Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Savannah Book Festival - 2011

This was the fourth of the annual literary event, all taking place on Telfair Square.  It's a superb setting with easy access to everything the festival has to offer.  Speakers and presentations took place in the Jepson and the Telfair as well as the Trinity United Methodist Church and in a tent outside.  There were booksellers and authors all looking to ply their wares among like-minded readers.  

There was almost too much to choose from in terms of speakers.  They could easily spread the presentations over the course of two days and avoid forcing attendees to make somewhat difficult choices between authors. 

I began by listening to Michael Malone in the Telfair Rotunda.  Among grand portraits and landscapes, he recollected stories from his childhood.  He focused on the unique qualities of Southern family and how these traits have made it to so many of his books. He commented that, "You never hear about a great Northern Novel", and joked about vegans who "won't eat anything cooked by anyone wearing a belt."  His latest is Four Corners of the Sky

After a quick bite from Thrive, I attended the presentation by Jonathan Rabb in the sculpture gallery of the Telfair. I've heard him speak a couple of times before but I really enjoy his topics.  His was a popular lecture -- It started late because they had to keep adding chairs! He also has a easy-to-listen to style, most likely from his numerous teaching pursuits.  He now lives in Savannah, where he finished the 3rd book in his trilogy of Nikolai Hoffner, entitled The Second Son. Rabb spoke about the fun of writing historical fiction.  There is a "special relationship between the writer and the reader.  You and I know how the 'story' ends, but the characters don't." 

At 3:30pm, I chose to see Lenore Hart speak about her new book, The Raven's Bride.  This was a tough call as Tobias Wolff was also speaking at the same time. Still, her topic of Edgar Allan Poe and Virginia Clemm drew me to listen to her.  She was named after the poem "Lenore"and her dedicated research was evident.  She found ways to inject humor into a dramatic ghost story.  I only wish Ms. Hart had spoken more and read to us from the book less.  I would have much preferred to have heard more about discoveries during her research for the book.  

Following her presentation, I went to see Roy Blount, Jr. present his findings on Duck Soup and the Marx Brothers.  (Again, Chuck Leavell was scheduled opposite this lecture, which was frustrating.)  Blount has written a book called Hail, Hail, Euphoria!, a rather unlikely cinema studies handbook.  His talk consisted of watching very funny clips from this classic 1936 film, and his commentary on the brothers.  Much of their background can be found in the undertones of this movie.  Sibling rivalry, xenophobia, and prejudice abound.  

It was simply a gorgeous day - they couldn't have asked for better weather.  With a few scheduling tweaks, this will be an amazing festival.  As it is, you can't ask for much more than a live oak canopy, some lemonade and a book to read. 

More photos: 

All photos by the author. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 18, 2011

GIVEAWAY: Unknown by Didier Van Cauwelaert

The movie UNKNOWN comes out today!  It stars Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, January Jones, Diane Kruger, and Frank Langella.  Which brings up that ongoing debate -- is the book really better than the movie?  With your very own copy of the book you can compare, make notes, wring your hands, or just enjoy.

Read my review of the book here.

How to win:

In the comments, please post your name, your email (in the following format to prevent spam [name at email dot com]) and what you would do to prove your identity if you had no ID or paperwork - just memories.  Contest ends February 24, 2011,  11:59pm EST.  Winner will be chosen at random from the entries.

What you win
The movie tie-in edition of UNKNOWN by Didier Van Cauwelaert, Previously published as Out of My Head, Translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti.

Good luck!

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I desperately wanted to love this book.  As a self-proclaimed Orientalist, I sought to be swept away by the magic of the Black Sea and the secrets of the Bosporus.  I was hoping to find a bit of myself in the young protagonist -- an innocent, with a nagging sense of urgency about the disappearing culture around her. 
Set in 1877 (and the following 8 years or so), it traces the early childhood of unlikely heroine, Eleonora Cohen.  Born under signs of augury and prophecy (at least according to the Tartar midwives), she becomes a ray of hope in confusing political times.  She never knew her mother and never felt any true love from her aunt turned step-mother.  A voracious reader and quick study, her intelligence is quickly stifled in favor of more acceptable household pursuits.  Miserable, she stows away on a ship to Stamboul, revealing herself only after it is too late for her father to turn her out.  She becomes an institution in Moncef Bey's home, particularly after the death of her father.  Truly an orphan at the age of eight, she navigates deftly among historical and imaginary figures --- spies, revolutionaries, dignitaries and royalty, including Sultan Abdulhamid II.  
Sultan Abdulhamid II
The idea is intriguing enough but it never seems to come to fruition.  Some parts are plodding without reason, while others with potential are glossed over.  I did read the Advanced Reader Edition, which warns that it is only a proof and changes might be made before the final printing.  However, I find it difficult to imagine an entire overhaul is in store.  Simply put, it reads more like a first draft or an outline of a novel, rather than the nearly finished product.  It is perfectly readable, just not as good as it could be.  His similes are often questionable, yet his knowledge and love of the era and area are clearly very deep.  Somehow, the two do not always mesh.  Scholarly underpinnings sometimes need to give way to the tides of the story.  
Yet there are flashes of brilliance.  The all-to-short chapter twenty-three offers a glimpse into Western reaction and ignorance of a complicated set of circumstances, while sitting in a posh hotel lobby in Pera is riveting.  Truthfully, it should have opened the book, then flashed back to early days.  

Parcel sheet, sent from Germany to Stamboul
It is an altogether valiant effort from a first-time novelist.  Lukas should be proud of this debut work, and seek to strengthen his story-telling muscles.  There are many mysterious tales yet to come from the land that straddles two continents and innumerable cultures.  Hopefully Lukas will bring them to our shores. 

Thank you to the folks at Harper for the review copy. 

ISBN: 9780062012098
ISBN10: 0062012096
Imprint: Harper
On Sale: 2/8/2011
Format: Hardcover
Trimsize: 5 5/8 x 8 1/4
Pages: 304; $24.99

Monday, February 7, 2011


To be blunt, I couldn't put this book down.  I was up until the wee hours last night, determined to finish it, lest my dreams be infiltrated by the specters of this book.  
Author Morrow remains on the better side of a fine line between psychological fear and shock tactics.  He relies on unexpected appearances alongside stellar imagery for breathtaking moments.  Truthfully, the book is much scarier that way as we view the actions through a first person narrator.  Cassandra (aptly named) Brooks is a diviner, a dowser.  She comes from a long line of "witches" who have helped countless generations find water for wells.  

Victorian era dowsing

Yet her sensitivities go beyond finding water - she will often have cryptic notions of impending doom.  Her brother died all too young, despite her warning - a weight she has never managed to shrug entirely.  Now a mother, she struggles with the demons of her past and tries to determine her own path forward. 
This is not, however, a Lifetime movie waiting to happen (though it would make a great feature film, in the right hands).  Sympathetic though she is, she is no pushover.  Insistent on pursuing the answer to the visions she has had, she negotiates the pitfalls of ridicule, and her own past.  At it's heart, it is a ghost story.  And Morrow's delicious descriptions make it palpable.  

Author photograph
Furthermore, his choice of the metaphor of dowsing is neither overused or trite.  He treats it as another character, waiting in the background for its turn to speak.  Initially a skeptic himself, he discovered dowsing when a plumber recommended one for some home repair.  It became a jumping off point for the novel, but also a window into another way of thinking, believing.  Unlike other leaps of faith, one has only to dig to find out if the diviner tells the truth.  This, and other considerations of reality versus perception, pepper the book.  They serve to layer a light fog over clarity, and add to the mystery only revealed in the final pages.  A little bit Shirley Jackson, a bit Joyce Carol Oates, a touch of Du Maurier (all females, ironically), and a great deal of original vision, The Diviner's Tale deserves a place on any well-wrought mystery lover's shelf. 
Many thanks to the folks at HMH Books for the review copy.

Me and my cat enjoying the book.

ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547382630 ; $26.00
ISBN-10: 0547382634
Hardcover ; 320 pages
Publication Date: 01/20/2011
Trim Size: 6.00 x 9.00                          

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Faustian in nature, the first in the Cabal series is witty, wry and in general, hysterical.  The title character attempts to win back his soul from the Devil (traded for scientific secrets).  He is given a second chance and one year to collect one-hundred souls.  Aided by his bitter and vampiric brother, the two manage a sinister carnival of the rails, tempting the line-walkers to the dark side.  The Cabal Brothers Carnival is manned by the reanimated remains of idiots and freaks, brought back to (semi) life by Johannes.  As the hourglass nears empty, Johannes becomes more and more desperate to fulfill his quota with his ghoulish ways.

The story seems to live outside of a particular place or time.  While the style seems British, the names are German.  The feel is a medieval, Gothic morality play yet the carnival travels by train and there is mention of electric lights.  The existence of this netherworld works and allows for the belief in the magical acts to follow.  

Each chapter is decorated with a pen & ink drawing by Linda "Snugbat" Smith, like so (right) and a title description which hints at things to come, a la Boris Akunin.  The adventure is great fun and I was thrilled to discover there is already a sequel published, and a third on the way.  Long live (soulless or not) Cabal. 

Reviewer did not receive a review copy of this book. 

Format: Trade Paperback, 304 pages
On Sale: June 1, 2010
Price: $15.00
ISBN: 978-0-7679-3076-5 (0-7679-3076-2)