Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Michael Tolliver Lives!

Hooray for Mouse! A key star of Armistead Maupin’s beloved series “Tales of the City” which chronicled life in 1970’s and 80’s San Francisco comes back to tell us his story in the millennium. Michael is older – he’s 55! And as with many of us aging boomers, Michael Tolliver is concerned more with domestic life than with the fabled escapes of his youth.

Gone from “Michael Tolliver Lives” are the ‘70’s and ‘80’s cultural references to the Mary Tyler Moore Show, to pop music and to the free wheeling pop culture world that made the original “Tales” so gossipy but endearing. But worry not dear reader, still with us – and robust as ever – are landlady and beloved transsexual Anna Madrigal (now in her 80’s!) and Brian Hawkins – our ladies man/playboy turned waiter turned doting father. We get updates on Anna’s daughter Mona, and we delight again in the topsy-turvy world of the city by the bay – strolling with Michael Tolliver from the (still) gay Castro district to tourist-ridden Fisherman’s Warf.

We look in on the (now increasingly middle aged) counter culture. And, this being a novel by Armistead Maupin, we’re introduced to a charming group of new San Francisco characters – from Brian’s hip (one might say bleeding edge) daughter/journalist to Jake, Michael’s furry little gay landscape co-worker who holds secrets from his life past in Tulsa Oklahoma. We get to know Ben, Michael’s 30 something partner in life who provides Maupin – and all of us - with ample opportunities to look at our new century through the eyes of someone NOT familiar with the free wheeling 70’s. AND, Maupin takes us deeper into the life of Michael Tolliver’s family in Florida – when Michael (with Ben in tow) travels back to his dying mother’s bedside and plunges once again into his earlier life with his older – and oh-so-straight brother Irwin and his evangelical Christian (and leader of her church’s puppet ministry) wife, Lenore. I’ll leave you to imagine the fireworks and the pathos!

Surely NOT a book for the faint of heart - there is enough sex, drugs – but no rock and roll - in any one chapter of “Michael Tolliver” to please ANY reader of today’s saucy minded novels. But, as the always wise Anna Madrigal tells Michael late in the novel “You don’t have to keep up, dear. You just have to keep open.” Keep an open mind with YOU and you’ll delight in reading “Michael Tolliver Lives”!
Listen to Library Director Nick Schenkel's review at WBAA : or Check it out @ your library: Michael Tolliver Lives! by Armistead Maupin

Monday, January 28, 2008

Salt: a World History by Mark Kurlansky

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like without salt? We use it at the table but Kurlansky explaines in his fascinating biography of the mineral the many impacts this product has had on our civilization. Did you know that salt was so valuable in the ancient world that the Roman soldiers were paid in salt? Our word salary comes from the Latin word for salt, sal. Salt enabled civilizations to expand when it was found that meat and fish could be salted and preserved for later use. Traders and travelers could go farther and faster when they could carry their own preserved food rather than live off the land. Salted cod allowed sailors to cross oceans rather than stick to the coast. Read this interesting book and learn how salt is collected and why it comes in different colors, find out about the salt mines near Saltzburg, why wars were fought over the mineral, and many other salient facts.

Check it out @ your library: Salt by Mark Kurlansky

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Shadow of the Wind

One morning, in 1945 Barcelona, a young boy wakes from his dreams, screaming. His father comes in to comfort him, and the boy tells him that he can no longer remember what his mother looked like. In order to ease his pain, his father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and tells him to pick one book, any book, that he likes from the shelves. The boy finds solace in his choice, a book named Shadow of the Wind and written by one Julian Carax. He enjoy the book so much that he goes in search of Carax's other works, only to discover that someone has been destroying every copy of every book that Carax wrote. The boy desperately tries to stem the purge, only to discover to his horror that to own the book dooms him to the same destruction. But the book is impossible to forget, and he can't quit the search, no matter how dangerous. Because to discover the author's secrets he will learn the truth behind an unforgettable mystery of murder, mayhem, and a tragic lost love.

This is my all-time favorite book. I invite you to read the prologue, and tell me that it didn't give you goosebumps. And if it did give you goosebumps, you are in for the read of your life!

Check it out @ your library: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


A story without borders or time, this is the tale of a nine year boy whose family and the larger world around him is torn apart by a modern day Revolution.
IN THE COUNTRY OF MEN unfolds as two stories – the engaging story of a young boy as he explores the family and urban world around him and, at the same time, the darker story of a society slowly repressed by a leader intent on imposing his own brand of revolution on the nation.
When we first meet Suleiman the nine year old narrator is living happily with his mom, dad, and friends in Tripoli, the North African seaside capital of Libya, a city already well populated in the time of the Roman Empire.
His life is like that of many nine year old boys – he navigates the changing moods of his mother and father, and is not above pouting to gain his own selfish ends (tales of Suleiman’s manipulation of his young mother on market days are priceless reading! ).
He delights in exploring the ins and outs of his newly built neighborhood with his best friend, enjoys swimming in the nearby Mediterranean Sea, and is excited when asked to join his friend on a visit to the nearby Roman ruins. Too, like many youngsters throughout the world, Suleiman acts as his lonely mother’s companion during those many days when his father is away on “business”.
But danger looms in his young world. First Suleiman’s best friend’s father and soon enough his own father disappear into the maw of the Libyan Revolutionary guards, falling out of sight “behind the sun”. Neighbors spy more openly on neighbors and his (almost) picture perfect world plunges into darkness (though not despair) as the Libyan Revolution comes crashing into their homes on – of all places - Mulberry Street.
This slowly unfolding doom is a strong reason why this novel is so much more than “a day in the life of a nine year Libyan boy”. And as we read on, we find the reason for the title – we focus increasingly on the men in Suleiman’s life – those close to him and those from afar (members of the Libyan national government); we discover it is the men, by far, who are responsible for the growing tumult and pain in Suleiman’s life.
Yet In the midst of this danger and mounting anxiety, we are treated to author Hisham Matar’s beautiful writing - his marvelous facility with English prose.
Nominated for a Mann Booker Prize (which celebrates the best fiction of the year by a member of the British Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland) this semi autobiographical tale is a story worth reading and pondering.
In early 2006 I strongly recommended the book LITERATURE FROM THE AXIS OF EVIL, a collection of stories which includes short stories from Libyan authors permitted to publish by their government. IN THE COUNTRY OF MEN is a different kind of “literature”, written by a Libyan author at work in England. It is no less powerful and moving on its own uncensored authority. Reviewed by Nick Schenkel on WBAA radio and on Library Leaves. Listen to an extended review of this book on the WBAA radio archives link elsewhere on this page!

Find it @ your library: In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Covenant

When her family - husband Jonathan and daughter Ilana - are kidnapped from their home in Jerusalem, Elise frantically calls her Bubbee (grandmother) Leah for help. Soon Leah and her four friends, now grandmothers and great grandmothers, band together to help Elise. The four women made a covenant when they were in Auschwitz that if they survived the war, they would do anything and everything within their power to make sure that they each lived happily for the rest of their days. As the women reunite to help find Elise's family, we learn of more serious problems plaguing Israel - the threat of Hamas and the lives that are destroyed at the hands of terrorists. And we discover, most importantly, that not just Jews are harmed in the fighting. A great, powerful novel.

Click here to find a copy @ your library: The Covenant by Naomi Ragen

The Golden Compass

I felt the need to read this book with all the recent hype surrounding the movie. If you liked The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you will definitely like this book! Young Lyra lives at Jordan College in Oxford, but we realize that the Oxford she inhabits is in a time very different from ours. In her world, some mythical group called The Gobblers are kidnapping children. No one knows what is really going on, but Lyra intends to find out. Her adventures take her to the very northern regions of the world on a quest to discover who the Gobblers are, what they are doing to children, and stop them at all costs.

This was a great adventure, and like I said, much like CS Lewis' works. Read it for the sheer joy of reading and adventure!

Check out a copy @ your library: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

A Death in Vienna

Third, and last, in Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon trilogy dealing with unresolved Holocaust issues. When his friend is nearly killed in a bomb blast at his Vienna office for Holocaust War Time Crimes and Inquiries, Gabriel Allon sets on the trail to discover who harmed his friend. His search takes him all over the world, eventually leading him to the man who helped try and cover up the world's worst genocide. And the man is living freely in Vienna, taking his coffee and paper everyday just like an ordinary free man. But Gabriel has another reason for wanting to bring this man to justice; when his mother was a girl, she was sent to Birkenau and was terrorized by the same man. Gabriel will stop at nothing to get justice, not just for his mother, but for everyone who was a victim.

Click here to check it out @ the library: A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva

The Subtle Knife

I read this book over the Christmas vacation, and I was enthralled! This is a great sequel to The Golden Compass. In order to keep from spoiling the book, I can't give you very many details from the beginning of the book, as they relate to the end of the previous book. However, Lyra teams up with a young man and they enter into a quest to save his father and find the truth about Dust. Along the way, they aquire a knife that lends them special powers that will help them in their struggles. I recommend that you have the third book, The Amber Spyglass, ready and waiting because The Subtle Knife leaves you hanging and needing more!

Click here to request your copy @ the library: The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

The Venetian Betrayal

I am a huge Steve Berry fan, and I have to read all of his books right when they come out. The Venetian Betrayal did not disappoint! Former government agent Cotton Malone is told to meet a friend at a museum in Denmark where he lives. Because he has worked with the friend before and knows that she could only be needing to meet for secretive reasons, he decides to stake out the museum the evening before the meeting. Knocked unconscious and dragged inside the museum, he wakes up to a sickly-sweet smell and the realization that he is covered in fuel. Narrowly escaping the fire that is quickly set to the building, Cotton is thrust into another adventure that takes him to the heart of a struggle that involves terrorism, the use of bio-warfare, and the draft of Alexander the Great.

This is a great book, though I can't quite figure out how the title is directly related. But no matter, the title is not important when you have a great thriller to read!

Click here to request your copy at the library: The Venetian Betrayal by Steve Berry.