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July 2009

Best Books of July: "The Defector"

I have never considered myself a spy novel reader. I’ve always been a fan of espionage on the big screen--hooked since the first time I heard the words “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die,” in fact--but I admit to being intimidated by spy novels. I imagined them as too dense and loaded with acronyms for the novice reader, and requiring advanced knowledge at best and homework at worst. So, it was with some trepidation that I prepared for an author visit from Daniel Silva. I nervously cracked open my copy of The Defector--and was promptly lost to the world. I had to force myself to put it down at two in the morning so I could get some sleep. I picked it up first thing in the morning and read as I walked to the office. And in between meetings at work. And on the bus on the way to dinner with the author. When someone at dinner started talking about the ending, I literally stuck my fingers in my ears and hummed to myself. This is all to say that it has been a long time since I’ve been as taken with, or surprised by a book as I was with The Defector. I encourage those of you, like me, who have enjoyed Bond, Bourne, or Bristow on the screen, but never made the leap to the page, to give Silva a shot (I’m sure Fleming or Ludlum fans will have some recommendations as well). Gabriel Allon is one hell of an interesting character (learn more about the artist/assassin in an exclusive essay from Silva), and the best news is that once you are hooked, there are eight other books in the series to keep you occupied for the rest of the summer. I’ll leave you with my review for The Defector, and encourage spy thriller fans out there to please send me recommendations, because I for one, am sold on the genre.

Amazon Best of the Month, July 2009: "If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared." The ninth book in Daniel Silva's smart, fast-paced series about enigmatic assassin and art restorer Gabriel Allon begins with an epigraph courtesy of Machiavelli. A fitting start to a twisty spy thriller chock full of clandestine meetings, tenuous alliances, and ruthless men. The beauty of Silva's series is that it is easy on acronyms and byzantine operations (so you don't have to be a spy novel aficionado to enjoy it), and each book gives you a discreet rundown on familiar characters and back-stories (so you don't have to start at the beginning). In The Defector, the disappearance of Russian defector and dissident Grigori Bulganov draws Gabriel out of semi-retirement and into the path of Ivan Kharkov, the former KGB agent and Russian oligarch from Moscow Rules. Exotic locales, intriguing characters, and a breakneck pace make for a riveting summer read. -- Daphne Durham

Border Reading (Guest Blogger: Steve Hely)

[Note from Mari: You would have seen this yesterday, folks, but we had to reach a consensus on whether y'all would strenuously object to the word "prostitutes." (Yeah, you heard me--"prostitutes.") We've decided you can take it, so Hely's text appears here unaltered.]

Hey Readers,

Hoping to get some wisdom of crowds here for a book recommendation. I’m going to be making a trip to far southern California soon. The Salton Sea, Niland, Seely, Brawley, Calexico, the Chocolate Mountains--pretty much just gonna be wandering through Imperial County. I’d love to read a book that explores this area: natural, historical, sociological perspectives all in one volume would be great.

I’m especially interested--and this is a little weird, I’ll admit--in strip clubs and prostitutes of the region. I should say I’ve got a ravenous appetite for the subject. I could easily read a thousand, or fourteen hundred pages. As long as it’s a thorough, in-depth look at Imperial County.

Does anyone know of a book like that? Before people start posting suggestions in the comments, here are some books I liked and some I didn’t care for as much, so you can gauge what I might go for.


1) Son of the Morning Star by Evan S. Connell. Lucid, compelling historical storytelling.

2) Dog of the South by Charles Portis. Funny, charming, lovable--gold standard for the comic novel.

3) The Discovery of France by Graham Robb. Something fascinating on every page, opened up a whole new window into the past.


1) Riding Toward Everywhere by William Vollman. A subject I want to know more about (hoboes), but somehow, the style here didn’t gel for me.

2) The Ice-Shirt by William Vollman. Great, great book--Vollman’s writing sparkles in this mystical tale of Vikings in North America. But it’s just not what I’m looking for here.

3) Rising Up and Rising Down by William Vollman. I dunno, somehow I lost interest around page 2,700.

4) Europe Central by William Vollman. Not my cup of tea.


Omni Daily News

A Savvy Pick: Al Roker makes Ingrid Law's Newbery Honor-winning novel his next book club pick for young readers. He and an audience of fans will interview the author on the Today Show later this summer.

Classic Couture: PaperCuts profiles a brand-new look from Ruben Toledo for beloved Penguin Classics Pride and Prejudice, The Scarlet Letter, and Wuthering Heights--just in time for back-to-school and Fashion Week.

Moving & shaking
: All Things Considered covers Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation, moving it to #2 on our list of Movers & Shakers. --Anne

Graphic Novel Friday: "The Nobody"

In 1897, H.G. Wells created his tragic character Griffen, a.k.a. The Invisible Man.  Over 100 years later, Jeff Lemire revisits the classic tale in The Nobody, and Griffen still can't catch a break.

While the core premise remains the same--Invisible Man turns recluse in a small town as he tries to cure his condition--The Nobody is less a thriller and more a character study. Griffen arrives in the town of Large Mouth clad in bandages, gloves, and creepy goggles. "Large Mouth" becomes apropos as the town is soon abuzz with theories as to who the stranger really is, and what he may be hiding. The local characters are all quirkily unattractive--hammerhead noses, sharp chins, and furrows--but deeply expressive.

Visual humor abounds, with plenty of quiet laughs thanks to Lemire's frank approach to Griffen’s concealment. He wears a broken-in baseball cap in an attempt to mesh with the blue-collar patrons at a local dinner but ends up looking like a frat-house mummy.

But The Nobody doesn't dwell on sight gags for long, as Griffen soon starts to succumb to his condition, as well as develop a bit of a drinking habit. He is plagued by nightmares, hauntingly rendered by Lemire, who makes great use of blue hues in this otherwise black and white collection. There is a recurring woman in Griffen's unconscious mind, and his present-day, questionable relationship with a 16-year-old local morphs into a liability.

Sure enough, bad things start to pile up as Griffen is visited by former colleague Kemp (whose character is more akin to the Universal film version of The Invisible Man than Wells's book), and trouble brews in the minds and accusations of a few locals. Lemire's storytelling moves briskly, pairing slightly off-kilter with his visuals. The panels take their time, allowing for long, leisurely beats. Likewise, Griffen's dreams are feverish yet patiently illustrated. Readers will know how the story ends, but the gaps are where it thrives. The answers here are as elusive as Griffen's cure.


P.S. Jeff Lemire fans are sure to have a rewarding summer, as Top Shelf plans to reprint his entire Essex County Trilogy into one 500+ page hardcover (or trade paperback) later in August.

Pelecanos, The Pogues, and a Pub

We've raised a glass with an author at a pub (we'll be posting soon on our visit with Colum McCann), and we've interviewed George Pelecanos, with a short video (in the glamorous surroundings of an unmarked booth on a trade show floor). But we've not approached the double bill that recently happened at London's Boogaloo. As any reader of Pelecanos's books knows, he's a big music fan, and The Wire, the show he helped write and produce, featured a number of Pogues songs. A mutual-admiration friendship between Pelecanos and Spider Stacey of the Pogues led to a shared books-and-music event, which turned out to include not only Pelecanos reading from his latest novel, The Way Home, but the Pogues' first pub show in sixteen years.

Much of the set has been posted online by Paul Murff. Here's Pelecanos's reading (followed by a few questions, the first of which, appropriately, is about the Replacements):

And here are the Pogues, performing "The Body of an American" (a Wire favorite) and "Transmetropolitan" (a tour of London that rivals Pelecanos's DC stories for spirited geographical exactitude):

You can also watch them play "Kitty" and "Sally MacLennane." And thanks to another videographer at the show (with not so good a view), you can see them perform, for the first time live according to Pelecanos, "Way Down in the Hole," the theme song to The Wire.

Next time we meet an author in a pub, we're booking a band. --Tom [Via GalleyCat]

Omni Daily Crush: "We'll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives"

Earlier this week I received an early copy of Paul Shaffer's upcoming memoir, We'll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives, and devoured this star-studded "swingin' showbiz saga" in one sitting. Breezy and bursting with boldfaced names and industry dish, Shaffer shares how a kid from Thunder Bay, Ontario, grew up to get a gig as David Letterman's bandleader (with stops as SNL's first musical director, working with the Blues Brothers, penning the disco hit "It's Raining Men,"and appearing in This Is Spinal Tap along the way).

As a life-long Letterman fan (I remember watching his1980 NBC morning show(!) and spent far too many pre-VCR school nights staying up until 12:30AM to catch him) I smiled in recognition as Shaffer reminisced about classic Letterman moments Larry "Bud" Melman trying to read a French edition of The Night Before Christmas, Sonny and Cher performing "I Got You Babe" in an impromptu reunion, Darlene Love's annual rendition of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," and accidentally drawing blood from Mel Gibson during a bit called "May We Turn Your Pants Into Shorts?"

The book is filled with plenty of "Page Six"-style memories of Eric Clapton, Jerry Lewis, Phil Spector, Richard Belzer, Mr. Blackwell, Gilda Radner, and Martin Short but one of my favorites is Shaffer's "Sammy story." Shaffer was coordinating a Letterman appearance with one of his idols, the great Sammy Davis, Jr. ("Schmuel, it's Paul Shaffer." "Paul, what's shaking, baby?"). Shaffer, worrying too much about arrangement of Stevie Wonder's "Once In My Life," insists, after much protesting from Sammy, on playing a recording of the horn arrangement for him prior to the show. After listening, Sammy says: "It's swinging, but think of how much more fun we could have had if I hadn't heard this tape."

Recommended for fans of Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life and Rickles' Book: A Memoir


Omni Daily News

Ice Cream, You sCream for Books:  Ben & Jerry's is considering a library-themed ice cream flavor thanks to a Facebook petition launched by a New Jersey librarian. The petition has garnered thousands of supporters.  [The Guardian]

Rave Review for Jericho's Fall:  Yale legal scholar-turned bestselling author Stephen L. Carter gets high marks for his latest novel Jericho's FallReviewer Tim Rutten describes it as "an intricate spy thriller that proceeds at breakneck speed from mystery to revelation and back again."  [LA Times]

Moving and Shaking:  Melanie Gideon's memoir A Slippery Year: A Meditation on Happily Ever After slides onto our Movers & Shakers list on the heels of yesterday's New York Times review by Motoko Rich.  


YA Wednesday: The Treasure Map

We're melting here in Seattle. Today we hit a record high of 102 degrees! Guess I'd better run over to Nordstrom and pick up one of these cool summer tees--but which team to choose? Instyle-300x400

(via The Puget Sound Business Journal)

The return of E. Lockhart!
Treasuremap In The Treasure Map of Boys, E. Lockhart's first book since National Book Award-Nominated, Tournament of Books contender The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, the author returns to another unforgettable heroine, Ruby "Roo" Oliver, who we've seen before in The Boyfriend List (2005) and The Boy Book (2006). Ruby is a girl with the most common of girl troubles--which boy should she choose? Which girls are really her friends? Why does she have to wear this coat her mom bought her with anchors on it? Ruby cracked me up with her "state of Noboyfriend" and "roly-poly," her footnotes about David Lee Roth and llamas, and her coup to overthrow the nasty marshmellow snowmen sold every year by the CHuBS (Charity Holiday Bake Sale). Throughout all the slapstick, misflirts, and moments of sadness, Ruby maintains her sense of humor and sense of herself. A truly fun read.

For a representative excerpt of ex-boyfriend encounter hilarity, go here.

Quick links...
July23LiarJUMP This week's controversy: Justine Larbalestier responds to the complaints about the race of the girl on the cover of her upcoming novel, Liar, which does not match the race of the protagonist. Any chance this will slow the trend of YA covers depicting pretty, thin, white models? One can only hope.

Publisher's Weekly reports on the controversy.

Trisha of the YA YA YAs follows up with an analysis of Asian-Americans on YA fiction covers.

(Almost every YA blogger commented on this, actually, so fish around the blogs if you want to see more.)

Dear Author interviews Natashya Wilson, editor for Harlequin Teen, which officially launched yesterday with My Soul to Take.

TemptedVoila! The cover for Tempted, due out in October, is up on the House of Night website. Preview of chapter one coming soon. (via YA Booknerd.)

Finding Wonderland tells you how to design your own debut YA novel cover. Here is theirs:


(This game appears to have started at 100 scope notes. Many examples here.) My debut YA novel is Cinch by Danette G. McClure. I'll pass on using a photo. Happy reading.--Heidi

Omni Daily Crush: "An Army at Dawn"

Proving that you sometimes can judge a book by its appearance, my introduction to Rick Atkinson is owed largely to the powerful cover image on his Pulitzer-winning epic, An Army at Dawn. A column of weary World War II GIs marching up a dusty hillside struck me as incredibly honest and in sharp contrast to the clean uniforms and clenched jaws of Hollywood. It also proved apropos of Atkinson's narrative, as the former Washington Post reporter does a remarkable job of pulling back the bravado to reveal the sacrifices endured by those on the front line. The North African chapter of WWII may not have had the unprecedented force or drama of Normandy, but it introduced the world to driven individuals - including a chain-smoking Commander named Dwight D. Eisenhower and a profanely impatient General George S. Patton - who would go on to profoundly shape the conflict in the following years. Atkinson wisely profiles this cast of characters with equanimity, allowing events - not stories - to give them definition. The result is an honest-as-the-cover look at a fighting force that would soon become known as our "Greatest Generation."


Recommended for fans of The Guns of August

Omni Daily News

Putting the Q in "Quirky": Cory Doctorow takes a look at Michael Kupperman's comic anthology, Tales Designed to Thrizzle: Volume One, what BoingBoing calls "a cross between MAD and McSweeney's." [BoingBoing]

Inside Baseball: Charles McGrath reviews Zev Chafets's Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame. [New York Times]

Ready for Her Close-Up: Michelle Malkin's been making the media cycle this week with her new book, Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies, and it must be working--it's currently No. 1 on Amazon. [FOX News]

Moving and Shaking
: A recent NPR round-up on pop-culture memoirs sends Nathan Rabin's The Big Rewind to the No. 3 spot (current Amazon rank: 201) on our Movers & Shakers list.