Monday, November 23, 2015

If You Liked "The Martian"...

The popularity of the recent Ridley Scott movie, "The Martian", starring Matt Damon, has once again stimulated interest in the book that inspired the movie--The Martian, by Andy Weir. The novel began in 2009 as a self-published story published serially on Weir’s personal blog. In 2012, at the request of fans, Weir repackaged the story and put it up for sale on Amazon as a 99 cent e-book, the required minimum price. The book got popular—very popular. The novel eventually got the attention of an agent and was subsequently published in 2014 by a major publishing house. The film rights were optioned at almost the same time. Weir was working as a computer programmer and viewed his writing as a hobby. Weir no longer works as a programmer and has now become a full-time writer.

If you enjoyed The Martin or the excellent audiobook read by R.C. Bray, and would like to read more books about Mars or adventures in space, below are a few suggestions.

Gravity by Tess Gerritsen (1999)
A space station crew has been infected by a deadly organism and hope of a rescue is abandoned for fear of the contagion infecting earth's population.

Rescue Mode by Ben Bova (2014)
When the first human mission to Mars is devastated by a meteoroid strike, the spacecraft's survivors struggle against impossible odds while decision-makers on Earth confront bureaucratic political forces.

Red Mars  by Kim Stanley Robinson (1993)
In the year 2026, a group of 100 colonists is about to attempt to conquer the barren, desolate landscape of Mars. (first book in a trilogy)

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (2015)
A catastrophic event renders the Earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity in outer space. But the complexities and the unpredictability of human nature, coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers.

Roach explores the irresistibly strange universe of space travel and life without gravity. Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up?

Friday, November 20, 2015

New Holiday Fiction

The holiday season is just about here and if you're anything like me, you love a good seasonal novel. Check out some of this year's new releases. These are sure to get you in the holiday spirit.

Christmas Bells: a novel by Jennifer Chiaverini
A Christmas holiday story inspired by Longfellow's classic poem follows the experiences of a dedicated Boston teacher, who in the face of a dismal season, finds encouragement and renewal at the church where she volunteers.

A Christmas Escape: a novel by Anne Perry
Taking a trip to Sicily following his wife's death, James Latterly becomes caught up in the search for a killer who is among the small hotel's guests.

Wishes For Christmas by Fern Michaels
With the holiday approaching Sisterhood member Maggie Spritzer wants to bring happiness to a teacher from her past, while Toots and the Godmothers investigate a mystery surrounding a designer at an exclusive Charleston firm.

Long, Tall Christmas by Janet Dailey
Fighting her feelings for horse whisperer Sky Fletcher before dangerous complications in her privileged life threaten her survival, Lauren Prescott is embroiled in a plot that threatens to expose her protector's secret family ties.

Marry Me at Christmas by Susan Mallery
Small town bridal boutique owner Madeline Krug tries to resist falling for movie star Jonny Blaze while working closely with him to plan his sister's wedding.

Christmas On the Range by Diana Palmer
The Bark Before Christmas by Laurien Berenson
The Mistletoe Inn by Richard Paul Evans
Winter Stroll by Elin Hilderbrand
Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue by Victoria Thompson
Dashing Through the Snow: A Christmas novel by Debbie Macomber
The Knights Bridge Christmas by Carla Neggers
Christmas in Mustang Creek by Linda Lael Miller
Away in a Manger by Rhys Bowen
Together for Christmas by Katherine Spencer

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Local Classical Music Events (November 22-November 28, 2015)

Here are some classical music events happening in Chicago in the upcoming week:

November 22
Musicians from the Chicago Philharmonic (12:00 pm) - City Winery (Chicago)

November 23
Bella Voce/Callipygian Players (Messiah) (7:00 pm) - Fourth Presbyterian Church (Chicago)
Lyric Opera's The Merry Widow (7:30 pm) - Civic Opera House (Chicago)
Musicians from the Chicago Symphony with Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek
(7:00 pm) - Harris Theater for Music and Dance (Chicago)

November 25
Amit Peled & Stefan Petrov (12:15 pm) - Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center (Chicago)
Lyric Opera's The Merry Widow (7:30 pm) - Civic Opera House (Chicago)
Vienna Boys Choir (3:00 pm) - Symphony Center (Chicago)

November 28
Chicago Symphony Orchestra (8:00 pm) - Symphony Center (Chicago)
Lyric Opera's The Merry Widow (7:30 pm) - Civic Opera House (Chicago)
Vienna Boys Choir (3:00 pm) - Symphony Center (Chicago)

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Winner of the 2015 Man Booker Award - Fiction At Its Finest!

Finally, the last installment of my previous two blogs regarding the 2015 Man Booker Prize. First the long list, then, the short list and now, the winner is named and it is A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James published by Oneworld. The 44-year-old, now resident in Minneapolis, is the first Jamaican author to win the prize in its 47-year history. This is also the first win for the independent publisher, Oneworld Publications. We own a hardcover copy as well as an electronic copy. Marlon James also wrote John Crow's Devil (2005) which we own and The Book of Night Women (2009) which can be loaned from one of our partner libraries.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is a masterfully written modern epic that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970's. In December 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. He left the country the next day and did not return for two years. Spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters' assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and ghosts, A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the seventies, to the crack wars in New York in the eighties, to a radically altered Jamaica in the nineties.

Michael Wood, Chair of the judges, commented as follows:
"This book is startling in its range of voices and registers, running from the patois of the street posse to The Book of Revelation. It is a representation of political times and places, from the CIA intervention in Jamaica to the early years of crack gangs in New York and Miami."

"It is a crime novel that moves beyond the world of crime and takes us deep into a recent history we know far too little about. It moves at a terrific pace and will come to be seen as a classic of our times."

I am looking forward to reading this book. Hope I've piqued your interest as well.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

True Fiction

We talk a lot about the historic and the famous, but what were these people really like? Explore the possibilities with these novels featuring real-life people as characters. Feed your imagination with behind-the-scenes looks at important events and interesting people. And who knows? They could be true.
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
By the author of The Paris Wife, this novel tells of the exploits of Beryl Markham, aviator, horse trainer,  and adventuress living in Kenya in the early 20th century. Brave and passionate, Markham comes to life as she moves through British East Africa.

From her arrival at French court at 14 to her death at the hands of revolutionaries, Marie tells her own story. An intimate portrait of this fascinating and much-maligned woman.

Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife Fanny Osbourne have an intense and tumultuous marriage. The story of their lives together and apart is powerful yet unpredictable.

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
As she nears her 81st birthday, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland looks back, from her Victorian childhood to now looming World War I. Yet that pivotal summer when she served as a muse continues to haunt her entire life.

Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant
Bastard children of Pope Alexander VI, Cesare and Lucretia Borgia plot and conspire in the chaos of 15th-century Italy. Corruption and brutality are the norm for this family in their pursuit of power.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Historical Fiction Set in the Windy City

What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen
In late-nineteenth-century Chicago, visionary tycoon Marshall Field made his fortune wooing women customers with his famous motto, "Give the lady what she wants." His legendary charm also won the heart of socialite Delia Spencer and led to an infamous love affair.

Last Night At the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert
A highly ambitious and stylish literary debut set against the 1960's Chicago jazz scene about a talented but troubled singer's heartbreaking relationship with her precocious ten-year-old daughter.

Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
A tale spanning the years between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the end of World War I features characters who are caught up in such events as the labor troubles of Colorado, the Mexican revolution, and the heyday of silent-movie Hollywood.

Dream When You're Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg
After sending their men off to fight in the war, sisters Kitty and Louise Heaney join their flirtatious younger sister, Tish, in writing letters to servicemen overseas, in a study of life during World War II from the perspective of the young men on the battlefield and the women left behind on the home front.

The Jazz Palace by Mary Morris 
The son of a grieving Jewish family in jazz age Chicago impresses patrons of a mob-controlled saloon with his piano talents, which become subject to a changing music era, his need to survive, and exacting mob demands.

Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Set during the era after the Civil War, three people who have each come to Chicago in search of a new life struggle to overcome the pain of the past and define their own future as a divided nation tries to come together once again in the bitter aftermath of a terrible, bloody war and lay the pain of the past to rest .

The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon
This story, alternating between turn-of-the-century Chicago and modern times, features a man attempting to re-imagine the death of a Jewish immigrant.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

That spine tingling chill...

Many people are fans of that spine tingling chill happens when your reading an exciting book or a scary book. But if you are not a huge fan of scary - why not try a Gothic style chill instead? Gothic fiction is a genre or mode of literature that combines fiction, horror, death and Romanticism. Still not so sure about the horror and death part? What about a Gothic romance instead?

Try a classic such as Victoria Holt's Mistress of Mellyn where a young Victorian girl accepts a position as governess at Mellyn Manor, an estate shrouded in rumors of mystery and murder.

Or there is Barbara Michaels' Ammie, Come Home. Hosting what was supposed to be a harmless sâeance to entertain her visiting niece, Sara, in her elegant Georgetown home, Ruth Bennett comes face to face with an unwelcome spirit who reveals a dark history of lust, treachery, violence, and murder that now plagues the modern-day inhabitants of the haunted house. Michaels' other titles have spooky tales of governesses and orphan girls battling sinister thoughts of their employers and other menace.

For a tad more modern approach, there is Simone St. James' award winning book The Haunting of Maddy Clare. In 1920s England, Sarah Piper is sent by her temporary agency to assist a ghost hunter, Alistair Gellis, as he investigates the spirit of Maddy Clare, a young serving maid said to haunt the barn where she committed suicide. The ghost is no hoax, and Sarah is soon caught up in trying to discover who Maddy was, where she came from, and why she is desperate for revenge.

Mary Stewart's The Moonspinners was made into a film, but the book is much more menacing as our heroine tries to figure out who is telling the truth as she vacations on the islands of Greece.
And if you like a bit of satire, Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey does a wonderful send up of the Gothic genre. Austen knew what she was writing about since Gothics were a popular trend at the time.

So try reading something a little bit different this year for Halloween. Enjoy!