Topical. A week ago, confusion over a deadline had me concerned about leading off with, and supremely lauding, a new book that (perhaps) no one would have heard of. My editor told me to relax: Fine Print wasn't due until seven days later. Coincidentally, the Booker Prize was announced in the interim, erasing my worries, for suddenly Life of Pi and Yann Martel are timely and notable as well. Now my choice looks like a natural.
A surprise winner of the UK's equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, Life of Pi has won over everyone who has entered the world of 16-year-old Patel Pi, cast adrift in a lifeboat with a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. As wild as this story line is in every sense, what's truly amazing is how Pi's blend of Hindu, Christianity and Islam provides a context for wonder and real-world religion.
A survival story as well, Pi's on-the-spot thinking allows him to co-exist with the hungry tiger -- the only furry character that makes it to the conclusion (no big surprise there) -- for over 200 days at sea. Charming in all sorts of unexpected ways, readers will find this smart, literary tour-de-force to be a modern-day version of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights where the sheer brilliance of Martel's storytelling guarantees Pi's life and marks the author as one to be read again and again.
Logical. If it's Halloween, it's time for a new Anne Rice. Delivering her trademark dark world filled with spooks of all sorts, Rice fuses together for the first time her best-selling saga of the Vampire Lestat with the best-selling saga of the Mayfair witches. Darn original indeed. What keeps Rice's stories from degenerating into Dark Shadows II are her well-drawn characters, her developed settings and her integrity when measured against the likes of Barnabas Collins and his campy cohorts. If you've liked Rice's previous books, then Blackwood Farm will produce the same chills and thrills. If this sort of stuff leaves you colder than a corpse, you might want to move on to Kenji Jasper's Dakota Grand.
Musical. Write for your market is one of the Ten Commandments for journalists. So if you're a CityBeat reader primarily for the scoop on music and entertainment, Kenji Jasper's Dakota Grand might be just the book for you.
It's a behind-the-scene story of a young music reporter who moves to NYC and does reviews, profiles and articles on the music biz as he builds up his portfolio and his career. Flitting from industry parties to deadlines to girlfriends, he still believes in the music and its power to move the listener. When he scores a cover story interview with one of the country's hottest rappers, his dream of rhythmic liberation busts when physical retribution is rained down upon his head for what the interviewee felt was an unfair profile. Not high literature, but it's a true slice of the scene. Behind the barricades erected by publicists and promoters, Dakota Grand reveals the gritty side of the biz and is buoyed by an ending wherein our hero refuses to take the easy way out and keeps music as both inspiration and independence.
Magical. As for lighter fare, if over the past couple years you have, at any time, been hypnotized by the "Worst Case Scenario" spawn -- which blossomed virtually overnight from a surprise-hit title to a whole series of books, calendars, merchandise and even a TV show, maybe what you need is a little Emergency Magic: 150 Spells for Surviving the Worst-Case Scenario by Judika Illes. With this economy, with this White House, with this football team, with this City Hall ... the list of potential disasters lurking around every corner goes on and on. Ward them off with the crisis management system of the Middle Ages -- spells, incantations, potions and more designed to help you out of virtually any tight fix. Attract a new mate, get a new job, get rid of ghosts, find some money -- all this and more awaits as you Abracadabra your way to happiness. You might even be able to change those rocks in your Halloween bag into Snickers bars if you're really good. ©