The Vast Wasteland

Sheila's rantings, most likely of no interest, on TV, movies, books, music, etc.

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Location: Seattle, Washington, United States

I live in Seattle, am married, have two cats (one is a genius, the other insane), and am a mild-mannered copy editor by day. I love horseback riding, coffee, reading, TV, movies, music, playing (too much) World of Warcraft, and lying on the couch. This isn't a personal blog, but rather a place for me to vent about movies, TV shows, books, music, etc. Thanks for checking in!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Looking for a Good Book?

Ladies and gentlemen, start your summer reading! This is (selected) text from an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Full text here.

By John Marshall

Life has changed and so has summer reading.

The hectic demands of daily life in the 21st century mean that finding sufficient time to read books has become increasingly difficult. So summer, which promises at least some respite from work and school commitments, has become a far more crucial time for serious reading, perhaps the only such time left in the year.

Of course, many people still equate summer reading with a beach chair and the latest seasonal page-turner from Janet Evanovich ("Twelve Sharp"), Nora Roberts ("Angels Fall") or Patricia Cornwell ("At Risk"). But others will use their summer reading to savor an unfamiliar author, an unexplored subject, an intriguing debut.

The summer of 2006 seems particularly well-suited to such discovery, since no single new book has emerged as a dominant must-read in early reviews. The Manhattan publishing world may still wind down during July and August, with half-day Fridays the house rule, but publishing has already provided many worthy titles for whiling away summer hours. No longer is this the lowly season of throwaway fluff.


"Instant Love" by Jami Attenberg (Shaye Areheart Books, 267 pages, $21).

Three very different women who are caught in the web of desires and disappointments that often characterize the search for love are the foundation for this delightful debut. What differentiates Attenberg's novel from so many other tales of searching singletons is how she adroitly orchestrates her disparate characters through many settings and cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Portland and Seattle (where the author once lived). "Instant Love" is far from froth, despite its considerable humor; this novel is filled with hard-won truths about the costs and compromises of the matching game.

"Across a Hundred Mountains" by Reyna Grande (Atria Books, 255 pages, $23).

The issue of Mexican immigration into the United States is all over the news these days, but the human stories of those affected are sometimes lost in the onslaught of angry rhetoric. This quiet-spoken, yet eloquent little novel offers a powerful portrait of the lives of three women along the border, including a 14-year-old Mexican intent on finding her missing father in the States, a young American runaway prostitute who befriends her and a Los Angeles social worker returning to Mexico in search of her own father. Author Grande, who emigrated from Mexico to the U.S. at the age of 8 with her parents, has been honored as an Emerging Voices Fellow by PEN, the noted writers organization.

"The Birthdays" by Heidi Pitlor (W.W. Norton, 355 pages, $23.95).

Summer is the time for family reunions and one of those signal events is the setting for this empathetic examination of the intense dynamics between loved ones. The Millers are gathering to celebrate the 75th birthday of the patriarch in a summer home off the coast of Maine, with all three siblings facing the arrival of their first child. Then tragedy intrudes, a seismic shift. Pitlor demonstrates a remarkable understanding of family relationships and transitions in this uncertain age.


"Song of the Crow" by Layne Maheu (Unbridled Books, 244 pages, $23.95).

No need to spend a long time pondering which book is this summer's most inventive; hands-down champ is this knockout debut by a Seattle carpenter. Maheu has crafted a remarkable retelling of the Noah saga from the perspective of, believe it or not, a crow who witnesses the unfolding drama. This is far more than a lit gimmick; this richly imagined novel delivers an important parable for today from a startlingly fresh perspective.

Layne Maheu appears on June 28 at the Ballard branch of Seattle Public Library; July 6 at Queen Anne Books; July 18 at Third Place Books; July 22 at SoulFood Books in Redmond.

"Seven Loves" by Valerie Trueblood (Little, Brown, 232 pages, $23.95).

Not all debut novels mark the emergence of twentysomething authors, nor should they. Trueblood, a 61-year-old Seattle writer, has crafted a quietly dazzling examination of the various great loves of a woman at maturity, loves that include her husband, her children and the man whose love imperiled her placid life during a passionate extramarital affair. Trueblood demonstrates mastery of psychological insight and creative language.

"The Cottagers" by Marshall N. Klimasewiski (W.W. Norton, 317 pages, $24.95).

A Vancouver Island small town outside Victoria is the setting for this tense debut novel that focuses on the subcurrents that often rule personal relationships. A 19-year-old townie, bored by his life and seeking new thrills, becomes fixated on two vacationing American couples who are hoping to rekindle their former relationship. The disappearance of one of the vacationers rachets up this fine novel's drama along many fault lines. It is a sophisticated reader's brand of thriller.


"Lost Hearts in Italy" by Andrea Lee (Random House, 243 pages, $23.95).

Two happily married Americans with a new life in a foreign land, the romantic allures of Rome and other capitals of Europe, a passionate affair with an Italian billionaire -- all the perfect ingredients for a dry martini of a summer read. Lee brings far better literary credentials to this undertaking than the usual, dissecting what takes place through the alternating reflections of the three participants. But the Italian-based American writer, with her first novel in two decades, certainly does not stint on the sizzle and the atmospherics.

"But Enough About Me" by Jancee Dunn (HarperCollins, 274 pages, $24.95).

Celebrity cravings can turn acute during summer, when vacationing stars hide from the prying eyes of their tabloid shadows, but Dunn's raucous memoir can sate any such hunger. Madonna? Bono? Aguilera? Brad? Dolly? The naked breast of the nursing Lisa Bonet? Dunn, a vet reporter for Rolling Stone, has got them all in these madcap pages that document "a Jersey girl's unlikely adventures among the absurdly famous." A scrumptious raspberry trifle topped with whipped cream and Cointreau. Yum, yum.

"Strangers' Gate" by Tom Casey (Tor/Forge, 254 pages, $24.95).

A sexually enflamed couple on the frenzied lam pursued by thuggish psychos, and the life-and-death chase taking place across lush settings of the Caribbean -- can you, boys and girls, spell surefire summer thriller? Add in, for good measure, drugs, Wall Street connections, airborne derring-do, porn, jealousy, revenge, murder ... plus a deadpan narrator who intones, "Loving Margo had always been difficult, like learning to write with your left hand for no sensible reason." This second book by an international jet jockey turned novelist is a feverish noir trip.


"After" by Marita Golden (Doubleday, 237 pages, $23.95).

A sudden act of violence -- one that forever alters two lives -- is the central concern of the first novel in eight years by a celebrated writer and African American literary activist. Golden opens her long-awaited novel with a simple traffic stop by a black cop that goes horribly wrong, as happens only too often in our edgy, gun-crazed society. Then she tracks the cop's inexorable descent from an enviable life in this powerful meditation on how tragedy can change everything in an instant.

"Triangle" by Katharine Weber (Farrar, Straus, 242 pages, $23).

The horrendous 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory trapped and killed almost 150 young women toilers in the sweatshop and became a watershed event in the slow march toward workers' rights in the 20th century. Weber, whose grandmother worked at Triangle for a time before the fire, has fashioned a fascinating novel from this tragedy, one that ingeniously focuses on the memories of the final survivor of the fire and a doubting feminist scholar whose interviews with the survivor cause her to question the veracity of her witness. "Triangle" provides important reflection on the power of stories, the shaping of history.

"The Seducer" by Jan Kjaerstad (Overlook Press, 606 pages, $27.95).

His wife's murder sets off a picaresque journey of mystery, discovery and remembrance for a famed European TV documentary producer, a celeb noted for his unerring success with women. This creative and enthralling mega-novel won Scandinavia's highest honor and is the first American translation of a work by one of Norway's (and Europe's) reigning masters of fiction. Kjaerstad is mentioned in Euro reviews in the exalted company of such Continental lit stalwarts as Martin Amis and Milan Kundera.


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