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The Fault Tree March 4, 2010

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors, Book Clubs, Books, Fiction, Just for Mystery Lovers Book Club, library programs, Mysteries, Public libraries, readers, Reading, West Palm Beach Public Library.
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I was sorry to miss our most recent Just for Mystery Lovers Book Club here at the Library.  If you like mysteries, please pay us a visit.  We meet on the 4th Saturday of the month at 10:30 a.m.  Nice people, interesting discussions.

The book for February was The Fault Tree by Louise Ure.  The “detective,” Cadence Moran, is a blind auto mechanic.  I know – the scenario is unlikely, but the author does a great job of getting inside the head of this character.  Cadence’s automotive sensibilities (recognition of engine sounds, etc.) become an integral part of the plot. 

I did enjoy the story line, but what I liked even more was the insight into Cadence’s unique experience of the world as a blind person.  I’d recommend the book to fans of Laura Lippman and Sue Grafton.

The next meeting of the Just for Mystery Lovers Book Club will be on Saturday, March 27th.  The selection will be Rough Weather:  A Spenser Novel, by the late, great Robert B. Parker.

Happy Reading!

The Book Goddess

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Celebrating Agatha Christie September 14, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors, Authors You Shouldn't Miss, Books, Fiction, Mysteries, Reading, West Palm Beach Public Library.
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What comes to mind when you hear the word Torquay?  For me, it is an image of John Cleese as the hilariously incompetent hotel proprietor in Fawlty Towers. 

But this week is different, as Torquay is hosting the Fifth Annual Agatha Christie Festival in honor of the their native daughter (and best-selling novelist of all time, thank you very much).  It sounds like it will be great fun, starting with the opening event:  A Fete Worse Than Death!  I wish I were there. 

Agatha Christie occupies a special place in my reading history.  I first encountered her at age eleven.  I was a precocious reader, and teen fiction as we now know it really did not exist.  My mother loved reading murder mysteries, and she was pretty sure Agatha Christie would provide a reasonably age-appropriate reading experience.  

Well, the die was cast.  I started reading Agatha Christie that summer, and I have adored murder mysteries ever since.  Christie was still living when I started reading her, and for some years my mother would give me the latest hardback for my birthday or Christmas. 

To the best of my knowledge, I have read all of her fiction.  My favorite of her detectives is Miss Marple, and I highly recommend Murder at the Vicarage, the first of the Miss Marple mysteries.  The distinguished mystery novelist and critic H. R. F. Keating named these as her top three titles:  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (also a personal favorite of mine), Murder on the Orient Express, and Sleeping Murder

Christie is not so well known for the non-mystery novels that she wrote under the name Mary Westmacott.  One of these titles, Absent in the Spring, would make my list of all-time memorable books, and I am happy to see that it is in print.  I will be ordering it for the Library.  

If by some happenstance you have never read anything by Agatha Christie, I think you would enjoy the experience.  And if you like it, there are dozens more! 

Happy Reading! 

The Book Goddess

Double Daggers September 9, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors, Books, Fiction, Mysteries, Reading.
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One of my friends says that if she let herself, she would be reading mysteries all day long and never do anything else.  Since she is a remarkable person who makes a real contribution to our world, I am glad that she sets limits on the mystery reading. 

I too love mysteries and have spent an inordinate amount of my life reading them.  My friend has decided to read only the best ones, which I think is a fine approach, sort of like only eating really tasty food.  Here are a couple of titles that I think she – and you – might consider.  It so happens that they are both “Dagger” winners.  

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves won the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association (UK), which is the largest cash prize in the mystery field.  Set in the Shetland Islands, it depicts the mystery of a young girl’s murder against the background of an isolated community.  There is an obvious suspect, but Detective Jimmy Perez has doubts.  He is also struggling to decide whether to give up police work in favor of a life on the even smaller island where he was born. 

I really enjoyed the portrayal of the community, so very different from our own, and the characters.  If you want to cool down, this book would be a good choice, since the setting is invariably cold.  An excellent police procedural.  And I’m happy to report that there are three more in the series!

Another British standout is the more recent Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, which won the Debut Dagger from the CWA.  Flavia de Luce is the eleven-year-old schoolgirl and amateur chemist who must solve the mystery when her father is accused of murdering an old classmate.  Set in the fifties, the book is charmingly eccentric and I loved the fact that a smart, strong, and independent young girl was the main character.  You will pick up a few facts about chemistry, poison, British stamps, and escaping from sticky situations.  Most enjoyable and highly recommended. 

Happy Reading!

 

The Book Goddess

Theodore Dreiser August 27, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors, Books, Fiction, Literature, readers, Reading.
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Have you read any of Theodore Dreiser’s novels?  In his time, which was close to a hundred years ago, he was considered one of the greatest living American writers, but I suspect he is mostly read by English majors today.  Since this is his birthday, I’d like to suggest that you read one of his books.

My top choice would be Sister Carrie, in which a small town girl goes to the big city and is led astray by a traveling salesman.  The results are not what you might expect.

Another remarkable novel is An American Tragedy, based on a true crime, which is a literary relative of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Richard Wright’s Native Son.

Both of these works appear on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century, at numbers 33 and 16 respectively.

Dreiser’s novels are long, intense, and compelling.  He was a prime practitioner of naturalism, which means that pessimism and determinism dominate the novels, and he was outraged by the social and economic inequalities of the day.  Even though it has been many years since I read these books, they have left a powerful impression.

You can find both of these books in the West Palm Beach Public Library in the Classics section on the First Floor or in the Fiction Section on the Fourth Floor, and I hope you will!

Happy Reading!

The Book Goddess

Loving Frank August 25, 2009

Posted by bookgoddess in Authors, Book Clubs, Books, Fiction, Great Reads, library programs, Literature, Public libraries, readers, Reading, Second Saturday Book Club, West Palm Beach Public Library.
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Have you read Loving Frank by Nancy Horan?  There’s a good chance that the answer is yes, especially if you’re in a book club.  Our most recent Second Saturday group had one of our liveliest discussions yet about this one, and I would certainly recommend it to you, for single or group readership. 

Here’s a bare bones, non-spoiler summary of the plot:  Mamah Cheney, a well-educated married woman with small children, falls in love with the architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  They leave their respective families and journey to Europe together.  There are, of course, consequences for all concerned. 

One of the challenges in reading and discussing the book is remembering that is a fictional account, even though the general outline of events did in fact occur.  In any case, it provoked some very strong responses from our members! 

One person found it very romantic, and thought that Frank and Mamah had found a once in a lifetime love.  Another reader was appalled that Mamah would leave her young children under these circumstances, and yet another had some extremely hostile things to say about Frank.

I enjoyed the book tremendously for a number of reasons, but especially for the portrayal of the life of the mind, not just in the persons of Frank and Mamah, but in the intellectual ferment in Europe and the growing importance of feminism. 

Did I mention that the book is beautifully written and very readable?  Loving Frank is not to be missed!  Highly recommended

Happy Reading,

The Book Goddess

P.S.  Here’s a link to questions for discussion from the publisher.

The School of Essential Ingredients July 29, 2009

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Do you remember Grandmother’s kitchen fondly?  Did your spouse propose over a special meal?  Are you the sort of person who will prepare a nice dinner when you are dining solo?  Or do those possibilities sound good even if not currently applicable to you?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I suspect you will greatly enjoy The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister.  I just finished reading it (over a nice little lunch, thank you!) and it was a delight.

Eight students attend Lillian’s cooking class, and discover themselves through their experience of food.  Each chapter tells the story of one participant, and also guides us through their cooking experiences and their personal interactions.  Lillian teaches cooking, but it is not simply cuisine; it is the elements of the meal speaking to the heart as well as the senses.

Among other things, Lillian convinced me that I must learn to prepare a proper Sauce Bolognese.  I expect the book will inspire you to dust off your kitchen equipment, too.  Thank you, Erica Bauermeister, for giving us a book to savor!

Happy Reading (and Cooking)!

The Book Goddess

Happy Bastille Day! Joyeux Quatorze Juillet! July 14, 2009

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If you are French, or simply on the lookout for a reason to party, today is the day to celebrate Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity!  Remember that the French are our oldest friends and that their revolution was at least in part inspired by ours.

I have actually been in Paris on Bastille Day, which turned out to be bad news and good news.  Bad news:  the Louvre was closed.  Good news:  since we couldn’t go to the Louvre, we went to the Bois de Boulogne and met up with a French journalist who took us all over Paris in his little French car to show us the sights.  In these latter days, I would be more cautious, but it was certainly a day to remember. 

Anyway, there are a lot of wonderful things you could do to celebrate Bastille Day:  you could drink some French wine and have your sandwich on a baguette (Brie and foie gras, maybe?).  You could check a French film out of the Library!  How about Les Choristes or Amelie?  We have over 200 French films, so you have lots of options. 

You will also find a rich selection of literature by French authors.  For example, 16 French authors have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, most recently J. M. G. Le Clezio in 2008.  One of my personal favorite titles is Claudine, a coming of age novel by the legendary Colette.  I’d also give my highest recommendation to A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, a marvelous portrait of the lives of the “Lost Generation” artists in 1920’s Paris. 

It’s always good to have something to celebrate! 

Happy Reading,

The Book Goddess

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!

Books and Love in Barcelona April 23, 2009

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Oh, to be in Barcelona, now that April’s here!  Barcelona is one of my favorite cities, and today is one of their special days, La Diada de Sant Jordi (that’s Catalan for St. George’s Day).  This is a day to celebrate books and love.  Ladies receive roses as gifts, and men receive books.  The romance comes from the St. George legend.  The day is special to books because it is International Book Day, so designated because both Shakespeare and Cervantes died on April 23, 1616.

You’re probably thinking, how can I get in on this celebration?  Well, a red rose for your wife or sweetheart (and your mother-in-law) would be a good start.  And there are some wonderful books about Barcelona:  Robert Hughes wrote a landmark book (Barcelona) about the fabulous art and architecture of the city.  Even more apropos might be the remarkable Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a novel set in Barcelona which features a graveyard of books and in which fictional characters seem to come alive. 

Happy Reading! 

The Book Goddess

Bad Sex in Fiction Awards December 18, 2008

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I am always interested in literary awards.  Since reading time is so limited, it’s helpful to know which books are considered the best in their class.  

Recently, however, I came upon a different sort of literary award – the Literary Review (UK) Bad Sex in Fiction Award.  Please do not misunderstand.  These are not bad books – this year’s nominees include John Updike and Russell Banks, for example, and the list often has overlapping titles with the Booker Prize.  It’s just that the judges have tracked down sex scenes (all right, maybe they just happened upon them in the course of their reading) in these books that are – well – pretty bad.

If you want to get an idea of what the judges are on about, link to the Literary Review‘s site.  I think the passages quoted will express it better than I possibly could.  

Happy Reading,

The Book Goddess