Tuesday, June 5, 2007

In fiction, Babs recommends . . .

The following, in no particular order, are some of the books I have thoroughly enjoyed since January 2005. :^)

Tales of the City (series of 6 books) by Armistead Maupin

Publisher's Weekly: Maupin's alternately playful and sentimental tales depict an all-too-easily satirized population of transients and toffs living in and around San Francisco

Babs says: "These books are set in SF in the late 70s-early 80s - a very interesting time in that city's history in my opinion. The story started off as a newspaper serial and a couple of years later was published as a book and it went on from there. I raced through these books. I may have enjoyed them because I was living in the Bay Area at the time. There is an entertaining cast of characters (gay and straight) surrounding the main character- MaryAnn Singleton. I also rented and enjoyed the PBS series after I read all of the books."

On June 12, Michael Tolliver Lives! will be released in hardback, and I will definitely be reading it.


Remaining books in series: More Tales of the City; Further Tales of the City, Babycakes, Significant Others, Sure of You

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
Amazon.com: While the Bible may be the word of God, transcribed by divinely inspired men, it does not provide a full (or even partial) account of the life of Jesus Christ. Lucky for us that Christopher Moore presents a funny, lighthearted satire of the life of Christ--from his childhood days up to his crucifixion--in Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. This clever novel is surely blasphemy to some, but to others it's a coming-of-age story of the highest order.

Publishers Weekly: A childhood pal of the savior is brought back from the dead to fill in the missing 30-year "gap" in the Gospels in Moore's latest, an over-the-top festival of sophomoric humor that stretches a very thin though entertaining conceit far past the breaking point. The action starts in modern America, specifically in a room at the Hyatt in St. Louis, where the angel who shepherds "Levi who is called Biff" has to put Christ's outrageous sidekick under de facto house arrest to get him to complete his task.

Babs says: "This will go down as one of my FAVORITE books of all time! It is just too, too hilarious, and very interesting, in my opinion. I was raised Protestant. I would say I am "lapsed" now, but I did not find this book at all blasphemous or offensive. I mean it IS fiction. I really appreciated the Buddhist and Hindu sub-plots. I'm always hoping for people to take a wider view of Jesus (one I like to think that he, himself would appreciate) and his place in our world."

Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut
Amazon.com: Timequake's a mongrel; it is half novel, half memoir, the project of a decade's worth of writer's block, a book "that didn't want to be written." The premise is standard-issue Vonnegut: "...a timequake, a sudden glitch in the space-time continuum, made everybody and everything do exactly what they'd done during past decades, for good or ill, a second time..." Simultaneously, the author's favorite tricks are on display--frequent visits with the shopworn science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, a Hitchcockian appearance by the author at the book's end, and frequent authorial opining on love, war, and society.

Babs says: "It was the new Vonnegut, and a good friend recommended it."

Own? Yes.

Against Gravity by Farnoosh Moshiri
Publishers Weekly: Iranian-born Moshiri's poignant, semiautobiographical third novel (after 2003's The Bathhouse) carefully observes the effects of loss on three people in 1980s Houston. Ric Cardinal is a devoted social worker; his former client, Madison Kirby, is a bitter former philosophy professor stricken by AIDS; Madison's neighbor, Roya, is an Iranian political refugee with a young daughter. Each protagonist narrates a story, and it is Roya's tale, which bears some resemblance to Moshiri's own, that most compels. While the other two fall prey to such utterances as Madison's upon meeting Roya for the first time ("Something stirred in my guts again and I wanted her the way I'd never wanted a female in my life") and are either sinner (Madison) or saint (Ric), Roya simmers with complexity and nuance. As Ric tries to counsel the increasingly difficult Madison and contend with his own schizophrenic teenage son, Roya recounts her days of wandering through the Middle East ("I didn't mention my dark thoughts—despair, dread of the unknown future, and the constant presence of death, real or imagined, in my dreams and wakefulness. Madness at times''). Her unlikely journey to Houston proves just as alienating, and Moshiri deftly conveys Roya's plight—and ultimately her courage—which are the novel's greatest strengths

Babs says: "I like to make a point of reading authors that round out all of the white anglo-saxon male authors I read. As I recall, either Bookmarks magazine or Bookbrowse recommended it."

Own? Yes

Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliott Perlman
Publishers Weekly: By copping the title of William Empson's classic of literary criticism, Australian writer Perlman (Three Dollars) sets a high bar for himself, but he justifies his theft with a relentlessly driven story, told from seven perspectives, about the effects of the brief abduction of six-year-old Sam Geraghty by Simon Heywood, his mother Anna's ex-boyfriend. Charismatic, unemployed Simon is still obsessed with Anna nine years after their breakup—to the dismay of his present lover, Angelique, a prostitute. Anna's stockbroker husband, Joe, is one of Angelique's regulars, which feeds Simon's flame. When Angelique turns Simon in to the cops, he claims he had permission to pick Sam up; his fate hinges on whether Anna will back up his lie. Most of the perspectives are linked to Simon's shrink, Alex Klima, who writes to Anna and counsels Simon, Angelique and Joe's co-worker, Dennis. The most successful voices belong to Joe, who's spent his career on the edge of panic, and Dennis, whose bitter rants provide a corrective to Klima's unctuous psychological omniscience. Perlman, a lawyer, aims for a literary legal novel—think Grisham by way of Franzen—and the ambition is admirable though the product somewhat uneven. Simon's obsessions, his self-righteousness and his psychological blackmail, give him a perhaps unintended creepiness, and the novel, as big and juicy as it is, may not offer sufficient closure.

Babs says: "I read this book in May 2006, but it is starred in my list of books as having enjoyed it. SO, I can't say that its alleged unevenness or its possible insufficient closure dampened it for me. I really enjoyed the structure of the book and I would agree with the statement that it was "big and juicy"!"

Own? Yes

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Amazon.com: From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day

Babs says: "If you liked Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, then this book is one for you. It deals with some interesting ethical issues about the value of human life. Ishiguro writes wonderfully!"

Own? Yes

The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks
Publishers Weekly: Twelve Hawks's much anticipated novel is powerful, mainstream fiction built on a foundation of cutting-edge technology laced with fantasy and the chilling specter of an all-too-possible social and political reality. The time is roughly the present, and the U.S. is part of the Vast Machine, a society overseen by the Tabula, a secret organization bent on establishing a perfectly controlled populace. Allied against the Tabula are the Travelers and their sword-carrying protectors, the Harlequins. The Travelers, now almost extinct, can project their spirit into other worlds where they receive wisdom to bring back to earth—wisdom that threatens the Tabula's power. Maya, a reluctant Harlequin, finds herself compelled to protect two na├»ve Travelers, Michael and Gabriel Corrigan. Michael dabbles in shady real estate deals, while Gabriel prefers to live "off the Grid," eschewing any documentation—credit cards, bank accounts—that the Vast Machine could use to track him. Because the Tabula has engineered a way to use the Travelers for its own purposes, Maya must not only keep the brothers alive, but out of the hands of these evil puppet-masters. She succeeds, but she also fails, and therein lies the tale. By the end of this exciting volume, the first in a trilogy, the stage is set for a world-rending clash between good and evil.

Babs says: "This book is not one I would usually read, but I just found the topic appealing - and the author's name intrigued me. And I admit, I patted myself on the back for supporting a Native American author. I have since learned John Twelve Hawks is a pseudonym and his publishers provide no information about him other than he lives "off the grid."

Own? Yes

Windflower by Nick Bantock
Booklist: In Griffin and Sabine creator Bantock's latest mix of story and art, Ana, a spirited young woman with a passion for dance, awakens on the morning of her wedding with a sense of dread. She is betrothed to Marco, and the wedding will mean that Ana's people, the Capolan, will abandon their nomadic ways and settle in a lush valley. Both Ana and her grandfather believe doing so would be a mistake, and when a storm breaks out during the wedding, she decides to run away and seek Felix Bulerias, the famed dance instructor her grandfather believes can help her convince the Capolans that the wedding plans are a mistake. Ana journeys to the town of Sedona, where she meets four very different men: the seductive Boreos, the dreamy Zephyr, the wise Mr. Hamattan, and the heroic Sirocco. Ana is drawn to all four for different reasons, but she gradually discovers their motives for befriending her are suspect. With lush, rich writing and beautiful illustrations on each page, Bantock and coauthor Ponti weave a mythological tale.

Babs says: "I bought this book because it is beautiful - physically beautiful. I enjoyed the Griffin and Sabine series for its unusual presentatio as well as its content, so I thought I would give this book a try. Glad I did!"

Own? Yes

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