Saturday, June 30, 2012

'Buddhaland Brooklyn'

I have long been an advocate for Richard Morais' phenomenal novel, 'The Hundred-Foot Journey', a story that grabbed me as soon as I set my eyes on the first paragraph.  Many of my friends and family members have heard all about it; I'm still waiting to learn if they've read it.  My review for this wonderful book appeared in a post from August 2011. 

As with all good authors we've come to admire, I've wondered when Mr. Morais would be releasing a new story.  "When?" Book Hog asked Simon & Schuster.  "When..."

When, I'm happy to report, is now.

I was delighted to learn that Mr. Morais has a new novel...and I just finished reading it.  'Buddhaland Brooklyn' is a complete departure from his previous novel, something I love because when an author takes a stab at something totally different, the result can be...interesting.

And his new one is, indeed, very interesting.  Told from the perspective of a Japanese Buddhist monk, Seida Oda, we learn about his life in Japan; helping his family maintain their small inn, and fishing with his beloved older brother in clear mountain streams.  But Oda's peaceful life takes a sudden turn when he turns eleven years old; he is sent to study with the monks at the nearby Buddhist temple.  As time goes on, he finds his roots among the peace and solitude, despite a devastating loss which leaves him guilt-ridden.  When he is forty years old, his superiors send him to a 'new world', the world of Brooklyn, New York, where he is to oversee  the construction of a new temple.  When his arrogance and culture-shock threaten to isolate him from the strange American Buddhists who thirst for guidance, he discovers his own flaws and shortcomings and ultimately embraces their eccentricities.  But, most of all, he finally finds the sense of belonging that he has always sought.

Mr. Morais' brilliant depiction of his wonderful cast of characters is very true to life.  And the scenes set in the Japanese countryside made me want to travel there in order to experience such sweet serenity.  But, for me, one particular scene stood out:  When Oda is invited into his Italian Catholic landlord's home, the man's mother makes their guest sit at the head of the table, which is a sign of great respect.  Why I cried, I don't know, but I can guess:  We are ALL invited to the table, no matter what we believe, no matter how we live our lives.  It was a simple scene, yet extremely powerful.

You will learn something new (although Mr. Morais explains that his novel is not a doctrinal explanation of Buddhism).  You will laugh (Americans in all their crude, crazy glory, can provide great insight and sensitivity).  

But, most of all, you will love this wonderful story.  Enlightenment can be found in the most amazing places.

'Buddhaland Brooklyn' will be published by Scribner in July 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

A New Addiction...for Booklovers

While browsing the Publishers Weekly's site, I came across an interesting article pertaining to social media; book references and reviews and such, in particular.

So, what did I spy with my little Book Hog eye?  A new site to help all of us find books!  Of course, we'll always have each other...and Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, and our beloved public library websites.

The new book source site is called Riffle (the sound our fingers produce as we browse book pages), and it promises to be just as, I mean, glorious as Pinterest.

Although it's 'invitation only' at this time, I have sent out a post via Facebook.

Book lovers, start your engines...

Thursday, June 21, 2012


After reading the entire 'Harry Potter' series for the seventh time, I kept my eye out for a new fantasy series.  I wanted one that would sweep me away into a world of magic and fantasy, yet had it's toes in the 'real' world.  I discovered and loved 'The Magicians' by Lev Grossman, a cross between Harry Potter and 'Less Than Zero', in my humble opinion.

So, when 'Advent' by James Treadwell landed on my desk, I was very eager to partake once again in the world of magic.

It's rare when I find that I cannot get 'into' a story from the very beginning.  I had high hopes for this one.  Although it begins with the legend of Faust and Cassandra, once I started reading the chapters set in present day, I was a bit...puzzled.  

The story does not take off quickly.  But when you hit the third part of the story, you can't put it down.  The intensity increases so quickly that you are ready for the second in the series.

It begins in 1537, when Johann Faust, the greatest magician of his age, hurries toward a ship during a gathering snowstorm.  In his hands is a box containing a mirror safeguarding a part of his soul and a small ring holding all of the magic in the world.  His former lover, magical herself, follows him, begging him not to do what he intends.  Together, these simple objects comprise a most terrible magic.  Then in London, in our present day, fifteen-year-old Gavin is sent by his parents to visit his Aunt Gwen who lives in the countryside.  But when he arrives, driven from the train station by a local professor, his aunt is gone.  He eventually discovers Pendurra, a place housing those who are like him; who see things, too.  For most of his life, Gavin has been visited by a specter called Miss Grey, who foretells the end of the world.  Gavin is the only one who sees her, and for that, he is labelled 'crazy'.  She tells him that magic exists, and it is up to him to return to his inheritance and conquer that which would destroy our world.

I loved the characters in this story; it's very apparent that the author does, too.  But the story plodded along, almost making me skip pages.  But, as I said, once I hit a certain point, I couldn't put it down.  I'm loyal to the Faust legend.  As for Cassandra, I still feel horrible for the curse laid upon her and her eventual downfall.

I certainly hope that the second book in this series starts off well.

This old world could use a little magic...but at a faster pace.

'Advent' will be released on July 3, 2012 by Simon & Schuster

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Dangerous Animals Club'

Celebrity memoirs can be a challenge to read.  And when I say 'challenge', I don't mean interpreting the celebrity's philosophy.  When I say 'challenge', I mean wading through the nonsense while staying awake long enough to finish it.  

I felt this way when I picked up Stephen Tobolowsky's memoir, 'The Dangerous Animals Club'.  "Oh, man," I thought.  "Is this person going to tell me anything new?  Am I going to find some honesty?  Or is the book just crap?  And will I stay awake?"

Oh...I stayed awake.  His memoir, a joy to behold, was that interesting.  Not only did I have the privilege of peering into the mind of Stephen Tobolowsky, I learned quite a bit about his time with finding love and losing it, taking acting classes,  physics, and dealing with a cranky toddler.  And right off the bat, you learn what 'The Dangerous Animals Club' really is.  Or should I say, was.

Besides winning accolades for his acting ('Groundhog Day', 'Heroes', etc.), Stephen has turned out a memoir that showcases his skills as a storyteller.  He's entertaining and intelligent.  And while he shares with us his memories, good and bad, we discover that we, too, have traveled some of the   same roads.

Even though I have always appreciated his acting, it is now his writing that I find a genuine wonder.  I split a gut from laughing, despite his deep philosophical questions.

Perhaps you should write a play, Mr. Tobolowsky.  You just might earn a Pulitzer.

I'll be one of the first to send you warm congratulations.


'The Dangerous Animals Club' will be published in August 2012, by Simon & Schuster

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

'Something Red'

Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
-G.K. Chesterton

When I was but a young little Book Hog (or, should I say, 'Piglet'), I loved to sit off by myself and read fairy tales.  I gorged myself on the stories written by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson.  Little did I know that those stories would follow me every day of my life.  When I hear about a new movie based on, say, Beauty and the Beast, or Cinderella, or my favorite, Little Red Riding Hood, I have to run to the theater and see it.  But I always end up disappointed, although I did enjoy 'The Brother Grimm' with Heath Ledger and Matt Damon.  It was clever, yet terrifying.  'Enchanted' starring Drew Barrymore, was a wonderful take on the Cinderella story.  Two of my favorite television series are 'Grimm' and 'Once Upon a Time'; I love the way that fairy tales are rewritten for our modern world, with moral lessons still ringing true.

And I run to books that are based on fairy tales.  A wonderful example is the Young Adult novel, 'Cinder', by Marissa Meyer.  Although her story is modernized to engage young adults, the message is still the same:  Girl meets Boy; Boy loses Girl; Evil Queen tries to kill Girl.  But this time, the Boy doesn't save the Girl.  She saves herself.

'Something Red', the wonderful new novel by Douglas Nicholas, seems, at first glance, to be based on Little Red Riding Hood.  But don't be deceived.  It is full of mythology, beasts, and the magic/terror of a fierce winter storm in Great Britain in the 13th century.  

Molly, a formidable Irishwoman, is leading her makeshift family across treacherous mountains when the strongest storm in memory breaks out.  Molly, Jack (her sometime lover/helper), Nemain (her granddaughter), and Hob (her apprentice), soon learn that something evil is in the woods and it must be defeated and destroyed.  A tingle went down my spine when the evil one exposed itself via a very simple statement, one that will be easy to overlook.  

Molly is strong and self-assured, a possessor of magical talent, which she is passing on to Nemain.  And Jack is quiet, handicapped from his years as a soldier during the Crusades.  The people they meet along the way are old acquaintances, or newly-minted friends.  And there are those who do not trust Molly.

But it is Hob who is the hero of our story.  He is young and somewhat naive, but Molly trusts his instincts, and as a gift, foretells his future.

It is this foretelling that dares make me hope that Mr. Nicholas will continue this saga of Molly and Company.  Written with great skill, this atmospheric, yet gritty, story will remain with you, and it is a wonderful addition to the long line of stories devoted to the magic of fairy tales.

'Something Red' will be released in September 2012 by Atria books, a division of Simon & Schuster.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

'Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend'

I use my mind to solve problems and invent things.

The mind is a funny instrument.  It stores our memories, triggers our instinct, enables us to learn, makes us different from everyone else.  And although it can sometimes betray us, such a betrayal doesn't have to define us.  Once upon a time, Autism, a disorder of neural development, relegated those afflicted to the outer edges of civilization.  They were thought to be 'crazy', and society tended to shun them.  But as the disorder was researched and new discoveries were made, we now know that autistic individuals are not crazy; they are a step ahead of us.  Doctors and scientists, but especially parents and educators, have made great inroads into the autistic inner world, and have declared to the world that autism is not a stigma.  In fact, it can be a blessing in disguise.  From it, we have learned that we are capable of great patience, kindness, an abundance of love, and the lesson that 'normal' does not exist.     

But along with the lessons and the patience is fear.  We fear to think about what our autistic children will do when we are no longer able to take care of them.  And what about the people with whom they come into contact?  Can they be trusted?  Most importantly, will these people earn our children's trust?

'Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend', the new novel by Matthew Dicks (who is an elementary school teacher), address these fears in a simple way.  Narrated by Budo, the imaginary friend of Max, an autistic eight year-old, the story first reads like a children's book.  But as you progress through the story, Budo's message is quite clear:  Trust your child.  Trust his/her instincts.  And make sure that you know the people in his or her world.

Max attends school and has many teachers, most of them patient and understanding.  He trusts almost all of them, except for Mrs. Patterson, a paraeducator.  His instincts are alive and well, but Mrs. Patterson worms her way into his psyche and employs the use of secrets to get what she wants.

Budo is a fully-developed imaginary friend; he can walk through doors, he can talk to Max, and he can reason.  He loves Max and will do anything to protect him.  And now, Max needs Budo more than he knows.  But Max is not sharing everything with Budo, and that alone could destroy not only Max and his family, but also Budo's very existance.

The story moves quickly and addresses every parent's worst nightmare.  The characters are well developed, and the author's research and experience with autism rings true.  But, most of all, one of the major characters is evil personified.  You trust Max's instinct, and it comes through very early in the story.

But it is Budo who soars, and earns our tears.  He sees his fellow imaginary friends disappear day-after-day (Budo has existed much longer, as Max needs him more), and his own nonexistance is his major fear.  

The greatest praise that I can heap upon this book is that I loved it.  Read it, learn from it, and pass it on.

It is that important.

'Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend' will published in August 2012, by St. Martin's Press.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

'Ray Bradbury'

"If you enjoy living, it is not difficult to keep the sense of wonder"
Ray Bradbury   1920-2012

It's a sad day in Bookworld...

One of our greatest writers of speculative fiction has passed on into the greatest of adventures.

Ray Bradbury was a prolific author.  He's best known for his novels 'The Illustrated Man', 'Fahrenheit 451',  'The Martian Chronicles', screenplays, and short stories.  But, for me, my favorite of his works will always be 'Dandelion Wine', a tender, semi-autobiographical telling of a memorable summer when he was a child.  He never lost the wonder of the world.  His imagination soared through the universe, and for that, we will be eternally grateful.

Rest in peace, Mr. Bradbury.  You are missed, very much so.

Monday, June 4, 2012

'The White Forest'

I love stories centered around mythology.  Greek, Roman, Norse, British. They are everywhere, and are the basis for many of the greatest stories ever written.  Those supernatural beings were the ones we turned to for answers when our questions became too complex.

At the center of most mythology is the mother, the 'feminine'.  Because the male aspect seems to be more concerned with conquest; taking what is not to be taken, raping and pillaging; the feminine is the counterpoint, that which is strong, tender, and capable of indescribable wrath.  Not that the male side isn't capable of said wrath; their version is more like a world war. You just don't mess with Mother Nature:  Her wrath affects all aspects of humanity and reminds us that love, indeed, is the answer.  And when life is back on an even keel, the war is over...for now.

And then along came the industrial revolution in the 1800's.  Life became a bit easier for the human population, yet, at the same time, was almost the ruin of the natural world.   

As machines enabled people to enjoy more leisure time, some members of society turned to spiritualism and the supernatural.  Incessantly curious, they participated in seances, palm reading, and the search for spirits that they felt were ever-present.  Such a past-time colored Victorian literature; even Sherlock Holmes stories were not without it (Conan Doyle was notorious for his love of the paranormal).  The love of all things 'spooky and strange' is still with us; cable television abounds with series focused on searches for the paranormal.  While some think that the paranormal is total bullshit, there are those who want to believe; to uncover the mysteries, to make contact with those who have gone on to the 'great adventure'.

Adam McOmber's debut novel, 'The White Forest', is narrated by Jane Silverlake, a young woman living with her widower father in a crumbling mansion on the outskirts of Victorian London.  Jane can see the souls of man-made objects, a talent that leaves her isolated from polite society.  But after she makes friends with neighbors Nathan and Madeline, she slowly exposes her secret to them, but by doing so, finds herself in competition with Madeline for the affections of Nathan.  Nathan, however, becomes obsessed with a cult led by a charismatic mystic who isn't what he seems.  After Nathan vanishes, it is up to his two friends to rescue him...and for Jane to finally come to terms with who she really is.

This very original novel gets to the heart of the matter very quickly, and I felt great sympathy for Jane's isolation.  But as she grew stronger and came into her own, I cheered her on.  Mr. McOmber's economy of words drew me in and kept me turning pages, and the mystery surrounding Nathan's disappearance came to a stunning conclusion.

It was not what I expected.  

The novel's gothic style only adds to the delicious tension of the story, and the reader can actually lose him/herself in the atmospheric telling of a tale that could very well be turned into a film (that in itself scares me).

Although 'The White Forest' is not necessarily a 'beach read', it is well worth your time...late at night, when the moon is full and the forest beckons.

'The White Forest' will be published by Touchstone in September 2012.