Books on the Horizon — An Update

With 2009 halfway done, an update appeared in order for readers to report what we can expect to see for the rest of this year and, perhaps, even into the next. A previous post examined a few books slated for publication, and some have come to the bookshelves, and there is promise of other tantilizing goodies in the future.

Alas, other promised gifts have not yet arrived. A couple I watched with great anticipation have not yet seen the light:
  • Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, originally slated for August — and now projected by the author for late December. Carole and I agree this messes up not only her birthday, but mine as well, not to mention Christmas. However, whatever day this book is released will serve as a lovely holiday, and we hope the author comes to our neighborhood for a reading, as he did when his last book was published.
  • Ape House by Sara Gruen, originally slated for April, is not even dated on her Web site or on booksellers' Web sites.

However, Borders caught up with Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian, one of the most original books I've read in ages. The interview is posted on Facebook, which I hope non-FBers can watch. If not, the tantilizing bit of information I gleaned was the release of her new book: The Swan Thieves, "a mystery rooted in the history of French impressionism." The book will be published January 2010. I can't wait.

In the meantime, I'll re-read her debut novel that caught readers by total surprise, a book she started in the MFA program at the University of Michigan. Also, I'll read this interview by Powell's Books in Portland, Ore. And this panel discussion in which she particiated in Ann Arbor, Mich.


Say What?

"I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book's autograph."
-- Kanye West, son of former English professor, from the Washington Post

This is beyond absurd. I just needed to say that out loud. Thank you.


Giant — Review by Chris

When I realized the movie "Giant" was based a book, and Edna Ferber was an author Carole had read and whose work she had enjoyed, I figured I'd find out if the book really is always being better.

It isn't.

Giant wasn't bad, but it wasn't good.

First of all, the book was not as grand and sweeping a tale as the movie — a full three-quarters of the book was set during the first six months Leslie, the new bride from Virginia, was in Texas. The rest of the book coasted along for the next two decades, then petered out. The saga started at the end, which I liked, but nowhere in the rest of the book was the opening scene set up or resolved. We get a few years down the road by the end of the book, but it's a short trip and not in the least bit exciting.

The characters were caricatures. Leslie's best friends were Texans with a capital "Tex" who were gauche and loud and selfish and Texas-centric. Bick's sister Luz was a joke, and she was supposed to be this immovable force who was more legend than real in the book. I couldn't help but see Leslie as Elizabeth Taylor and Bick as Rock Hudson as I read, and the book did them no justice. They weren't interesting or evolving or romantic. They were boring. Even Jett Rink was a snooze-fest, with a tepid love for Leslie, a limp hate of Bick and a alcoholism that wasn't tragic nor self-destructive.

Texas was a non-character. Texas, this bigger than life, sprawling state that is too big to know and too personal to not love, was not really there. Bick's beloved ranch was a minor footnote. His cattle, though, were there, sulking in the background, waiting their due.

There was lots of talk, talk, talk and yet no one really says anything. Everyone and everything skated across the top. Terrible conditions for Mexicans? Leslie hates it but that's only because she says so; there's no evidence that she feels that way. The next generation stirs up a lot of doscontent, with Jordy not wanting his father's life and Luz wanting into the businesses and Vashti's twins being spoiled brats, but we hear about it in passing, like it's background music we're supposed to vaguely recognize but not notice. Even Bick's future medical condition was glossed over, distractedly patted like a spoiled child you want to leave the room. No matter how serious things got, people didn't do more than have polite cocktail party conversation — except once, and that in the second-to-last chapter.

Gramatically, Ferber loved run-on sentences with stacks of verbs and adjectives. When three would do, she used them all without punctuation. It was distracting annoying ungrammatical incorrect. She should stop desist alter her rhythm choose a different tactic. Kind of like that, only really annoying.

So, my recommendation is to watch the movie and appreciate what Ferber brought to the party, but don't waste your time on the book.


Summer Reading — by Chris

With Memorial Day right around the corner, beach and cabin season is nearly upon us. Have you lined up your summer reading? I've given it some thought myself, and I came up with a few books I wouldn't mind finishing before school starts again.

Some are pure Fluff 'n Trashwhile others might have a tad more literary "value." I won't worry myself about all that because — well, it's summer, and it's a time for the kind of reading that makes the days disappear.

  • Giant by Edna Ferber. I have to get this classic under my belt. Carole loved Ferber's Pulitzer Prize-winner So Big, so I'd like to give this one a chance. Of course, after reading about the Benedicts, I can pick up the movie and watch it one rainy afternoon. (It's summer, so there will be at least one rainy afternoon!)
  • Darcy and Elizabeth by Linda Bertoll. It might be a little steamy for hot weather, but I'll try to brave it as best I can.
  • Almost a Crime by Penny Vincenzi. This one will come at the end of the summer, when I deserve a huge treat. There are few reads more tantalizing, scandalous and titillating as hers, and they're always a rolicking good time.
  • Rebecca by Daphne DuMarier. Gothic and suspenseful, why not?
  • Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. It holds up half a century later, so a glimpse into another town too much like our own will be a delight.
  • The Great Stink by Clare Clark. I enjoyed the subterranian world of Drood, and I have found Clare Clark a gifted writer. Good combination, if I do say so myself.
  • Dark Angels by Karleen Koen. Karen loaned me this book nearly a year ago, and I've been eyeing it with great interest. Summer is a great excuse to read about 18th century Europe and its royalty. Maybe it will turn me toward....
  • The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory. Go ahead, twist my arm to send me back to Tudor England. It takes nothing to send me to the court of King Henry VIII or his progeny.
  • Prague by Arthur Phillips. Apparently this "stunningly brilliant" novel takes place in Budapest. Maybe I should find out why.
  • A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire. This would give me an excuse to re-read Wicked, one of my favorite novels of all time.
I think I'll have enough until Jasp — wait a hot second, the publication of Jasper Fforde's novel Shades of Grey has been postponed until January 2010! And Sara Gruen's upcoming novel Ape House isn't even on the calendar yet. Well, at least there are a few books queued up to keep us entertained while we await the arrival of these two juicy morsels.

What are you hoping to read this summer?


The Dilemma — Review by Chris

Penny Vincenzi writes a sizzling read, full of split-second timing, lost chances, second chances, surprises, miracles and old-fashioned bumbling that keeps readers on the edges of their seats.

The Dilemma is no exception.

It is her debut novel, and it shows signs of where she will take us with The Lytton Trilogy and Sheer Abandon. It's not my favorite, but it still is a superior novel (even if it should have been more judiciously edited).

I wanted to like it more — but I had a problem with Francesca, whom I found shrill, immature, spoiled and unable to handle life. I had no sympathy for her and thought her unlikeable. I also found it completely out of character: a woman who can successfully run a PR office can't handle her own personal life and some of the difficulties that come along with it. She hates secrets, but she has her own — and she gets mad at her husband and mother when they have their own secrets.

Having said that, Francesca was perfect for this story.

Francesca is an independent woman who, in a way that is completely a mystery to her, becomes a woman of leisure and mother of two — plus stepmother to four others of varying ages (including one contemporary). Her very wealthy husband Bard is much older than she (and I keep picturing him as Asa Buchanan from the daytime drama series "One Life to Live.")

Asa — I mean Bard — has issues of his own. He's a very important, busy business tycoon who plays everything very close to the chest. He doesn't get along with any of his children once they get to an age where they can't be "handled." He barely gets along with his partner, and he certainly doesn't get along with his partner's wife. He has asked (if one can portray his "request" as such) Francesca to not have a career of her own. He needs her to manage his home life and to be available for him. It's a sacrifice Vincenzi's characters make over and over, and it is always fraught with peril.

The prologue of The Dilemma finds Bard asking Francesca to give him an alibi for a particular day. The story then drops back to a few years before the fateful question, so we can see how the story progresses.

Vincenzi weaves multiple storylines with a wide array of characters, and all are fascinating and integral to the story. There's Liam, the eldest son from Isambard's marriage to his first, and most beloved, wife; then there's Kirsten, the eldest daughter from his second, very unsuccessful marriage. Bard's mother Jess is the only one who can speak frankly and be heard by her son.

We also meet a few "outsiders" to the Channing clan who have insider's views of the family: Oliver, son of Bard's late partner and excruciatingly decent; and Gray, a finance reporter who has no intention of covering Channing's company until the whiff of a great story lures him into the fray.

The long and winding road that leads us to the end of the story is worth the trip. Pick up a copy of The Dilemma and enjoy the scandal and intrigue that only Penny Vincenzi can create.


If My Desk Could Talk...

Our blog usually focuses on our reading experiences, and this story is about where and how I write, but since I write about reading, I think it counts.

I have been on a quest for a tiny writing desk to fit this little niche I have in my living room. The family computer is almost always in use by someone else when I'm ready to blog, so I've really been looking forward to the day when I had a space of my own.

At the end of last year, I find the perfect writing table. Fortified with some Christmas bonus money, I order the piece. I'm told that I'll have it in 6-8 weeks. I finally receive the call that the piece is available for me to pick up on Mother's Day (22 weeks, but who's counting, right?).

So after a lovely Mother's Day brunch, my husband and I drive to a Maryland warehouse where we're met by two Russian guys who have the desk. The whole thing seemed like a scene out of a movie, but I didn't care. There, on the loading dock, was MY desk, in all its inspirational loveliness. I checked it all over, the guys loaded it into its box, they put it into the back of my husband's truck, we lash it down behind the cab, and we drive off.

After a week of steady rain, we enjoy cruising along in the beautiful sunshine. We chat about how easy this all has been and how great the desk is going to look in its spot. As we approach Virginia, we drive on to the Wilson Bridge going about 65 mph, and my husband starts yelling, "No! No! No!"

The wind catches the truck from the side and whips the box out of the truck, it lifts a few feet in the air and blows down the road, lands on the bridge, and proceeds to roll several feet before landing half on the shoulder, half on the road. Somehow the box doesn't hit any cars nor is it hit by anything--everyone just swerves around it.

In no time my husband pulls over and is running down the shoulder to get the box. I sit there horrified by the possibility that he'll be hit by a car and by the certainty that the desk is now a pile of matchsticks inside the box. I see him struggling to carry this clumsy box, so I jump out and help him get it into the truck.

We lash it down again and drive away. We pass the rest of the ride in silence, the only sound my occasional sniffle. I wipe away furtive tears each time I think of what has happened.

When we get home, I head for the house, call my son, and tell him that he needs to help his father. I cannot bear to even look at the damage. A few minutes later I peek out the window and see the battered empty box at the curb. Then I hear them coming up the stairs.

They are carrying my desk, and it's in perfect condition! There isn't a scratch on it--there isn't a wobbly leg--there isn't a cracked drawer--there isn't any loose hardware. It's perfect--even lovelier than when I fell for it in the store.

Despite its very treacherous journey to our home, here it is in its rightful place, where I hope it will live for many, many years. And see, it has inspired my writing already.