Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nihon no Hon ga Arimasu

Common use of the written word in Japan began around the 4th century, when the Japanese adopted Chinese characters as kanji. Interestingly, some of the earliest Japanese written works are also some of the earliest examples of science fiction. Urashima TarĊ, the earliest known time-travel tale, tells of a man who travels to the bottom of the sea, and returns to the surface to find that 300 years have passed. Genji Monogatari, written by a noblewomen in the classical period, was one of the first modern novels. Today, Japanese authors continue to make considerable contributions to literature.

We currently carry such major authors of modern Japanese literature as Shiga Naoyo, Yukio Mishima, and Yasunari Kawabata. Kawabata became the first Japanese author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968, and you can find a copy of what is considered his finest work, The Master of Go, on our shelves at the moment. Look for some of these authors near the front, under the Women Writers of Science Fiction and Fantasy display.

If you are interested in Japan, we have also recently acquired a large collection of Asian history and culture books. In addition, there are manga and anime materials on the first and second floors of the shop, many of which are written in Japanese.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Mr. Monk is Cleaned Out and Deception

7/18/10 If it's too hot to go to the beach, here's a quick look at a pair of quirky crime novels set in sunny California. Each features a long-running series character, unusual death scenes and many puzzling questions.

Mr. Monk Is Cleaned Out by Lee Goldberg (Obsidian, $22.95) is the 10th book starring Adrian Monk, who appeared regularly on the now- canceled USA Network television series.

This highly entertaining tale takes place in San Francisco before the events of the show's final season It adroitly explores the obsessive-compulsive behavioral problems of the brilliant but flawed detective.

It's told from the viewpoint of Natalie Teeger, Monk's personal assistant, who deals with a lot of frustration and is trying to raise her teenaged daughter.

As usual, Monk is called in to help solve a peculiar case. Soon thereafter, he's laid off from assisting the police due to budget cutbacks.
He also discovers he's become a victim of a Ponzi scheme coordinated by Bob Seles, who handled his financial affairs.

Monk can't pay Natalie; with no money from the police department, they must seek other sources of income, often with hilarious results.

There are many other subplots as Monk loses his sole supply of acceptable bottled water and is evicted from his apartment. Meanwhile, other witnesses in Seles' case are murdered, and Monk can't stop trying to help Captain Stottlemeyer. Natalie comes up with a clever plan that may solve a variety of problems.

This is great fun if you were addicted to the popular television show - you don't even have to read others in the series to enjoy it.

Deception by bestselling author Jonathan Kellerman (Ballantine, $28) is his latest crime novel featuring psychologist Alex Delaware and Los Angeles Police Homicide Detective Milo Sturgis.

They're working on an investigation in which Elise Freeman, a young teacher at a prep school, was discovered lifeless in her apartment in a bathtub full of dry ice.

A DVD is discovered at the scene. Freeman accuses three other teachers of sustained abuse and sexual harassment. Of course, this isn't a simple open and shut case - particularly when another dead body is discovered.

This dialogue-driven tale is a solid, vivid police procedural. Kellerman fans won't be disappointed.

Ray Walsh
This article also appeared in the
Lansing State Journal on July 18, 2010


Friday, July 16, 2010

Storm Prey and Slim to None

7/11/10 Hospitals are dangerous places in a pair of recent crime novels. Each has numerous plot twists, strong characterization and a diligent hero trying to track down a devious killer.

Storm Prey by best-selling author John Sandford (Putnam, $27.95) is the 20th in his incredibly popular series starring Lucas Davenport, head of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Davenport's wife, Weather, is on her way to a complicated surgical process when she pulls into the hospital parking lot, narrowly missing a van leaving the area.

For a split second, she sees the driver - who is part of a gang that had just held up the hospital's pharmacy, stealing a half-million dollars worth of drugs. An insider, a drug-addicted doctor, is worried because Weather took the same elevator up and may be able to identify him.

One of the pharmacists dies. Davenport and his crew become involved, working with minimal clues. Meanwhile, the gang members turn on themselves.

The complicated plot features a large but well-developed cast of characters, including scheming villains, dumb robbers, frustrated addicts and a cold-blooded killer.

Sandford, one of America's best crime writers, is in fine form with a compelling page-turner that's likely to keep you eagerly flipping pages.

Slim to None by Timothy Sheard (Hard Ball Press, $15) is the fourth in his atmospheric series showcasing Lenny Moss, a Philadelphia-area hospital custodian and shop steward.

Moss gets a frantic late-night call from Carleton, a friend and hospital worker, who sees a man furtively dumping a nurse's body a nearby park.

After the conversation, Carleton calls 911 but doesn't stick around. Police discover the victim and think Carleton's the killer. He flees, but keeps in touch with Moss.

Discovering unnerving facts, Moss investigates. There are many tense scenes inside the hospital as Moss becomes the target of a clever killer, while an over-zealous security chief creates extra challenges.

Laced with dark humor and told with an insider's knowledge, this fast-paced, nifty paperback is the best yet in the series.

Ray Walsh
This article also appeared in the
Lansing State Journal on July 11, 2010


Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Wonderful World of Oz

Most of us are familiar with the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz (based on the 1900 novel by L. Frank Baum) centered around the 12 year-old Dorothy Gale and the meteorological troubles in Kansas which transport her to another world. However, few realize that there is an extensive series of books which details the history of Oz and myriad characters who populate this magical world.

Dorothy was not the only child from our world to venture into Oz. Betsy Bobbin, Peter Brown, Jenny Jump, Bucky, Jam, and Robin Brown all made the journey and had adventures in this strange, wonderful land. The Cowardly Lion, Tin Woodman, and Scarecrow were not the only companions to these young travelers. Oz was home to such reoccurring characters as Tik-Tok, a wind-up mechanical clockwork man, Scraps, a patchwork girl, and Kabumpo, the elegant elephant.

In total, there are 40 official Oz books. L. Frank Baum wrote the original 14 books, which included The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, and The Patchwork Girl of Oz. After Baum's death, Ruth Plumly Thompson continued the series with such books as The Cowardly Lion of Oz and Grampa in Oz. The next author to write the tales of Oz was John R. Neill, who had been the illustrator for the series. Neill was succeeded by Jack Snow, Rachel R. Cosgrave, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, and Lauren Lynn McGraw. The last book in the series was published in 1963.

At the Curious Book Shop the Wizard of Oz books are one of our many specialties. We have the books mentioned by name above in the shop (at the moment), in addition to dozens more Oz and L. Frank Baum books! We also have a one-of-a-kind, American folk art bookcase near our front counter made by a man who sold us his Oz books 25 years ago, featuring painted characters from the stories. You'll find these books housed in that case, behind the front counter, and in the New Arrivals section right now.

Don't wait for a tornado to carry you to the Curious Book Shop to see our Oz collection!


Tuesday, July 13, 2010


7/4/10 If you're ready for fast-paced action, quirky characters and unpredictable plot twists, here's a quick look at one of the year's most entertaining crime novels.

Strip by award-winning author Thomas Perry (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26) is an adrenaline-charged tale set in Los Angeles that deftly injects dark humor into a wide variety of dangerous conflicts.

It introduces Joe Carver, new to the Los Angeles club scene, who is wrongly accused of holding up strip joint owner Claudio "Manco" Kapak while he's making a bank deposit.

Manco is enraged, not so much at losing thousands of dollars, but that his image has been tarnished. He vows revenge and directs his thugs to track down the masked man responsible.

His hoods figure Carver did it, but they're wrong. When they attempt to kill him, Carver takes command and survives, even though he's facing virtually impossible odds.

Manco is frustrated, especially when Carver invades his plush mansion and proves his innocence. Manco, still angry, wants to save face - when Carver leaves, he takes a shot at him, with unexpected results.

Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis Falkner, the real hold-up man, is still on the loose, spending money foolishly on his girlfriend, who works at one of Manco's clubs. But Falkner isn't happy and hooks up with Milesande Carr, a twisted woman he meets at a diner.

Carr is out for thrills and Falkner is glad to oblige, ironically setting up another robbery of Manco's deposit. This time, it doesn't quite go as planned.

The frustrated, aging club owner has more problems - part of the stolen deposit was from a major drug dealer, who's been laundering funds through him for years.

Lt. Nick Slosser, who's investigating the robberies, faces challenges as well. He's a bigamist and is trying to come up with cash for the college education of the eldest kid in each family.

Various other thugs and lovers add complications. Perry masterfully increases the tension as the body count rises.

Strip is a great blood-spattered page-turner that's full of intriguing characters and devious double-crosses. Perry has written 17 other novels, including his highly acclaimed Jane Whitefield series. This would be ideal for film adaptation or a multi-part TV series.

Ray Walsh
This article also appeared in the
Lansing State Journal on July 4, 2010


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Justice in June

6/27/10 If you're tired of reading Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books, with all the exploding cars and screwy antics, maybe it's time to switch to Barbara Levenson.

Justice in June by Levenson (Oceanview, $24.95) is a highly entertaining, fast-paced and funny legal thriller.

It's the sequel to Fatal February, which introduced feisty Mary Magruder Katz, a quick-thinking, hard- working Miami criminal defense attorney.

Katz always seems to get involved in unusual cases and her latest challenges are no exception. Judge Liz Maxwell is being investigated by the Florida Office of the State Attorney for taking bribes in exchange for dropping or reducing charges on assorted drug cases.

The veteran justice swears she's innocent and is being framed; it's Katz's job to represent her and find out what's really going on.

Meanwhile, Katz's boyfriend, Carlos Martin, asks her to take a case involving Luis Coloma, a young Argentinean family friend who's been accused by the government of being a terrorist.

Katz has difficulty even connecting with Coloma, whose wealthy parents acknowledge that their son has problems, but isn't a terrorist.

As if that's not enough to handle, Katz's problems multiply when her boyfriend, a local developer, is being sued by potential tenants.

There are a variety of other confrontations. Katz is being stalked; a break-in at her house and a warning left in lipstick add to the tension.
After a messy break-up with an earlier boyfriend, Katz also is dealing with Martin, who wants more of a commitment.

Katz is juggling three cases, getting publicity but losing clients because she's being associated with representing a suspected terrorist.

Her actions in that case are especially fascinating, as she attempts to thwart truth-twisting, over-enthusiastic government officials.

The author uses short, action-packed chapters to speed the story.

Levenson, who's served as senior judge in circuit court in Miami-Dade County for many years, has created a likable, quirky main character and an enjoyable, atmospheric mystery.

Ray Walsh
This article also appeared in the Lansing State Journal on June 27, 2010