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I’ve led a pretty blessed life.  Lucky in family and friends, my only big unrequited “want” comes in the form of Mingo, the thousand pound horse I fell in love with when I was twelve.  Always an imaginative child, I also believed in the mythical counterpart of my beloved palomino – that of the Unicorn.

Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry - Paris

Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry - Paris

Being a fan of historical fiction, along with my admitted interest in unicorns, when I found Tracy Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn on sale at betterworldbooks.com (great site – cheap books, free shipping, and profits help fund literacy programs) I immediately added it to my overflowing digital shopping cart.  Being a fan of Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, I planned to enjoy this novel about my mythical unicorn even more.

I was disappointed.

While an interesting look at the almost-noble family of Jean Le Viste – his miserable and unappreciated wife and their three daughters (Le Viste blames his wife for not bearing a son), the story lacks character development and interaction.  Based on the real-life mystery surrounding the six Lady and the Unicorn tapestries that hang in the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris (pictured above), this novel follows the imaginary artist Nicholas des Innocents in his seductions while his art is woven into tapestries.

The figure of the mythical unicorn is used as a tool in seduction, as des Innocents uses the supposed purifying powers of the horn to deflower and impregnate women.  His true love and passion for Claude, the eldest daughter of Le Viste, can only show through his artwork, as they belong to different classes which were nontransferable in the the 15th century.

While rich in details of life in the 1490’s, especially when following the family of the weaver, it is hard to get too attached to any character.  There are many minor players in the story, whose lives all manage to weave together (excuse the pun) throughout.

My biggest fault with this book is the lack of a satisfactory conclusion.  lady-and-the-unicorn-bookNicholas des Innocents is invited to a part at the Le Viste compound at which the tapestries will be unveiled.  At this event, he and Claude have a quick rendezvous under the table before her arranged marriage is announced.  The book comes to an end with a look at the unsatisfactory and unfulfilled lives of those we learned about throughout the story.  I guess realistic, as not everyone ends up happy all the time, but it seemed to be an incredibly melancholy ending for an imagined tale.

Mediocre at best, this book left me wanting much more from the 250 pages read.  Also, I wanted the unicorn to have a bigger impact, but that’s a personal complaint!

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: C
  • Title: The Lady and the Unicorn
  • Author: Tracy Chevalier
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult

Sometimes the life of a drug lord seems a little like the mob – dangerous and violent, but sexy in that easy-money sort of way.  I don’t have the heart for it – I can’t take the pictures of the starving children in Africa that come up on those religious commercials, much less personally contributing to addicts (is that a logical chain of thought?).  Not to mention drugs, weapons and police scare me… But they do make for a good story, as long as the violence and danger stay on the page, unlike the Mexican Cartels currently doing their best to wreak havoc in the States…

Elizabeth Lowell had no idea how current her fictional novel, The Wrong Hostage, would seem right now, with news outlets daily covering the influx of drugs and violence from Mexico and the issues going on within the drug world down there.

Published as the second book within her “St. Kilda” series (of which I’ve

How I like to picture MX

How I like to picture MX

never read the first), The Wrong Hostage takes place during a harrowing weekend in which California Judge Grace Silva is forced to go toe-to-toe with the feared Mexican drug lord, Hector Rivas Osuna, in order to rescue her 15-year-old son.  Held hostage against money Silva’s ex-husband owes, she takes action.  Instead of wasting time in tracking down her lousy ex, missing for weeks, she calls the super-secret St. Kilda firm, known only to her due to a brief, passionate love affair with an operative… If you’re a fan of the “Romantic Suspense” genre, I bet you can guess this operative is also, ta-da, the son’s real father.

Through scary roads in Mexico, being witness to cold-hearted murder within the drug community (reminiscent of the Chicago Mob: https://novelwhore.wordpress.com/2009/03/18/operation-gambat-when-corruption-was-king-of-chicago/) and all the while reigniting  long-lost passion, this is a fast-paced novel that leaves your heart in your throat as you just wish the family to be reunited, frolicking on a white-sand beach and off the drug-ridden streets of Tijuana.

Crazily enough, I read this novel last year and as quickly as I finished the last page it left my thoughts, just to spring to mind as I was reading The New York Times two days ago:  “More than 7,000 people [in Mexico], most of them connected to the drug trade or law enforcement, have died since January 2008. Many of the victims were tortured. Beheadings have become common.” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/23/us/23border.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2&em.

There are numerous additional articles covering home invasions and kidnappings in the United States, all related to the Mexican drug trade, making me wonder if a situation like Lowell portrayed in The Wrong Hostage happened to an ordinary family unconnected with underground, all-powerful rescue rings (do these even exist in real life?), what would happen?  Would the news even be publicized, or would one family be in unbearable private pain?

It’s scary when what I would consider to be outlandish fiction comes alive in the newspaper.  While I enjoyed reading this book throughout its 406 pages, I don’t like the reading of individual newspaper articles that don’t always have the same caliber of ending (trying not to give anything aware, being sly).

Give this book a try if you like action, suspense, guns and violence with an undercurrent of sexual tension, but skip it if you would rather not take a behind-the-scenes peek at what may be happening as we speak.

And I even love Mexico – Cancun vacation, anyone!?

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: B
  • Title: The Wrong Hostage
  • Author: Elizabeth Lowell
  • Publisher: Avon

northern_lightsMy Dad went on a fishing trip to Alaska last year, which completely surprised me since my dad had never fished in his life, much less being some huge sportsman that travels some 3,500 miles to what I always imagined as some white, frozen piece of tundra, replete with polar bears (cute, but supposedly dangerous), Sarah Palin shooting wolves, and not much else.  But every morning when I received a picture message I had to admit it was of a gorgeous scene.

So, with my interest in Alaska piqued, when I came across Nora Robert’s Northern Lights novel priced at a very affordable $1 at the Newberry Library book fair I had to snatch it up.  While not a huge Nora Roberts fan, I admit her books are a fat-free indulgence every once in awhile, and I dare to say Northern Lights is one of her better titles.

Complete with murder, small-town intrigue and (surprise, surprise) a steamy love affair, Lunacy, Alaska is brought to life through the sexy cop recently transplanted from Baltimore (due to a traumatic experience, read it to discover why he ran away), and the equally mysterious female bush pilot who is also the daughter of a man missing 15 years soon to be found murdered in the mountains.  Whew what a story.  Through family issues, affairs, and secrets past and present, the tale is twisted through a town where everyone knows each other, and one of them is a murderer.  It’s up to the “outsider” Police Chief and his sexy hometown hunny (sorry, couldn’t resist) to separate the disgruntled rednecks (are rednecks in AK?) from the real threats.

Scene from the movie, also real life?

Scene from the movie, also real life?

Brought alive by a newly aired Lifetime movie (another guilty pleasure, though I swear I only imbibe with roomies present, never alone) graced with the acting of country singer LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian (apparently with a past role in “Baywatch Nights” – who knew), the 562 page book is condensed into a two hour movie, commercials included.  Needless to say, much of the quality, community feeling and character development that makes the book a success is lost in the movie translation.

As you may or may not have heard, the movie may be somewhat of a success due to the publicity of a supposed real-life affair (strategic move or true infidelity?) between Rimes and Cibrian, both of whom are married.

While I would never suggest that anyone go out and purchase this book, if the Nora Roberts genre appeals to you than give Northern Lights a chance.  It offers twists and turns outside the bedroom (ha), and the ending, while expected, isn’t boring.

And just in case you’re wondering, my dad will never feel the need to read this book to relive his Alaskan experience, since we still have delicious smoked salmon in the deep freezer waiting to be enjoyed.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade, Book: B-
    NovelWhore’s Grade, Movie: D
  • Title: Northern Lights
  • Author: Nora Roberts
  • Publisher: Jove

cwip1

As of five seconds ago, I am officially a member of Chicago Women in Publishing (CWIP)!

This past Wednesday, I was lucky enough to attend the Freelance Edge seminar CWIP ran.  The panelists were informative and the other attendees were friendly and welcoming – overall a beneficial experience with a professional group of mostly women, many of them with titles and experience I envy.

I am hoping to be able to become actively involved with the CWIP organization and contribute to their community.  I was an active member of numerous groups in college, but since moving to Chicago have apparently been distracted by the many other offerings and my participation has fallen – this is my first step in fixing that!

Check out CWIP’s website for more information – http://www.cwip.org. With the $100 enrollment fee you can attend their weekly monthly seminars at no additional cost, covering a variety of topics from freelance work to green publishing, as well as have access to the exclusive online jobvine (which I obviously could benefit from).  A social aspect is also offered through mixers and seasonal get-togethers.

Next Step: Volunteering with Open Books on their Literacy Team!

The other night a group of 11 of us girls got together for a 25th birthday dinner for a friend.  Quartino’s, the fun Gold Coast spot we chose for shared small-plates and affordable wine was smart enough to seat our loud-chattering and wine-induced crowd into our own private, window enclosed room.  In which we could look through the glass at the other diners if we so chose, or had the option of pulling the shades, making out own secret room.  Romantic? Maybe with a different crowd.  Prestigious? Potentially, if we weren’t buying the cheapest liters of house wine from the menu.  Secretive?  Definitely.  My mind immediately went to the “Mob-like” activities that could have, and most likely did, occur in similar rooms throughout Chicago in the 1990s.

“Most cities have one overriding claim to fame.  Say Los Angeles and you think about the movies; say Paris, you think art; Detroit, cars.  But when people the world over, say Chicago, they think of something less marketable:  Organized Crime.” -Robert Cooley

Since I’ve been unemployed, I’ve had time to wander the city (please note my updated To Do: Chicago list) and really have begun to appreciate the history that’s apparent on every street.  To delve into the past, I’ve decided to embark on a trip down the darker side of Chicago, that of the Mob, and Robert Cooley, cited above, is the rabble-rousing teenager -> policeman -> lawyer -> crooked lawyer -> government informant who is the source to take us behind the scenes of the once all-powerful Chicago Outfit.

Certain aspects of mob life are rather appealing… The glitz and glamour, bottles of champagne (as opposed to the house wine!) at all the hottest bars and clubs, the notoriety and special attention, almost like a modern day celebrity with an underlying aspect of danger (Chris Brown, anyone?!)… But of course, that’s ignoring the drugs, violence, total un-loyalty and the all too common occurrence of being unaware you’re being treated to your last supper before being violently disposed of in a very inhumane way, most likely by a trusted confidant.

This is a memoir/autobiography told from one immersed in the mob, and character_cooleynot always on the right side of the law – When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down.

Robert Cooley was the “Mechanic” for the Chicago Mafia – nothing to do with cars, he was the lawyer responsible for buying judges and guaranteeing a “Not Guilty” verdict for hitmen and gamblers alike.  In return for his services, Cooley enjoyed protected as well as a steady influx of cash to feed any vice in which he chose to indulge, and there were many.

I tend to be naive, but I believe that even for those jaded, cynical people, the depth of corruption was shocking – from the police force to government officials, the Mob had ties, and typically high-ranking officials, in every office.

Harry Aleman in 1977. He was the Outfit’s top Hit Man, "the killing machine."

The Outfit’s top Hit Man, "the killing machine."

In an inexplicable attack of conscience, Cooley strolled into the office of the FBI’s Organized Crime Strike Force and turned the tables on the mob, wearing a wire from 1986-1989, eventually becoming responsible for more than 30 convictions.

An intense book about a piece of Chicago’s history many would rather was forgotten, this is a nail-biting tale that manages to drag the reader in even though Cooley isn’t always likable.  I guess to put your life in danger with a notoriously violence group who will put a $1MM reward on your head takes a cocky man, and Cooley definitely fits the bill.

Read this if: You’re into gangster lore, crime stories, Chicago’s history, or are still upset The Sopranos went off-air.

Avoid this if: You believe justice is always served fair and equal, and want to remain believe so.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: B+
  • Title: When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down
  • Author: Robert Cooley with Hillel Levin
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers, an imprint of Avalon

NovelWhore rambling: Much of this book takes place in my Gold Coast neighborhood, and I have to admit my over-active imagination has been taking me places with every well-dressed man I see walking down the street, especially those with an entourage and a bulge (imagined? possibly…) beneath a suit jacket that could very likely be a gun… Could a group so in-charge and infamous as recent as the 1990s be really be made obsolete?  I can’t help wondering what lucrative business deals the mob has a hold on now, though I like to believe they have refocused their sites on the less-popular prostitution and gambling rings and the courts are now clean… Thoughts?!

We’ve all felt the pinch, it’s hard to justify the $9 price for a fancy bar drink when you could/should be making the drink with your own bottom-shelf liquor in your condo that you already are struggling to afford as opposed to helping contribute to the overhead cost of some random bar. Whew.  Well, the The New Yorker is helping us embrace the recession with a little alcholic help:

cocktail-guyGone are the Cosmopolitans and pomegranate martinis—bartenders are designing a whole new breed of cocktails for 2009….

Long Island Iced 401(k)
Put hopes in shaker. Add dreams. Shake until dashed, then drink all the vodka, gin, tequila, and rum left in liquor cabinet.

Bear Market Shot
Pick up lots of checks because you think the glass is half full; when you find it’s actually half empty, take a single shot to the head.

Broke & Tan
Fall asleep in yard on weekday, wake up sunburned and so dehydrated that anything tastes good.

Princeton Bitters
Pour two ounces of vodka into a cocktail shaker. Lament fact that you moved into a smaller house to pay for your son’s college education and, since he couldn’t get a job and he’s now twenty-six, he’s living on your couch. Eying your son as he works his Wii, pour two more ounces of vodka into shaker. Serve with a grimace.

Nasdaiquiri
Add a dozen I.P.O.’s to portfolio, wait until bubble bursts, drink all day every day.

BlackBerry Sling
Discover that your BlackBerry doesn’t work because you haven’t paid the bill. Sling it against the wall, then buy a prepaid phone and make some rum in your toilet.

Bloody Maria Bartiromo

Squeeze four packets of McDonald’s ketchup and one packet of pepper into a glass. Mix with eight ounces homemade hooch. Drink while you watch the Money Honey on a TV in the window of a Circuit City that’s going out of business at the end of the month.

Tequila Slumlord
To avoid foreclosure, rent the other bedrooms in your condo to migrant farmworkers; steal their booze when they go out to work.

Trickle-Down Punch
Let last drops of liquor trickle from spent bottles at recycling center into plastic cup. Serve with shame.

Dave Hanson

Link here: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/tny/cocktail-recipes-for-the-reces.html?yrail

A half-century length career in book publishing is my dream, and Jason Epstein is the icon and achiever of this goal.

Epstein is kind enough to expel his knowledge and experience of the publishing industry in his professional memoir, Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future.  While catered toward the niche group of people interested in book publishing, this is also a wonderful tale of history and the way relationships with books have evolved throughout the 1900s.

This iconic career began when Epstein stumbled across an editorial position

Epstein sharing his knowledge in 2009

Epstein sharing his knowledge in 2009

with Doubleday in his early 20s (and I do mean stumbled, he claims to have known nothing about publishing at the time when the opportunity was offered him), during which he repeatedly said he was ready to pick up and leave at a moment’s notice, though he ended up staying there a decade.  Within that decade he was the man responsible for the invention of Anchor Books – the imprint responsible for the “quality paperback” book, which made literature more affordable for the masses as opposed to the superior quality, expensive hard cover novels.

After that success, Epstein moved over to Random House, now the world’s largest trade publisher.  When Epstein first made the career transition Random House was a family-style business located within the wing of one New York mansion, in which he tells tales of famous authors delivering manuscripts in slippers and spending the night on couches (and not always alone!).

Epstein is a big-picture businessman.  Able to look at book publishing from the editorial and quality of literature angle, as well as the ability to envision new venues for sales and marketing, he is a man I would trust to carry a book from conception to success.

Responsible for numerous advances in the publishing industry throughout his career, Epstein was among the first to embrace the online retail giant in its struggling years, Amazon (ironically he found fault with Amazon’s business model, which has boomed since the publication of this memoir in 2001).  This enlightening book, surprisingly small in statue considering the wealth of information contained within, cites book publishing to be on the edge of a vast transformation, in which I see future opportunities without bounds.

Since this publication, Epstein has capitalized on some of his own visions mentioned.

Espresso Book Machine - visit ondemandbooks.com

Espresso Book Machine: ondemandbooks.com

In 2004, he launched “OnDemandBooks.”  With yet another invention on his repertoire, the “Espresso Book Machine” is available at locations throughout the United States, Canada and England for on-demand, affordable printing of books

Read this if: You’re interested in hearing  a behind the scenes tale from a publishing great, and how the industry has changed in a mere 50 years and the how the transformation may continue.

Avoid this if: You’re looking for a raucous tale filled with gossip and dirt on some of the most respected authors.  This is not a tell-all, but a memoir of an accomplished career.

  • Title: Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future
  • Author: Jason Epstein
  • Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A-

Now for all of you experienced bloggers out there, this milestone is hardly something of which to be proud. But, hell, I celebrate my half birthday (July

Visual Depiction of my milestone excitment

Visual Depiction of my excitement

28, mark that down) so have no shame in taking note (and being excited) of my one-month status!

As of March 10 (I missed the actual date by two days, oops), 21 posts, 14 comments, 24 spam messages and 670 views, I like to think I have come a long way since my first post that seriously took me two weeks to publish.

Thank you all for the comments and support, and please continue to come back and give me further feedback and even criticism, if you feel so inclined. Happy Reading!

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed on and digested.” ~Francis Bacon

…Currently in the midst of trying to write up two intense, very different books, and feeling a little stuck (aka, “digesting” these novels).

Stay tuned: “Lolita” and “When Corruption Was King” will (hopefully) be coming soon…

You know those days that surprise you, that appear out of no where (or, in this case, a rare 60 degree day with sunshine) that just make you appreciate where you are and just happy? I’ve been lucky enough to have one of those days today.

It started with my first-time visit to this amazing coffee shop… For those of you in my neighborhood, I urge you to try the ING Cafe at Chestnut and Wabash (Gold Coast), where coffee, tea, bottled water and even muffins are available for only $1!  Then I had time to peruse the internet and get a little productivity in before my pilates class, at which there was a wonderful new instructor who, while laughing at my lack of coordination really was encouraging and helpful.

welcome-chicago-publishing-galleryHad I already mentioned the 60 degree weather?  So I donned my sunglasses and headed downtown to take a look at the relatively new Chicago Publishers Gallery, located in the Cultural Center (77 E. Randolph St.).

An impressive place (even just the Cultural Center itself was worth the trip), I was thrilled with the offerings, took out my nerdy little notebook and started taking notes on publishers and books to research further.  The Gallery consists of two cozy areas on either side of a grand staircase, with comfy leather chairs and soft lighting, making a very inviting area.

The two gallery areas, those these pictures don't do justice to the experience

The two gallery areas, those these pictures don't do justice to the experience. Check out http://www.chicagopublishersgallery.com

For me, the experience was doubly important as I was impressed by the tangible displays of the publishing industry in Chicago.  True, there were no Random House or HarperCollins imprints, but the quantity and quality of books available was a welcoming sight to see.

After making note of the books I couldn’t wait to read, I headed straight for my favorite new and used book store, After-Words (23 E. Illinois St.).  Amazingly enough, they had both books I wanted (and used, so cheap!) – I was able to pick up a collection of Mike Royko’s columns and “Alpana Pours” for just over $20.  I am already looking forward to reviewing both of these Chicago-published books, so keep coming back!

Now, on for what will hopefully continue to be a wonderful Friday.  Happy Weeked, everyone!

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