Monthly Archives: June 2013

And the Mountains Echoed

By Khaled Hosseini

(Riverhead  $28.95, 416 pages)

Who is this author?

An author, a medical doctor and a philanthropist, Khaled Hosseini, who was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965 and grew up in California, achieved instantaneous success with his 2003 debut novel, “The Kite Runner,” which became a book club favorite and a movie in 2007. His second novel, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” (2009) also was a No. 1 best-seller and the two books have sold upwards of 10 million copies in the United States and 38 million worldwide. Hosseini has channeled his good fortune into good works: he is a Goodwill Envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Refugee Agency, and he created The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, a nonprofit organization that gives humanitarian aid people in Afghanistan.

What is this book about?

Hosseni explores timeless themes in his third novel: how we love and betray one another and how we take “home” with us no matter how far away we may roam. The story begins in Afghanistan in 1952 when a poor laborer whose first wife died giving birth to a little girl sells HIS  now 3-year-old daughter to a rich poet and her husband, for badly needed funds to support his new wife and the rest of his family. This decision breaks the heart of his son Abdullah, who was very close to the little girl, Pari, and its ramifications echo through the decades and across continents as the story progresses and an expanding cast of characters find themselves in California, Greece and France. The act of selling a child creates a sadness and recrimination that affects the family and those close to them and traces the diaspora of Afghan citizens seeking a better life, or at least a life that sustains them.

Why you’ll like it:

Hosseini has the born storyteller’s gift of engaging his audience. Though this book is peopled with a complex collection of characters, he knits their stories together in a satisfying way, and gives abstract questions of identity, family love and strife and morality a human face. Those who delighted in his first two books will undoubtedly find themselves captivated by this one as well.

What others are saying:

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, May 2013, review says: “Khaled Hosseini’s ‘And the Mountains Echoed’ begins simply enough, with a father recounting a folktale to his two young children. The tale is about a young boy who is taken by a div (a sort of ogre), and how that fate might not be as terrible as it first seems—a brilliant device that firmly sets the tone for the rest of this sweeping, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting novel. A day after he tells the tale of the div, the father gives away his own daughter to a wealthy man in Kabul. What follows is a series of stories within the story, told through multiple viewpoints, spanning more than half a century, and shifting across continents. The novel moves through war, separation, birth, death, deceit, and love, illustrating again and again how people’s actions, even the seemingly selfless ones, are shrouded in ambiguity. This is a masterwork by a master storyteller.”

The Washington Post  says: “Nuance is rare on the bestseller list. In most cases, ambiguity is stripped away to appeal to the greatest number and lowest common denominator. So… when a popular novelist shows a decided preference for moral complexity. It suggests that readers crave more than simplistic escape. Or perhaps it just means that some writers, like Khaled Hosseini, know how to whisk rough moral fiber into something exquisite…Over and over again, he takes complicated characters and roasts them slowly, forcing us to revise our judgments about them and to recognize the good in the bad and vice versa.”

“This bittersweet family saga spans six decades and transports readers from Afghanistan to France, Greece, and the United States. Hosseini …weaves a gorgeous tapestry of disparate characters joined by threads of blood and fate. Siblings Pari and Abdullah are cruelly separated at childhood. A disfigured young woman, Thalia, is abandoned by her mother and learns to love herself under the tutelage of a surrogate. Markos, a doctor who travels the world healing strangers, avoids his sick mother back home. A feminist poet, Nila Wahdatire, reinvents herself through an artful magazine interview, and Nabi, who is burdened by a past deed, leaves a letter of explanation. Each character tells his or her version of the same story of selfishness and selflessness, acceptance and forgiveness, but most important, of love in all its complex iterations. VERDICT:  In this uplifting and deeply satisfying book, Hosseini displays an optimism not so obvious in his previous works. Readers will be clamoring for it,” says Library Journal.

Says The Barnes & Noble Review:  “Each of Khaled Hosseini’s three novels … begins with a betrayal and then gradually finds its way toward an unexpected redemption. Each includes … at least one orphaned or abandoned child. In all three books, the author exhibits an unabashed didacticism, using plainspoken family dramas to convey the complex recent history and culture of Afghanistan to multitudes of readers in America and around the world. Yet … the author’s allegiance is above all to the story, from which he has stripped away most stylistic enhancements, reducing his tale to its emotional essence. To Hosseini’s detractors, his narrative purity comes off as trite earnestness. To his legions of fans it’s a virtue, a hallmark of credibility and consistency. …Hosseini’s intention is to show how stubbornly a homeland manages to cling to a person, in strange and diluted ways, even after years of dispersion and assimilation…An author with a less urgent calling might be willing merely to manage the brand of his or her success, recycling the same magic formulas that initially captivated audiences. Not so for Hosseini, a popular-fiction writer of the highest caliber whose talent is as agile and wide-ranging as his new novel itself.”

When is it available?

Multiple copies of this book have been ordered for the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Goodwin Branch.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

The Movement of Stars: A Novel

 by Amy Brill

 (Penguin/Riverhead, $27.95, 400 pages)

Who is this author?

This is Amy Brill’s debut novel, so her name may not be familiar to you. She is a native New Yorker who now lives in Brooklyn – there must be a law that requires hot young literary talent to live there these days – and she has a background in broadcast journalism, having worked for PBS and MTV, for whom she wrote “The Social History of HIV,’ winning a prestigious Peabody Award for that project.

Articles, essays and short stories by Brill have been published on Salon and in Guernica, Time Out New York and the anthology,  “Before and After: Stories from New York and Lost and Found.”

What is this book about?

“The Movement of Stars” is a historical novel and a love story, inspired by the life of America’s first female professional astronomer, Maria Mitchell, a 19th century pioneer who discovered a comet in 1847 and won the King of Denmark Prize for her work.

Brill’s novel is set on Nantucket in 1845, where Hannah Gardner Price, a 24-year-old Quaker and dutiful daughter, is expected to help her father make and repair navigation instruments and tend the village library, while awaiting marriage and motherhood. But Hannah’s passion is studying mathematics and  the stars, dreaming of finding a comet and being the first woman to win the Danish prize – that is, until Isaac, a young second mate on a whaling ship, who is a handsome, dark-skinned native of the Azores, seeks her help in having his ship’s chronometer recalibrated.

Soon, her whole life is being recalibrated, as Isaac becomes her student, supporter and close companion, her father remarries and threatens to move Hannah to Philadelphia, and the Quaker community displays distressing prejudice because of Hannah’s relationship with Isaac. Hannah must summon up hitherto untapped intellectual and emotional resources to pursue her dreams.

Why you’ll like it:

Brill worked for 15 years researching and writing this novel, and that was time and effort well-spent. It is really four stories in one: a historical tale, a look at early scientific study, a rousing love story and a novel of a woman’s awakening, all beautifully braided into one book. The author has won praise from reviewers for her simple, straightforward prose, which mirrors the Quaker aesthetic, the deft way she blends historical fact with inspiring fiction and her evocative description of Nantucket Island and its people.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says:  “A determined young woman, born into a Quaker community in 19th-century Nantucket, defies social norms on the path to becoming a “lady astronomer” in Brill’s charming debut novel. Very loosely based on historical “girl” astronomer Maria Mitchell, Hannah Price spends her days going to Quaker meetings and tending to books at her town’s library, but nights she spends with her eyes on celestial bodies or crouched over mathematical calculations, dreaming of discovering a comet all her own. A serious girl obsessed with the pursuit of knowledge, Hannah fears the passionate restlessness of her twin brother Edward, even as she rejects the strictures of marrying to attain stability. Hannah’s sober routine is interrupted when she takes on a new pupil, Isaac Martin, a sailor from the Azores, whose race shakes up Hannah’s standing in the town. Martin’s ideas and instinctive personal connection with his new teacher alter her attitude toward love and faith. From the main streets of Nantucket to its dunes and shores, from a Harvard observatory to the cities of Europe, Hannah’s emotional and professional journey will please fans of feminist-minded and romantic historical fiction.

Says Kirkus Reviews: “A young woman has her eyes opened to her community’s limitations–and her own–in television writer/producer Brill’s strong debut.  …Hannah dreams of sighting a new comet and winning the King of Denmark’s prize, but when her long-widowed father announces that he plans to remarry and relocate to Philadelphia, assuming as a matter of course that Hannah must accompany him, she sees painfully and angrily how little control she has over her own life. She is further unsettled by Isaac Martin, a sailor from the Azores who brings his ship’s chronometer to be recalibrated and asks Hannah to teach him how to use it. Quakers are against slavery but hardly free of racial prejudice; Hannah’s sessions with Isaac scandalize the meeting–and though her critics are narrow-minded, they’re not wrong that she is uneasily attracted to a man she has been raised to believe is beneath her. Hannah is by no means a saintly heroine …she is quick to judge and slow to see anything that can’t be observed through astronomical instruments. In spare yet luminous prose, Brill shows Hannah achieving emotional and spiritual growth to match her intellectual gifts… Brill’s realistic, poignant conclusion gives her appealing protagonist almost equal portions of happiness and sorrow….Probing yet accessible, beautifully written and richly characterized: fine work from a writer to watch.

“Brill has created a compelling and likable character in Hannah Price; it’s easy to root for her to find her comet and acknowledge her feelings for Isaac. Hannah’s search during a period of great discovery and advancement in astronomy, as well as her relationship with Isaac amid widespread abolitionist sentiments, adds up to a stirring historical drama,” says Booklist.

“A well-drawn love story can dominate any novel, but Brill manages to weave many threads through her story. Nantucket is carefully and lovingly drawn…Siasconset roses in June, the movements of plovers, the million shades of grey, “slate, mourning dove, granite, thistle.” The Society of Friends, once a large part of the population …is fading midcentury and with it a way of island life. …Brill also captures the thrill of this age of discovery … she lets us see how the forces at work in the world were also at work inside Hannah and Isaac….Destiny is tricky to pin on the page and can swamp a good novel. Brill does an excellent job balancing the love story with the importance of Hannah’s success for future generations of women,” says Susan Salter Reynolds in a Barnes & Noble review.

When is it available?

Amy Brill’s novel is on the new books shelf at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!


By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

(Knopf, $26.95, 496 pages)

Who is this author?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in southeastern Nigeria, where her father was a professor of statistics at the University of Nigeria and her mother was the university registrar. Now 35, she is considered one of the best young writers of our day. At 19, she left Nigeria for further study in the United States, first attending Drexel University in Philadelphia and then transferring to Eastern Connecticut State University to live closer to her sister, who had a medical practice in Coventry. After earning her bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in 2001 from ECSU, she went on to earn a master’s degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Arts in African studies from Yale University. She is a recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship.

Her novels are “Purple Hibiscus,” which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and “Half of a Yellow Sun,” named for the flag of the doomed African nation of Biafra and set before and during the vicious warfare there.  It won the Orange Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, a New York Times Notable Book, and a People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the Year. Adichie also is the author of a story collection, “The Thing Around Your Neck.”  Now married, she lives in the U.S. and Nigeria.

What is this book about?

“Americanah” follows the loves and lives of two young Nigerian emigres, who pursue new lives in the United States and England, facing all kinds of difficulties and culture shock. Once classmates in love at a school in Lagos, Nigeria, they part ways when beautiful and brilliant Ifemelu leaves to study in America, where she struggles to understand the American preoccupation with race and the effects of racism. Her boyfriend, the quieter and shyer Obinze, is denied entrance to the U.S. following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and winds up dodging the authorities and desperately seeking work as an undocumented immigrant in London. Eventually, she, having found success as a writer and blogger and he, having found work and amassed wealth, return to Nigeria and rekindle their relationship, leading to more upheaval and the need for difficult decisions.

Why you’ll like it:

Adichie has a gorgeous writing voice and a perceptive appreciation of contemporary racial issues and how they permeate our culture. She uses her writing skill and political savvy here to underpin a fascinating love story. In a time when the issue of immigration is a hot and touchy topic in the United States, this book illuminates many facets of what immigrants face when trying to become part of a different nation.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: “Adichie burst onto the literary scene in 2006 with “Half of a Yellow Sun,” her searing depiction of the civil war in Nigeria. Her equally compelling and important new novel follows the lives of that country’s postwar generation as they suffer endemic corruption and poverty under a military dictatorship. An unflinching but compassionate observer, Adichie writes a vibrant tale about love, betrayal, and destiny; about racism; and about a society in which honesty is extinct and cynicism is the national philosophy. She broadens her canvas to include both America and England, where she illuminates the precarious tightrope existence of culturally and racially displaced immigrants.  The friendship of Ifemelu and Obinze begins in secondary school in Lagos and blossoms into love. When Ifemelu earns a scholarship to an American college, Obinze intends to join her after his university graduation, but he’s denied a U.S. visa. He manages to get to London where his plight is typical of illegal immigrants there: he uses another man’s ID so he can find menial, off-the-grid work, with the attendant loss of dignity and self-respect. The final blow comes when he’s arrested and deported home. Ifemelu, meanwhile, faces the same humiliations, indignities, and privations—first in New York, then in Philadelphia….. Later she becomes a babysitter for a wealthy white family and begins writing a provocative blog on being black in America that bristles with sharp, incisive observations about racism. …Her decision to return home to Nigeria (where she risks being designated as an affected “Americanah”) is the turning point of the novel’s touching love story and an illuminating portrait of a country still in political turmoil.”

“Scintillating, funny, and heartfelt. Ifemelu, a Nigerian transplant whose 13-year tenure as a resident of the United States has come to an end, is a complex and unforgettable character. . . . A portion of the narrative is told from the perspective of Ifemelu’s first love, Obinze. The journeys of these characters, their brush-ups with race, class, politics, literature, family on three continents result in an utterly transfixing epic. . . . Among its many strengths, Americanah is superlative at making clear just how isolating it can be to live far away from home. . . . Affecting,”   says Eugenia Williamson in The Boston Globe.


“…In a book … where both wealth and poverty leave characters shackled to lives they don’t want, and the path to adulthood is fraught with betrayal, disillusionment and loss of identity—one of the great joys is the charm of Ifemelu’s romance with Obinze. . . . With great technical dexterity, Adichie weaves the love story in and out of the other stories the characters make of their lives…. These separate pieces feel both self-contained and in conversation with one another, most notably Ifemelu’s blog posts, [which] are by turns knowing and witty and filled with outrage, and add a surprising layer of depth by contextualizing Ifemelu’s experiences within a larger framework of the immigrant and minority experience. …It is a brilliant treatise on race, class and globalization, and also a deep, clear-eyed story about love —and how it can both demand and make possible the struggle to become our most authentic selves,”  says Catherine Chung in the San Francisco Chronicle.

 “[The] fleeting, often romantic notion of ‘home’ is just one of many themes in Adichie’s brilliant new novel . . . While Adichie provides an exciting and emotional plot, she also holds nothing back regarding the personal struggles, questions and failings of her characters, making for an emotionally-engaging and intellectually-stimulating read. . . . Feelings of uncertainty are common for Adichie’s characters, providing great moments of reflection about race, economics, love and aging. In this way Adichie shows that the road home is never easy, and what changes most along the journey—for better or for worse—is us,” says Laura Farmer in The Gazette.

“Adichie has written a big knockout of a novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color . . . “Americanah” is a sweeping story that derives its power as much from Adichie’s witty and fluid writing style as it does from keen social commentary. . . . “Americanah” works in so many different genres—coming-of-age novel, romance, comic novel of social manners, up-to-the-minute meditation on race, as well as the aforementioned immigrant saga—that I’m shortchanging its bounty by only mentioning some of the main characters’ adventures here. Like Ifemelu’s hairdo, Adichie’s novel tightly braids together multiple ideas and storylines. It’s a marvel of skilled construction and imagination,” says Maureen Corrigan for NPR.

When is it available?

You can find “Americanah” on the new books shelf at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers, and Reflections

By Patrick Smith

(Sourcebooks, $14.99, 320 pages)

Who is this author?

So who is Patrick Smith, anyway? We know he is a commercial airline pilot, air travel columnist and author, but we aren’t sure that is his real name or which airline he flies for. We know he wrote the “Ask the Pilot” column on from 2002 until 2012 and that he still writes a blog called askthepilot,com. We know he grew up in Revere, Mass., and still lives near Boston, has appeared many times on radio and TV and is often quoted in the media. He began flying as a copilot on 15-seat turboprops and went on to fly cargo and passenger jets. For sure, we know that he knows a whole lot more than we know about flying and airports and the entire airline industry.

What is this book about?

Here is what Smith says about why he wrote this book:

“More than ever, air travel is a focus of curiosity, intrigue, anxiety and anger.  In these pages I do my best to inform and entertain.  I provide answers for the curious, reassurance for the anxious and unexpected facts for the deceived. I begin with a simple premise: everything you think you know about flying is wrong.  That’s an exaggeration, I hope, but not an outrageous starting point in light of what I’m up against.  Commercial aviation is a breeding ground of bad information, and the extent to which different myths, fallacies, wives’ tales and conspiracy theories have become embedded in the prevailing wisdom is startling.  Even the savviest frequent flyers are prone to misconstruing much of what actually goes on.

“Which isn’t surprising.  Air travel is a complicated, inconvenient, and often scary affair for millions of people, while at the same time cloaked in secrecy.  Its mysteries are concealed behind a wall of specialized jargon, corporate reticence and an irresponsible media.  Airlines, it hardly needs saying, aren’t the most forthcoming of entities, while journalists and broadcasters like to keep it simple and sensational.”

So Smith has written a book to demystify the many aspects of air travel. It may not make your trips any smoother – in the airport or in the sky – but having read it, you will have a better understanding of why things go the way they do.

Why you’ll like it:

Whether you are frightened more by the idea of being in a metal box up in the sky or by the endless potential for hassles at the airport, this book can help. Smith offers a powerful combination of insider knowledge and experience, leavened with a great sense of humor, something that always comes in handy when you need to travel by air. He’s good at explaining otherwise incomprehensible rules and regulations and the features of planes and airports. Reading his book is like having a conversation with a very knowledgeable friend. And remember, knowledge is power.

What others are saying:

“Patrick Smith is extraordinarily knowledgeable about modern aviation and communicates beautifully in English, not in pilot-ese. The ideal seatmate, a companion, writer, and explorer,” says Alex Beam in the Boston Globe.

“I wish I could fold Patrick Smith and put him in my suitcase,” says Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of “Freakonomics.”

Says Publishers Weekly: “If you’re a white-knuckle flyer, this informative, comprehensive book on air travel is for you. Smith, an airplane pilot and travel writer, takes the mystery out of commercial aviation by giving the reader the basic elements of flight, explaining how these large planes stay airborne; the dangers of takeoffs and landings; and the dreaded presence of wind shear and turbulence. Casual in tone though detailed, Smith’s narrative does not skirt the safety issues of lightning and bird strikes on the aircraft, and one of the most dangerous problems— ice build-up. Whether he’s writing about the confined legroom of the “puddle jumper regional jets” or the rigid training of pilots, he never gets caught in industry jargon or talking down to the reader. The regular air passenger will be intrigued by his expert take on the hazards of the modern airport, with overbooking, delays, and lapses in customer service, while the nervy one might gain a measure of relief—or not. Along with the inside scoop on collisions, crashes, and terrorism in air history, Smith paints an unflinching portrait of modern air travel with several fresh and unexpected insights.”

“Cockpit Confidential”… was eminently readable from the first page. Much of the book is presented in a question and answer format. Almost any question you have ever had about any aspect of commercial flying is addressed. Smith is extraordinarily comprehensive and just as extraordinarily lucid in his explanations.

The many anecdotes give the book a very personal touch, too. Since Smith has been fascinated by aircraft since childhood, since he’s been an airline pilot since 1990, he certainly has the qualifications to write this book. Luckily for readers, he’s also a gifted writer, unafraid to tackle controversial subjects like airport security, flight delays, and airline customer service (or the lack thereof). He’s a talented researcher, giving a brief history of airline disasters. He discusses the people who fly the planes, who make up the crew, and how they are trained. The book is very thorough,” says the blog called The Spotted Tail.

When is it available?

It’s waiting for takeoff at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Dwight Branch.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age

by Allen Barra

(Crown Archetype, $27, 496 pages)

Who is this author?

Those of you who used to read the book review pages in The Courant from 202 to 2008, when I was Books Editor, may recall seeing reviews of sports books by Allen Barra. I was always happy to present his intelligent appraisals. Born in Alabama and now living in New Jersey, Barra is a journalist and author of a dozen or so books, specializing in, but not limited to, sports. He’s written essay collections and biographies of Yogi Berra, Paul “Bear” Bryant and Wyatt Earp and books on baseball and football. His writing appears in the Village Voice, the Wall Street Journal and  and he’s written for the Daily Beast and Salon.

What is this book about?

It’s about Mickey and Willie and the parallels Barra sees in their personal lives and legendary baseball careers with the Yankees and Giants, respectively.

In an interview in the San Francisco Examiner, Barra says he “remembers the exact moment that eventually spurred him to write “Mickey and Willie,” when he was a young boy in New Jersey. “I got a Topps package of baseball cards which had both Mantle and Mays in it,” he said, in a telephone conversation. “I thought it was a natural pairing, and I still do.”

The two centerfielders were longtime friends, similar in age and physicality, and from Southern backgrounds. They entered the New York sports world at around the same time, and they both had private lives their fans did not know much about. And they had to live up to their fans’ grandiose expectations.

Barra digs deep into their triumphs on the field and travails in life in this deeply researched book.

Why you’ll like it:

Barra writes with authority, having spent a long career expressing his opinions and researching facts about various sports and the colorful characters who play them. He tells his stories with the appealing enthusiasm of a fan and the knowledge of a historian, producing a book that most reviewers are calling a solid hit.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says:  “In these elegant and touching fan notes, acclaimed sportswriter Barra carries us back to baseball’s golden days, when two giants—Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays—dominated the game through their skill and prodigious talent. Giving a fast-paced, season-by-season account of the lives of these players, whose careers developed along parallel lines and sometimes intersected, Barra recreates the excitement, the adoration, and the adulation that Mantle and Mays inspired in their fans—as well as the occasional disappointments. Barra notes the many similarities in the players’ lives: both hailed from the South and both were talented all-around athletes who played football, baseball, and basketball; both had fathers who encouraged them, though Mays’s let his son follow his talents to center field naturally, while Mantle’s groomed his son for center field from the start. Alike as they were, the differences were stark: Mays came from a broken home and Mantle from a large, close-knit family. Barra pulls no punches as he candidly portrays Mantle’s struggles with alcohol and Mays’s anxiety attacks off the field. …Drawing on his conversations with Mantle and Mays, Barra offers illuminating insights into their views of success and failure as well as into the ways that we often create larger-than-life heroes out of individuals who sometimes cannot carry the burdens of our dreams and hopes.

Says Library Journal: “Barra traces the rise of these two baseball icons of the Yankees and Giants, respectively, the two greatest players, he believes, from roughly 1951 through 1964. In that era the sports world centered on baseball more than it does today, especially on crosstown rivals. Barra recounts his one-time hero worship of both Mantle and Mays, and his coming to terms with the fact that prodigious athletic talent does not necessarily translate into personal heroism. He portrays Mantle, once referred to by a teammate as “a blond god,” and Mays, the “Say Hey Kid,” as virtually unsurpassed Hall of Fame talents with tortured souls and complex legacies. …but Barra discusses their lives off the field (doomed marriages, financial failure, individual eccentricities). VERDICT Part memoir, part baseball history, part biography, this book is sure to be a winner with multiple audiences: fans, historians, and nonspecialists alike. Highly recommended.”

“Veteran sports journalist and biographer Barra (Yogi Berra, 2009, etc.) returns with a dual biography of two of baseball’s all-time greats. …Throughout his well-researched and generous tale, he continually alludes to the similarities of these Hall of Fame centerfielders. From their baseball-playing fathers to their eerie physical resemblances to their remarkable multiple talents (hitting, power, speed, throwing arms), Barra highlights the enormous improbability of two such gifted athletes arriving simultaneously. Of course, there were differences. Mays, an African-American, always had to contend with race; there were critics who thought he did not do enough for civil rights. Mantle was an alcoholic (Mays never drank), a weakness that tarnished his image and limited his still-remarkable achievements. …Ages are “golden” only in misty-eyed retrospect, but Barra excels at showing these athletes’ superhuman abilities and all-too-human frailties,” says Kirkus Reviews.

When is it available?

This book is on the roster at the Downtown Hartford Public Library now.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Farewell, Dorothy Parker

By Ellen Meister

(Penguin, $26.95, 320 pages)

Who is this author?

A  novelist who teaches creative writing at Hofstra University School of Continuing Education and runs an online group where she mentors aspiring women authors, Ellen Meister has published three other novels: “The Other Life,” “The Smart One” and “Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA.” She also has held editorial positions at literary journals.

What is this book about?

This is a what-if novel that will have special appeal to admirers of Dorothy Parker, the jazz-age movie critic, scathing journalist, light verse poet, brilliant short story writer and star of the famous Algonquin Round table of New York wits, who also was an alcoholic and seriously unlucky in love.

I count myself among her fans, and recall that while in college, the night before my dorm room was to be repainted, I happily Magic-Marker-ed the walls from ceiling to floor with some of my favorite Parker quotes. (No, I did not get expelled. We had permission to go graffiti-wild.)

The what-if of this novel is this: Suppose you also were a movie critic with a slashing style but timid as a mouse in real life, with a snotty assistant, bad boyfriend and a niece whose custody you were trying but failing to gain. And suppose the spirit of the formidable Ms. Parker came into your life and helped you to grow a spine. And then suppose you could not persuade her to go away? It’s a great set-up for a novel, and one that I suspect Parker herself would approve.

Why you’ll like it:

It’s not likely that anyone will ever surpass Parker herself in writing with a coruscating wit that doesn’t always mask a tender heart, but Meister gives it a go here and does a fine job. Parker was bitingly clever, but she also had the strength to express sadness, even pathos, in her writing, and this novel also blends humor and poignancy in a powerful way.

What others are saying:

“Meister honors Dorothy Parker, her still-fresh political convictions, and her body of witty, insightful work in this very nice literary romp…. Parker was the perfect New Yorker: sharp, witty and eminently quotable. And it is clear that Meister had a lot of responsible fun paying tribute to her,” says Bookreporter.

“What bliss to be in the company of a reimagined Dorothy Parker!  Ellen Meister’s wonderful novel delivers the wit, ingenuity and elegiac sass worthy of the Algonquin Table’s most quoted member. Long live Dorothy Parker and her zingers, resurrected so winningly in these pages,” says author Elinor Lipman.

Publishers Weekly says: “Meister casts Dorothy Parker as a blithe spirit in her fanciful third novel…). Though movie critic Violet Epps has become famous for her scathing no-holds-barred wit, off the page, Violet is “held captive by her own timidity”; she can’t seem to dump her freeloading boyfriend, her assistant walks all over her, and she rarely accepts social invitations. Worst of all, this shyness has resulted in her being denied temporary custody of her recently orphaned 13-year-old niece, just when the girl needs her “Aunt V” the most. A fateful dinner at the Algonquin Hotel (one-time Parker hangout) ends with Violet becoming haunted by the spirit of her greatest influence. The acid-tongued, gin-swilling ghost immediately sets to meddling in Violet’s affairs….With Parker’s help, Violet takes risks at work, connects with a new man, and finds the courage to make an impassioned plea for custody of her niece. With Violet’s help, Parker’s spirit may finally find peace. Meister skillfully translates the rapier-like wit of the Algonquin Round Table to modern-day New York. There are no shocking twists, but pathos, nuanced characters, plenty of rapid-fire one-liners, and a heart-rending denouement.”

Says Kirkus Reviews: The ghost of the eponymous 20th-century wit visits a present-day movie reviewer who lacks Parker’s backbone in this mix of comedy and tear-jerker from Meister …Violet displays a pungent wit as a writer of reviews, but in her personal life, she’s a wimp, and her paralyzing anxiety may cost her. …Then, she visits the Algonquin Hotel and ends up walking out with a guest book signed by all the literary luminaries. When she opens the books, she releases the spirit of Dorothy Parker, who has chosen not to follow “the white light,” preferring to hang around drinking and making clever witticisms…Dorothy befriends Violet, giving her advice and occasionally literally taking over her body, causing Violet to behave uncharacteristically to say the least….. But can Dorothy’s helpfulness go too far? As self-empowerment romantic comedies go, this perfectly pleasant one hits all the predictable marks.

“In this funny yet tender homage to Dorothy Parker, Meister’s fourth …resurrects the iconic wit of the literary legend. Violet Epps tiptoes through life wearing her anxiety and deference to others like a shield…. Little does Violet realize that along with the Algonguin Hotel guest book that she impulsively stole and that is signed by her idol comes the spectral Mrs. Parker. Coached (and sometimes possessed!) by Mrs. Parker, Violet practices finding her voice and putting her past to rest so that she can fully face her future. VERDICT With a breezy and engaging writing style complete with Parkeresque banter, Meister’s book can be forgiven a slightly predictable storyline. Realizing how it will end takes no pleasure from the reading, and the blend of romance and family drama with a hint of the paranormal has broad appeal,” says Library Journal.

When is it available?

You can say hello to “Farewell, Dorothy Parker’ at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!


By Joe Hill

(Morrow, $28.99, 704 pages

Who is this author?

No, he’s not the Joe Hill of the labor movement folk song. He’s the Joe Hill who decided not to hitch a ride to publishing glory by using his famous family name, which is King. As in: Stephen. (And as in Tabitha, Joe’s mom, and Owen, his brother, also published writers.)

Hill has earned his own acclaim with several works of fantasy fiction: the bestselling “Horns,” “Heart-Shaped Box” and prize-winning “20th Century Ghosts.” He’s known for his devilish humor and ability to simultaneously scare and delight readers, which is not as easy as it may sound…but then, it runs in the family. He is also the Eisner Award-winning writer of an ongoing comic book series, Locke & Key.

What is this book about?

If a guy driving a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with a license plate reading NOS4A2 offers you a ride to an amusement park called Christmasland, run like hell. Kids who make the trip with seductive and evil Charles Talent Manx are changed forever, and not for the better. The one girl who manages to escape is Victoria McQueen. She has supernatural powers too: she can find missing things if she rides her bike over the mysterious Shorter Way covered bridge that appears when she needs it and leads to wherever she needs to go…and then disappears. Now grown, she’d like to forget all about Charlie, but she can’t: Mr. NOS4A2 is back on the road and he’s just picked up a new rider: her own son.

Why you’ll like it:

Hill can bring the scary, and the funny, too: Pronounce “NOS4A2” like a word and see if you don’t recognize the name. And doesn’t Charlis Talent Manx sound a bit like Charles Manson? Little ironic goodies like those sparkle throughout the book, which also has the power to scare the daylights out of its readers. But most important: this is a work of horror fiction, and it horrifies like the best of them. Hill may not want to use his famous dad’s last name, but he’s producing books that will thrill those readers just as Stephen King does. The only downside of this book is that it turns Christmas into something more like Halloween.


What others are saying:

In The New York Times , Janet Maslin says: “…throat-grabbing…Mr. Hill envisions an epic battle between real and imaginary worlds, makes this fight credible and creates a heroine who can recklessly crash from one realm to the other…NOS4A2 is full of chills and cliffhangers, but it never turns needlessly grotesque.”

The Washington Post calls this book: “…horror fiction at its most ambitious…A road novel, a horror novel and—most centrally—a novel of character, NOS4A2 is a substantial accomplishment, and it marks Hill…as a major force—perhaps the major force—among the younger generation of horror writers. Like the best of its dark breed, it offers visceral narrative pleasures while never losing sight of the human element that lies just below the extravagantly imagined surface. The result is a frightening, ultimately moving novel that speaks directly to the plight of abducted children. At the same time, it presents a deeply empathetic portrait of a damaged woman struggling to recover her lost, best self.”

 Publishers Weekly says: “Horror is too simplistic a word for Joe Hill’s new novel, but there’s no denying it makes the skin crawl like a worm on a hot rock. …what makes it work best is that it is a novel of well-defined characters, and one character in particular: ….Victoria McQueen. ….She can find lost things. She does this by concentrating on the object and riding her bike…subtly carried away into a world that seems as real as her own. …It’s an amazing talent but it has a price, both physical and emotional. …as she gets older she comes across someone she thinks can explain them to her—a woman with a bag of Scrabble game tiles through which she divines answers, reminiscent of an ancient soothsayer prowling through animal guts and rattling human knuckle bones….. In contrast to Vic…is Charles Manx…He arrives in our world out of a place called Christmasland, a phantasmagoric amusement park full of dark possibilities and, in spite of its child-pleasing title, containing about as much light and happiness as a concentration camp at midnight. Like Dracula, Manx has his Renfield—Bing Partridge, a pathetic gas-mask-wearing follower…. Manx, Bing, and Vic cross paths, as one would expect, and it’s a dynamic collision… With this novel, riveting from beginning to end, Joe Hill has become a master of his craft.

“What child wouldn’t want to live in a place where it’s Christmas every day? Where life is hot cocoa, gingerbread, gifts, and amusement park rides? Every year, Charlie Manx takes one or two “special” children in his vintage Rolls Royce (license plate reads “NOS4A2″) to Christmasland, a place that can’t be found on any conventional map, where they get to experience the joy of Christmas morning every day and never grow up. But underneath the pretty wrapping paper, Christmasland is not all that it seems. Vic McQueen can also travel to places that most people don’t know exist, and at age 17, she attempts to put a stop to Manx’s trips to Christmasland. Years later when Manx resurfaces and kidnaps her son, Vic will risk everything to rescue her son and put an end to Christmasland once and for all. …Fascinating and utterly engaging, this novel is sure to leave readers wanting more. One thing is certain, however. After reading this book, readers will never hear Christmas carols in quite the same way again, says Library Journal.


Kirkus Reviews says: “A good-natured romp in the garden of good and evil…If you remember Stephen King’s It or, heck, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” you’ll remember that there are few setups creepier than a dude with shiny toys luring children to their doom. It gets creepier still when Santa Claus has “gaping jaws,” and a supernatural harpy comes equipped with ornaments that “dangled from her pierced breasts”–why, it’s enough to put a person off Christmas forever. The author of all this mayhem (and Hill is so skillful that we don’t know till the very end whether he’ll get away with it) is a mysterious but charming hellion named Charles Talent Manx, who likes nothing better than to take the local youth for a one-way spin in a Rolls-Royce Wraith bearing the easily deciphered license plate that is the novel’s title. Can anyone stop his infernal joy riding? Maybe, just maybe, and it makes perfect sense that it’s a steampunk-ish young woman who patrols the Massachusetts landscape on a Raleigh bike. Though there are King-ian shades–the underworld setup, the possessed car, the cool chick–Hill’s story is quite original, and, for horror fans of a certain ironic bent, it’s an unqualified delight, well-written and, within limits, believable…. Bonus points for being smart and having a young woman as a heroine who doesn’t need saving herself.

When is it available?

You can scare up a copy at the Downtown Hartford Public Library or its Ropkins Branch.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

The Burgess Boys

by Elizabeth Strout

(Random House, $26, 336 pages)

Who is this author?

Elizabeth Strout won a Pulitzer Prize for her third book, the New York Times bestseller “Olive Kitteridge,” a collection of linked short stories about a cranky, crusty yet ultimately sympathetic wife and mother in Maine who readers found difficult to like at first, and then difficult to forget. Her first novel, “Amy and Isabel,” was about a mother and daughter in MaIne; her second, the bestselling “Abide With Me,’ is about a New England minister wracked with doubt following a tragedy. She lives in Maine and New York City.

Where does she get her ideas? Here is what Strout told a Barnes & Noble interviewer:

“Without a doubt my mother was an inspiration for my writing. This is true in many ways, but mostly because she is a wonderful storyteller, without even knowing it. I would listen, as a child, when some friend of hers came to visit, and they would gossip about the different people they knew. My mother had the most fascinating stories about people’s families, murderers, mental illnesses, babies abandoned, and she delivered it all in a matter-of-fact way that was terribly compelling. It made me believe that there was nothing more interesting than the lives of people, their real hidden lives, and this of course can lead one down the path of becoming a fiction writer.”

What is this book about?

The Burgess boys, Jim and Bob, lost their dad in a freak accident when they were kids in Maine, and that may explain why they headed for the bright lights of big-city Manhattan as soon as they could. They both became lawyers – Jim is a successful corporate type and Bob is a Legal Aid attorney – and Jim likes to lord it over Bob, something they’ve both  grown used to. Then they get a call from Maine from their sister, Susan, whose friendless teenage son is in trouble for tossing a pig’s head into a mosque where Somali immigrants worship. (There are, in fact, many Somali immigrants in the Lewiston area and such an incident happened there in 2006.) So “the boys” return home to help and that rips the Band-Aids off the tensions of their relationship, long ignored, and sets profound changes in motion.

Why you’ll like it:

When you think of Maine, phrases like “down-to-earth” pop up, and Strout’s writing embodies that quality. Without fussiness or pretention, she creates very real characters who may not be entirely admirable, or admirable at all, but are nonetheless compelling to consider. The New Yorker says she “animates the ordinary with an astonishing force,” and those who have read her novels would surely agree.

What others are saying

Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2013, says: “It can’t be easy to sit down and write a new novel after your last, “Olive Kitteridge,” won the Pulitzer Prize (in 2009). The pressure! The pressure! In “The Burgess Boys”, novelist Elizabeth Strout somehow manages to survive whatever next-book anxiety while at the same time revisiting the themes and types of characters that have made her famous: plainspoken Mainers (some transplanted now to Brooklyn) bound together by love, competitiveness and the issues of the day. Here, hotshot lawyer Jim and bighearted Bob Burgess come together over a politically incorrect prank perpetrated by their sister’s son–and discover that their distrust of each other has never really gone away. But then, neither has their love. Nobody does buried conflict and tortured familial relations better than Strout.

In The Washington Post, Ron Charles says: “After “Amy and Isabelle,” “Abide with Me” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Olive Kitteridge,” no one should be surprised by the poignancy and emotional vigor of Elizabeth Strout’s new novel. But the broad social and political range of “The Burgess Boys” shows just how impressively this extraordinary writer continues to develop…As she showed in “Olive Kitteridge,” Strout is something of a connoisseur of emotional cruelty. But does anyone capture middle age quite as tenderly? Those latent fears—of change, of not changing, of being alone, of being stuck forever with the same person. There seems no limit to her sympathy, her ability to express, without the acrid tone of irony, our selfish, needy anxieties that only family can aggravate—and quell.”

 “Strout’s greatest gift as a writer, outside a diamond-sharp precision that packs 320 fast-paced pages full of insight, is her ability to let the reader in on all the rancor of her characters without making any of them truly detestable. . . . Strout creates a portrait of an American community in turmoil that’s as ambitious as Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral” but more intimate in tone,” says Time.

 “What truly makes Strout exceptional—and her latest supple and penetrating novel so profoundly affecting—is the perfect balance she achieves between the tides of story and depths of feeling. . . . Every element in Strout’s graceful, many-faceted novel is keenly observed, lustrously imagined and trenchantly interpreted,” says the Chicago Tribune.

 Says Kirkus Reviews:  “Two squabbling brothers confront their demons, their crumbling love lives and a hate crime case that thrusts them back to their Maine roots. The titular boys … are Jim and Bob Burgess, who are similar on the surface–lawyers, New Yorkers–but polar opposites emotionally. Jim is a high-wattage trial attorney who’s quick with a cruel rejoinder designed to put people in their place, while Bob is a divorcé who works for Legal Aid and can’t shake the guilt of killing his dad in a freak accident as a child. The two snap into action when their sister’s son in their native Maine is apprehended for throwing a pig’s head into a mosque. The scenario gives Strout an opportunity to explore the culture of the Somalis who have immigrated to the state in recent years–a handful of scenes are told from the perspective of a Somali cafe owner, baffled by American arrogance, racism and cruelty. But this is mainly a carefully manicured study of domestic (American and household) dysfunction with some rote messages about the impermanence of power and the goodness that resides in hard-luck souls–it gives nothing away to say that Jim comes to a personal reckoning and that Bob isn’t quite the doormat he’s long been thought to be….”

“Strout deftly exposes the tensions that fester among families. But she also takes a broader view, probing cultural divides. . . . Illustrating the power of roots, Strout assures us we can go home again—though we may not want to,” says O: The Oprah Magazine.

When is it available?

“The Burgess Boys” can be found at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!