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A Voice for His Generation

A Voice for His Generation

posted by:
May 29, 2012 - 6:01am

PulpheadAs a contributor to many publications such as GQ, Harper’s, and The New York Times Magazine, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Southern editor for The Paris Review, is an accomplished essayist. His collection, Pulphead: Essays, brings together fourteen of his best long-form works from the past decade. Sullivan writes on intriguing topics, including a visit to a large, annual Christian rock festival in Kentucky. There he meets a group of young men from West Virginia who he connects with and learns their varied motivations for being there. A strong sense of place and emotion is stirred when he places himself among the throngs of believers, many of whom come to this event year after year. A supporting “character” is the RV that Sullivan rents to attend the occasion; he explores the benefits and foibles of having such a vehicle there.

 

A more personal essay describes Sullivan’s experience after his brother Worth is electrocuted in a bizarre accident, and the resulting aftermath of the coma that follows. As in many of the essays, humor worms its way into otherwise sobering events, such as recounting how many details of this incident were remembered because it had appeared on reality show Rescue 911, hosted by William Shatner. Perhaps the most fascinating of his subjects is Mister Lytle, the last of a scholarly group known as the “Twelve Southerners”. Sullivan spends some months living with the 92-year-old man, and the experiences that they share are captivating. A window into the Old South that still existed not too very long ago is opened and strikingly examined.

 

Other topics include the Gulf Coast of Mississippi just days just after Hurricane Katrina; the experiences of reality show characters after "their" season has passed; and one essay each on Michael Jackson and Axl Rose. John Jeremiah Sullivan is a writer who captures the longing, introspection, and world-weariness that exemplify the feelings of his Gen X contemporaries.

Todd

categories:

 
 

A Ride in the Blistering Sun

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to KashgarArdent convictions entwined with bewitching messages of faith can be a stormy mix, especially when boundaries blur and cultures clash. Two British sisters face this predicament. Their efforts to help establish a Christian mission in rural China extract a high price in Suzanne Joinson's impressive, multi-layered debut novel, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar.  

 

The story begins in 1923 in the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, where new missionaries Lizzie and Eva English join their aloof, determined leader, Millicent Frost. While Lizzie appears passionate, Eva is suspicious of religious conversion and is basically along for the ride, literally. Traveling with her trusty BSA lady's roadster bicycle, Eva hopes to publish her guidebook, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar. Meanwhile, another story unfolds in present day London. Frieda Blakeman is feeling alone and dislocated in her life when she meets a homeless man from Yemen who appears one day sleeping outside her door. Their eventual friendship leads the pair to an abandoned flat Frieda has inherited and to a minefield of family history. 

 

Joinson's alternating narrative style sets the stage for what is to come. The parallel storylines share symbolism and metaphors that link together the characters' connection to their world and the ability to escape that connection. It is no coincidence that birds feature prominently in both stories as a symbolic "sense of freedom" or that Eva's bicycle is a "shield and my method of escape."     

 

Drawing on her considerable travel experiences, Joinson transports her readers to an exotic locale, rich with authentic voices and evocative prose. Readers of Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible) and Paul Theroux (The Great Railway Bazaar) may enjoy this tale of the traditions and challenges of a world at large.

Cynthia

 
 

The World’s Greatest Crime Fiction Writer?

TakenAccording to The Huffington Post, it’s Robert Crais. You can judge for yourself with Taken, the most recent in his Joe Pike/Elvis Cole series. Taken features a multinational cast of bad guys who buy, sell, and steal one another's kidnapped victims. When professional kidnappers capture a college-age couple who venture into the desert south of Palm Springs near the Mexican border, the young woman's mother hires Cole to find them. Initially, Mom thinks it’s a hoax to get at her money, but Cole quickly realizes that it’s for real and the danger is serious.

 

Through a series of undercover efforts, Cole, Pike, and their sidekick Jon Stone begin to unravel the power balance controlling this web of cartels. As they move to infiltrate the smugglers’ group, Cole himself becomes a kidnap victim. Pike and Stone must find a way to use his capture to aid their investigation and bring justice to the victims. This quickly moving story and realistically sharp dialog will keep readers up past their bedtime. Fans of Crais as well as general mystery readers will enjoy this latest effort. For series newcomers, it is not critical to start with the first title. Crais himself even recommends starting with a title in the middle of the series: L.A. Requiem. The good news is once you’ve polished this one off, there are 14 others waiting in the stacks.

 

While the titles in this series would make a fabulous fit for the big screen, to date Crais refuses to sell the rights to Cole, Pike, and his other recurring characters, preferring to allow his readers to keep their own personal conceptions of the characters.

Maureen

 
 

Indian Nation

Rez LifeRez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation by David Treuer is part memoir, part history, and part cultural study of Indian reservations. There are approximately 310 Indian reservations in the United States today; Treuer says reservations are as “American as apple pie.” Americans are captivated by Indians yet many people will go through their entire life without knowing an Indian or spending any time on a reservation.

 

Life on a reservation or “rez life” is often associated with poverty and alcoholism. Treuer does not shy away from these realities. There are heartbreaking stories of unimaginable poverty throughout the book. Numbers also reveal a bleak existence: no running water until the late 1990s, 80% unemployment rates and a median household income of $17,000. This does not sum up “rez life” completely, though. Treuer writes, “What one finds on reservations is more than scars, tears, blood, and noble sentiment. There is beauty in Indian life, as well as meaning....We love our reservations.”

 

Rez Life is not a dismal book, by any means. There are touching (and often very humorous) stories of family life throughout. Treuer reminds us that not all Indians are poor and not all reservations are poor. The wealthy Seminole nation is the current owner of the Hard Rock Cafe franchise. This proves, as Treuer puts it, that the Seminoles have been “kicking ass and taking names for a very long time.”

 

Treuer is the perfect writer for this book. He is a journalist and creative writing professor who knows how to synthesize a massive, complicated subject into personal, engaging stories. He has a keen attention to detail and is a master storyteller who also grew up on a reservation. Treuer is an Ojibwe Indian, raised on Leech Lake Reservation in Northern Minnesota. His father is an Austrian Jew and Holocaust survivor, his mother a tribal court judge. Indeed, his personal story (interspersed throughout the book) makes for a fascinating biography. Readers who enjoy biographies, modern history and cultural studies will not want to miss Rez Life.

 

Zeke

 
 

Rise of the Third Reich

Rise of the Third Reich

posted by:
May 24, 2012 - 6:01am

HitlerlandWhy? How? Who hasn’t posed these questions when learning about Adolph Hitler, Nazism’s demonic agendas, and the passivity of world powers like the United States in the face of Germany’s aggressive militancy? In Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power, author Andrew Nagorski provides insight into the ascension of  Hitler through  first person accounts of American reporters, foreign service officials, and other prominent US citizens living and working abroad.

 

Comparisons between Hitlerland and Erik Larson’s bestselling In the Garden of Beasts are inevitable as both books concern themselves with Hitler and his National Socialists’ power grab in the period leading up to World War II.  While Larson’s book focuses primarily on viewing history through the eyes of the US Ambassador William Dodd and his soon-to-be infamous daughter Martha, Nagorski documents his story with varied voices such as author Sinclair Lewis and his journalist wife Dorothy Thompson, historian William Shirer, reporter Edgar Mowrer and diplomat Truman Smith.  The cast of characters named in Larson’s book, such as self-avowed half-American Hitler confidante Putzi Hanfstaengl, reappears in Hitlerland but Nagorski fleshes out their stories and places them into the bigger picture. Nagorski excels at explaining the back story of Nazi Germany, looking at the humiliating German defeat in WWI, the conditions imposed under the Treaty of Versailles, the deterioration of the Germany economy, and the decline of moral standards a la Cabaret. He also details the casually anti-Semitic attitudes of the times both in Europe and in the United States.   The book’s timeline is a rather straightforward chronology which contributes to an ease of understanding the events in context and the cumulative effect of primary source material conveys the horror building in the fatherland. Hitlerland is an excellent choice for history buffs and neophytes alike.

Lori

 
 

Summer Thrills

Summer Thrills

posted by:
May 23, 2012 - 4:01am

Thriller 3: Love is MurderAre you looking for a thrill this summer? Love is Murder is a new anthology of romantic suspense short stories that haven’t been published anywhere else. This volume, which is edited by Sandra Brown, will be released in time for summer, and it’s a great way to try out some new thriller writers who you may not already know. The anthology brings readers a mix of stories written by some of today’s best known writers along with some up-and-comers. Some of the authors included in the anthology are Allison Brennan, Heather Graham, Carla Neggers, Brenda Novak, and Lee Child.

 

Love is Murder is the third anthology produced exclusively by members of the International Thriller Writers, a group of authors who write fiction and nonfiction that is broadly categorized as thrillers or suspense. The organization’s goal is to promote and recognize the thriller genre, and its membership is a who’s who of bestselling authors.

 

This anthology is being published in time for the International Thriller Writers’ annual ThrillerFest. This year, the event will take place July 11-14 in New York City.  ThrillerFest is a four day celebration of thriller books, the writers who create them, and the fans who love them. The event will feature Lee Child, Jack Higgins, John Sandford, Catherine Coulter, and many more! All of the details on the event are available here

Beth

 
 

Nancy on the Case

Nancy on the Case

posted by:
May 23, 2012 - 1:11am

Nancy Clancy, Super SleuthThe Cape Mermaid MysteryThere’s a new girl detective in town. As readers know from Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy picture book series, Nancy Clancy likes to live her life just a little bit fancier than most other people. She is now also the star of her first chapter book for young readers!  In Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth, Nancy is taking on a new challenge and becoming a sleuth, which she explains is a fancy word for detective.  To get into her detective persona, she dons a pink trench coat and carries a magnifying glass with rhinestones on it.  She and her best friend Bree are looking for a mystery to solve.  They find one at her school when her teacher's special blue marble goes missing. Can Nancy and Bree solve the mystery, and return Mr. D's favorite memento?

 

Nancy Clancy is inspired by another super sleuth--Nancy Drew. If the traditional Nancy Drew mysteries are still a little too challenging for your young reader, the Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew series is a great starting point. These short chapter books feature eight-year-old Nancy Drew who forms a club to solve mysteries with her friends in River Heights.  The newest release in the series is The Cape Mermaid Mystery. Nancy Drew and her friends go on a vacation to Cape Mermaid, New Jersey. After they hear spooky noises and there’s a possible ghost sighting at the old inn on the beach, they begin to wonder if it’s the rumored ghost of Cape Mermaid. This is a job for the Clue Crew!

Beth

 
 

A World Without the Super Soaker®?

What Color is my World?There’s more to former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar than just basketball. In What Color is My World?: the Lost History of African-American Inventors, he and co-author Raymond Obstfeld tackle the book's subject and make it interesting for kids!

 

Twin siblings Ella and Herbie are less than thrilled about their new fixer-upper of a house.  Eccentric handyman Mr. R.E. Mital comes to work on the house and slowly shares with the two the potential of their new home. He also uses different things in the house as a starting point to share contributions made by African-American inventors. Turning on a light bulb prompts a discussion about Lewis Latimer, while working in the kitchen brings up George Crum and his marvelous invention of the potato chip.

 

Flaps show lifelike portraits of individuals like Dr. Mark Dean, a vice-president at IBM, Dr. Charles Drew, who developed the concept of blood banks, and of great importance to children everywhere, nuclear engineer Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker® squirt gun! Ella’s notes appear inside the flaps, while several spreads provide detailed profiles of other inventors and graphic novel-style passages. This surprising and informative exploration of unfamiliar inventors is also fun thanks in part to the realistic banter between the siblings.

 

This is a fun easy read that can be read cover to cover, but the book's layout also makes it an ideal choice for skipping around and reading about those of most interest – like Alfred Cralle, inventor of the indispensable ice cream scoop! A list of books, websites, and videos is included at the end for those who want to keep on learning. And like Ella and Herbie, the reader uncovers a surprise discovery about Mr. Mital’s real identity.

Maureen

 
 

Eight-Year-Old Seeks Adventure, Finds Friendship

Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the WorldIn Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World, eight-year-old Iva Honeycutt has a thirst for adventure. Her summer plan is to make her first big discovery and earn membership into the National Geographic Society. First she has to ditch her girly-girl double cousin, Heaven. Iva’s mother and Heaven’s mother are sisters. They married brothers and planned their families so their children would grow up as best friends. This is great for Iva’s older and younger sisters, who were paired with cousins they liked. Iva is stuck with bossy Heaven, who lives next door and tattles on her constantly. 

 

Iva sets out to find the lost treasure of General Braddock. She finds a treasure map from her great-grandfather Ludwell, changes her name to Iva Honeysuckle and embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. Unfortunately, Heaven gets her cousin signed up for Vacation Church School, where Iva earns the distinction of being the first child ever expelled. Will her summer improve? Will Iva join the National Geographic Society? Enjoy finding out the answers in this quirky, fun read by Candice Ransom. The author peppers her story with eccentric characters like Mr. and Mrs. Prindy, who had a falling out thirty-five years ago and have only spoke through third parties ever since. Euple Free is patiently covering his truck in used tinfoil, and Swannanoah Prindy spends her time picking through the trash to offer up as treasures to others.

 

Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World is a light, funny read for the elementary school crowd. Young readers will enjoy the adventure and the freedom Iva has as she sets out to make her mark on the world.  Ransom’s original storytelling is engaging and fun. Illustrations by Heather Ross add to the charm of the story. This one is perfect for summer reading.

Diane

 
 

A First Look at Nature’s Heroes

Life in the OceanRachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the WorldFor the BirdsThree of the most famous naturalists of the past one hundred years get their due in introductory, illustrated biographies for young readers. Each extraordinary life shares a common thread--following a strong interest in the natural world as a child and developing it into a career that changed the way Americans interact with their environment.

 

In Life in the Ocean: the Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, the sea and all of its hidden plants and animals are brilliantly portrayed by author and illustrator Claire Nivola. From the New Jersey farm she lived on until age twelve, to the seaside in Florida where she spent her adolescence, these surroundings shaped Sylvia Earle’s life and her curiosity about the natural world. Diving into the depths and encountering whales and amazing bioluminescent fishes, her ongoing exploration of the ocean and fight to keep it clean and preserve its treasures has made Earle a pioneer for female marine biologists.

 

Rachel Carson is well-known worldwide for her seminal critique of pesticides and the chemical industry, Silent Spring, as well as other important works. Rachel Carson and her Book that Changed the World is a good introduction to her life and accomplishments. Showing an early interest in nature throughout her childhood, she found her niche after taking a biology course in college.  Laurie Lawlor covers both Carson’s triumphs and difficulties in this tightly-written biography.

 

Though known in his neighborhood for his unusual habits as a child, Roger Tory Peterson is now noticed for what he noticed--the incredible world of birds. His curiosity and lifelong passion to educate the masses and conserve the habitats our feathered friends is the subject of For the Birds: the Life of Roger Tory Peterson. Peterson, best known for his many field guides to bird identification and behavior, is described vividly by Peggy Thomas, and the illustrations by Laura Jacques are striking. Of particular note is a double-page spread of a flicker just taking flight.

 

Budding environmentalists can learn about three of the most famous names in natural science with these timely picture book biographies.

Todd