Thursday, April 25, 2013

John's Playlist

It's that time once again to feature one amazing Warwick's bookseller and their current "must reads", or as we call it, their "playlists". This week John is presenting a unique selection of books, both fiction and non-fiction sure to entice a diverse group of readers. John, who has been at Warwick's since March of 2000, is someone who wears many hats at Warwick's, among them book buyer, bookseller, and receiver--his enthusiasm for smart literature and fascinating non-fiction helps to make him one of our most well-rounded readers, as seen in his picks below.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
Boo, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, writes evocatively and movingly about the people living in Annawadi, a slum in the shadow of the Mumbai airport and a row of the city’s luxury hotels. The people you meet in this book (especially Abdul) will stay with you, will haunt you, as powerfully as any character you have ever encountered in fiction. Given both the hands-on depth of her research and her restrained yet evocative writing, I am certain that no better book has ever been written, or ever will be written, about how the struggle to survive in conditions of abject poverty shapes and distorts human personalities, families, and communities.

Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think 
by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger & Kenneth Cukier
Analyzing big data — that is, massive and complex collections of data — has already yielded astonishing results and will utterly transform the world. This is a must-read book for, among others, scientists, doctors, policymakers, and business people. Really, if you care about the future, you should read this!

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary 
by Caspar Henderson
This book won me right away with the sheer beauty of its cover, typography, and illustrations — all of which remind one of the medieval bestiaries that inspired this book. This A-Z bestiary (Axolotl to Zebra Fish) of weird, delightful, amazing, and very real creatures entertainingly weaves together natural history, human history, philosophy, science, and literature. It certainly achieves the goal set by the author of better understanding and imagining “being and beings.” You will indeed think about the world, its beings, and yourself differently and more profoundly after reading this book.

Ghostman by Roger Hobbs
A compelling “bad guy” protagonist, “wise” dialogue, an almost geek-like fascination with criminal machinations, a high body count, and a ticking clock suspense plot — this debut thriller has a lot going for it, and . . . it delivers! Hopefully, this will be the first in a long series of books.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach
Nobody writes science with more humor, with more of a love of scientists and the crazy things they study, with more of a mischievous delight in enlightening her readers by making them squirm than the brilliant Mary Roach. Her current book, a tour of the human body from sniffing to chewing to digestion to excretion — that is, mouth to anus — is quite possibly her best one yet. I guarantee that you will not only be entertained and enlightened, you will also find it nearly impossible not to share with your friends and family all of the fascinating things you learn about saliva.

How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britain's Most Ineligible Bachelor and his Enlightened Quest to Train the Ideal Mate by Wendy Moore
Possesed of a love of liberty and of stoicism, moved especially by a terrifically bad reading of Rousseau, Thomas Day adopts some orphans and, having failed to get anyone to the altar, sets about to create a well-educated, stoically virtuous, and obedient wife. Wendy Moore develops out of this crazy story a grounded and nuanced portrait of the interplay of education, enlightenment notions of liberty, and gender in Georgian England. Day’s activities would ultimately be a source for many literary works, but the story of what eventually happened both to him and to Sabrina is perhaps the most fascinating part of this entertaining and, at times, jaw dropping social history.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Moshin Hamid
Narrated by “you,” Hamid’s novel is a “self-help” book, one that in relating the life story of its narrator, proposes to show the reader how to thrive amidst the corruption, wild entrepreneurship, crime, violence, and rapid urbanization that characterizes the “Asia” of the title. This is also a modern love story, a tale of personal rise and fall, and a satirical take on the ravages of urbanization and modernization. Hamid's inventive, unsentimental prose and his sharp wit will have you flying through this book.

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff
In 1945, a plane crashed in an isolated valley in the mountains of Papua New Guinea. The three survivors of the crash — a WAC and two GIs — found themselves wounded and trapped in a valley populated by warrior tribes. Their dramatic rescue was global front page news in 1945. Zuckoff has peppered this compulsively readable narrative with fascinating details. Great stuff!

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
The work of Daniel Kahneman and his collaborator Amos Tversky transformed cognitive science, the study of psychology, and led to the emergence of behavioral economics. Many popular books in business and science are rooted in their work. Now you can get a more detailed and nuanced portrait of their work and its results directly from the source in this intellectual masterpiece. Most surprising is how accessible and entertaining this book truly is. It will also, if you work at it, improve your thinking.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Wolf Hall is one of the best historical novels I have ever read. The only recent rival for me is Mantel’s second book in the Cromwell trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies (in paperback in May). Her prose is far more vital than one usually finds in a historical novel, and her ability to write and observe believably from inside the head of Thomas Cromwell is staggering. I thought I was done reading about the Tudors until I read the first page of Wolf Hall.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"The River of No Return"

Fans of Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches rejoice—The River of No Return is here!

No, it’s not another book in the Witches series, and no it is not another book from Harkness herself. Instead, it is a debut novel written by another professor (Harkness is at USC); this time by a professor of English literature at Bryn Mawr College, Bee Ridgeway, and her story is 100% sure to grab your attention and devotion if you are a fan of Harkness.

The River of No Return (not to be confused with the Robert Mitchum/Marilyn Monroe film) follows the story of Nick Davenant, nee Lord Nicholas Falcott, a young man thrust through time during the heat of battle in 1813, landing in 2003 to discover he has a unique gift, one that allows for the manipulation of time. It is there that he is taken under the wing of the Guild, a group of powerful men and women with the same abilities as Nick. Ten years later, Nick is plunged through time once again, this time by the Guild, in order to investigate a terrible hole (called “the Pale”) that is threatening the future. Back in his own time Nick is reacquainted with his young love Julia Percy, a Lady with mysterious ties to time, the Guild, and the Guild’s enemies, and who may have the answer to everything.

There is obviously much more to the plot, it’s a fantasy that weaves between time and characters, building itself a rich history and background, laying the groundwork for future sequels. Much like it’s counterparts in fiction, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and the Deborah Harkness books, The River of No Return has a plot that is intricately drawn and difficult to describe in detail without divulging too much of the plot (something that drives me crazy in reviews). Yet, unlike the books by Harkness, Ridgeway’s book is much more tightly edited, without the pages of droll description or meandering conversation about subjects that have no real bearing on the plot (wine and yoga in the case of Witches). The pacing is good, and only slows to a squeaking (not quite screeching) halt when the concept of “the River” and time are philosophized upon. The book is of course not without fault. Its characters are interesting, although with a few of them it is clear that the author is trying desperately to give them depth and mysterious undercurrents, but instead reduces them to over-dramatic and somewhat farcical creatures. The writing at times loses its crispness, not the plot mind you, but the writing—something that is more common with debuts, and is sure to be honed by the time the sequel arrives. Also, it does leave readers hanging; a plot device that, in this series driven world of entertainment, is something that seems as unavoidable as death, and yet is done in such a way that readers will not be prone to throwing their books across the room in frustration (yes, I’ve done this) because nothing has been resolved.

In all, The River of No Return is a wonderful read. It is fantasy, it is historical, it is romance, and it is intrigue— all those things that help to create a rich and entertaining narrative. If you love those genres, or are a fan of A Discovery of Witches, you will thoroughly enjoy Bee Ridgeway’s debut, and like me, be eagerly waiting on the next installment.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Janet's Playlist

The Warwick’s Staff is a rich and diverse group of individuals with a variety of tastes that appeal to readers across the board. For years we have papered our store with personalized book recommends, to the point that many of our fantastic customers know which booksellers read what, and whose recommends you most identify with. Now, for the first time we will dedicate a display wall to individual booksellers, displaying a small selection of their favorite reads, both current and classic, aptly called The Bookseller’s Playlist. This week we are featuring Janet’s Playlist. Janet has been at Warwick’s since 2003, and when not sharing her expertise in the Children’s Department, she is avidly reading novels written by some of the best and brightest authors around. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out in-store, here are some of the books Janet loves right now.

Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear
I am a huge fan of Jacqueline Winspear and her indomitable heroine, Maisie Dobbs. So of course, I’m thrilled that her newest novel is one of her best! Leaving Everything Most Loved finds Maisie delving into the murder of a woman from India and, as always, challenging herself, and expanding her horizons further.

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
The Burgess Boys is first and foremost a book about family. Two brothers and one sister are forever bound by the tragic circumstances of their father's death and their hardscrabble upbringing in Maine. Each suffers through trials and tribulations both public and private that will eventually bind them together stronger than ever. In true Elizabeth Strout style, this is not a sugar-coated fantasy family, but flesh and blood people whose characters are so finely drawn you'll feel like you know them. This Pulitzer Prize-winning author has surpassed herself in this timely and eloquent novel.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Dellarobia Turnbow is a young wife and mother already too tied down and trapped in her tiny Appalachian town. On her way to an ill-fated meeting, she witnesses a natural phenomenon. What she cannot understand, she considers a life-changing miracle for herself, her family, and the townspeople. The flight of the monarchs through the Blue-Ridge Mountains is not only a comment on climate change, but also a beautifully written and heart-warming story of a girl searching for more than what life has dealt her. Barbara Kingsolver at her best! I loved it!

Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd
Meet Lysander Rief, a young Londoner staying in Vienna pre-World War I. Follow him as he enjoys the pleasures of the beautiful European capital. While there, he becomes fluent in German, enters psychotherapy, and begins an obsessive affair with a beautiful, if eccentric artist. Ensnared in one twist of fate after another, he’s spirited back to England and forced into dangerous undercover work for the War Office—his success is essential not only to the war effort, but to his personal salvation. This is William Boyd at his suave and intriguing best!

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
Four powerful women tell the stories of their harrowing and arduous journeys to the Masada-the last Jewish stronghold against the Roman invasion in Judea 70 C.E. The engrossing narrative tells how the women came to depend on each other in a life and death struggle. Shrouded in the mysteries of the ancient past, where religion, magic, and superstition were intimately intertwined, The Dovekeepers is a powerfully written and riveting saga of tragic destiny and hope. We were enthralled from beginning to end!

The Child’s Child by Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell)

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
Last night I dreamt of Milderhurst - the castle that takes center stage in Kate Morton’s much anticipated new novel, Distant Hours. When publisher’s assistant, Edie Burchill sets out to uncover the origin of a classic children’s tale set in the castle, her research reveals more than she ever expected, including secrets involving her own mother’s past. Long ago mysteries and half-truths involving the castle’s inhabitants and their personal tragedies are brought to light and finally laid to rest. As sweeping and dramatic as the classic, Rebecca, The Distant Hours is finely wrought and enthralling to the very end.

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton
Clear your schedule because you won't want to stop reading this once you start! Rosamund Lupton has done it again. If you loved Sister then you love the style of storytelling that she has now perfected. The finely tuned plot of Afterwards twists and turns weaving timely and relevant women's issues into the story of a mother and daughter locked in a harrowing struggle between life and death. What really happened at the children's school? How will the truth play out? Danger flares and tension mounts in every page-turning moment in this dramatic and compelling literary thriller that answers every mother's question: How far would you go to protect your children?

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Indescribably well-written, this beautifully constructed novel is a miracle of beginnings and endings. Ursula Todd’s life in all its permutations will keep you engrossed and guessing—because after all, who among us really knows on which point our destiny is balanced? I almost never re-read a book, but I’m looking forward to reading Life After Life again and again!

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson

Keep your eyes peeled for more Bookseller Playlists in the upcoming weeks and months!