Book Reviews + Book News + Recommendations + More

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.

Pre-Order Mockingjay! Mockingjay! Mockingjay!

It's almost upon us: the final installment to the amazing, thrilling, awesome trilogy that is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Call and Pre-Order your copy of Mockingjay NOW! Released Upon the World 8.24.10!


Monday, July 19, 2010

Maine South HS Required Summer Reading

Sadly, summer is coming to a close but that means you need to get your required reading done before heading back to school! Come in to Burke's and get a student discount on all your academic needs. Below are a few (of many) titles carried in-store:

Mythology by Edith Hamilton (for English 1 Accelerated)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (for English 1 and English 1 Transitional)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (for English 2 Accelerated)
Can't Get There From Here by Todd Strasser (for English 2 and English 2 Transitional)
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (for English 3 AP)
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (for English 3/ American Studies)

Explore Your Inner Author at Our Writing Group

Come join our in-store writing group! During the summer, we meet once a month, on a Monday, from 7:00pm-8:30pm. Bring your fiction, non-fiction, poetry, journalism, or whatever you're working on. It is a relaxed, positive, and encouraging atmosphere. We meet tonight, Monday, July 19th at 7pm. Our next meeting is Monday, August 23rd, at 7:00pm. All are welcome!
To inspire you, check out these helpful tips from author, Janet Fitch:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer Time and the Reading's Easy

Looking for that perfect book to go along with your iced drink, under some much needed shade? Check out these new titles we have in store:

The Passage by Justin Cronin: Part one of a proposed trilogy, a literary apocalyptic vampire romp. Need I say more?

One Day by David Nicholls: A very funny, very smart, and very sweet story on the nature of love and relationships. The perfect beach read. Or grassy park read. Or cushy chair near a window read.

Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner: A senator's wife and daughters are thrust into the spotlight after his cheating heart becomes public, leading them to forge new bonds and reevaluate their lives. Classic Weiner.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Steig Larsson: If you haven't cracked open a Steig Larsson book lately, then you ain't living. The third (and final!?!) installment does not disappoint. If you haven't, for some weird reason, had the pleasure of devouring this trilogy, start with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and follow it up with The Girl Who Played With Fire.

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes: It's being hailed as one of the greatest Vietnam War novels of all time. So, maybe you should read it.

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

296 pages
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

What are the tenants of a good story? For me, I mean? Snappy dialogue? Interesting, complex characters? Forward moving plot with a brisk pace? New ideas, observations? Vibrant sentences? Well, all those bullet points apply to The Ask. I had read The Subject Steve a while back and while I liked it, I felt that Lipsyte took me to the edge but never quite delivered. The Ask is the novel I was waiting for him to write. And then he wrote it. And here it is. And I really liked it, a lot.

So we have Milo Burke, our protagonist (though I use that loosely) who is, let's admit, a rather pathetic modern man. He is a failed painter(though failure implies trying). He is a failed fundraiser (though not for lack of trying). He is a failed husband (equal parts trying and not trying). The only thing he seems to be good at is being a father, and even that has mixed results. But he loves his son. And his wife. So that counts for something.After being fired from his fundraising job at Mediocre University, his office requires his services one last time (with the prospect of getting his job back) as one donor with deep pockets is requesting his personal involvement. One big Ask, for one big Give. Turns out this mysterious donor is...well, I won't give too much away.

Lipsyte's sentences and diction are one of a kind, though not always with positive results. It can be a little much, his hype, ironic, satirical wording. I know he is a student of Gordon Lish (I feel like I'm seeing his name every where these days) and I know Lish was big on writing sentences that hadn't been written before, every phrase unique, every word useful. As is my understanding. And you can imagine that can lead to some...curious phrasing. But overall, it works for Lipsyte. One reviewer said that though the sentences were "dazzling", it was ultimately an "empty story about nothing". Ha! Are you kidding me? About nothing? Wow. Just wow. J-wow.

Reviewed by Schuyler


"Most of the time he avoided me, or humored me, or peppered me with blandly supportive exhortations. "Keep it up," he might say, or "way to go," apropos of nothing I could discern. Sometimes if I walked into the room he'd just say, "Here comes the kid!" Invariably I'd wheel to catch a glimpse of this mysterious presence. Maybe it was clear to both of us we were never going to understand each other, not because we were complicated people, or even at loggerheads, but because of the minor obligation involved. I really couldn't blame him. I knew what churned inside me. It was foul, viscous stuff. It wasn't meant to be understood, but maybe collected in barrels and drained in a dead corner of our lawn." pg. 149-150

"You're growing up. All you need to remember is that nothing changes. New technology, new markets, global interconnectivity, doesn't matter. It's still the rulers and the ruled. The fleecers and the fleeced." pg. 195

"I'm only trying to be a decent dad."

"Don't waste your time. It's not in your genes. Besides, try making some money. That might be a good dad move. For heaven's sake, the system's rigged for white men and you still can't tap in." pg. 77

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

309 pages
Published by Reagan Arthur Books

A teacher has an ambiguous relationship with a student and the high school is thrown into a vortex of uncertainty, reinvention, and sexual awakening. And the local drama school, simply the Institute, chooses to use the scandal as the basis for its end of the year production. As the novel progresses, you as the reader begin to realize that you're never really sure when you're reading a re-enactment at the Institute or whether it's the real life narrative. And would it matter? And as the Institute drama students hone their acting craft, the students of the near by all girls school begin to realize they have acting abilities of their own, feigning concern and sympathy and compassion in wake of the scandal. Catton's got skills, no doubt about it.

Sloppy or complex? I'm going to bet complex. Upon the first reading, I felt a bit befuddled but all the while, I could see certain patterns emerging and I knew that a second reading would make everything more clear. Though not completely clear because I think Catton wants their to be some measure of blending, a murkiness between the stage and the audience, leaving the reader to question where the play ends and reality begins. Of course that is a technique as old as Shakespeare, the play within a play type scenario, but it never fails to captivate my attention. I guess I just like the disorienting puzzle-like qualities of it all. Also, Stanley's father was a fantastic character.

"Later Stanley would arrive at the opinion that girls were naturally more duplicitous, more artful, better at falsely sheathing their true selves; boys’ personalities simply shone through the clearer. It was that female art of multi-tasking, he would conclude, that witchy capacity that girls possessed, that allowed them to retain dual and triple threads of attention at once. Girls could distinguish constantly and consciously between themselves and the performance of themselves, between the form and the substance. This double-handed knack, this perpetual duality, meant that any one girl was both an advertisement and a product at any one time. Girls were always acting. Girls could reinvent themselves, he later thought, with a sour twist to his mouth and his free hand flattening his hair on his crown, and boys could not." pg 71

"At high school they expect answers, but at university all you're supposed to do is dispute the wording of the question. It's what they want. Ask anyone." pg 99

"But if she doesn't know she's lying and nobody else knows that she's lying, and she's got this real memory in her head...then it might as well be true." pg 101

"The other students all said, 'Esther is so funny!' and 'Michael is so bad!,' and just like that each won the double security of becoming both a person and a type." pg 114
Reviewed by Schuyler

The Two Kinds of Decay : A Memoir by Sarah Mangusto

192 pages
Published by Picador

It's kinda hard to review memoirs because you're criticising people's lives, and it's doubly hard to review memoirs where the author went through something rather tragic or horrific or just plain sad, and then to turn around and be like, "Um, your life story was interesting but you did a bad job telling it."

All this being said, Manguso did a pretty good job with a difficult subject: her young life lived in a hospital. In her early 20s, Manguso discovers that within her blood a battle is raging (too much? too dramatic?), a rare disease called CIDP (Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy) which basically requires her to swap out her "bad blood" and replace it with "good blood".

I am simplifying of course. Manguso goes into great detail about her medical history, to the point of making me a little queasy, though I'm not good with needles and blood and stuff. I was also reading it riding backwards on a bus, so that may have contributed to the aforementioned queasiness.

The book reads fairly quickly with most paragraphs a few sentences long, so even in her memoir, Manguso's poetic tendencies seep out onto the page in the form of short, clipped sentences and lots of white space.

Understandably, Manguso's life becomes so consumed by her illness that her entire identity is nearly swallowed by it. There is this one sentence that struck me where she details her time living in New York City, "I had the usual adventures people have when they move to New York." I think that sentence is telling because she no longer thinks the "life" portion of her life is important to recount because, to her, they are ordinary and relatable and everyone has the same experience when they go to New York City. Which of course is not true but these moments in her life don't make her feel special. Her rare illness makes her feel unique and while she wants more than anything to be healthy again, she also developed a kind of relationship with her sickness.

At risk of exaggerating, let me compare it to something else: a soldier coming back from a tour in Afghanistan. He/she comes back to civilian life, to maybe a family with a yard and kids and grocery stores and movie theaters and clean bathrooms and I think it's a pretty common fact that those soldiers have a hard time adjusting to "normal" civilian life (think The Hurt Locker) because the past four, five years of their lives have been consumed with war in a foreign land and no one in their life now, as a civilian, can relate to them, and they can't relate to anyone. They feel almost marooned on an island. Or maybe it's like a depressed person, who while hating their depression, also feels that if it was "cured", they would lose a certain part of what made them 'them'. I think Manguso felt this way with her disease, that her suffering (especially at such a young age which added a layer of tragedy, that her youth was also being destroyed) was both something she loathed but also discovered it made her different, that illness became a new kind of normal, a new kind of healthy.


"And then sometimes I think I've made everything happen, starting with making myself be born." pg.22
"The doctor was older than my parents, and he must have had plenty of younger patients, but he didn't understand yet that suffering, however much and whatever type, shrinks or swells to fit the size and shape of a life." pg. 83-84

"How sure our neighbor was that her suffering was the only kind of suffering. And how sure I was that mine was worse." pg.128

Reviewed by Schuyler

Point Omega by Don DeLillo

117 pages
Published by Scribner

Don DeLillo is melting into himself while some other author slowly emerges from the melty DeLillo puddle. He is delirious with his own talent. He seems to be caught in a metaphysical fever dream in which he imagines himself to be a scribe of thin, existential novel-like things. So there's been The Body Artist. And Cosmopolis. And Falling Man. And Point Omega. Now, where the hell can he go from here? This is where it gets interesting: what will the next DeLillo book look like? Because I'm not sure he can keep dragging us along on this weird trip.


"In the time it took for Anthony Perkins to turn his head, there seemed to flow an array of ideas involving science and philosophy and nameless other things, or maybe he was seeing too much. But it was impossible to see too much. The less there was to see, the harder he looked, the more he saw...To see what's here, finally to look and to know you're looking, to feel time passing, to be alive to what is happening in the smallest registers of motion." pg.5

"It takes close attention to see what is happening in front of you. It takes work, pious effort, to see what you are looking at. He was mesmerized by this, the depths that were possible in the slowing of motion, the things to see, the depths of things so easy to miss in the shallow habit of seeing." pg.13

"I'll tell you this much. War creates a closed world and not only for those in combat but for the plotters, the strategists. Except their war is acronyms, projections, contingencies, methodologies." pg.28

"Consciousness is exhausted. Back now to inorganic matter. This is what we want. We want to be stones in a field." pg.53

"I know about your marriage. You had the kind of marriage where you tell each other everything. You told her everything. I look at you and see this in your face. It's the worst thing you can do in a marriage. Tell her everything you feel, tell her everything you do. That's why she thinks you're crazy. You understand it's not a matter of strategy. I'm not talking about secrets or deceptions. I'm talking about being yourself. If you reveal everything, bare every feeling, ask for understanding, you lose something crucial to your sense of yourself. You need to know things the others don't know. It's what no one knows about you that allows you to know yourself." pg.66

Reviewed by Schuyler

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

250 pages
Published by Archipelago Books
Translated by David Colmer
$16.00 (Paperback available 8/1/10)

I forget where exactly this was first brought to my attention, maybe on Bookslut, possibly The Millions, maybe Conversational Reading. Somewhere on the internet. But whoever reviewed it loved it, and then it recently won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the largest monetary award for fiction in english on the planet, with a cool 100,000 Euros. So that's impressive.

This is kinda hard to review because the book is so much about a sense of place, the quiet rhythms of a small Dutch farm, and the atmosphere of solitude that Bakker establishes. The prose is stark I guess, though I hate using that overused adjective. Bare prose? Naked prose?

Helmer and Henk were twin brothers. Henk died in a car accident, leaving Helmer to "waste" his life on the family farm. The bulk of the narrative picks up 30 years later, after the Mother has passed, and the now elderly Father is rapidly declining, health wise, requiring Helmer to both care for the farm and for his emotionally cold Father. Then Riet, Henk's would be fiance, contacts Helmer and wonders if her unruly teenage son (though not by Henk) could come and live and work on the farm for a time. Also, the son is also named Henk and is about the same age as of the original Henk, when he died. I know this sounds kind of confusing, but Bakker does a better job than I am doing right now.

It ultimately turns into a story about Helmer trying to understand his role in life without his twin. Who is Helmer? Who is Helmer is relation to his loveless Father? To Riet? To the farm? These all seem like big existential type questions that might appear daunting, but they aren't out rightly pondered (though kinda but in sweet, subtle ways) by Helmer, so it makes for this still, almost nostalgic reading, though nostalgic for what, I'm not quite sure. Nostalgic for solitary Dutch farms I guess.

Reviewed by Schuyler

Remainder by Tom McCarthy

308 pages
Published by Vintage

About half way through, I'm thinking to myself, "Wait, this is pretty much like Synecdoche, New York by Charlie Kaufman." And so I did a little research and in an interview, Kaufman is asked about Remainder and says he had never read it and in fact, wrote his screenplay well before the book was published. Weird.

So the main characters comes into some money (about 8 1/2 million pound, so that's like what? $16 million USD?) after a lawsuit involving him being injured by something falling from the sky. He decides to use the money to try and re-create and re-enact certain moments from his life, both past and present, moments that he feels are "pure" and "true" and in turn, give him a sense of happiness. He feels that everyday life has become too staged and stilted and is tainted with people posing and being aware that they're posing...so naturally, in order to get around this, he hires "re-enactors" to help him stage these moments. He creates "sets", down to the most minimal detail. Obviously, to the reader, this feels a little contradictory in terms: dissatisfied with the posed feeling of "real" life, one decides to instead stage moments from "real" life and replay them on a near continuous loop, so as to achieve a sort of truth (or maybe Truth).

I'm not saying this negatively, it's just something I noticed. I thought all the loopy logic, that as the novel goes on, just basically turns into a funhouse hall of mirrors, was great. I love that kind of stuff. It was repetitious at times but in a way that was oddly comforting. Like you're right there with him, watching him build this world, construct his own version of joy. These re-enactments become a sort of religion to him:

"I and the other re-enactors were like a set of devotees to a religion not yet founded: patient, waiting for our deity to appear, to manifest himself to us, redeem us; and our gestures were all votive ones, acts of anticipation." pg. 282

And this too:

"To be real- to become fluent, natural, to cut out the detour that sweeps us around what's fundamental to events, preventing us from touching their core: the detour that makes us all second-hand and second-rate." p. 264

I usually don't like British writers, well, just the ones I've tried to read I guess, but McCarthy won me over. I hope you're proud of yourself Sir. And also the ending kicks ass.

Reviewed by Schuyler

Nine Lives by Dan Baum

368 Pages
Published by Spiegel & Grau

I've been kinda obsessed with New Orleans lately, in particular, Hurricane Katrina and life post storm. I just finished The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley before reading Nine Lives and it was a great primer. While The Great Deluge has plenty of harrowing, courageous stories, it is more fact based, as it should be. Nine Lives is far more character based, with Baum's prose reading almost like fiction. It deals largely with life in New Orleans, pre-Katrina, following the story lines of nine individuals from varying backgrounds. A wealthy coroner/doctor. A police officer. A high school band teacher. A transexual barkeep. And so on.

Baum's overall push is to establish that New Orleans is not like the rest of America. It lives life at a different pace, not consumed with "the clock" or "chasing the dollar". Baum insists that New Orleanians are slow to accept change, and really don't want change. The city comes off as almost other worldly and time seems to linger in its streets a little longer than other cities. Though New Orleans comes off as mysterious and magical, it seems to come at a price. In order to have this slow moving, metropolitan paradise, it seems that it must have a yin to its yang: the crime, the corruption, etc etc etc. Can New Orleans, as it has been known, with all its history and eccentric culture, exist without its underbelly? Who knows. But Baum gives us a little glimpse into why people make New Orleans their home, regardless.

Reviewed by Schuyler