Book Reviews + Book News + Recommendations + More

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To Whom It May Concern

Dear Customers and Friends of Burke's Books,

It is with a heavy heart that we inform you that Burke's Books will be closed permanently. We thank all those who have supported us through the years and chose to make us their local, independent bookstore.

Happy reading,

The Staff of Burke's Books

Monday, November 8, 2010

Review of : Acme Novelty Library #20 by Chris Ware

72 pages
published by Drawn and Quarterly

Another addition to the world of Rusty Brown! This time we learn about Jordan Lint. Lint was introduced in the first Rusty Brown volume as a school bully.

This new story line follows Lint from birth to death, with each page representing a specific time in his life. The narrative and art work also represent each developmental, with the first few pages visually representing the world as a baby would see it and then as a toddler, a small child, a pre-teen, a teenager, etc. As the story progresses, the artwork and narrative become more and more complex, a la Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by Joyce.

Ware pushed himself to experiment a little with this work and it worked out beautifully.
reviewed by Schuyler

Review of : Angels by Denis Johnson

224 pages
published by Harper

I'm going to devote almost this entire review to Johnson's really just beautiful prose. This is Johnson's first novel and while it took a while to get going, the last half of the narrative (where one character is an mental institution, the other on death row awaiting the gas chamber) is probably the best stuff I've read in a long time.

"She snuck over to Sarah's to borrow the gun and there he was, sneaking home, out of Sarah's trailer with the door creaking so loud in the quiet she took it for herself, screeching, Bill, and he saw, and she saw, and Sarah in the doorway with her panties saw, so everyone knew that everyone else knew what was what with who." pg.15

"Freed of negative energies, he moved easily toward solutions." pg.89
"He felt like a grownup in a room full of children playing with toy cars. To get them to see who he was involved tearing them out of a tiny exclusive world of their own creation." pg.162

"He knew a rush in his veins--he felt their need baked into these walls--and he wanted to make himself a sacrifice and his death payment for something more than his stupid mistakes. If Brian could promise him he'd make the crucial difference for somebody, he would walk through the door and be slaughtered here and now." pg.174

"He couldn't believe he'd actually been asleep. All night he had lain with the Unmade, with God, the incredible darkness, the huge blue mouth of love. I'm going to be turned into space. This is the hour of my death." pg.204
reviewed by Schuyler

Friday, October 29, 2010

Review of: Vida by Patricia Engel

182 pages
published by Black Cat

Vida is a hard nut to crack. Engel is clearly influenced by Junot Diaz, whom she gives a shout out to in her acknowledgments and Diaz also blurbs the front cover. That's pretty much why I read it, because this is the debut Diaz had been waiting for, apparently. But this influence comes off as more imitation than her own solid voice but then again, it is a debut and Engel is still finding that voice.

Moderately recommended though nothing new in terms of moving Latin American immigrant fiction forward, not to pigeon hole her stuff but I mean, that's what it is...at least right now.

reviewed by Schuyler

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Come to Burke's Books this Saturday, October 23rd and save with our biggest sale yet! All hardcovers* will be $7.00 and all paperbacks* will be $5.00!

*excludes Bestsellers and "Staff Recommends"

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

576 pages
published by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux

I almost feel bad for Jonathan Franzen. It's not his fault Freedom was hailed as an American masterpiece before anyone even had a chance to read it. He writes a book, then he goes over it with his editor, and then the publishing, marketing machine takes care of the rest, launching his status into the ever hyperbolic atmosphere. Again, not his fault. Is he enjoying the praise and attention? Probably. But also, probably not. How can he possibly live up to this standard that critics, fans, and Oprah have set for him?

Well, the short answer is he can't. I tried my best to steer clear of most reviews, positive and negative, before reading Freedom. I had read The Corrections about five years ago and had enjoyed it. Having just finished my undergrad, it was one of the first novels I had read that wasn't assigned to me by a professor. I read it over the course of several nights. Pretty much devoured it. Best book ever? No, not really. But I enjoyed it, and it re-awakened a love for books I hadn't felt since elementary school.

Now, five years, I've probably read 250 books (give or take) since The Corrections. I feel a bit more confident in my criticism and reader abilities. I know what I like (for the most part), I know what I don't like (for the most part), and I can defend my opinions (for the most part).

Again, I was oddly transfixed by Freedom. I read it in about five days. This is not to say I really liked it. The speed in which I read a book doesn't always correlate to my pleasure. I guess it says that Franzen's prose is very readable. Some people say lyrical...or that he's a great stylist, but that stuff doesn't mean anything really. Those are just nonsense words to me. But I'm confused by Freedom. It's not as good as everyone seems to think it is, but it's also not as bad either. I guess the conclusion I came to, after having read The Corrections and Freedom, is that Franzen is a slightly-better-than mediocre writer. And trust me, I'm not trying to be mean. I've given this a lot of thought, probably more than it warrants, and he's a good writer, but his work doesn't do anything for me in my gut.

Franzen doesn't deserve the disgusting amount of praise but he also doesn't deserve the malicious attacks (I'm looking at your B.R. Meyers of The Atlantic). The attacks are just so clearly a reaction to the over-the-top reviews. As a reader, we can't take them seriously because they mostly reek of jealousy. Because what if Franzen's work didn't garnish so much attention? What if he worked in moderate obscurity? Would those reviews be so venomous?

In summation, I have this to say about Freedom: Meh. But as LeVar Burton was fond of saying, You don't have to take my word for it.

reviewed by Schuyler

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Store Wide Sale This Saturday, Oct. 9th!

Come to Burke's Books this Saturday, October 9th, and get 30% off everything in the store! Hardcovers, paperbacks, toys, games, everything! Get that Christmas shopping done early or just treat yourself!

We'll be open from 9am-4pm. Stop by and save some money!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Explore Your Inner Author

Come join our in-store writing group! Bring your fiction, non-fiction, poetry, journalism, or whatever you're working on. It is a relaxed, positive, and encouraging atmosphere. We meet this Thursday, October 7th, from 7:00pm-8:30pm. All are welcome!

Review: The Wave by Susan Casey

352 pages
published by Doubleday

Author Susan Casey's non-fiction book, The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean is a page-turner without doubt! An exciting blend of surf, science, and salvaging, the main characters are tow-surfers (uber-surfers....guys with a death wish), principally Laird Hamilton, who live to ride the monster waves (50 ft-plus). But aside from the surf scene, Ms. Casey talks to scientists from around the world, a representative of Lloyds of London, and the owner of a ship salvage operation in South Africa to give the reader an astonishing profile of these waves, which about 20 years ago were thought to be "mariner myths." Highly recommended.

reviewed by Susan

Friday, September 24, 2010

Review: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

288 pages
published by Knopf

When I began reading this, I almost put it down several times. I had heard so many good things about it, from people and blogs and critics I respected. I was skeptical though. I didn't like the cover. I didn't really like the title. And the plot didn't seem that interesting to me. I just imagined it was going to be some kind of bildungsroman thing sprinkled with lectures on punk rock.

Well, let me just say that I'm glad I stuck with it. It took me a little while to get into but after I shed all my preconceived notions, it turned out to a damn fine book. It's doesn't have a traditional narrative arch (thank God) with each chapter devoted to one character, with each story directly, or sometimes indirectly, related to previous chapters and their characters. So it's a little more short-story-ish in format than it is novel. Like a really tight, super connected short story collection. Egan also blends enough satire and literary trickery to keep things fresh and engaging, including an entire section told through a teenagers Power Point journal, which was, oddly enough, way more genuine than I thought possible.

So it kinda ends up being about music, but not in that slightly annoying way (think Perks of Being a Wallflower, think Love is a Mixtape). And time ends up being the goon. And the only reason I didn't like the cover is because I thought it was going to be an annoying diatribe about the death of music and the only real music is punk rock, etc.

The cover was misleading. But I'm not gonna stop judging books by them. What would happen if we went back to the age when books didn't have dust jackets? Like it was just the title and author on the spine and that's it? How would those sell in the now heavily image-based consumer culture, where the image is king? Cause now probably like half the reason a customer will decide on one book over the other is because it has a better cover, right? I know I've done it. This all being said, book covers has evolved into this strange art form. I don't know about you, but I think book covers are freakin' beautiful nowadays. But I digress.

So read this book please. I liked it a lot.
reviewed by Schuyler

Book Group Selection for October

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin
308 pages

Our new book group selection for October Will be Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin. In Parkin's debut novel, we are transported to Rwanda and the kitchen of Angel Tungarza. Her modest kitchen becomes a safe haven and "oasis" in Rwanda, "where visitors stop to order cakes but end up sharing their stories, transforming their lives, leaving with new hope."

The book group will meet October 28th at 7:00pm for discussion. All are welcome!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Releases!

Come by the store and check out these new releases, fresh off the presses (well, for the most part):

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen- His first novel since The Corrections, Franzen tackles the subtle complexities of the mid-western family again, while dealing with the overarching theme of freedom in our modern lives.

C by Tom McCarthy- Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize this year, McCarthy's newest novel chronicles the life of Serge in the early 1900s. Radio gadgets,WWI, Egyptian espionage, love affairs in ancient tombs. And fiction pushes on.

Juliet by Anne Fortier- A reinvention a Shakespeare classic, we follow Julie, who discovers upon her Aunt's death, that she is really related to the real life family upon which Romeo & Juliet was based. And the feud is alive and well.

The Wave by Susan Casey
- Everything you've ever wanted to know about the giant, rogue waves of the ocean...and the people who dare to ride them.

Ape House by Sara Gruen- From the author of Water for Elephants comes this intriguing tale of apes, language, and what exactly it means to be human.

The Thousand by Kevin Guifoile- A conspiracy laced historical thriller that puts The Da Vinci Code to shame. To shame I say!

Book Group Meets Thursday!

Book Group will meet in-store, Thursday, September 23rd at 7:00pm to discuss My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. Come for the lively discussion, stay for the new book selection. As always, book group members recieve a 20% discount on our new selection!

New Fall/Winter Writing Group Schedule

Our in-store writing group will now begin meeting Thursday nights, instead of Monday nights.
Here are a few of the future dates:

Thursday, October 7th, 7:00pm-8:30pm

Thursday, October 21st, 7:00pm-8:30pm

Thursday, November 4th, 7:00pm-8:30pm

Thursday, November 18th, 7:00pm-8:30pm

All are welcome. Bring your fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or whatever you'd like to share. The atmosphere is positive and encouraging, so don't be scared! Embrace your inner writer.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Explore Your Inner Author at Our Writing Group

Come join our in-store writing group! Bring your fiction, non-fiction, poetry, journalism, or whatever you're working on. It is a relaxed, positive, and encouraging atmosphere. We meet this Monday, September 20th, from 7:00pm-8:30pm. All are welcome!

Review: Stoner by John Williams

288 pages
published by New York Book Review Classics

Huh. Ya know, I didn't know if I was going to like this novel. I tend to have a hard time getting into "period" novels, which this kinda is, taking place from about 1891 to 1950s. But it's a testament to John Williams and his storytelling abilities that he was able to take a simple story about a passionate, though ultimately ordinary, English professor named William Stoner and turn it into an compelling tale of a life fully lived...or at least attempted.

Pretty much everyone on The Millions (.com) is in love with this novel and it's been called "the perfect novel" by more than a few respectable literary types. Perfect? Well, I don't really even know what that means. Is there some sort of Perfection Checklist for the novel? Entertaining. Check. Clear, fluid, and often gorgeous prose. Check. Funny. Check. Sad. Check. Main Character is dignified and near heroic in his quiet struggles, though also we can't help but feel a little sorry for him. Check. Wait. It is the perfect novel!

But seriously, it was pretty awesome. I don't think there was a single scene, or a single page, where I checked out mentally and started thinking about what I was going to make for dinner or whether or not I should play Batman Arkham Asylum on the XBox360 before bed. I cared about William Stoner. I cared about his small, human plight. I wanted Stoner to die (as we knew he would by the first page) happy. And I believe he did. Take the time to read the below quotes to get a taste of aforementioned 'gorgeous prose'. There, I made it through the entire review without making a lame pot joke.


"He was forty-two years old, and he could see nothing before him that he wished to enjoy and little behind him that he cared to remember ." pg. 181

"They [Stoner and his daughter] talked long into the night, as if they were old friends. And Stoner came to realize that she was, as she said, almost happy with her despair; she would live her days out quietly, drinking a little more, year by year, numbing herself against the nothingness her life had become. He was glad she had that, at least; he was grateful that she could drink." pg. 248

"On an impulse he switched out the light on his desk and sat in the hot darkness of his office; the cold air filled his lungs, and he leaned toward the open window. He heard the silence of the winter night, and it seemed to him that he somehow felt the sounds that were absorbed by the delicate and intricately cellular being of the snow. Nothing moved upon the whiteness; it was a dead scene, which seemed to pull at him, to suck at his consciousness just as it pulled the sound from the air and buried it within a cold white softness. He felt himself pulled outward toward the whiteness, which spread as far as he could see, and which was a part of the darkness from which it glowed, of the clear and cloudless sky without depth. For an instant he felt himself go out of the body that sat motionless before the window; and as he felt himself slip away, everything-- the flat whiteness, the trees, the tall columns, the night, the far stars-- seemed incredibly tiny and far away, as if they were dwindling to a nothingness. Then, behind him, a radiator clanked. He moved, and the scene became itself...He walked slowly home, aware of each footstep crunching with muffled loudness in the dry snow." pg. 180

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Man Booker Prize Short List

The most prestigious literary prize in the merry land of England is about to be awarded and here is the narrow field of nominees:

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

Room by Emma Donoghue

In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

The Long Song by Andrea Levy

C by Tom McCarthy

My money is on McCarthy, but I've been wrong before. Oh Lordy, have I been wrong before. Also, last year's Man Booker winner, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, is out in paperback! So, good news, all around.

Friday, August 20, 2010

New Hardcovers In Store

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen- In this satirical, hilarious (of course) take on young celebrity life in Hollywood, Hiaasen takes the reader on a fun ride, full of kidnapping, double identitiies, and booze.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins- It is finally here. The last installment to the Hunger Games Trilogy. Youths of the world, rejoice! Adults, rejoice too, because your kids are reading.

The Power by Rhonda Byrne- Hey, remember The Secret? Remember how it kinda changed your life? Well, The Power will expand that aforementioned life.

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory- Book Two of the Cousins' War, Gregory's new novel tells "the forgotten story of the founder of the Tudors."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

New Book Group Selection for September: My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.

My Stroke of Insight
187 pages

Taylor (a neuroscientist) narrates her eight year journey from stroke to recovery, revealing the intricacies of the brain and how she came to understand the true potential behind the modern brain, which ultimately leads to a path of inner peace. Steeped in fascinating information and woven with inspiration and possibility, My Stroke of Insight is not to be missed.

Call and have us hold you a copy today! 847.692.2300

Review of : To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Book Group Selection for August)

323 pages
published by Harper Perennial (Modern Classics)

Like most, I first read To Kill A Mockingbird in high school (or was it junior high?). Again, like most, I thought it was kinda boring. Just more "important literature" I was supposed to be reading and studying and answering multiple choice questions in regards in its subject matter. Answer the following: Racism is A) Good B) Bad C) Inevitable D) Racism? What Racism?!

Revisiting the text as an adult (well, a certain stage in my adulthood), I was obviously more aware of the subtleties of the story I most assuredly missed when I was younger, and also, kinda annoyed with some of the not-so-subtle, bashing-me-over-the-head-type morality lessons.

One of the things that interested me the most the second time around, and which I don't remember much discussing in (junior?) high school, is the role of Scout as unreliable/wildly inconsistent narrator. So we have Scout, the narrator, who is clearly looking back on the events of her childhood as an adult, narrating the story as a grown women. But. The narration itself is more or less told from the perspective of Scout the Child, not Scout the Adult Looking Back on Being a Child. Or I should say, sometimes it is told from the perspective (naivete, innocence, and general lovable childlike-ness) of Scout as Child, and other times it's told as Scout as Adult Looking Back on Being a Child (understanding, wisdom, etc). And sometimes the two even mesh, with Scout as Child using astoundingly advanced diction (she's like 7, 8, 9 years old in the course of the book). Now, I recognize that Scout is very smart, mostly because Atticus is very smart and took time to read to them, teach them, etc. But still. Her vocabulary at times is just not very believable.

Anyway, it's not really a flaw, because I imagine Miss Lee and her editor certainly saw this "narrative problem", but it makes for interesting discussion, in terms of how much can we trust Scout as Narrator? Because if this is an adult narrating the story, it makes it a very different novel than if it were a child (as it is generally accepted it is, narrated by a child that is). Adults manipulate narrative, especially ones they're personally involved in, skewing certain events, maybe bringing things together in black and white terms where maybe they don't exist. Making themselves (and the ones they love) come off in a better light than maybe they were originally cast.

It was interesting reading a little bit of the criticism surrounding the book. It seems that not everyone loves this "modern American classic." Flannery O'Connor thought it was fine as young adult novel but shouldn't be read otherwise. Some critics thought the black characters in the story were underdeveloped (which they were) and Calpurnia was cast as the "contented slave". Attitus comes off as "stiff and self-righteous". Scout is a "highly constructed doll". And other stuff like that. To which I respond: You have a point.

Also, a few studies have concluded that white students respond more positively to the text, while black students find it "demoralizing" and view it ambivalently.

"...Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret court of men's hearts Atticus had no case." pg. 275

reviewed by Schuyler

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pre-Order 'Freedom' by Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen (of The Corrections fame, for better or worse) has written a new novel called Freedom, his first in nearly ten years. Franzen returns to familiar thematic ground, as the novel details the trials of a Mid-Western couple and their ever changing neighborhood. The narrative is carried by Franzen's tremendous scope for empathy, tragedy, and hope.

Call and pre-order your copy today! (releases August 31, 2010) 847-692-2300

Monday, August 16, 2010

Book Group Meets August 19th at 7pm!

Join us this Thursday, August 19th at 7pm, here in the store as we discuss To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (50th Anniversary Edition). The new selection for September will also be announced and as always, book group members will receive a 20% discount! Snacks, coffee, and lively discussion guaranteed.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

New in Hardcover

Check out these tasty NEW titles:
  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (author of Absurdistan)

  • The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julie Stuart (author of The Matchmaker of Perigord)

  • I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson (author of Out Stealing Horses)

  • Packing for Mars by Mary Roach (author of Stiff and Bonk)

The Power by Rhonda Byrne Out August 17th!

Be sure to pre-order your very own copy of The Power, Rhonda Bryne's follow up to her 2006 bestseller, The Secret.
For a pre-order, call 847-692-2300

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

More New Paperbacks!

  • Everything Matters by Ron Currie, Jr. ($15)

  • Border Songs by Jim Lynch ($15)

  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer ($14.99)

  • The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt ($16.95)

  • Day After Night by Anita Diamant ($15)

  • Generosity by Richard Powers ($15)

  • The Good Soldiers by David Finkel ($15)

  • Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich ($15)

  • The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver ($16.99)

  • Under the Dome by Stephen King ($19.99)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

New in Paperback

Here are a selection of fantastic titles, recently released into paperback. Call and order your copy today!

  • Labor Day by Joyce Maynard ($13.99)
  • Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger ($15)
  • Lit by Mary Karr ($14.99)
  • Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan ($15)
  • Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead ($15.95)
  • Into the North by Luis Alberto Urrea ($14.99)
  • Born Round: A Story of Family, Food, and a Ferocious Appetite by Frank Bruni ($16)
  • The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker ($15)
  • Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell ($16)
  • This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Trooper ($15)
  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood ($15)
  • Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer ($15.95)
  • The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer ($15)
  • The Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead by Frank Meeink ($15.95)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New Rick Moody Novel: The Four Fingers of Death

736 pages
published by Little Brown

Ricky Moody, acclaimed author of The Ice Storm, Garden State and Demonology, is back with The Four Fingers of Death, a futuristic, comedic novel, featuring some crazy stuff like a murderous crawling hand, space travel, Mexican wrestling, mega churches, chimps, and teen-talking NASA scientists. This is unlike anything Moody has written and it'll prove to be a fun ride. Recommended for fans of satirical, contemporary fiction.

Monday, July 26, 2010

New Tana French Novel: Faithful Place

416 pages

published by Viking

Tana French has a new novel, which is always cause for celebration. This being her third novel, French is relatively new to the mystery/thriller genre but has quickly built a loyal following. In Faithful Place, French revisits a principle character from her last novel, The Likeness, in Frank Mackey, a weathered, hard nosed detective. Mackey returns to his hometown to investigate a murder that will require all his undercover know-how as he is forced to not only track down a killer, but also confront his past, which he purposefully fled some twenty years earlier. Tana French has arrived.

Call and order your copy today!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blame by Michelle Huneven (Book Group Selection for July)

291 pages
Published by Picador

How can a book that starts out with the deaths of a mother and her daughter at the hands of an alcholic be a story of redemption and affirmation of life? Author Michelle Huneven tells the story of Patsy Maclemoore (college professor, convict, recovering alcholic)and her family and friends in a way that makes you wish they were real. Then, there's the richness of the plot. If you liked Olive Kitteridge for its character development, simple prose and descriptions of the local geography, this is for you....just switch-out Maine's rocky coast for the quiet, tree-lined streets of Pasadena. And if you haven't read Olive Kitteridge, you must! But also read Blame! Read both!
Reviewed by Susan

Book Group Selection for August: To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee

323 pages
Published by Harper Collins
$15.99 (20% discount when purchased for Book Group)

It's hard to believe that it's been 50 years since Harper Lee published her now classic novel, establishing her place in American literature forever. Lee's first and only novel was published to wide acclaim and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction that year. It is both a social novel about race and justice, along with a touching coming of age story. As I'm sure we've all read it some time in our academic careers, we thought it'd be interesting to revisit this timeless work of art as adults and uncover new pleasures. Join us next month as we discuss To Kill A Mockingbird on August 19th at 7:00pm here in the store.