to astonish him that he was on the plane now for their destination wedding in Florida. The Groom Posse had already sprung an airport prank on him, and he’d survived it, and if that was the worst of it, everything should be okay. Smooth sailing from now on.

Seth has absolutely no idea what he’s about to get into. In the next several hours, he and his friends will become embroiled with rioters, Russian gangsters, angry strippers, a pimp as big as the Death Star, a very desperate Haitian refugee on the run with her two children from some very bad men, and an eleven-foot albino Burmese python named Blossom. And there’re still two days to go before the wedding.

As it turns out, it’s not smooth sailing, it’s more like a trip on the Titanic. And the water below him is getting deeper every minute. By the end, amid gunfire, high-speed chases, and mayhem of the most unimaginable sort, violent men will fall, heroes will rise, and many lives will change.

Seth’s, not least of all.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Celebrating 75 Years in Film!

Although 1939 is considered the "golden year" of classic Hollywood, 1938 was a banner year for enduring movies, as well, and 2013 marks the 75th anniversary of these great films.  Here are a few of the most influential movies marking their 75th anniversaries this year.

BringingUp Baby Howard Hawks directs Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant in this beloved screwball comedy about a madcap heiress and the leopard who helps her entangle a handsome paleontologist. Although it failed to earn a single Oscar nomination in 1939, "Bringing Up Baby" has become a true standard of the comedy genre. Who can resist Hepburn, Grant, and a supporting cast that includes Charlie Ruggles, Barry Fitzgerald, and May Robson?

YouCan't Take It with You  The Best Picture winner in 1939 would be this sentimental comedy from Frank Capra, which stars Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart, and Lionel Barrymore as the leads in another cast packed with treasures. Spring Byington was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the matriarch of the eccentric Sycamore clan, and the movie earned seven nominations in all, with a win for Capra's direction joining the Best Picture award.

Jezebel  Bette Davis beats Vivien Leigh to the Civil War ball by a year with this costume melodrama from director William Wyler. Along with Davis, who won Best Actress for her role, the film stars Henry Fonda, George Brent, and Fay Bainter (who won for Best Supporting Actress), while Max Steiner provides the Oscar-nominated score.

Pygmalion  This English adaptation of the play by George Bernard Shaw features Wendy Hiller and Leslie Howard as the Cockney flower girl and her difficult mentor, with direction by Anthony Asquith. Both Hiller and Howard earned Oscar nominations for their parts, and the movie also scored a Best Picture nod, but its only win was for Best Screenplay. Wilfrid Lawson gives a terrific performance as Eliza Doolittle's opportunistic father, Alfred.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy Birthday, Gary Paulsen

Mr. Paulsen is one of today's most popular writers for young readers.  You might have enjoyed Lawn Boy, a recent Texas Bluebonnet nominee or his most recent, Liar, Liar.  I read Hatchet in elementary school and was simultaneously enthralled and repulsed by its thrilling plot. A thirteen year old boy is stranded in the Canadian wilderness after his plane crashes.   Highlights of his fight for survival include learning to build a fire, eating turtle eggs, and creating an array of weaponry.  If you've got a tween boy, he will be in awe of this hero.

Mr. Paulsen himself isn't too shabby, either.  He ran away from home and joined the circus at age fourteen.  He's worked as a ranch hand, a magazine proofreader, and an Alaskan dog sled racer.  And he's consumed a steady diet of books since a librarian gave him a book to read and his own library card.  To Mr. Paulsen, reading is the ultimate adventure: "I owe everything I am, and everything I ever will be to books."

Friday, March 15, 2013

Get a Clue!

We welcome the return of Sherlock Holmes, the world's most renowned and beloved detective!

Sherlock Holmes is the greatest detective in literary history. For the first time since the death of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a new Holmes story has been sanctioned by his estate, whetting the appetites of fans everywhere. Horowitz truly pulls off the wonderful illusion that Arthur Conan Doyle left us one last tale, occurring in 1890 London.

Literary researcher and newest inductee into the Baker Street Irregulars, Harold White, is thrilled when the world's leading expert on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle announces that he's found the author's fabled 'missing diary.' When the man is found murdered, it's Harold who must find the killer and the once again missing diary. 

The first Sherlock Holmes letter barrister Reggie Heath answered cost him his fortune, all of his Baker Street Chambers clients, and Laura Rankin, the love of his life. But, he intends to get it all back by representing the driver of one of London's famous Black Cabs, who has been accused of killing to American tourists. Meanwhile, the letters to Sherlock keep piling up. 

Long retired, Sherlock Holmes quietly pursues his study of honeybee behavior on the Sussex Downs. He never imagines he would encounter anyone whose intellect matched his own, much less an audacious teenage girl with a penchant for detection. Miss Mary Russell becomes Holmes' pupil and quickly hones her talent for deduction, disguises, and danger. But when an elusive villain enters the picture, their partnership is put to a real test.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Romances on Fire!

Rowan 'Swede' Tripp is a smoke jumper. She knows how dangerous it can be, having watched in horror the summer before as her partner overshot the landing site and landed in a burning tree. Lately he had been appearing to her in her dreams warning her of coming danger. Was he warning her about her job or her romantic relationship with rookie smoke jumper, Gulliver Curry?

Clay Stryker made a lot of money as an underwear model, but now he's left that life behind and returned to settle down in his hometown of Fool's Gold, Calif., where he plans to buy a ranch and live his life alone. He has no plans to risk his heart again and fall in love. But then he meets firefighter Chantal Dixon, who approaches him with a surprising proposal.

Raine Tallentyre inherited her Aunt Vella's house. She also inherited all the secrets that the house held.  Then a private investigator shows up on her doorstep offering to trade answers about her family's mysterious past for her help in solving the murder case by using the voices she hears in her head. As much as she doesn't want to, Raine finds herself trusting him with her body and soul.

Cartoonist Sarah Moon tackles life's real issues in her syndicated comic strip. As her cartoon alter ego, Shirl mirrors her own life, but when Sarah's for her future are shattered by her husband's infidelities, what would will Shirl do?  Especially when hot firefighter Will Bonner enters the picture?

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Lions & Lambs: Picture Books for Spring

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb by Marion Dane Bauer

Noisy and fun, this picture book interprets its titular adage quite literally. As March arrives, a fierce (and rather rude) lion roars and scratches outside a child's window -- and then comes stomping inside, tracking mud everywhere! But as the month progresses and pollen begins to tickle the lion's nose, he sneezes...and a sprightly spring lamb skitters in on the breeze. For another springtime read with a bit each of both rain and sunshine -- as well as palpable anticipation of better weather -- check out Julie Fogliano's wonderful And Then It's Spring.

Mary and Her Little Lamb: The True Story of the Famous Nursery Rhyme - by Will Moses

Did you know that the song "Mary Had a Little Lamb" is based in fact? This folk-art-style illustrated book tells the story of Mary Elizabeth Sawyer, who lived in Sterling, Massachusetts and attended the Redstone Schoolhouse in Sudbury. She loved animals, especially the sheep on her family's farm, and after she rescued a runt of a newborn lamb and nursed it to health, Mary's lamb really did follow her to school. This very sweet story explains how, after that incident, the famous song came to be -- and may make you appreciate it anew!

If I Were a Lion by Sarah Weeks

How could such a sweet little red-haired girl's mother accuse her of being wild? Worse still, how could she possibly make her sit in the time-out chair? That's precisely what this little girl wonders as she sits in the chair and lets her imagination.  unruly animals take over the kitchen and living room-snorting, charging, and growling as they break dishes, overturn furniture, and create messes.   Sharp-eyed readers will enjoy spotting the toys being blamed for the disasters; the endpapers, with numerous stuffed animals strewn haphazardly across them, provide another clue.  

Monday, March 04, 2013

If You Like Downton Abbey . . .

"We all have chapters we'd rather keep unpublished." 
 ~ Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, Downton Abbey

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

The toast of 1893 Newport society, Cora Cash is beautiful, clever, and very, very rich. She's also in need of a suitable husband, which prompts Cora's domineering mother to drag her to England to trade their family's money for a title. Nothing less than a duke will do for Cora, and the handsome Duke of Wareham, known as "Ivo," appears to fit the bill. But the pampered heiress is unprepared for the reality that lies beneath the fairy tale façade. Depicting circumstances similar to those that inspired the marriage of the Earl and Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey, The American Heiress combines "flavors of Edith Wharton, Daphne du Maurier, Jane Austen, Upstairs, Downstairs, and a dash of People magazine" (Kirkus Reviews).

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

Sterne, the magnificent Edwardian manor house belonging to the family of Charlotte Torrington Swift, is on the verge of ruin. Although most of the servants have decamped, Charlotte remains steadfast in her determination to celebrate her daughter's 20th birthday in style. Disrupting her plans are some uninvited and decidedly unwelcome guests: the stranded survivors of a railway accident who must be lodged at the house until the Great Central Railroad can make other accommodations. But that's not the worst part. One traveler, Charlie Traversham-Beechers, knows much more than is seemly about Charlotte and her family. Will he bring their world crashing down around them? If you enjoy satirical depictions of high society full of unexpected twists and turns, don't miss this darkly humorous novel.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

In 1924, celebrated poet Robbie Hunter shot himself during a house party at Riverton Manor. But what really happened that night? A young filmmaker wants the truth, and the answer lies with Grace Reeves Bradley, a 98-year-old nursing home resident once employed as a maid to Riverton's aristocratic Hartford family. As Grace recalls her early years in service and the events that led to that fatal night, she also reveals long-buried secrets concerning Robbie and the Hartford sisters -- as well as her own connection to the family. Reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca in both atmosphere and style, The House at Riverton should also appeal to Downton Abbey fans who enjoy faithful recreations of life during the late Edwardian Era, World War I, and the 1920s.