Wednesday, September 3, 2008

on what we're reading

Wear the old coat and buy the new book. - Austin Phelps

ROBERTA: full disclosure, last week when I was in charge of coming up with brilliant blog topics or scintillating guests, I was on vacation in Greece. Reading. Having run out of reading material in a Spanish-speaking country on my last big trip, I know how important it is to pack the right books. And enough of them. As a big fan of Mystic River, I chose a review of copy of Dennis Lehane's new book, due out in October. It's a whopper. 700 pages. I started it on the plane and became immediately discouraged by the historical context and the heavy emphasis on baseball. Hours and pages later, I couldn't bear to put it down. Don't expect a mystery or crime fiction or the kind of puzzles Lehane has crafted in his other books. This a grand historical saga following several families through the years at the end of WWI. Babe Ruth is an actual character. (I didn't know you could do that!) Exquisitely written of course, though I don't care for his depiction of women. Is that the era or the author? Anyway, John plowed through it too and we passed it off to our traveling companions to avoid repacking in the carry-on bags that were already overweight.

Then I launched into a mini-series of foodie books, including THE LAST CHINESE CHEF by Nicole Mones about a widowed food writer on assignment to cover a banquet that will determine the top chefs of China. This will make you hungry for Chinese food, and you'll be hard put to accept the local takeout joint.

And I finished up with JULIE AND JULIA by Julie Powell, a memoir by a woman who decides to spend the year cooking every recipe in MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING by Julia Child. This woman is nuts! But I found it highly entertaining (liberal swears and a cache of maggots in the kitchen aside), and couldn't help marveling at the brilliant concept of her project, her blog, and the ensuing book deal!

That's it--you're up! What are you reading?


  1. Hey, Roberta -- love to talk about what we're reading...

    But...a by the way, my sister Nora is making a movie based on Julie and Julia. The delightful Amy Adams from Enchantment (one of my favorite movies from last year) is playing Julie. Guess who's playing Julia Child? (Hint: she was the French Lieutenant's Woman, Sophie's Choice, and the She-Devil.)

    Just a plug for some of the latest books I reviewed for the Globe - the full reviews are on my web site --
    - Sweeping Up Glass, by Carolyn D. Wall - an amazing book set in the 30s with narrator's a voice like Flannery O'connor or Harper Lee; about racism and growing up poor with a crazy mother and Alaska Silver wolves
    - Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie - Very British procedural, Gemma Jones investigates how a brooch stolen during World War II winds up in a Harrowby's auction
    - Cezanne's Quarry, Barbara Corrado Pope - historical fictoin at its best - Cezanne is a murder suspenct when a fragment of canvas he was painting turns up near where a young woman is found murdered

  2. Oh my gosh, I can't wait to see that movie! Let's make a date...and thanks for reminding us about your reviews. Do that for us every month so we remember to go look, ok?

  3. BTW,
    Hallie your review in the Globe last week of Sweeping Up Glass was terrific. And I love Deborah Crombie anyway....

    Like Roberta, my reading has been pretty diverse.

    I'm in the middle of Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas, a Pulizter prize winner. I bought it to understand Boston's race relations in the sixites and seventies. It's dense, a tough read -- and I have a lot of patience for historical detail. But the history itself is so fascinating that I think anyone who lives near Boston should read it.

    I'm also reading the Collected Screenplays of Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, which include Blood Simple and Raising Arizona.
    They are terrifically well written and a study in economical character development.

    And I just bought Tethered by Amy MacKinnon, which I'm holding off to read as a reward to myself for finishing the first two books I mentioned.

  4. I've been catching up on some of Diane Mott Davidson's catering mysteries based in Colorado. I've liked her for a long time (partly because I love to cook?) and got several of her latest from the library.

    This time around, though, I am bewildered at how Goldy manages to cook so many different dishes so often: cooking for her is relaxing and helps her solve problems, so she's often launching into a baking spree late in the evening or whipping up multiple entrees after getting home from a long day of sleuthing. Like, how can she possibly have all those ingredients at hand all the time, when we never hear of her shopping or ordering supplies?? And where does she get the energy? It blows the mind, as we used to say! I love that she includes recipes, which in this latest batch also often seem to be pretty cholesterol friendly (except for Goldy's cherished whipped cream).

    I get the same feeling sometimes, too, with Katherine Hall Page, especially when Faith's children were little - you're kidding me that she managed to cook all that stuff with toddlers underfoot. Or maybe I'm just not as competent as those characters, always a possibility...

    Despite my comments, these are two of my favorite authors.

  5. Having recently enjoyed Roberta Isleib's first book (happy to have discovered a new [to me] author), I am now reading the Evan Evans' series written by Rhys Bowen--the first of her three series. I smile when I think of these books because they have a simplicity and goodness of heart that is rare. --Karen Dyer, DL member

  6. I've been reading a lot of first-person male POV lately (all fiction).

    Jonathan Miles' Dear American Airlines. What a lovely, cranky, wistful book.

    Chang-rae Lee's Aloft--a very different take on the middle-aged man alone in the middle of his family.

    Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain, a dog's account of his world at the periphery of his changing family. Enzo the dog is addicted to television and wishes very much he had thumbs. I loved this book.

    Currently reading Chuck Palahniuk's Survivor. Now here's a twisted and somehow weirdly sympathetic POV, but it's what we might expect from the guy who wrote Fight Club. It's the kind of book Christopher Moore, Armistead Maupin and Jonathan Miles might write together if they got drunk in the back of a Greyhound bus on a road trip from New York to Las Vegas. I like it! But it's not the most comfortable reading.

  7. I am reading a non-mystery novel "Skeletons at the Feast" written by Chris Bohjalian. It is about a group of people traveling across Europe in early 1945 based on a true life World War II diary.

    Next up is "Thugs and Kisses" by Sue Ann Jaffarian.

    I am a DL member.

  8. Nice to have you here from DorothyL Karen and Helen!

    I love reading about Goldy's cooking sprees too. I'm certain she's influenced Dr. Butterman. But you're right, you don't see her shopping. And I'm definitely not a late night cook...susannah, are you planning to tackle a male POV novel?

  9. No male POV novel in my future as far as I know!

    But I'm always interested in narrative POV and language and idiom as they reveal character-- and since I have this memoir coming out next year in intensely my own POV, I really, really like getting into someone else's head for a vacation from my own.

    In haste last post I neglected to mention what I've just begun: Journalist Ken Wells' marvelous literary nonfiction-- The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous: Fighting to Save a Way of Life in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina. Wells was a fellow speaker at a conference with me in July, and frankly, I'm glad I met him before I read this, because I would now just be dazed and babbling in his presence. He is a fine writer and a compellling storyteller: smart, compassionate and deft.

  10. I keep thinking I'll pare down my To Be Read pile, but it just keeps expanding.

    I recently read Freezing Point by Karen Dionne -- great book set in a place I would like to visit but not live, especially after reading her book.

    Finished Roberta Isleib's Asking for Murder. So interesting -- I knew nothing about sandplay therapy. (And I'm excited that Roberta is stopping by my blog on her tour tomorrow!)

    Right now, I'm reading The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke. A close friend, Diane Fanning recommended it. Burke is definitely a good writer, but I'm finding it difficult. It's set near New Orleans during and immediately after Katrina, and I have to keep putting it down to take a break and breathe.

  11. Angel's Tip, by Alafair Burke. I loved it! Clever, and genuinely original. I'm headed back to read all her others.

    Tell No One, by Harlan Coben. Also, excellent. And then we saw the movie. What a fascinating comparison! If you want your book made into a movie, read this and set this...and then we should defintely chat.

    Peter Abrahams Nerve Damage. He never ceases to amaze me. Fabulous.

    Mary Jane Clark's It Only Takes a Moment. She's an icon to me--and she's absolutely perfected the fast-paced TV mystery.

    Jennie Bentley's soon to be published Fatal Fixer Upper. AN wonderful cozy, laugh out loud funny. Seek this out out when it appears. She's terrific.

    Page Erwin's Bones of Contention. Charming, original and surprisingly contemporary--especially for a Down East

    I'm in the midst of the ARC of Evelyn David's latest, Murder Takes the Cake. And I keep having to stop reading, because I'm chuckling too much. Can't wait to find out what happens. Grab this one when it comes out, too.

    I'm also getting ready to start And Then We Came to the End. I'll let you know..

    (I've started a couple of books I just couldn't husband reads even the ones he doesn't like. I just say no.)

    And finally, I was asked to review Roberta's Asking for Murder. I was--hesitant, because I adore Roberta, but what if I didn't like the book? I'm not going to give a good review to something I don't like. Dear Miss Manners.

    And then--wow. Roberta hit it out of the park.

    Here's just a bit of my review:

    An endearing and intelligent heroine. An original plot. A surprising ending. Red herrings galore. (And I fell for every one of them.) All in all, Roberta Iselib has concocted a completely satisfying mystery. It’s delicious, and not only because of the tantalizing recipes included. (I’m still thinking about chicken chili.) ASKING FOR MURDER is maybe the best ever from an author who only gets better.

    (go to
    for the rest!)

  12. I'm reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt for a discussion group, and I haven't decided how I feel about it yet. So I also started A Nail Through the Heart by Timothy Halinan. So far, it's engaging and well written.

  13. I'm reading China Lake by Meg Gardiner. Received the book for review as well as Cross Cut.

    The book is exciting and I like the characters.

    It's been raining here for two days and it will continue today so good weather for reading.

    Pat Reid
    Dorothy L. Member

  14. The Likeness by Tana French, whose debut novel In the Woods won the Edgar. I sometimes have a difficult time with the Irish/British terms but the story is so good I have to keep reading!

  15. I read a lot of different stuff, too. I just finished Richard Engel's "War Journal." If you don't know your Shiites from your Sunnis, he explains it pretty well.

    And I just finished "Fool Moon" by Jim Butcher.

    Plus, Carl Hiaasen's "Nature Girl" is in the CD player in my car. I'm now at the point where I want to drive around some more to see what happens next. :)

  16. Just finished Galactic North by Alastair Reynolds, and definitely recommend it. It's a series of short stories linked by his future history.

    Currently Reading Potent Pleasure by Eloisa James (she is such a fine storyteller!), The French Lieutenant's Woman, and Spy Line by Len Deighton (from the 1980's).

    Oh, and I continue to read bits of Guns, Germs and Steel by Jarod Diamond. I read it in bits because I have to go think every 5 pages or so. Sometimes the thinking takes months! (I'm such a slow reader!)

  17. Next up:
    In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom,
    Qanta A. Ahmed