Blogging for a Good Book
The millennial generation knows Anderson Cooper as a CNN news anchor. Their baby boomer parents know that Cooper’s mother is Gloria Vanderbilt and that she was a famous fashion designer in the 1970s. But the parents of the baby boomers knew Gloria before she was the queen of designer jeans. This older generation will remember her as little Gloria, the poor-little- rich-girl pawn in a scandalous celebrity custody trial, a trial that is scrupulously detailed in the entertaining, true-life social history, Little Gloria…Happy at Last, by Barbara Goldsmith.
Little Gloria’s father was Reginald Vanderbilt, an alcoholic, playboy wastrel, and her mother was the beautiful “Glorious” Gloria Morgan. Gloria and her twin sister Thelma, who was the mistress of the Prince of Wales, were known in the society columns of the 1920s as “the Magnificent Morgans.” Raised to be “a prize for a rich, socially impeccable man” by her overbearing mother Laura, Gloria married the much older Reggie but soon discovered that he had gambled away his inheritance and was living on credit. When little Gloria came along in 1924, a Vanderbilt trust fund was established for her. Upon Reggie’s death in 1925, big Gloria was given access to that trust fund until her daughter came of age and used it to live large on two continents as a scintillating member of cafe society.
Poor little Gloria was left in the care of her doting but neurotic nurse Dodo and crazy, controlling grandma Laura. Concerned about little Gloria’s well being (and her inheritance) Laura and Dodo sought out Reggie’s sister, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and intimated that big Gloria was leading an immoral life that was harming her child. This set the stage for an epic custody trial that was played out in all its tawdry glory before the tabloid press.
The cast of characters is eclectic and eccentric. Although the tale itself is gossipy fun with details about the glamorous lifestyles of the rich and famous, courtroom histrionics and dramatic denouements, ultimately the story is quite sad. At the heart of it is a frightened child surrounded by selfish or indifferent adults who just didn’t understand or were incapable of giving her the love and emotional support that she needed.
The fact that little Gloria Vanderbilt was able to overcome her problematic childhood and become an artist, actress, writer and the socialite wife of men such as conductor Leopold Stokowski and director Sidney Lumet is a testament to her remarkable resilience. Well researched and clearly written, this book is an enjoyable read for anyone interested in social history or courtroom tales.
Check the WRL catalog for Little Gloria… Happy at Last
It’s “Lost in the Stacks” week, and Bud is back with another post:
“Poppa, have you got any idea how a man took to jazz in the early days? Do you know how he spent years watching the droopy chicks in cathouses, listening to his cellmates moaning low behind the bars, digging the riffs the wheels were knocking out when he rode the rods – and then all of a sudden picked up a horn and began to tell the whole story in music? I’m going to explain that.”
So says Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow in the opening chapter of his strange but fascinating autobiography, Really the Blues. Mezzrow, a white Jewish kid, was born in 1899. A wild child from the beginning, he landed in reform school at the age of 15 where he discovered and became completely enamored of black culture in general and New Orleans jazz in particular. He learned how to play the clarinet and immersed himself in the jazz world of the 1920s, a world that, for him, revolved around three big Ms – musicians, mobsters and marijuana. As the story unfolds we learn a lot about all three.
Really the Blues will appeal to music lovers because Mezzrow knew just about every famous jazz artist of the period. He jammed with Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Bessie Smith, Joe Oliver, Baby Dodds, Gene Krupa and many others. His unadulterated portraits of these talented people and their colorful milieu are fascinating.
The Mob also played a prominent role in Mezz’s life. He worked in some of Al Capone’s road houses, was turned onto opium by a member of Detroit’s vicious Purple Gang, and had Dutch Schulz try to muscle in on his marijuana distribution business.
And, yes, there is marijuana, lots of, as it was referred to in the ‘20s, muta, tea, reefer or muggles (the word pre-dates Harry Potter). In fact, Mezzrow was such a heavy user (a viper) and dealer that in his circle of acquaintances it became known by another slang term–the mezz–and was referenced as such in the song, “If You’re a Viper” by Stuff Smith. The book contains gritty descriptions of the joys and subsequent lows of drug addiction. His four-year stint as an opium addict is particularly grim.
The stories are great, whether or not they’re all true is questionable, but what makes this book distinctive is the style in which it’s written. As you can tell by the paragraph quoted above, the prose tends to flow like musical cadences and is rife with jazzy slang. This can make for disconcerting reading at first but it soon seems natural and appropriate to the author and what he’s describing. If you have difficulty with the slang, the back pages contain a helpful glossary.
This is not a book for everyone. It’s a strange, often lurid tale, told in a distinctly unusual manner by an arch iconoclast. If you’re looking for something warm and fuzzy this ain’t it. But if you have an interest in the history of music or the Chicago underworld or are just in the mood for something really unusual then give Really the Blues a try. It’s a book you won’t forget.
Check the WRL catalog for Really the Blues
On the night of August 13, 1967 two young women, Julie Helgeson and Michele Koons, were killed by grizzly bears in Glacier National Park, Montana. The girls were not mauled by the same bear; the attacks took place in separate areas of the park miles away from each other. The story of this unprecedented incident ( it was the first time in Glacier’s history that anyone had died by bear attack) is related in the terrific, nonfiction book, Night of the Grizzlies by Jack Olsen.
The story starts in the early summer months of 1967 with a series of unsettling run-ins between bears and campers. One grizzly in particular was behaving aggressively towards people, and the bears in general seemed to be losing their fear of humans. The Park Service was not overly concerned with the situation because, after all, no one had ever been killed by a bear in Glacier National Park. In fact, they inadvertently increased the interaction between people and animals by not incinerating all of the garbage that accumulated around the camp sites. At night the bears came to feed off the trash and the campers loved to watch them. Unfortunately, this complacency would lead to disaster on that hot night in August. The attacks and subsequent hunt for the man-eaters are related in fast-paced, gripping detail.
The story itself is compelling and the author, Jack Olsen, who primarily wrote about true-crime, has a knack for pacing and suspense. The tension just builds and builds to the point where (yes, I’m going to use the old cliché) you can’t put the book down. It’s a thrilling read. The attacks are described in all their gruesome detail but the gore is not emphasized. In fact, you come away with a sense of sadness and compassion for both man and animal.
In addition, to the book, the WRL also has a documentary about the bear attacks entitled, Glacier Park’s Night of the Grizzlies created by the Montana PBS. It’s an interesting follow-up to the book because you get to hear from many of the people involved in the incident and see the actual locations. Particularly poignant are the Polaroid snapshots taken of the girls the day they died. Both book and documentary are highly recommended with a caveat. If you read it before going on a camping trip in the woods, you’re not going to sleep well.
NOTE: This story was originally published as a three part article for Sports Illustrated in 1969. When it was redrafted as a book a 37 page prologue was added that details the history of Glacier National Park and provides some natural history information about Grizzly bears. It’s interesting but not required reading. Starting with Chapter One will get you right into the story.
Check the WRL catalog for Night of the Grizzlies
Picture this scene:
A beautiful young woman sits in her boudoir. Married that morning, she anxiously awaits her new husband. In he comes and makes the following statement, “There are some things I must say to you, and it is better that I should say them now at the very beginning so that there can be no misunderstanding between us.” “In public I shall be to you everything that a most devoted husband should be to his wife… I will give you courtesy, respect and apparently devotion. But you must expect nothing more from me. When we are alone I do not intend to keep up the miserable pretense, the farce of love and sentiment. Our marriage will never be a marriage in anything but name. I do not love you, I can never love you …The less we see of one another except in the presence of others the better.” The shocked girl asks him why he married her? With a bitter laugh he replies, “Since you force me to do so I must tell you the unflattering truth that your money is your only asset in my eyes.”
Although this sounds like something from a hackneyed romance novel, it’s not. This really happened to Elizabeth Drexel Lehr, and the story of her life with Harry Lehr, the gold digging cad that she was unfortunate enough to marry, is recounted in the rather astonishing autobiography, King Lehr and the Gilded Age, by Lady Decies (formerly Elizabeth Drexel Lehr).
Elizabeth was a child of wealth and grew up happy and comfortable in late 19th century New York City. Harry Lehr was also born into money, but when his father died he was left penniless, embittered and determined to make his way back into the privileged world of the wealthy. His plan was twofold, first he ingratiated himself to society matrons by being ever so engaging, witty and fun. He survived on their largesse and kickbacks from suppliers whose goods he encouraged his benefactors to purchase. Secondly, he kept an eye out for a wealthy and pliable heiress to marry. Poor Elizabeth was gullible enough to fall for his smarmy charms.
What may be surprising to modern readers is that she didn’t divorce Harry the day after the shocking wedding night declaration. Fear of shaming her mother and alienating herself from her society friends kept her bound to Lehr for decades despite the fact that he emotionally abused her and lavishly indulged all his whims with her money.
The narrative follows their unhappy life together as they travel amongst the rich and powerful in the U.S. and Europe during the early years of the 20th century. We get a decidedly jaundiced view of the American “Downton Abbey” crowd, although many of the grandees mentioned will probably be unknown to people nowadays.
Elizabeth’s story is an interesting expose of a lost world and its dubious mores and manners. The book was considered quite shocking when it was originally published in 1938. It’s an engrossing page-turner for people who enjoy social history, women’s lives or scandal among the rich and famous.
NOTE: There’s a famous photo of Lady Decies taken by Weegee. Here you see Elizabeth going to the opera in 1943. The image makes a startling contrast to the beautiful painted portrait of her on the cover of the book.
Check the WRL catalog for “King Lehr” and the Gilded Age
So a businessman and his son go into a downtown Miami hotel suite to meet with a potential client who might help boost their meager income. Instead, a man with whom they have a dispute steps out, shoots the father in the knee, drags the son up some stairs, then shoots him execution-style. The father escapes, gets out the door, and bangs on the door across the hall, leaving blood in the hall, but the import-export businessman in that room doesn’t hear a thing, including the shots that then kill the father. Neville Butler, who has been held hostage in the room since before the father and son arrived, is then released.
Following Butler’s call to the police, British businessman Krishna Maharaj is detained. After waiving his Miranda rights, he makes inconsistent statements to the investigators, who hold him long enough to discover that his fingerprints are in the hotel room, and Maharaj is arrested and charged with first-degree murder for the executions of Dwight and Duane Moo Young, former associates and now rivals for Maharaj’s Caribbean newspaper. The case goes to trial. Maharaj, a flamboyant millionaire, hires the lowest bidder, Mark Hendon, as his attorney. The trial proceeds in a swift and orderly manner, except that the presiding judge is replaced after three days of testimony. Based on fingerprint evidence, a ballistics expert’s identification of Maharaj’s gun, and Neville Butler’s testimony, Maharaj is given life in prison for Dwight’s murder, and the death sentence for Duane’s.
After several years, the case comes to the attention of Clive Stafford Smith, an attorney specializing in capital cases. On his own, taking time away from his fledgling non-profit practice focusing on Louisiana death penalty cases, Smith begins reviewing the case, and this open-and-shut case turns out to have been far more complex than the trial transcript would indicate. His early investigation turns up boxes of evidence and interview materials that hadn’t been made available to the defense, prosecutors’ notes indicating that they instructed the detectives and their chief witness how to perjure themselves, and witnesses that prove that Maharaj wasn’t even in Miami at the time of the killings. Some of his basic rights—over and above their violation of his Miranda rights—were not explained to him or put into practice. Forensic evidence was questionable, but Maharaj’s trial attorney didn’t cross-examine, and even rested without calling a single witness. Confident that the reams of documentary evidence show that Maharaj did not receive a fair trial and that his counsel was (to put it mildly) incompetent, Smith heads into the appeals process.
But door after legal door is slammed in Maharaj’s face. The appeals courts won’t consider new evidence—it wasn’t presented in a timely manner and appellate courts don’t try the facts of the case. Each attempt to reopen the case takes months, if not years, to litigate, partially because a prosecutor won’t accept plentiful evidence that her colleagues convicted an innocent man. When he’s finally granted a new trial, Smith can’t introduce all the new evidence and Maharaj is again found guilty. But because the jury doesn’t prescribe the death penalty, Maharaj’s future opportunities for appeal are severely limited—capital cases usually get at least a cursory glance. Based on all the trials and appeals that go before, Maharaj’s last chance—a reprieve from Florida Governor Charlie Crist—is denied.
Unfortunately, as Smith details, Maharaj’s case is only one example of the miscarriage of justice that capital crimes nearly always involve. From personal experience and well-documented cases, Smith demonstrates that each individual misstep in the justice system that Maharaj experienced is echoed across the country, even in non-capital cases. Part of it is the culture, and he shows that from the patrol officer to the US Supreme Court, the fundamental conservatism of the law is geared towards convictions, not justice or even truth. The real poverty of this view is that convicting the innocent allows the guilty to go unpunished.
Smith’s writing is urgent, and his construction of the story maximizes both the drama and the documentation of his fundamental thesis. As he breaks the case down, the depth of the law enforcement and judicial errors becomes appallingly clear. The parallels he establishes between Maharaj’s case and convictions across the country point to the idea that the American justice system has reversed its supposed ideal. At the same time, his admiration for Maharaj (which is echoed by everyone from business associates to prison guards) as a man shines through. Even after being in prison since 1987—including 10 years on Death Row—Maharaj remains kind, gentle, and positive.
This is a timely book. States have begun to revisit their commitments to the death penalty after subsequent investigations and trials have freed other innocent people from Death Row. It is increasingly likely that people known to be innocent were executed anyway. If someone heeds Clive Stafford Smith’s plea to come forward and exonerate Krishna Maharaj, it would be a miracle; if others use his case to strengthen their calls for an end to the death penalty, it would be a huge step to ending the gaping flaws in our (in)justice system.
Check the WRL catalog for The Injustice System
Of all the villains in modern literature, Daisy Buchanan has always been one I love to hate. As F. Scott Fitzgerald describes her, she’s so insulated from the world and from the consequences of her actions that she has no sense of right and wrong, and there’s no one willing to hold her to account. And that’s when she was surrounded by her social peers. Imagine if she lived in an ordinary place with ordinary people.
Hildy Good is (or was) the top-selling real estate broker in her seaside town. The town has been discovered by Boston’s wealthy, land and house prices have skyrocketed, and the quirky old-time residents are trying to hang on in the face of the invasion. The McAllisters, one of the newcomer families, have profited enormously by Brian’s management of a hedge fund (and other money-making silent partnerships), but they’re regular folks and Hildy is glad to sell them a property and introduce them around the town. She and Rebecca are on their way to becoming friends, sharing the occasional glass of wine and conversation. Rebecca even takes Hildy into her confidence on private family matters.
Problem is, Hildy has recently done a stint in rehab for her drinking, and while the old townies pretend not to know, Hildy doesn’t imbibe in front of them. They remember, even if she doesn’t, the conviviality that turned sour, the caution they used when she got in the car, the reason her valued associate departed for a competitor brokerage. But, while she’s on her best behavior in public, that case of wine in her trunk calls to her every night and she’s answering.
Hildy tries to do the right thing—or at least avoid causing herself trouble, which for some people amounts to the same thing. She’s also on the lookout for the main chance, the big, profitable sale that’s going to put her brokerage back on top. As she travels through the town and interacts with the residents, she provides us with commentary on their quirks and problems in an acerbic and darkly comic voice. But the booze affects her judgment, and we begin to wonder how much of her commentary could be called accurate, and how much is self-protection.
One of her targets is next-door neighbor Frankie Getchell, a one-time boyfriend, and owner of a large and desirable property that Hildy keeps pressing him to sell. Frankie wants to hold on to it, mostly to store the variety of junk equipment he uses in his various jack-of-all-trades businesses. A convenient man to know, Frankie’s the guy to go to if you need your trash picked up, driveway plowed, house painted or remodeled,or stuff delivered. He isn’t socially acceptable, but under the influence of a couple of stiff drinks, Hildy decides he’s just enough to sleep with.
The story keeps coming back to Rebecca, though, and the influence she begins to have on Hildy and on other people in the town. Far from the vulnerable lonely woman she presents to the rest of the town, Rebecca has a cold core that gradually shows through in her treatment of others. Oddly enough, Frank is the first to spot it, but no one, including Hildy, will listen to him. By the time Hildy recognizes the trouble Rebecca’s causing, she’s embroiled in a crisis of her own.
I can imagine comparisons to Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, but The Good House also reminded me of another book I recently read—Tiffany Baker’s The Gilly Salt Sisters. Also set in a New England town, also dealing with the poisonous power of money, the manipulation of others, and long-held secrets coming to the fore, The Gilly Salt Sisters has a small taste of magic not found in The Good House, but I think the two might interest the same readers.
Check the WRL catalog for The Good House
For a country that won their most recent war, France in the 1920s and ’30s was in bad shape, not least because they were facing an existential crisis. 1.4 million of their men had been killed in World War I, and according to contemporaneous demographers, 1.4 million babies that should have been born weren’t. Pumping up the birth rate to replace those 2.8 million souls became a matter of national security, and it suddenly became every woman’s patriotic duty to have children. In Hélène Grémillon’s debut novel, that history creates a tragic, even ominous, setting against which the lives of the four principal characters will play out.
The story actually begins in 1975, when Camille Werner opens what she believes to be a condolence letter in the wake of her mother’s death. Written in the first person by a man named Louis, it introduces her to Annie and to their childhood friendship in an unnamed town in rural France. As subsequent letters arrive, the story of their lives, and of Annie’s relationship with the childless mistress of the local chateau, unfolds. When Annie agrees to have a baby for the couple to raise, the story deepens into a web of betrayal and misunderstanding.
Camille, an editor, is at first convinced that the letters are part of a writer’s scheme to catch her attention. With each letter, though, she becomes increasingly aware that there is another motive, until a final revelation shows her that everything she thinks she knows is a lie. But the letter writer also discovers that he doesn’t know the full story, and sends Camille one last missive. In a long and detailed confession, the childless woman reveals an alternate picture, one which recasts the first story into a dark and possibly murderous plot.
The immediate drama culminates in spring 1940 as the German blitzkrieg overwhelms France. In the chaos that follows, communications go astray, people appear and disappear, unimaginable compromises must be made, and the dangers of occupation swamp all other considerations. The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But those problems don’t go away, even with the passage of time, and in 1975 they come home.
The Confidant is shot through with lies, misdirection, concealment, and misunderstanding. Grémillon details those in nuanced, sensuous, and beautifully evocative language, and creates a historical novel without requiring readers to understand the history. Readers will want to savor this, and to watch for subtle clues about the ripple effect these betrayals have.
Check the WRL catalog for The Confidant. We’ll be adding it as a Gab Bag soon.
I was surprised to find that no one here at Blogging for a Good Book had written about Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s runaway bestseller. After all, a tight suspenseful mystery surrounding a ripped-from-the-headlines event should have caught our attention.
Well, I finally got my copy, and in trying to write about it without giving the whole thing away I’ve learned why no one else touched it. After all, it’s a runaway bestseller about a ripped-from-the-headlines event reconstructed as a tight suspenseful mystery, which means plot twists and surprises, and if you read any further you might just find out why, and then Gillian Flynn and Crown Publishers will be mad at me for spoiling the book, but I’m on the hook because I’ve already written this much. So, there’s this guy and this girl, and she’s gone. Stop here if you don’t want me to give anything away.
Actually, the guy is Nick, and the girl is his wife, Amy. Nick is storybook handsome, with enough boyish charm to attract plenty of women. Amy is “Amazing Amy,” the inspiration for a long-running and successful series of children’s books that made her parents a fortune, gave her a huge trust fund, and got her lots of attention everywhere she went. Their meet-cute storybook romance and wedding have given way to the realities and compromises of marriage, but Amy is determined to press forward and recapture the excitement and intimacy of their early days together. At least, that’s according to her diary. Seriously, don’t read any further.
Nick, on the other hand, is a passive, self-centered guy whose failures in New York gave him an excuse to drag the cosmopolitan Amy to his Missouri hometown. His saintly mom is dying of cancer, his nasty father has Alzheimer’s, and his beloved twin sister has retreated home from her own losses. Their hometown is quickly dying in the turbulence of the Great Recession and the signs of collapse are all around. Then comes the fateful day, which is detailed through Nick’s eyes. I’m warning you—don’t go on!
On their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears, leaving behind signs of a struggle. The initial investigation and all-out search proceeds as if she’s been kidnapped, but the deeper the investigation gets, the more Nick tells us that he’s lying to the police. He has no alibi for the time surrounding her loss, he misleads them about the nature of his and Amy’s relationship, and he can’t explain why the evidence of a struggle appears to have been manufactured. And the culture of infamy begins. Unfortunate photographs, inconsistencies in his story, and the natural inclination to look to the remaining spouse as the likely guilty party trigger the interest of a scandal-mongering true-crime TV show. Shocking revelations trickle out at the worst possible times, and Nick’s efforts to steer his public image are doomed in the face of the unrelenting spotlight. OK, you’ve made your choice—let the consequences be on your head.
By this time, the reader is lost in a maze of mirrors. Do we believe the writings of the best wife a man can want, or the admissions of the worst kind of husband a woman can have? Do we trust his self-confessed failings, or his efforts to find out if someone from Amy’s past has surfaced to harm her? Does he deserve the belief that his family (and Amy’s) have in him, or are the police right to focus on him? Flynn constructs these uncertainties in a way that continually pulls the readers’ feet off what little firm ground they have to stand on. Spoiler alert!
Keep in mind that this all happens in the first third of the book. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
By deconstructing Amy and Nick’s marriage (with Amy’s disappearance looming in the background), Flynn also asks readers to examine the fool’s paradise that most of us construct when we try to deceive others. (And it was Sir Walter Scott, not Shakespeare, who famously reminds us of that.) There are some, though, who can construct elaborate structures to hang their lies on, and who can manipulate others by observing and anticipating normal behavior. When the lie is big enough, its sheer improbability gives it credence—who could go to such lengths to create a falsehood? Flynn finds a way to show us, even as she gradually introduces the idea that their victims sometimes can’t find a way to escape the destruction.
Neil’s comprehensive list of 2012′s Best Books shows that Gone Girl was the best reviewed mystery of the year. Based on all the stuff I can’t or won’t tell you, I have to agree with the reviewers.
Check the WRL catalog for Gone Girl
I haven’t read a lot in Young Adult Fiction, mostly because I’m overwhelmed with selections in the so-called Adult Fiction category. Along with most other readers (and editors and publishers and reviewers and booksellers and librarians), I can’t draw a bright line between what is YA and what isn’t. I just know I don’t get over to browse our “official” YA collection. So I count myself lucky that I was able to steal this from someone else’s stack of books and drop into Greg Gaines’ world.
Greg has survived until his senior year of high school by being on the fringes of everything and the center of nothing. He hides his love of film (especially the work of Werner Herzog) behind a studied indifference which also conceals his near-constant and brutal self-criticism. (He’s got some points—serious social errors, like flat out complimenting a girl for having two boobs, are enough to make anyone want to tear his own tongue in half.) His parents love him with that bumbling uncritical affection that every teen hates and he has… Earl.
Earl has shared Greg’s love of Herzog since fourth grade, when the two boys tried to film their own version of Aguirre: Wrath Of God, the masterpiece shot on location in the Amazon—kinda tough to do in the local park. Their collaboration extends to their own films: Earl: Wrath of God II, Ran II, Apocalypse Later, and still others featuring Greg’s cat. The thing is, Earl couldn’t be more different than Greg: he’s an inner-city Pittsburgh kid, bright but lost at school, surrounded by unfocused, violent, drug-dealing brothers and a mother lost in alcohol and online chat rooms. Greg’s stable home is a respite for Earl, and Earl is the only person Greg can be himself around.
And then there’s the dying girl. Greg knew Rachel Kushner in Hebrew school, with all its attendant early teen drama, but they haven’t had much to do with each other since. When Rachel is diagnosed with leukemia, Greg’s mom decides it will be a mitzvah, or good deed, for Greg to spend time with her. Awkward, right? But he does, and brings Earl along in his wake. Earl lets slip the secret of their filmmaking and next thing you know Rachel is watching their movies. Even more awkward. Suddenly Greg is open to all kinds of emotional blackmail and everyone around him takes full advantage of it. Even Greg admits that it sounds like an afterschool special—treat the different kid well and you’ll rack up points, feel good about yourself, and Learn A Lesson. But real life is messy, and even Herzog’s art can’t touch it.
Jesse Andrews gives the story a sense of immediacy despite its looking back at events. Internal monologue, conversations role-played as scripts, jump cuts to real life, and Greg’s direct addresses to an unknown audience give the book the feel of documentary, but one that allows raw and sometimes hilarious access to the filmmaker’s mind. That also means Greg’s and Earl’s casual use of insult and obscenity to each other might make the language a little rough for some readers, so be warned on that front.
Check the WRL catalog for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Compilation of the best books of 2012 steams on, and today WRL releases the second edition of our 2012 All the Best Books Compilation (ABBC) (Best2012.) Since the release of the first edition, the compilation has grown from 66 sources to 120. The spreadsheet now documents mentions of over 2200 books published in 2012. We’ll continue to fill in the grid until the final edition is released at the end of the month. The ABBC is the most extensive resource of its kind.
You’re encouraged to download the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet Best2012 and use it as you see fit: to find the best books for yourself or to promote reading to others. We only ask that you link here to Blogging for a Good Book (http://bfgb.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/abbc-2012-second-edition/) instead of reposting the entire spreadsheet and that you cite Williamsburg Regional Library’s Blogging for a Good Book and chief compiler, Neil Hollands. The newest edition of the spreadsheet is available for download, and is easy to re-sort by author, by title, or by number of mentions in any of the ABBC’s twelve major categories.
I’ve written already about the results so far in short stories, crime and thrillers, speculative fiction, romance, young adult fiction, graphic works, and nonfiction. Today at my other home, Book Group Buzz, I’m discussing historical fiction. Results in literary and mainstream fiction and biographies and memoirs will follow there over the next couple of weeks.
With over 2200 books tabulated to date, these are just the tip of the iceberg, but here are the books that have received 15 or more mentions so far:
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (48 mentions to date)
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in the Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo (42 mentions)
Bring up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (38 mentions)
This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz (38 mentions)
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain (33 mentions)
Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed (33 mentions)
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (32 mentions)
Building Stories, by Chris Ware (29 mentions)
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter (26 mentions)
Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple (23 mentions)
The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers (23 mentions)
Canada, by Richard Ford (22 mentions)
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein (22 mentions)
Passage of Power: the Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert Caro (22 mentions)
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich (22 mentions)
The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson (20 mentions)
Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon (20 mentions)
Dear Life, by Alice Munro (19 mentions)
Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman (19 mentions)
The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker (18 mentions)
Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson (17 mentions)
Broken Harbor, by Tana French (17 mentions)
Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan (17 mentions)
Are You My Mother?, by Alison Bechdel (16 mentions)
Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (16 mentions)
Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt (16 mentions)
Arcadia, by Lauren Groff (15 mentions)
Joseph Anton: a Memoir, by Salman Rushdie (15 mentions)
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan (15 mentions)
NW, by Zadie Smith (15 mentions)
Come back at the end of the month to download the final spreadsheet and get the final word on the best books of 2012!
This title comes about halfway through Gregson’s series featuring Superintendent Lambert and Detective Sergeant Hook of the Gloucestershire CID. I liked it so much I’ve started from the beginning, and I’m enjoying the series. An Academic Death is a straightforward cozy-type British police procedural with a minimum of personal drama. The strength of the series is the team-up of the perceptive, introspective Lambert with the reliable, comfortably stolid Hook. Where this series really shines is when Lambert and Hook interview a suspect. The action here is almost purely mental and the tension almost palpable. Lambert scrutinizes the faces and body language of the suspects closely, allowing them to guide his questioning. Hook, blank-faced, turns a page in his notebook. Suspects squirm. It’s actually high drama disguised as a plodding police interview!
In this installment, a brassy wife reports her wayward husband missing to the Gloucestershire police. She makes it clear that if they find him she doesn’t want the ol’ no-goodnik back. No one is terribly concerned until the university professor turns up dead; then Lambert and Hook focus on the campus where he worked, turning up several suspects—including, of course, the disgruntled missus.
I’ve noticed that there are rarely any surprise twists or complications in this series—Gregson epitomizes the concept of fair play in mystery fiction. The murderer generally turns out to be one of the “usual suspects;” the reader just has to figure out which one of them is lying. Where the sheer amount of jiggery-pokery in many mysteries often makes me feel disinclined to actually try solving the puzzle, the Lambert and Hook series has been stripped down to a straight, strong “whodunit” whose challenge is a bit more accessible, with just enough humor to make it entertaining along the way.
The Lambert and Hook mysteries often have a golfing theme. Although golf is not the main venue in this particular title, longtime golf enthusiast Lambert and newly initiated golfer Hook do have a few very funny scenes on the links.
I am glad I discovered these solid British police procedurals. They’re just my cup of tea!
Check the WRL catalog for An Academic Death
Global warming has caused the melting of Antarctica and the rise of sea levels across the globe. The once prosperous, show stopping city of Manhattan now finds itself a series of submerged buildings and canal-lined streets. The city is divided between those who live in the Aeries (enormously tall high-rise buildings) and those forced to live down below, in the Depth, existing on raised sidewalks and dilapidated abodes. The Aeries is home to the wealthy elite, including all those in positions of political power. The Depth is the refuge of mystics, those with supernatural abilities, who once helped to build the incredible city itself. After a “mystic spurred bombing” the mystics were forced out of the Aeries for the protection of those without power. What remains is an uncomfortable and unwelcome balance between those above and those below, each fearful of what the other’s actions could bring.
This is the world in which Aria Rose exists. The daughter of one of the most powerful and richest businessmen in the Aeries, Aria has grown up in the lap of luxury. Now, on the dawn of one of the most important elections in the city’s history, Aria finds herself engaged to Thomas, the son of the only family in the Aeries whose wealth and power rivals her own. Once they’re married, their families will be united and control all of the Aeries. But from the first page, all is not as it appears. Aria has suffered memory loss after overdosing on a drug called “Stic,” a drug she does not remember buying or taking. She also can’t remember a single moment spent with Thomas, not to mention falling in love with him. But she can remember almost everything else. The story itself takes turn after turn after turn as Aria begins to learn more about the people who inhabit the Depth below, her family’s lust for nothing but power, and the strange but gorgeous rebel-mystic, Hunter. Reminiscent of a three-way Romeo and Juliet tale set in a futuristic dystopian world on the brink of rebellion, Mystic City is sure to appeal to a variety of readers.
Check the WRL catalog for Mystic City
Fans of Will Hill’s first book, Department 19, will not be disappointed by The Rising. In this exciting and fast-paced sequel, the Operators of Department 19 are tested beyond measure when their director, Admiral Seward, reveals that the world’s oldest and most powerful vampire, Dracula, has risen once again. As the disturbing news sparks more vampire attacks and a higher level of secrecy between department members, Jamie, Kate and Larissa all struggle to keep their bond intact. Subplots abound throughout Hill’s 600-page novel, and familiar characters such as Frankenstein and the Rusmanov brothers reappear at center stage. But there are plenty of new mysteries to be solved with the introduction of a seemingly friendly, genius scientist and a wandering desert man who knows all about vampires and the inter-workings of Department 19. Readers will find many of the aspects they loved from the first book here as well, including technological super weapons, intense battle scenes, a good level of descriptive gore and moral dilemmas that call human nature into question. The Rising is written in an almost movie script-like fashion that allows the reader to visualize the story in exceptional detail. There is no doubt that Hill is once again able to captivate readers and leave them begging for more.
Check the WRL catalog for The Rising
Robert M. Hazen’s exciting explanations of how the Earth and its geologic and biologic systems formed and changed had my head spinning with growing knowledge and dawning comprehension. About five billion years ago—several billion years after the Big Bang, which Hazen explains well enough for me to finally grasp, somewhat—an event such as a shock wave from an exploding star caused a cloud of gas and dust to collapse into a star system, our Solar System. “Like a twirling ice-skater, the big cloud rotated faster and faster as gravity pulled its wispy arms to the center. As it collapsed and spun faster, the cloud became denser and flattened into a disk with a growing central bulge—the nascent Sun.” Scientists can’t say for sure how the planets formed, but because all the planets more or less rotate in the same direction and are more or less on the same plane, Hazen explains, most scientists speculate that the planets formed from the same rotating gas and dust as the Sun, and were not objects hurtling through space captured by the Sun’s gravitational pull, as was once thought.
The Earth has gone through many drastic changes since forming. The names of the chapters in The Story of Earth illustrate this: Black Earth: The First Basalt Crust; Blue Earth, The Formation of the Oceans; Gray Earth: The First Granite Crust; Living Earth: The Origins of Life; Red Earth: Photosynthesis and the Great Oxidation Event; The “Boring” Billion: The Mineral Revolution (Surprise: these billion years were anything but boring!); White Earth: The Snowball-Hothouse Cycle; Green Earth: The Rise of the Terrestrial Biosphere. I’ve never really imagined our planet as anything other than a grey ball of rock slowly turning blue and green as life began. This book shows how that view is far from accurate.
The Moon, too, has changed over the billions of years. Did you know that it is moving away from the Earth by about 3.82 centimeters per year? Scientists know this because Apollo astronauts left mirrors on the surface of the moon in the 1960s and 70s, and scientists measure the distance very accurately by bouncing laser beams off them. If the moon is moving away from the earth at that rate, can you imagine how close the moon was to the earth 4.5 billion years ago? It would have looked gigantic. The surface of the Moon was quite different back then, too. According to Hazen, “The early Moon was a violent body of intense volcanism, quite unlike the static silvery-gray object we see now. Its surface would have appeared black, with glowing red magma-filled cracks and volcanic basins easily visible from Earth.” Hazen explains the current theory of how the Moon was formed by what he calls “The Big Thwack,” or the giant impact theory.
4.5 billion years is an unfathomably long time. In 283 pages, Hazen is able to clarify to someone like me, who never took many science classes, the current theories of how Earth and the Moon formed, how life began, how mineralogical forces influence life and how life in turn influences mineralogy, and many other fascinating phenomena. One of the more interesting sections was of the Great Oxidation Event, something I had heard about but had never understood. He writes about how he and his colleagues figured out that many of the minerals we see today—turquoise, azurite, malachite, and thousands of others—could never have occurred without the Great Oxidation Event, and thus how such minerals would never be found on a non-living astronomical body like the Moon or Mars.
If you have an interest in this planet on which we’re living, and you want to know more about how it got here, how it has changed throughout the estimated 4.5 billion years since it formed, and where it may be going, read this book. It’s fascinating.
Check the WRL catalog for The Story of Earth
Crunch crunch crunch crunch tang tang tang tang crunch crunch.
Tang is the sound your boots make when you are stomping about in the Antarctic, and suddenly you are no longer stomping on solid ice, but rather on a thin layer of snow disguising a crevasse of unknown depths. Sometimes the snow “lids” are thick enough that you can walk over these pits without danger. Sometimes they aren’t.
Crevasses are the essential theme of Alone on the Ice, a riveting account of Douglas Mawson’s 1911-1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE). The AAE was contemporary with Scott’s and Amundsen’s race for the South Pole; when Scott and his men were dying in their tent in the middle of nowhere, Mawson and his men were tentbound in the same blizzard in another part of nowhere. Geologist Mawson and his band of Australians and New Zealanders were not interested in the South Polar holy grail, however; they were in Antarctica for science. Amassing specimens and data, they scattered across the inner blank of the continent in several parties, mapping, geologizing, and falling into crevasses in every direction.
Irrepressible young photographer Frank Hurley, who would later take such memorable photographs of Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, actually admires the “unearthly beauty of the abyss” while he hangs about awaiting rescue. Mawson, starving and alone in his crevasse with no one to rescue him and no strength to haul himself up, has one great regret: that he didn’t eat all of the rest of his food the night before.
The first of Mawson’s sledging companions, Belgrave Ninnis, drops into a gaping abyss along with the strongest of the dogs, the tent, and nearly all of the food. Xavier Mertz succumbs to starvation, or possibly to vitamin A poisoning from eating dogs’ liver. Mawson continues on. Despite having no real hope of survival, he saws his sledge in half with a pocket knife and rigs a windsail out of his dead comrade’s trousers. He even gets out of his crevasse, quoting Robert Service as he climbs: “it’s dead easy to die, it’s the keeping-on-living that’s hard.”
Meanwhile, at base camp… Mawson’s men build their winter base in, literally, the windiest place on earth (you can watch them struggling in Frank Hurley’s silent film). Against all odds, they manage to erect a radio tower and establish rudimentary communications with the men staffing an almost equally cold and lonely outpost on Macquarie Island, but! in a Hitchcockian turn, the only man who knows how to operate the radio begins to lose his mind. Descending into paranoia, he accuses his companions of hypnotising him, threatens them with death and lawsuits, refuses to wash, and begins to collect his urine in small bottles.
Roberts, the author of several books on mountaineering, quotes from letters, diaries, and Mawson’s account, The Home of the Blizzard, to tell this story. Exciting, horrifying, and full of human interest, it’s a great read for anyone who enjoys tales of exploration, and especially for Shackleton fans, who will recognize many of the expeditioners. That’s right… some of them went back!
Check the WRL catalog for Alone on the Ice.
This post concludes an unusual week for Blogging for a Good Book. Instead of our usual fare of one great review a day, this week we’re exploring the results of the 2012 ABBC: the All-the-Best-Books Compilation. It’s a spreadsheet that tabulates all the votes from dozens of best-of-the-year lists and awards. You can download the first edition from this earlier post or come back to BFGB in the next few weeks to get further editions as we compile even more lists into the spreadsheet.
Today, we’ll look at the most frequently recognized titles in speculative fiction: fantasy, science fiction, and horror. The health of these genres is indicated by the number of different titles that have received best-of votes to date: 242. There are some great books here, although I feel the need to preface the list with this comment: speculative fiction marketed as mainstream literary fiction often rises to the top of the best-of-the-year lists because mainstream reviewers won’t give the same level of consideration to titles published by genre presses. If you love the mainstream of fantasy and SF publishing, not its haughtier cousin, download the full ABBC and look a little further down on the list.
With 17 mentions to date, the first title on the speculative list is Karen Thompson Walker’s debut, The Age of Miracles. The setting is a very near apocalyptic future where the rotation of the earth has begun to slow, but the subject matter is coming of age for 11-year-old Julia and the tribulations of her California family. Melissa reviewed this book for us at BFGB back in October and found the tale of how life goes on, even in the face of the end, equally redeeming and disturbing. As the cycle of a day slowly increases from 24 to over 72 hours, Walker does a good job of capturing the sense of loneliness, the increasing reflection of her narrator, and the discoveries and suffering of a life that’s coming to an end just as it reaches the brink of adult awareness.
I’m currently reading one of the titles in a tie for second, at 11 mentions. Alif the Unseen, the debut of G. Willow Wilson, is about an Arab-Indian hacker in an unnamed Persian Gulf state. This is a place where “hacker” has a different significance, as every computer user, every website is under close supervision by the state, and narrator Alif’s skills aren’t just used for mischief-making and financial gain (although he’s still involved in these aspects), they’re critical to hiding both his own identity and that of his clients, who are tortured and often killed if unmasked. A breakup with an illicit girlfriend leads Alif to create a program that can identify an individual by voice, word choice, keystroke rates, and other factors after he or she has typed only a few sentences. When the state hacks into his computer and takes the program, Alif realizes he has unleashed a Trojan horse that will be turned on the entire hacking community. Add the Alf Yeom, the daytime analog of One Thousand and One Nights; underworld figures that end up being from the world Alif once thought of as mythical; and several mysterious and interesting women, and you get a real winner, a truly original work of speculative fiction.
The other title with 11 mentions is Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, reviewed here by Andrew in July. It’s set in a postapocalyptic world ravaged by flu nine years before. The protagonist is Hig, a pilot who’s trying to maintain a sense of compassion in a world where others are increasingly inured to the suffering of others. Dug in at a Midwestern airport for years with his dog Jasper and one neighbor, the ruthless and cynical Bangley, Hig is going a bit stir crazy. He decides to fly toward the source of a distress signal, trying to help the suffering, but facing dangers at every turn. Andrew liked the immediacy of the first-person narration. Other reviewers note the poetic way in which Heller finds new beginnings even at the end.
In fourth with ten mentions, and also reviewed by Andrew for BFGB, is Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It’s about web designer, Clay Jannon, who has hit a career slump and in financial peril answers the Help Wanted ad in the window of an odd bookstore. He ends up working the night shift, selling books with languages and letters he doesn’t recognize to a small clientele of strange customers. He uses his computer skills to create a kind of inventory for the store, and what he discovers in doing so leads him down the proverbial rabbit hole. The results are kind of Haruki Murakami meets Neal Stephenson meets Borges, but perhaps less complex than any of those works, a fantastic bookstore/library adventure with a mystery at its core and lots of references to make us nerdy folk happy.
Rounding out the top 12 in this category are Lydia Netzer’s Shine Shine Shine with eight mentions to date; a four-way tie for 6th at seven mentions between the middle book in Justin Cronin’s trilogy The Twelve, Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, Daniel O’ Malley’s The Rook, and John Scalzi’s Redshirts; and a three-way tie for 10th at six mentions between Deborah Harkness’s Shadow of Night, N. K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312.
I’ll summarize other categories of the ABBC — literary fiction, historical fiction, narrative nonfiction, and biographies and memoirs — at my other blogging home, Book Group Buzz, in upcoming weeks. Come back to us at Blogging for a Good Book to get further editions of the ABBC, a resource that if it nears the level of past years, will include results from nearly 200 different great sources by the time it is finished.
A week of posts about results from WRL’s ABBC continues today with a look at the romance category. ABBC stands for All-the-Best-Books Compilation, and it’s a spreadsheet that compiles the results from many best-of-the-year lists and awards for the books published in the previous year. We count the number of mentions each book receives and document which sources mentioned each title. You’re welcome to download the spreadsheet and use it for yourself or to help other readers find great books. We do ask is that you cite Williamsburg Regional Library and Blogging for a Good Book if you republish any part of the results.
Romance fiction doesn’t get much attention in the end-of-the-year lists, and sometimes the groups that do give out romance awards can be so inclusive that almost every author published by a major house gets some form of recognition. Others don’t publish their results until after our compilation is typically finished, so it’s harder to identify clear favorites in this genre. Finding more votes for the books in this category requires digging into romance-focused blogs, and I haven’t drilled quite that deep into the list in this year’s compilation yet. I’ll annotate the top four so far, but you may want to check back with later editions of the ABBC, which won’t be fully compiled until the end of the month. Still, the four books mentioned here should offer something to most romance fans, as they come from four different corners of the genre.
Tops so far with four mentions is one of romance writing’s most familiar names, Nora Roberts. Her 200th (!) book, The Witness, was reviewed here at BFGB by Christine back in May. This time she sets her story in the Arkansas Ozarks, and follows Abigail, a woman who runs a computer security firm and tries to maintain the lowest profile she can, as she’s created a new identity after a run-in with the Russian mafia. A well-meaning sheriff named Brooks tries to draw her out of her shell, and part of her wants to give in to his pursuit, but he doesn’t understand that becoming part of the community will endanger her life. Christine praised the book’s creation of community, sense of place, and the clever interaction of the central couple, and it appears that other reviewers agree with her judgment.
To date there’s a three-way tie for second with books of three mentions each. Kresley Cole’s Lothaire is the latest in her paranormal romance series, Immortals after Dark. As usual, this tale pits different factions and powers among the creatures of The Lore against each other, and this book focuses on the ruthless and half-mad Lothaire. Lothaire captures Ellie Pierce, an Appalachian girl possessed by an evil spirit. He intends to sacrifice her to gain power for himself, but instead finds that something about her soothes his tormented soul. What’s a vampire to do? This is the 12th in a series that started back with The Warlord Wants Forever, part of a compilation, Playing Easy to Get, published back in 2006. Lothaire has figured into the stories before, so you might want to gobble down some of the earlier titles before you launch into Cole’s latest.
Tessa Dare brings us A Week to Be Wicked, the follow up to A Night to Surrender in her Spindle Cove series. This is a historical romance in which a rake, Colin, and a scientist spinster, Minerva, fake an elopement. He wants to escape financial difficulties by marrying Minerva’s more vulnerable sister, so she makes a deal with him. If he’ll accompany her to Scotland so she can collect a prize from the Royal Geographic Society, she’ll give him the prize money, as long as he leaves little sister alone. She’s cerebral, but awkward; he’s the ultimate ladies man. But as the novel progresses, both begin to unlock hidden sides. Opposites proceed to attract as they have many adventures on their 400-mile road trip, and the differences between the two lead to humorous situations and lots of fun banter.
The final member of the second-place tie is Sophie Kinsella’s latest bit of contemporary chicklit fun, I’ve Got Your Number. The setup is that Poppy Wyatt loses her engagement ring and her phone in a hotel fire drill and its aftermath. The ring is an heirloom of her fiancee Magnus Tavish’s snobby family, and since they’re already trying to stop the marriage, Poppy can’t really confess that she lost it. When she finds another phone in the chaos, she takes it, with the intention of having the hotel call her when the ring is located. Businessman Sam Roxton isn’t thrilled to find out that his phone has been appropriated, and the two wage a comic battle through email, text messages, and other means, upending each others’ lives at every turn. In the process of leading each other on a merry chase, a relationship begins to form between the two, and soon Poppy has to decide between the man she once thought was the perfect catch and the one who came into her life by surprise.
I’ll be back with one more post about the ABBC results tomorrow here at BFGB. Watch here afterwards for the final editions of this year’s compilation to get the final vote totals as we search for the best books of 2012. I’ll also be sharing results from some of the other categories at my other blogging home, Book Group Buzz, such as in this post about the results among short story collections.
Click on the individual book title links to go to the WRL catalog.
Coverage continues this week of results from some of the categories in the ABBC: Williamsburg Regional Library’s All-the-Best-Books Compilation, which compiles the results from dozens of different lists and awards to give you the final count on the most lauded books of the year in a single spreadsheet.
Today I’m exploring the top vote-getters in the category of graphic novels and nonfiction. Yes, these are comic books, but they’re not just kid stuff anymore (and believe me, I love the kid stuff, too!) Modern graphic artists use their art to help tell a variety of sophisticated tales and 84 different books have received mention as a best of the year so far.
Topping the list is Chris Ware, an innovative artist whose Building Stories, because of its unusual format, probably won’t be found in most library collections. The title has two meanings: first, the collection is about the residents of a Chicago apartment building; but second, each reader has to build the story for her or himself. Building Stories comes as a collection of objects: pamphlets, newspapers, game boards, and bound books that can be assembled in whatever order the reader likes. The protagonist is a one-legged woman, and the stories follow her through her difficult life as she considers her existence — past and present — and interacts with both the building and the people with whom she comes in contact. Look at a review like this one from Brain Pickings to get a better understanding of this unusual product that has been mentioned as a best of the year in 24 sources compiled so far.
Next up is Alison Bechdel, who previously told the story of her difficult relationship with her father in Fun Home, a top pick of 2006. Now she turns her eye on her mother in Are You My Mother?: a Comic Drama, which has garnered 14 mentions in the ABBC so far. Bechdel portrays the life of a reader, music lover, and actor who wanted more out of life than her unhappy marriage to a closeted gay man. That unhappiness led to a lack of intimacy between mother and daughter, in fact a rather extreme gulf that Bechdel mines with a darkly comic but deeply poignant touch.
There’s a tie for third between two works with seven mentions each. The first is Drama, a work that resides in our juvenile collection but that can be enjoyed by all ages. Writer and illustrator Raina Telgemeier — with color work from the artist Gurihiru — tells the story of drama both in front of and behind the curtain at a middle school production of a musical called Moon over Mississippi. The story is told from the perspective of Callie, a gifted young set designer with no budget and a crush on two boys in the cast. The play has a colorful cast, and that’s reflected wonderfully by the bright artwork.
The range of graphic works becomes clear when one examines the other work with seven mentions. My Friend Dahmer illustrated in a style reminiscent of Cracked magazine, tells author “Derf” Backderf’s remarkable true story as a high school friend of Jeffrey Dahmer. He’d even see the infamous serial killer on the day he probably committed his first murder. Don’t expect a grisly recreation of the murders. This is more the poignant study of the differences (somewhat slight) between one troubled kid who goes on to a successful career and another that commits crimes so heinous they can hardly be believed. When I read this book, I saw uncomfortable similarities between Backderf’s group of nerdy friends and my own high school pals. It certainly left me thinking. We don’t have this one in the collection yet, but if you’d like to see us add it, just ask! We try real hard to be responsive to as many patron requests as budgets can accommodate.
After that, the voting gets close. At five mentions to date are Brian K. Vaughan’s latest series, Saga and Mark Siegel’s Sailor Twain: or the Mermaid on the Hudson. One more vote back are Joe Sacco and Chris Hedges’ Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt; Ed Piskor’s Wizzywig: Portrait of a Serial Hacker; Hope Larson’s graphic adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle classic A Wrinkle in Time, and Faith Erin Hicks, with Friends with Boys.
I’ll summarize the results of two more categories on Thursday and Friday this week, while others will get similar treatment at my other blogging home, Booklist magazine’s Book Group Buzz. We’ll continue to release further installments of the ABBC spreadsheet until compilation is complete at the end of March, so keep checking back to get the final word on all of the best books of 2012.
Click on the individual book title links to go to the WRL catalog.
This week we’re taking a break from the usual BFGB fare to post about the results in some of the categories from WRL’s All-the-Best-Books Compilation (ABBC) for 2012. The ABBC adds up mentions in dozens of best-of-the-year lists and awards in a spreadsheet you can download. We’re about 75 sources into the compilation, and although it’s not complete, here are the leaders so far in the category of crime fiction.
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn is not only the runaway top Crime Fiction selection this year, but the most mentioned book overall so far (38 mentions), holding a slight lead over Katherine Boo’s nonfiction title Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Gone Girl is a literate suspenseful thriller about Amy, a young wife who goes missing on her 5th wedding anniversary. Flynn leads readers through a twisty maze as they discover the secrets lying behind the facade of the couple’s marriage and try to decide if unlikable husband Nick is the killer or not. Employing devices like Amy’s diary and the novels in which her psychologist parents made her a famous case study, Flynn slowly unwraps the folds of the shroud and saves one of the best twists for last.
In second place, with 14 mentions is Tana French’s fourth Dublin Murder Squad novel, Broken Harbor. This time a father and his two children are found dead in a half-finished estate outside the city, and his wife is on the way to intensive care. It seems at first like a clear case of a financially destitute man snapping and trying to kill family and self, but further investigation yields a more complicated case. As usual, French explores the lives of her detectives a carefully as she builds the plot of the central crime, this time focusing on Scorcher Kennedy, a star detective with a lonely personal life. While these novels can stand alone, you might want to start at the beginning with In the Woods.
Ben H. Winters debuts in the third spot with nine mentions to date for The Last Policeman. It’s a blend of mystery and science fiction, a trilogy starter in which an asteroid is heading towards Earth and will end civilization in six months. Amid a spate of suicides, Detective Hank Palace latches onto a hanging that seems suspicious. While the rest of civilization focuses on the bleak future, Palace decides to keep doing his job and stays focused on the investigation. Strong characterizations and interesting philosophical questions make this mystery a cut above the usual.
The fourth spot is a three-way tie (eight mentions) between William Landay’s Defending Jacob, a psychological legal thriller; Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night, a loose sequel to his Boston historical The Given Day; and Jo Nesbo’s latest Harry Hole mystery, Phantom. Another mention back are Joe R. Lansdale with Edge of Dark Water and Lyndsay Faye’s Gods of Gotham. I’ll round out a top twelve by mentioning the crime novels with six mentions: Louise Penny’s The Beautiful Mystery, James Lee Burke’s Creole Belle; Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, and Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind than Home. As you can see, after Gone Girl and Broken Harbor, the race in this category is tight.
We’ll post more editions of the ABBC compilation as sources are added, finishing the work later this month. Look for analysis of other categories here at BFGB and also at my other blogging home, Booklist‘s Book Group Buzz.
Click on the individual book title links to go to the WRL catalog.
This week on Blogging for a Good Book, I’ll be making a variation from our usual pattern of one review a day to highlight the results of WRL’s annual compilation of the best-of lists into one spreadsheet: the All-the-Best-Books Compilation (ABBC). I’ll look at the results to date from one of the ABBC’s 12 categories each day. The remaining categories will be covered at my other blogging home, Booklist’s Book Group Buzz, where I’ve already explored the short story category. Stay tuned here at BFGB for releases of further editions of the ABBC compilation, as I compile more lists into a spreadsheet that already includes over 70 prominent sources.
The growth in young adult publishing can be seen in this year’s results, as mentions for 174 works have already been compiled into the ABBC. We’ve already posted about some of the top titles at BFGB.
John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars has a healthy lead, with 23 mentions to date. As Charlotte noted back in January, Green writes about highly literate teenagers in stories with intelligent romance, a dose of mystery, and plenty of real emotional content. Here he tells the story of a girl who gets a terminal cancer diagnosis on her 13th birthday, but is then swept into a romance with a boy from her support group who uses his final wish to take her to Amsterdam in search of the reclusive author of her favorite book. The phrase “it will make you laugh and make you cry” may be overused, but it’s certainly true here.
Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity is in second place, with 16 mentions to date. Charlotte reviewed this one on BFGB in May. It’s a WWII thriller about a Scottish girl who has been captured by the Gestapo. In her first person narration, she confesses her involvement with the resistance movement in France to Hauptsturmfuhrer von Linden of the SS. This isn’t sugar-coated: it’s a story full of torture and other realities of war, but it’s full of twists, excitement, and some powerful poignant moments.
Third in the ABBC results is Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, reviewed here in September by — guess who? — Charlotte. This one opens on a truce between dragons and humans in an age-old war. It’s a fantasy notable for political intrigues, dispassionate dragons, and the title character’s gift for deceptions and for a magic born from lucid dreaming. With an involving mystery at its core, Seraphina is the start of a new series.
In fourth place is Libba Bray, a mainstay at the top of young adult best of the year lists since 2003′s A Great and Terrible Beauty. A gifted and diverse writer, her 2012 offering was The Diviners, given 11 best-of-the-year mentions to date. This one’s about a Jazz Age girl Evie, who comes to live with her Uncle Will, the curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult in New York City. Evie can read people’s pasts by holding their possessions and she uses this gift, in concert with those of a group of new oddball friends, to combat the perpetrator of a series of killings. This is the fun, creepy opening to a new series.
One mention behind in 5th place is David Levithan, with Every Day. It’s protagonist “A” wakes up every morning in a different body, some male, some female, but one thing remains the same: A is always in love with the same girl, Rhiannon. A’s different lives and encounters with Rhiannon range from humorous to harrowing, and as usual, Levithan uses an unusual premise to engage in philosophical explorations while still telling a good story.
The rest of the young adult top ten to date are Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, Lois Lowry’s finish to The Giver quartet in Son, Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue, Robin LaFevers Grave Mercy, and Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post. These and other books are packed close enough together that positions may easily change by the time the compiling of the ABBC is complete.
Click on the individual book title links to go to the WRL catalog.