Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Man Booker Long List Announced

Today, the prestigious Man Booker Award Long List was announced.  This is one of my favorite prizes, in part, because first the long list is announced, in early September the shortlist of six is announced and then in October the winner is announced.  It creates an interesting and diverse reading list.  To be a candidate for the prize, the book must have been first published in the former UK Commonwealth.  Last year's winner was Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question.  The downside is that nearly all of these books (other than Pigeon English) are not available in the U.S. yet.  For the ambitious, you can order most of these books through www.abebooks.com or www.amazon.co.uk.

Drum roll please...and the Long List for the 2011 Man Booker Prize is:

Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape - Random House)
Sebastian Barry On Canaan's Side (Faber)
Carol Birch Jamrach's Menagerie (Canongate Books)
Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers (Granta)
Esi Edugyan Half Blood Blues (Serpent's Tail - Profile)
Yvvette Edwards A Cupboard Full of Coats (Oneworld)
Alan Hollinghurst The Stranger's Child (Picador - Pan Macmillan)
Stephen Kelman Pigeon English (Bloomsbury)
Patrick McGuinness The Last Hundred Days (Seren Books)
A.D. Miller Snowdrops (Atlantic)
Alison Pick Far to Go (Headline Review)
Jane Rogers The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
D.J. Taylor Derby Day (Chatto & Windus - Random House)
Happy reading.  I'll keep you posted.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Map of Time by Felix Palma

The Map of Time: A NovelAs a kid, I loved time travel. One of my favorite shows was Voyagers! (see clip below), and, of course, there was blockbuster movie, Back to the Future.  Add to time travel Victorian London, Jack the Ripper, H.G. Wells, a few other literary luminaries and a good old fashion murder mystery and you have Felix Palma's The Map of Time.  Originally written in Spanish, this is a fun, well-plotted mystery with many twists and turns.

The book opens with Andrew Harrington preparing to commit suicide because his lover was the latest victim of Jack the Ripper.  Separately, a new business, Murray's Time Travel, has recently opened and provides  customers with the opportunity (for a large fee) to travel to the year 2000 to witness man's climatic battle against the automatons.   In a third plot line, H.G. Wells (a central character in the novel) is England's most famous author, having recently published The Time Machine.  In another strand of the story, there is also Claire Haggerty, a young, independent woman constricted by the norms of Victorian society.  There are several other plot lines to the story and supporting characters (the Elephant Man, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Henry James, to name a few).  To avoid any spoilers, I'll won't reveal any more.  I enjoyed this book.

The book is 600+ pages.  It reads very quickly.  I could not put it down.  The prose is good although wordy at times; I assume Palma is mimicking the Victorian writing style.  Palma has fun with the issues presented by time travel (alternative worlds, altering the course of history, meeting a former iteration of yourself, creating time travel loops etc.).  Palma laces the novel with several surprises.  When I thought I had figured out where Palma was taking me, he surprised me again.

The Map of Time is a fun and exciting book.  If you are like me and find time travel and Victorian London interesting, you'll enjoy this book.

When I looked back at the Voyagers!, I found the closing tag line to each episode to be particularly apt to this blog (especially with the demise of the large bookstores):

"Take a Voyage down to your public library, it's all in books!"

Voyagers! clip

Back to the Future clip:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Conflict of Interest by Adam Mitzner

A Conflict of Interest is a first novel by Adam Mitzner.  It is a well-written legal thriller.  Reviewers have compared Mitzner to Scott Turow and John Grisham.  My friends at the Mysterious Bookshop got behind this one, and as is often the case, they got this one right.

The novel's protagonist, Alex Miller, works in a prestigious criminal defense firm.  Shortly after Alex's father passes away, a close friend of his father asks Alex to defend him in a securities fraud criminal case.  Alex accepts the representation.  In the course of that representation, Alex learns about his father, his client and himself through personal and professional tests.  From there, the action takes off.

This well-paced novel has plenty of twists and turns and well developed  characters.  The dialogue is real, the plot is believable and even the lawyering is credible.   (Mitzner is an attorney, which comes across.)  Even though this is a legal thriller (and the legal procedures appear generally right), Mitzner does not bog down the plot with too much lawyering.  This first novel is page-turner and a perfect summer read.

A video of the author discussing the book:

Monday, July 11, 2011

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder in the newest novel by prize winning author Ann Patchett.  It is one of the "big" novels of the year.  It does not disappoint.

When a pharmaceutical researcher, Dr. Anneck Swenson, fails to keep her employer informed from the Amazon about her research into a drug that ensures everlasting fertility for women, the corporation sends another researcher to find out what is going on.  Instead of receiving a status report, the president of the company receives a short note from Dr. Swenson stating that the emissary died and was buried. The emissary's widow demands answers and the president of the corporation wants to know the timetable for the research.  The president sends the novel's protagonist and his love interest, Dr. Marin Singh, to find out what happened to his first emissary and what is going on with Dr. Swenson's research.  Singh reluctantly goes.

Dr. Swenson is tough, curt and yet clear-headed and sharp.  She was Dr. Singh's teacher years before and, although she heavily impacted Singh's career, does not recall Singh.  She also has no patience for the corporation's interference in her work.  The novel opens with Singh's trip to the Amazon and her adventures there.  Singh first must overcome the obstacles Swenson puts in her path to find out what happened and then must tackle the Amazon itself.

State of Wonder opens with a bang and begins like a page turning medical thriller.  After grabbing the reader's attention, it develops into a beautifully crafted novel.  Patchett's characters are multi-dimensional, including the silent character that permeates the novel, the Amazon jungle.  By stripping her characters of their possessions and placing them in the jungle, Patchett tests and pushes her characters to their extremes.

This is a worthy addition to any reading list.

Interview with Patchett:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner and The Revolt by Menachem Begin

The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner (2010) and The Revolt by Menachem Begin (1950) together are a powerful, close-up rendering of modern Israeli history from the vantage point of two primary actors.

Menachem Begin was the leader of the underground movement, the Irgun, that fought for Israeli independence in the 1940s.  Begin led an extraordinary life.  He was born in 1913 in Brest-Litovsk.  He became a follower of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of the militant, nationalist Zionist movement.  During WWII, he was exiled by the Soviets.  Begin found his way to Palestine while serving in the Polish army.  After arriving in Palestine, he became one of the leaders of the Irgun.  The Revolt is Begin's story before and during Israel's War for Independence.  Begin was an unapologetic fighter for the creation of a free, Jewish state.  Begin's Irgun battled not only with the English but also with the predecessor to the Israeli Army, the Haganah.  Once Israel declared its independence, Begin joined forces with the Haganah and avoided a power struggle and civil war.  That is where Begin's memoirs end and  Yehuda Avner's begin.

Yehuda Avner grew up in England and just before the War of Independence, he moved to Israel.  He fought in the war and, a few years later, became an advisor and writer for Prime Minister Levi Eshkol.  He continued on as an advisor to Eshkol's successors, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin through the 1960s and 1970s.  Eshkol, Meir and Rabin were members of the Labor party, as was Avner.  In 1977, after many years in government, Menachem Begin, the leader of the right-leaning Likud party, became Israel's first non-Labor Prime Minister.  Avner went to pack his belongings.  Begin called him to his office and asked him to serve as his advisor.  In a poignant moment, Avner consults his mentor, Rabin, who says that when the leader of your country asks you to serve, you serve.  Rapidly, Begin becomes Avner's spiritual guide.  Avner shares his first hand account of the background to the historic peace treaty between Isarel and Egypt, including Anwar El Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, and the crushing personal blow to Begin when his former enemy and then friend, Sadat, was assassinated.

The Prime Ministers is Avner's first hand account of serving four Israeli Prime Ministers.  It is a revealing, readable and intelligent review of his perspective of some of the most momentous moments in Israeli history. 

If you are a history, political or biography buff, I would highly recommend both of these works.  The Prime Ministers is available as a hard cover or an e-book.  To find The Revolt, you'll need to go to a used book site (e.g., www.abebooks.com)

Interview with Avner:
A piece about Begin and Sadat: