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book Absinthe
by Christophe Bataille
Whether it's because the narrator is enraptured within an absinthe-induced state throughout this novel or because this tale is the type to be told as an urban legend of sorts, the effect of the short, almost child-like sentences of Christophe Bataille's
Absinthe is wondrous. At about midway through, we're told a myth in the same manner as the rest of the book, which leads to the suggestion of it being a legend, a myth, itself.

A disassociation is created by this writing style in which one feels that he is almost hearing this story second-hand or, more interestingly, through a dream or under some unnatural state of consciousnessperhaps caused by this highly addictive, beautifully colored drink, absinthe?

In addition to this effectively short novel being somewhat odd, it gives a nice little history of this drink, its creation process, ingredients, effects on people, and its trouble with the government and eventual illegality.
The narration of this book is done by a boy who is nine throughout the majority of it. But the main character is not the boy; it is this strange philosopher/traveler/wizard of sorts who can create some of the best stuff on earth. There is much to see below the surface of this extremely quick, short read, and it's definitely worth it.

- Leo
- a former bookseller (6/99) . . . title list


book All Tomorrow's Parties
by William Gibson

SEE! Unlikely heroes search for an ice-hearted killer in a noirish, dystopian San Francisco!
THRILL! To funky cool gadgets and stuff!
HEAR! Um, not much, actually, unless you're reading aloud.
One of the original cyberpunks kicks ass once again in the stand-alone "sequel" to Virtual Light and Idoru. Gibson's style has been maturing and becoming more involuted, as was already apparent from the gentle, impressionistic Idoru - if someone asked me for a cheesy front-cover review blurb of that book, I'd call it "Virginia Woolf reborn in mirrorshades." Not quite as much emphasis on hackers diving brain-first into the Net and tripping out on "feeling transparent blue" as in the breakthrough Neuromancer - this time, Gibson infuses wry, subtle character development and nonchalant references to poetic near-future technology into what becomes a science-fiction buddy-movie detective story. Reading the book feels much like digging a hole on a beach, but constantly having to pause to dust off and wonder over a succession of odd little finely-crafted knickknacks buried in the sand. Or something like that. A logical progression of the author's work, and recommended for any William Gibson/Bruce Sterling/City of Lost Children fans.

- Yi-Zhou
- a former bookseller (5/01) . . . title list


book Almanac of the Dead
by Leslie Marmon Silko

Although most well-known for Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko's masterpiece may well be her epic Almanac of the Dead. Weighing in at over 700 pages, this sprawling novel introduces us to more than seventy characters and travels across almost all of the Americas, from Alaska to Tucson to Mexico and beyond. The book is not told from one perspective, and there is no central narrative. Instead, the book focuses on the many characters, jumping back and forth between different stories that sometimes intersect and play off each other in odd ways. Some of the characters include Seese, who is searching for her missing child, Lecha, a psychic who is translating her people's history and predictions for the end of the world, Menardo, a Mexican business man who becomes obsessed with his own security, and Clinton, a homeless Vietnam Vet who is working to organize an army of the homeless. The real story lies in the connections between all of these stories.

This is certainly not a book for everyone. Contemporary society is shown in all of its worst instances, from a South American police chief who finds pleasure in interrogation to a judge with some unusual sexual practices, all the way to the underground world of black market organ sales. And although there was some anti-white rhetoric in Ceremony, it is much harsher in this book. The basic thesis of Almanac of the Dead is that American society is built upon unsustainable lies, and its demise will signal the coming of a new age. None of this is without purpose. By the end of the book, it becomes clear that all of the seemingly unrelated and often random events are part of a larger pattern, that forces greater than we can imagine are orchestrating all of this to usher in the prophesied new age. Even when it shocks and repulses, it does so with a clear method lurking underneath.

This is not a book to lose yourself init is a book to make yourself so conscious of the world that it is hard to remember you are reading a novel. It was finally completed after 15 years of work and published at the beginning of this decade. With all of its apocalyptic undertones and its promise of the end of an era, it is an excellent book to usher in the new millennium.
- Brandon
- a former bookseller (11/99) . . . title list


book Amsterdam
by Ian McEwan
Amsterdam brings two characters who hate each other together after the death of a thirda woman who had been a lover of them both, as well as to another peripheral character. The woman's name was Molly Lane, and she plays a key role in this contemporary morality tale even though, for most of the book, she's dead. Clive is one of Britain's most popular composers, and Vernon is the editor of a newspaper of...shall we say...questionable repute. Our peripheral man is Julian, a right-wing Foreign Secretary and most likely the country's next Prime Minister, who was also one of Molly's lovers. Far from making a British soap opera out of the whole thing, the author brings Clive and Vernon together with their bruised egos, their sense of loss, and their hatred for each other to play out the story of the repercussions of a political scandal that hangs over Julian's head.

McEwan is truly a disturbing writer, and, considering that Amsterdam beat out Patrick McCabe' s bizarre Breakfast on Pluto for the 1999 Booker prize, one begins to wonder if a dark troubled writing style has become a prerequisite for a chance at this literary prize. While McEwan' s last novel, Enduring Love, has a truly outstanding beginning (so fine that it won awards on its own as a short story), Amsterdam has a such a killer ending that it stayed fresh in my mind for days, and through many other books. It is also very pleasing when quality writing, not the politics of the day, wins a literary award for an author.
- John -
bookstore founder/owner (4/99) . . . title list


book Archangel
by Robert Harris
From the author who rewrote the history of the Third Reich in a previous novel,
Fatherland, comes this excellent new book dealing with present day Russia. Robert Harris truly knows how to write an intelligent page-turner. In Archangel, the main character is an Oxford historian who travels to Moscow for a convention concerning the newly opened military archives of the former Soviet Union. He becomes involved with what he thinks is a dangerous search for a missing secret diary of Stalin's, but Harris takes this novel much further. Soon the details of how Beria and his bodyguard took possession of the former Soviet leader's most secret writings during Stalin's fatal stroke are quite secondary. This reader found the story very interesting, quite plausible, and a great timeit's just hard to believe that Harris fit it all into just a four-day period of time. The author's views, insights, and knowledge of the Russia people give Archangel a feel that rings true, and his talents for storytelling give the novel a real edge. This is one of the best books of this genre that I have read in years.

- John
- bookstore founder/owner (4/99) . . . title list


book The Archivist
by Martha Cooley
Mixtures of jazz, T.S. Eliot, Judaism, Christianity, war, and memory make up Martha Cooley's
The Archivist, her very well written first novel. This is not only a book of a man and a woman's struggle to emerge out of their respective pasts in Holocaust and post-war America, but a biography of sorts of poet T.S. Eliot's relationship with his first wife Vivien and his long time correspondent and confidant Emily Hale (possibly his one true love). The letters received from Eliot by Hale are, as in actuality, locked in an archive of a leading east coast university until 2020, where the main character, Matthias, resides as the head archivist and where a certain graduate desires their disclosure. Between his deceased wife (whose final years resembled those of Vivien) and this curious student, the dialogues and recollections that are generated combine as an intimate weaving of the ambiguous past and divulgent present. These words and memories resemble and sometimes reveal the surface meaning behind T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land and Four Quartets, as well as the structure within some of the works of the leading experimental jazz musicians of the 40's and 50's. All of these situations build and form beautifully upon one another, never straying too far or lingering too long on any. For a moving account of these people's emotional, philosophical journeys through mental and family trauma, through religion and love, through poetry and music, I recommend The Archivist.

- Leo -
a former bookseller . . . title list


book Bagombo Snuff Box
by Kurt Vonnegut

Pick up this collection of short stories and you'll get to travel back several decades while inside of Kurt Vonnegut's bizarre imagination. It's a long strange trip through 23 previously unpublished stories. The stories in the collection were written shortly after he left his PR job at General Electric, back in the 1950's. That was a time when the nation's magazines provided a ready market for short stories, allowing Vonnegut to begin to make a living off of his creative writing. His rich and fertile imagination gives this collection a wonderful variety. Some of the social and sexual attitudes are dated, but the prices that past for outrageously expensive in the 50's are so very comical now - just imagine $100,000 mansions and rare expensive sports cars for $5,651!

Reading Bagombo Snuff Box brought memories flooding back of studying in college and using Vonnegut to "air out my mind" between reading Hegel and Marx. While it's guaranteed that Vonnegut fans will find some new favorite stories, all readers should know that it's impossible to traverse this fertile 23-step path without appreciating this writer's mind and his humorous imagination. You owe yourself some Vonnegut.
- John
- bookstore founder/owner (5/01) . . . title list


book The Beach
by Alex Garland

The Beach is an exciting and suspenseful first novel by Alex Garland. It combines elements of Heart of Darkness and Lord of the Flies, yet manages to remain truly original. The story begins in Bangkok, Thailand, as Richard sets off for a solo-backpacking trip and encounters a mysterious and crazed man who will lead him on a journey quite unlike any he's ever had before. Driven by curiosity and desire, Richard goes to great lengths to discover a beach rumored to be like no other on earth. Indeed, what awaits him is like nothing he's ever experienced. The Beach is a thrilling and fast-paced read, and will transport you far from the sofa and deep into the jungle islands of Thailand.

- Corinna Stern
- family member (6/99) . . . title list


book The Book of Color
by Julia Blackburn

You know you're in talented hands when you are seduced into a novel from the first paragraph...when you couldn't stop reading if you tried. Julia Blackburn's
The Book of Color, recently available in paper, is such a book. Mysterious, but not incomprehensible, the story weaves a web of possibilities of what may have happened to characters who may be real. This book feels like listening...like it feels to listen very carefully and selectively. This book feels like looking...looking so intently that time shifts. "Nights become days, days become nights, all this is long ago. Here where I am it's almost four o'clock...." The simplicity of Blackman's words belie the magic of moving between dimensions (landscape or memory) effortlessly....She creates unforgettable images, so startling that they must be real. You have entered a dreamscape painted by a master.

- Vicky
- bookstore founder/owner . . . title list


book Breakfast on Pluto - 2 reviews
by
Patrick McCabe
To read Patrick McCabe's newest novel,
Breakfast on Pluto, is to enter the mind of protagonist Pussy (Patrick Braden), and there to experience a ride in an unguided balloon or, sometimes, a high-flying adventure in space. McCabe is careful to orient the reader in time (early 1970s) and space (a border village in Ireland and later, London). But he gives the story to Pussy. You read the significant writings that Pussy does at the request of a psychiatrist. And, with Pussy writing, you leapfrog, soar, dream, yearn, love, hate, crash, burn.

Chapters are mostly very short, and sequence is not chronological, for memories emerge as they are important at a given time. If you've told a story, then had to go back and fill in details, you'll understand Pussy quite well. If you've lived in your imagination, you'll understand Pussy even better. If your emotional life has been a roller coaster, you will be glad of Pussy's humor; otherwise you might find the periods of suffering hard to take.

If Pussy has an agenda, it is to punish the priest whom he believesperhaps rightlyto be his father; to escape his home village; to find his true mother; and, somehow, to live as a homosexual transvestite and find love.

Eventually, you begin to think of Pussy as female - an outrageous female - and you change pronouns accordingly. When Pussy has a well-heeled lover, she buys gorgeous clothes, makeup, perfume, lotions and creams. But she can get bored and walk out on a comfortable life. She performs sometimes as a singer but for a long time earns a living as a London prostitute.
Pussy, although apolitical, does not avoid the violence. Although sometimes with the wrong person or in the wrong place, she is emotionally involved because she is devoted to two friends from childhood. Irwin, who is engaged to Charlie, takes part in IRA meetings and, eventually, in the violence. Pussy's flighty consciousness is anchored in reality by these two. To this reader, she never seems isolated or superficial because she loves and cares for Charlie.

Breakfast on Pluto is happier than McCabe's earlier The Butcher Boy, perhaps because Pussy, although also a village reject, has enduring ties and a few successes in life. Pussy is also often hopeful and funny. In any case, Breakfast on Pluto may follow its predecessor into the movies. Steven Spielberg has optioned this novel, which was a Booker Award finalist, for Dream-Works.
- Marilyn Mantay
- customer (3/99) . . . title list


book Breakfast on Pluto - 2 reviews
by Patrick McCabe

Mr. Patrick "Pussy" Braden is Patrick McCabe's fascinating misfit hero(ine) in
Breakfast on Pluto, a novel that was a finalist for the Booker Prize in 1998. This former number one bestseller in Ireland is the story of a young man who makes his way to London to prostitute himself, dressed in his favorite blousy tops and tight miniskirts. This strange story is revealed as Pussy writes it all down for his psychiatrist, Dr. Terence. Pussy's seamy life of prostitution around Piccadilly Circus obviously is centered on sex, but the violence of The Troubles is very much a part of this story. Bombings and death explode into the book several times. The reader isn't always sure what is going on because of some misdirection and clever plot twists, but all is nicely folded within McCabe's fine writing. He deftly shifts time and leaves some areas of the story unclear, but, by the last page, it all works together to create a disturbing and moving book.

McCabe has written four other novels, with The Butcher Boy being the best known, most likely because of the film for which McCabe and Neil Jordon co-wrote the screenplay. That film did a great job of capturing the McCabe style. His characters are so well drawn that their images stick in your mind's eye. Now, you will find these characters disturbing, but if you've an odd sense of humor, they'll also amuse you to no end. McCabe's writing is to be watched for, so be on the lookout for a collection of stories promised for the near future.
- John
- bookstore founder/owner (4/99) . . . title list


book The Catastrophist
by Ronan Bennett

Ronan Bennett, with his new novel The Catastrophist, has been compared to Graham Greene. The comparison is apt. Bennett's James Gillespie is a man who generally eludes and avoids emotional engagements and their attendant crises and is thus personally and politically detached. Almost in spite of himself, and surely against a reality check on their differences, he loves the emotional, politically committed Italian journalist, Ines, and follows her from London to the Congo, then a colony on the verge of independence. In the midst of the conniving and the violence he encounters, James is an innocent.

Greene and Bennett both link an untested protagonist with an exotic woman and send him into danger, and both write about friendship and conflicting views of the world. Thinking back to The Third Man, could any caring person stay friends with Harry Lime? Bennett turns the tables. His protagonist James is, in a way, Harry Lime. Being too much like many of us, he does not seem so reprehensible, but sharing our objectivity, he does turn his back.

Reading the book is a crisply written page-turnerone's questions merge, divide and merge again. It is as though we inhabit James's life, and all his questions must be answered for anything to make sense. Will James and Ines survive the events in the Congo? Will he survive with honor? Will they stay together? Above all, will love and other catastrophes cause James to change?

Chances are, with all the danger, intrigue and violence, that this is a man's novel, but this woman reader is fascinated to find James a man who feels so unable to influence his lover. James is the novelist who stays at home, Ines the journalist who follows her vision and her work. It's not at all a reversal of male and female, but it is a reversal of customary roles.
And then some.

The Catastrophist comes to the U.S. after considerable acclaim in Britain. The novelist is not well-known to us. Bennett is an Irishman like his James Gillespie, but he did not avoid political conflict. A youthful demonstrator in Ireland, he was imprisoned for two years. Perhaps James reflects a less impassioned maturity, for Bennett subsequently moved to England and earned a doctorate in history from King's College in London. Bennett's other novels, Overthrown by Strangers and The Second Prison, have yet to be published in this country.
-
Marilyn
- customer (11/99) . . . title list


book Century's Son
by Robert Boswell
This portrait of a middle-American family has enough feeling and depth to hit home. Boswell's novel focuses on tragedy, circumstance, and even brings in a comedy of errors. Check out this exhilarating book from one of America's most acclaimed and gifted writers.
-
Jed
- a former bookseller (6/02) . . . title list


book The City of Golden Shadow
by Tad Williams

Nowadays good science fiction writers are in short supply. Old books are just thatold. We need new material, new ideas. Tad Williams satisfies that need. His ideas are new and refreshing, but not too far-fetched.

In Tad William's first book, The City of Golden Shadow, of the Otherland series, main character Irene Sulaweyo sets out on a quest on and off line to find some answers after her brother sneaks into an online, adults-only club and is somehow put into a coma-like state, and when a picture of a mysterious golden city appears on her VR system. Everyone close to her and all those who helped her are somehow drawn into her mystery-shrouded journey. Tad Williams is also able to carry on multiple seemingly unrelated storylines, then bring them expertly together throughout the book.

I recommend this book to all science fiction readers who need new material, and to those just beginning to venture into the SF realm.
- Adam
- a former bookseller (5/01) . . . title list


book Collected Novellas
by
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Marquez writes so entirely from within the perceptions and the minds of his characters that the reading of his novellas is an intense experience. One feels transplanted to a different time, place and body. The immersion is total, and the ringing of a telephone at one's elbow comes as a call from another world.

Within a small span of time, Marquez expands upon feelings and events and relevant memories. Leaf Storm concerns a peculiar sort of wake, with a deceased who has seemingly been so ostracized by the town that only one man comes forward to arrange for the burial. The story is mostly told by this man, who has the most thorough memory of events; by his daughter,
who also remembers a good deal; and by his grandson, who is responding to the matter of death that he is experiencing for the first time as well as to other perceptions of the day and to his own passing reflections. The viewpoint expands by these means but always comes back to focus on the hot and unpleasant room where the corpse is already rotting on the bed.

No One Writes to the Colonel feels more concentrated. The time span is longer, but this is the Colonel's story. Marquez writes in third person as the Colonel could have written from his own thoughts and perceptions. It isn't just a one-person story but a one-problem story, and the problem is lifelong poverty with the promise of relief that has not come. Marquez's heroes are everyday people, but they are staunch and persevering like the Colonel, and therefore remarkable.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold is more complex. The method of setting up the novella is different. The events take place within a very few hours, but the story is told by a peripheral participant who apparently decides years later to probe a few records and memories and to discover how -- when almost the whole town knew about the threats -- the death could
possibly have taken place. Here the story is in the hands of an investigator after the fact, but one who knew everyone involved. The power of the story comes from its frequent return to Santiago Nasar, a charming and heroic young man, but the intended victim. Suspense comes from the story but also from ourselves, from our refusal to believereader now and townspeople in the storythat Santiago Nasar who has everything to live for will really be allowed to die.
- Marilyn - customer (1/00) . . . title list


book The Conspiracy & Other Stories
by
Jaan Kross
Originally captivated by the explicit calm and the implicit devastation of Kross's historical novels, The Czar's Madman and Professor Marten's Departure, I came to The Conspiracy & Other Stories expecting to read placidly even though I might later awaken in the dark to lie stricken, as people of my generation still are, by personal impacts of World War II. But
The Conspiracy, while the writing is calm and measured, is also immediate and compelling. The problems and the sensory detail draw the reader in. Nothing is left to lie in wait.

Kross, born in Tallinn, capital of Estonia, in 1920 and trying to be a law student during the Soviet and German occupationsbut imprisoned under the Germans and sent to labor camps for eight years under the Russianswrites in The Conspiracy about suffering that must have been his own. Neither he nor his readers can hold these stories at a distance.

The ''stories'' read like an episodic novel. They seem to be selected and chronologically arranged experiences in the wartime life of Peeter Mirk, a student. It's almost a coming-of-age novel if anyone can come of age under threat of death, torture, imprisonment, or, at the very least, constant hunger.

The reader meets Peetea light-hearted, intelligent and morally responsible studentand sees him forced to use his abilities, not for formal education, but for survival under barely tolerable conditions. He faces difficult ethical choices, and if he is simply young and foolish, or if he can't correctly anticipate crazy accidents or the erratic moves of the authorities, somebody can die.

The first story, about a love affair, is set early in the war. Although the background is stark and scary, the biggest danger to Peeter is marriage. Escape from Estonia is the theme of two stories, ''Lead Piping'' and ''The Stahl Grammar'', and it is a lottery. While ''everybody'' seems to be getting away to Finland by one miserable boat or another, Peeter and friends
do not find it easy. ''The Conspiracy'', set in prison, is the centerpiece of the book, but the other five stories point toward or away from it. Because of this coherence, the book can easily be read as a novel.

-
Marilyn - customer (9/99) . . . title list


book A Conversation with the Mann
by John Ridley
From novelist and scriptwriter John Ridley, comes this incisive novel of an unforgettable time in America--the time of swingers, celebrities, Motown, and the Rat Pack. Ridley’s main character, one Jackie Mann comes from 1950’s Harlem trying to make it as a stand-up comedian. This compelling and ultimately moving novel provides a dazzling portrait of an era.
- Jed - a former bookseller (8/02)
. . . title list


book A Darker Place
by Laurie R. King
A learned and fascinating protagonist and a contemporary and intriguing situation make Laurie R. King's latest thriller a suspense novel that can keep a reader turning pages all night. King's series heroines, Mary Russell and Kate Martinelli, have an equal in Anne Waverley, aka Ana Wakefield, but that she will join them in a series of her own seems unlikely; her motivation and her area of expertise are both specialized.

King gives Anne a history. Eighteen years before this novel opens, Anne, her husband, and their daughter Abby left Berkeley to join a sect. Anne was less sold on it than her husband; she decided to take a few days' break. When she returned, the authorities were on the scene and all the members of the sect were dead. Then followed Anne's struggle to pull her life together, including therapy sessions and enrollment in grad school, where she undertook the study of religions. Then came the entry into her life of Glen McCarthy, FBI agent who asked Anne to go undercover to evaluate the status of a sect so that officials could decide if or when they'd be justified in intervening in a religious movement. The legitimate concern is, of course, for children. Anne undertook occasional assignments for Glen and found them, to some extent at least, helpful in her own healing.

As this novel begins, Anne has been away from the work for so many years that she hadn't expected to hear from Glen again. She is teaching religion at a university and is comfortable with her life. Closer to the time of her own family tragedy, she did not care if she lived or died, and she could easily slip into the identity of a seeker. Now, when Glen wants her to go undercover to the Change movement's compound in Arizona, she does not readily give up the life she has so slowly and painfully, but successfully, made.

King makes the reader a seeker after truth just as Anne is. At the Arizona compound, easy questions are answeredmany things about daily life are just what they seembut once a reader feels secure, more questions arise. It doesn't take long to feel on edge and to begin wondering what the sect is trying to accomplishand to hide. I am not even sure I know at the end of the book, but I do understand much more about how isolated religious groups can operate.

Anne is a well-developed, strong character, and so are the two children, Jason and Dulcie, whom she befriends. Anne's male adversaries seem less well-endowed intellectually than she is. Except for the boy Jason, King doesn't create a strong male figure in this book. Anne isn't King's series protagonist Mary Russell - the woman who was fortunate enough to meet
Sherlock Holmes!
- Marilyn - customer (1/00) . . . title list

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