Restless in the Grave, by Dana Stabenow
Alaskan P.I. Kate Shugak is happy to step down as chair of the Niniltna Native Association. At loose ends, she agrees to help out Alaskan State Trooper Liam Campbell investigate the suspicious plane crash that killed entrepreneur Finn Grant. Kate and Mutt (only half wolf) go undercover in Newenham and work at Bill’s Bar and Grill as waitress and bouncer. When they’re shoved in a chest freezer stored in Kate’s apartment, she knows their suspicions are correct. Have you met Kate and Mutt before? Kate, a short, indomitable Aleut, is amazing, but Mutt’s even cooler. You could start with the first book, the award-winning A Cold Day for Murder; the darkly funny Breakup; or jump right in with Restless in the Grave. If you are looking for a clever mystery series with plenty of adventure, great Alaskan settings, and quirky, memorable characters, Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak mysteries are just the ticket.
They’re also great on audio. For more about Kate and Alaska, visit the author’s entertaining website.
A History of the World in 100 Objects, by Neil MacGregor
If you’ve ever wanted to visit the British Museum but couldn’t afford the airfare, now you don’t have too. Neil Macgregor, Director of the British Museum brings it to you in his new book.
Here are 100 carefully selected objects that represent the sum total of the progress of Humanity. All the major civilizations of the world are represented here, including Meso America (Olmec, Maya, Aztec) ; South America (Paracas, Moshe, Inca); Europe (Celts, Minoans, Athenians, Romans, Byzantium, Ottoman-Turks); the Tigris-Euphrates river valley(Sumerians, Assyrians, Lydians, Persians); Egypt and Nile delta (Ancient Egyptians); Africa (Kushites, Oba, Kilwa, Ife); Indus Valley (Gupta, Orissan, Mughal); and China (Zhou, Confucian, Han, Tang, and Ming Dynasties, Mongolia, Timurid Empire, Quig Dynasty). All of the objects are either works of art or tools that look like works of art. Some are very well known like the Rosetta Stone, Ming Vases, Beowulf’s Helmet, and The Easter Island Statues. All the world’s great religions are profiled including Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity.
In each of 100 short chapters, MacGregor writes a brief description and history of each object, which keeps the book from getting long and boring. Photographs of the objects are beautifully rendered against mostly black backgrounds. Also included is a brief paragraph from experts in their various fields such as Archaeology, Linguistics, Ancient Literature, etc.
Here is an example of one of the interesting things one could learn from this book. This passage refers to Marco Polo and his first encounter with now world famous Chinese Ceramics:
“One of the Startling things he had seen was Porcelain; indeed, the very word ‘porcelain’ comes to us from Marco Polo’s description of his travels in Qubilai Khan China. The Italian porcellana, little piglet, is a slang word for cowry shells, which do indeed look a little like curled-up piglets. And the only thing that Marco Polo could think of to give his readers an idea of the shell-like sheen of the hard, fine ceramics that he saw in China was a cowry shell, a porcellana. And so we’ve called it ‘little piglets’ porcelain, ever since –this is if we’re not just calling it ‘china’.
A book that is very worth your while.
Intruder, by C.J. Cherryh
Intruder is the 13th book in the Foreigner universe. C.J. Cherryh is an award-winning author of many science fiction and fantasy books. This is a good place to jump into the series, which began with Foreigner. Humans landed 150 years ago on an occupied world, and now live on the island continent of Mospheira, while the native Atevi occupy the mainland. Atevi are very tall, traditional, and concerned with numbers, manners, and alliances. Bren Cameron is the paidhi-aiji, or human interpreter and ambassador, gradually releasing to the native Atevi advanced human technology. He is allied with the Atevi ruler, the aiji Tabini. Tabini’s powerful grandmother Ilisidi sends Bren on a diplomatic mission to the new lord of the Marid, young Machigi. The Marid, a rural, conservative group, are offered alliances, new communications technology, and the possibility of trade, especially in their fine porcelain. But knowing who to trust can be very difficult with the Atevi. Ilisidi once tried to poison Bren, for example.
Meanwhile, from a different perspective, Tabini’s young son Cajeiri is feeling restricted in a high-security apartment with no windows in his rooms. When his father gives permission for Cajeiri to visit the family storerooms and decorate his suite, he opts for tapestries with animals, lots of green plants, and a large brass cage that could house a monkey-like pet called a parid’ja. Unfortunately, he doesn’t ask his pregnant mother before acquiring the pet he names Boji. Cajeiri enjoys spending time with Bren, his great-grandmother, and getting into mischief.
This book is mostly about politics and diplomacy, and about Cajeiri’s gradual coming of age. Other books in the series have more action and danger, on the planet and in space, but all are excellent reading. The Atevi are just alien enough to be fascinating and the reader never knows just what will happen next.
The Lady in Gold, by Anne-Marie O’Connor
In June 2006, The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer was sold at auction at Christie’s in New York for a record 135 million dollars. The buyer of the painting was Ron Lauder, who had coveted the gold portrait of Adele for years. He needed a destination painting for his new museum in New York City called the Neue Galerie. This painting had a lot of history behind it. He was willing to pay a lot of money for it. How this gorgeous painting was created, and how it came to the United States is the subject of a fascinating book by Anne-Marie O’ Connor.
The painter was Gustav Klimt, part of a new generation of artists in the early 1900s who refused to conform to convention and were instead in the vanguard of the nascent “Art for Art’s sake” movement. The subject of the painting was Adele Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy Jewish socialite, who was also ahead of her time, being an avid suffragist, chain smoker, and salon intellectual. There were also rumors that she and Gustav were lovers although nothing has been proven. Klimt produced several portraits of Adele and often used real gold leaf which added to the allure of his work. However at the time most everyone was disgusted by the overt eroticism of Klimt’s pieces and thus they did not enjoy wide popularity.
The painting resided happily on the walls of the Bloch-Bauer family’s Belvedere Estate in Vienna, until the Anschluss (March 1938) when Hitler insisted that Germany and Austria be united under the Third Reich. Jews and Jewish property were fair game for the Nazis. They stole vast art collections from all the countries of Europe, but Klimt’s works were spared because “Der Fuhrer” considered modern art to be degenerate and unwholesome. However the painting was expropriated by Viennese nationals, who were not Nazis but had no love for the Jews. The name of the painting was changed to “The Lady in Gold” so as to eradicate any connection to its Jewish owners. It survived the war and ended up in a national museum.
During the last decades of the twentieth century, modern art gained in popularity and value. Most of the Viennese Jews had perished in the holocaust, but some claimants came forward and demanded restitution for their stolen property. Litigation went on for years but finally the painting was restored to its rightful owners, the heirs of Adele and her family.
“in Vienna, the impact of the Bloch-Bauer restitution rippled out of ministries and courtrooms and into cafes and dinner parties. “It was our Austrian ‘Mona Lisa’ ” lamented Werner Furnsinn, the director of the Austrian Culture Ministry’s Commission for Provenance Research.
If you like modern art and history, then this book will be perfect for you.
In addition to the books we’ve written about on Book Talk, these are some of the books we’ve enjoyed reading this year.
Alien Proliferation, by Gini Koch Denise
The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson. Brenda
The Beautiful Blue Death, by Charles Finch. Kay
Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld (audio). Brenda
Behind the Scenes at the Museum, by Kate Atkinson. Pam
Believing the Lie, by Elizabeth George. Pam
Bruno: Chief of Police, by Martin Walker. Brenda
Crossed, by Ally Conde. Brenda
Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. Beth
Doc, by Mary Doria Russell. Pam
Hark, A Vagrant, by Kate Beaton (web comic collection) Denise
Several books by Karen White, especially The House on Tradd Street. Kay
Hyperion series, by Dan Simmons. Pam
Joan of Arc: A Life, by Mary Gordon. Ruta
Julia’s Child, by Sarah Pinneo. Kay
Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi. Beth
Switchblade Goddess, by Lucy A Snyder. Denise
Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed. Chris
I have read several of Julie Hyzy’s books recently. I especially enjoyed the White House Chef Mystery series. Kay
Work Song, by Ivan Doig. Pam
Lost in Shangri-La, by Mitchell Zuckoff
The library’s evening book group met recently to discuss Lost in Shangri-La. I read the book, and listened to it. Those of us who listened to the book enjoyed it the most, even without the photographs scattered throughout the print book. This is a real life adventure story that takes place on the island of New Guinea during World War II. Pilots discover a hidden valley in the unexplored mountainous interior of New Guinea, and many groups of American military personnel stationed on the coast make sightseeing flights over the valley. The entrance to the valley is very tricky, and often foggy. A flight in 1945 with several women WACs aboard crashes into a mountain, leaving few survivors. The survivors struggle to stay alive and reach an area where they can be spotted from the air. Encounters with the native villagers of New Guinea prove very interesting. The struggle to find and then rescue the survivors catches the interest of the media, and their story is followed all over the United States. We found it ironic that the valley turns out to be a very different sort of place then the fabled valley in the Himalayas. Photos and a wealth of information can be found on the author’s website, even some old documentary footage. While our book group had mixed reactions to the book, we certainly found plenty to talk about.
Among Others, by Jo Walton. Brenda
I have been reading the Charles Todd mystery series featuring Ian Rutledge. I am a few books behind and want to catch up. Kay
Context, by Cory Doctorow. Denise
Dust of the Damned, by Peter Brandvold. Denise
Elegy for Eddie (a Maisie Dobbs mystery), by Jacqueline Winspear. Pam
Emperor of Lies, by Steve Sem-Sandberg. Joel
Firebird, by Jack McDevitt. Brenda
Restless in the Grave, by Dana Stabenow. Brenda
The Glassblower of Murano, by Marina Fiorato. Brenda
A Little Night Magic, by Lucy March. Brenda
The Odds, by Stewart O’Nan. Pam
The Street Sweeper, by Elliot Perlman. Joel
Wolf Gift, by Anne Rice. Denise
What books are on your “to be read” list?