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Thursday, January 23,2014

Notes from Neil

by Neil Rajala

Thursday, Jan. 23  — Every week, Neil Rajala, Director of Community & Business Services for Schuler Books, rounds up a selection of exciting new releases and old favorites to round out your reading schedule. Here's what he's reading:

NIGHT WATCH
Sergei Lukyanenko

Mr. Lukyanenko's series of books were huge bestsellers in Russia, and the first volume was a hit movie, as well. The books are being re-released in America in advance of the fifth book's arrival in April. The feel of the three related stories in Night Watch is gritty, urban Moscow police drama. What sends them in an entirely different direction are the magicians, vampires, shape-shifters and other supernatural creatures, divvied up between Light and Dark forces.

There's been a treaty in place between the two sides for hundreds of years - regulations, rules of conduct, a court to punish infractions, the whole nine yards. Where the fun begins is when one side or the other (or both) starts pushing at the limits. Anton Gorodetsky is the Light forces "cop" at the center of each story, a pistol with silver bullets on his hip, trying desperately to figure out what's really going on as intrigues, hidden agendas and magic swirl around him. His bravery and wits are tested constantly. As with any good fantasy or science fiction, what makes this such a can't-put-it-down kind of read is Anton's humanity. He's a recognizable and sympathetic person in the middle of escalating madness. kobo eBook



STUFFED: THE ULTIMATE COMFORT FOOD COOKBOOK
Dan Whalen

So what to do with this new cookbook? The idea is simple - take one favorite comfort food and stuff it inside another one somehow. The photos are astounding; somebody actually prepared these dishes, at least once. Macaroni and cheese apparently makes an ideal stuffing for burgers, ravioli and chili rellenos, and can be rolled into balls, breaded and stuffed with lobster salad. Who knew?

Dan Whalen, the mad scientist behind Stuffed, is a sharp, witty writer, as fans of his blog The Food in My Beard already know, so there's laugh-out-loud recipes, great photography and above average food writing; more than enough to make me add a copy to my collection. But will I ever make any of these recipes? Granted, some are less extreme, but the real fun is turning a page and seeing the likes of a cherry pie stuffed inside a chocolate cake. Impossible! Out of the question! But then again...  kobo eBook



THE SECRET OF MAGIC
Deborah Johnson

An African-American war hero, on a bus returning to Mississippi after the war, is pulled out of the bus and killed along the way. Word of the case reaches the New York legal office of the NAACP, headed by Thurgood Marshall. The office's newest hire, a young female attorney, is sent to investigate.

The novel's title is also the name of a book Regina, the attorney, read and cherished as a child, and the book's reclusive author happens to live in the small Mississippi town where she finds herself. Regina is outraged by the casual acceptance of another black man's murder, but also confused by the complicated relationships between the black and white inhabitants of the area who have lived, loved and grown together (and separately) for generations. As she tries to understand the delicate balance, which even her presence upsets, Regina begins to realize that the book she loved as a child holds the key to not just the murder, but to the way the town has been able to survive. A suspenseful and thoughtful book, and well worth your time.



WHAT MAKES A BOOK A FAVORITE?


It surprises even me that when someone asks if I have a favorite novel I can so easily say yes. You wouldn't think so, considering the variety of books I read and the number of years I've been at this, but my answer hasn't changed since the first time I read John Irving's masterpiece, and has only become more certain in the two times I've read it since (and I'm not one to re-read books).

The first time through, I was so amazed and impressed by the character of Owen Meany himself, who I consider one of the great literary inventions of the 20th century, that I happily rode the book's dialogue and momentum to the last page, which made me cry. The second time I read it, I knew what was coming, and became much more aware of the ingenious way Irving weaves the multi-layered pieces together like a years-long puzzle. Plot twists that surprised me on first reading, seemed brilliantly inevitable on the second. And the last page made me cry again. The third time, my attention was fully absorbed by the profound questions regarding religious belief and faith that are deep at the heart of the story. The characters stepped to the side, so to speak, and the author's personal questions and attempted answers became the focus. And yes, the last page got me again.

It's certainly likely that other books would reveal things I missed with another reading. It's also likely that another reader wouldn't share my deep admiration for A Prayer for Owen Meany (although I've met a few that do). In the end, the idea of a "favorite book" is a subjective one, and completely personal. The things that drew me back into the book three times (and may yet draw me back for a fourth) are thoughts and ideas that resonate with my own beliefs and personal philosophies on a deep level.

I'm not advocating that you read and make my favorite book yours - I'm just hoping you have one of your own, and have felt the exhilarating power of words to such a full extent. kobo eBook

Until next week,

Neil


NeilNeil Rajala is Currently Director of Community & Business Services for Schuler Books, Neil's decade with the company has included the wearing of many different hats - and lots and lots of reading.

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