Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fall Book Releases

By The Associated Press Wed Aug 23, 2:26 PM ET

Some notable books coming out this fall:

Fiction

"After This" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Alice McDermott sets her latest novel during the Vietnam War as she writes again about the suburban Keane family.

"Against the Day" (Penguin), Thomas Pynchon's epic and long-awaited novel.

"All Aunt Hagar's Children" (Amistad), short stories by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Edward P. Jones.

"The Dissident" (Ecco), a novel about a Chinese artist and activist by the acclaimed young author, Nell Freudenberger.

"The Interpretation of Murder" (Henry Holt), Jed Rubenfeld's thriller finds Sigmund Freud in New York in the early 20th century.

"The Lay of the Land" (Alfred A. Knopf), Richard Ford returns with Frank Bascombe, the protagonist of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Independence Day."

"The Light of Evening" (Houghton Mifflin), Edna O'Brien's novel is centered on the troubled relationship between a mother and daughter.

"The Meaning of Night" (W.W. Norton), Michael Cox's thriller is set in 19th-century London.

"One Good Turn" (Little, Brown), Kate Atkinson, author of "Case Histories," sets her latest thriller around a car accident.

"Restless" (Bloomsbury), a spy story from William Boyd, set partly in Paris, 1939.

"The Return of the Player" (Grove), Hollywood schemer Griffin Mill is back in Michael Tolkin's new novel.

"The Road" (Alfred A. Knopf), a post-apocalypse tale from Cormac McCarthy.

"A Spot of Bother" (Doubleday), Mark Haddon presents the follies of family in his latest novel.

"Thirteen Moons" (Random House), Charles Frazier, author of "Cold Mountain," returns with this story of an orphaned white man living among Cherokees.

"The View from Castle Rock" (Alfred A. Knopf), a new collection from short story master Alice Munro.

"World War Z" (Crown), zombies are on the march in Max Brooks' novel.

Nonfiction

"Andrew Carnegie" (Penguin Press), David Nasaw's 800-page biography of the tycoon and philanthropist.

"The Audacity of Hope" (Crown), Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., presents his vision for the future.

"Blind Side" (W.W. Norton), Michael Lewis, the author of "Moneyball," takes on professional football.

"Blood and Thunder" (Doubleday), Hampton Sides, the author of "Ghost Soldiers," looks back to the Wild West.

"The Confession" (ReganBooks), the memoirs of former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, the nation's first openly gay governor.

"Faith and Politics" (Viking), John Danforth, the former Missouri senator calls for moderation among his fellow Republicans.

"Innocent Man" (Doubleday), John Grisham, a nonfiction crime story from the million-selling novelist.

"Inside the Bush White House, the Second Term" (Simon & Schuster), Bob Woodward's latest inside account of the Bush administration.

"I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This" (Hyperion), jokes and anecdotes from Bob Newhart.

"Justice for All" (Riverhead), Jim Newton's biography of former Chief Justice and California governor Earl Warren.

"The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" (Broadway Books), Bill Bryson remembers growing up in the 1950s.

"Palestine" (Simon & Schuster), former President Carter offers thoughts on the Middle East.

"Soldier" (Alfred A. Knopf), Karen DeYoung's biography of Colin Powell, written with the cooperation of the former secretary of state.

"Thunderstruck" (Crown), Erik Larson, author of the best seller, "Devil in the White City," writes of murder and wireless communication at the turn of the 20th century.

"U2 by U2" (Harper Entertainment), the Irish rock band tell its own story.

"Walt Disney" (Alfred A. Knopf), Neal Gabler's 800-page biography of the Hollywood mogul.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Book Review: Trouble In High Heels

I feel really bad about the review I'm about to do, but to be honest, I am once again disappointed by a Christina Dodd book. The reason is feel bad is that I think she's probably a very nice, very funny woman. I enjoy reading the blog she shares with other romance writers at http://squawkradio.blogspot.com. But I've yet to come across a book of hers that I've liked. A rationale question would be why do I keep buying them?

First off, her website improperly advertises this book as "cool suspense." Um, there was nothing suspenseful in this book. Kim's posting of the Jennifer Weiner quote was remarkably timely, because I think this book would aptly be categorized as "chick lit." I think of "chick lit" as books about young professional women that can't seem to get their romantic lives straightened out. And, they invariably end up involved in some ridiculous set of events that would never happen in real life. And they are totally clueless. That's my definition of "chick lit." That is not my definition of "cool suspense."

I'm a little peeved, too, by the cover of this book. They're trying to trick us by not letting on that it's chick lit. Chick lit is supposed to have covers like this:

See the jaunty cartoon characters? That's how you know what you're getting into.

Romantic suspense (when done right) is supposed to have covers like this:




I'm sorry if authors don't like the term "chick lit." But when they insult us by creating characters that are supposed to be smart but end up doing absolutely ridiculously stupid things, it's deserved.

Case in point - the heroine in this book was really sensitive to being called stupid because her absentee father used to call her stupid. So she went to law school and graduated top of her class and all that. But yet she still ended up engaged to a total loser who had a girlfriend on the side and impregnated and married the girlfriend before he broke off his engagement to the heroine. If she's so smart why didn't see that coming? And if she's so smart why did she put up with all the red-flags and jerkish behavior that he supposedly exhibited the whole time they were together? And if she's so smart why did she think she could break up a jewel robbery all on her own? And if she's so smart why did she talk to her boss of one day like she was the Queen of Sheba and he was her lowly servant?

I'm sick and tired of romance novelists thinking that readers are gullible enough to believe that their characters are smart just because they tell us they are, when everything the characters do points to the opposite conclusion. You can't just wipe away a book full of behavior with one sentence, okay? So don't try it.

Oh, and Roberto? Yeah, not a sexy name, even if he is an Italian Count. Remember Adam Sandler's dad in "The Waterboy"? His name was Roberto.

Lindsey's Grade: C

Friday, August 25, 2006

Friday's Book Thought

"It's like if a young woman writes it, then it's chick lit. We don't care if she's slaying vampires or working as a nanny or living in Philadelphia. It's chick lit, so who cares? You know what we call what men write? Books."

Jennifer Weiner
quoted in the New York Observer

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Evidence of the Iraq-al-Qaeda Connection…or Not?

Book Review: Bin Laden – The Man Who Declared War on America by Yossef Bodansky

This book is the second Bodansky book graded by this blog, but the first to raise serious credibility issues about the author. Written in 1999, the book traces the life of bin Laden in the context of growing Islamic militancy. In particular, it highlights bin Laden’s upward movement within the ranks of these groups, from his initial involvement during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to later operations requiring bin Laden’s special knowledge of engineering and international finance.

Bodansky makes three assertions that I find questionable. First, he mentions that bin Laden spent part of his youth in Beirut, which at that time was the Paris of the Middle East, and frequently partook in that city’s extravagant nightlife (e.g. boozing, womanizing and fighting). However, such claims were questioned by Peter Bergen in Holy War, Inc., in which he recalls that bin Laden was known by his friends as deeply religious even at the age of seventeen.

Second, Bodansky cites the Flight 800 crash off Long Island as being a joint attack by Iran and bin Laden. Bergen also points to the fallacy of this claim and this reviewer’s recollection of the subsequent media and government press releases supports Bergen’s story. Flight 800 was the 1996 TWA Boeing 747 that exploded during a trip from New York to Paris. All aboard were killed, including a high school French club from Pennsylvania. The NTSB report on the matter concluded that the explosion was the result of an electrical short in the fuel tank. However, numerous conspiracy theories remain and Bodansky’s failure to cite sources makes it difficult to distinguish his work from those found on an inordinate number of websites (see here).

Third, Bodansky makes the assertion that Saddam Hussein was active in terrorism during the late 1990s, even to the extent of sending one of his sons and other confidants to meet with bin Laden’s people in Kandahar. Again, he cites few sources, although a few excerpts could be verified by reviewing Hussein’s public rhetoric during the period (e.g. did his rhetoric change in favor of more Islamist tone?). Bodansky mentions this as an indicator that Hussein had agreed to support the Islamist jihad against the United States (including WMD) in exchange for reduced pressure from the Islamists. Based on the present religious and ethnic strife in Iraq, it is difficult for me to imagine any deal being struck between Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran and the Islamists in some entente seeking to expel the United States from the hub of Islam. This is especially the case when the author fails to cite sources. The question is whether this is the source for the Bush Administration’s early claims that Iraq was involved in terrorism (above and beyond Hussein’s financial support of certain Palestinian groups). Being that the book was written in 1999, while he was director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, one would think that he would have played a greater role in making the Administration’s case. Apart from the occasional appearance on the John Batchelor Show, I have not heard much from Mr. Bodansky and the issue has all but disappeared from public discourse.

Overall, I would gladly retract any negative statements about Mr. Bodansky’s book, and give it a better review, if I were confident about his sources. He addresses some concerns in an opening chapter on sources, but I still feel this is insufficient. Granted, I don’t expect him to name certain individuals who speak with him on the condition of unanimity or for him to disseminate classified materials, but with the advent of the Internet, there appears to be an abundance of open source information that could possibly suffice. I don’t expect much. On the other hand, I believe his title at the time amounts to something and that he may actually know what he is talking about.


Temporary’s Grade: C+.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Book Review: Simply Love

I've always thought that Mary Balogh was a fantastic Regency romance writer, but after reading Simply Love I'm prepared to say that she is the best Regency writer I've read.

Simply Love itself is a rather simple, uncomplicated story. Balogh's books don't deal with mysteries or murders or other aspects that other writers throw in, but there is nothing lacking in the simplicity. In this book, Balogh tells the story of two characters that have both previously appeared in some of her earlier works. Anne Jewell appeared in Slightly Scandalous as a young former governess who was assulted by her employer's son and ended up pregnant as a result. Sydnam Bulter appeared in A Summer to Remember as the brother of the hero who had lost an eye and an arm in the Napoleonic wars and also suffered facial distortment on one side. Both characters were earlier given respectable careers, but Simply Love is the first book where the two ever meet.

What I liked about this book is that Balogh resisted, as she always does, the temptation to fall into romance novels cliches. The hero in this book was sensitive and cognizant of a number of emotions and feelings that the heroine had before a blow-out fight was required or before someone else had to clue him in. And the heroine was open and honest and didn't keep any secrets that were revealed and miraculously overcome at the end. All of the transactions that occured between the characters felt like they could have been from real life and not something that was created by an author to fit into a specific genre. For instance, the first time she saw Syd's deformed self, Anne turned around and bolted. And the affection that developed between the characters was spread out over enough time that it was believable. There was no love at first sight like you read in a lot of books.

Maybe I'm becoming jaded with romance novels if I think this one was so refreshing because it lacked what so many other books contain. But really, when you think about it, the people who read romance novels read them because we like love stories. And Simply Love was a touching little love story. Nothing more, nothing less. It was beautifully written and pleasantly constructed.

Lindsey's Grade: A

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Book Review: Shades of Twilight

Dear Romance Writers:

I've noticed lately that there are a lot of romance novels out there that have one heroine character trait in common. No, it's not that they all have flaming hair, or creamy skin, or impossibly long eyelashes. But rather they all seem to be rail-thin and inexplicably, opposed to eating.

I have a button that I purchased at the NOW website that I am rather fond of. It reads: REAL WOMEN EAT FOOD. As healthy female eater, I do not enjoy reading a romance novel that features a "whip thin"/"lean"/"slender" heroine that the hero has to force to eat because she's just wasting away. One reason for that is it's unattractive to imagine a woman with bones sticking out everywhere like Nicole Ritchie or Kate Bosworth. Another is that it's beyond the scope of my imagination to believe there are people in the world so disinterested in food they don't eat or that they're too busy that they don't remember to eat or that they just don't like to eat. Food is yummy! I love turkey sandwiches! Oh, and when I'm picturing a Nicole or a Kate in my mind, the sex scenes are kind of creepy and gross because the men are doing it with a skelton.

So authors, please make your girls eat. If you want them to be slender, make them work out. Make them struggle with their weight like normal people. Because I don't believe your bullcrap about a woman who doesn't like food or doesn't like to eat. That's called anorexia, and that's a mental illness. Not cool for a heroine.

Sincerely,
Lindsey Lou

P.S. to Linda Howard: Your heroine in this book was too skinny, and she was so dull and boring that I doubt there is a man alive that would want her.

Lindsey's Grade: C+

Book Review: Lie By Moonlight

I think I mentioned once before in an Amanda Quick review that if you've read one Amanda Quick book, you've pretty much read them all.

This book doesn't do much to dispell that notion.

Set in Victorian England, the heroine in this book is a teacher who is hired to teach four teenage girls at an old, secluded castle. She isn't there long before she begins to suspect that the mysteriously absent benefactor of the "school" intended to educate the girls in order to turn them into high class courtesans. So she plans a daring escape with the girls and ends up unexpectedly being aided by the hero, a private investigation who is at the castle to investigate the benefactor.

The characters are standard Quick. The hero is somewhat unconventionly in that she actually has an occupation and wants to accompany the hero in his investigation. And the hero is a rags to riches type who is handsome and wealthy and a private investigator. Quick doesn't like to change things up too much.

But despite the common elements, the books wasn't a bad read. The dialogue was pleasant even if the story was rather underdeveloped and simple.

Lindsey's Grade: B-

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New Iraq Books Paint Dismal Picture for Americans

Interesting Book News...


by Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - With titles like "Fiasco" and "The End of Iraq," the latest books on the Iraq war make depressing reading for Americans. Even an author who supports the Bush administration likens the war to "a shotgun wedding."

"Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq" by Thomas E. Ricks debuted at the top of The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list last week. It argues there was no post-invasion plan and documents serious errors in U.S. military strategy."It's not a book of my opinions," said Ricks, senior Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post, noting his book is based on numerous on-the-record interviews with military officers and U.S. officials and thousands of documents.

Ricks argues that bad civil-military coordination, insufficient troops and a failure to adopt a counter-insurgency strategy immediately after the invasion caused many of the troubles in Iraq, including abuse by U.S. troops.

Bing West, an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration who wrote two books on Iraq, said Ricks "does an excellent job of basically detailing the war to date."

"It obviously can't be the last word because there's more to come" in the war, West, a former Marine, told Reuters. "What I like is he names names and he names sources."

Ricks said of reactions so far, "I doubt that (Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld's office is happy but military people have been very warm."

"One battalion commander (in Iraq) wrote to me and said 'Thank you for writing what we've been saying privately."'

Equally disturbing is "The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End," by Peter W. Galbraith, a former ambassador to Croatia and an adviser to Washington's Kurdish allies in Iraq. He argues the U.S. invasion destroyed hopes for a unified country of Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds and calls for a partitioned Iraq.

Calling America's grand ambitions for the Middle East a failure, he argues Iraq is "in a catastrophic civil war."

Another major new book on the war is by Fouad Ajami, an American professor of Middle East studies who has frequently advised Bush and his closest aides.

He said the aim of his book, "The Foreigner's Gift," was to shed light on Iraq and its people from an Arab point of view.

Ajami, who maintains the Iraq war was legitimate, writes about meeting leading Iraqi figures such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a reclusive cleric who wields huge influence among Iraq's majority Shi'ites. Ajami argues that Iraq's present woes stem from Sunni Arabs' refusal to yield power to Shi'ites.

An academic who worked for Rumsfeld's former deputy Paul Wolfowitz at Johns Hopkins University and a Shi'ite born in Lebanon, Ajami says he is "one of the very few people who's friendly" to the Bush Administration in academia.

Yet he too paints a bleak picture of Iraq and the war.

"It was a shotgun wedding. We went into a country we did not know, in a region that we really didn't fully understand," Ajami told Reuters. "One of the questions that haunts this war is if they knew then what they know now... If they'd known what the casualties would be in blood and treasure, would they have pulled the trigger? I don't know the answer."

Wade Zirkle, a former marine who founded a group called Vets for Freedom "to give a pro-mission veterans' perspective," said it was discouraging to see a book titled "Fiasco."

"I feel like people are already penning the obituary on this war," he said. "It's still winnable in my opinion."

Ricks agreed there was still some hope: "I still think there's a chance to turn things around in Iraq, a small chance. That's one reason I gave the book a provocative title."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Book Review: Sinful Pleasures

This book came very highly recommended from Julia Quinn, one of my favorite romance writers. But personally, I don't know what all the fuss was about.

This book takes place in the middle ages, around the time period from the movie "Braveheart" only the old king has died and the son that everyone suspects is gay is now king. The hero and heroine were lovers at court five years earlier, until she publicly rejected him and broke his heart. Now the heroine needs to get married to protect her against a powerful, evil earl that wants to marry her. She and her friends decide the hero will be the one she'll marry. He was so heartbroken by her rejection years earlier that he joined the Brotherhood of the Templar Knights. But now the Templars are being rounded up by the French Inquisition and tortured, treated as heretics. So he is persuaded to agree to marry her because she uses her influence to get him out of the Inquisition.

I suppose the plot was decent for a romance novel, but this book definitely missed a spark. I didn't really get the sense that there was a deep and abiding love between the two of them, and her reason for rejecting him was completely lame. I kept expecting to hear something like she was forced to do so by an overbearing father, or did it to save his life or something. I was unsatisfied with the real reason.

Also, this book had no climax (I know it's a romance novel - no pun intended). It felt like the story built and then plateued for way too long, and then it just kind of fizzled out and got resolved without much effort on the authors part. But the writing was decent in its composition and whatnot.

Lindsey's Grade: C+

Book Review: Northanger Abbey

I really love Jane Austen. Everyone says that her work is "timeless" because it really is. The introduction to Northanger Abbey said that is believed that this book was written when Austen was young, and I would believe that because there was a certain immaturity to the work. I personally felt like there wasn't much of a plot in this book. The heroine, Catherine, goes to Bath with friends and meets two families, the Thorpes and the Tilneys. Her experience with the Thorpes supposedly shows her naivete and is a warning to girls about too much innocence. I guess I can believe that because the Thorpes were shallow and transparent, and Catherine's friendship was exploited but she never seemed to notice it.

Mr. Tilney is the hero of the book but I thought he was a rather boring character, myself. He himself wasn't boring as he was outgoing, liked to tease, and really could be a little too sarcastic at times. But there didn't seem to be any depth to him or to Catherine for that matter. I couldn't understand why he'd be attracted to a dolt like Catherine, but I suppose her frequent description of "good humoured" would be the reason why. It was hardly satisfying, however, at the end of the book when Austen commented that Mr. Tilney first became interested in Catherine because he found out that she had feelings for him. I have to admit that I've done the same in the past, but that's not something you want to read about in a romantic novel. She was quite simply flat.

Austen's writing pushes this book along. There is heavy narration, and at times I actually laughed out loud from her clever quips and comments. This is one of my favorites:

Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them.

We all know women like that!

Lindsey's Grade: B

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Book Review: The Bookseller of Kabul

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad 2003

The cover and description of this book intrigued me to see if the library had it and they did! The book is comprised of various stories about the bookseller of Kabul and his family. As you know I love books and I enjoyed reading about a man who tried to save his books and bookstore through the many Afghan power struggles. He is extremely persistant and serious about his books in a country where the majority do not know how to read or write, cannot afford to do so and thus find no need for literature. Asne lived with the bookseller, Sultan, and his two wives and their families, and as a woman was able to come away from the experience with a beautiful sense of Afghan women's daily lives and daydreams.
I knew very little about women's culture in Afghanistan and I now feel more confident in my understanding. Along with women's experiences there are also stories of theft, religious pilgrimages, and family responsibilities that pull at your heart. This was a great compliment to the film
The Beauty Academy of Kabul which I reviewed here and found wonderful. Again, this book helped me put together all the bits and pieces I've heard about Afghanistan and put stories to the faces that I've seen everywhere. Although pictures can express a great deal it is the stories that do more during times of conflict.

Asne has other books out on the Middle East and I most definitely will be looking into them. A beauty of a book!

Kim's Grade: A A fast and lovely book.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Book Review: The Dharma Bums

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

Its a simple story of a friendship between two men in the late 1950's searching for their Buddhism. By this, I mean they are trying to understand their own Buddhist beliefs and practices. Ray and Japhy have the wander-bug which takes them all over the West in search for the next great Buddhist high.

I've always had a difficult time relating to Beatnik writing and especially Kerouac. I know who I am and tend to not delve into soul-searching much. My friend Kurt is a professor specializing in the Beat Generation and we would often have conversations regarding Kerouac. I feel that you either can relate to his writing or cannot. I'm not saying that his writing has no value, I just have no interest in it. It doesn't do anything for me. I enjoy books that move me, excite me, teach me and anger me and this just didn't do anything for me. Its just another story.

As an interesting side note, I didn't appreciate the roles women played in this book. They were either cooking or present for "yabyum." Granted this is the late 50s' but I didn't like it. I thought the beatniks were more progressive than this.

A good story about soul-searching, Buddhism, and the West coast in the 1950s but not my cup o' tea.

Kim's Grade: B-

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Comments on Collapse

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond

I've wanted to read this for quite some time and was disappointed when I finally told myself that it just wasn't my cup of tea. Its a good 600 pages and I'm very interested in the idea but after reading the first 100 pages I found it to be too environmental for me, which is fine considering he is trained in biology. There are just too many books on my shelf to read instead.

So, for those of you interested in why societies fail or succeed due to environmental reasons (and some societal ones as well) then check this book out! He's a straightforward writer and a Pulitzer winner too!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Book Review: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation


The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

I borrowed this book from Lindsey. I kept seeing it in book stores and thought it was a true story but that is why they have "A Novel" on the cover---for people like me.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this even though it was predictable. I would classify it as Bridget Jones writes a historical novel about a Bridget Jones two hundred years ago. The characters were fun, lively, and I found the story between Amy and Lord Richard endearing.

I am also amazed by Lauren Willig! She wrote this during law school and while getting her Ph.D! WOW! Willig also has another book in the series, The Masque of the Black Tulip and coming soon, The Deception of the Emerald Ring. I look forward to reading these as well, something I usually don't say.

Kim's Grade: A- Espionage, romance, and humor all wrapped up neat and tidy!