A Veritable Smorgasbord

November 28, 2012

Here at The King’s English, booksellers have been gathering and devouring the new fall books like squirrels gorging on nuts in preparation for winter. In the process we’ve gathered some wonderfully hearty treats for you and those you love, whether what piques your interest is fine fiction or picture books, espionage, humor or history.

Well-written fiction for the middle reader that steers clear of young-adult content is rare, and an author that is as smart and funny as Rebecca Stead is rarer still. Stead’s new novel, Liar & Spy, one of our booksellers first recommendations this season, was an instant New York Times bestseller. Like the dazzling Newbery Medal book When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy will keep readers guessing until the end. Creepy, gritty, edgy, disgusting, and fascinating—all words that describe book two of Ilsa Bick’s Ashes trilogy, Shadows. Bick is laying the groundwork for book three, drawing a picture of a dark and scary world in which readers will not find redemption or resolution (at least not until later) but will be engrossed (or is it grossed out?) by this fast-paced monster-filled novel. Daniel Handler, who also writes under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket, has collaborated with acclaimed artist and designer Maira Kalman, to create an extraordinary book about an ordinary event: Why We Broke Up. In her new novel for middle readers, The Great Unexpectedby Sharon Creech, Lizzie and Naomi struggle to figure out their own relationship and how they fit into their families, into their community and Finn, a mysterious and charming boy, drops out of a tree and into their lives, while Mrs. Kavanaugh, who lives in the south of Ireland and loves a good murder, looks for revenge. Creech alternates these two seemingly disparate stories, throwing in a Dingle-Dangle Man, a crooked bridge, three mysterious trunks, and several rooks. Our list of picks for the middle readers and young adults wraps up with The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, and What Came From the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt.

And if amazing picture books are what you are in search of, look no further than This Is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen. Visual humor swims to the fore as the bestselling Klassen follows his fabulous first book, I Want My Hat Back, with another seriously funny tale. We did not think that Doreen Rappaport could ever write a better picture book than Martin’s Big Words until we read Helen’s Big World! In 48 pages, the reader receives an unforgettable picture of this American icon as the authors mix Keller quotes with biography and compelling artwork. Helen Keller’s lifelong courage and tenacity are celebrated in this amazing book. In this gentle and joyous board book with an environmental theme, Hug Time by Patrick McDonnell, Jules proves a hug is the simplest–but kindest–gift we can give. The Christmas Quiet Book, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska is a lovely little book that celebrates the hushed moments of a season that too often shouts. Like its bestselling companions The Quiet Book and The Loud Book, The Christmas Quiet Book is especially notable for its warm and lovely illustrations. (Plush toys available!)

And for the fiction-lover in your life, be prepared for treats beyond your wildest expectations. We are not exaggerating… Starting with a joyride of a read, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train follow the Queen, yes, of England, in current day, as she slips out of her royal residence in a hoodie and embarks on a truly entertaining excursion, bringing the reader along. And there’s a good reason The Round House, a novel by Louise Erdrich, won the National Book Award this year. Like all of Erdrich’s novels, The Round House taps into the history, the mythology, the collective wisdom of past generations, yet she is as concerned with the past’s connection to the present as she is with the tale’s action, and her lyrical investigations of life involve much more than immediate reality. Combine the ebullient erudition of Lawrence Norfolk’s Lempiere’s Dictionary with the sensory engagement and passion for food of John Lancaster’s infamous A Debt to Pleasure, stir in a soupçon of myth and history, and sprinkle liberally with the romance and narrative verve of The Night Circus and you’ll have some idea of Norfolk’s new confection of a novel, John Saturnall’s Feast. And Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is a terrific read and a great reminder that books are here to stay…forever! Kevin Powers, a veteran of Iraq, has etched a powerful picture of reality in his new novel The Yellow Birds, and created a compelling awareness of what our military men and women have been subjected to for the past decade. And there are plenty of great novels published earlier in the year, including Canada by Richard Ford, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, and The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin, and new in paperback fiction including The Marriage Plot, Salvage the Bones, What It Is Like to Go to War, American Dervish, To Be Sung Underwater, We the Animals AND State of Wonder. A plethora of delights!

If you’re still not sure what you want for your Aunt Sally or your 10-year-old niece, or for that plane ride you’re not looking forward to, we have a host of knowledgeable booksellers on hand who will not only recommend the right book, but also wrap it, mail it, or, if you’re doing your shopping by phone or e-mail, deliver it—the same day!


Unholy Night, Seth Grahame-Smith

May 31, 2012

by Barbara Hoagland

Unholy Night, Seth Grahame-Smith

When Balthazar, aka, The Ghost of Antioch, escapes from the Judean jail of King Herod, he flees as quickly and stealthily as possible with his two companions. Exhausted they stop to rest in a stable in the town of Bethlehem where they encounter a young couple and their newborn child. While this all may be a familiar tale, never has it been told in quite this fashion. King Herod, Pontius Pilate, John the Baptist, plagues and supernatural occurrences all make their way through this most unusual telling of the birth of the Messiah. Grahame-Smith is more irreverent than profane in this always lively and entertaining take on the birth that changed the course of history. – Grand Central Publishing, $24.99

 


All That I Am by Anna Funder

February 2, 2012

by Betsy Burton

Once in a while a novel comes along that rocks your world. All That I Am rocked mine. I picked it up expecting a WWII thriller and in terms of suspense and believability it’s exactly that. But it’s also much more than just that. It begins in Berlin in the ‘20s. The glamorous and decadent Weimer Republic is in full swing, feminism is a proclaimed ideal, the left is on the ascendant, and their journalists skewer the nascent Nazi movement mercilessly. Hans is one such journalist. And when 18-year-old budding photographer Ruth Becker visits her cousin Dora, the three friends, Hans, Ruth, and Dora, work in tandem to secure the release of a political prisoner, Ernst Toller.

Wait a minute, Ernst Toller, I think. I know that name. Toller has a voice in the book, as do Ruth and Dora, and as I read on, as Toller meets Auden I’m sure I’ve remembered correctly. Toller was a famous intellectual, a poet and playwright, bitterly anti-fascist, friend of Auden, Erika Mann, and other  intellectuals of the time. And suddenly I’m not just reading a thriller. If Toller is real, then so, presumably, is Dora. And Ruth. And Hans.

I flip to the Afterword and it’s true—they were real. The action isn’t plot manipulation in an effort to create suspense. All of this actually happened. All at once I’m above as well as in the narrative, bearing witness. But why this reaction? I’ve read plenty of so-called  historical fiction before. What makes this seem so different?

The Nazis come to power and Toller is exiled. Dora, displaying breathtaking bravery, rescues his manuscript and his papers. Hans and Ruth are by now married and they, too, are ordered to leave. And so we get a picture of German émigrés who have fled to London in the early ‘30s and who are trying desperately to convince a disbelieving country—a disbelieving world—of the evils of Nazism, all three taking unbelievable risks to do so. In their respective voices we hear the boundless courage and determination of Dora, the deeply intellectual and as deeply depressed world view of Toller, the confusion and growing awareness of the observer, photographer Ruth, as she watches those she loves struggle with their fear and their inner demons, struggle with the closer and closer incursions of the Nazis on their London haven while the world remains willfully blind. What might, in a typical thriller, be predictable, becomes, in this slow, lethal unlayering of character, both inevitable and unbearable.

Perhaps herein lies the answer to my question about the difference between mere historical fiction and the act of bearing witness. Because bearing witness is more than just seeing—as Toller himself says, it is an act of imagination. One that creates understanding.  Funder has, in All That I Am, wrested four characters from history, in the process pulling us back and forth from their realities to their memories so convincingly that the reader knows all from the inside, is witness to what they bear, what they can no longer bear, and what it makes of them. Oh, suspense, suspicion, abound, but All That I Am is more than merely spellbinding. Like Hillary Mantel’s brilliant Wolf Hall, Funder’s new book is not just a novel or thriller, and is also far more than mere history. Because thanks to the characters she’s brought to life, and to the opportunity she’s granted us to bear witness to their lives, we understand our own in a different way, understand history in a new way.

Anna Funder is an Australian write who grew up in Melbourne and worked as an international lawyer and in public relations for a German overseas television service in Berlin. Her first book, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, won the UK’s most prestigious award for nonfiction, The Samuel Johnson Prize.

On February 7, this book is available for immediate download. CLICK HERE

Recently aired on KUER, 90.1 fm


TKE Takes 5 with Matt Richtel

June 14, 2011

by Paula Longhurst

Matt Richtel’s first novel, Hooked was published in 2007, since then he’s been busy authoring a syndicated comic strip (under the pen-name Theron Heir), winning a Putlizer prize for a New York Times series he wrote on distracted driving and working on his second just-published novel Devil’s Plaything which made KUER’s recent summer must-read list.

Matt took time out from his hectic promotional schedule to give The King’s English (TKE) an interview.

TKE: How long have you been working on Devil’s Plaything and did technology have to catch up to make the story work?

Matt Richtel: Three years. I had a sophomore slump in the sense that Hooked, my first book, poured out of me in five months. A very efficient muse, that one. And, to your point, technology absolutely evolved in the course of writing Devil, to my advantage. My conspiracy floats on the edge of reality and the more technology advanced, the more the conspiracy in this book neared reality. I hope that makes it chilling.

TKE: You’ve said in interviews that Nat’s character shares some of your DNA. How about the feisty character of Lane? Did she come from your imagination or is she based on a real person?

MR: My paternal grandmother, Annie, while not feisty, is a zealous liver of life. She’s also a grammar hound, much like my fictional grandmother Lane. And Annie is a great friend of mine. But Grandma Annie, far from suffering dementia, is entirely in her right mind. At 94! She’ll kick your rear at online scrabble, honest.

TKE: When asked to describe the role technology plays in your life you’ve been quoted as saying ‘balanced, with borderline troubling tendencies.’ Have you scaled back on the multi-tasking as a result of writing Devil’s Plaything?

MR: Yes and no. My writing of Devil’s Plaything dovetailed with lots of research I’ve done into the topic of heavy multi-tasking for the New York Times. It also dovetailed with me having two kids (my wife did most of the work). That research for the Times both informed the book and informed how I live my life vis-à-vis technology. I try to be more focused on a given task and, in particular, on my kids. I TRY to keep the device at arm’s length. But I can’t believe how often I sometimes check it, sneaking a peek while my kids are well within eye-shot, mid-playtime with them. Not good, daddy. Not good.

TKE: Researchers are always quoting that we only use one tenth of our brain’s storage capacity.  Do you think it’s possible that in a few generations time the human brain will have evolved to process multiple streams of information without needing any downtime?

MR: I do not. Evolution happens over many, many generations. Our brains, for sure, ADAPT to various circumstances and we’re certainly adapting now, emphasizing some skills over others. But the basic question you ask is a great one because we’re really demanding that our brains do something they’re not built to do: multi-task. The rubber is hitting the road (no distracted driving word play intended).

TKE: With all the convenience our high-tech gadgets bring, are we in danger of becoming reliant on a push-button world? Bearing in mind that the average user has no idea exactly how their mobile devices work or what information they are collecting about us.

MR: I hear parents talk about how their kids can’t do math but can use calculators like nobody’s business. Witness the McDonald’s clerk, pushing buttons of pictures rather than making change in his/her head. Much of this can be fairly justified by convenience. But I think that knowing underlying skills remains essential. This is a slightly different question than the one you ask about whether our data is being collected. That too is a development journalists and public policy folks and everyday citizens are rightly following closely. On the face of it, it’s scary. But it’s also nuanced. People are sharing lots of information about themselves – whether on Facebook or whatever – and they’re doing it willingly and with enthusiasm. Clearly, this is a problem when this info is used in a way that the discloser didn’t intend or was told it would be used. But that line feels murky today.

TKE: Your Pulitzer-winning New York Times series “Driven to Distraction” got the term ‘distracted driving’ into Webster’s. What do you make of Utah’s drivers?

MR:  I can’t comment on that. I don’t have enough data to be journalistically sound.

TKE: After the events of Hooked, do you still write in coffee shops?

MR:  I’m writing in one now. Hey, a woman’s putting a folded note on my table. GOTTA GO!


A Covert Affair: An Interview with Jennet Conant

April 8, 2011

By Betsy Burton

Betsy Burton: Although A Covert Affair details the lives of Julia and Paul Child, it is in some ways as much about their fellow OSS compatriot Jane Foster. Jane’s life twines through theirs from the time they join the OSS where Paul is first attracted to her, through their years in Paris. And it is Jane’s past that makes Paul of interest to the FBI during the McCarthy years. Was the idea for this book generated by all three friends or did you begin researching the Childs and discover Jane’s impact on their lives along the way?

Jennet Conant: From the start I was fascinated by what happened to the three friends. From the time they all joined the OSS to the dawning of the Cold War and rise of McCarthyism, the world they inhabited was fissured by divides. I wanted to explore the nature of friendship and loyalty and honor in those fraught times, and to be able to have two such trusted narrators as Julia and Paul made the story all the more compelling. The frenzied Communist witch hunts of the 1950s literally turned their world upside down. Many of their closest friends and colleagues– loyal OSS and State Department officers—suddenly found themselves accused of being Red spies. That two people as good, and decent and altogether unimpeachable as Julia and Paul somehow got entangled in a major spy scandal seems incredible today, but they were both thoroughly investigated and Paul came perilously close to having his career ruined. I wanted to unravel the whole complicated story, beginning with their volunteering for the OSS all the way through their time in Ceylon and China, so readers could judge for themselves what really happened: whether or not Julia and Paul were duped by Jane Foster (had she really crossed over and was leading a clandestinely divided life all along?) or whether they were all victims of a poisonous time in American politics.

BB: Julia sprang from a right-wing California family, as did Jane. War taught them both to question their parents’ politics, to think for themselves, and to view Asia through the lens of their hard-won experience. Yet as the U. S. broke promises and bungled policy, Jane was radicalized in a way that Julia never was. After your research, do you think Julia might have ended up more radicalized herself had she not met Paul and discovered her passion for food? I guess I’m asking if the differences in their responses to history can be explained more by the differences in their characters or their differing experiences?

JC: I would have to say character is destiny in this case. Jane was radicalized well before the war began. Although she and Julia were both bright girls from conservative, well-to-do California families, the similarity really ends there. Julia was very close to both her parents and basically enjoyed her “social butterfly” years before the war in Pasadena.  Jane, by contrast, was a restless malcontent and in full rebellion by her late teens. Raised in convent schools by very controlling parents, Jane went out of her way to provoke them: taking up abstract painting, joining San Francisco’s avant garde art scene, adopting a bohemian lifestyle—lovers, liquor, late nights, etc.– spouting utopian ideals, supporting socialist and Communist causes… She finally rejected her parents’ lifestyle completely by running off to Java with a Dutch diplomat. Jane wanted a life of excitement and high drama and in the end got all that she asked for and more. Julia never felt the need to rebel in the same way. She came into her own during the war, but I would say she emerged a more educated and independent thinker rather than radicalized. Her politics were shaped by her romance with the very liberal Paul and reaction against the right wing extremism and demagoguery of the post-war era. By the late 1950s she was a committed Democrat and would remain one the rest of her days.

BB: Julia, Paul, Jane, and their sidekicks in and out of the OSS are fascinating characters, but it seems as if history itself is the true protagonist in A Covert Affair. As your cast of then-young characters open their eyes and their hearts to the cultures they’re working in, we see the Indonesia of the 40s and watch the machinations of the Allies as the war winds down fueling the nationalist movements throughout Asia. As readers, we marvel at our own bumbling State Department, exasperated and amused—until the creep of suspicion and distrust that marked the 50s begins to take on the un-amusing shape of McCarthyism. The true narrative arc of the book might well be the mistakes we made as a government back then, and its theme the consequences of those long ago decisions. Despite your eye for the fascinating, quirky characters and the details that bring history to life and keep the reader riveted to the page, do you see A Covert Affair as an historical cautionary tale at its heart?

JC: I do see it as a cautionary tale. Exploiting the public’s fear –either of war, enemy infiltration or terrorist attack–is a dangerous business. Episodes of demagoguery—along with the accompanying domestic repression and censorship and detainment—have occurred periodically throughout history. Just think of the discreditable acts committed in this country in the summer of 1798, when the Federalists passed the notorious Alien and Sedition Acts and condoned waves of searches and arrests of anyone critical of the government. The Federalists were absolutely paranoid about the inroads being made by Jefferson’s Republican Party and more or less suspended the First Amendment in their efforts to defeat the opposition.  I am always interested in that kind of official hypocrisy—the gap between this country’s professed ideals and rhetoric and actual behavior. I think any student of human affairs can detect the parallels between the McCarthy era and some disturbing political trends we see today. The same motifs repeat—smug ideologues, unswerving fanatics, accusations of disloyalty and guilt by association. And it’s important to remember that the abuse of power is not particular to the Right or Left, both sides have pursued such tactics when it suited them.

BB: Your tales of derring-do and of the ever-changing relationships among your characters are so vivid that sometimes it seems as if you were there. I know Paul’s often revealing letters to his brother provided a good deal of insight into their lives, but there were obviously other first-hand sources. Can you talk about them?

JC: I wanted the book to have a very intimate tone so that readers could experience the characters’ growing anxiety about their situation, and understand what it was really like to live in fear that even the slightest rumor about Communist sympathies could stop their chances of getting a promotion or a new passport, let alone trigger an investigation that could end in disgrace and ruin. What made it possible to maintain that tone was the huge number of first-hand sources.  Paul Child’s diaries and Julia’s letters provided me with their intimate commentary on events from the beginning of the war all the way through to the end of the 1950s. I was able to weave in Jane’s thoughts and reactions throughout, based on her memoir, letters and personal papers, as well as interviews with her family. Above all, I had a built-in narrator in the person of on Elizabeth McIntosh. She was an invaluable source: not only did I have her wartime memoir as a contemporaneous chronicle of day-to-day events, but I had her at the other end of a phone every time I had a question or needed help with a scene. I would call her to ask about the weather—I’m not kidding. Elizabeth was close to Julia, Paul and Jane, entered the OSS at the same time and was with them every step of the way, so she was my touchstone. I dedicated the book to her out of gratitude for the many hours she gave to this project, and the wealth of insight and emotional truth she provided.

BB: Your portrayal of the relationship between Paul and Julia themselves is moving—its tentative nature at first, the growing attachment, the eventual bonding that seemed to grow stronger and stronger. What struck you, as you were doing your research, as the true cement that held them together? The most moving and perhaps romantic thing about them?

JC: What struck me most forcefully was that these were two very different people who were both profoundly lonely. Their romance was built, very hesitantly and over many months, on the foundation of their friendship– on their basic need for human warmth and companionship. Paul did not believe they had much in common and worried endlessly about their disparate family backgrounds, but in the end he missed Julia’s company so much he allowed his heart to overrule his head. I thought it was very touching that as the years went by they never forgot how miserable they were when they were single, and never stopped being grateful that they had found love. What made them seem like such a romantic pair was that they were always celebrating their relationship, and toasting their togetherness.

BB: If, indeed what you have written is a cautionary tale, can you talk about the lessons from history we ought to have learned and whether or not we’ve learned them? If we haven’t, can you talk about consequences in today’s world? Or is that another book?

JC: Surely the answer to those questions could fill another book! There are so many worrying trends, not the least of which is our old habit of promising democracy to people in distant corners of the globe and then failing to deliver it.  To me it seems a naïve, dangerous and delusional style of leadership. But enough said. The point I’d like to emphasize is that the reason for writing history is that there is always a chance we will learn from our past mistakes. I have enormous faith in our resilience as a country, in the strength of our Constitution, and in the ability of future generations to chart a better course.


Catherine Fisher’s sequel to Incarceron has been released

December 30, 2010

Read our REVIEW by Caroline Holyoak HERE.

Synopsis: Finn has escaped Incarceron only to find that he must defend his right to the throne from another challenger. His life and Claudia’s hang on Finn convincing the Court that he is the lost prince, even though he has his own doubts about being the true heir.

 


You’ll be more than merely charmed.

April 20, 2010

Kathleen Cahill, who has an MFA in Musical Theater and Opera writing from NYU, has written numerous plays, libretti, and screen plays, has won many awards and is also a writer and editor for Masterpiece Theater. The world premiere of her play, Charm will be presented by Salt Lake Acting Company April 14-May 9. A panel discussion of Margaret Fuller’s life and the position of women will be held at 5:00 p.m., after the Sunday Matinee on April 25.

Free as the famous Transcendentalists may have been in their passion for natural feeling, they were hideabound concerning their feelings for independent women—or so Kathleen Cahill would have it in her play about the iconic–if obscure—Margaret Fuller. Fuller was not just a journalist but the first female foreign correspondent for the New York Tribune under the legendary Horace Greeley—and was a war correspondent at that. She was a book reviewer, as well, and she authored the seminal book Women in the Nineteenth Century. She was also a reformer who fought not only for women’s rights but for abolition and prison reform. She was the first editor of the Transcendental publication The Dial, and was the friend and associate of such formidable—and famous— writers as Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne.

How could such a woman have sunk into obscurity so instantly and completely upon her death? Why is it that only scholars of feminism or transcendentalism know her name? And who was this intense and intensely intelligent writer and thinker who braved custom and criticism alike in the name of freedom of thought and action.

These are questions that rise to the surface in SLAC’s latest play, Charm. Dramatist Cahill presents Fuller as a plain woman who preferred honesty to subterfuge, outspokenness to charm, yet who managed to charm nearly all of the famous thinkers of her day and served as muse to one. In alternating scenes, Fuller trades barbs and philosophy, with Emerson, fans the flames of jealousy in the bosom of Emerson’s wife, flirts with and arouses sexual self-knowledge in the breast of Thoreau, while her attempts at seduction serve as inspiration to the repressed Hawthorn and she becomes his unwitting muse. To further describe the plays action would be to spoil it. Suffice it to say that Fuller’s life is the very stuff of theater, providing a heady mix of the comic, the dramatic, the ironic, that alternately dazzles, pains and amuses us, leaving us breathless in the process. Which is precisely what occurs in the able hands of Kathleen Cahill and SLAC.

Don’t miss Charm. You’ll be more than merely charmed, that I guarantee.

Betsy Burton