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Two for the Road

Riverhead Books is releasing two books,  a memoir and a nonfiction book about a personal obsession, on April 14, 2011.   You will have to wait until then to buy and read them, but you can try right now to win a galley copy of these books.  Based on the responses received to this giveaway, Munchy the cat may decide to give one galley each to two readers, or both of them to one lucky reader.   (These galleys are pre-publication paperback versions of books that will be released in hardbound form.)

The first of the two books is a memoir, The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke.   Here is the official synopsis:

What does it mean to mourn today, in a culture that has largely set aside rituals that acknowledge grief?   After her mother’s death, Meghan O’Rourke found that nothing had prepared her for the intensity of her sorrow.   In the first anguished days, she began to create a record of her interior life as a mourner, trying to capture the paradox of grief – its monumental agony and microscopic intimacies – an endeavor that ultimately produced this book.   With poignant lyricism and unswerving candor, O’Rourke captures the fleeting moments of joy that make up a life, and the way memory can lead us out of the jagged darkness of loss.  The Long Goodbye is not only an exceptional memoir, but a necessary one.

The Long Goodbye is emotionally acute, strikingly empathetic, thorough and unstintingly intellectual…  and elegantly wrought.  …It’s above all a useful book, for life — the good bits and the sad ones, too.”   Richard Ford

Meghan O’Rourke is the author of the award-winning book of poems, Halflife.   She is a culture critic for Slate.

The second book is The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure, subtitled My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie. Here’s a summary:

Wendy McClure is on a quest to find the world of beloved Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder – a fantastic realm of fiction, history and places she’s never been yet somehow knows by heart.   She retraces the pioneer journey of the Ingalls family – looking for the Big Woods among the medium trees in Wisconsin, wading in Plum Creek, and enduring a prairie hailstorm in South Dakota – and immerses herself in all things Little House.   This is a loving, irreverent, spirited tribute to a series of books that have inspired generations of American women.   The Wilder Life is also a story about what happens when we reconnect with our childhood touchstones – and find that our old love has only deepened.

Wendy McClure is the author of I’m Not the New Me.

To enter this giveaway, please provide your answer to this question:  Which of these books would you like to win, and why?   You can post your response here (with your name and an e-mail address), or you can choose to send an e-mail with your answer to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, give us the title and author of the very best or very worst book that you’ve read in 2010-2011, and explain why you loved it or hated it.  

In order to be eligible to win a galley in this giveaway, you must live in the continental United States and be able to supply a residential mailing address.   You have until Thursday, April 14, 2011 at midnight PST to submit your entry or entries.   Munchy will use his feline instincts and judgment to pick the winner or winners.   The winner(s) will be contacted via e-mail.  

As always, be careful out there.   Good luck and good reading!

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Playing hardball with Detective Warshawski

Hardball 6

Hardball: A V. I. Warshawski Novel by Sara Paretsky (Putnam Adult, $26.95, 464 pages)

Author Sarah Paretsky has set her latest V.I. Warshawski mystery in familiar territory, Chicago.   It’s easy to feel the atmosphere of the gritty windy city, both present and past (circa 1967) as the characters move about and around in a complicated story.   This book carries the theme of family, warts and all, amid a class war, politics Chicago hardball style, and V.I.’s memories of her father who was a policeman.

The task at hand is finding a long lost son and nephew for two elderly African American ladies, one of whom is on the verge of passing on.   To complicate matters, Lamont Gadsen has been missing for forty years in a plot angle that calls to mind the TV show Cold Case.   He was known to be present during a 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. rally in Chicago at which a young woman was killed.   To aid V.I. in her hunt for the missing man, Paretsky introduces a much younger cousin, Petra, who happens to be in Chicago working on a political campaign.

Cousin Petra gets in way over her head when she attempts to be a junior detective.   V.I. does not play favorites when she’s on a case as evidenced by her curt comments to Petra:   “You’re not a very convincing liar, Petra.   You don’t have the guts to come into a burned-out building on your own.   Who was with you?”

Reading this book – the 13th in the Detective Warshawski series – is like catching up with a long-time acquaintance.   Not a friend mind you, an acquaintance.   V.I. as she prefers – not Vicki or Victoria and only occasionally Vic – is portrayed once again as a brusque, nearly unisex character with conflicted identity issues.   Even at the age of 50, she’s far too tough on herself.   V.I. does some considerable soul searching while assuming the persona of a champion whose mission it is to right injustice.

The tale gets bogged down a bit with the intricacies of the multiple plot lines.   The reader may become a bit confused with the large cast of characters.   Yet halfway through the book Paretsky settles into her familiar and enjoyable rhythmic pace permitting V.I. to do what it is she does best – solve the mystery.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Animal Crackers in My Soup: Tell Me Where It Hurts

The complete title of this book is Tell Me Where It Hurts:  A Day of Humor, Healing and Hope in My Life as an Animal Surgeon.   This is about as long as the book itself, which is an easy and fast read.   Such is the good news.   The bad news is that, well, there’s not a lot here…

This is supposed to be a chronicle of a single day in a large animal hospital, but that’s just the pretense.   It’s immediately clear that the book is filled with the stories of animal and panicked owner interactions that occurred months and years earlier.   So why pretend that it’s about “24 hours in a pet hospital”?

The stories are more anecdotes than detailed stories, and often relate to how Dr. Trout assisted some poor young (in experience if not actual years) and confused resident.   There’s not enough detail to create real tension, which makes the reader wonder why this book has been sold as an animal-world version of the television show House?   Perhaps it is because Dr.  Trout appears to be a man of ego.

Another concern is that although it is a Target Bookmarked Breakout selection, there is more than a bit of sexism in how the good Dr. relates to women.   Was this supposed to be humorous or sarcastic or something else?

Instead of spending $14.00 or so for this collection of quick hit-and-miss tales, I’d advise animal lovers to instead consider ordering a classic that was written by a veterinarian back in 1980.   That book is All My Patients Are Under the Bed by the late Dr. Louis J. Camuti, which is full of charming tales and in which the doctor’s love for his feline patients was absolutely and completely transparent.   As a sign of the relevance of All My Patients… it is currently available as a trade paperback (Fireside, $14.00) that can be ordered via Amazon or your independent book seller.

As to Tell Me Where It Hurts, I found it to be not serious enough to be memorable and not humorous enough to be truly enjoyable.   Frankly, it was more than a mystery to me.   I’m still confused…   If I were asked to describe it in 10 words or less, I’d say “Cute, but not cute enough.”

Joseph Arellano

Note:   This book was purchased by the reviewer.

it hurts

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