Friday, February 20, 2009

Librarians pick the potential sleepers. . .

For the last few years in our booth at OLA, my colleague and I have invited librarians to enter our Sleepers' Contest. We each pick five recent or upcoming books that aren't obvious bestsellers but books we believe have the potential to be sleeper hits. We ask the librarians to read a brief descriptive blurb, and then write on a ballot the titles of the three books they would most like to read themselves. We randomly pull entries out of the box and the winner gets the books they have picked.

Lahring and I always have fun tallying up the votes to see which books spark the most interest (and I'll admit to a friendly rivalry as to which of our picks comes out as number one) and I thought people might enjoy reading the results. Every year that we've held this contest all the books have received multiple votes and this year was no exception - so there is definitely something on this list to recommend to each of your different library patrons.

Before we get to the winners, here were the contenders:

Blood and Ice by Robert Masello
Blood Safari by Deon Meyer
Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant
The Dark Volume by Gordon Dahlquist
The Local News by Miriam Gershow
The Missing by Tim Gautreaux
Nose Down, Eyes Up by Merrill Markoe
The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball

And congratulations to the top 3 vote-getters as chosen by the librarians:

The Missing by Tim Gautreaux (my pick! my pick!)
The Local News by Miriam Gershow
The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball

P.S. I thought Lahring was very sneaky to go for the heartstrings and put a dog novel on the list. I immediately countered with a book featuring an opinionated tortoise and I'm happy to report that while neither made it into the top three, the tortoise did beat the dog by one vote.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Get Your Holds On -- New Mysteries. . .

Over the next few weeks I'm going to try and highlight some of the great new books being published this spring and early summer. Avid readers - your local libraries will already have many of these titles on order, so start placing your holds early. I'm going to start this spring preview with mysteries; not only are these library favourites but they have also formed a good chunk of my reading over the last few wintry weeks. So here are my picks for the best of the spring crop:

Old Favourites Return With New Cases:

Two of my current favourite mystery writers have new books out this spring. Fred Vargas's The Chalk Circle Man is actually the first in the Adamsberg series, but the fifth to be translated into English. So if you've never read her, this is a great place to start. And you are in for a treat - Vargas is terrific at original and quirky plotting and the dialogue between her characters is highly entertaining. Blue chalk circles are popping up on the sidewalks of Paris enclosing odd, mundane objects. The city is amused until a woman's body is found in one of them. Adamsberg has only just arrived in Paris and his colleagues aren't quite sure what to make of him and his propensity to take long walks. Some of the suspects are equally strange: a rude blind man; a woman who likes to follow strangers at night and has very definite ideas about what one should do on certain days of the week; and an elderly woman who loves to answer lonely hearts classifieds. I read this in almost one sitting - just loved it!

Arnaldur Indridason's mysteries feature Erlendur of the Reykjavik police - possibly the only Icelander, fictional or otherwise, who prefers the winters to the summers (keep in mind that Iceland only gets about two hours of daylight during the dead of winter). He is a good detective, but an unhappy man - divorced and estranged from his children, although he keeps trying to build a relationship with his drug addicted daughter. He's also continually haunted by the childhood trauma of losing his young brother during a blizzard. In his latest case, Arctic Chill, a young Thai boy is found murdered near his home and the ensuing investigation brings out some of the racial tensions brewing in Icelandic society. The title is apt - the identity of the killer will indeed be chilling. I've read four previous Erlendur mysteries - this is my favourite to date.

I'm so far behind in this next series, but can you believe that Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is ten years old this year? And gosh darn it all, the tenth book also comes out - again with a wonderful title: Tea Time for the Traditionally Built. Raise your china cups and crook your pinkies to Mma Ramotswe! (P.S. I digress, but McCall Smith also has a stand alone novel out this spring that I have read. La's Orchestra Saves the World is not part of any of his many detective series', but is a warm tale about a woman living in the English countryside during WWII who brings the eccentric characters of the village together when she organizes an amateur orchestra to keep up morale. For the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society fans among you.)

Others to check out:
The Redeemer - Jo Nesbo's fourth book in his Harry Hole thriller series. I'll admit my palms sweat too much while reading him and his books are not for the faint of heart, but my god, can he tell a story!
Joe Gores has guts - he takes on a literary icon by writing the prequel to Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon. To get the back story on Sam Spade, check out Spade & Archer.
And finally, José Latour brings us more international intrigue set in the world of design, with his latest mystery - Crimes of Fashion.

New Detectives On the Case:

I'm extraordinary proud of Vintage Canada's World of Crime series - the editors are always on the prowl for the best international mystery writers and I've been introduced to so many great reads as a result (Vargas and Indridason, just being two of them). Their latest discovery is Deon Meyer, one of South Africa's best selling thriller writers. Blood Safari is the story of a freelance body guard hired to protect his beautiful female client when she gets too involved with trying to clear her brother of a murder. It promises a lot of action and witty dialogue set among the current racial, economic and ecological problems facing South Africa.

For fans of Slumdog Millionaire or Alexander McCall Smith, comes a new series set in India written by Tarquin Hall and featuring The Most Private Investigator, Vish Puri. In The Case of the Missing Servant, Puri has to find a young female servant who has disappeared, presumed dead, but may be an important witness in clearing a man accused of murder. At the same time he has to avoid being shot himself. But perhaps his greatest challenge is to stop his inquisitive, pushy (and annoyingly effective) mother from meddling in his cases. I've read the manuscript and I would compare Puri to a modern day, Indian, Hercule Poirot, complete with brains and ego, but with better technology at his disposal. And Hall is definitely great at evoking the sights, sounds and smells of busy Delhi.

Another debut series coming this spring is The Crossing Places, by Elly Griffiths which features Ruth Galloway, a salty-tongued forensic archaeologist. She's called upon to date the bones of a child's skeleton that is found in the marshes of Norfolk, in the hopes that it will clear up the ten year old case of a missing girl. The bones turn out instead to belong to the Iron Age, and are 2,000 years old but the case isn't quite yet closed. . .

And for pure fun, try The Love Potion Murders in the Museum of Man by Alfred Alcorn. Two academics who hated each other, are found with arms entwined and hearts definitely still, murdered in the Museum of Man. The murder weapon is a powerful aphrodisiac being developed in a genetics lab. Director Norman de Ratour has to solve the murder in this humourous, black comedy. Academics behaving badly - my favourite kind of murder mystery.

The Stand-out Stand Alone:

Iain Pears is back! I almost want to categorize this book separately in a future blog devoted to some of the great fiction en route this spring, but there is a murder at the heart of it, so if you're a fan of An Instance of the Fingerpost, or Sarah Waters' Fingersmith, you must pick up Stone's Fall. I'm a third of the way through this and am loving it. Probably because it's partially set during one of my favourite historical periods - the Edwardian era. Matthew Braddock is a young, cocky journalist who is hired to write the biography of John Stone, a recently deceased business tycoon and arms dealer who fell (or was he pushed?) out of the window of his study. Matthew also has to track down the child that Stone left money to - a child no one ever knew existed. The novel moves chronologically backwards from 1909 London, to Paris in 1890 and Vienna in 1867 as secrets are gradually revealed. It's a long but riveting and juicy novel; I'm completely hooked.

And the Come-back Classics:

Vintage U.S. continues their re-issues of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's Martin Beck series from the 1960s and 70s. I've read the first three of the ten books that form the Story of Crime and I want more. It's refreshing to read about solid, old-fashioned detection work in the pre-computer, pre-DNA testing days and it's hard and lonely slogging. More than any other series, this one demonstrates why so many policemen and detectives are alcoholics or just plain gloomy and miserable. And it was the prototype for so many contemporary crime writers today, many of whom are contributing introductions to these new editions. Books #3 and #4, The Man on the Balcony and The Laughing Policeman respectively, have just come out this month. Look for the next two - Murder at the Savoy and The Fire Engine That Disappeared in June.

And coming soon are three re-issues of Gladys Mitchell's Mrs. Bradley mysteries. Some of you may have seen the BBC series that has run on PBS a number of times, starring Diana Rigg as Adela Bradley, the multiple divorcee with an interest in Freud and a chauffeur sidekick. Mitchell had a very prolific writing career starting in the 1920s and was a member of the Detection Club that included Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. Much of her work is out of print, so maybe this is the start of a revival. I've certainly never read any of these mysteries but this is my favourite era of crime writing, so I'll definitely be digging in. The Saltmarsh Murders, Tom Brown's Body and When Last I Died will all be out at the end of May.
Happy sleuthing!

Germany at the Oscars. . .

Gearing up for the big awards ceremony this Sunday, I have to say that even though I'm not too excited by most of the nominations, I will nevertheless be glued to the TV and will be watching two awards in particular - rooting for Slumdog Millionaire to take Best Picture and for Kate Winslet to finally win an Oscar for her performance in The Reader.

This latter film is of course based on Bernhard Schlink's bestselling novel. I was recently lucky enough to interview him for our website and you can watch a brief video clip of him talking specifically about The Reader and his post-war German generation. You have to sign up to be a member with your e-mail, but it's absolutely free and you'll get access to book information and the opportunity to win books and enter various contests. Once you've signed up, click on the "Audio and Video" tab at the top and you can watch a number of other author videos as well. Due to time constraints, only about 5 minutes of my interview is on the clip but we also chatted about his latest novel Homecoming (which I highly recommend if you enjoyed The Reader and are interested in the same themes of the next generation of Germans coming to grips with their Nazi past) and his Gerhard Self detective novels (Self's Punishment and Self's Deception). I hope to find the time shortly to transcribe the rest of the interview and then I'll post it on this blog.

If you are interested in post-war German history, then also up for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category is Germany's The Baader Meinhof Complex about a group of students in the late 1960s who started out peacefully protesting the Vietnam War but ended up becoming bombers, arsonists and murderers under the name the Red Army Faction. The leaders were eventually arrested and convicted but the violence continued as supporters kidnapped the president of the German Employers' Association and later hijacked a Lufthansa jet. The movie is based on the book of the same name by Stefan Aust, who has done the definitive book on the subject and it looks to be a fascinating read; I had never previously heard anything about this group. I'm really looking forward to seeing the movie as well.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Just some really cool books. . .

With the best of intentions, I've had dozens of spring preview blog posts twirling in my mind, because honestly, there are some really terrific books coming in the next few months. And I'm working on it, even though it's now already the middle of February - where does the time go? Ah, well, good books coming in the summer too. And in the fall, which seems to be hitting my desk with some regularity each day. Some days blogging just takes a long time. . .

While I try and pull the best out of tons of catalogues (stay tuned) and organize them into coherent categories, here - appropos of nothing - are three just really interesting books that have recently been published. The fact that their covers all contain a bluish hue is entirely accidental.

It's pretty strange to think that kids today may grow up without writers' bumps and possibly not being able to read cursive handwriting, though they will have really great texting thumbs. But what are they going to make of letters and manuscripts in museums, or even in their own family attics? Kitty Burns Florey shows what they are missing in Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting - an ode to the lost art of penmanship.
Which begs the question: with so many beautiful notebooks, diaries and stationary available in retail stores everywhere, who is still writing? Or are we a nation of blankbook packrats?

Well, here's another use for blank paper. If you (or kids you know) can handle an exacto knife with ease, or are origami enthusiasts, then The Paper Architect: Fold-it-Yourself Buildings and Structures is just the coolest thing ever. The authors have provided templates and instructions to create twenty, three dimensional replicas of famous landmarks from the Eiffel Tower to the Taj Mahal, The Golden Gate Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and the Colosseum. Each project is graded for difficulty from easy (the Parthenon) to advanced (Gaudi's Sagrada Familia). Hours of fun and papercuts await.

And finally, there's Simon Critchley's The Book of Dead Philosophers which on the surface may look to be a downer, but is actually a fascinating series of entries on the various bizarre and frequently ironic ways in which philosophers met their end. To get a flavour of the book, you can read his list of top ten philosophers' deaths here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Me and Kaminski and Daniel have a future date. . .

Here's something to look forward to. The team behind the movie Goodbye Lenin (highly recommended if you haven't seen it) is making a film of Daniel Kehlmann's very funny novel Me and Kaminski (one of my fall Dewey picks). It'll also star Lenin's Daniel Brühl. The novel details the relationship between a young, arrogant and over-confident but slightly desperate journalist and the reclusive artist he sets out to interview. The movie will start shooting this fall. Can't wait.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Spud reading. . .

Okay, this is an odd little list, but I do love a good potato. Honestly, is there any better comfort food on the planet?
John Reader, author of The Untold History of the Potato, has compiled a list of his ten favourite potato books. Yes, really.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bits and bobs and books. . .

It's been a crazy, busy time lately, so here are just some of the book news, links and recommendations that have been rattling around in my brain over the last little while . . .

Evergreen shortlist announced. . .

The nominees for the 2009 Evergreen Award were announced last week at the OLA Superconference. This award is given to a favourite adult book written by a living Canadian author and voted on by Ontario library patrons (how thrilled am I to see Christopher Plummer included!) The winner will be announced at next year's OLA. Congratulations to the 2008 winner, Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes and to this year's shortlist:

Apples to Oysters: a Food Lover’s Tour of Canadian Farms by Margaret Webb
The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Coventry by Helen Humphreys
Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott
In Spite of Myself: A Memoir by Christopher Plummer
The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper
The Outlander by Gil Adamson
Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood
Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese

And Speaking of Canlit. . .

I came across a great blog called Roughing It in the Books. Kudos to these two readers who are making their way through the entire New Canadian Library collection of Canadian classics and blogging their reviews. So far, they've tackled Frederick Philip Grove's Over Prairie Trails, Morley Callaghan's Such is My Beloved, Stephen Leacock's Literary Lapses, Sinclair Ross's As For Me and My House, and Gabrielle Roy's The Tin Flute. They also post biographical information about the author. Every used bookstore in Canada has several incarnations of NCL's - they've been around for over fifty years. Recently, they've been updated with brand new covers and grown into a larger trade paperback size. You can see an exisiting list at the NCL website located here.

Best Translated Books of 2008 shortlist announced. . .
If your new year's resolution is to read more international fiction, then you could do a lot worse than start with these ten shortlisted books from last year. The blog Three Percent has posted reviews of all 25 longlisted books as well. I've read four of the shortlisted ten - The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig, translated by Joel Rotenberg, and Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge, translated by Richard Greeman were both Dewey picks of mine, so I'm thrilled to see them make the final cut. I also read Roberto Bolano's 2666, translated by Natasha Wimmer over the holidays (really, how can this lose?) and really loved the deliciously exquisite Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Carolina De Robertis (part of Melville House's terrific Art of the Contemporary Novella series - more about this soon).
Also check out The Lost in Translation Reading Challenge blog where participants vow to read at least six books in translation during the year and to blog about their experiences. There are some great reading suggestions and reviews on this site.

R.I.P John Updike. . .

There has been lots of media coverage of John Updike's death last week and you can easily find obituaries such as this one from the Guardian online if you want a brief overview of his life. He was a prolific writer and if the tributes have inspired you to dip into some of his work, may I suggest starting with the short stories - a genre that he absolutely excelled in. You can find examples in almost any literary anthology, or pick up his collection The Early Stories. At over 800 pages, this collection will certainly whet your appetite for more of his work. For novels, his Rabbit Angstrom books are the most famous, but give his Henry Bech novels a try - they portray the life of a writer, somewhat similar to Updike's own, over several decades. And if you want a writer's appreciation and a very funny read to boot, do pick up Nicholson Baker's hilarious U and I, a memoir about not quite meeting his literary idol. Recommended reading for Alain de Botton and Geoff Dyer fans and a hoot even if you're not a fan of Updike himself (though I bet Baker will convert you.)

We're honoured and thrilled. . .

. . . that the Dewey Divas and Dudes are this year's recipient of the Ontario Public Library Association's Leadership in Adult Readers' Advisory Award. It's a tremendous honour for us and we thank the OPLA Readers' Advisory committee and all the libraries who have hosted us and welcomed us so warmly over the years (and have even baked us cookies!). As publishers, we know that there is no group within the industry that is more enthusiastic and passionate about books than librarians and we sincerely thank you for all you do to promote reading and great books every single day!

Congrats also goes out to Linda Ludke from London Public Library who won the OPLA's Children's Librarian of the Year Award and Dinah Gough from Oshawa Public Library who won the OPLA's Excellence in Youth Services Award.

The full list of OLA winners can be found here.