Author Archive

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

June 23, 2010

The Beautiful Things Heaven Can Bear

Author: Dinaw Mengestu

Title: The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Genre: African-American Fiction

Publication Date: 2007

Publisher: Riverhead Books: New York

Number of Pages: 228

Geographical Setting:  Washington D.C.

Time Period: Current

Series (N/A)

Plot Summary:

Seoha Stephanosan, an Ethiopian immigrant, fled his country 17 years ago at sixteen after his father was arrested and killed during the communist revolution of 1974.   After coming to America Sephos first lives with his uncle in a suburban apartment building while he works at a first class hotel in the city of Washington D.C. Here he has meets two other African men: Kenneth, a Kenyan and Joseph, a Congolese, who remain as his only friends for years.  Sephos eventually leaves the hotel and his uncle to open his own convenience store in a depressed area of the city, where he and his two friends sit at a card table and play games involving guessing the coup leaders of various time periods and African countries: a game that never seems to end. Their consistent days are changed when the dilapidated building next door is bought and renovated by Judith, an ex-professor along with her young bi-racial daughter. Saphos becomes almost a father figure, but this newly minted family is broken apart by the seething resentment of the  “gentrification” of the neighborhood and the backlash at those who have changed the once blighted area; forcing those with less out of their homes.  In the end the resulting violence forces Judith to leave the neighborhood and Sephos to turn his back and walk out on his store. A starting over that is just like the coups in Africa. But they are both Americans now and will start again because they believe that it is possible.

Subject Headings:

Ethiopians United States — Fiction.
Race relations — Fiction.
Washington (D.C.) — Fiction.


candid, sobering, philosophical, insightful, introspective, realistic, accurate, contemporary, political, urban, journalistic, literary

3 Terms that best describe the book:

insightful, philosophical, journalistic

Similar Authors and Works:


Things fall Apert by Chinua Achebe — The growing tension between Nigerian village leaders and Europeans, determined to bring Christian salvation to the tribe, is chronicled here by Achebe. A lone Nigerian, Okonkwo, attempts to fight the dissolution of his tribe, culture and traditions. Written with quiet dignity, this classic novel of Africa builds to a forceful and tragic conclusion. (Novelist)

What is the What by Dave Eggers — The history of the Sudanese civil war is illuminated through the eyes of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee from the Dinka tribe now living in the United States. Driven from his home, he walks with thousands of orphans through incredible danger, disease and starvation to Ethiopia, where he finds safety for a time. Eventually, he makes his way to Kenya, and the U.S., from where the novel is narrated. This is an eloquent and compelling read for any American wishing to understand the tragedy in East Africa.  (Novelist)

Beneath the Lion’s gaze: A Novel by Maaza Mangiste – An epic tale of a father and two sons, of betrayals and loyalties, of a family unraveling in the wake of Ethiopias revolution.


Chameleon Days: an American boyhood in Ethiopia by Tim Bascom– A candid memoir of growing up in Ethiopia recounts his youth as the son of missionary parents in a sometimes hostile country wracked by conflict, social upheaval, and ultimately revolution. Original. (Novelists)

There is No Me Without You: one woman’s odyssey to rescue Africa’s children by Melissa Green –Offers a revealing study of the human cost of the AIDS pandemic in Africa in a portrait of Haregewoin Teferra, a widowed recluse in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, who has become the caretaker of sixty children orphaned and abandoned by the AIDS crisis. (Novelist)

The Ethiopian Patriots: forgotten voices of the Italo-Abyssinian War, 1935-41 by Andrew Hilton — “This book consists of the recollections of men and women who took part in the Ethiopian resistance movement during the Italo-Abyssinian War of 1935-41. Their long, lonely struggle is testament to their courage, determination, faith and national pride. The fighters became known simply as ‘Patriots’ and these recollections are transcripts of personal interviews with some of their surviving numbers.”–BOOK JACKET

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

June 21, 2010

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Author: Haruki Murakami

Title: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: a memoir

Genre: Best Sellers / Audiobook

Publication Date: 2008

Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc

Format: MP3 Audiobook

Number of Pages: 192

Geographical Setting:  Japan / Hawaii / East coast / U.S.

Time Period: 2005-2006

Series (N/A)

Plot Summary:

In this audio book, read by Ray Porter, Murakami reflects back on pivotal points in his life and career during a five-month preparation for the New York City Marathon. We are taken from Hawaii to Cambridge to Japan and back to the East Coast of the United States, while running and exercise are kept as the backdrop to all places. We are let in on the lesser-known aspects of Murakami’s life: such as his days owning and running a Tokyo jazz club in the 80’s where the late hours and the smoking allowed him to write his first book but eventually started taking away his energy to maintain a vital creative life. Running six days a week for over two decades is the focus and story of the book and are also what enables him to maintain both his creative and physical energy, which for Murakami go hand in hand. This is evident when he states that running enables him to keep going when “the points where my body surpasses the balance between imaginative power and physical abilities that sustain it have crumbled.” It is through the repeated practice of writing and running that he reflects and understands what kind of life he has lead and where to place his personal standard while maintaining balance.

Subject Headings:

Sports and Competition—Racing—Track and Field

Biography and Autobiography—Autobiography—Writers

Adult books for young adults

Murakami, Huruki, 1949—

New York City Marathon

Authors, Japanese—21st century—Biography

Marathon runners—Biography

Marathon Running

Distance running—Training

Japan—Social life and customs—21st century

Autobiographies (Adult literature)

Sports literature


Relaxed, easy, candid, earnest, thoughtful, detailed, introspective, familiar, episodic, inspirational, accessible, simple, unembellished

3 Terms that best describe the book:

Earnest, thoughtful, inspirational

Similar Authors and Works:


What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver — Not only does Murakami give a shout out to Carver for using his title, but the characters in this collection are straightforward and honest; admitting past mistakes and trying to overcome them.

Once a Runner: a novel by John L. Parker — Distance runner Quenton Cassidy is suspended from the track team for his involvement in an athlete protest and risks his future prospects to train on a monastic retreat with an Olympic medalist. (Novelist)

Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe – This book describes a man’s constant fighting the onslaught of the never-ending sands that fall down upon him as he lives in a the bottom of a sandpit. The self-acceptance and resignation to his place and nature remind me of many aspects in Murakami’s memoir.


No Shortcuts to the Top: climbing the world’s 14 highest peaks by Ed Viesturs– A veteran mountaineer recalls some of his most harrowing and dangerous climbs as he pursues the goal of reaching the summit of the world’s fourteen 8,000-meter peaks, detailing his dedication to the philosophy that “getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory” while discussing some of his own close calls, rescues, and errors in judgment on the part of fellow climbers. (Novelists)

Born to Run: a hidden tribe, superathletes, and the greatest race the world has never seen by Christopher McDougall McDougall reveals the secrets of the world’s greatest distance runners–the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon, Mexico–and how he trained for the challenge of a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of super-athletic Americans. (Novelist)

Strides: running through history with an unlikely athletes by Benjamin Cheever — In a deeply personal history of running, the author traces the evolution of the sport from the ancient world to the present day while reflecting on his personal, decades-long devotion to, and experiences of, the sport. (Novelist)

Sharp Teeth

June 14, 2010

White Teeth
Author: Toby Barlow

Title: Sharp Teeth

Genre: Horror

Publication Date: 2008

Number of Pages: 312

Geographical Setting: Southern California / Los Angeles

Time Period: Current

Series (N/A)

Plot Summary:

Four packs of ancient lycanthropes have infiltrated L.A. and its crime underworld and are now starting to gain strength and territory. They are able to change form from human to canine and back again at will; rendering them as anything from attack dog to the friendly dog next door or lawyer to blonde surfer girl.  The packs start to scour the city for new recruits from the down-and-out while dealing for and shutting down rival drug operations, killing and eating anyone in their way. Problems arise when dogcatchers start to disappear from the pound and a detective is called in to investigate. But a bigger problem is that every pack needs a female and “she”, the female of the lead pack, has decided to leave Lark, the lead dog, for Anthony, a loner and dogcatcher after a not so chance meeting. “She” realizes that her new life with a human is becoming detrimental to her survival and rejoins Lark to live in the suburbs with Bonnie, another lonely human, while they regroup and recruit more members. Meanwhile the other packs have been regrouping after a few changes of their own. The action culminates in a horrific battle involving all parties and a few damaged humans. In the end we are left with possibilities for new beginnings.

Subject Headings:

Gangs–California–Los Angeles–Fiction.
Novels in verse.


deliberate, measured, bittersweet, hard-edged, mystical, evocative, cinematic, tragic, epic, dangerous, faithful, vivid

3 Terms that best describe the book:

Atmospheric, foreboding, explicitly violent

Similar Authors and Works:


Stolen by Kelly Armstrong — The only living female werewolf, Elena Michaels takes on a mission to confront Internet billionaire Tyrone Winsloe, who has been capturing Elena’s fellow paranormal brethren, conducting experiments on them, and hunting them to their deaths in a live video game. (Novelist)

Ravenous by Ray Garton — When the residents of the California town of Big Rock are plagued by a curse that is spread through sex, Sheriff Arlin Hurley and his men discover that havoc wreaked by werewolves is far worse than the legends. (Novelist)

You Suck: a love story by Christopher Moore— Waking up after a fantastic night only to discover that his girlfriend is a vampire and has transformed him into one, Thomas C. Flood adapts to his new powers while dealing with a dangerous faction of bloodsuckers trying to kill off all other vampires. (Novelist)


Destination: Morgue!: L.A. tales by James Ellroy— The best-selling author of L.A. Confidential and My Dark Places returns to the city of angels to present fourteen pieces of fiction and nonfiction that includes “Balls to the Wall,” a reflection on boxing; the autobiographical “My Life as a Creep”; and three new novellas–“Hollywood Fuck Pad,” “Hot Prowl Rape-O,” and “Jungletown Jihad.” (Novelist)

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: a Savannah story by John Berendt — In charming, beautiful, and wealthy old-South Savannah, Georgia, the local bad boy is shot dead inside of the opulent mansion of a gay antiques dealer, and a gripping trial follows. (Novelist)

Monster: the autobiography of an L.A. gang member by Sanyika Shakur — One of L.A.’s most notorious gang leaders takes readers inside the world of gang wars, recounting his ascension through the gang hierarchy, surviving attacks by rival gangs, and life in prison. (Novelist)

The Chameleon’s Shadow

June 14, 2010

Chameleon's Shadow
Author: Minnette Walters
Title: The Chameleon’s Shadow
Genre: Mystery / Psychological Suspense
Pub. Date: 2008
Pages: 370
Setting: London
Time period: 2007

Lt. Charles Acland, the sole survivor of a life-altering explosion in the Iraq war returns to England with memory loss, extreme migraines, guilt, anger, depression and injuries that have left one side of his face severely disfigured. His self-imposed isolation reveals itself in repulsion and aggression to a mere touch or show of sympathy from others. His hard exterior is broken down by a 250-pound, weightlifting, lesbian doctor, when she stops him from severely beating a man in a bar fight after one of his frequent unprovoked attacks. It is through the interactions with this new found equal that we discover the roots of Acland’s deeper problems in his relationships with women (especially his mother and ex-fiancée) in his life and how these might just connect him to the serial murders of three gay or bisexual men. Walter’s skillful use of official and unofficial documents and conversations opens the story up to multiple interpretations, turning the murders and the relationships involved into a “he said she said” scenario. In the end, readers are left as surprised about who committed the murders as to why.

Subject Headings:
Iraq War, 2003—Veterans—Great Britain—Fiction
Personality disorders—Fiction
London (England)—Fiction

Engrossing, compelling, candid, emotionally-charged, , psychological, sobering, suspenseful, detailed, interior, introspective, frank, engaging.

Similar Titles: (fiction)
Barbara Vine
No Night is too Long
Good choice for deep sexual undertones and the idea of a cooled relationship and loathing of a former lover mixed with a murder mystery.

The Minotaur: a novel
Also by Vine, this book is more similar for its frame of family dysfunction surrounding the main character and focusing more on his disabilities than theirs.

Ruth Wendell
The Monster in the Box
Unsolved murders are focused on the unusual person with defined physical scars, but the psychological reasons for the murders might be more important.

Augusten Burroughs
Running With Scissors: A Memoir
Surviving a dysfunctional childhood and being able to talk about it.

Mic Hunter
Honor Betrayal: Sexual Abuse in America’s Military
Details the culture and environment that might lead to the victimization of others.

Penny Coleman
Flashback: posttraumatic stress disorder, suicide, and the lessons of war
Detailed account of all the different ramifications of solders coming back from war from a widow’s perspective.

John Talley

The Road

May 26, 2010

The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy

Title: The Road

Genre: Adventure  / Disaster Stories

Publication Date: 2006

Number of Pages: 256

Geographical Setting: Post apocalyptic America

Time Period: Near Future

Plot Summary:

In this post-apocalyptic adventure set in the near future, all plants and animals have died, cities and towns have been destroyed, and a wind-driven grey ash covers everything. Among this charred and barren wasteland an unnamed man and his young son must to walk down out of the mountains to the ocean to find food and shelter in order to survive the oncoming winter. They carry with them all possession that will fit into a shopping cart along with one pistol and three bullets; everything else is scavenged from items left behind by the missing or dead. Along they journey they encounter marauding gangs, cannibals, prisoners and lone travelers, all who may or may not be bad guys: those who “eat other people”. All the while they are relentlessly moving forward to an unknown place and future. They reach their destination realizing that it was not quite what they expected or remembered and must choose what to do next.

Subject Headings:

Fathers and sons—Fiction

Voyages and travels—United States—Fiction

Regression (Civilization)—Fiction

Survival skills–Fiction





Fiction Read Alikes:

Richard Matheson

I Am Legend

This book has the stark and journalistic language along with the character being the last survivor on earth and waiting in abandoned building at night.  It has the same tone and similar themes.

Nevil Shute

On the Beach

Similar in the telling of what people do in the end of time when oblivion and death are inevitable. They just keep on living and surviving the way they always have.

S.M Sterling.

Dies the Fire Trilogy, 1

This story contains elements of the regression of civilization, survival after a disaster and what happens when the use of modern devises are of no use to the characters.

Non-Fiction Read Alikes:

Piers Paul Reed

Alive: the story of the Andes survivors

Not only a true story of survival and cannibalism but more a tale of how the survivors and others made judgments about the necessary actions.

Laurence Gonzales

Deep survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

A good comparison of how people choose to survive based on past experiences. Where McCarthy leaves this open, Gonzales tries to explain.

Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild

This is a must in the adventure / survival genre but it also deals with one person leaving his past and society behind to willingly live without secure sources of food and shelter and “be nomadic”.

John Talley