Independent thought, independent time, independent minds, independent bookstores -- Independence Day! Hope you have a wonderful holiday with family and friends, either of the flesh-and-blood or the ink-and-page variety. Please enjoy these reviews by your local booksellers and the fireworks going on behind your eyes as you read these and other great books. Celebrate along with these other countries whose independence days are in July: Abkhazia, Algeria, Argentina, Bahamas, Belarus, Belgium, Burundi, Cape Verde, Colombia, Laos, Liberia, Malawi, Maldives, Peru, Rwanda, São Tomé and Principe, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, and Venezuela! Happy Independence Day!
And Happy Reading!
John & all Dieselfolk
By the end of The Angry Buddhist, I was wondering if its lowlife characters -- who include ex-cons, call girls, corrupt police, a gun-for-hire, a blackmailer, a dog- and kidnapper, two rival politicians, and their spouses and aides -- didn't live in the unforgiving desert of California, would they be less harsh and callous and nutsy? No wonder the would-be Buddhist of the title is angry. While I read this novel John Edwards' trial was underway and the parallels between reality and the book's plot amazed me. It also called to mind Fargo, Congresswoman Mary Bono's career strategy, and a few of the more amusing Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen narratives. Happily, the novel is grounded by an ironic mystery-blogger who serves to remind the reader that the author is fully in control of his hardscrabble desert rabble. -- Diane Leslie
Within three pages of starting Apollo's Angels, I found myself tumbling headlong through ballet's growth and evolution from the 16th century French courts; past kings and queens; through revolutions, cultural movements, and wars; under the noses of religious leaders and famous intellectuals; and across oceans and continents, fueled at all times by ballet's eccentric characters as well as this very special author's barely-concealed love for her subject. Dance critic, professor, and ex-professional ballerina herself, Homans is entertaining, thorough, and always readable. Particularly enchanting is her delicate handling of an art form whose memories have until now been encoded not on canvas or plaster but in the human body itself. Her constant sensitivity to this reality allows even we the uninitiated to feel very close to something that, however monumental, is still at risk of vanishing even as it exists. It is the accessibility of Homans' writing throughout that makes this singular, memorable, and downright fascinating book such a joy to read. If you're even halfway curious, take a chance on Apollo's Angels. It won't disappoint. -- Ian Walters
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This is one of those books that at first glance you are not quite sure what is inside. Open it. It is exceedingly clever and hysterically funny. Are you familiar with I LEGO N.Y.? This is the same guy, back at it, but tenfold. Through a variety of mediums and captions, Niemann regales us with his humorous childhood memories and quirky observations...and yes, the Legos are back, but wait until you see what he has done with leaves. Napkin drawings, maps, hand-sewn voodoo-like dolls, cookie dough, and even a hole in the wall all become canvases. Niemann began his visual blog, "Abstract City," in 2008 for The New York Times, and here it is now, all under one cover. Leave this one on your coffee table or give it to a friend who needs a good chuckle -- a smile will be your thank-you. -- Cheryl Ryan
I am a sucker for things that rhyme. Therefore, I thoroughly enjoyed Bear's Loose Tooth, a rhyming tale of Bear and his loose tooth. One of the greatest strengths of this book (besides the rhyming) is that, early on, it addresses all the concerns that a young child might have about his or her loose tooth. Bear asks his friends, "But how will I eat if my tooth says goodbye?" to which they reply that a new tooth will grow in the old one's place. Passages like these comfort the reading (or listening) toddler, quelling fears they might have about their loose tooth. It's a double whammy -- a book that rhymes and reassures! If a parent needs help easing a child's fears about losing a tooth, or just wants an entertaining book, Bear's Loose Tooth is a perfect choice. -- Alex Braunstein