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Repackaging the Good Life June 4, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Audiobooks, Authors, Authors You Shouldn't Miss, Books, Fiction, Great Reads, Literature, Mysteries, Reading.
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Alexander McCall Smith is best known in the United States for the Number One Ladies Detective Agency books, a series of gentle mystery novels set in Botswana. 

But if you lived in Edinburgh, you might be more familiar with his ongoing serial in the Scotsman, 44 Scotland Street.  If my calculations are correct, he has published something like 500 short chapters in the newspaper, and will resume the storyline later this year.  Five collections have been published, starting with 44 Scotland Street, and four are currently available in the U.S.

I am a huge fan of this series, even though I will admit it is not for everyone.  If you require a great deal of suspense, drama, and graphic portrayals of sex, you would do well to look elsewhere. 

What you will find here is a series of stories about people living their lives the best way they know how, set against the backdrop of a wonderful city.  Some of the characters are more commendable than others, but McCall Smith leaves the judgment to us.

What I love about the 44 Scotland Street series is that it asks questions about the good life – and gives some answers, too.  For McCall Smith, friendship, art, good food, and good conversation are all part of the good life.  Caring about our fellow human beings is most important of all.

Am I the only one who thinks that as a culture, we seem to have lost track of much of what makes a life good?  These tremendously appealing stories remind us of the importance of the life well lived.   I love the thought that folks in Edinburgh have had an opportunity to think about this when they pick up their daily newspaper.

Thank you, Mr. McCall Smith, for bringing so much pleasure – and food for thought – into my life!  The goal of the classical writer was to delight and to instruct.  You have certainly done that for me.

Happy Reading,

The Book Goddess

P.S.  Listening to this series on audiobook will definitely enhance your enjoyment!

Favorite Books to Recommend May 14, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Audiobooks, Books, Fiction, Literature, readers, Reading, Reading lists.
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Recommending books is my business, or at least part of my business, and it can be a wonderful thing.  The right book at the right time is a real gift.  My friend Tim told me that Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole changed his life.  That book, like Tim, is one of a kind, and on that occasion I got it exactly right. 

Sometimes it doesn’t go so well.  Another favorite book of mine is Raney by Clyde Edgerton, which I think is funny and charming and very well-written.  I was delighted to recommend it to my friend Peggie, but it left her cold.  Oh, well. 

Anyway, I was recently asked for book recommendations by two friends.  I’ve decided to give both of them, and you, pretty much the same list.  I happen to think these are wonderful choices that would appeal to most book lovers. 

So – here are my choices, starting with some fine American novels:

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (especially good in audio)

If you like humorous fiction (and I realize this can be very subjective, even more so than literary merit), these are some terrific titles: 

How to Be Good by Nick Hornby

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon (audio version is excellent)

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

And, some excellent nonfiction: 

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls 

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi 

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson 

I would love to have your recommendations, too!

Happy Reading, 

The Book Goddess

The Book Floor at 411 Clematis Street April 20, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Audiobooks, Book Clubs, Book Floor, Books, Fiction, Just Browsing, Literature, Mysteries, Public libraries, Reading, West Palm Beach Public Library.
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The first floor of our new library has been designed to provide a delightful browsing experience for the book lover.  We have selected the newest and the best and arranged the entire floor so that you can easily find the books you really love.  There are about fifty separate collections, ranging from the expected, like New Mystery, to the more unusual, such as Just for Fun and Go Green.  

The selections are also organized into “neighborhoods,” so that collections of similar interest will be near each other.  If you love Science Fiction, you may love our nearby Graphic Novels, too.  House & Home is conveniently located near Food & Wine as well as Crafts.   And one of my favorite areas is the small but excellent children’s and teen section, located near books about parenting – designed for the quick drop-in by the busy family! 

We also have two small reading rooms, one of which is populated by a fabulous selection of paperbacks, and the other by great choices for book clubs.  And – do not miss our Staff Picks or our great selection of Books on CD, perfect for the commuter. 

I already love browsing on our Book Floor, and I hope you will too.  I look forward to seeing you there!

Happy Reading  –

The Book Goddess

Minette Walters October 3, 2008

Posted by bookgoddess in Audiobooks, Authors, Books, Fiction, Literature, Mysteries, Reading.
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Have you read any of Minette Walters’ books?  I recently enjoyed listening to the audiobook of The Chameleon’s Shadow, narrated superbly by Simon Vance.  A British soldier, gravely injured fighting in Iraq, becomes a suspect in a series of crimes.  An eccentric cast of characters populates this twisted plot, and you can be fairly sure with Minette Walters that things are not necessarily what they seem. 

My favorite book by Walters, however, is The Sculptress, winner of the Edgar Award in 1994.  A young writer is assigned to interview a woman imprisoned for the brutal murders of her mother and her sister.  Did she kill them, and if not, what really happened?  This is a beautifully written, memorable work of mystery. 

Please let me know what you are reading! 


The Book Goddess

Adrian Mole – As Time Goes by September 29, 2008

Posted by bookgoddess in Audiobooks, Books, Fiction, Reading.
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About 15 years ago, I was coming down with a bad cold, which in my case is generally accompanied by horrible coughing that gives the impression I am about to die.  Understandably, my supervisor sent me home with instructions to rest up.  

Fortunately, before I left, I picked up a copy of The Adrian Mole Diaries by Sue Townsend.  This imaginary diary of a British teenage boy is a brilliant piece of satire, yet it’s also an affectionate portrait of the hapless Adrian.  I liked the book so much that I even made it a Staff Pick. 

Anyway, the other day I was looking for a book on CD for a car trip, and I was amazed to find Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction, which is apparently the sixth in the series! 

No, I did not insist on reading the books in between, I just grabbed the audiobook and set off on the road. 

I wondered if I would like it as much as the first book I read.  And I have to say that I am completely enthralled.  Adrian continues to search for love and meaning, a search which involves a great deal of meandering, stumbling, and being lost.  He has become inadvertently engaged to one woman but is in love with her sister; he is building a pyramid of credit card debt; his newly purchased flat is under siege from neurotic neighbors and hostile swans; his parents have sold their home to live in a tent and rehab a piggery. 

The book is not all laughs by any means.  Adrian’s elder son is in the army in Iraq.  The correspondence between father and son is genuinely touching and brings home some of the realities of war. 

I was also interested in the fact that Adrian is now a bookseller, which is one of my former careers, and there is even a book club in the novel.  And though I sometimes feel like shouting, “Get a spine, you silly twit!” (to paraphrase one of the characters), Adrian is a truly memorable and strangely lovable character. 

Happy Reading,

The Book Goddess

Listening to A Spot of Bother June 18, 2008

Posted by bookgoddess in Audiobooks, Authors, Books, Fiction, Reading.
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Are books better when read aloud by a gifted narrator?  I recently listened to A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon, most acclaimed for his wonderful Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  Spot was published to slightly mixed reviews, but the audiobook, read by Simon Vance, won an award, and I myself thought it was fabulous. 

The book is told from the viewpoint of four members of a deeply dysfunctional British family.  Retiree George Hall is depressed and convinced that the spot on his hip is some kind of terminal cancer.  His wife Jean is having an affair with one of George’s former colleagues.  Their daughter Katie is having doubts about her upcoming marriage to Ray; and their son Jamie is commitment phobic and has consequently been left by the man he really loves. 

Haddon’s portrayal of the interior life of these characters is brilliant.  We see their changing emotions, their reactions to events, their failings and virtues.  We empathize, sometimes we are amused, and occasionally we laugh out loud.  

But let’s go back to the audiobook question.  It seems to me that we spent many more generations around the campfire listening to the storyteller than we have curled up with books.  And though I think print is the still the most convenient reading medium, I love being told a good story.  This is one.  Don’t miss it. 

Happy Reading!

The Book Goddess