Friday, August 28, 2015

The Book of Speculation

Erika Swyler’s debut novel, The Book of Speculation, traces the lineage of a family through generations of performers and suicides. Simon, mild mannered librarian, receives a mysterious gift of a traveling show logbook the day before he loses his job as a reference librarian. During his new found free time, Simon becomes obsessed with tracing his family and an apparent curse through the pages of the logbook.  He uncovers secrets about his family and close friends that alter his past and possibly his future. He knew his mother and past maternal relatives had all been circus performers—“mermaids” in circus terms. However, the idea that each woman died in the water by suicide was a new revelation. To make it even creepier, every woman died on July 24th. In the midst of his genealogical quest, Simon’s estranged sister returns home. Simon believes she, too, will succumb to the curse. The book launches into a nail-biting race against time when Simon’s sanity might come into question more than once.

A great first novel with a bit of magical realism, a zany storyline, mystery, family drama, and bit of romance. Not many debut novels can achieve the denotation of “easy and fun,” but this will leave the reader entertained and pleasantly surprised.  

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde

On August 18, 1227, Genghis Khan, the Mongol leader who forged an empire stretching from the east coast of China west to the Aral Sea, died in camp during a campaign against the Chinese kingdom of Xi Xia. 
The great Khan, who was over 60 and in failing health, may have succumbed to injuries incurred during a fall from a horse in the previous year.

Try some of the following fiction books based on this legendary leader and warrior:

Treasure of Khan by Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler

Genghis Khan ruled an empire that stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea. His conquests are the stuff of legend. When Dirk Pitt is nearly killed rescuing an oil survey team, it appears a simple act of nature. When the team is abducted and Pitt's vessel nearly sunk, however, all trails lead to Mongolia, and a mysterious tycoon that harbors a dream of restoring the conquests of his ancestors.

The Mongoliad. Book One by Erick Bear ...

As the Mongols swept across Asia and were poised to invade Europe in 1241, a small band of warriors conceived a desperate plan to stop the attack. In the late 19th century a mysterious group of English martial arts enthusiasts gave Sir Richard F. Burton, expert on languages and swordsmanship, a collection of long-lost manuscripts to translate--the lost chronicles of this desperate fight to save Europe.

The Mongoliad. Book Two by Erick Bear ...  

In the aftermath of the Mongolian invasion of 1241, beleaguered Christians struggle with the presence of a violent horde and a world turned upside down. An order of warrior monks, the Shield-Brethren, refuses to yield, plotting to overthrow the invaders despite insurmountable odds.

The Mongoliad. Book Three by Neal Stephenson … 

This book includes “Seer: A Prequel to the Mongoliad”. This short story was previously available only digitally and sets up characters and events in The Mongoliad. The warrior-monks, both in the East and the West, sharpen their swords for a final battle. The Khan of Khans must be slain if Christendom is to survive. A sweeping historical interpretation of the battle for Europe against the invading Mongols and their ruthless Khan.

Genghis : Birth of an Empire by Conn Iggulden

He was born Temujin, the son of a khan and raised in a clan of hunters.  Even though his young life was shaped by a series of brutal acts, he endured.  From that moment on, he was driven by a singular passion: to survive in the face of death, to kill before being killed, and to conquer enemies who could come without warning from beyond the horizon. 

Genghis : Lords of the Bow by Conn Iggulden

Through a series of courageous raids against the Tartars, Temujin’s legend grew. Blessed with fierce courage, it was the young warrior's ability to learn, to imagine, and to judge the hearts of others that propelled him to greater and greater power. Until he was chasing an idea: to unite many tribes into one, to make the earth tremble under a thousand horses, and to bend nations to his will. 

Genghis : Bones of the Hills by Conn Iggulden

Genghis Khan, stalked by enemies seen and unseen and plagued by a divided family, leads a sprawling force of horsemen beyond the realm of their known world. He will bring a storm to Arab lands and face the armies of the shah. But as Genghis enters a strange new land of towering mountains and arid desert, he confronts an enemy greater than any he has met before.

Khan : Empire of Silver : a Novel of the Khan Empire by Conn Iggulden

The Great Khan is dead. His vast empire hangs in the balance, an empire he forged with raw courage, tactical brilliance, unswerving dedication to his people, and the force of his own indomitable will. Now the very qualities that united the fierce Mongol tribes threaten to tear them apart, as the heirs of Genghis maneuver for dominance. In the end, only one can command.

The Six Directions of Space by Alastair Reynolds

The Mongols, led by Genghis Khan, conquered Earth a thousand years ago and now rule an interstellar civilization. Yellow Dog, a spy for the current khan, is sent on a mission to a distant part of the empire where phantom star-ships have been glimpsed. Taken prisoner by the sadistic local commander, Yellow Dog discovers that the commander has collected artifacts from these phantoms, and she soon finds herself in charge of interpreting them.

The Tiger Queens : the Women of Genghis Khan by Stephanie Thornton

In the late twelfth century, across the sweeping Mongolian grasslands, brilliant, charismatic Temujin ascends to power, declaring himself Genghis Khan. But it is the women who stand beside him who ensure his triumph: Borte his queen, their fierce daughter, Alaqai, Fatima, a Persian captive, and Sorkhokhtani, a demure widow.  The tiger queens come to depend on one another as they fight, love, and sacrifice, all for the good of their family...and the greatness of their People. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

August's In the Queue

Since summer has finally hit, here are some great books to help you forget the heat!

Patriot: An Alex Hawke Novel by Ted Bell
In the murky world of counter terrorism and high-stakes intrigue the risks have never been higher. Once again Alex Hawke must save the world!

Everybody Rise by Stefanie Clifford
Bracing, hilarious and often poignant, this debut novel shows us what happens as money and class collide.

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
A lovely and imaginative fictionalized biography of Camille Pisarro's Mother, Rachel and her fire for life.

Last Words by Michael Koryta
Mark Novak's firm is asked by the primary murder suspect, Ridley Barnes, to investigate a decades old murder in Trapdoor Caverns. 

Point Blank by Fern Michaels
The sisterhood is back together and doing whatever it takes to find Lilly Wong. The odds are stacked against them, but when the sisterhood is involved you can always bet on the underdog.

Trap: A Novel by Robert Tanenbaum
Butch Karp and Marlene Ciampi get entangled  in a web of misdirection and must unravel it in time to solve a mass murder. As Butch reaches a conclusion and the case goes to trial, the ultimate showdown begins.

Starlight on Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs
A stunning tale of the delicate ties that bind a family together and the secrets that tear them apart.

New Books by Best Selling Authors
The Solomon Curse by Clive Cussler
Purity: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen
The Girl In The Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz with Stieg Larsson
The Murder House by James Patterson
Devoted In Death by J.D. Robb
Undercover: A Novel by Danielle Steel

Who Do You Love: A Novel by Jennifer Weiner

A breathtaking journey through the world of dolphins; their playfulness, sociability and intelligence seem like an aquatic mirror of mankind at its best.

This is a conversational sermon and an uplifting rally cry which proposes a framework for readers to discover their purpose and achieve their full potential.

A story of tragedy, heroism and survival as Al Roker discusses America’s deadliest natural disaster: the great gulf coast hurricane of 1900 and its impact on American history and culture.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

When We Were Animals

On the recommendation of a daily news blog, I picked up Joshua Gaylord’s newest book, When We Were Animals. I’ve had trouble putting into words exactly how I feel about this book, but given the fact it has resonated with me for months now, I feel like I can make a statement.
It was weird.

The novel’s protagonist is Lumen Fowler. The only child of a well-loved couple in her small Midwestern town where teenagers turn into raging savages every full moon. Yes, you read that correctly. For at least a year, beginning at puberty, every resident of this peculiar town “breaches, ” which,  in short, means they run wild and naked through the streets. Those not breaching lock themselves indoors and ignore the outdoor activities of the teenagers as best they can. We meet Lumen as an adult looking back on her strange childhood and even stranger adulthood. The author does a good job answering any questions you might have lingering about the why and how of the town, but the conundrum of Lumen and how she becomes a “normal” married woman and mother escaped me.

The story is very dark and not easy to forget. I was far more put off by adult Lumen than the “breaching” tradition in her hometown. The novel wrapped up by reminding the reader that none of us really know our neighbors as well as we want to believe. I don’t know if I can recommend this book, per se, but I can tell you that a dark story lurks within the pages. It wasn’t difficult to read, but it was hard to accept and a little disturbing—if that makes sense. If you’re looking for something gothic and a little off-kilter, this might just be that book. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Now Playing: Movies Based On Books

August and the upcoming months of 2015 are packed full of new movie releases and a lot of these are based on bestselling books.  The following are a list of new movies and the literature they were taken from:

A Walk in the Woods--Movie

After spending two decades in England, Bill Bryson returns to the U.S., where he decides the best way to connect with his homeland is to hike the Appalachian Trail with one of his oldest friends.

Starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Mary Steenburgen, Nick Offerman, Emma Thompson, and Kristen Schaal.
It hits theaters on September 2nd.

A 1998 book by travel writer Bill Bryson, describing his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail with his friend "Stephen Katz". The book is written in a humorous style, interspersed with the trail's history and ecology.  The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America. If you’re going to take a hike, it’s probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. 

Paulo Coelho's Best Story--Movie

A chronicle of Paulo Coelho's rise from his troubled life to become one of the most influential writers in Brazilian history.

Starring: JĂșlio Andrade, Ravel Andrade, and Fabiana Gugli.

Opened nationwide on August 7th.

Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian lyricist and novelist. The author is the all-time bestselling Portuguese language author.  At 17, Coelho's introversion and opposition to following a traditional path led to his parents committing him to a mental institution. Afterwards, at his parents' wishes, Coelho enrolled in law school. One year later, he dropped out and started living life as a hippie. Upon his return to Brazil, Coelho worked as a songwriter. Coelho also worked as an actor, journalist, and theater director.  Coelho would leave his lucrative career as a songwriter and pursue writing full-time.  These are two of his most well-known books:

The Pilgrimage (1987) is a parable that explores the need to find one's own path. It is a recollection of Paulo's experiences as he made his way across northern Spain on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

The Alchemist (1988) is an allegorical novel that follows a young Andalusian shepherd in his journey to Egypt, after having a recurring dream.  It is an international bestseller and one of the best-selling books in history.

Dark Places--Movie

A woman confronts traumatic, childhood memories of the murder of her mother and two sisters when she investigates the possibility that her brother is innocent of the crime.

Starring: Charlize Theron, Christina Hendricks, Nicholas Hoult,
Andrea Roth, and Corey Stoll.

It hit theaters on August 7th.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn--Book

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered. She survived—and testified that her brother, Ben, was the killer. 25 years later, the Kill Club locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history. As Libby searches, the unimaginable truth emerges.  The novel deals with class issues in rural America, intense poverty and the Satanic cult hysteria that swept the U.S. in the 1980s.  

The Prophet--Movie

Inspired by Kahlil Gibran's beloved spiritual classic, this animated feature film has each chapter directed by a different award-winning filmmaker.

Starring: Salma Hayek, Liam Neeson, John Krasinki, Alfred Molina, Quvenzhane' Wallis, and Frank Langella.

It hit theaters on August 7th.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran--Book

The Prophet is a book of prose essays by the Lebanese artist, philosopher and writer Kahlil Gibran. It was originally published in 1923, has been translated into over 40 languages, and has never been out of print.  
The prophet is about to board a ship which will carry him home. He is stopped by a group of people, with whom he discusses topics such as life and the human condition.

Big Stone Gap--Movie

A story centered around a transitional point in the life of Ave Maria Mulligan, the heart of her community in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia.

Starring: Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Jane Krakowski, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jenna Elfman. 

It releases to theaters on October 9th.

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani--Book

Self-proclaimed spinster Ave Maria Mulligan reaches her thirty-fifth year and resigns herself to the single life, filling her days with hard work, fun friends, and good books. 
Then, one fateful day, Ave Maria’s past opens wide with the revelation of a long-buried secret that will alter the course of her life. 
A funny book full of wit and wonder.

The Martian--Movie

When astronauts blast off from Mars, they leave behind Mark Watney, presumed dead after a fierce storm. With only a meager amount of supplies, the stranded visitor must utilize his wits and spirit to find a way to survive.

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, and Jeff Daniels.

It is scheduled for release on October 2nd.

The Martian by Andy Weir--Book

The Martian is a science fiction novel and the first published novel by American author Andy Weir. The story follows an American astronaut, Mark Watney, as he becomes stranded alone on Mars and must improvise in order to survive on the brutal planet. 

You decide if the movies are better than the books!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve probably heard the news about the publication of a “new” novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, and while it has gone on to become one of the most beloved books in American literature, Lee never had another book published—until now, that is. Go Set a Watchman hit the bookshelves and the bestsellers lists last month, generating lots of controversy in the process (did Lee truly give her consent to have it published, for example). Go Set a Watchman is not Harper Lee’s second novel, it’s actually her first. After submitting it to her agent, Maurice Crain, who in turn submitted a revised version to publishing company J. B. Lippincott, it was rewritten numerous times until three years later, To Kill a Mockingbird was the result. One might say that Go Set a Watchman gave birth to To Kill a Mockingbird, as pieces of it (the anecdotes involving the narrator’s childhood in the fictional town of Maycomb) were extracted and expanded into the novel we know and love today.

That said, you may have heard that Go Set a Watchman is a sequel of sorts. Indeed, the narrative takes place twenty years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, but it’s certainly not a “Further Adventures of Scout and the Gang” follow-up. If that’s what you’re expecting or what you’ve been led to believe, forget it. Scout’s all grown up now (call her Jean Louise, thank you) and living in New York, but her homecoming to Maycomb quickly falls apart when she begins to see her hometown—and her beloved father, Atticus—not through the idyllic lens of childhood but with the critical eyes of an adult. Needless to say, she doesn’t like what she sees. Some of the citizens of Maycomb (Atticus included, it seems) appear to be mobilizing for war against an invasion of “outside agitators” (namely the government and the NAACP) and their progressive agenda (desegregation, equal voting rights, etc.), and in Jean’s eyes, they are standing on the wrong side of history. This, of course, puts her directly at odds with Atticus, the one person she felt she could always count on to do and say the right things, culminating in a fierce confrontation between the two.

But I’m sure what you’re really wondering is this: is Go Set a Watchman worth reading? I believe it is. In fact, I really enjoyed it. Reading it just underscored to me what an incredibly gifted writer Harper Lee is (or was, given her lack of output over the years). Some will say that because it’s a first draft, it’s more of an academic curiosity and not worth the general reading public’s time. I disagree. Could it use a bit more polish in places? Sure, but I would argue that a first draft from Harper Lee is in many ways far better than the final drafts I’ve read from some of today’s writers. Others might say that if you loved To Kill a Mockingbird, you’ll hate Go Set a Watchman. Maybe, but I suppose that’s more a matter of personal taste. It’s not a breezy summer read. Given the milieu of the book and the issues it debates, some of the passages may make you cringe a bit, so you should certainly keep this in mind. I will also say that, having read it, I understand why Lee’s original editors really zeroed in on those passages dealing with Jean Louise's childhood, for it’s in those recollections that the story truly shines. 

Ultimately, the choice to read Go Set a Watchman—or not—is up to you, but I think you’d be missing out on something truly special if you decide to pass it by. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol

Short stories are a fascinating aspect of literature. The author has such a short time to introduce and develop characters and their world. A good short is well crafted and honed and can be incredibly poignant. Collected shorts add another layer of difficulty if the author or editor is trying to have an overarching theme. Come collections are easily done by picking a common subject, but a well done collection will have variety in the individual stories, but have a solid, continuous topic throughout the stories that is just as moving as the individual stories. Molly Anotopol’s UnAmericans is a solid collection that does this very thing.

Antopol’s stories are set in a variety of locations around the world, including America. The linking elements are the characters and how they address their own sense of alienation and discord. The majority of the characters have Eastern European heritage and/or are Jewish. They all experience estrangement from their faith, their ideologies, their friends, their family, their homes. Each of the characters is flawed in their alienation, but Antopol crafts each of characters with a persuasive level of detail and complexity that makes them seem real and lends credence to the stories.

While not every story will ring with every reader, everyone is bound to find something compelling in this collection. I would definitely recommend this for any fans of short stories and of flawed characters.