Monday, August 27, 2012

'The Night Circus'

"There are many kinds of magic, after all"

It is during times like these when we all need some sort of escape.  Be it via a vacation, or a hike, or even listening to music, we need to leave behind those things which cause us stress.  

I escape into stories.  And the one I have just finished reading led me far, far away from stress and politics and financial worries.  It gently took me by the hand and led me down a path filled with brilliant imagery.  

'The Night Circus', by Erin Morgenstern, is the object of my affection.  It has been reviewed extensively; either loved or disliked by its critics, it is, for me, one of the most original stories I've encountered in a long, long time.  

Magical, delicate, a swirl of colors.  Characters that challenge you.  Characters with whom you fall in love.  A 'game' that has no purpose and no clear end in sight.  

This story is magic, plain and simple.  No parlor tricks; no 'smoke and mirrors'.  Ironically, it is full of real illusion.

The two unwilling pawns in the game are Celia, a brilliant illusionist, and Marco, one of the caretakers of Le Cirque des Rêves.  But neither are aware that they are adversaries in an ages-old game set forth by two men:  Celia's father and 'the man in the grey suit'.

As a 'stage' for the competition, Le Cirque des Rêves is born, but it is not one full of clowns, bearded ladies, and carnival games.  This is a circus ablaze with color and texture, each tent housing scenes and illusions that touch the hearts of each visitor.  You will meet Bailey; the twins, Widget and Poppet; the clockmaker, Herr Thiessen; and Chandresh Lefèvre, Marco's 'employer'.   

But if I could say more, I would.  This beautiful and well-written story must be read and savored and passed on to someone who needs a bit of magic right now.  I will visit 'The Night Circus' again, perhaps many times, and go away even more enchanted...

...after the sun sets, and the marvelous clock engages my imagination while I consider just what tent I'll visit next time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

'Imperfect Bliss'

Oh, Jane Austen!  Contemporary authors and filmmakers are having a blast with your delicious stories.

And, dear Jane, yet another has hit store shelves and e-readers, delighting another generation of fans...and bringing them back to your original source.

'Imperfect Bliss', by Susan Fales-Hill, is a delightful retelling of Austen's story, 'Pride and Prejudice'.  Set in Chevy Chase, Maryland, Harold and Forsythia Harcourt, a mixed-race couple, are raising four marriage-eligible daughters.  Forsythia has named her daughters after Windsor royals in hopes that each one would find her own true prince.  But beautiful Diana has entered herself in a new reality tv series, 'The Virgin', and her mother couldn't be happier.  Not only will the show bring the family attention, but Forsythia has her moment to shine.  Recently divorced Elizabeth (a.k.a. Bliss) and her young daughter live with her parents, and Bliss wants no part of the madness as she pursues a PhD.  But when she meets the handsome producer, she is drawn into the romance and drama of the whole event.

Sure, it's 'chick lit', but it's quite charming and literate.  The characters are unforgettable, even when you know how things will turn out.

'Imperfect Bliss' is a sweet distraction from all the weighty tomes that will be heading our way this Fall.

So sit back and enjoy yourself...

...and I'm sure you'll find the original Austen calling your name.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

'The Sherlockian'

It never fails...

While picking up a reserved book from the library, I always take the time to check the stacks; see if I've missed something.  A hidden gem, perhaps.

And I usually find one, one that is better than the book I had originally reserved.

'The Sherlockian', by Graham Moore, is my newest 'find'.  I've always been intrigued by the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and now that Sherlock has moved into the 21st century (courtesy of Stephen Moffat, he of the wonderful 'Doctor Who' reboot), I have spent wonderful days rereading the adventures written so many years ago.

When I found 'The Sherlockian' on the shelf, I swear it was calling to me.  The cover art isn't that exceptional.  I had never heard of the author, and I hadn't heard any 'word-of-mouth', the best indication that a story is worth my perusal.  I just found a simple, buff-colored hard cover, beckoning to me with that one word:  Sherlockian.  The power of that simple word was enough to hook me.

The story begins in present day, and Harold White is being inducted into the prestigious Sherlock Holmes society, the Baker Street Irregulars.  A preeminent Holme's scholar claims to have found the missing grail of everything Sherlockian:  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's missing diary.  But before it's discoverer can reveal the diary to the society, he is found murdered in his hotel room.  And the game is afoot...with Harold leading the way.

Then the story takes a turn to the past.  We find that Doyle has killed off Sherlock Holmes, and the public outcry is enormous, some people even labeling Doyle an assassin.  Sir Arthur is tired of the detective, and wants to write something different. But when a tragic, bloody mystery surfaces, Doyle is pulled into it, kicking and screaming.  With the aid of his friend, Bram Stoker, they go about investigating the murder of three young suffragettes.

A treat of mystery, intrigue, and mistaken identities, each chapter switches from present to past, a useful device that kept me on my toes while I tried to solve both mysteries.  The wonderful swirl of both eras converge into a satisfying dénouement.

As Sherlock Holmes said, "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact"

Sunday, August 5, 2012

'The Woman Who Died a Lot'

This has been a Summer of sensational stories.  

And now that Jasper Fforde has presented us with his newest book, 'The Woman Who Died a Lot', I can die happy.  Or at least walk into Autumn with a spring in my step.

In one of the most unusual series I have ever read (and come to love), Jasper's literary detective, Thursday Next, is back.  But the years (and various adventures) have caught up with my favorite heroine, and as the story opens, she is in semi-retirement following an assassination attempt ('One of Our Thursdays is Missing').  Not as physically agile as she once was, she can no longer go after the bad guys in her usual way.  But her mind, thank the deity, is still sharp and clever.  Now living with her husband, Landon, and their children, in Swindon, Thursday is offered the job of chief librarian at the Swindon All-You-Can-Eat-at-Fatso's Drink Not Included Library.

But her children are a great part of the story, and their problems are pressing.  Friday, her eldest, is faced with a dilemma that could ruin not only his life, but the entire world.  And Tuesday, her brilliant daughter, is trying to perfect the Anti-Smite shield, a device that will thwart an angry diety's plans to destroy downtown Swindon.

Jack Schitt, Goliath's villain supreme, is back, and interested in worthless 13th century codices.  Speaking of Goliath, it, too, is back with a vengeance and bent on owning the world.  Add synthetic Thursdays, 100 percent library budget cuts, and the problem with Jenny, and you have a wonderful addition to an exceptional series.

Fforde's writing is just as sharp and witty as ever, and his love of books still permeates each chapter.  I'm so very glad to learn more about Friday and Tuesday.  And the bond between Landon and Thursday is as strong as ever.   But I did miss Thursday's adventures in Bookworld.  Perhaps Fforde will return us to that literary land in his eighth book, 'Dark Reading Matter' (publication date not yet established).

If you haven't read this series, by all means, do so!  Begin with the incredible 'The Eyre Affair'.  You won't be sorry.

And as a side note to all librarians, Jasper's dedication will make your heart swell.

'The Woman Who Died a Lot' will be published in October 2012 by Viking Books.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

'Truth in Advertising'

Back in the eighties, I watched the film, 'Mr. Mom', starring one of my favorite actors at the time, Michael Keaton.  When Keaton's character loses his job at a car company, his wife takes a job at an advertising firm.  Left at home to care for the house and kids, he grows jealous of his wife's new life of creating successful ads, going on business trips, and 'bringing home the bacon'.  I found it somewhat odd that she had moved up so rapidly at the ad agency; it seemed to be too...easy.

A couple of decades later, the wonderful series, 'Mad Men', appeared, and it is set in the 'swinging sixties', an era of smoking indoors, consuming vast quantities of booze while at work, play, and home, and serious feminist issues.  It's an intriguing show, but I have to admit that I'm in love with Jon Hamm, the star of the series.  Sure, his character is a pig, but he's a hardworking pig.  The viewer is treated to the mean inner workings of an ad agency, and it leaves one exhausted.  But the only reason I'll sit through the Superbowl is to watch the fantastic commercials and applaud the creative teams who come up with such interesting ideas.

When 'Truth in Advertising', the first novel by John Kenney, landed in my lap, I wondered if it would be a gritty exposé of the advertising world.  Upon learning that Kenney had worked as a copywriter for about seventeen years, I decided to give his book a try.  Experience makes all the difference when it comes to writing a story based on an author's former 'day job'.

First of all, I laughed my ass off.  Honestly.  Kenney's main character, Fin Dolan, works for a Madison Avenue ad agency, and his inner voice is sharp, sardonic and downright hilarious.  Not long before the story begins, Fin has cancelled his wedding, and now, a few days before Christmas, he's forced to cancel a vacation in order to come up with a diaper ad which will air during the Superbowl.

But this story isn't all laughs.  Fin grew up in a home with an abusive father, who later abandoned the family.  And now that father is ill and alone.  Despite the fact that he has siblings, Fin is the only one who visits his father, and while doing so, mulls over his past lies and mistakes and the choices he has made. 

Like I said, you'll laugh out loud.  Kenney has a real talent for making his characters come alive, but his true gift is getting to the heart of Fin Dolan; what makes him tick, why he lies.  

'Truth in Advertising' is poignant and moving, wicked and funny.

And that's the truth.

'Truth in Advertising' will be released in early January 2013 by Touchstone Books, a division of Simon & Schuster