Book Review: Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales

Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales by P. D. James

Book review by Jim Scott

I implore you join the throngs who love the work of this British grand-dame of mystery writers. Called by many the “queen of crime,” and others “the doyenne of detective novelists,” James left a legacy of over a dozen, priceless mystery novels and short stories.  She received the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award and the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature.  She was awarded the Order of the British Empire and was created life peer in the House of Lords as Baroness of Holland Park.

            I have selected Sleep No More (2017), a delicious collection of her short stories to induce interest in and further exploration of this thoughtful and meticulous writer’s work.   

            Should you move along to her mystery novels, you will discover “detective story” told as penetrating analysis of men, women and society, dissecting social privilege, politics, the nature and expression of romance, beauty, the fine arts, and religion.  There, her literary protagonists are Scotland Yard police commander Adam Dalgliesh – a Jaguar-driving inspector and poet; and Cordelia Gray, private investigator and owner of Pryde Detective Agency in London.  

            James subtly undergirds her work with the use of irony and control of structure.  This touch is evident throughout her detective masterpieces, Death Comes to Pemberly (2011). Beware,, for as in all of James’s work, murder (often grisly, never delicate) is the focus, and always within a larger conversation marked with intelligence, manners and meaning.

Book Review – These Truths: A History of the United States

These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore

Book review by Jim Scott

This ambitious book addresses Hamilton’s pregnant question posed in 1787, “whether societies…are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force?”  Searching for an answer, Lepore quotes Lincoln, “We must disenthrall ourselves,” and James Baldwin, “What one begs American people to do…is simply to accept our history.”  Paying homage to both, she offers her story to those who want to know about our past and seek an honest reckoning.  She delivers it as an inquiry into whether and how America has kept its documented promises.

Professor Lepore, Harvard historian and literary journalist at The New Yorker, organized her book by both time and theme, covering the history of political thought, American social life, industrialization, mass communication, and technology.  Complementing historically sound research, Lepore integrates the lives of lesser known, previously marginalized men and women into the standard parade of the famous and better known.  This gives deeper insights into the culture and creates a more interesting read, presenting opportunities to focus on traditional topics from new angles.  As a talented and published investigator of the impact of technology on society, Lepore brings that skill to bear throughout the book, particularly since 1945 following nuclear warfare, when “technological change wildly outpaced the human capacity for moral reckoning.” 

Thanks to her own recent disclosure, her book includes the Obama presidency and the first eighteen months of Trump’s, but not as part of her original book design, only as an afterthought.  Consequently, the book’s analysis of those years suffers from lack of historical distance, and reflects noticeable disorientation of untested day-to-day news.

Ideologically, Lepore spares the reader from a Gingrich-like liqueur of relentless, patriotic, national progress; nor does she bludgeon with overt, political bias from the left or right.  Instead, Lepore narrates masterfully between the ideological goalposts and runs the gamut of our nation’s undulating past.  However, the book is not without several factual errors, such as referring to a fourth session of the critical 1ST Congress when there were only 3; or 15 Confederate states when there were but 11 (the extra four may have affected seriously the subsequent balance of power); or misstating that the drafting of the Constitution and invention of the cotton gin were contemporaneous (for if they had been, the non-slave North would likely not have thought that slavery would die quietly).

In the end, Lepore leaves the answer to Hamilton’s questions in the hands of her readers, who, in my opinion, will have been richly informed by having read her outstanding book.

The Ninth Hour | Book Review

Book Review by Leslie Finkel

The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott

I was taught by Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and by the Order of Franciscans through the 1950s and ‘60’s so I have a 12 years’ experience of their demeanor and vocation and their patience with the antics I and my friends brought into their classrooms. One of the regrets of my life is how we treated them — we, who understood nothing of their sacrifices. Through a combination of fear and love, they taught us how to concentrate, how to be still, how to listen. In a very literal sense, they gave all of their lives to us.

The Ninth Hour begins with a suicide in early twentieth-century Brooklyn and then shows how that act, quickly forgotten by the larger world, infiltrates the lives of two families and one convent house of Catholic nuns. Sally, the daughter of the man who committed suicide is the primary character of the novel, but that can be a misleading description because the characters of the nuns, a large family, Sally’s mother, and others are drawn with such compassionate respect for their own individuality that we feel as if we know well a whole small cosmos of people by the time we come to the end.

This is a quiet book, but it understands that what really forms the center of our lives is always personal, intimate, fundamental like forgiveness and mercy and simple endurance when life’s circumstances turn unfortunate. This is a quiet book but one with a great heart. It left its mark on me.

Back to our main website www.wellingtonsquarebooks.com

The Man Booker Prize -“Bring Up The Bodies”

 

 

 

This year’s winner of the Man Booker Prize 2012 went to Hillary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies her follow up to the highly awarded Wolf Hall, which makes her the first women to win the award twice. Girl power!  So what exactly is the Man Booker Prize?

The Man Booker Prize

A Little History … .

Ion Trewin, Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation states:  “From the very beginning of what was originally called the Booker Prize there was just one criterion – the prize would be for ‘the best novel in the opinion of the judges”. And 42 years later that is still a key sentence in the rules.

“It is a measure of the quality of the original drafting that the main ambitions of the prize have not changed.” Unlike the Pulitzer Prize- last year they didn’t even pick an award for fiction- they left the nominees hanging in the void with their head scratching. (Many also think that the nominees and past choices of the Pulitzer have been wayward as well.) Trewin goes on to say that the aim was to increase the reading of quality fiction and to attract ‘the intelligent general audience’. Our judges are not confined to any in-group of literary critics, authors and academics, but over the years have included poets, politicians, journalists, broadcasters and actors. This ‘common man’ approach to the selection of Man Booker juries is, I believe, one of the key reasons why ‘the intelligent general audience’ trusts the prize.

The prize, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2008 after launching in 1969, aims to promote the finest in fiction by rewarding the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.To maintain the consistent excellence of the Man Booker Prize, judges are chosen from a wide range of disciplines, including critics, writers and academics, but also poets, politicians and actors, all with a passion for quality fiction.

The winner of the Man Booker Prize receives £50,000 and, like all the shortlisted authors, a cheque for £2,500 and a designer bound copy of their book. Fulfilling one of the objectives of the prize – to encourage the widest possible readership for the best in literary fiction – the winner and the shortlisted authors now enjoy a dramatic increase in book sales worldwide.

Julian Barnes’ Sense of An Ending won last year’s 2011 Man Booker Prize

Interview with Craig Brown author of “Hello, Goodbye, Hello”

 

 

 

 

Today at 5:00pm on WCHE 1520am, Sam interviews Craig Brown author of hello, Goodbye, Hello.

From “one of the funniest writers in Britain—wise, clever, hilarious, and a national treasure” (Helen Fielding, author of Bridget Jones’s Diary) comes this delightful book of “101 ingeniously linked encounters between the famous and the infamous” [The Observer (London) Best Books of the Year]. Can you imagine more unlikely meetings than these: Marilyn Monroe and Frank Lloyd Wright; Sergei Rachmaninoff and Harpo Marx; T. S. Eliot and Groucho Marx; Madonna and Martha Graham; Michael Jackson and Nancy Reagan; Tsar Nicholas II and Harry Houdini; Nikita Khrushchev and Marilyn Monroe? They all happened. Craig Brown tells the stories of 101 such bizarre encounters in this witty, original exploration into truth-is-stranger-than-fiction.

“Captivating… . A glittering daisy chain that reads like a mathematical proof of the theory of six degrees of separation… . Mr. Brown constructs portraits that have all the immediacy of reportage, all the fanciful detail of fiction. He has whipped up a gratifying summertime confection — funny, diverting, occasionally sad.”  —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“The book that made me laugh most was Craig Brown’s quirky game of biographical consequences.” —Julian Barnes, Times Literary Supplement “Books of the Year”

Craig Brown has been writing the Private Eye celebrity diary since 1989 and is a columnist for London’s Daily Mail. He has also written parodies for many publications, including the Daily Telegraph, Vanity Fair, The Times, and The Guardian. The author of several books of fiction and nonfiction, he lives in London.

Hip Hot and Happening in the Bookshop – Jerry Spinelli

We are excited to announce that Jerry Spinelli will be in the Bookshop on November 3 from 11am-1pm.

A little bit about Jerry:

When Jerry Spinelli was a kid, he wanted to grow up to be either a cowboy or a baseball player. Lucky for us he became a writer instead.

He grew up in rural Pennsylvania and went to college at Gettysburg College and Johns Hopkins University. He has published more than 25 books and has six children and 16 grandchildren.

Jerry Spinelli began writing when he was 16 — not much older than the hero of his book Maniac Magee. After his high school football team won a big game, his classmates ran cheering through the streets — all except Jerry, who went home and wrote a poem about the victory. When his poem was published in the local paper, Jerry decided to become a writer instead of a major-league shortstop.

In most of his books, Jerry writes about events and feelings from his own childhood. He also gets a lot of material from his seven adventurous kids! His wife, Eileen, also a children’s book author and will be joining him here at the Bookshop.

In addition to the Newbery Award winner, Maniac Magee and Wringer, Jerry has a number of books on the middle school summer reading lists.  His latest book is Jake and Lily.

Come join us and welcome Jerry to the neighborhood.

What’s Cooking? – Jamie Oliver’s “Great Britain”

If you follow our blog then you will know by now that I love Jamie Oliver so I get excited when he puts out a new cookbook.  What I love about Jamie is his straight forward approach, use of fresh and in season ingredients and his enthusiasm for cooking REAL food.  Not all of his recipes are easy, quick or to my taste but that is true for all cookbooks. 

So let’s dive into Jamie’s latest,Great Britain.  This is his attempt to debunk the bad reputation of British food.  I have to say, my grandmother was British and she was an amazing cook but she never made anything weird (blood sausage – ugh!).  I started my adventure with the Cauliflower Cheese Soup with creamy stilton, bacon bits and country bread.  This was a very hearty soup, more like a stew and I really enjoyed it (my daughter, not so much).  The soup is like a cauliflower version of French onion soup with the bread layered in with the soup and  cheese.  This was great for a chilly evening.

My world was rocked when I came across the Empire Roast Chicken with Bombay roasties and amazing Indian gravy.  I love roasting whole chickens and this one was epic!  You rub the chicken with a mixture of Indian spices (garlic, coriander, turmeric, cumin, garam masala) and then roast it over a pan of more spices and broth that then becomes the gravy.  While the chicken is cooking you toss some par-boiled potatoes with herbs and spices and then roast them too.  If you like Indian food and you like roast chicken this is the best of both worlds. 

I rounded off my cookbook experiment with Early Autumn Cornish Pasties.  These are like pot pies without the dish or little envelopes of dinner.  You make a simple pie crust, separate it into 6 pieces and roll the pieces out into rounds.  You then pile a heap of filling (steak, squash, potato, onion, carrots, herbs) in the middle, fold it over and bake.  Served with a simple side salad you have a delicious meal that could also be portable.

Given more time I would probably make about 90% of the recipes in this cookbook, they all sound delicious.  However, I would make them over time because if the rest of the recipes are as time consuming as these three I will have to plan out my time appropriately.  In addition, the chicken recipe used every pan in the house and was a bit messy.  The recipe calls for putting the chicken directly on the oven grate and a pan on the shelf below.  To give you a true review, I followed the instructions but next time I believe I would just put a roasting pan rack directly on the pan so that I don’t have to clean my oven rack again.

Jamie has done it again.  Enjoy!