Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Grifters

Author: Jim Thompson

Publication Date: 1963

Category: Crime

Who'll want to read it? See below

Point of no return: "Death might be forestalled if he took care of himself. Otherwise, he had no more than three days to live."

Classic line: "The lady or the loot. So what's it going to be?"

What's it all about? I'm a fan of crime novels, but I like good crime novels. Unfortunately the field is packed with books written by people with no talent or who can't be bothered. It was a great pleasure, then, to stumble across Jim Thompson, whose book The Grifters was made into a film in 1990.

The Grifters mixes up the crime genre. It's still seedy with nihilistic characters, but tells a familiar story without resorting to cliche or tired tropes. It's the story of a conman, Roy Dillon, who has talent at parting fools from their money. He's not as good at manipulating the women in his life. He tries to juggle his relationships with his mother, his mistress, and a nurse caring for an injury after a failed con, but the balls just bounce off his head.

Grifters avoids con cliches like the wise mentor who's the father-he-never-had, or the just-one-last-big-heist. It does what crime stories do best - examine relationships as they disintegrate and question what it means to be human. Watch this space for further reviews of Thompson's works.

Publisher: Vintage Crime

Visit Newcastle Region Library's Catalogue and Website.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Case Histories

Author: Kate Atkinson

Publication Date: 2004

Category: Crime, Mystery, Family Drama

Who'll want to read it? Mystery lovers seeking a dash or two of literary style.

What's it all about? This is the first book in the "Jackson Brodie mysteries" series. Jackson Brodie is the divorced, (slightly bitter, but dashingly handsome and enigmatic),doting father of an eight year old girl. He is an ex-policeman, now private detective with lots of dull missions - until this book thrusts him into three intriguing investigations. The story revolves around three "case histories" - the disappearance of a three year old girl thirty years ago, the senseless murder of an eighteen year girl (the apple of her father's eye) ten years ago, and an aunt trying to track down her twenty-five year old niece. As Kate Atkinson weaves her tale, subtle links in the cases emerge. All throughout we find hints of the "case history" haunting Jackson's own life and the similar emotional burdens he shares with his clients.

Every character in this book is given their own unique personality, voice and history. Kate Atkinson has a wonderful ear for authentic conversation, making the book even more engaging. I have read three other books by Kate Atkinson and they are all as good as each other. There are four books so far in the Jackson Brodie mysteries, so if you are looking for something to get your teeth into, start with "Case Histories". I already have the next book lined up on my bedside table.

Classic lines: "...Olivia was spun from light...Olivia was the only one she loved, although God knows she tried her best with the others. Everything was from duty, nothing was from love. Duty killed you in the end.

It was very wrong, it was as if the love she should have had for the others had been siphoned off and given to Olivia instead, so that she loved her youngest child with a ferocity that didn't always seem natural. Sometimes she wanted to eat Olivia, to bite into a tender forearm or a soft calf muscle, even to devour her whole like a snake and take her back inside her where she would be safe. She was a terrible mother, there was no doubt about it, but she didn't even have the strength to feel guilty. Olivia caught sight of her and waved." pg36-37

Publisher: Black Swan

News Flash: Just as I was about to finish this post I discovered that the BBC have made a six-part series of the Jackson Brodie mysteries, starring the dashingly handsome (just as well) Jason Isaac.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Girl's Guide to Homelessness: a memoir

Author: Brianna Karp

Publication Date: 2011

Category: Autobiography, Memoir

Who'll want to read it?  Anyone who wants to read about contemporary social issues.

Point of no return: I was hooked from the very first line in the prologue: "The Walmart lot was cold in the night air, even for southern California. I hadn't brought enough blankets and would need to swing by the thrift store and pick up a few more. Everything was well-lit by the streetlamps and eerily quiet. There were maybe a dozen other trailers around when I arrived, but no sign that actual people might live in them at all." pg 1

What's it all about? Brianna Karp, aged 22, was an executive assistant in the Human Resources section of a US firm Kelley Blue Book, earning $50,000 a year. She was renting a cute cottage, had a boyfriend and a dog called Fezzik - "Life was beautiful, fantastic."
The US economy changed all that, leaving Brianna living in a trailer in a Walmart carpark. Brianna documents the events in her history that lead up to this point and then how she handles her situation with humour, bravery and resourcefulness. As Brianna points out, she is not the only one with this problem and is certainly not in the worst case scenario for homelessness. Through her experiences she has become an activist for homelessness, co-founding World Homeless Action Day in 2010. A lot happened in this book which kept me turning pages well into the night, but I don't want to give anything away. When you've finished the book you can find out what Brianna is up to now on her webpage "The Girl's Guide to Homelessness".

Classic line:  "I had never thought about how those homeless people ended up there." pg 2

Publisher: Harlequin

Local readers may like to join our "Woolly Hat Wednesday" in support of Hunter Homeless Connect Day.

Visit Newcastle Region Library's Catalogue and Website.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

One From the Vaults...

Working in the Information & Research Centre, staff often come across some amazing and beautiful books from the basement. From time to time, we'll share a few of them with you. Last night I found "1000 Household Hints: Attractive, Money-saving Hints and Wrinkles Arranged for Immediate Reference" by Elizabeth Craig (Woman of the Year, 1967). I was rather confused by the title - it didn't make any sense - I was convinced there was a typo on our catalogue.  However, according to The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed, Volume 20, pg 634, a "wrinkle" can be "A clever or adroit expedient or trick; a happy device". Hmm, I would have to say that the dictionary itself is my favourite wrinkle!

What's it all about? Elizabeth Craig was a talented journalist and writer born in Scotland in 1884. She wrote over 60 books including "The importance of eating potatoes" and "New ways of using custard". 1000 Household Hints covers everything home economics: cookery, "the work of the house", social etiquette, home handywoman, the family, needlecraft, gardening, and diet, health and beauty. Elizabeth certainly had a way with words, which is part of the charm of this book. It also provides a wonderful opportunity to dive into the middle and upper class experiences of mid-century Britain.

Classic line: On the dress code for "At Homes": "A smart afternoon dress and no hat is worn by the hostess. If friends are helping they should wear their hats, unless actually staying in the house. Other guests do not usually take off their coats unless it is a very small informal gathering, or they are wearing heavy fur coats." pg 55

On conversation at a dinner-party: "If you are talking about matters of taste - books, plays, films, music - be careful not to take a superior tone nor to parade your knowledge. Remember also that the opposite attitude, the "Oh, of course I don't know anything about these things," or "Oh, well, you clever people" tone also verges upon discourtesy. Try to find some common meeting ground - Micky Mouse, detective stories, dance music perhaps. A mutual dislike, of course, will do as well as a mutual liking." pg 61

On constipation: "This condition is incompatible with health. The symptoms are heavy eyes, skin eruptions and a muddy complexion, and the results are many really serious complaints. Constipation, however, can be cured or at least alleviated, if you are really perservering... A habit should be formed of visiting the lavatory after each meal even if, at first, the visits are often unsatisfactory." pg 211

On Weight, to increase: "Excepting when it has been produced by habitual worry or definite disease, excessive thinness can nearly always be made to disappear with a nourishing diet and a moderately restful life. If you are of the restless worrying type, make every effort to rest and relax for at least an hour every day - in the fresh air if possible - and go to bed in a peaceful frame of mind not later than 10.30 p.m." pg 229

Publisher: Collins, 1947

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Working IX to V

Author: Vicki Leon

Publication Date: 2007

Category: Ancient History, Humour

Who'll want to read it? Anyone looking for a quirky & readable view of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Point of no return: The sub-title: Orgy planners, funeral clowns and other prized professions of the Ancient World.

Classic line: "Early librarians were full of derring-do.When the Romans overran Greece in 168 B.C., the head librarian of neutral Pergamum led a diplomatic embassy to Rome to keep his library from destruction - and sow the seeds of literacy while he was at it.
It worked - with unintended consequences. After 500 years without a library, Rome now encouraged its generals to bring back libraries as booty. (The most despicable book thief? Dictator-general Sulla, who ripped off Aristotle's library after capturing Athens, along with thousands of art pieces and other glitter.)" pg 287

What's it all about? This book provides an overview of dozens of professions from the Ancient World. Some of the professions still exist including farmers, beekeepers, cooks, physicians and labourers - although the job descriptions have changed just a bit. I just love the black humour in some of the job descriptions: "Winemaker. Make mine unleaded", "Mercenary. The fine art of freelancing - with real lances", "Plumber. Into heavy metal", "Dental Specialist. Open wide". Other jobs will also keep you entertained, such as Sycophant, Anointer, Gladiatrix, Seller of Purple, Armpit Plucker and Dream Incubator. All in all the book provided an interesting way to discover things I didn't even know that I wanted to know!

Publisher: Walker & Company, New York

Visit Newcastle Region Library's Catalogue and Website.