Friday, September 11, 2009

A Pretty Penny For Her Thoughts

Bonjour Flower!

What is more comforting than a mystery series that you love? Sure, sure someone is going to die--maybe more than one someone --but then there's going to be your friend The Detective, his/her team, suspects galore, motives, lies, crime scene science, jealousy, unrequited love, hanky panky, maybe even madness. ~~sigh~~ All the things that just don't add up.

One of the series that I look forward to are the Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny. The Chief Inspector is with the Sûreté du Québec so you get all sorts of interesting tidbits about Québec: history, life style, attitudes, police procedures all of which seem wordily and exotic. The mysteries take place in a tiny, semi-isolated village (think Cabot Cove gone France-tastic) just across the U.S. boarder. This location for the village of Three Pines also makes for interesting revelations in terms of history and prejudices.

Due out in October (in 1,ooo's of Independent Bookstores and already made an Indiepick by them), the fifth installment in the Gamache mysteries is "The Brutal Telling". Old fans and soon to be fans will be delighted. Since I firmly believe in not giving away plot, suffice to say there is a body found at Three Pines, the Chief Inspector is called in, some of our established locals and some new faces are suspected and crime solving and plot twists ensue. All very standard for a mystery, right?

What sets Penny's mysteries apart are all pretty standard as well. They are the same things that make any novel better than most of the others: excellent writing, 3 dimensional characterization, a thought-out plot that always stays ahead of the reader and smarts. I n "The Brutal Telling" the smarts were the on target views into the how-far-would-you-go of it's characters laid out for us to discovery by detection and sly manipulation and Penny's canny bringing into the plot one of literature's oldies but popular again goodies the apocalyptic tale.

You will enjoy "The Brutal Telling" regardless as to whether or not you've read the first 4 books in the series. Fans will devour and bemoan waiting another year for the next title by Penny. First timers are the lucky ones. They get to be engulfed in Brutal and then discover the previous four Gamache mysteries for the first time.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I'll Take The Short Stack.

Flower, my friend!

The Man Booker Long List is now the Man Booker Short List! And the nominees are:
A S Byatt, The Children's Book (Random House) due out in October
J M Coetzee, Summertime (Penguin) due out in December
Adam Foulds, The Quickening Maze no date set for U.S. release
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (Macmillan) due out in October
Simon Mawer, The Glass Room no date set for U.S. release
Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger (Penguin) available

If you would like to see a break down of plots and author info all in one place go here. The winner will announced October sixth and within hours all copies of that title available in the U.S. will be sold. How wonderful is that? Do you have a fav? Do I have a fav?

Choices are difficult, Flower

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

High Water Mark?

Book Cover Smack Down From The Future!

Which do you like better? The biblical Brit cover or the US cover?

Flower, a new Margaret Atwood novel will be available in independent bookstores in about 2 weeks. In fact it goes on sale a couple of days after the new Dan Brown novel, "The Lost Symbol". Margaret might be one of the first of this falls Big League Authors to go on sale after the saviour of Random House's bottom line. Will Margaret be the test case for whether or not the destined to be mega-seller Dan kills the fall list?

I don't buy into the theory that Dan's popularity will hurt every other Big Name Author (and there are so many of them) with books releasing this autumn. How much cross over is there between Dan's readers and other readers? I was working in an independent bookstore when "The Da Vinci Code" first came out. It truly was a sales phenomenon. But. A sizable chunk of it's readership in our store were people who didn't read books. Nonreaders who were drawn to the book by it's subject matter or the amount of publicity it was receiving. I would love to think that those nonreaders had been transformed into readers by Da Vinci and no doubt a couple of them have, but the bulk of them? Come on, can't we all answer that? If every nonreader who loved Da Vinci was still out there plunking down their hard earned for books Publishers would be the happiest manufacturer's on the planet and that is not the case.

Then there is the never to be underestimated Snob Factor. There is a whole demographic out there of people determined to ignore "The Lost Symbol". These book buyers will be purchasing all the other more literary works that will be available. New books by A.S. Byatt, Hilary Mantel,
E.L. Doctorow, Philip Roth, Barbara Kingsolver, Orhan Pamuk,etc.

So, what about the Flood? This is one of Atwood's science fiction novels and there we have to stop for a minute. Quite disingenuously Margaret Atwood disavows that any of her work is sci fic. She claims that because what she's written is possible today it cannot be classified as science fiction. Please. You show me what evil conglomerate has been able to create partly rational pigs and I'll side with Ms Atwood. In the meantime let us all accept that "The Year of the Flood" is a sci fic novel. OK? OK.

The Flood is a of continuation of "Oryx and Crake". There are a few of the same characters and God's Gardeners and the Corporations are there as well. We learn through flashbacks and the histories of the two main characters, Toby and Ren, that the Flood was a dry one. Something made people cough and then they died and now it's Year 25 of the The Flood. The lack of information about what happened creates a distance between the reader and the novel that I don't think the novel ever recovers from. You're here today in a post apocalyptic world and no one can tell you how it happened or they just don't want to talk about it.

There are powerful moments in the Flood. These characters have endured horrific experiences and you can be outraged and sympathetic towards them, but there is no engagement with them. The book is a long litany of ugly event after event with a mysterious ending. Year 25 is a horrible time to be alive. Men are awful (and one dimensional), a few women are the only hope but have no authority, government is gone but Corporations thrive---are you feeling the 70's vibe? There is nothing new here. At any moment I expected one of the God's Gardeners to scream, "Soylent Green is people!".

Margaret Atwood is a much, much better, inventive and smarter writer of contemporary novels, historical novels and science fiction than this book would lead you to believe. I will patiently await her next book and forget all about "The Year of the Flood".


The covers? I don't think that either one is doing Atwood any favors. The U.S. version with that giant poppy leads you to believe that what you have here is a WWI novel. The British edition while looking all the world like a cover from 1973, at least ties in this Flood with the other one that re-made the world, Noah's. Still not so great.