Friday, September 24, 2010

The Past Reaches Out to the Present

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

The novel opens with renowned artist Robert Oliver attacking a painting at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. and being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. His psychiatrist, Andrew Marlowe, also a painter, is determined to help Oliver but his patient won’t speak. He hasn’t said a word since the day he arrived, only saying that Marlowe can speak to anyone he wants to about him. Since then, not a word. Needless to say, it’s hard to talk out unresolved issues and problems with someone who won’t speak. That’s when Marlowe decides to talk to the people in Oliver’s life and attempt to understand what would make an artist attempt to stab a beautiful work of art.

This is a leisurely paced novel that unfolds slowly and realistically. We follow the thoughts of Marlowe as he tries to puzzle out the mind of Oliver through the memories of the two women in his life and the 18th century letters he obsessively re-reads every day. This is a thought-provoking read that details the artistic process and a little known glimpse into French Impressionism.

The Popular Fiction Book Discussion Group will be meeting at Borders of Bridgewater on Tuesday, November 16th at 7:00pm to discuss The Swan Thieves.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Super Long and Super Absorbing Reads

I have to admit that I get a little nervous picking up a book that is over 600 pages long or an audiobook that is over 20 discs. Occasionally I’ll put aside my fear and in these two instances I’m very glad I did.

Roses by Leila Meacham

This is the story of the three families who settled Howbutker, Texas in the 1800s. One family runs the department store, another a lumber company and finally, the third, a cotton plantation. The story focuses on three generations of these families starting in the early 1900s through to the present day, which in this tale is 1985. This is an intriguing tale that is revealed little by little as the reader discovers how the mistakes of the elder family members are being repeated and how the current generation must change their ideals or they will follow in their footsteps.

This is a story with a homespun feel. At times it is melancholy, at times it is heartwarming; the ups and downs follow the events of life. Hopefully our families don’t have quite as many skeletons rattling around in our closets.

For those looking for one of those sweeping sagas the likes of which haven’t really been seen since the 1980s – don’t miss this one!

Helen of Troy by Margaret George

George writes in her author's note that there is no evidence of Helen's existence at all, but we all know of her, especially her parents (remember Leda and the swan?) and the face that launched a thousand ships. Yet she makes Helen so real and amazingly likeable.

This is the story of Helen’s childhood in Sparta, her marriage to Menelaus and her journey to Troy with Paris. The events of the Trojan War, all those things told in the Iliad up to and including the Trojan Horse, are also detailed here. And finally, we find out what happens to Helen after the Trojan War, how she adapts to being with Menelaus again and living in Sparta.

We see all these events through a unique perspective: Helen’s. At the core this is an accessible retelling of the Iliad from the viewpoint of a woman not involved in the fighting. Since it is told in first person, we really get to know what makes Helen tick and why she made the decisions she did. Wonderful on audio, but it will need a time commitment from the listener – it’s 30 ½ hours long.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What I Read on My Summer Vacation

I just got back from a whirlwind tour of North Carolina and wanted to share the great beach (and mountain!) reads I enjoyed.

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

At the core, this is a bittersweet love story, set against a stark and unforgiving landscape brought to life by a first time novelist.

Nina Revskaya, known as “The Butterfly” for her prowess as a prima ballerina, defected from Stalinist Russia years ago and has settled in Boston to live out the rest of her life. As she approaches her eightieth year she decides to part with her extensive jewelry collection. As the jewelry is described and researched by the auction house, Nina reflects on her past and learns things about her own life were not quite as they seemed.

The author really has a talent for pulling you in and unfolding the story piece by piece, unraveling the carefully woven story Nina has encased herself in her entire life. The tension of her life living in Stalinist Russia, worrying about who is listening to and watching your every move, really comes through in the writing. The dark tone of the past contrasts nicely with the nostalgic atmosphere of winter in present day Boston, and unlike many novels that take place in the past and present, the reader is never lost or confused about when and where they are.

Ancestor by Scott Sigler

Scott Sigler scared me silly with Infected and Contagious. He’s done it again with Ancestor. This is actually his first book, released for free as an audiobook on the internet years ago, now reworked a bit for release in print form.

Scientists are trying to solve the transplant problem – too much need, not enough organs – so they are looking into xenotransplantation (implanting genetically modified animal organs into humans). This avenue of research comes with a deadly consequence, mutating viruses that put H1N1 to shame. Genada is working on a completely different method of creating safe organs that will be accepted by the human body. They are working on creating the original ancestor – a mammal created using common DNA elements from every mammal they can get their hands on, living or extinct – and impregnating simple milking cows. Of course something goes SERIOUSLY wrong.

If you like fast-paced, violent and bloody action, this is the book for you. It starts out very scientific, thought-provoking even, as the author describes how the ancestors were developed. Once they are born though, the nightmare begins.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Yes, I am a Hunger Games fan and I NEEDED to know how the trilogy ended! If you haven’t tried the series yet, please do. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. I can’t really say anything about this book without giving away parts of the first or second (or even the third!) to those that want to discover this great series for themselves.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Art of Mystery

The Mysterious Mornings group met this morning and talked about their favorite art mysteries -- both fiction and non-fiction. If it was mystery or a true crime book and it featured a main character that somehow involved with art of archaeology, or the theft/recovery of a piece of art, it fit this month's subgenre.

Here are the group favorites:

  • Bartlett, Allison Hoover (Non-Fiction) – The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, A Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession
  • Boser, Ulrich (Non-Fiction) – The Gardner Heist: A True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft
  • Brandon, Ruth (Art History) – Caravaggio's Angel
  • Brown, Dan (Art and Symbols) – The Lost Symbol, The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons
  • Cameron, Dana (Archaeology) – Ashes and Bones, More Bitter than Death, A Fugitive Truth
  • Goodwin, Jason (Art) – The Bellini Card
  • Hamilton, Lyn (Archaeology) – The Chinese Alchemist, The Orkney Scroll, The Moai Murders
  • Hart, Erin (Archaeology) – False Mermaid, Lake of Sorrows, Haunted Ground
  • Knief, Charles (Archaeology) – Silversword, Emerald Flash, Sand Dollars, Diamond Head
  • Rose, M.J. (Archaeology and Art) – The Hypnotist, The Memoirist, The Reincarnationist
  • Daniel Silva (Art) – The Rembrandt Affair
  • Sussman, Paul (Archaeology) – The Hidden Oasis, The Last Secret of the Temple, The Lost Army of Cambyses
  • Watson, Peter (Non-Fiction) – Sotheby's: The Inside Story
  • Waxman, Sharon (Non-Fiction) – Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World
  • Wittman, Robert (Non-Fiction) – Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures
  • Worrall, Simon (Non-Fiction) – The Poet and the Murderer: A True Story of Literary Crime and the Art of Forgery

Interesting in joining in on a Mysterious Morning discussion? A list of suggested authors and titles are available at the Bridgewater Library and books will be on display about a month prior to the discussion. (If you’re a voracious mystery reader you can read more than one.) Our next theme/subgenre is Mysterious G-Men.

If it’s a mystery and it features a main character employed by the FBI, then it fits this month’s sub-genre. Just keep in mind how the main character’s profession affects the mystery because that’ll be a major talking point at our discussion Wednesday, November 3rd at 9:30am at the Bridgewater Library.