Sunday, November 14, 2010


Here is what looked interesting in the September/October 2010 Bookmarks Magazine.

The Man Who Invented the Computer, Jane Smiley
The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey
Passage, Connie Willis
The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, Reif Larsen
The Tattooed Map, Barbara Hodgson
The Incident Report, Martha Baillie

Contemporary Russian Literature:
Something by Boris Akunin
Dream Life of Sukhanov, Olga Grushin
The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books, Elif Batuman -NF
The World to Come, Dara Horn
Moscow Rules, Daniel Silva

Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan - S
Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban -SF
Cookbook Collector, Allegra Goodman - S
Deep Creek, Dana Hand
The Thousand Autums of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell - S
Kraken, China Mieville -SF
The Passage, Justin Cronin - SF
Blood Oath, Christopher Farnsworth
Operation Mincemeat, Ben Macintyre - NF

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Savage Garden

by Mark Mills

Bookmarks had a review of Mark Mills’ new book, The Information Officer, a thriller set on Malta during WWII. While I don’t often read books about war I have always been interested in (yet know little about) Malta because the Knights of Malta once owned the island where I currently live. In reading about the Information Officer many of the reviewers liked it but commented that it was not as good as the Savage Garden. I looked up the Savage Garden and it sounded interesting as well, so I decided to start there.

The Savage Garden is the story of a young Englishman who comes to Tuscany to study the famous Renaissance Garden of Villa Docci. While living with the family at the Villa and studying the garden he begins to investigate the garden’s and the family’s history and learns of two unexplained murders that occurred 400 years apart. As he delves deeper into the symbolism of the garden and becomes more personally entangled with the family things get more and more dicey for the young man. It is a mystery after all so I don’t want to give the plot away. Suffice it to say that while the murder mystery was entertaining but fairly light, I really enjoyed the mystery of the garden. It was very atmospheric and I could just see the beautiful yet crumbling villa, the now neglected once spectacular garden and the quirky family. It made me want to buy a plane ticket to Florence right away. Not great literature, not great mystery writing but an enjoyable diversion if you want a pleasant visit Tuscany without actually going there. I bet the author could bring Malta to life as well so I will probably give the Information Officer a try sometime.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

by Allison Hoover Bartlett

There are few genres that I enjoy more than books about books. I love reading about other people obsessed by books and the entire book world. This is especially true as the world of book collecting is a world I have chosen not to participate in but I entirely understand its allure. Years ago when I lived in Boston one of my favorite things to do was to go to the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair (which is incidentally this weekend) all by myself. I never bought anything but I would just gaze at the beautiful book bindings, fore edge paintings, illuminated manuscripts and rare first editions. I understand the lust for these things. For myself I have chosen to focus on the experience of reading and not to collect or focus on the books as objects, but I could easily have been a rabid collector. I therefore really enjoy reading about others who participate in the book world and was looking forward to reading this.

This non-fiction work tells the story of the author tracking down and getting to know John Gilkey, a notorious book thief. While Gilkey goes to great extremes to steel his books, and while both he and the author often proclaim his love for the books, I just never bought it. It seemed to me that Mr. Gilkey was simply a thief with a compulsion but that he had no real love or appreciation for the books. It seemed to me that he could have easily been compulsively steeling jewelry or paintings. As a mere thief and not a true book lover, I felt absolutely no empathy for the man. In addition, I thought the story line was rather dull and it wasn’t very well written.

I would skip this book and read A Gentle Madness or Used and Rare. Of course many people loved it. On Amazon it has 107 reviews with an average rating of 4 out of 5 stars. Carl V. from Stainless Steel Droppings also really enjoyed it.

Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie

by Alan Bradley

Sometimes you are just in the mood for something light and fun. Eleven year old Flavia de Luce is a little bored rambling around in her English country manner house and doing experiments in her chemistry laboratory. But then she finds a body in the cucumber patch and the police seem to be focusing on her father as the prime suspect so what is she to do but solve the murder herself! This outrageously precocious 11 year old is very entertaining, especially since I listened to this in audio and the narrator, Jayne Entwistle, did a marvelous job with Flavia. While not a great work of literature it was clever and fun and I would not hesitate to read more in this series when in the right mood. For a more detailed review check out Carl V’s at Stainless Steel Droppings.