The Return of "In the Mail"

One of the many things that seemed to get lost in my dark night of blogging the last few months of distractions and less content was the In the Mail feature.. This involved my posting links and comments about books that I have received, wait for it, In. The. Mail. I am not sure how useful readers find this, but it serves a very useful purpose to me. A couple actually: it makes people aware of what books are out there; it rewards publishers for sending me books; and it makes me feel less guilty about not being able to read all of the interesting books that come my way. So forthwith below please find some books that have found their way to my door.

Four Walls by Vangelis Hatziyannidis

fourwalls.jpgPublishers Weekly:

Themes of isolation and imprisonment dominate Hatziyannidis’s enjoyable and peculiar debut novel. Set in a remote village on one of the Greek islands, the novel centers on Rodakis, a 25-year-old “essentially unemployed” and “irascible” loner who takes in Vaya, a woman on the run who carries a suspicious amount of luggage with her, at the urging of the village priest. Vaya and Rodakis slowly learn to trust one another, and Rodakis learns that Vaya has been hiding her infant daughter, Rosa, in one of her trunks. The three form an odd family, although, refreshingly, Rodakis and Vaya do not immediately develop a romantic relationship. While the early chapters are weakened by the stilted translation and a series of confusing flashbacks and flash forwards, Hatziyannidis’s narrative hits its stride once Vaya encourages Rodakis to take up his dead father’s bee-keeping business. Their recipe for honey draws unwanted attention from across the island and abroad, shattering their cloistered lives; everyone, it seems, wants the recipe, though none as badly as a group of monks who kidnap Rodakis and imprison him in a cave for years. It’s a credit to Hatziyannidis that he pulls off a plausibly happy ending.

The Guardian:

With the death of his beekeeper father and welcome estrangement from his controlling sister, Rodakis enjoys a contented, if reclusive, life in his old family home on a Greek island – until he is asked by the local priest to take in a mysterious, distressed young woman. After a tentative beginning, he adopts the child she has smuggled with her, and she persuades him to resurrect his father’s honey-making business. Years of dedication lead the pair to concoct a secret formula, and the prized honey soon attracts not only the greed of the islanders, but also two benignly sinister individuals, who happen to hold the balance of power in the region – a rich landowner and an unscrupulous abbot. Yet Rodakis, despite extreme pressure, refuses to yield the contents of his treasured recipe to his inquisitors. Vangelis Hatziyannidis’ first novel delightfully blends the serious (if overemphasised) themes of imprisonment and solitude with humour, humility, horribly violent deaths, coincidences and miracles – all of which add up to a witty fable, satisfyingly replete with the essential ingredients of magic realism.

New Orleans: Playing a Jazz Chorus by Samuel Charters

Book Description:

This book is a deeply personal portrait of the people and music of today’s New Orleans-a city that has been hard hit by Katrina, but is managing to keep its great jazz tradition, brass band scene, incomparable food, and unique lifestyle vital and intact.

Among the musicians appearing in this book are: the Rebirth Brass Band, Hot 8, the Soul Rebels, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Johnny Vidacovich, Barry Martyn, Lars Edegran, Chuck Badie, Pete Fountain, Michael White, the Hot Club of New Orleans, Coco Robicheaux, record company owner George Buck, and gospel musician Billy Edwards.

The book also presents portraits of everyday New Orleans people confronting a challenging situation.

Fire in the Grove: The Cocoanut Grove Tragedy And Its Aftermath by John C. Esposito

School Library Journal

In Boston, 1942, the Cocoanut Grove was an elite nightclub decorated in a fantasy of tropical glamour. It was also a firetrap, a block-long labyrinth of bars and entertainment areas cobbled together with substandard materials in disregard of building codes or common sense. On the night of the fire, it was, as always, dimly lighted and overcrowded. The management had blocked all exits except the revolving front door to squeeze more people in and to prevent anyone from leaving without paying a bill. The small fire that broke out in the basement exploded throughout the building within minutes, killing nearly 500 revelers. In a narrative reminiscent of the finest Titanic accounts, the author leads readers through the horrific events as they were experienced by individuals and, using court transcripts and recent scientific research, explains how the disaster developed. He portrays the culture of political corruption and gangland economy that allowed such a public gathering place to exist and provides a riveting chronicle of the attempts to prosecute those responsible. Esposito also reveals how doctors learned from the disaster to improve procedures for burn treatment. Finally, he reminds readers (through brief discussion of more recent club fires) that it can happen again and offers advice. Black-and-white photos augment the narrative. Few who read this book will enter a public arena in the future without looking for the exits.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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