Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The E-Book Effect

I got a laugh out of this column by David Pogue on "antique e-books." I mean you gotta love the idea of an e-book that's more than a month old being an "old e-book" (as opposed to an "ancient e-book," which would be between two to five months old--any older than that, well, check your local museum). And I love the notion of the Lamenting Corner--no bemoaning allowed. (No bemoaning aloud, that is--sorry, sorry, couldn't resist . . .) Thanks to the Reader's Advisor Online for this.

Meanwhile, the NY Times asks, "Is a Book Still a Book on Kindle?" or "With Kindle, Can You Tell it's Proust?" That second question is a fair one, and it's about more than just impressing other people with what you're reading. E-books will eliminate serendipitous conversation based on observing the covers of books other people read. When I was commuting by subway and train, I used to love it when people noticed me reading a book and commented on it. (Usually to say how much they had enjoyed it, too.) However, e-books still aren't the norm. So we haven't completely lost those random opportunities to connect. And I still can't see myself curling up with a Kindle at the end of the day. But, hey--that's just me.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

'The Poisonwood Bible' Evokes Emotions Buried or Never Felt

Review of THE POISONWOOD BIBLE (Brilliance Audio on CD Unabridged 2004)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence

hor, Barbara Kingsolver; read by Dean Robertson

Everyone has told me for years that I should read Barbara Kingsolver, so naturally I never had. Then, on a quick library run for disks and not liking female readers too much for reasons I have described elsewhere, I grabbed this book because it looked long and was read by Dean Robertson. Funny about that—Dean is a woman, and with her rapid, ironical and slightly twangy delivery, is the best thing about this book—except for the fantastic writing.

Even if you were not alive during the Congo uprisings in 1959 (I remember reading about this), THE POISONWOOD BIBLE will capture you into a family story so engrossing you won’t want to leave your characters . . . your friends, almost your own siblings. My own father was dominant, bossy, a little scary and always completely correct in everything he said or did. Just ask him—or he would tell you, anyway. Nathan Price is a dogmatic preacher, who bustles his "whither-thou-goest" Georgia wife and four daughters off to Africa on a missionary trip that alters all their lives forevermore. He made me think of my father. His quiet wife, who provides only glimpses of her inner life and any regrets or signs of rebellion, made me wonder what my mother had been thinking all those years of our childhood.

But enough about me. You will thrill to the racing poetry of Kingsolver's dry wit and descriptions of Africa and a small village in upheaval as forces of man and nature try to claim and reclaim the rampant lushness and bounty of that continent.

As the decades march on, the four daughters and their mother struggle to cope with a central tragedy. "Life marks you," the mother murmurs, with typical understatement. They go their separate ways, two staying in Africa and two going back to the United States. Wait, someone is missing. Yes, someone is. Actually, two people, don't forget the preacher.

If you like big "saga" type "listens," this is the one for you. Sixteen hours well spent. Not counting the hours you will spend thinking about it afterward.

Star Lawrence is a writer in Chandler, AZ, and can be reached at jkellaw@aol.com. She's a frequent contributor to The Book Grrl and authors the blog Do the Hopey Copey, a humorous how-to guide to handling the recession.

Hippie Singleton Art, Peace~Let it Shine

Peace, Let it Shine(C) Singleton 2009Sunrain....the light early morningglitter of a lazysunstretching...her wispy golden armsreaching,blonde locks cascading upward,caught in the suddenstatic electricity of a new day...Peace rises...And while the nightrolls over,covers his headwith the thickwarm blanket of yesterday,I salute the sunand embrace the second chancetoday brings...Original hippie

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

'Sliver of Truth' Gets Under Your Skin

SLIVER OF TRUTH (Shaye Areheart Books 2007)
Author, Lisa Unger

The prologue to SLIVER OF TRUTH starts out looking like a book that should be called "Scenes from a Marriage." A ho-hum marriage, at that. Told in third person from the wife's point of view, we hear her gripe about her husband (internally). She's a journalist. He does something else (something that doesn't matter). But all that changes by the prologue's end.

Chapter 1 puts the reader in the protagonist's head. And it's written in first person (Ridley Jones' point of view--more on her later). The story starts with a scene like something out of a nightmare. Ridley's running . . . it's dark . . . she's in Potter's Field in the Bronx. She's chasing someone . . . there's a pain in her side, fire in her lungs . . . she has a gun. She's going after this shadowy person. Someone else tells her, "Ridley, don't do it. You'll never be able to live with it." The chapter ends . . . well, read it and see for yourself.

Chapter 2 is where the story really starts. You have to love an opening line like, "I bet you thought you'd heard the end of me." ("But I've barely heard the first of you," I thought, and kept going.) Starting this book is like walking into a movie roughly halfway through it. Reading those first few chapters was like having someone catching me up to what's gone before, while I was watching what's taking place. A bit discombobulating at first. (I kept thinking there was too much telling, not enough showing.) But once I settled in, what followed was . . . amazing.

Ridley Jones, at some point before the story begins, has learned that the people she's always known as her parents are actually foster parents. She was placed with them by an organization called Project Rescue. This organization was founded by her beloved late Uncle Max, who was--get this--actually, her real father. These few sentences may help save some confusion for you upfront--but not all, because there's Jake, another Project Rescue child, with whom she has an on-and-off relationship. And some other guy named Christian Luna who's killed, for reasons I could never figure out. (None of these things I'm telling you are spoilers. This is all in Chapter 2, believe it or not.) Somehow all this truth comes out after a photo of Ridley is taken rescuing a small boy from getting run over by a van. A photo that makes her famous. (Still in Chapter 2.) I can't remember all the details, all of it came at me so fast and furious, I found myself turning back after reading several pages and saying, "Now, who's Jake? And what's this got to do with Project Rescue? And what does Christian Luna have to do with all this?"

But like I said, after I kind of got an understanding of what was going on, the book really gripped me and never let me go--sometime after the FBI questions Ridley about a series of photos of her in which a shadowy figure keeps appearing. They think the shadowy guy is her Uncle Max, but her Uncle Max is supposed to be dead. But then Ridley gets these weird phone calls with just static and breathing, then the caller hanging up. Plus there's a spooky scene in her uncle's apartment (really creepy!). Lisa Unger's eye for detail and her ability to build suspense with it, really got under my skin. And next thing you know, people are dying. And Ridley ends up in trouble over her head.

I read somewhere that thrillers and suspense stories should have a roller coaster storyline. But this narrative wasn't a roller coaster. It was more like a freight train. Barreling downhill, full throttle. With no brakes.

And not only is it a great thriller, but it's a great meditation on our recollections of people from our past. How they really are, who we want them to be, and the differences between the two. Every time I started reading this book, I had to tear my eyes away to set it down. (It was torment waiting to pick it up again.) It made me want to stay up reading all night.

To say that Ridley goes through hard times is pretty much the understatement of the year. The plot takes her through quite a few twists. I'll admit--I was expecting some of them, but that's only because I watch Damages (a show that's probably spoiled all thrillers for me for life).

Thing is, the book is more than a thriller. It's about a woman who's looking for answers about herself and this Uncle Max she loved and thought she knew, but didn't. It's about memory, identity, choices and all sorts of heavy stuff like that.

Unger manages the delicate balancing act of telling a story with suspense and thrills, while exploring a woman's shattered psyche as she learns the truth and is put through her paces.

And it's a truly great read. You just have to get through that beginning, where it's like walking into the middle of a movie. (I suppose it might have helped to read BEAUTIFUL LIES first.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

More Fun Stuff

I thought this was pretty interesting: a perfume called In The Library. (What does it smell like? Old books?)

And how fun is it to trick people into reading classic literature through misleading covers? (You gotta love THE GRAPES OF WRATH.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Self Portrait in the Waves, Singleton Hippie Art

Self Portrait in the Waves(c) SingletonTumblingface first,knees scraping,drowning in ice cold foam,green beer bottleseverywhere...and then the Sun...Upside downand warm,just a little deeper...past the cold acqua skies...and it's raining somewhere,I'm drenched....Floating....to the bottom....ribbons of fluorescent seawoodtangling in my hair,spaghetti soft...and dancing...Untilmy chin scrapes the

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sad News About Another Indie Bookstore

Vertigo Books is closing. The name may not mean anything to those outside the Washington, DC area, but I attended some of their signings back when they were in the Dupont Circle section of town.

Then they packed up and moved to College Park, MD. I was thrilled to see a bookstore of Vertigo's caliber relocate to the 'burbs. It's always been a store that promoted good books by intelligent authors. The store always had a nice mix of different titles. And it was independent, so back when Book Sense had gift certificates you could use at any indie bookstore, I always bought mine there and gave them out as Christmas presents.

Those gift certificates are gone now, though I see they've been replaced by ABA gift cards. But this store won't be replaced.

Such a shame.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Story on a Spreadsheet?

Okay, when I heard about the concept of texting novels, I thought that was pretty wild. But how many of you would read a story on a spreadsheet?

And how many of you would try to write one that way?

What's next? Twitter novels? (If I'm just thinking about it now, someone's probably already doing it.)

Prayers for Pixies, Singleton Hippie Art

Prayers for Pixies(c) Singleton 2009SOLDI heard the morning breezecrinklelike sheets blowing in the wind,and the sun raised her spindly arms upover her head and stretched....lazy,but ready to touch the sky....And there she was...Hidden in the kudzu vines and the fallen oaks,Wide eyed and cheeks flushed with blueberry blush...the little woodland pixieI always knew existed,but perhaps only in my

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Little White Lies, Singleton Hippie Art

Little White Lies(c) Singleton 2009SOLDStanding over melike an aging rock star,wearing his crystal blue eyes likebling...he muttered"Silly little girlwith all your peace~love hoo~hah,who do you think believes you?"And I never lifted my head,never let go of the colors,the lines,the flow...Never let go of the spirit..."I do"....Drawn on reclaimed cardstock....colored markers, pencils, ink, peace,

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

'Flashback' Explores Memory in Page-Turning Fashion

FLASHBACK (Henry Holt and Co. 2004)
Author, Jenny Siler

FLASHBACK starts off with a nun performing an evening ritual in a chapel at a French Benedictine convent. But any notions that this book will start slowly and quietly are swiftly put to rest when the nun gets grabbed by a man--one of a band of armed thugs who creep up on the chapel in the gathering gloom and massacre all the nuns (all except the nun who's grabbed, but breaks free and gets away). While he has her, the man briefly questions the nun about a woman the convent took in--an American who's lost her memory, who they refer to as Eve.

Fortunately, Eve's with her shrink at the time, trying to deal with her memory loss issues and strange dreams that suggest she's perhaps not the nicest person, that she may have a sordid past that's possibly too painful for her to want to recall. Her memory loss was caused by a bullet shot through her brain. (That's a bad sign of some sort.) She can recall language skills, rudimentary tasks and other practical things. She just can't remember who she is or how she ended up in a field in France, with a bullet in her head.

Eve returns to the convent and is horrified to learn of the massacre. She talks to the sole surviving nun, who tells her, They came for you. These words send Eve off and running, with the reader happily following along. She can't stay at the convent, but must find out who she is. Her only clue is a Moroccan ferry ticket (scribbled with strange Arabic letters) in her pocket. So, Eve grabs a dead nun's passport, dyes her hair to match the photo and it's off to Morocco she goes. Where she meets a number of interesting, but not always friendly, people, including another American named Brian, who's . . . well, really interesting.

Jenny Siler, who also writes as Alex Carr, has an uncanny knack for capturing the feel--the sights, sounds and smells--of the exotic locales where Eve ends up. Her evocative descriptions of each place from Morocco to Bratislava are sometimes so thick with foreign place names, you may find it mentally tongue-twisting. But she can nail a scene with a single well-crafted phrase. Her sardonic sense of humor also stands her in good stead--especially when she writes about the American expatriate crowd. And the plot takes so many twists and turns, I thought I'd get mental whiplash. It's a story that keeps you guessing and turning the pages. Keeps raising the question: who can Eve trust? Can she trust herself? Her dreams? Her flashbacks? And what about Brian? He's so . . . interesting. (I shall say no more on that subject.)

Meanwhile, there's Eve herself. (Or is it Hannah Boyle? Or Leila Brightman? Or someone else entirely?) Eve, who's feeling insecure and plagued with strange dreams that may or may not be memories. She also has an uncanny ability to handle a gun, to apply aggressive force and an instinct to scan a room for the closest exit. Hmm . . . sounds an awful lot like she was . . . a criminal? A spy? An assassin? You really feel the pain and confusion of Eve's not knowing--as well as the pain of her knowledge that somewhere, at sometime, she had a child, who she can't remember either. (She has occasional flashbacks about an infant, but her only hard evidence is an episiotomy scar.)

And as Eve puts the bits and pieces to the puzzle of her past together (which may or may not come together seamlessly--but who cares? just enjoy the ride), her doing so not only comprises a riveting story, but leads the reader to ponder the bigger issues of memory and identity. Such as, how much can we trust our memories? How much do we really know about ourselves? Or anyone else?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Fun Stuff

Here's an interesting idea: literary tattoos. (Thanks to The Reader's Advisor Online for this.)

And what's this? A book club on Twitter? Makes for pithy discussion, I'd think.

Plus, if you were wondering which book recently won the prize for the oddest title--well, here it is.

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