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February 28, 2009

Review: The Agency

The AgencyIn Sunday's Baltimore Sun, read a review of The Agency by Ally O'Brien. Carole Goldberg, a former books editor at The Hartford Courant, calls the book "a delicious mash-up of chick-lit and thriller." Excerpts from her review:

If you have hitherto regarded literary agents as mousy types, Ally O’Brien will change your view. ... Chief among these miscreants is our heroine, Tess Drake — smart, ambitious, impulsive and sexy, and possessed of a singularly dirty mouth and snarky attitude. She’s also a bit slutty, as she will tell you.

Repeatedly. This gets her into plenty of hot water, but she relishes splashing around in it. That is, until she makes the mistake of falling in love. Tess is not the only piquant female character. ... There is Cosima, who hates Tess and takes over the agency where they both work when its head, Lowell Bardwright, is found dead after what looks like a session of erotic asphyxiation gone wrong. ...


The plot turns on whether Tess can outwit Cosima and successfully launch her own agency after Lowell’s death. It is convoluted and clever enough to keep you guessing about who wants to help her and who wants to ruin her, and happily, the answers are not obvious.

The authors offer X-Acto-sharp dialogue, steamy sex scenes, a lot of skullduggery and a heroine more appealing when she’s naughty than when she’s nice. Let’s hope they have a good literary agent, because readers are going to want more.

By the way, "Ally O’Brien" is not one person, but two. According to the publisher, one is an "internationally best-selling author of suspense novels," while the other is an "entertainment agent based in London."

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 5:01 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Reviews

February 27, 2009

Book love conquers all -- even Kindle2

Kindel hatredI was a bit stung yesterday by a comment to my post "10 Reasons to Hate the Kindles." I didn't mind the folks who disagreed with me. But one commenter suggested that reason #2 -- Beautiful Russian ballerinas won't introduce themselves upon noticing your copy of Secrets of Nijinsky -- was somewhat facetious. ("I don't think this happens in real life," Kindle User said.)

Well, I don't know about his life (it might say something about Kindle users), but as a book reader and blogger I am continually fighting off the advances of beautiful, intelligent and accomplished women.

Just the other day, Jennifer Aniston jumped out of her Range Rover as I sat at Tapas Teatro reading Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master.  

Last week, as I was sipping Lillet and perusing Chanel in Petit Louis, two French models -- twins, no less -- introduced themselves and asked to join me for dessert. 

And a couple of weeks ago, the Eroica Trio accosted me as I sat in the Meyerhoff lobby, reading George Gershwin. I could go on -- the Kilgore Rangerettes, the female cast members of Chicago, etc. -- but must I?

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 10:16 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Whatever

Last Harry Potter movies -- save the date

Mark your calendars -- Warner Bros. will open the eighth film in its Potter franchise -- "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II" -- on July 15, 2011, according to Hollywood Reporter.

"Deathly Hallows: Part I" is set to open November 19, 2010. The studio decided to split the seventh and final book in the Potter series into two movies because of its length.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 8:08 AM | | Comments (0)

February 26, 2009

Book It

I bet you thought we were done with Mr. Edgar A. Poe. Well, you were wrong!

Tomorrow night, MICA will present an experimental performance piece inspired by "The Fall of the House of Usher," featuring artwork and sets by illustration students. Playwright and director David Drake, a Baltimore native, is at the helm of the free show, which begins at 8 p.m. Already have plans? They do it all over again Saturday night, also at 8.

Spend your Saturday afternoon at the Baltimore Museum of Art with award-winning author and teacher William Henry Lewis. The University of Maryland, College Park professor will conduct a writing class stimulated by works of art by black artists. Call 443-573-1832 or e-mail for more information about registration fees.

The Sun's own Michael Sragow will be at the Johns Hopkins Barnes & Noble Monday evening to discuss and sign his biography, Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master. I got my grandmother a copy for Christmas, and she was quite pleased; I was a little disappointed to hand it over.

And Tuesday afternoon, share thoughts and tea with children's author Susan L. Roth at The Peace Study Center on York Road. There will also be tours of the center available.

Check out our calendar for more information on these and other events in the Baltimore area.

Posted by Nancy Knight at 5:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Book It

10 reasons to hate the Kindles

Why I hate the KindleI'm as tech-savvy as the next guy. Blogum ergo sum. I love my DVR, iPod and BlackBerry. But some things -- books -- are sacred. So here's my list for the book-slayer Kindle and its mutant offspring, Kindle2:

1. You can't leave it lying on your beach towel when you doze off at Ocean City.

2. Beautiful Russian ballerinas won't introduce themselves upon noticing your copy of Secrets of Nijinsky.

3. Striking cover art such as the gothic drawings on Lauren Groff's books can't be appreciated.

4. All books are the same in Kindleworld. You lose the heft of Guns, Germs and Steel and the sprightliness of a poetry collection like Elizabeth Spires' The Wave-Maker.

5. I can't use my collection of random bookmarks: a ticket from the Paris metro, an Orioles game stub or a museum pass.

6. The DK and National Geographic books aren't made for electrons. Or do they make a coffee-table-size Kindle?

7. The battery never dies on my paperback of The Big Sleep.

8.  I can't bear to part with my stacked, covered bookcase.

9. If I hate what I'm reading, I can't throw it across the room.

10. (This space intentionally left blank -- for your own reason)

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 10:22 AM | | Comments (72)

Captain Freedom: He's no Superman


I want to start off this review by telling you that if you like Dave Eggers or his literary journal McSweeney's, you will like this book. Stop reading and go buy it or check it out, now.

The rest of you still with me? OK.

I myself don't really like Dave Eggers. 

BUT in this book, G. Xavier Robillard takes that Gen-X mindset, mixes in some hipster disdain and adds superpowers. Basically, if Eggers had superstrength, could fly and predict the weather, this would be his memoir. And I love it SO MUCH MORE than his actual memoir, which bottomed out about of a third of the way through.

Captain Freedom: A Superhero's Quest for Truth, Justice and the Celebrity He So Richly Deserves, is Robillard's first novel, (He also contributes to, surprise!, and it is endlessly entertaining in a pop-psychology kind of way.

Captain Freedom is a modern-day superhero, who has more trouble dealing with sponsors and finding his arch-nemesis via Internet hating sites than he does fighting crime. His life as a superhero reflects our reality-TV world that obsesses over gossip and status rather than right and wrong.

This is exactly what satire is supposed to be: cutting, yet light.

Robillard is a guy who looks at the world around him, really understands what motivates people and then completely skewers it. Nearly every paragraph is a punchline, and if it isn't funny yet, it will be by the end of the chapter.

So the rest of you? You can go get this book now, too.

Posted by Nancy Knight at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Reviews

February 25, 2009

Agatha Christie's home open for visitors

Agatha Christie's homeGreat news for Agatha Christie fans: Greenway, the house where she vacationed for decades has been restored and will open to the public for the first time this weekend.

Visitors can see the bedroom where Christie slept and the drawing room where she thrilled friends with readings from her latest whodunit, according to an AP report. Restoring the 18th-century home took two years and cost $7.8 million, and the rooms are much as they were when Christie lived there, complete with first editions, boxes of chocolates and bunches of flowers. Even the scratches on the bedroom door made by the family dog remain.

Christie bought the house in Devon, 200 miles southwest of London, in 1938 and spent holidays there until 1959, the AP said. She died in 1976, aged 85.

Her family donated Greenway to the National Trust nine years ago, but until now only its gardens have been open to the public. The house remained off-limits until its occupants — the writer's daughter Rosalind and her husband — died in 2004 and 2005.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 10:00 AM | | Comments (0)

New audiobooks for spring

Just got the MacMillan Audio catalog for spring, and some titles look promising.

Dr. Pamela Peeke's Body for Life for Women: A woman's plan for physical and mental transformation. This is a 12-week program of eating, exercise and emotional health tailored for women.

Daniel Goldman, who wrote Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence, is out with a new book, Ecological Intelligence. You can guess what it's about.

How to Shop for a Husband is written by Janice Lieberman, "The Today Show's" consumer correspondent. She describes how to use shopping principles to find the guy and close the deal. Sounds like fun, even if you already own a husband.

And for the younger listeners, Dabvid Lubar's middle-school series is launched with My Rotten Life, the story of a fifth-grader who becomes a zombie and searches for a cure.

Posted by Susan Reimer at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Audiobooks

February 24, 2009

Kathy Griffin vs. Condi Rice

Kathy GriffinI was mildly amused yesterday when I read that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was the latest Bush administration official to cash in on her government service -- with a three-book deal worth $2.5 million. A book about her White House years is due out in 2011; she'll follow that with a memoir and a YA version, according to an AP report.

Then today's news from the New York Observer: Kathy Griffin, who has made a career out of her self-deprecating humor about being a third-rate star, has a deal worth more than $2 million deal for a memoir.

So, let's review the math, students: Secy. of State = $833,000/book and D-lister = $2M/book.

What's wrong with that equation?

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 10:06 AM | | Comments (4)

The book brush: It's pretty much ridiculous


Man, did you ever notice how DIRTY books can get?

They just sit around on that bookshelf, getting all dusty. If only there was something you could do about it! Some sort of cleaning device, with which you could dislodge said dust, and have a bright, sparkly library again!

Sure, you COULD use a cloth. Or a duster. Or even a slightly damp paper towel. But then, why would you, when you can buy THE BOOK BRUSH for a mere $80.

See, it's cool! It looks like a BOOK. It's got a fake title and author and EVERYTHING. But then it's got these bristles, so you can clean off your books. It's a book! But with a brush, and no plot!

And it can be yours, for EIGHTY DOLLARS. You've got nothing better to do with that money, right?

[Sarcasm off.]

I am truly astonished by the world's silliness sometimes. If you, or anyone you know, owns this item, please feel free to call me a meanie.

(This product discovered courtesy of Consuming Interest's Liz Kay.)

Posted by Nancy Knight at 9:00 AM | | Comments (3)

February 23, 2009

Greetings & Readings Book Club


Greetings & Readings fans have something to look forward to besides their amazing author lineups and designer bag sales: a new book club.

Fran Baum, co-owner of the bookstore, was kind enough to give me the inside scoop on the new club, whose first meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 18th at 7 p.m.

Baum, who's already a book club member, explained that both customers and employees felt there was a need: "We always have discussions about what our clubs are reading, and I asked them if they thought we should start one at Greetings & Readings," she explained in an e-mail. "We also have had several customers ask if we were ever going to have a book group. They thought we should try it and see if people would be interested."

While the Greetings & Readings book department has picked the first book, People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks, Baum envisions that future books will be chosen by participants.

"I know how much I enjoy reading books and being in a book club, so I was hoping people attending would have fun and find it enjoyable, too," she said. "We are hoping to have a very interactive book club and we are encouraging participants to help us pick books and guide our path."

At this point, Baum said that fiction, nonfiction and classics are all contenders, and that the club's meeting times could rotate to different days of the week and times, to better accomodate all readers.

"We are very flexible at this point until we get a sense of our audience," she said.

Even better, if you mention the book club while purchasing the selected titles, there's a 20 percent discount. But be sure to mention the club. Otherwise, no discount. Add the cookies and coffee offered to members, and you can't lose.

Posted by Nancy Knight at 3:00 PM | | Comments (1)

Slumdog Millionaire blasted by Salman Rushdie

Slumdog Millionaire blasted by Salman RushdieAfter all the furor that Stephen King sparked by dissing Stephenie Meyer's writing, you might have expected Salman Rushdie to think twice before hammering the movie "Slumdog Millionaire." Nope -- not even on the night it was winning eight Academy Awards.

Speaking at Emory University about adaptations, Rushdie said Slumdog "piles impossibility on impossibility,” according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Lambasting the “feel-good movie” and the book it was based on, his complaints stretched from how characters acquire a gun to how they wind up at the Taj Mahal, 1,000 miles from the previous scene.

Rushdie was not sparing in his criticism. The AJC said he also knocked "The Reader" —- “[a] leaden, lifeless movie killed by respectability” —- and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" —- “It doesn’t finally have anything to say.”

I haven't read Vikas Swarup's book, which formed the basis for the movie. (Originally called Q&A, it is being released with the Slumdog Millionaire name -- book publishers are no dummies.) But I loved the movie, and find it hard to go along with Rushdie's criticism.

It's fiction, remember? I do expect realistic fiction to be grounded -- I wouldn't want Puff the Magic Dragon to appear in Slumdog. But movie adapters get some license to keep the story moving. The criticisms leveled by Rushdie (at least those noted by the AJC) are so minor that they don't bother me -- not nearly as much as the depiction of Mumbai's sprawling slums.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 11:40 AM | | Comments (19)

Jane Austen book club

Jane Austen book clubIt's been a while since we profiled a local book club, but we're back at it. We asked coordinator Marge Critcher about the Northern Baltimore County reading/study group that's part of the Jane Austen Society of North America. (If you'd like us to profile your club, send us an email.)

What do you read: Our group chose to read Pride and Prejudice first. ... Eventually we will cover her six novels, her other writing, and related books by contemporary authors. 

Beyond books: Meetings feature topics such as “Popular Dances of Jane Austen’s Time” and vocal and instrumental music of the Regency period, tours of homes featuring period architecture, and private showings of Jane Austen films.

What makes Austen so appealing: I feel Jane Austen’s writings appeal to the masses because they are timeless, exciting, relevant and provide enjoyment, intrigue, and, most of all, can be reread with fresh insights not only into her writing skills but in her powerful observations of the human condition and the notion of civility in the Regency period.

How often does the group meet: We meet two times per year because many of us also attend local, regional, and general JASNA events.

Recommendation for the first-time Austen reader: Many JASNA members recommend reading Pride and Prejudice for its universal appeal, while others might recommend Persuasion or Emma.

To join or get more information, contact Marge Critcher at

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 11:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Book Clubs

February 22, 2009

Kindle2, Jeff Jarvis, wikis = the future of the book?

Kindle2 and Jeff BezosThis month, Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos rolled out the second-generation Kindle, whose new features include a voice "reading" the work. About the same time, media futurist Jeff Jarvis announced that his new book, What Would Google Do?, could be purchased in a 23-minute video version — perfect for a busy executive’s morning treadmill workout.

What’s next? Reading Moby Dick on your cell phone? Actually, that’s already available.

Clearly, the definition of a "book" is changing. Whether or not you’re a fan of the latest technology, you’ll have to come to terms with this new world.

Bob Stein, co-director of the Institute for the Future of the Book, recently gave a provocative speech called "A book is a place … ." According to Publishers Weekly, he said at a conference that our notion of a book as an object "used to move ideas around time and space" is no longer accurate. As readers gain more power to comment on a text, the hierarchy between authors and readers will break down.

Stein proposed a new definition of a book: "a place where readers (and sometimes authors) congregate," Publishers Weekly said. Nonfiction authors will "become leaders of communities of inquiry," and fiction writers will be "creating a world together with their readers." He said his grandchildren will think of reading entirely as a social experience. "The idea of reading alone … they won’t even understand that concept."

Clearly the reading experience has evolved. Book clubs, blogs and social networks have made reading much more social. Seriously, do you know a reader who is not in a book club? Get any three readers together at lunch, and the conversation will quickly turn to what they’re reading. And technology such as the Kindle holds promise by giving readers faster and broader access to books.

But writing collaboratively? Nancy said to file this under "worst ideas ever."

Actually, I’d love to see a crowd-sourced version of Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack. And some authors already use an online audience to vet their findings during the writing process. That’s how Chris Anderson wrote The Long Tail. Could Lord of the Flies, Jane Eyre or the Harry Potter books be written by committee? Does the "wisdom of the crowd" extend to the creative process?

Is wiki lit our future?

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 5:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Whatever

February 21, 2009

Review: Flannery by Brad Gooch

Flannery by Brad GoochIn Sunday's Baltimore Sun, read David L. Ulin's review of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor by Brad Gooch (Little, Brown / 416 pages / $30). Here are excerpts from the review:

Gooch opens Flannery ... with a lost moment: an account of how when O’Connor was 5, the Pathe newsreel company sent a cameraman to her home in Savannah, Ga., to film a chicken she had trained to walk backward. ... 

"O’Connor’s screen debut," Gooch writes, "exists in all its fragility in a Pathe film archive. For all of four seconds, O’Connor, a self-possessed little girl, is glimpsed in glaring afternoon light, a wisp of curls peeking from beneath her cap, calmly coping with three chickens fluttering in her face." Here we have a stunning metaphor for not only her writing but also her existence: brief, glancing, almost impossible to pin down.

Flannery is just the second full biography of O’Connor. (The other is Jean W. Cash’s Flannery O’Connor: A Life.) It’s not that plenty hasn’t been written about her; O’Connor has, Gooch tells us, "become a one-woman academic industry," subject of countless dissertations and critical studies ... .

Yet 45 years after her death at 39 from lupus, O’Connor resists biographical treatment,

because other than her writing, not much happened in her life. An only child, born and raised in Georgia, she left to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the late 1940s before illness forced her to return home. For much of her adult life, she lived on a family farm in Milledgeville with her mother, going to church and writing every morning and then receiving visitors and caring for her birds.

"As for biographies," she once noted, in a line Gooch uses as an epigraph, "there won’t be any biographies of me because, for only one reason, lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy."

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 5:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Reviews

February 20, 2009

TGIF: Strip & Knit, and other odd book titles

Oddest book titlesThe shortlist for the annual Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year has been announced by The Bookseller, a British website. The list -- with the customary Brit nod to naughtiness -- has six titles.

Said Philip Stone, a sales analyst at The Bookseller, "Six seems such a cruelly low number given titles such as Excrement in the Late Middle Ages and All Dogs Have ADHD were rejected."

The shortlist: Baboon Metaphysics by Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth

Curbside Consultation of the Colon by Brooks D. Cash

The Large Sieve and its Applications by Emmanuel Kowalski

Strip and Knit with Style by Mark Hordyszynski

Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring by Lietai Yang

The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais by Prof. Philip M. Parker

The award was conceived by The Diagram Group’s Bruce Robertson to avoid boredom at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Last year’s winner was If You Want Closure In Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs. The winner of the 2008 award will be chosen by a public vote at The Bookseller and will be announced March 27.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 11:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Whatever

Help Dave out of his rut

CloudsMaybe it's the cold, grey February weather. Maybe it's the lull between Ravens and Orioles seasons. Maybe it's getting mired in a book -- The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit -- that I'm not enjoying.

Whatever the cause, I'm in a Reading Rut.

You know the feeling. You're afraid of diving into a bulky tome of nonfiction. You don't want to get burned by a made-up memoir. And no novel on your shelf looks very appealling. So you wait -- and waste time on mediocre TV shows.

I need intervention -- in the form of a great book recommendation. Help me get out of this rut.  What have you read recently that can blow my blahs away?

Photo by Amy Davis

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 5:00 AM | | Comments (15)

February 19, 2009

Book It

Show all your friends your edgy side tomorrow night at 3rd Friday Night PerVerse Poetry reading, which will feature Sam Schmidt, David Salner and Mark Pless. Schmidt and Salner provide the poetry, Pless provides the tunes, and you provide the privileged audience. The event is sponsored by Poetry in Baltimore, and is hosted by Julie Fisher; for more information, visit the Hamilton Arts Collective Web site.

Saturday morning, Ukazoo Books continues its popular bookbinding course, as local artist Rebecca Bridges teaches how to use old books to create our own handmade book. This month, participants will make a hard cover book using the hemp leaf stab binding technique, and an explosion accordion book. The class fee is $15 and includes all materials. Space is limited to eight, and advance registration and payment are required. Call 410-832-BOOK (2665) to sign up.

The Brown Lecture series at the Pratt continues Sunday afternoon, as Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello, discusses her book and the story behind the history. I'm reading it right now, and it's the best historical nonfiction I've read in quite a while -- the perfect combination of fact and poetry.

And cult classics fans will find plenty of company Wednesday night at Atomic Books, when the group discusses this month's book The Story of O. And if you're lucky, maybe Rachel will show you some of her Rock Band skills.

Posted by Nancy Knight at 6:00 PM | | Comments (0)

On the Same Page, a Jewish-themed reading program

My Father's ParadiseOn the Same Page, a community reading program with a Jewish theme, has picked My Father's Paradise by Ariel Sabar as its 2009 book. The program of the Center for Jewish Education, includes group discussions, a related film presentation and a May 7 reading by Sabar, who is a former Baltimore Sun reporter. 

Sabar writes about his father, Yona, who grew up in a mud hut in Iraq, fled to Israel with thousands of other Iraqi Jews, and wound up as a professor of Aramaic at UCLA. The book also touches on the sometimes strained relationship between father and son.

I really liked the book, as did my book club.  It's an interesting look at the life of Iraqi Jews, the exodus to a not-so-welcoming Israel, and Yona's further travels to America. Sabar also was unflinching in describing his relationship with his father. 

Readers who register online or at 410-735-5000 will receive a half-price coupon for the book and a chance to have dinner with Sabar on the night of his reading.

Readers also can sign up for a discussion guide or to receive “Aramaic Unplugged,” a periodic email offering insight into the ancient language spoken by the Iraqi Jewish community described in the book.

On the Same Page began in 2007 with The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander. Last year's book was Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books by Aaron Lansky.

Approximately 600 people participated in the program through online registration, book groups and/or event attendance, according to organizers.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 5:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Marylandia

February 18, 2009

World roundup: Terry Pratchett, Margaret Atwood & Khaled Hosseini

Terry Pratchett knightedBecause our interest in books knows no boundaries, we're adding an occasional roundup of international news to Read Street. Here's the first edition:

Fantasy author Terry Pratchett was knighted today by Queen Elizabeth II for services to literature, AP reports. The 60-year-old British writer is known for his Discworld novels, and has sold more than 55 million books worldwide. He announced last year that he has early onset Alzheimer's.

Margaret Atwood has pulled out of the Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature after the Dubai-based fair pulled a book that refers to a gay relationship, British papers report. Penguin planned to launch Geraldine Bedell's The Gulf Between Us at this month's fair, but was told to cancel those plans because the book was not expected to get past censors. Bedell has blogged for the Guardian, criticizing the decision. 

Who's the hottest writer in the Netherlands? Khaled Hosseini, with two of the three best-selling books in 2008, according to the Literary Saloon. Here's the top three -- have fun deciphering the Dutch tiltles: 1. Khaled Hosseini, De vliegeraar De Bezige. 2. Elizabeth Gilbert, Eten, bidden, beminnen. 3. Khaled Hosseini, Duizend schitterende zonnen.

Photo from AP

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 11:02 AM | | Comments (2)

Illustrating talent: Local teen published in 'The Last Synapsid'


Let's go on a little journey: Think back to your 13-year-old self. This might be a shorter trip for some than others, but really think about it. What were your aspirations? Your hobbies? What did you do when you weren't in class or reading everything in sight? (What, books weren't your best friends? I don't believe you.)

For instance, 13-year-old Nancy loved horses, Indiana Jones and was convinced she was going to marry Patrick Rafter. Those first two things are still true, at least. What 13-year-old Nancy was NOT, however, was a nationally published anything.

Here's where Paul Cronan knocks my socks off. The Baltimore School for the Arts freshman, now 14, is a published illustrator of Tim Mason's The Last Synapsid, a children's book recently published by Random House. And Paul, son of Baltimore Sun photographer Amy Davis, beat out a professional artist and at least one other young talent to gain that title.

"The other kid in contention is the son of a well-known illustrator," Paul's father, Robert, said in a phone interview. "So it was a long shot to us."

Now a year after Paul submitted his sketches of a neighbor's dog to Mason, he's fielding calls from reporters, appearing on radio shows and doing book signings. His contribution to the book includes 12 black-and-white illustrations, though not the cover's color illustration -- a typical arrangement.

Paul says he's always been an artist. "I've been drawing forever -- since I was little," he explained. His father agreed: "Paul's been drawing practically since before he could talk. This is a nice capstone to that."

In The Last Synapsid, a young boy and his friend discover the existance of a prehistoric creature, the title character, and the three work together to save time and space as they know it. The boy, Rob, is an artist, and so Mason decided he wanted a kid's interpretation of the book's action.

Paul submitted drawings of a neighbor's dog, and soon found himself drawing dinosaurs at the instruction of Random House, in what Robert explained was the first time the publisher has engaged a minor.

"I was kinda free to make the dinosaurs the way I wanted them," Paul said, explaining that the publisher sent him clip art and artists' interpretations of dinosaurs. "The art direction I got was minimal. ... They wanted it to be fresh." And the illustrating process only took him about two months.

As for the future, Paul has a more typical teenage response: Anything's possible. "I enjoyed the process. And I think it would be fun to be an illustrator," he said. "But I think I want to broaden my horizons."

Considering his horizons are already much larger than fantasizing about a tennis player, I think Paul's got nothing to worry about.

Meet Paul and author Tim Mason at The Ivy Bookshop from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday, where they'll be signing and discussing the book.

Posted by Nancy Knight at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)

February 17, 2009

Does this book make me look fat?


Just when I ask for entire books made of chocolate, I find out an age-old kitchen staple has turned against us all.

According to a letter published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine, classic recipes, including beef stroganoff, waffles and (gasp) apple pie have all gotten a little heaver over the years, along with the American population.

"Overall, the scientists found, between 1936 and 2006 changes in ingredients and serving sizes led to a 63% increase in calories per serving in 17 of the recipes," the Los Angeles Times reported in their article.

But that's not all! The Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book recipes have seen a few upticks in calories, as well.

The scientists say that some added calories are a sign of the times: Meat is more accessible today than in the 1930s, so in some cases vegetables have been replaced. And since families are smaller now, a meal that used to be made for eight may now feed only four.

Either way, I feel a little betrayed. If you can't trust the Joy of Cooking to steer you right, who can you trust? And don't you dare say Martha Stewart.

Posted by Nancy Knight at 12:00 PM | | Comments (0)

I bet Gatsby loved chocolate


It isn't too late for a little more love, is it?

I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine's Day, or that it at least wasn't horrible for the naysayers.

Due to technical difficulties, I wasn't able to share my favorite Valentine's gift with you when it was a bit more timely, but no matter! The deliciousness of literary truffles and chocolate bars must be shared!

First up is a hoity-toity chocolate company that makes fantasticly yummy, beautifully pacakged candy that is perfect for anyone who loves F. Scott Fitzgerald. And since we always cheer for the hometown boy, no matter how disappointing his antics, that should be most of us.

The Gatsby Truffle Collection is delicious, blending chocolates with champagne, and even includes love letters from the doomed couple. In other words, it's perfect for the booklover in your life, as long as you make pains not to emulate the pair's tragic end. (And I was lucky; the company mixed up my valentine's order last year, so we got two sets. Mmmm.)

While the Gatsby truffles will be unavailable by the end of the month, Chocolove bars are here to stay. Flavors include raspberries in dark chocolate, chilies and cherries and toffee and almonds in milk chocolate. And each bar is wrapped in a love poem, making it even sweeter. Better yet, customize your own love letter and have it sent to your sweetheart

You can buy these bars online, or at various grocery stores including Harris Teeter and Whole Foods. I found mine at Ma Petite Shoe in Hampden.

Now if I could only find books made of chocolate...

Posted by Nancy Knight at 8:00 AM | | Comments (0)

Help Nancy redecorate -- with books

Redecorate with booksNancy's redecorating, and of course, the project revolves around finding a home for dozens of books. As any serious reader knows, establishing an order for all those books is a tough decision.

How do I shelve thee? Let me count the ways.

Should she order her books according to genre: mystery, horror (vampire novels alone would would need an entire shelf), etc.? Fiction and non-? Dewey decimal? Something more esoteric, such as the color spectrum noted by The Bookkeeper blog, and pictured on Flickr

My shelves are loosely ordered by topic, including baseball, Judaica and biographies. I also have sub-groups with books from trips I've taken. I've heard of others shelving alphabetically. What's on your shelves?  

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 4:00 AM | | Comments (27)
Categories: Whatever

February 16, 2009

Best audiobooks of the year

Audie awardRecorded Books, publisher of unabridged audiobooks, has received 11 nominations for the 2009 Audies in both adult and children’s categories.  Each year the Audio Publishers Association recognizes the highest quality audiobook and spoken word entertainment in the United States, awarding the best performances with the Audie distinction. Winners will be announced at the Audies gala on May 29. The nominations, followed by narrator and category:

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult. Narrated by Danielle Ferland, Jim Frangione, Jennifer Ikeda, Stafford Clarke-Price, and Nicole Poole (Fiction).

Gandhi and Churchill by Arthur Herman. Narrated by John Curless (History)

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. Narrated by Richard Poe (Solo Narration—Male)

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie. Narrated by Firdous Bamji (Literary Fiction)

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. Narrated by Joey Collins, Peter Jay Fernandez, Kate Forbes, Ezra Knight, Brenday Pressley, and Tom Stechschulte (Multi-Voiced Performance)

YOU: Staying Young by Michael F. Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D. Narrated by Johnny Heller (Personal Development).

Fire Me Up by Katie MacAlister. Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat (Romance)

The Sisterhood of Blackberry Corner by Andrea Smith. Narrated by Lizan Mitchell (Inspirational/Faith-Based Fiction)

De cómo las muchachas García perdierno el acento by Julia Alvarez. Narrated by Adriana Sananes, Rossmery Almonte, Silvia Sierra, Laura Gomez, and Rosie Berrido (Spanish Language)

The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon. Narrated by Christopher Evan Welch (Teens)

The Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Narrated by Suzanne Toren (Teens)

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 11:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Audiobooks

Did YOU know Lincoln hates werewolves?


Happy Presidents Day! Let's celebrate by finishing this sentence: Lincoln is to werewolves as ______ is to zombies.

If you're familiar with Stephen Lindsay's Jesus Hates Zombies comic, (or if you ARE Stephen Lindsay) this is an easy one.

Illustrated by Steve Cobb, the comic primarily follows Jesus Christ and his undead sidekick Lazarus as they battle a zombie-infested world. But the real treat? The vignettes interlaced with the A-plot that feature Abraham Lincoln battling werewolves from childhood all the way to Washington.

Lindsay's comic is the perfect amount of levity in these Lincoln-crazy times. At this point, every time we get another Lincoln book shipped to us, a little sigh escapes. I've got nothing against our 16th president, but it's been MONTHS of Lincoln-mania, in part thanks to another Illinois president who recently took the oath of office.

But when I saw this cover? I was simply intrigued.

If you have a low tolerance for blasphemy, this four-volume series probably isn't for you.  But the weak-stomached should fear not: The comic is primarily in black-and-white, making even the goriest scenes relatively tame. I mean, if you can sit through 300, this little satire isn't going to phase you.

At the end of the day, this comic is pure fluff. But it's funny fluff, and I think we can all use a little bit of that.

Posted by Nancy Knight at 10:00 AM | | Comments (0)

February 15, 2009

Stephenie Meyer haters, lighten up

Stephenie MeyerI didn’t see the approaching storm when I wrote a recent Read Street post about Stephen King’s critique of Stephenie Meyer, author of the immensely popular Twilight series. King said in an interview with USA Weekend: "[J.K.] Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good." (He also skewered James Patterson, ran hot and cold on Dean Koontz and praised Jodi Picoult, but no one seemed to notice.)

Nancy warned me that posting his comments would unleash a torrent of fury from fans of Meyer’s teenage vampire saga. I ignored her advice and, as usual, regretted it. More than 150 people responded to that post, and many called King an idiot — and worse. Those comments were offset by others calling Meyer and her fans idiots — and worse. So while the Baltimore area basked in unusually warm weather, much of my time was spent censoring the rudest language and deleting profanity-laden comments.

You’d have to read the uncensored versions to understand the vitriol aimed at the two authors — the comments make Obama- and Bush-bashing seem tepid. But here’s a shorthand version of the King/Meyer Comment Spectrum: King is coasting on his early fame and is jealous of her success; King is rude to criticize another writer; King is a great writer. Meyer is a thesaurus-abusing hack; Meyer shouldn’t be allowed to make vampires sparkle; Meyer may not be the greatest writer, but she creates compelling stories; Meyer is a great writer and storyteller.

The truth, as the cliche goes, lies somewhere in between. For all the criticism about Meyer’s writing — and I don’t begrudge King the right to give his opinion — there’s no denying her power as a storyteller. Meanwhile, she has made millions of teens into readers, and that’s to her credit (even if many of their comments reflect an unfamiliarity with conventions of spelling and grammar).

Hey, when I was a kid, I survived on Whoppers, Superman comics and bubble-gum music. I wasn’t going to change by being offered steak au poivre, Shakespeare and Brahms. Eventually, though, I moved on.

So, I say to the Meyer-haters: Lighten up. And consider these words of Kurt Vonnegut, supplied by commenter Robin: Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.

Photo credit: David Stone

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 4:00 AM | | Comments (35)

February 14, 2009

Review: In the Shadow of the Master -- and more

In The Shadow of the MasterIn Sunday's Baltimore Sun, read short reviews of three books with a local connection: In the Shadow of the Master, The Nanticoke, and The Glen Rock Book of the Dead. Here are excerpts from the reviews by Diane Scharper, a Towson University professor of English:

In the Shadow of the Master, edited by Michael Connelly (William Morrow / 389 pages / $24.95). For the 200th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth, the Mystery Writers of America has published this collection of 16 of Poe’s best works with often-insightful commentary by well-known mystery writers. ... As Stephen King, Laura Lippman and others discuss their indebtedness to Poe, one realizes the extent of his greatness. A master of suspense, Poe influenced everything from French Symbolist poetry to tales of ratiocination.  (Here are more Read Street posts on Poe.)

The Nanticoke: Portrait of a Chesapeake River by David Harp and Tom Horton (Johns Hopkins Press / 124 pages / $29.95). Although crabbers, fishermen and oystermen ply their trade on the Nanticoke, most of the river serves no purpose other than as a source of natural beauty. That’s more than enough, according to former Baltimore Sun reporter Horton and former Baltimore Sun photographer Harp. ... Part memoir of Horton’s years growing up near the river and part travelogue — documented by more than 100 color photographs — the book is a paean to this chief river of Delaware and Maryland.

The Glen Rock Book of the Dead by Marion Winik (Counterpoint / 108 pages / $20). A collection of very short essays memorializing the dead, Winik’s latest was inspired by Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. But instead of fiction, free verse and cynicism, Winik, a University of Baltimore professor, offers memoir, prose and warmth — expressed with precise evocative details. 

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Reviews

February 13, 2009

Westminster winner to write book?

Westminster winner StumpIt hasn't been announced yet, but I hear at the local dog park that Stump, the 10-year-old Sussex Spaniel named Best in Show at the 2009 Westminster Kennel Club, is writing a book. It's tentative title: "Old Dogs Rule, Puppies Drool."

The book would be a dramatic recounting of Stump's retirement from the show ring in 2004 after a Westminster group win, his near-fatal illness, and his Michael Jordan-esque return to the competition -- with much better results. He'll also describe his training regimen and strategy for beating perennial Westminster favorites such as standard poodles.

In the wake of the Michael Phelps bong scandal, publishers are said to be checking for any problems in Stump's background before committing to the book. But Stump, whio is almost 70 in human years, doesn't lead a fast life.

Anyone who saw him lumber around the Madison Square Garden ring can attest to that.

Photo from Getty Images
Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 5:00 AM | | Comments (1)

February 12, 2009

Book It

Another week, another chance to mix books and booze.

Join Michael Largo tonight at the Maryland Historical Society to discuss the obsessions that fed into Edgar Allan Poe's genius. Largo, author of Genius and Heroin: The Illustrated Catalogue of Creativity, Obsession, and Reckless Abandon Through the Ages, will be signing copies of his book. No reservations are needed, but admission is $15.

Another option for this evening is a discussion of Ta-Nehisi Coate's memoir, The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, which details his life with father Paul Coates, former Black Panther leader in Baltimore and founder of Black Classic Press. The author discussion will be held at the Poe Room in the Central Library tonight at 6:30.

 If you're looking for a little romance this weekend, local poet and author Stephen Berbes will be at Greetings & Readings Saturday afternoon to read selected poems from his Always in Love collection -- and a signed copy might just be the perfect gift for your valentine.

Or you could write your own love poetry Monday night at Ukazoo's creative writing group at 6:30 p.m. All are welcome, but advance registration is requested.

Not quite what you're looking for? Picky, picky. Peruse our calendar of events for even more options, and if you have events you'd like included, please e-mail me or Dave.

Posted by Nancy Knight at 5:30 PM | | Comments (0)

Happy birthday Abe!

Abraham Lincoln booksWho need a stimulus package? Lincoln is a one-man WPA project for writers, editors and illustrators. The books produced this year alone would probably reach higher than Abe and his trademark stovepipe hat. I can barely move around in my office without bumping into a book on Lincoln as president, as commander in chief, as a lawyer.

Why is Lincoln the topic of so many books? Why not Washington, the father of our country? Or FDR, who led the nation out of recession and through a world war?

Leave a comment with your thoughts; one lucky person will get to choose from Tried by War by James M. McPherson, A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White Jr., and In Lincoln's Hand, His Original Manuscripts from the Library of Congress.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 9:27 AM | | Comments (4)

February 11, 2009

Stephenie Meyer fans: Help!

Stephenie Meyer TwilightI may be the last person on Earth who hasn't read any of the Twilight books. But after reading more than 125 comments about her work -- loving and hating it -- my curiosity is piqued.

So I'm ready for a Meyer vampire tale, and I'll keep an open mind. Although I've read the old school Dracula and some Anne Rice, I don't have any pre-conceived notions about the merits of sparkling vampires (unlike Nancy, a vampire purist).

But I am wondering, do I have to start at Twilight? Or can I jump in Breaking Dawn, so I'll be up to date on the story line?

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 11:30 AM | | Comments (10)

Bookworm + snowboard = ER


You know how news travels fast? Well, sometimes, in a newsroom, it travels so fast that it speeds right past you, and then mocks you for your own stupidity afterward. Kinda like Sam Sessa's article warning of the thrills (also known as dangers) of snowboarding. That would have made for some good reading ahead of my Poconos trip.

Well, this past weekend, armed with no such knowledge, I went snowboarding for the first time. Let me admit, I didn't have the best attitude. I hate being cold, I've got pretty terrible balance and when going at high speeds, I prefer someone else to be in control. But I'd made a promise, and I was determined to keep it, no matter how many times Dave told me it was a bad idea.

An hour and a half later, I had made my way down a bunny slope, mostly through a series of falls, and then I went home and slept for three hours. I have never been so sore in my life, and that life included years of horseback riding. That was Saturday.

Yesterday, I couldn't take it anymore and I finally went to Patient First. And here's where my real complaint comes in. Not about the service: Patient First is relatively quick and absolutely professional. I highly recommend it for your urgent care needs.

No, my complaint is about the lack of reading material. Of course I brought a book with me for the waiting room, (Captain Freedom, by G. Xavier Robillard) but that exam room? It was devoid of the basic high cholesterol or diabetes brochures I've come to expect at a doctor's office.

Waiting for my X-rays, there wasn't even a magazine or a poster detailing medical procedures or organs that I had no desire to learn more about. Just bare walls in a lonely hallway. And Captain Freedom? He was too busy hanging out with my boyfriend in my purse to join my uncomfortable battle with the X-ray machine.

So I implore you doctors: When sitting around in a barely there robe, waiting to be told if my reckless behavior has resulted in a fractured coccyx -- and, yes, it did -- all I'm asking for is a little reading material to take my mind off my discomfort. And in a world where you can get Tom Jones free of charge at The Book Thing, there seems to be no excuse not to.

Who's with me?

(Photo by lusi at stock.xchng)

Posted by Nancy Knight at 10:00 AM | | Comments (6)

February 10, 2009

Review: What Would Google Do?

Review: What Would Google Do?In today's Baltimore Sun, read a review of What Would Google Do? -- including an interview with author and media seer Jeff Jarvis. Reviewer Andy Ratner, who writes a column on blogging, brought a skeptical eye to the Google-mania. Excerpts from his review:

-- Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, caused some jaws to drop when he spoke in a recent interview with Fortune magazine about the future of newspapers, which are struggling economically despite the fact that their articles help nourish countless search engines, including his. "People love the news," he said, adding that he wished he could do more to help traditional media. "The problem is ... that the culture of the Internet is that information wants to be free." The statement made me wonder what a judge would say if a man accused of theft pleaded, "I'm sorry, your honor, but the jewels wanted to run free."

-- [Jarvis] offers a few dozen "Googly" rules for companies - maybe even for people - to live by.
Give the people control. Do what you do best, and link to the rest. Small is the new big. The mass market is dead; long live the mass of niches. There is an inverse relationship between control and trust. Be honest. Be transparent. Free is a business model. Middlemen are doomed. Simplify, simplify. Don't be evil.

-- Jarvis, who blogs at, is an eloquent advocate for Google's way. During our conversation, about the only time I heard dead silence was when I asked if Google believes information "wants to run free," why does most of the company's $22 billion in annual revenue come from the advertising it hosts? Advertising is just another form of information. Why doesn't Google think that information wants to "be free"?

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 11:05 AM | | Comments (1)

Audiobooks: The Sugar House by Laura Lippman

Sugar%20House.jpg The Sugar House was Laura Lippman's third Tess Monaghan mystery, winner of the Nero Wolfe Award and the first Lippman mystery to be published in hardback.

It was released as a recorded book in 2000, narrated by Laurence Bouvard, but it has been re-released by Recorded Books with the popular and gravelly voice of Barbara Rosenblat, one of the best audiobook readers.

Even if you read this book - or listened to it - eight years ago, it is worth a second "reading" because of Rosenblat's gorgeous performance.

You probably don't remember how it ended anyway.

Posted by Susan Reimer at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Audiobooks

February 9, 2009

New books: Drood, Fool, The Gamble and more

DroodNew releases this week include: Drood by Dan Simmons (Little, Brown, $26.99). Simmons creates a gloriously engaging and terrifying narrative, based on the historical details of Charles Dickens’ life. Narrated by Wilkie Collins (Dickens’ friend, collaborator and Salieri-style rival), Drood explores the unsolved mysteries of the author’s last years and may provide the key to his final, unfinished work.

Fool by Christopher Moore (William Morrow, $26.99). It’s 1288, and the king’s fool, Pocket, and his dimwit apprentice, Drool, set out to clean up the mess King Lear has made of his kingdom, his family and his fortune — only to discover the truth about their own heritage.

The Gamble by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin Press, $27.95). Ricks uses hundreds of hours of exclusive interviews with top officers in Iraq and extraordinary on-the-ground reporting to document the inside story of the Iraq war since late 2005. He examines the events that took place as the military was forced to reckon with itself, the surge was launched and a very different war began.

Lethal Legacy by Linda Fairstein (Doubleday, $26). When Assistant District Attorney Alex Cooper is summoned to Tina Barr’s apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, she finds a neighbor convinced that the young woman was assaulted. But the terrified victim, a conservator of rare books and maps, refuses to cooperate with investigators.

The Silent Man by Alex Berenson (Putnam,$25.95) CIA agent John Wells pursues Russians who have killed and injured several people in Washington, including Wells’ fiancee.

Gladiator by Dan Clark (Scribner, $25). Athletic and aggressive, Clark rose to fame as Nitro on American Gladiators. But a 20-year affair with steroids led to a life of smuggling drugs, destroying hotel rooms, getting arrested, growing breasts and lying bloodied in the street after a fight with his best friend. This is Clark’s account of his life, career and steroid addiction. and Publishers Weekly

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 1:03 PM | | Comments (0)

kindle 2 arrives


Today must have been a great day for Read Streeter Claude. He's been tireless in his mission to convince us of the glory that is Kindle. And although I discovered that the device left a lot to be desired last year, I'm incredibly impressed with what I've seen of the latest version, kindle 2.

Amazon unveiled kindle 2 (which is spelled both upper and lower case at different places) in New York today, and the presentation included Stephen King's latest: a horror story involving a pink Kindle, which is available only by download for Kindle readers, of course.

The marked improvements I noticed from the presentation:

1. They made the navigational buttons smaller, so there's less chance of an accidental page turn. However, the main menu button still looks to be in an awkward place, just where my thumb would press down to hold the device. I'll have to wait to judge once I get my hands on one, but it's nice to see the smarter design.

2. Finally, a numeric system to mark how far along you are through a book. Yes, there were a number of dots at the bottom of the screen to mark your progress through the first Kindle. Kindle 2 goes a step further and gives you the percentage, though. I'd much rather be able to say I'm 33 percent, or a third of the way through a book, than 10 dots away from the end.

3. There are many more books and newspapers to choose from, and they're getting cheaper everyday. This was my biggest problem last time. The books were far too expensive for a reader who had just paid $360 for the device, and then the editing of the books I read were subpar. Now new releases and best-sellers are $9.99 and most other books are much cheaper, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos reports that 103 of the 110 New York Times best-sellers are available on Kindle. AND you can preview a book you're interested in by downloading the first chapter for free!

So kindle 2 has my attention! For those of you whose minds are already made up, you can preorder now and get your kindle 2 by Feb. 24. And for the loyal original Kindle owners, if you order by midnight tomorrow, your order gets first priority.

(Photo courtesy of

Posted by Nancy Knight at 11:23 AM | | Comments (2)

February 8, 2009

One Maryland One Book: James McBride

James McBrideLast Monday, we noted that James McBride's Song Yet Sung was picked for the 2009 One Maryland One Book program. The selection came after about a dozen people (including librarians, academics and me) met at the Maryland Humanities Council on a January day to debate 10 books, including The Namesake, The Kite Runner and Digging to America.

To meet One Book's goals, the book had to address race and identity, appeal to readers from different backgrounds, and connect to high schoolers. Other considerations: Was the author alive? From Maryland? Willing to participate in the program? The three finalists also included The Color of Water by McBride, and Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama.

The One Book program drew more than 6,500 Marylanders to discussions, films and writing contests in 2008. This year's program begins in earnest in September, focusing on Song Yet Sung's tale of Maryland Eastern Shore slave traders, runaways and a prophet who foresees the racial challenges of modern America.  

On a more irreverent note, I think we should suggest books for other programs.

For example, residents of Phoenix, Ariz., read To Kill a Mockingbird a couple of years ago. My pick for the city: Hot, Flat and Crowded.

Honolulu residents read The Joy Luck Club; why not Outliers

What are your suggestions for other states and cities? Leave a comment; the best one wins a book.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 4:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Marylandia

February 7, 2009

Review: A Darker Domain, The Messenger and Never Tell a Lie

Looking for a new mystery? Here are three recommendations from Oline Cogdill, who reviews books for several publications: A Darker Domain by Val McDermid. During a coal-mining strike in Scotland, Mick Prentice was among the men who left town for other jobs, but now it appears that no one knows what happened to him. As a detective looks into that case, she also is pulled into the decades-old kidnapping of an heiress and her baby. An emotionally wrenching story about people abandoned by those they trust the most.

The Messenger by Jan Burke. Despite ghosts, people who talk with the dead and a centuries-old hero, Burke creates a plot that always seems realistic. For more than 200 years, Tyler Hawthorne has been a "messenger" with the ability to hear a dying person’s last thoughts and communicate them to his or her loved ones. Tyler has avoided human relationships, but he now finds himself falling for a young woman at the same time an old enemy seeks to destroy him.

Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron. A tale about obsession, relationships and forgiveness. Ivy and David Rose, whose baby is due in weeks, are ridding their beautiful Victorian of junk. One shopper at their garage sale is Melinda White, a high school classmate who also is nearly nine months pregnant. Melinda’s disappearance soon after the sale points back to the Roses, and as the evidence mounts, they must face long-buried secrets.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 4:00 PM | | Comments (0)

Review: A World of Trouble

A World of TroubleSunday in The Baltimore Sun, read a review of A World of Trouble by Patrick Tyler (Farrar, Straus and Giroux / 640 pages / $30 ). Some exceprts from the review:

Tyler’s strikingly readable new history argues that Obama inherits a decidedly mixed, though mainly unhappy, diplomatic legacy. ...  In Tyler’s view, it adds up to a history of miscalculation, inattention, stuttering and almost inadvertent progress undone by contradictory aims, exhaustion and distraction. ...

Tyler is inclined to attribute rather too much blame for America’s Middle East failures to what he regards as Israeli recalcitrance and excessive Washington influence by pro-Israel Americans. Putting aside the merits of any particular situation, it’s simply a fact that we know more about Israel and its internal political struggles because it is an open society ... . We have no similar access to the inner workings of Israel’s antagonists. Moreover, it’s easy to forget that — until relatively recently — the influence of Israel’s friends in Washington was more than matched by the power of the State Department Arabists and the petroleum lobby.

Tyler also assigns a bit too much consequence to American policy in the region. The underlying assumption seems to be that if a preternaturally wise president formulated a perfect American policy that was flawlessly executed by supremely competent U.S. diplomats, the results would be deterministic. Maybe, but maybe not. It’s a view that essentially denies agency to the people of the region, whether Israeli or Arab.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 12:00 PM | | Comments (0)

From Jen Vido: an interview with Suzanne Brockmann

Suzanne BrockmannFellow blogger Jen Vido, from Harford County, has an interview with Suzanne Brockmann, who writes the Troubleshooter, Inc. series. The author, whose latest is Dark of Night, describes her writing process, research and characters.

An excerpt from the interview: "[I]t can take anywhere from four to six months to write a book. Some come easy; some are like hitting myself in the head with a hammer. I've written nearly fifty books since June 1992, and I try very hard to make each book fresh and different and new. That's pretty challenging."

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 6:05 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Marylandia

February 6, 2009

Book giveaway winner!

Congrats to Paul O'Neil, the winner of last week's contest -- writing an ending for the polygamist's breakup scene. Here's how he wrapped it up: "I don't care that you will share with anyone who opens you look at your printing, and fondle your pages. That is what you are, ment to be shared. How can you deny others their use be it paper, libretto, poem or pixels on a screen. It is reading and it is our destiny together. Stay just a little bit longer and I promise I will finish you, or leave and I will find another. A lesser or perhaps one greater, for as it has been written so it must be.

I've sent Paul a copy of Banquet at Delmonico's by Barry Werth, about the American leaders who helped spread Darwin's message here. Sunday, we'll have another giveaway, so drop in!

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 2:30 PM | | Comments (0)

Audiobook: A Most Wanted Man

A Most Wanted ManMy favorite spy in literature has never been Jason Bourne. It has always been George Smiley, John le Carre's vaguely sad old man of the Cold War.

Le Carre', who had his own, if much less intriguing, history with the British foreign service, might have lost his franchise when the Berlin Wall, and Russian Communism, fell had not Islamic extremists and the age of terrorism come to his rescue.

In his newest book, which made all the "best of" lists for 2008, a half-Russian, half-Chechen, half-crazy muslim arrives in Hamburg, a city still smarting from the fact that it failed to recognize the 9/11 conspirators in its midst.

His cause is taken up by a young, idealistic civil rights lawyer and a banker who is holding millions in dirty money for Russian generals who pillaged the weaker sisters in the breakup of the Soviet Union. It is those millions and their connection to Issa, the victim of terrible torture, that brings the British, American, German and Russian spies together in Hamburg in a typical le Carre' convoluted plot.

Roger Rees does an excellent job of picking his way through the many accents - from Scottish to Turkish to blunt American as he reads this book.

Muriel Dobbin, who once covered the White House for The Sun and who reviewed the print version of the book, makes the excellent point that le Carre' is best when he is writing dialog -- even interior dialog -- and you run the risk of missing a small but crucial turn in the plot if you skip paragraphs or pages in an over-eager attempt to find out what happens next.

Listening to the book on CD helps prevent that, of course.



Posted by Susan Reimer at 10:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Audiobooks

February 5, 2009

Stephen King: Stephenie Meyer can't write

Stephen King on Stephenie MeyerTime for Horror Writer Smackdown. In an interview with USA Weekend, Stephen King took a shot at Stephenie Meyer, whose Twilight series has been a huge hit. In his words, "[J.K.] Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good."

Geez, don't sugar-coat it, Stephen. He also skewers James Patterson, runs hot and cold on Dean Koontz and admires Jodi Picoult. King says Meyer's secret is "writing to a whole generation of girls and opening up kind of a safe joining of love and sex in those books. It’s exciting and it’s thrilling and it's not particularly threatening because they’re not overtly sexual."

I suggest settling this with a faceoff between characters -- no holds barred, all powers allowed. Nancy, Read Street's resident expert on the supernatural, says Meyer's vampires are wimps and even Jack Nicholson (The Shining) could take on Edward. How about vampire James vs. Cujo? Or vampiress Bella vs. Carrie? 

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 3:53 PM | | Comments (1027)

Book It

It's Black History Month, and Baltimore has plenty of events lined up for every reader in your family.

Today at 4:30 p.m., The Children's Bookstore hosts an event celebrating the publication of Elizabeth Spires' I Heard God Talking to Me. The book of poetry outlines the life and artwork of William Edmondson, the first black artist to have a solo show at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Tomorrow, children's author and poet Carole Boston Weatherford will be at not one, but two libraries to discuss her books I, Matthew Henson and Becoming Billie Holiday. The local author will also be available for signings. So swing by the Central or Light Street libraries to meet Weatherford.

As Dave mentioned earlier this week, Saturday morning will find One Maryland, One Book author James McBride at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel with poet Nikki Giovanni. Tickets are $40, with advance registration required. 

And Monday evening, the Central Library hosts What Obama Means. Author Jabari Asim analyzes the "Obama phenomenon" and discusses what his election as president could represent for America's future. Copies of his book will be available for sale after the discussion.

Posted by Nancy Knight at 12:00 PM | | Comments (0)

Obama inauguration poem: Elizabeth Alexander remixed

Obama inauguration poem: Elizabeth AlexanderWFMU, an New Jersey-based FM station that blends creativity with irreverence (its motto: A radio station that bites back), has a new take on Elizabeth Alexander's poem for the Obama inauguration. The poem sparked lots of debate on Read Street and elsewhere, so WFMU asked listeners for new versions.

The station has posted dozens of MP3 remixes on its blog. Some, such as "First Ten Words," gave me flashbacks to my Wesleyan University electronic music course, which included an analysis of compositions played on a piano filled with rocks. "Slumber Party" was hilarious -- imagine Alvin the Chipmunk reciting the poem at a New Orleans funeral. And "Some Someone Someone Someone Something Somewhere," a recitation of the poem's words in alphabetical order, was downright spooky.


p.s. Thanks to the Los Angeles Times book blog for noting the remixes, and to Picnik for providing the special effects.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)

February 4, 2009

The Curious case against 'Benjamin Button'


I bet right about now, the producers of the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are wishing they had stuck a little closer to the source material. You know, like keeping the Baltimore setting.

Instead, they changed it up a bit, and now they're facing a lawsuit.

Adriana Pichini is an Italian author who claims that the Brad Pitt version of the story is a little too similar to her 1994 work Il Ritorno di Arthur all'Innocenza, or Arthur's Return to Innocence.

Nevermind that the film shares a title with the 1921 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I guess Americans aren't the only litigious people on the planet.

According to the New York Times story, "Ms. Pichini wrote and registered with the Italian copyright authorities in 1994. She sent her story to publishers in the United States, though it was not published."

So now a Roman judge will read the book and watch the movie to determine how similar the two are, and if the complaint needs further action.

Full disclosure: I have yet to see the movie. Boo, hiss, I know. But come on, it's a little daunting to walk into a movie theater knowing you're going to be there for three hours. 

Either way, I don't think I'm ever going to get my hands on Pichini's work, so I guess I'll have to wait and see what the judge determines.

And I wonder what Fitzgerald would say if he could see this state of affairs.

Posted by Nancy Knight at 1:30 PM | | Comments (1)

Obama books and more: Enter Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards book The latest entry in the politico-biblio lottery comes as Elizabeth Edwards announced plans for Resilience. It's her second memoir; the first, Saving Graces, focused on how she has coped with breast cancer and the 1996 death of her son. The latest trauma in her life was husband John's public disclosure that he had an affair just before his latest presidential campaign.

Is anyone else bothered by this trend of one-off political memoirs -- books by people who have some connection to a politician?

Isn't it odd that a politician's wife has two memoirs, but president Bush has none (OK, maybe that's a bad example, considering his modest literary inclinations). Lately, new books have been announced by Laura Bush, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, and Michelle Obama's brother. There's also a book in the works by Mary Tomer of the website; it will focus on Michelle Obama's style and her first year as First Lady.

What's next? How about Born to Breed by the person who provides the Obama family's dog?

Photo by Bloomberg

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 11:38 AM | | Comments (1)

Zombies on the braaaaaain


I promise you, I did not intend this week to be zombie themed. It just happened! I got all of these zombie-related e-mails and tweets, and today is even George Romero's birthday!

Also, Dave encouraged me. That's right, he pretends to be all proper and writes post about One Maryland, One Book; meanwhile, he's sending me this little tidbit from the New York Times' book blog, Paper Cuts.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. See how I was set up? It wasn't even fair.

The Times' Jennifer Schuessler points out the amazing opening line: “It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” and I couldn't help but wonder what other books could be improved, or at least gored up a bit, with a few zombies.

As I told Dave earlier, I feel Holden Caufield would gain a lot more sympathy from me if he were battling the undead instead of his own teenage angst. And can you imagine Scarlett O'Hara flirting with a few land-owning zombies?

"Well, his flesh may be rotting, but imagine the dresses!"

So, hit me with your own fantasy zombie remix, and get a chance to win Rigor Mortis. And bonus points for specific zombified scenes.

Posted by Nancy Knight at 6:03 AM | | Comments (5)

February 3, 2009

No late fees for US Airways hero

I guess if Shelly Koontz had safely landed a jet, she wouldn't have seen any jailtime.

According to an AP story, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot who splash-landed a US Airways jetliner in the Hudson River with zero casualties, did leave one casualty behind: a book he'd borrowed from California State University. 

After Sullenberger contacted the library to ask for an extension (exactly when did he think he was getting that book back to them?), the librarians decided to waive all fees, and even dedicate the replacement book to him.

"The librarians say they were struck by Sullenberger’s sense of responsibility," the article explained.

While it is revealed that the book was about professional ethics, the actual title was not mentioned. I have a feeling that author is going to see salees spiking as soon as we find out, though.

Posted by Nancy Knight at 12:00 PM | | Comments (1)

Fiction: The original virtual reality


"Psychologists and neuroscientists are increasingly coming to the conclusion that when we read a story and really understand it, we create a mental simulation of the events described by the story," said Jeffrey M. Zacks, co-author of a new brain-imaging study and director of the Dynamic Cognition Laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis.

In other words, when you read a book, your brain responds as if you're living through the events.

Anyone who's been left breathless by a romantic passage, or has found your heart racing after a particularly scary chapter shouldn't be too surprised by these findings, but it's always nice to be validated.

"Readers understand a story by simulating the events in the story world and updating their simulation when features of that world change," lead author Nicole Speer said.

Do you think that means that by reading about snowboarding, I could convince my boyfriend that I had actually fulfilled my promise to slide down a cold mountain on a plank of plastic?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

The study, which will be published in the journal Psychological Science, and was recently featured on NPR, had each participant read four stories of less than 1500 words. They were shown text passages on a computer screen that displayed one word at a time, while they were immoblized in the MRI device, to minimize eye movement.

With those kinds of conditions, I just hope they're not turned off from reading for the rest of their lives!

(Photo by maxbrown at stockxchng)

Posted by Nancy Knight at 9:00 AM | | Comments (0)

February 2, 2009

Song Yet Sung picked for One Maryland One Book

Song Yet Sung picked for One Maryland One BookThe pick for this fall's One Maryland One Book program is James McBride's Song Yet Sung, a story about runaway slaves on the Eastern Shore -- and a dreamer who foresees the racial challenges of modern America. The program, begun in 2008, is designed to spark a conversation on race, culture and other issues through forums in schools and communities across Maryland.

I was on the committee that helped choose the book, and I relayed the comments of Read Streeters about books under consideration. From dozens of possibilities, we made a short list of three: The Color of Water and Song Yet Sung by McBride, and Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama. Any one  would have been a fine choice, but McBride's availability to participate in OMOB was a big plus. (I hear Obama is working on other things.) And though The Color of Water may touch on a broader range of issues, many Marylanders have already read it.

If you participated in the Maryland Humanities Council's OMOB last year, let us know -- especially if you have suggestions for the program. The 2009 forums will be held in September and October; we'll be looking for ways Read Street can participate, too. Here are reviews of Song Yet Sung from the New York TimesThe Lit Life blog and O, the Oprah magazine. And you can meet McBride Saturday, when he is a featured speaker at the Enoch Pratt's annual Booklovers' Breakfast.  

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 6:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Marylandia

Baltimore Reads 20th anniversary party

If you missed the 20th anniversary party for Baltimore Reads, a literacy group, here's a peek from Sloane Brown.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 2:00 PM | | Comments (0)

New books: Run for Your Life

Run for Your LifeNew releases this week include: Run for Your Life by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge (Little, Brown $27.99). A calculating killer who calls himself The Teacher is taking on New York City, killing the powerful and the arrogant. His message is clear: Remember your manners or suffer the consequences.

Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs (Berkley, $24.95). In a world where witches, vampires, werewolves and shape-shifters live beside ordinary people, it takes a very unusual woman to call it home. By day, Mercy Thompson is a car mechanic in Eastern Washington. By night, she explores her preternatural side.

The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter, and the People Who Raised Them by Amy Dickinson (Hyperion, $22.99). Advice columnist Amy Dickinson shares the story of the people who helped after she found herself a reluctant single parent.

War Child: A Memoir; A Child Soldier’s Story by Emmanuel Jal (St. Martin’s, $24.95). Emmanuel Jal was conscripted into the Christian Sudanese Liberation Army, one of 10,000 child soldiers who fought through two separate civil wars over nearly a decade.

Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani (HarperCollins, $25.99). Valentine Roncalli, adrift after a failed relationship and an aborted teaching career, becomes an apprentice to her 80-year-old grandmother, Teodora Angelini, at the tiny family shoe business.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95). Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the arduous sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone, who becomes a key player in her destiny.

True Colors by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s, $25.95). The story of the Grey sisters is set in a small Washington town and follows Winona, Aurora and Vivi Ann from the time of their mother’s death, when they were young teens in 1979, through adulthood, cataloging their trials and the men who typically come bearing them.

Murder at the Academy Awards: A Red Carpet Mystery by Joan Rivers with Jerrilyn Farmer (Pocket Books, $24) A celebrity interviewer’s once-in-a-lifetime "get" threatens to guarantee that his lifetime will be brief. and Publishers Weekly


Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 10:30 AM | | Comments (0)

Zombies, zombies, everywhere


A couple of weeks ago, I was DELIGHTED to receive my very first zombie zine. After perusing its gloriously gory pages, I was even happier to find that it was created right here in Baltimore!

Of course, I had to find out more. And creator Davida Gypsy Breier (how cool is that name?) was more than obliging.

"Rigor Mortis was probably the most organic zine I've ever published. I started publishing zines in 1995 with Leeking Ink (then called Slow Leek). It was post-college, I was working odd jobs and I needed a creative outlet," Breier explained via e-mail. "I have a friend (Dread Sockett in the issue) who I've known through zines for well over 10 years (although we've never actually met). We were each having panic attacks and would talk on the phone occasionally -- able to both laugh about and commiserate about our problems. We also happen to love horror.

"We both went on a zombie kick at exactly the same time, even coincidentally reading the same books," Breier continued. "We started writing reviews of what we were reading or watching and somehow over the course of a few months the whole thing just fell together. It was the best collaboration I have ever had with another writer/artist."

Eight-Stone Press' William P. Tandy got in on the act as well, with the appropriately grisly pseudonum Grim Pickens.

The 54-page black-and-white zine includes movie and book reviews, lists of a few zombie favorites (including Web sites and "DeadVida's Favorite Zombie Moments of 2008) and alternately funny and disturbing zombie illustrations.

Have you ever wanted to see Paris Hilton eaten by zombies? I suggest you fork your $3 over to these fine people and enjoy.

But Nancy, you say, where can I find this wonderful zombie compendium? And I'm sure you won't be the least bit surprised in the answer: Atomic Books. And, of course at Breier's own Web site, where you'll also find her many other projects.

And if you happen to be reading from Chicago, you'll find your zombie fix at Quimby's Bookstore.

"As for future issues of Rigor Mortis - they are definitely in the works," Breier said. "I don't know that we are over our zombie obsession just yet, so there may be another all-zombie issue. I would love to do a ghost issue and Dread wants to do something on his beloved EC Comics. There is no shortage of material. We all enjoyed creating Rigor Mortis and if it was just for us at the end of the day that would be fine. If other people enjoy our rantings and musings on zombies all the better."

Posted by Nancy Knight at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)

February 1, 2009

Book love gone wrong

The art of loveRecently on Read Street, folks have been describing their polygamous reading habits. I was shocked — shocked — to learn that some people read three, five, even 10 books at once. I’m the kind of guy who makes a commitment to a book and doesn’t abandon it when the next pretty cover happens by. I can imagine this scene, when a polygamist reader comes home:

"So where have you been all night? I’ve been here, with that Barnes & Noble bookmark stuck on page 135, just waiting for you to come back."

"Well, I ... uh ... I had to stay late at the office."

"Again? That’s the third night this week."

"Yeah, we have a big presentation coming up for corporate, so I’ve been reading tons of reports. Sales data, ROI analyses, territory realignments — that sort of thing. Very dry — nothing like you. But when I get home my eyes are just so tired."

"I guess that explains why we haven’t spent any time together all week. Can’t we curl up on the sofa for a half-hour? We have more than 400 pages to go. Wait! What’s that in your briefcase — is it the new John Grisham?"

"This? It’s a ... a ... a gift."

"For whom? All of your friends — and you — think Grisham has coasted since his first few books. Tell me the truth. What are you doing with The Associate?"

"OK. I might as well tell you. I’ve been cheating. But it’s not what you think. I never read books with your depth, your wit, your subtlety of language. Nothing comes close. I just need a break sometimes. A Grisham, or a Lippman. But that’s all, I swear."

"That’s all — hah! Don’t think I haven’t noticed before. I was just waiting for you to admit it. I’ve seen your iPod, with the Team of Rivals download. And the time you drove into the garage, with the David Sedaris CD blaring away — I could hear your laughter all the way upstairs on the nightstand."

"Goodwin? Sedaris? They mean nothing to me."

"This is some pathetic midlife crisis, isn’t it? Next thing, you’ll be hanging out with some young, sleek Kindle. That would serve you right. Do you think it will be around for you forever? Do you?"

"I don’t know what I think anymore."

"Well, think about this: While you were reading everything you picked up, your best friend came over and borrowed me. We’re already on page 476 — and it has been pure rapture. Now there’s an attentive reader. No interruptions for phone calls, no reading in front of the TV. I’m leaving, so we can finish — only 83 pages to go. Goodbye."

-- Will they reunite or is this the end of their relationship? Write your ending in a comment -- we'll pick one for a book giveaway.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 4:00 AM | | Comments (14)
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About the blogger
Dave Rosenthal came to The Baltimore Sun as a business reporter in 1987 and now is the Maryland Editor. He reads a wide range of books (but never as many as he'd like), usually alternating between non-fiction and fiction. Some all-time favorites: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and anything by Calvin Trillin or John McPhee. He belongs to a book club with a Jewish theme.
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