Monday, November 28, 2005

Next Week in the Bookstore: Two Phils, a Miller and a Bill

It's another quiet week for publishers as the Christmas shopping season finds buyers looking for books that have been out long enough to create a buzz. Still, there are readers who've moved on from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and will be overjoyed to find a book they hadn't even dreamed of under the tree.

Tuesday, December 6
The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory follows the transformation of the youngest daughter of Spain's King Ferdinand into Queen Katherine of England, in a suspenseful tale that "pulls the reader along" despite its foregone conclusion. "Gregory's latest (after Earthly Joys) compellingly dramatizes how Catalina uses her faith, her cunning and her utter belief in destiny to reclaim her rightful title. By alternating tight third-person narration with Catalina's unguarded thoughts and gripping dialogue, the author presents a thorough, sympathetic portrait of her heroine and her transformation into Queen Katherine." —Publishers Weekly

In Kinsey Milhone's 19th outing, S Is for Silence by Sue Grafton, finds the 30-year-old "high-fat-eating" dectective pursuing a missing mother. "Grafton's determined march through the criminal alphabet puts readers within striking distance of the end, a destination no Grafton fan wants to reach. The latest in the lexicon should really be C Is for Cold Case, since it involves a disappearance that took place nearly 35 years in the past... Grafton juxtaposes flashbacks to 1953, when the mother disappeared, with the current investigation... this novel also presents strong character portrayals, a mosaic of motives, and a stunning climax." —Connie Fletcher, Booklist

Love Smart: Find the One You Want — Fix the One You've Got by Phillip C. McGraw is the latest "Dr. Phil" romantic self-help book. "If you are sleeping single in a double bed or walking down the street thinking, How do I meet that guy?; if you're on your twentieth date and he's no more committed than when you first exchanged cell phone numbers; if everyone you know is getting married for the second time and you can't even get a first date; if you love the one you're with but the relationship needs some spark... then this book is for you." (Publisher's release notes)

Wednesday, December 7
For Dark Horse fans, Frank Miller's Sin City Library I is the first oversized archival edition of the legendary noir series from Frank Miller and Dark Horse. "The four hardcover volumes of set I are a long-awaited addition to the bookshelves of discriminating comics fans. This slipcase holds volumes one through four of Sin City, the hard-boiled stories that started it all! Never before seen at this size, the now-infamous Marv, Dwight, Gail, Miho, Hartigan, Nancy, and the Yellow Bastard will transport you to Sin City and show you the bloody lives they lead... Miller's Sin City... has been honored with Eisner awards, Harvey awards, and the prestigious National Cartoonists' Award." (Publisher's release notes)

Paperbacks This Week

Tuesday, December 6
Edited by Bill Fawcett Masters of Fantasy is fantasy for adult and young adult readers. "This volume presents new stories..., by some of the best writers in the genre. They include Mercedes Lackey ("Valdemar"), Andre Norton ("Witchworld"), Robert Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye ("Myth Adventures"), Alan Dean Foster ("Spellsinger"), Christopher Stasheff ("Warlock"), and David Drake ("Isles"). Other selections by Mickey Zucker Reichert, Margaret Weis and Don Perrin, Janny Wurts, Elizabeth Moon, Mike Resnick, and David Weber round out this impressive collection..." —Christine C. Menefee, School Library Journal

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Madagascar Is DVDelightful


Madagascar captured me with a single teaser image: the animated lion bounding up the steps from New York's subway is felled by blows from a little old lady's handbag. Bad dog! she calls him, and bad kitty! (No wonder the trailer was nominated for a Golden Trailer Award.)

But life got in the way of my seeing this movie in the theatrical release. Now that children are grown and gone, there's little to remind me of the delights of a good kid's movie. For one reason or another, I missed this movie entirely.

Then the DVD was released, and I began to see that teaser again. My spouse helped remind me of its pull, chanting Bad kitty! every time it came on the TV. So I got the DVD, and happily relaxed into the warm arms of a really delightful story.

The voice talents of Chris Rock as Marty, a zebra yearning for "the wild," and Ben Stiller as the star of the Central Park Zoo, Alex the lion (bad kitty!), with Jada Pinkett Smith as a mellow hippo named Gloria, and David Schwimmer voicing the hypochondiac giraffe, Melman, give the excellent script an extra dimension. But in the end, it's the script that shines.

Little things, like the bad kitty! line, a quick homage to Fantasia as Gloria dives into her pool at night, and the name of one of the penguins (Kowalski, as in the putative subtitle "Kowalski Gets It" for the long-running TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) pile on, zipping by almost too fast to notice. Alex does Charleton Heston. Marty zones in on a park mural to the tune of "Born Free." The penguins channel Neo, ninjas, and Captain Kirk in their quest to reach Antarctica.

There is no grand theme here, no overwhelming rush of tears or sweet nostalgic awww to reward us for our time. Yet, taken as a whole, the movie is wonderful. It is the sum of these small, sweet, funny, or referential moments that accumulates into 90 minutes of joyful escape.

And seeing it on DVD has several additional benefits. First, you can pause and skip back to review that joke that flew by so fast. Yep, the old lady really did call Alex a bad dog first.

But even better, the DVD comes with a new animated short featuring the penguins back in Central Park Zoo. "The Penguins' Christmas Caper" is delightful in its own right, giving us a new look at the coordinated chaos that is wreaked by this crew of determined birds. (My laugh as they hid in a line of perambulating nuns took me to the floor!)

Give yourself a break from the cares of the world! You can tell yourself you're doing it "for the children"; I don't care. But if you missed this charming movie in the theaters, don't wait until it's chopped into pieces on commercial TV. You'll thank me later.

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Bestsellers: James Patterson and Frank McCourt Top List

Week of November 21, 2005

According to the New York Times, Mary, Mary by James Patterson tops the list for fiction sales this week, while Frank McCourt's Teacher Man takes top billing in non-fiction this week. These books are both new this week.

Michael Crichton's State of Fear tops the list of paperback fiction sales, and A Million Little Pieces by James Frey remains at the top of the paperback non-fiction pile (perhaps glued in place by the golden seal of Oprah's Book Club).

In the children's section, look for the beautifully-illustrated Winter's Tale by Robert Sabuda, and (of course) the reprise of The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, nicely timed for the DVD release of the animated movie featuring the voice of Tom Hanks.

This WeekLast WeekBest-selling FICTION from the NYT List
1NMary, Mary, by James Patterson. The F.B.I. agent Alex Cross tracks a Hollywood killer who announces the crimes via e-mail.
23Predator, by Patricia Cornwell. On the trail of a possible serial killer, Dr. Kay Scarpetta turns to a jailed psychopath for advice. (4th week on list)
32Light from Heaven, by Jan Karon. Father Tim's bishop asks him to revive a long-closed mountain church; the final novel in the Mitford series. (2nd week on list.)
44At First Sight, by Nicholas Sparks. The young couple from "True Believer," who are now expecting a child, receive a disturbing message. (5th week on list.)
54The Camel Club, by David Baldacci. (Warner, $26.95.) A group of eccentric conspiracy theorists stumbles across an actual plot reaching to the highest levels of government. (4th week on list.)

This WeekLast WeekBest-selling NON-FICTION from the NYT List
1NTeacher Man, by Frank McCourt. The author of Angela's Ashes remembers his years teaching high school English in New York City.
22Team Of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The political genius of Abraham Lincoln is revealed in his relationship with his cabinet. (4th week on list)
31Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter. The former president warns against blurring politics and fundamentalist religion. (3rd week on list.)
44The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. The author attempts to come to terms with the death of her husband and the grave illness of their only daughter. (7th week on list.)
53The World is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman. A columnist for The New York Times analyzes 21st-century economics and foreign policy and presents an overview of globalization trends. (33rd week on list.)

This WeekLast WeekBest-selling CHILDREN'S BOOKS from the NYT List
12Winter's Tale, written and illustrated by Robert Sabuda. The coldest season, as illustrated by an expert pop-up engineer. (All ages, 8th week on list.)
21A Family of Poems, by Caroline Kennedy. Illustrated by Jon J. Muth. From Lewis Carroll to Langston Hughes, an anthology of children's verse. (Ages 9 to 12, 12th week on list)
34Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs, by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. A pop-up dinosaur compendium. (Ages 5 and up, 18th week on list.)
43Fairyopolis, a Flower Fairies Journal, written and illustrated by Cicely Mary Barker. Fairies I have known; the 1923 sketchbook and diary of a supernaturalist. (Ages 8 and up, 3rd week on list.)
5NThe Polar Express, Special Gift Edition, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. A small boy's magical train ride on Christmas Eve, book accompanied by CD read by Liam Neeson. (Ages 4 to 8, first week on list.)

For Christmas purchases that are likely to please a reader, you can't go far wrong with a selection from the NYT lists. To check out the expanded catalog of bestsellers, you'll need to register (free) at The New York Times online.

Be sure to check out the Blogcritics feature Next Week in the Bookstore (New Books) for choices that (while not bestsellers — yet) are unlikely to already be resting on your reader's bookshelf.

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Friday, November 25, 2005

Next Week in the Bookstore: Taxes, (Ono!), an Odd Koontz, and the Paperback Blitz

Tuesday is the big day this week: Major hardcover releases and the bulk of the paperback versions drop on the second day of next week. There will be plenty of Christmas-gift fodder for eager shoppers who didn't spend all their money on Black Friday!

Hint for the parent, spouse or child of the fervent reader at your address: Have Amazon deliver your gift book order to an alternate address to avoid a pre-Christmas unwrapping. I've traded this favor with a neighbor down the hill for three years now, and my spouse has yet to catch on! Gosh, honey, they delivered the Ross's Amazon order here again this year!

Tuesday, November 29
Dean R. Koontz' Forever Odd leads us off next week as he brings back Odd Thomas (from his novel of the same name) for a further look at this boy who can see (but not talk with) the dead. "These days Odd is still hosting the ghost of a morose Elvis Presley, still grieving for his dead girlfriend, Stormy, and still worrying about his very fat friend P. Oswald Boone, whose cat, Terrible Chester, likes to pee on his shoes... Odd's strange gifts, coupled with his intelligence and self-effacing humor, make him one of the most quietly authoritative characters in recent popular fiction." —Publishers Weekly

Red Lily by Nora Roberts brings Robert's In the Garden trilogy to a captivating conclusion, following Blue Dahlia and Black Rose. "Three women learn that the heart of their historic home holds a mystery of years gone by. A Harper has always lived at Harper House, the centuries-old mansion just outside of Memphis. And for as long as anyone alive remembers, the ghostly Harper Bride has walked the halls, singing lullabies at night..." (Publisher's release notes)

Before blogs, there were "journals" and "letters," and Doris Lessing is a stellar light in that world. Time Bites: Views and Reviews by Doris May Lessing presents 65-odd essays, letters and reviews from the incisive pen of this "grande dame of English letters... There's a tirade against Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia was Lessing's homeland) and a coruscating indictment of American complacency before 9/11. The main theme, whether addressed overtly or underlying her literary criticism, is the indispensable place of books in the life of an educated person and an enlightened culture. Hers is a clarion call." —Publishers Weekly

Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth 60th Anniversary Edition by Richard Wright brings back this seminal autobiography in a new hardcover edition. "...sometimes considered a fictionalized autobiography or an autobiographical novel because of its use of novelistic techniques... [it] describes vividly Wright's often harsh, hardscrabble boyhood and youth in rural Mississippi and in Memphis, Tenn. [In 1945], many white critics viewed Black Boy primarily as an attack on racist Southern white society... the work came to be understood as the story of Wright's coming of age and development as a writer whose race, though a primary component of his life, was but one of many that formed him as an artist." —Merriam-Webster Encylopedia of Literature

Kenneth Oppel's Skybreaker is the "breathtaking sequel to the Governor General's Award-winning fantasy novel Airborn... Drawing on the myths of Icarus and Prometheus, as well as classic sea adventures like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Poseidon Adventure, Skybreaker combines an action-packed thriller with a sensitive exploration of the limits of human ambition.... With pirates, sky monsters, and disturbed spirits, not to mention enough bizarre flying machines to fill an aviation museum (even a bat-copter for Silverwing fans), Skybreaker confirms Kenneth Oppel's reputation as Canada's leading fantasy author for children and young adults." —Lisa Alward, review

Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World by Nicholas A. Basbanes offers a lively consideration of writings that have "made things happen" in the world. "Basbanes again proves his fascination with the minutiae of bibliophilia, relating with relish how many volumes were in various famous readers' collections, who wrote in their margins, who kept commonplace books, and other book-related ephemera before getting to the heart of this book: his discussions with well-known readers of today... the chapter on the development of religious texts is especially strong — but the book as a whole has no central argument or philosophy to make it cohere." —Publishers Weekly

Thursday, December 1
The culmination of Max A. Collins' Road series (which began with Road to Perdition), Road to Paradise finds 50-year-old Michael O'Sullivan Jr., the young boy orphaned in Road to Perdition, who has Italianized his name to Michael Satariano, boss and squeaky-clean mob frontman of the Cal-Neva Lodge and Casino at Lake Tahoe. "When Sam Giancana decides to end his exile in Mexico and reclaim his former position as Godfather, hits are ordered, mistakes are made and many people die, some of them quite close to Michael. He's now on the run, forced to relive his father's vengeance-fueled crime spree of 40 years earlier... Collins's compelling mix of history, bloodshed and retribution is as irresistible as Sam Giancana's last meal of fried sausage, spinach and ceci beans. Readers will eat it up and beg for more."
Road to Purgatory, the second book of the series, is released in paperback this week.

Don't expect Ono's own story of her life with John Lennon in Memories of John Lennon, which arrives on Thursday. Ono solicited materiel from over 70 of Lennon's friends, contemporaries, and admirers, and is marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of Lennon's death with a collection of their reminiscences. "Newcomers to the Lennon legend might find some of the reminiscences and artwork in this compendium interesting and novel, but those alive in Lennon's time will recognize many of the quotes..." —Publishers Weekly

Friday, December 2
J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax 2006: For Preparing Your 2005 Return by J.K. Lasser (Wiley, $16.95) is the latest update of the country's bestselling tax guide. This book was originally supposed to drop on Friday, November 25th, but was delayed. Pity the event it prepares us for could not be! The new edition has usable forms online, and online guides. "For over 60 years, more than 38 million Americans have trusted J.K. Lasser to help them save money at tax time..." (Publisher's release notes)

Paperback Releases This Week

Monday, November 28
Chainfire by Terry Goodkind is Book 9 of his Sword of Truth series, but it is also the beginning of a sequence of three novels that will bring the epic story to its culmination. "After being gravely injured in battle, Richard awakes to discover Kahlan missing. To his disbelief, no one remembers the woman he is frantically trying to find. Worse, no one believes that she really exists, or that he was ever married. Alone as never before, he must find the woman he loves more than life itself... if she is even still alive. If she was ever even real." (Publisher's release notes)

Tuesday, November 29
In the 10th book of FIST, Starfist: A World of Hurt by David Sherman, "the best-selling military sf series continues with a volume less intense than Lazarus Rising, but in its own way intelligent and agreeable. The planet of Maugham's Station reports an alien life form that uses jets of acid as weapons, which is the hallmark of the deadly Skinks. The 34th FIST is sent out, with Charlie Bass still commanding a platoon, though, as a newly commissioned ensign... to learn about how to lead as an officer instead of a gunnery sergeant. Meanwhile, the navy... decides that Maugham's Station is involved in an ore piracy scheme... It turns out that Maugham's Station is a base for neither pirates nor Skinks, and Charlie Bass is likely to be as good as a junior officer as he was as a senior NCO..." —Roland Green, Booklist

Transcendent by Stephen Baxter is the final book in Baxter's Destiny's Children trilogy. "Baxter's gripping page-turners are feats of bold speculation and big ideas that, for all their time-and-space-spanning grandeur, remain firmly rooted in scientific fact and cutting-edge theory. Now Baxter is back with Transcendent, a tour de force in which parallel stories unfold–and then meet as humanity stands poised on the brink of divine providence... or extinction."

Paul Kearney's The Mark of Ran: Book One of the Sea Beggars is the first in a new series by the author of Hawkwood's Voyage. "Legends speak of an elder race, the Weren, whose blood lives on in the mutated Urmen... and in young Rol Cortishane, raised on stories of those ancient days by his grandfather Ardisan. When an angry mob turns on the old man, accusing him of witchcraft, Ardisan urges Rol to sail to the city of Gascar... Readers who fancy the creak of ship's timbers and the flash of live steel, the taint of dark magic and the lure of long-buried secrets, will gladly sail away with Kearney's latest novel." —Publishers Weekly

Glorious Treason by C. J. Ryan is the Philadelphia author's second novel. Once again, a brainy beauty must act to save her world. "Gloria VanDeen’s special brand of smarts, sexiness, and raw courage has won her a promotion within the Department of Extraterrestrial Affairs. For her first assignment, she’s been dispatched to the planet Sylvania on a voter registration drive... Once Gloria "democratizes" the planet, her ex-husband, the Emperor himself, plans to pillage it... With mining operations set to begin, Sylvania’s beleaguered populace are looking to Gloria to save their world..." (Publisher's release notes)

Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt is the first novel from the critically-praised short-fiction author of Little Gods. "Marzipan 'Marzi' McCarty, a 20ish California art school dropout, writes quirky comics. Marzi's also the night manager–barista of Genius Loci, a Santa Cruz coffeehouse decorated by vanished muralist Garamond Ray to hold in elemental Evil. The wild adventures that Marzi concocts for her cowpunk character, Rangergirl, start coming true after her artsy friends become obsessed with freeing weird gods... Pratt's simplistic message, glimpsed sporadically behind clouds of neo-hippie jargon, self-consciously naughty language, outdoor sex and nasty violence, is pretentious and even a little naïve — that art can trap our fears and hold them at bay. Like too much marzipan, it all turns cloying mighty fast, pardners." —Publishers Weekly

Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern Fantasy, Douglas A. Anderson (Editor) "pulls together 21 short stories and one short play to explore the wide variety of influences on the writer who has long been regarded as the father of modern fantasy. Authors range from the iconic (L. Frank Baum) to the virtually unknown (Clemence Housman). Anderson includes commentary for each piece, highlighting possible connections with Tolkien's work... Particularly memorable are stories by L. Frank Baum, H. Rider Haggard, and Arthur Machen, all of which are sure to keep fans of fantasy, new and old alike, reading." —Matthew L. Moffett, School Library Journal review.

With her third medieval mystery, Dragon's Lair: A Medieval Mystery, Sharon Kay Penman has a solid anchor in this little-populated genre. "In this sequel to The Queen's Man, Dowager Queen Eleanor is desperately trying to rescue her son Richard Lionheart, imprisoned by the Holy Roman Emperor... Justin De Quincy, the illegitimate son of the Bishop of Chester, is sent to Wales by the queen to recover one of the ransom payments, which has mysteriously disappeared... De Quincy investigates the theft and delves into the labyrinthine politics of Wales. Davydd, a prince of North Wales, claims the payment was stolen and the guards slain. Using friends and contacts and his own wits, De Quincy comes close to tracking it down, and then becomes a target himself.. Students of history and those just looking for a good mystery will be equally rewarded." —Molly Connally, School Library Journal review.

Freedomland by Richard Price, the author of Clockers, returns us to the 'hoods, with a new perspective on the generational and racial tensions of Clockers. "Price's first novel since that bestseller is less a sequel than a monumental complement played in minor key, a re-visitation by an author who's older, sadder, wiser. The story flows from an event drawn from headlines: Brenda Martin, a white woman, staggers bleeding into a hospital to claim that her car has been hijacked by a black man... The jacking allegedly occurred in the park that divides the largely black city of Dempsey from the white-dominated city of Gannon. In response, Gannon cops seal off and invade D-Town, inflaming racial tensions and attracting an army of media... Price's experience as a screenwriter (The Color of Money, etc.) shows in the predictable dramatic arc of his tale, but the novel is no less powerful for its popular bent." —Publishers Weekly

Road to Purgatory by Max A. Collins is the artful sequel to Road to Perdition. "When you're dealing with the straight-text sequel to a bestselling American graphic novel.. the words take on extra significance. Luckily, Collins is, among his other talents, a dedicated word man... In 1942, Michael O'Sullivan Jr. — the wide-eyed boy who watched his father turn into an angel of vengeance — is now grown up and about to become a WWII hero in the savage battle for Bataan. Raised by Italian-American adopted parents, Michael Satariano... then returns to America to continue his father's one-man war on the Capone mob by working his way up inside it." —Publishers Weekly

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Where Did November Go?


Turkey Day arrived this year with a welcome message: My NaNoWriMo novel had reached 68,000 words before the online validator became active.

For the last month (minus 5 days), I've been living in Indigo, a small town in flyover country, accompanying a rural sheriff named Art Whiddick as he organizes his high school reunion, solves a missing-person mystery, and uncovers dark doings in a sinister house.

That's at night, and various odd moments during the day. I've also been working a part-time contract that became a full-time one, and then (just as November dawned), began to lap over into 50- and 60-hour weeks. Even worse, my employer wouldn't let me log on to the 'Net for any reason while I was working.

I credit this policy for my over-the-top word count, actually. Since I couldn't surf, I couldn't fill idle moments with anything but writing. So reading and reviews went by the wayside. I haven't opened a cookbook in four weeks. I haven't even played Solitaire!

Instead, I wrote. As each chapter was complete, I eMailed it to myself. And by the simple expedient of unplugging the modem after each download, I made myself write at home, too.

Now, my reward: I get to come back to life, back to BlogCritics, and back to consciousness of life outside Indigo. Oh, I'll revisit that town. I'm taking the advice of Stephen King, who said in On Writing that a novel once complete should be set aside for a while. He advises that you come back and read it with fresh eyes (once you've forgotten the push and thrust of its creation); you'll spot its vacancies and absurdities much more easily then.

Art Whiddick and Indigo go into a drawer in my desk. Whether they will ever go further, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, it's good to be back.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Next Week in the Bookstore: Pope John Paul, P.D. James and Paperback Pleasures

Haunting the aisles of my local bookstore is no longer enough for me — I carefully plot strategies to acquire the latest paperback release in my favorite science fiction series, hot off the press. While I drool over the December releases, just a month away, I can relax with views of deliberately-destroyed buildings in Las Vegas, or explore the deeper meanings of Batman and the Flash, as conceived by Alex Ross.

Tuesday, November 22
The Lighthouse by P.D. James, the 13th Adam Dalgliesh mystery, borrows elements from previous plots. James "sticks closely to formula in the shape of her mystery story but injects her characters with a range of emotions and subtlety of motive that lifts the proceedings well beyond the level of a puzzle and its solution. In the past, she has often isolated her group of victims and suspects by homing in on a particular profession, but this time she uses an even more classic mystery device: an isolated location... But it's what happens between the lines that gives James' stories their punch: the tension between Miskin and the ambitious sergeant... and, of course, the personal lives of the various suspects." —Bill Ott, Booklist

Darth Vader is back, "badder than ever," as the Emperor's ruthless black-cloaked enforcer in James Luceno's Star Wars: Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, the sequel to the novelization of Episode III. A conclusion of sorts to a literary trilogy (Luceno's Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil and Matthew Stover's Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith) "chronicling the creation of arguably the most popular — and complex — villain in the history of genre fiction... picks up in the last hours of the Clone Wars as Vader is charged with tracking down and annihilating the last of the Jedi Order." —Barnes & Noble review

John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father by Peggy Noonan is the speechwriter and columnist's personal tribute to the late Pope, who arrived in office in 1978 just as she returned to the church. "Noonan is better at flashing insight and anecdote than at sustained argument and narrative. Her memoir of the late pontiff is, then, scrappy, though lyrical passages about John Paul's exceptionally didactic charisma and her own growth in faith predominate... many may feel Noonan focuses too much on her own doings... Uneven though it is, this is an absorbing personal tribute to a remarkable figure." —Ray Olson, Booklist

The sequel to her 2003 debut Venetian Stories, Across the Bridge of Sighs: More Venetian Stories by Jane Turner Rylands features a similar cast of fallen aristocrats, social climbers, workaday Venetians and their respective hangers-on. "When Baroness Sofi Patristi finally divorces her serially philandering husband to marry the architect Vittorio Fallon in 'Restoration,' the refurbishments they undertake to the family's historic palazzo are interrupted by a tragedy that halts any future plans. In 'Fortune,' two exes reunite to visit their ne'er do-well-son... Whether witty or shimmeringly wistful, however, each of the tales Rylands spins prove entertaining, and the interwoven stories borrow from each other's casts with ease." —Publishers Weekly

My kind of history book is Jeff Byles' Rubble: Unearthing the History of Demolition. "The controlled reduction of buildings to rubble is 'the black art of our time,' writes Byles. In this colorful thematic history of the demolition trade (a subject he was pursuing, it should be said, before the destruction of the Twin Towers), he rightfully calls Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, 'the patron saint of creative destruction.' Only in the 1910s did the simple need to topple skyscrapers emerge as a fact of urban renewal... Today, the ostentatious annihilation of gargantuan stadia and casinos draws awestruck throngs." —Publishers Weekly

A stunning coffee-table hardcover version of the November 8th release, Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross (Special Limited Edition), is released Tuesday. "What if Batman, Superman, the Flash, and all the rest of the DC Comics heroes really existed? They'd look just the way comics legend Alex Ross draws them in this gorgeous coffee-table art tome. The gifted Ross reimagines the cast of DC superheroes as morally complex characters deeply affected by the events of life. In addition to Ross's amazing hyper-realistic paintings, Mythology includes an original Superman and Batman story by Chip Kidd and a retelling of Robin's origin by frequent Ross collaborator Paul Dini." —Barnes & Noble review

Paperback Releases This Week

If you buy the paperback of John Grisham's Broker, don't expect the author's typical tightly-plotted legal thriller. "Readers will find an amiable travelogue to Italy and its charms in Grisham's latest. What they won't find are the suspense and inspired plotting that have made the author (The Last Juror, etc.) one of the world's bestselling writers. Yet Grisham remains a smooth storyteller, and few will fail to finish this oddball tale of what happens to ruined D.C. powerbroker Joel Blackman, 52, when he's suddenly released from federal prison after six years... little action or tension, plastic characters and plot turns that a tricycle could maneuver." —Publishers Weekly

The third in Rosalind Miles' Tristan and Isolde Novels, The Lady of the Sea finds Isolde now a queen in her own right, facing a Pictish invasion. The Pictish king is determined to take the riches of Ireland for his own people, whether by war or by marriage with Isolde. "Miles (I, Elizabeth; the Guenevere trilogy) writes flowery prose that borders on the florid ('Swollen clouds raced screaming through the air and peal after peal of thunder came rolling in from the edge of doom'), mingling Arthurian lords and ladies, red-robed papal envoys, sword-wielding madmen and crooning truth-tellers. Despite the author's occasional verbal excesses, fans of historical romance are sure to embrace this paean to the power of the female sex." —Publishers Weekly

The movie tie-in mass-market paperback of Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden is "a reminder of just how silly the exhortation 'write what you know!' can be. Clearly Golden, a 40-something American male, has never lived anything remotely similar to the experiences of a geisha coming of age in the '30s, the glory days of Kyoto's Gion pleasure district. Yet it is precisely this vanished world that he re-creates with subtlety, sensuality, and supreme authority." —Barnes & Noble review

In Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, "A self-conscious outsider navigates the choppy waters of adolescence and a posh boarding school's social politics in Sittenfeld's A-grade coming-of-age debut. The strong narrative voice belongs to Lee Fiora, who leaves South Bend, Ind., for Boston's prestigious Ault School and finds her sense of identity supremely challenged... The book meanders on its way, light on plot but saturated with heartbreaking humor and written in clean prose. Sittenfeld, who won Seventeen's fiction contest at 16, proves herself a natural in this poignant, truthful book." —Publishers Weekly

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Next Week in the Bookstore: Questions of Love for Michael Jackson, Frank McCourt and Alex Cross

There may be only four new books this week, but at least one is a new Frank McCourt. With the Diane Dimond tome on the Michael Jackson Trial, and a new Alex Cross novel, there's still plenty to generate excitement. The sleeper is Po Bronson's latest effort, a far distance from The Nudist on the Late Shift. Enjoy!

Monday, November 14
Alex Cross is back! Mary, Mary by James Patterson pits the brilliant FBI forensic psychologist against a movie star-obsessed serial killer who calls herself "Mary Smith." "Cross is sucked into the case full time, jeopardizing the outcome of the custody battle he's involved in over his youngest son. As Cross studies the e-mails and patterns of the killer, he realizes he can't be certain of anything, even the gender of Mary Smith. The thrills in Patterson's latest lead to a truly unexpected, electrifying climax." —Kristine Huntley, Booklist

Tuesday, November 15
Teacher Man: A Memoir by Frank McCourt ends the trilogy that began with Angela's Ashes with a "warming and enlightening" account of his 30-year teaching career in New York City's public high schools. His "easily embraceable" tale is told with McCourt's "trademark charm, wit, and unself-conscious self-effacement... flashbacks of his dreadful days growing up in extreme deprivation in Ireland don't sink the narrative in self-pity. Remembrances of his struggling days in college in New York ('dozing years') provide informative foundation for the real point of the book: relating his development into the kind of teacher he became..." —Brad Hooper, Booklist

Po Bronson's Why Do I Love These People?, subtitled The Miraculous Journeys of Twenty-First-Century Families, takes us on an extraordinary journey, in which every step — and every family — is real. "Bronson's is an unromantic view of family life; its foundations, he believes, are not soul-mate bonding or dramatic emotional catharses, but steady habits of hard work and compromise, realistic expectations and the occasional willingness to sever a relationship that's beyond repair... usually he offers a probing, clear-eyed, hopeful narrative of familial problems that many readers will recognize." —Publishers Weekly

Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case, by Diane Dimond, is an account of the pop-star's much-hyped court case by the reporter who first broke the story of the young boy who accused Jackson of molestation. "The ladies of Court TV strike again... Diane Dimond takes us inside the Michael Jackson trial. And who better to tell [this] story than Dimond? Having covered Jackson's movements and courtroom antics for nearly 15 years, Dimond has a wealth of knowledge second only to Jackson himself..." —Barnes & Noble review

Now in the Bookstore for Holiday Gifting:
American Presidents Eminent Lives: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant, a Boxed Set of Presidential biographies by Christopher Hitchens and Paul Johnson. "In the brief-biography arena, essayist Hitchens' Jefferson vies with historian Joyce Appleby's Thomas Jefferson (2003) for the loyalty of the time-challenged reader." —Gilbert Taylor, Booklist "Johnson doesn't have Americans' natural inclination to deify Washington, but he does have a great deal of respect for his subject, delineating the man's merits and deficiencies." —Ted Westervelt, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes holds within its slipcase four classic Sherlockian tales (A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Valley of Fear), plus "clear definitions of obscure terms, pithy discussions of some of the issues that have puzzled and delighted Holmes fans for generations (where exactly was Watson wounded?) and lucid essays (which legend inspired The Hound of the Baskervilles?). Klinger manages the difficult feat of appealing both to those new to the world of Sherlockian scholarship and to those who can quote the stories like gospel. Ample use of illustrations, some from the novels' original appearances, adds to the enjoyment." —Publishers Weekly

Jefferson and His Time, in a special "slipcover edition", is the complete, six-volume, illustrated Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography, available for the first time in a handsome boxed set. "Malone is the giant on whose shoulders every subsequent scholar of Jefferson stands.... [This] is simply a great read." —Joseph J. Ellis, author of American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson.

The World of Wine: The Boxed Set includes both Hugh Johnson's The Story of Wine and The World Atlas of Wine, together in a slipcover case. Sure to be a hit with the oenophile on your gift list! "This luxury box-set includes two of the world’s most successful and best-selling wine books by the two foremost wine writers on the subject." (Publisher's release notes)

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in paperback editions: "The first five books in Alexander McCall Smith's beloved bestselling series, featuring Mma Precious Ramotswe, the traditionally built, eminently sensible, and cunning proprietor of the only ladies' detective agency in Botswana, are now available in a beautifully designed boxed set, including a special preview chapter of Blue Shoes and Happiness." —Barnes & Noble listing

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Weekly BlogScan: Flu Shots and Fears

Someone I love is ailing right now. Each year, my spouse declines the opportunity to get a flu shot, because "it always gives you the flu." And since my better half is rarely ill, perhaps this is the right approach. I, on the other hand, get a flu shot every year about this time, and though I often get sick in the winter, it's not flu—can't be, you see, since I got a flu shot!

Who should get a flu shot? According to the Official Google Blog (powered by Blogger, of course!) and Google staff doctor Taraneh Ravazi, M.D., the answer is:
Generally, those wanting to reduce their chance of getting sick. It's especially recommended for... People aged 50 and older... Women who are or will be pregnant during the flu season... Adults and children 6 months and older with chronic heart, or lung conditions including asthma, metabolic diseases such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or weakened immune system such as with HIV or with medications, and any kind of brain or spinal cord disorders... Children 6 months to 18 years who are on long-term aspirin therapy... All children 6-23 months of age... All the contacts of people in these high-risk groups.

Anyone notice that the last category is the kitchen-sink option? The good doctor provides a Flu Clinic Locator to find where you might be able to get a shot. By the way, he offers this argument for my spouse's objection: "A flu shot, made from an inactivated vaccine... contrary to popular belief cannot give you the flu."

But is this the vaccine that will prevent illness of the avian flu (H5N1) variety? Likely not. The shot that works (to some degree) against human H5N1 infection is Tamilflu, a post-infection treatment (for flu you've already come down with). The vaccines being distributed at your local flu shot clinic are likely to be Fluzone and Fluarix instead. Luckily for humans, it's actually quite hard to catch avian flu—it hasn't quite made the jump to human-to-human transmission. Yet.

Flu infections run in cycles, according to the theory of rhythmicity of antigenic shift.
The annual flu cycle is likely due to a combination of mutation rates, incubation times (how long it takes before an infected person begins shedding the virus), and seasonal variations in climate.... The influenza virus also has a cycle that spans tens of years. This occurs when it undergoes "antigenic shift."... For instance, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 claimed over 20 million lives worldwide. These pandemics recur about every 10 to 30 years. The longer cycle is probably due to the low probability of having two different strains transfer genetic material to create a pathogenic virus and of having this new virus jump the species barrier back into humans.

We're concerned about avian flu, not because it is now threatening us, but because it satisfies two conditions for a potential pandemic: a highly mobile vector (migratory birds), and a viral similarity to the cause of several global flu pandemics. ("Both the 1957-58 and 1968-69 pandemics were caused by viruses containing a combination of genes from a human influenza virus and an avian influenza virus. The 1918-19 pandemic virus appears to have an avian origin.")

Mariane Szeto takes a more personal look at flu vaccines in Diary of a Diabetty, pointing out that being sick can raise your blood sugars. She counsels other diabetics not to gamble with flu, but to plan strategically for the ways in which flu will impact their lives.
Make sure that you consult your doctor for a "sick day plan." This may include checking your blood sugars more frequently, checking for ketones in your urine, or weighing yourself to monitor for excessive weight loss (sometimes an indicator for high blood sugars)... Don't wait! Get your flu shot as soon as possible because being sick is just no fun.

If you're fond of the eco-thriller of the Outbreak or Hot Zone variety, I recommend the trenchant future-blog of the Avian Flu Pandemic of 2006 published on the Nature Website. "Sally O'Reilly's Blog" was actually written by Nature senior reporter Declan Butler, and it's a scary read.
2 February 2006 The virus spreads Today, I was at a press conference at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. A guy from the CDC pointed to a giant screen, a map of the world dotted with red pixels. He said that they'd reckoned the virus might hit in two or more waves up to eight months apart, as in past epidemics. They'd hoped the first pandemic strain of H5N1 might be poorly contagious, and come back again with a vengeance after it had picked up more infectivity. By that time we might have had a vaccine. That was just a hunch, though. And it was wrong... Look at that map! With the huge increase in passengers travelling by air, it's already lodged in 38 cities around the globe. The outline of Asia is barely visible beneath the swarm of red pixels.

SCIAM Observations gives us the editors' take on articles that appear in Scientific American. In a recent post, "Don't Fear the (Bird) Reaper?," John Rennie, the magazine's editor-in-chief, takes issue with the down-play of avian flu dangers because the strain is currently only fatal to 2 to 3 percent of those infected.
we don't need H5N1 to be highly and quickly lethal. We only need it to be highly transmissible, which is advantageous in evolutionary terms. The 1918 virus, for example, had a case-fatality estimated to be "only" two or three percent, but when you have infected a significant portion of the world's population (immunologically naive to H5N1), 2% is quite a lot of dead people. Thus if there is a 40% infection rate (perhaps comparable to 1918), we would have 2.4 billion infections, very few (percentage-wise) fatal. But a 2% case-fatality rate (no one's idea of super lethality) is still 50 million deaths... In addition, influenza is infectious before symptoms (and hence incapacitation) occur, unlike SARS or Ebola. Orent likes to say that the reason wild ducks are only mildly affected is that dead ducks don't fly. But infectious people do fly—on airplanes.

Dr. Joseph Mercola, however, cries fowl on the whole idea of a Bird Flu pandemic. In "Avian Flu Epidemic Scare is a Hoax" he argues that the media and government are conspiring to "scare you into taking the flu vaccine... Dr. Henry Miller, former director of the Office of Biotechnology at the FDA, seeks to frighten the US public by telling us that the avian flu virus can jump from birds to humans and produce a fatal illness in 50% of those infected."

Dr. Mercola has his own brand of Lydia Pinkham's to peddle, though, so I'll take his advice with a grain of salt—and a flu shot.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Next Week in the Bookstore: Crow-Feast, Utter Bloody Rudeness, and Unnecessary Men

In the first full week of November, tempting new books will be rather thin on the ground. This is typically the time of year when publishers release boxed collections of older releases for holiday gifting. But Tuesday finds a new Lynne Truss book on the shelves, ready-made for those who fell in love with her Eats, Shoots and Leaves. And George R.R. Martin's next Feast will be an essential for fans of the Seven Kingdoms saga.

Monday, November 7
The Beatles: The Biography by Robert Spitz comes out Monday. "No mere rehash of Beatles mythology, music insider Bob Spitz's revisionist biography breaks fertile new ground with material culled from hundreds of interviews and years of research, restoring the Fab Four to their raw, angry rock 'n' roll roots." —Barnes & Noble review

Next, Nicole Richie's The Truth about Diamonds: A Novel tells the sensational story of Chloe Parker, a rock royalty princess and a card-carrying member of Hollywood's inner circle. "Chloe shoots to instant fame as a spokesmodel for a national ad campaign. When her long-lost birth father appears out of nowhere and her best friend betrays her, she must struggle to keep it all together—her sobriety, her friendships, and her integrity despite the betrayals of those around her. Ultimately, Chloe comes spectacularly into her own, achieving stardom in her own right and finding true love." (Publisher's release notes)

Tuesday, November 8
Jan Karon's Light from Heaven comes out en masse Tuesday. With this book, Jan Karon brings to a satisfying conclusion her beloved story series set in the small town of Mitford, North Carolina—a village abounding in mysteries and miracles and populated by a lovable band of delightful eccentrics. "Karon deftly ties up all the loose ends of Father Timothy Kavanagh's deeply affecting life. ...filled with characters old and new and with answers to all the questions that Karon fans have asked since the series began nearly a decade ago. To put it simply—it's her best." (Publisher's release notes)

Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door by Lynne Truss isn't "a book about good manners, per se. Instead, the British author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves sets out 'to mourn... the apparent collapse of civility in all areas of our dealing with strangers; then to locate a tiny flame of hope in the rubble.' It's a plea to show some consideration to others... [M]any book buyers will tuck it lovingly into the Christmas stockings of their somewhat discomfited nearest and dearest." —Publishers Weekly

CBS producer Mary Mapes lost her job over the disastrous decision to air the story of George W. Bush's Texas Air National Guard duty, with what turned out to be forged evidence. Truth and Duty: The President, The Press, and the Privilege of Power is Mapes' account of the events that ended in scandal—not for the White House, but for CBS News itself. "The firestorm that followed their broadcast trashed Mapes' well-respected career, caused Rather to resign from his anchor chair a year early, and led to an unprecedented 'internal inquiry' into the story. ...always fast, sometimes furious, and often unexpectedly funny about the collapse of one of America's great institutions." (Publisher's release notes)

Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd reports from the gender wars in a new collection of essays, this time focused on what happens "When Sexes Collide." "Dowd's Bushworld, collecting her amped New York Times op-eds, hit big during the 2004 presidential campaign. This follow-up is as slapdash as the earlier book was slash-and-burn. What Dowd seems really to want to do is dish up anecdotes of gender bias in the media, which she does with her usual aplomb—everything from how Elizabeth Vargas was booted out of Peter Jennings's vacant chair at ABC during his illness... to the guys who won't date Dowd because she's got more Beltway juice (and money) than they. The rest is padding... It's intermittently entertaining, but neither sharp enough nor sustained enough to work as a book." —Publishers Weekly

For fans of A Song of Fire and Ice, George R.R. Martin's epic Seven Kingdoms saga, A Feast for Crows is the long-awaited fourth installment. They may be disappointed, however. "Speculation has run rampant since the previous entry, A Storm of Swords, appeared in 2000, and Feast teases at the important questions but offers few solid answers... Martin's Web site explains that Feast and the forthcoming A Dance of Dragons were written as one book and split after they grew too big for one volume, and it shows. This is not Act I Scene 4 but Act II Scene 1..." —Publishers Weekly

The Other Side of Me by Sidney Sheldon will also find eager fans in line to buy. This, however, is not a new Sidney Sheldon novel, but a memoir of Sheldon's youth, and his Hollywood and television days, "reminiscent of his colorful novels, a rags-to-riches yarn replete with struggle, an indomitable hero and eventual glamour... While the book is long on Sheldon's Hollywood and television days, it skimps on his domestic and publishing lives. Still, that shouldn't stop Sheldon's legions of fans from lapping this up." —Publishers Weekly

No surprise, I'm sure, that my list has only the plea from Lynne Truss to halt "utter bloody rudeness." I'll wait on A Feast for Crows until the rest of the novel is released. As for Mapes' travails in the TANG tale, I'll do my reading in the bookstore, while I stand in line with my stacks of boxed sets of Elizabeth Moon and David Weber. It's never too early to get those grandchildren pointed in the right direction!

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