Category Archives: Staff Pick

The Postmortal – Drew Magary

Recently I finished a great book, The Postmortal by Drew Magary. In this story the wish of never having to grow old and die is granted when a scientist trying to find the genetic code of redheads so that they can have different colored hair, accidentally discovered the death-gene, which is the gene that causes aging. Part of this accident is that he also discovers how to turn off the gene with the help of a bioengineered virus. What happens next is what could happen if people did not have to worry about growing old and dying.

Divorce rates sky rocket with the idea that until death parts us suddenly suddenly seems like too much to ask; teenagers stop thinking about going to college and starting a career with the idea that they have forever and a day to think about it; and people travel to Las Vegas, which of course has created a whole marketing scheme in creating the fountain of youth weekend getaway complete with a holy grail cup from which to drink alcohol.

 

But the reality is that people aren’t built to live forever. Bad memories pile up; boredom settles in as people grow tired of going out with their forever-twenty-some friends every weekend for 40 years; then some people wish for a death that will not find them. As you can imagine there are other problems that come with a world whose population never dies and continues to grow to 20 billion people. Yes, the heros never die, but the villains live forever.

Towards the end of the book I had a sudden reminder of George Orwell’s 1984. Like 1984 and other dystopian novels this book demonstrates how a world built to give everything to everyone ultimately betters the lives of a few while destroying the lives of many.

It is a highly entertaining book and written in a way that works in the generation of the blog looking to the new future with smart phones and battery operated cars. What is also fun is that this is the first dystopian novel that I am away of that takes place in and around Maryland. If this ever comes true I am staying away from Bowie.

If you want to read more about this book click here. Also check out this article written by Magary about which athlete he would wish never retired from old age.

Tells us what your favorite dystopian books are. Any of these top 12?

Happy reading

The Night Circus

Just before Halloween, I listened to a podcast of an episode of the Diane Rehm. On the show an author named Erin Morgenstern was talking about her first published book, The Night Circus. For me, whenever I hear the words ‘night’ or ‘circus’ my ears prick up to engage my interest.

It was a great interview, which you can listen to here, and so far it is a great book. The story is very different in both the tale and how it is written. It is, for lack of a better term, full of magic and wonder. For anyone who has enjoyed reading books like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell; Something Wicked This Way Comes; or The Graveyard Book, this is a book for you.

It is a young adult book, but it is one that adults can also enjoy, same as the stories mentioned above.

For more on this book here is an article from the Washington Post and one from the New York Times.

And if you are like me and want to read the book before watching the film, this book will soon be a movie. More about that here.

Happy Reading,

ORB

The Fang and the Endeavor

A while ago I posted an article about some new and exciting books that I learned about at the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA). Article here. This is what I thought of two of the books.

The Family Fang; by Kevin Wilson

 

This book was different, in a great and touching way. The story of a strange family of artists and the two children, Annie and Buster, who rebel against their parents and their parents strange art. This strange art is a more artistic version of what you might see on the shows, and movies, of the group known as Jackass. (Bare with me.) But, instead of having a thirty-year old man dress up as a ninety-year old man and pretend to give his pretend grandson liquor in public and recording how bystanders react; the parents, Caleb and Camille, have fake marriage proposals on airplane flights and hand out fake couples for a free chicken sandwich. They believe that real art is in the reaction of the people whom have no clue as to what is going on. Some of it is funny, and some of it is painful. But how does this weird art affect a family and the children who end up in the art a Child A and Child B? What happens with the children when they grow up and suddenly their parents disappear? Is it an act?

The story is very clever and well written. The characters are fun as well as deeply flawed. I would recommend this story to anyone who likes a good embarrassing laugh.

 

This Dark Endeavor; by Kenneth Oppel

I love Frankenstein and this book did not disappoint. Like the book Finn by Jon Clinch, I felt that this book not only stayed loyal to the original story, but it added to the world of the original. Victor Frankenstein is a strange man and though I never thought about it before, when I first heard about this book I did wonder about what kind of childhood a person like that would have.

It was an itched that needed scratching and Oppel made a great story that is fun for many ages or readers. Yes, it is a young adult novel, but it is fun to read as an adult who can see the hints of what is to come in the future of the tragic boy’s life.

What makes the book fun with interest is the balance of magic and science, the very balance that Frankenstein tries to walks and untilamtely fails.

Happy Reading

 

 

 

The Invention of Hugh Cabret

Several weeks ago while ordering a book from my local library I met a good friend of mine who asked me what I had been reading lately. It was such a natural question and conversation for a library. Though I forget what my answer to him was I do remember this. He asked me if I had ever read a book titled The Invention of Hugo Cabret. (Hint for the link, you do not need a key.) I had not so we did what anyone would do. We looked it up and learned that the library’s copy was checked out. So I asked to have it put on hold upon its return. Then last week it came in. The timing was perfect since I was just about to finished another book.

I began reading the book on a lovely late afternoon that I think was a Wednesday and by Thursday night, the story was told and the ending was over. It is a wonderful read and unlike any other book I have ever read. Though it is not considered a graphic novel, it does incorporate the use of pictures and drawing by the writer, Brian Selznick. When I began turning the pages the pictures introduce me to the story of a boy living in the train station in Paris during the silent film era. Throughout the story the pictures are used in a wonderful way that at first gave me the feeling of something familiar.

It was not until I read about the author that I learned he was influenced by silent films and wanted to use that affect in this story. He executed his trick with wonderful talent. I would recommend this book as a great read for the coming cooler months. It is gracefully told.

After finishing the book I was told that Brian Selznick’s next book, Wonder Struck had just been published. Told in the same fashion as Hugo Cabret, I hope the story is as magical.

If you have read either of these books or anything else by Brian Selznick, please tell us your story.

Happy Reading,

ORB

Staff Pick

Montana 1948
by: Larry Watson

A stark tragedy unfolds in Watson’s taut, memorable novel, the winner of the publisher’s National Fiction Prize. During the summer of 1948, a solid, middle-class family in a small Montana town is wrenched apart by scandal, murder and suicide. Narrator David Hayden tells the story as an adult looking back at the traumatic events that scarred yet matured him when he was 12. His pious Lutheran mother informs his father, Wesley, the county sheriff, that David’s uncle Frank, a doctor, has been molesting and raping Native American girls during routine medical exams. Uncle Frank’s latest victim is Marie Little Soldier, the Haydens’ Sioux housekeeper. When Marie dies, presumably of pneumonia, David provides key evidence that implicates his uncle in her murder. Frank is arrested by his brother, who locks the confessed sexual abuser in the basement to save him from the embarrassment of jail. David confronts his uncle’s racism and the evasions and denials his family has constructed to cover up the affair. In crisp, restrained prose, Watson ( In a Dark Time ) indelibly portrays the moral dilemma of a family torn between justice and loyalty; by implication, he also illuminates some dark corners of our national history.

~ Publishers Weekly

Staff Pick

The Last Train to Paradise
by: Les Standiford

A good idea—to have a novelist tell the story of Henry Morrison Flagler, the 19th-century mogul credited with developing Florida as a vacation paradise—goes sadly astray here. Readers hoping to learn about the man will be disappointed, as will those looking for a good yarn about the engineering marvel that is this tale’s centerpiece—Flagler’s creation, in the early 20th century, of a rail line that traversed 153 miles of open ocean to link mainland Florida with Key West. The narrative bumps along, frequently veering off into tantalizing detours that lead nowhere. Standiford presents pages about the power of hurricanes to destroy property and savage the human body, an emphasis that is the book’s undoing: readers are led to believe that storm damage in 1935 was the sole reason for the railroad’s abandonment. This prompts Standiford to argue that Flagler’s undertaking was a “folly” from the start, as his contemporaries claimed, and that his story constitutes a classic “tragedy.” In fact, the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) was undone as much, if not more, by a force Standiford never mentions: the internal combustion engine. After the hurricane of 1935, investors and the government considered rebuilding the FEC, but decided instead on a highway. The book’s conclusion references Shelley’s cautionary poem “Ozymandias,” a gloss on the impermanence of man’s works. The warning might apply to this unsatisfying book. 8 pages of b&w photos.

~Publishers Weekly

Staff Pick

Huntin for Hope
by: Scott Russell Sanders

In these wise and luminous essays, Sanders takes on big themes: living a centered life, our relation to animals and to nature, the survival of human values in our greed-driven commercial culture. The leitmotif is his not-quite-extinguished hope for a livable, sane world offering people a decent future–a hope he nurtures despite the ecological devastation, family breakdown and moral decay he sees. Notable among these 15 adventurous essays are “”Skill,”” a meditation on the life-enhancing use or the misuse of one’s innate talents; “”The Way of Things,”” an attempt to reconcile modern cosmology with ancient beliefs in a divine creator; “”Body Bright,”” a Blakean call for cleansing the doors of perception, reconnecting with the planet and our fellow creatures; and “”Fidelity,”” which explores marriage as an arena for the fulfillment of desire. The thread through this labyrinth of ideas is Sanders’s account of backpacking in the Colorado Rockies with his son whose optimism tempers the fatherly pessimism. Although these beautifully written pieces are reminiscent of Wendell Berry’s essays in their economy, grace and moral passion, Sanders projects his own distinctive voice, at once recognizably Midwestern (he’s from Indiana by way of Ohio) and universal. Editor, Deanne Urmy; agent, John Wright.

What the Staff is Reading

The Last Werewolf
by: Glen Duncan

I first heard about this book about a month ago and liked the idea of the story immensely.  Then I saw the book and fell in love with the jacket and the red edging on the pages. Now, I am about half way through and ready for more of this sad strange story. As the title suggests this is a story about the last werewolf. His name is Jacob Marlowe and he has been a werewolf since the mid-nineteenth century. The story begins when he learns that he is the last werewolf and that an organization of werewolf hunters are close on his heals.

What I like most about this story is that Jacob is not entirely a good person. He kills and eats people, but I want to know more.

Please share your thoughts about this story or any others like this and I’ll return when I have finished it. If you want to know more about the story, here is an excerpt. If you are into book trailers check this out.

Happy Reading,

ORB

Staff Pick: The Well of Lost Plots

In this delicious sequel to The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book , Fforde’s redoubtable (and now throwing-up-pregnant) heroine Thursday Next once again does battle with philistine bibliophobes, taking a furlough from her duties as a SpecOps Literary Detective to vacation in the Well of Lost Plots, the 26 noisome sub-basements of the Great Library. Pursued by her memory-modifying nemesis Aornis Hades, Thursday joins Jurisfiction’s Character Exchange Program, filling in for “Mary,” sidekick to the world-weary detective hero of Caversham Heights , a hilariously awful police procedural. At the imminent launch of UltraWord, the vaunted “Last Word” in Story Operating Systems, Thursday’s friend and mentor Miss Havisham is gruesomely killed, and Thursday gamely sets out to restore order to her underground world, where technophiles ruthlessly recycle unpublished books and sell plot devices and stock characters on the black market. Meanwhile, Aornis is doing her fiendish worst to make Thursday forget Landen, her missing husband and father of her child. If this all sounds a bit confusing, it is—until the reader gets the hang of Fforde’s intricate mix of parody, social satire and sheer gut-busting fantasy. Marvelous creations like syntax-slaughtering grammasites and the murderous Minotaur roam this unusual novel’s pages, and Fforde’s fictional epigraphs, like his minihistory of “book operating systems,” are worth the cover price in themselves. Fforde’s sidesplitting sendup of an increasingly antibookish society is a sheer joy.

Staff Pick: Little Jordan

A 13-year-old girl’s summer of self-discovery in a rural Southern town unfolds in impressively graceful prose in this poignant first novel. Meg’s summer begins traumatically when she stumbles upon a dead three-year-old girl along the banks of the Little Jordan River. Isidore, the missing infant’s grief-crazed, pregnant mother, attempts suicide; but she later recovers, and Meg helps deliver her next child. The usual rites of adolescence materialize when Meg develops a crush on a neighboring farmboy, who gives Meg her first kiss. Combining lyricism with uncompromising realism, Youmans conjures Meg’s churn of emotions as she copes with her mother, whose latest lover is a cruel, shifty jerk, and with her absentee father, a drunk who abandoned the family for another woman and ran off to teach English in Mexico. Although Youmans-whose work has appeared in Ploughshares, the Little Magazine and other small magazines-doesn’t develop her characters or situations fully, her sensitive portrayal of a girl wise beyond her years, struggling to grow up as she negotiates grim realities, makes this a fine novella.

Staff Pick: Burden of Desire

MacNeil, co-anchor of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS-TV, has always seemed an earnest, traditional sort, and that’s the kind of first novel he has written. It is also, however, warm-hearted, has a thoroughly original background and setting, and offers an offbeat romantic triangle focusing on an unusually appealing heroine. The story begins with a bang–literally, as a munitions ship blows up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1917 in what will be the biggest, most destructive man-made explosion until the atomic bomb. Picking up the pieces in the well-evoked ruined city are young parson Peter Wentworth, an ambitious man in an unhappy marriage, and Stewart MacPherson, a psychiatrist just beginning to treat shell-shocked returning soldiers. The two read a diary accidentally lost in the wreckage, belonging to Julia Robertson, a young, unconventional woman whose beauty and self-acknowledged sensuality ensnares each of them in turn. Such narrative suspense as MacNeil provides involves which man she will choose after her husband dies a hero’s death at the front. But this leisurely, rather creakily plotted novel does not strive for suspense; it is a portrait of a narrow provincial society in its first stirrings of doubt regarding many previously fixed notions: patriotism, religion, cowardice, honor. As such, it brings Halifax and its anguish sensitively to life, and in Julia Robertson creates the kind of woman who will always set men dreaming.