Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dry: a Memoir

by Augusten Burroughs

In 2003, the popular author, most noted by his work "Running with Scissors", published this memoir about his battle with alcoholism.

After reading about his intense and bizarre childhood living with his mother's psychiatrist, the one who thought God was communicating through his feces, I wanted to know what happened to Augusten when he became an adult. Not surprisingly, he became an alcoholic, be it a successful advertising mogul as well. The story is about his adventures in recovery, which is mandated by his supervisor and human resource manager in order to keep his job.

What makes this book so appealing, and hilariously entertaining, is Burrough's story-telling ability. He tells his story with a self-deprecating sense of humor and fleshes out the characters that inhabit his life, like Jim - his drinking buddy who just happens to be an undertaker; and Pighead, his friend who gets sent to the hospital for hiccups.

This part of Augusten's life is told with much less gory detail, and more humor. It is a fast read and highly entertaining!

Blue Pills

Frederik is a cerebral and philosophical man who falls in love with a young woman who has HIV. This graphic novel follows the pair as they push through the hard times and pursue a love that blocks everything else out. It's a touching story from Europe that successfully navigates an emotional minefield.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Liar's Diary

I read this book on a recommendation from Tim Maleeny's book blog (he's the author of Stealing the Dragon). Patry Francis's first novel follows the story of Jeanne Cross, a young mother of a teenage son, married to a doctor, and a school secretary. Her life begins to change when she meets Ali Mather, the school's new music teacher, a fascinating woman who draws everyone around her close. The book's secrets are slowly revealed all the way up to the devastating ending. I was not entirely convinced by that ending, but the characterization is truly believable. While it may not be a thriller per se--it's more a literary thriller--I'd recommend it to anyone who likes suspense and is willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of a good story and good characters.

Helping Me Help Myself

Beth Lisick took a year to surround herself with self-help gurus such as Richard Simmons, Suze Orman, and Jack Canfield. This book is her reflection on those experiences. She's a fantastically funny writer, and I had a good old time reading this book. I felt a little uncomfortable during certain sections, since she's so honest, especially in the chapter about money. But it's not my place to judge the author--just the work. And the work is good!

Upcoming Chick Lit

As some of you know, I'm a huge chick lit reader, and I was fortunate enough to receive advanced reader copies of two upcoming titles by some big authors: Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner and Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin. I'll be talking about these in the next ABC Book Reviews podcast, but I'll briefly review them here as well.

Love the One You're With
Emily Giffin is in her usual excellent form--she's such a good writer, and I was easily wrapped into the story. However, I wasn't as satisfied at the end as I was with her previous books. I hate to say she's playing it safe, because I love her so much, but I definitely didn't get the same warm fuzzy feeling from this title. I recommend it for Giffin's dedicated readers, but for those who are new to Giffin's work, I'd start with Something Borrowed and Something Blue, which are both exemplary. This title comes out May 13th, 2008, and you can place your reserve in our catalog now.

Certain Girls
It's been a while since Jennifer Weiner released a title that was as punchy as this one. It takes place thirteen years after Good in Bed, her breakout novel, and it's a sequel of sorts. Cannie Shapiro and her daughter, Joy, alternate points of view throughout the novel. I was amazed that Weiner could narrate from a thirteen-year-old's point of view so easily, although it didn't seem entirely realistic (Joy is very mature for her age). I loved the way the plot unraveled the story of Cannie's life over the past thirteen years, without getting away with what was happening in the immediate present. This one's a must-read for Weiner fans. It comes out April 8th, 2008, and you can place your reserve now for this one as well!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Ghost

2007 brought us two new novels named Ghost one by Alan Lightman (Einstein's Dreams) and another by Robert Harris (Imperium). Both are worth a read, for very different reasons.

In Lightman's Ghost, a middle-aged bank employee unexpectedly loses his job and winds up working at a funeral home run by an simultaneously charismatic and agoraphobic mortican and his motley crew. Our hero has a ghostly vision which results in a battle between a group bent on validating supernatural experiences and the science department of the local university. Academics, beware! Some dead-on lampooning here. An intellectual and thought-provoking book.

Harris's The Ghost is a page-turner, political intrigue with a nice twist at the end. Former prime minister Adam Lange is having a devil of a time getting his memoirs written. His long-time friend and political ally was compiling and writing the tome, and nearly done, when he disappeared and turned up drowned. The narrator (never named, after all, he is a ghostwriter) gets the job. Never a dull moment with this politician, who is obviously patterned on Tony Blair, although I couldn't stop thinking of Bill and Hillary. A great book for an election year.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Book of Ballads

Pen-and-ink artist Charles Vess has collected a number of traditional ballads in graphic novel format. Some well-known writers, including Neil Gaiman, collaborated in adapting the ballads to script, which Vess then illustrated. The end result is a strong collection and a fun, interesting read. Vess's artwork is superb and at times haunting. His style is well-suited to the tales in those old ballads from the British Isles.


by Diana Gabaldon
Over 1,000 Amazon Customer Reviews
5 Star Rating

Time Travel. Adventure. Suspense. Mystery. Romance.

The story begins in 1940, Claire Randall is on her second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband Frank, with who she has been separated from for 6 years during the war. During some sightseeing excursion, they come upon an ancient and mysterious stone circle. Claire returns to the site later to pick some interesting plants to add to her botany collection. The instant she steps through a crack in the stones, she is transported back to 1740, two hundred years in the past.

Captured by the MacKenzie clan, she is taken to Castle Leoch, and swept up the ensuing drama between the clans and the British. Her life becomes entangled with handsome young Jamie Fraser, a Scottish outlaw whose life she saves, countless times, as they escape the British soldiers, especially the fearsome and psychotic Captain Randall. She must choose between returning to her own time to be with the husband she barely knew or staying with the man she has grown to love, and altering the course of history itself.

I listened to this on audioCD, a large 28 CD set, but Davina Porter, the narrator, did such an impressive Scottish accent (as well as French and English), that I was thoroughly entranced with the story and the multitude of characters. I laughed, I cried, I got goosebumps... It is a must read!

Disclaimer: This book does have some adult content. Not appropriate for children.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Drive by James Sallis

This is one of those books I kept hearing about and meant to read for a long time. It is a crime noir novel. I kept thinking of old Robert Mithum movies when whaddoyaknow, he is mentioned in the book. The main character is Driver who is a driver. He is a stunt driver for the movies and a getaway driver for criminals. He doesn't participate in any violent acts. He just drives. Then he is double-crossed and things change. The book is concise, 158 pages, with short chapters and short sentences. Sometimes, there are only sentence fragments and the dialog is also very concise. The book is very good if you like noir fiction.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

J. Edgar Hoover: A Graphic Biography

Rick Geary is known in the graphic novel world for his macabre works on famous murders. Here he's branched out into very slightly more cheery territory with a biography on the man who shaped, and also mis-shaped, the agency that has become one of the world's premier crime-fighting organizations. Geary treats Hoover fairly, starting from the early days of fighting Depression-era gangsters, when the FBI had no authority and was little more than a vanity job for the well-connected, and moving through the 70s, when the agency was often viewed as a government force against its people. Largely through force of will, Hoover transformed the FBI. Somewhere in there, amidst the power and isolation of his position, Hoover went a little off the rails. His heavy-handed and morally shady dealings with protesters and reformers of the 1960s are well-known, as are his uses of FBI resources for personal gain. Some of the more salacious details of his life, like the alleged cross-dressing, are, perhaps surprisingly in the graphic format, kept low-key.