Here's a new batch of reviews from your local independent booksellers. We are all avid readers with expertise in subjects general and arcane, and can help you with choosing kids' books, vacation books, research books, and just great reading -- just ask! We also have the best ereading devices available from Kobo -- the Mini, the Glo, and the Arc -- for your perusal, purchase, and ebook reading. Diesel is full-service and we look forward to seeing you this month, talking books with you, and sharing the joy of discovery in the wide world of book culture.
John & all Dieselfolk
Joy Division is one of my favorite bands, which is why I was initially hesitant to read Unknown Pleasures. Too often, rock bios either valorize or vilify their subjects unnecessarily, over-hyping the rock 'n' roll fantasy or wallowing in its degraded excess in turn. But Joy Division never got to experience the heights of success, and their low point -- the suicide of singer Ian Curtis, which brought the band to an abrupt end on the eve of their first U.S. tour -- is well-documented. In that regard, Peter Hook, Joy Division's bassist, is the perfect person to retell his band's story. He writes in a voice that is honest, sometimes snarky, often funny, and not just very English, but very Northern: Joy Division were proud Mancunians, and Hook has been a Manchester resident his whole life. He seems to take a distinct pleasure in deflating the mythology around the band and its tormented singer, portraying most of their early shows as non-events and eventual later tours as exercises in endurance, and describing (in minute detail) a litany of arguments, fights, and practical jokes. But there's also an unexpected sweetness and generosity in many passages (in particular his description of the fear and helplessness they felt around Curtis' increasingly intense struggles with depression and epilepsy), and a genuine love for the group's too-brief recorded output, which nonetheless cast long shadows across the musical landscape of the following decades. -- John Peck
Matthew Dicks is an elementary school teacher and speaks kid fluently, with all the purity, creativity, trust, and hope of childhood. In this novel, Budo is the narrator and imaginary friend of five-year-old Max, who happens to be on the autistic spectrum. I love a pure protagonist, one that is motivated by love and concern for others. This is the role of the imaginary friend! They exist to keep their imaginers company, to understand them, play games, defend and support them. Budo is one of the true bluest imaginary friends ever. He can walk through walls, listen to adults, communicate with other imaginary friends, and understand his little boy Max when others cannot. When Max trusts the wrong person, this novel becomes a thriller. If you liked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, you will love Memoirs of An Imaginary Friend. -- Mia Wigmore
Embarrassingly, A Hologram for the King was the first book I'd ever read by Dave Eggers. For those of you already in the know, this review should be a bit like a salutary fist-bump; however, if by some unhappy chance you find yourself presently out of the Eggers club, let me be first to say, friend: welcome, settle in, you've made the right choice (drinks are in the back).
Humdrum as his name, we meet poor Alan Clay stumbling into his room at the Hilton in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: overweight, deep in debt, badly divorced, estranged from his daughter, and dangerously low on sleep. A failed Schwinn bicycle salesman, Alan is determined to resurrect his options by successfully pitching holographic IT technology to King Abdullah. But the King's whereabouts and arrival time are unknown (for security reasons), so Alan and his tech team are obliged to wait for him in the presentation tent without WiFi or A/C, in the middle of the desert, indefinitely.
The first half of the book reminds me of a government teacher who once assured me that only through total boredom would I find out who I really am. Appropriately, the epigraph is Beckett -- "It is not every day that we are needed"-- and though the book is a little tough to get through early on, the wait is seriously worth it. Discovering that neither he nor his errand are needed, Alan's indignation is quietly eroded by the strangeness of his surroundings, smoothed away by the shifting sands. Here, Eggers impresses with his compassion: during a night of drunken despair, the desert expanses prove big enough to contain Alan's depression and to catch his fall, supporting him as neither his wife nor his father ever has. Loss of immediate purpose renders him open to new human interaction, and Alan finds himself drawn out in new ways, filtered through the dunes to emerge cradling surprising new convictions and an unexpected focus.
Eggers' writing is certainly good enough to guide A Hologram for the King onto the tarmac as pure unadulterated fiction, but besides being a book about a man emerging from a mid-life slump, Hologram's suggestive themes and careful scenery can make for a compelling look at post-manufacturing America and its position in a global economy. Either way, this sort of rigorous storytelling makes Hologram the rarest of books: the kind that sticks in your mind, even if you aren't sure why.
If I wasn't in Eggers's corner before, I certainly am now, and here's to hoping he gives me enough time to enjoy A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, What Is the What, and Zeitoun before he comes out with something new. -- Ian Walters
Nicolai Lilin was raised by the last Siberian criminals of Transnistria, a breakaway state of the former Soviet Union, and site for Stalin's forced relocation of Siberia's Urka people. Even with its embellishments, Lilin's story provides a fascinating counterpoint to the intolerance and violence of Stalinist Russia, a society of honor-bound thieves wherein capitulation to the State results in death. In one of the more humorous moments, a special police unit raids Lilin's uncle's home and demands that the men stop playing cards and stand for arrest. Siberian criminal code dictates that police cannot be spoken to directly, only through a translator, and in this case Lilin's Aunt translates her husband's profanity-laden religious curses for the policemen, a customary introduction for government agents. Lilin apprenticed as a criminal "stinger," or tattoo artist, trusted with the esoteric language of Siberian tattoos and privy to their fascinating mystical iconography. Factual elements of Lilin's account have been disputed, but criticism fails to dilute the curiosity of these "honorable," ruthless thieves and their marginal experience of the former Soviet Empire. -- Cameron Carlson
I totally lived and breathed this book! The entire time I was reading what in my humble opinion is Hoffman's masterpiece, I was buried in the lives of the four Jewish women who are the focus of this historical novel which takes place during the time of Masada, in the first century. Though comparisons to The Red Tent will definitely be made, Hoffman has written a thoroughly unique and engrossing story, one that is told with her trademarks of magic and metaphor. Each of these four women tell their story -- the assassin's daughter, the baker's wife, the warrior's beloved, and the witch of Moab -- and as each of them speak, we learn of their childhoods; of their mothers, daughters, and sisters; and of the time they spend tending to the doves in their dovecotes. Then, of course, there are the men they love: the warriors in their midst who are responsible for the lives of their families. The plight of the Jews at this time as they flee from the advancing Roman armies, and the anxious suspense and sheer terror they face, knowing that they are all in danger of losing their lives, is so raw and so real. Upon approaching the end of the book, when the Romans are literally climbing the walls of the fortress, I found myself nearly breathless, touched by the intensity of emotion in these passages. The author writes of the loss of innocence in the face of war, and more importantly the loss of life, in such a way that this important piece of first century history takes on a new meaning. The Dovekeepers is magical, brilliant, suspenseful, and beautiful. It's a novel that will linger with me always. -- Linda Grana
If you're like me, you still have "send Tuck and Tanya a wedding present" written on a post-it note nine months after the happy day. At this point, Tuck and Tanya already have their towels and espresso machine and you've lost the URL to their wedding website anyhow. Might I suggest Two in the Kitchen, a collaborative cookbook by several married couple-chefs. It offers 150 recipes for couply occasions, with a fantastic emphasis on beverage choices, for those people who like a little alcohol with their significant other. -- Sus Long
I first fell in love with Jade Moon because of her anger. While I'm a lifelong fan of plucky heroines, bright-eyed heroines, heroines who keep their chins up, the eponymous heroine of The Fire Horse Girl stands out because she also burns with a refreshing indignation at the circumstances that ensnare her. Born in an unlucky year in early 20th century China, Jade Moon's curse is seen, by her indifferent male relatives and the judgmental people of her village, to manifest itself in her mouthiness and her tendency to insert herself and her opinions where they are not wanted (essentially everywhere). When an opportunity arises for Jade Moon to immigrate to America, she thinks she will finally have a chance at the freedom she desires -- though of course it is far from that simple. Honeyman's gift for historical detail shines in the passages about the injustices of Angel Island and the warring tong gangs of '20s San Francisco. Jade Moon isn't always honest in her navigation of these rough waters -- and as I also have a lifelong love of girls who disguise themselves as boys, this was fine by me -- but she is brave, compassionate, dynamic. I think YA readers will love her as much as I did. -- Anna Kaufman