Thursday, December 29, 2005

Next YEAR in the Bookstore: Numbers, Napa Valley and Not Being a Victim

Week of January 1. 2006

Tuesday, January 3, 2006
The Hostage by W.E.B. Griffin is the latest in Griffin's Presidential Agent series, featuring the cast from the first of the series, By Order of the President. "An army major turned special presidential agent, Charley Castillo is rich, brash, well connected, and very good at what he does. Tons of money have gone missing in a UN oil-for-food scandal, an American diplomat has been murdered in Argentina, his wife has been kidnapped, and others have been killed in the hunt for the money. It's up to Charley and his cohorts to solve the murders by finding the widow's missing brother, who is knee-deep in the scandal... Griffin just keeps on getting better with a formula that, while predictable and sometimes implausible, is exciting and great fun." —Robert Conroy, Booklist

Laura Schlessinger has a new tutorial: Bad Childhood, Good Life (subtitled "How to Blossom and Thrive in Spite of an Unhappy Childhood"). "According to controversial radio talk-show host Schlessinger, a.k.a. 'Dr. Laura,' many people find themselves stuck in the role of 'victim,' reliving dysfunctional childhoods and repeating damaging behavior. Using examples from her show's transcripts and postshow listener comments and sharing her own personal history, she offers conservative commonsense advice framed in maxims: victims should become not just survivors but conquerors; positive behavior and attitude changes should be made without expecting linear change and growth." —Lucille M. Boone, Booklist

Just Rewards is the finale of Barbara Taylor Bradford's Harte family saga. "After 25 years, passions, revenge, envy, and unbridled ambition are still taking their toll on the Harte family, this time on Emma Harte's great-grandchildren. ... It's all very Dynasty-like and very delicious. Bradford keeps the pace moving briskly as she takes the reader from one great British house to another and expertly brings the various subplots together in a surprising conclusion." —Ginger Curwen, Barnes & Noble review.

Want "A Completely Different Way to Think About the Rest of Your Life"? Pick up The Number by Lee Eisenberg. "Eisenberg's arc through life could be used to define the baby boom. In the 1970s, he coined the term power lunch; in the 1980s, he edited Esquire and invented rotisserie baseball. In the 1990s, he wrote books on finding the good life through golf and fishing, and at the end of the decade, he joined an Internet retailer. These days, he's thinking about retirement, particularly about his Number: the amount of money he'd need to have socked away in order to be confident that his postretirement life would meet his expectations... A few of Eisenberg's chapters feel scattershot, but his perceptive analyses of real and fictional people's financial hopes and strategies will inspire readers to reconsider their Numbers and their methods for investing." —Publishers Weekly

All Night Long by Jayne Ann Krentz is a fast-paced, well-plotted romantic thriller set in a tiny Napa Valley village. "A mysterious e-mail from a childhood friend, Pamela Webb, draws big-city reporter Irene Stenson home, but when Irene arrives, Pamela is dead, apparently of a drug overdose. Handsome but damaged ex-Marine Luke Danner, who owns the lodge where Irene is staying, helps her look into the case. The plot thickens when Pamela's house gets torched shortly after she dies, and soon Irene and Luke follow a trail that leads to Pamela's father, a powerful senator who may have played a role in the death of Irene's parents when she was a young girl. When Senator Webb's PR flack is found murdered after getting caught up in a blackmail scheme and Luke and Irene start their predictable but torrid romance, Krentz sets up a series of compelling confrontations. The dialogue, which dominates the book, is strong throughout; the plot is tight. impressive page-turner from a master of the genre." —Publishers Weekly

Friday, January 6, 2006
Shine: A Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Journey to Finding Love by Star Jones "began when Star took a close look at herself and her life and realized she wasn't happy with what she saw: obesity precluded her from crossing her legs, she needed an asthma inhaler, she couldn't fasten her own necklace, and, worst of all, she got too tired to shop — a disaster because Star Jones Reynolds is a seriously committed shopper. Then she realized something else: with all her extraordinary accomplishments, none of it mattered without true love. Thinking long and hard, she finally understood that she hadn't yet met the man of her dreams because she wasn't ready for him. Star decided to make it happen... Until you read this book, you won't know how she got there — and how you can echo her triumphs and shine." (Publisher's release notes)


Please join us at BlogCritics to comment on this review.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Blogcritics Name the Best Books of 2005

The challenge to our superior cabal was to pick the single book they first encountered in 2005 that most impressed them. The eleven winners (and the BlogCritics who selected them) are listed below, in the order in which they were nominated.

Don't be shy! Make your vote count, too — write-in candidates are welcome!

1. Meryl: The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life by Steven Leveen
This is my favorite book for 2005 because it's all about books and I love books. So mix the two and I can't help but choose this one. It also motivated me to change how I keep my list of books that I've read. The book listed a few others and I've either bought them or plan to buy them.

2. Tim Gebhart: Saturday by Ian McEwan
"Quite simply, a masterpiece." The basic premise is a Saturday in the life of a London neurosurgeon that goes horribly wrong. The vulnerability we feel in post-9/11 life and the debate over the still-on-the-horizon Iraq war provide an undercurrent of tension. Yet McEwan layers a sense of elusive foreboding and unease with activities of everyday life — a squash game, a minor car accident, cooking dinner. Moreover, his insight into human emotion and the powers of music and poetry make this so much more than just a novel. It has been years since I read a book that caused me to go back and reread sentences, paragraphs and entire sections because of their simple brilliance and power.

3. Bill Wallo: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
A confident, masterful contemporary fantasy by Gaiman, whose earlier books have tantalized millions of fans with an often humorous mixture of myth, mayhem, and magic. Anansi Boys is Gaiman at his best, spinning a delicious tale of the twin sons of a man who was once a spider — and a god as well.

4. Alpha: Distant Neighbors by Alan Riding
Mexico is not America with a Spanish accent, but a sovereign nation with a very different history, culture, legal system, and set of ethics and values. Mexicans may like the Smallville TV series and the Superman movies ; but "truth, justice, and the American way" are not the Mexican way. Riding's insights are often profound, his knowledge worth the read. As Americans, even after nearly a decade here in Mexico; the reality of a culture so mired in bribes and mordida at all levels is beyond our world view. Riding makes a valiant attempt to explain the culture from history to family life to its famed corruption. His insights are often profound, his knowledge worth the read.

5. Anna Creech: The Steerswoman's Road by Rosemary Kirstein
I first heard about this book (and the rest of the series) earlier this year when some fellow science fiction fans recommended it to me. [See Blogcritics review. -DrPat] The plot intrigued me, and I was immediately entranced by the story. The main character, Rowan, seeks the origin of some unusual jewels found scattered across the known world, a quest continually blocked by wizards who do not want to share their knowledge. In the end, we discover the wizards' work is actually technology we would recognize, expanding on Arthur C. Clarke's proposal that any sufficiently-advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Kirstein created compelling characters and a plot so well-written that I could not put the book down until I was finished. I love a good mystery and good sci-fi. This book combines both very well.

Note: This book was originally published as two separate volumes, The Steerswoman and The Outskirter's Secret.

6. Gypsyman: Armies of Hanuman by Ashok K. Banker
Over the years I've discovered my criteria for what makes a good book has changed. I used to look at intellectual challenge and stimulation as a primary means of judgment. It was a few years back that I began to reappreciate the well-told story. Plot, character, and atmosphere have become more important than deconstruction and intellectual concepts. That is why I have picked Ashok Banker's fourth volume in his massive undertaking, retelling the 3000-year-old Ramayana, which traces the story of one of the great heroes of India, Prince Rama. Armies of Hanuman includes all the elements I desire in a good story: well-written characters I can empathise with; a story line that is clear but challenging to follow; introspection from characters and the reader; and finally, an old-fashioned good read.

7. Parker Owens: The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
I originally read The Historian because I wanted to find out what it was about the book that made it earn a $2 million advance. I never in a million years thought I would actually finish this very large book (close to 700 pages). Everything in the reviews is true — it is difficult to distinguish character povs, and the book suffers from too many coincidences. Many have felt the book dragged in spots. Still, I finished the book, and enjoyed it, and it lived up to its hype. It just goes to show you that storytelling is king. If you've got a good story, it will be published even if it doesn't follow all the latest standards of modern authoring.

[No Blogcritics review — but check here for news of the award won by Kostova in October.]

8. Alisha Karabinus: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
The best thing I read this year was this science fiction classic by Alfred Bester. I got it as a gift last year for Christmas and after a few false starts, I put it away and didn't find it again until we moved in July. Then, when I picked it up, I tore through the book like one possessed. Gully Foyle's quest for revenge consumed me. His need was my need. We were in this together. The Stars My Destination is a moral roller coaster that spans the universe and indeed, all of infinite time and space. Characters change and grow throughout this unpredictable tale of a future in which one man is written off as nothing, forgotten by the world... until he re-emerges, hellbent on destroying those who dared ignore him. If for no other reason at all, read it for the details of the creepy corporations whose managers and officers give up name and identity. Cyberpunk was born right here, back in the 1950s.

[Again, no Blogcritics review — although there is a footnote to a review of a book described as "out-Foyling Bester."]

9. Joan Hunt: A Son Called Gabriel by Damian McNicholl
The absolutely stellar A Son Called Gabriel has been stuck in my heart and mind since I read it earlier this year. Damian McNicholl crafted one of the most honest and touching portraits of a young man coming of age during turbulent times.

10. Scott Butki: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
This is the best non-fiction book I have read in several years. I knew before I read it that it would change my life, particularly my eating and buying habits, and it did. What I did not realize was what an amazing piece of writing this is. A friend who teaches English has used this book as an example of persuasive writing and that totally makes sense, as this book manages not only to convince you that fast food companies do not have the interests of their employees — and sometimes their customers — in mind when making decisions, but also to explain every important issue involving fast food, without coming off as redundant or preachy. You don't feel you are being lectured so much as educated. Reading this book — along with watching Super Size Me — sparked me to boycott national fast food companies. (I also think I'm going to give up caffeine and learn to play chess next year, so maybe I'm delusional. If so, I can always blame it on the many evil deeds done by the fast food industry.)

11. DrPat: The Confusion by Neil Stephenson
In a singularly captivating series, The System of the World, the middle volume (The Confusion) still managed to be the most impressive book I read in 2005. Deliciously convoluted, it still presented its characters with clarity and its concepts within a rollicking good story. In reading this tale, I kept running across recursive references from other books (notably Stephenson's Cryptonomicon), erudite philosophical and historical allusions, and descriptions of the state of the arts and sciences of Newton's day. All this, and pirates, too!

There they are — the books chosen as the best they read in 2005 by these ten BlogCritics. Now it's your turn to cast a ballot. Remember: Vote early, and vote often!

Come cast your own vote for the best book you first read in 2005 at BlogCritics.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Next Week in the Bookstore: No New Books?

This is not a list of new books out next week, so much as an announcement: There are no new books next week! (Perhaps there are, but they are paperbacks, or re-releases in audiobook format, or released in a small printing.)

Instead, let's have a quick peek at what's coming for Christmas Week!

  • A new Resnick debuts in the bookstore on Christmas Day itself: A Gathering of Widowmakers. Count on Mike Resnick to deliver a thoughtful new tale cloned from the seed of myth and fable.

  • Greg Iles' Turning Angel turns up on December 27th, a new legal thriller from the pen of "the poster boy of southern gothic thrillers" (Kirkus Reviews).

  • Judith McKnaught returns to the lavish Chicago setting of her popular novel Paradise with Every Breath You Take — look for it December 27th.

  • Iris Johannson's On the Run is another departure from her best-selling Eve Duncan series, involving a pair of toughened ex-CIA agents, buried treasure, plenty of horses and thrilling action. It also comes out December 27th.

  • Also on December 27th, a new Anne McCaffrey/Elizabeth Scarborough collaboration in the Power Play series will appear: Changelings, starring the precocious half-selkie twins from Pataybee.

  • Evolve, adapt, or perish! That's the message Geoffrey A. Moore has for business in Dealing with Darwin: How Great Companies Innovate at Every Phase of Their Evolution. Look for it on December 29th.


Please join us at BlogCritics to comment on this review.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Bestsellers: Paperback Broker Climbs, Teacher Man Falls

Week of December 4, 2005

According to the New York Times, Mary, Mary by James Patterson is still atop the list for fiction sales this week, while President Carter's Our Endangered Values climbs to number one in non-fiction.

John Grisham's The Broker replaces Crichton at the top of the list of paperback fiction sales, and A Million Little Pieces by James Frey remains at atop of the paperback non-fiction pile (perhaps glued in place by the golden seal of Oprah's Book Club).

This WeekLast WeekBest-selling FICTION from the NYT List
11Mary, Mary, by James Patterson. The F.B.I. agent Alex Cross tracks a Hollywood killer who announces the crimes via e-mail. (2nd week on list)
24At First Sight, by Nicholas Sparks. The young couple from "True Believer," who are now expecting a child, receive a disturbing message. (6th week on list.)
33Light 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. (3rd week on list.)
42Predator, by Patricia Cornwell. On the trail of a possible serial killer, Dr. Kay Scarpetta turns to a jailed psychopath for advice. (6th week on list)
5NThe Lighthouse, by P.D. James. Commander Adam Dalgliesh is called in to solve a murder (or two) on a remote Cornish island. (First week on list.)

This WeekLast WeekBest-selling NON-FICTION from the NYT List
13Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter. The former president warns against blurring politics and fundamentalist religion. (4th week on list.)
21Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt. The author of Angela's Ashes remembers his years teaching high school English in New York City. (2nd week on list)
32Team Of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The political genius of Abraham Lincoln is revealed in his relationship with his cabinet. (5th week on list)
45The 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. (34th week on list.)
54The 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. (8th 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.

Please join us at BlogCritics to comment on this review.