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Review: The Book Babes guide, by Margo Hammond and Ellen Heltzel, has appeal beyond the chick-lit set

Even when their bedside tables are piled high, true book lovers are always asking themselves, "What can I read next?"

You can answer that question for a good long time with Between the Covers: The Book Babes' Guide to a Woman's Reading Pleasures.

The Book Babes are Margo Hammond, former book editor of the St. Petersburg Times, and Ellen Heltzel, a former book editor in Portland, Ore., and freelance critic.

The pair met in the 1990s and began an exchange of views based on their passion for reading that led them to "blogging before most people (including us!) had heard the term," they write in their introduction.

The collaboration has yielded columns for many publications, a Web site (www.thebookbabes.com), a monthly radio show on WMNF-FM 88.5 and now Between the Covers.

Don't be misled by the subtitle. Although the book is aimed at female readers, it's not a list of chick lit or books by only female authors (and many of its books will appeal to a broad range of readers of either gender).

Between the Covers is a smart, reader-friendly compilation of 55 lists of 10 books each, all related to a single theme but approaching it in a different way. Most are recent; about a third are fiction, a third general nonfiction and a third memoirs.

The list titles are intriguing: "10 on the Lust for Beauty," "10 That Celebrate Your Brilliant Career," "10 That Visit Sorrow's Kitchen."

Between the lists of recommendations are brief essays on various topics, including books they don't like: "Dozens of books have been written about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. None of them are very good."

As Hammond and Heltzel write in their introduction, Between the Covers isn't meant to be a list of greatest books but an invitation to readers to listen in on "books talking to each other."

Here's a sample, the first three entries from "10 Books About Books":

1. The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel. Manguel probes the magic and mystery of libraries, using black-and-white photos to enhance the spell, in this stroll through both his own and famous book repositories through history. Inspired by Diderot and Dewey, libraries catalog the ever-expanding reach of human thought and discovery, while the books within have a life of their own. "Left to their own devices, they assemble in unexpected formations," Manguel writes. "A library is not only a place of both order and chaos; it is also the realm of chance."

2. Writing in an Age of Silence by Sara Paretsky. Famed crime writer Paretsky merges political manifesto and memoir here, offering an impassioned plea for equal opportunity — in the world, and in book publishing. With roots in rural Kansas and a girlhood built on Little Women and traditional women's roles, Paretsky jumped ship to feminist activism in her college years and later invented her girl detective partly to address issues of class and wealth. V.I. Warshawski "does not try to save the world," she explains. "But, in her own small milieu, she tries, as Lincoln did, to 'bind up. . . wounds.' "

3. The Well of Lost Plots: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde. In this outing of the imaginative series where real people and book characters collide within the pages of books, Special Ops Thursday Next takes up residence in a lousy unpublished crime thriller named Caversham Heights. (The novel has "a pace so slow that snails pass it in the night.") Next, part of a group charged with saving world lit, is pregnant and needs a break. But living in a novel, she discovers, has dangers (including murder) as well as more minor drawbacks. "There was no TV. . . unless called for in the narrative."

Between

the Covers

By Margo Hammond and Ellen Heltzel

Da Capo, 266 pages, $16.95

Margo Hammond and Ellen Heltzel will be featured authors at the Times Festival of Reading on Saturday.

More to read

In the spirit of Between the Covers, here are two lists of books with shared subjects by authors who will also be featured at the Times Festival of Reading.

3 books about Baseball

Forced Out by Stephen Frey. A bestselling thriller writer builds his latest novel around a retired New York Yankees scout who discovers an amazing young player — and runs afoul of a Mob hit man.

Remembering Yankee Stadium by Harvey Frommer. The prolific sports author gathers an oral history of the "House That Ruth Built" as it shuts its gates permanently.

In the Country of Brooklyn by Peter Golenbock. This one isn't all about baseball — it examines everything from music to politics in the borough — but the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson play major roles in this oral history.

3 Books About Florida

The First Hollywood: Florida and the Golden Age of Silent Filmmaking by Shawn Bean. A journalist documents the boom days a century ago when 15 major companies were making movies in Jacksonville.

Murder at the Bad Girl's Bar & Grill by N. M. Kelby. This rollicking mystery takes place in a fantastic Florida somewhere down the road from Margaritaville.

Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams by Gary Mormino. A fascinating history of Florida's explosive growth and change in the second half of the 20th century, written by the co-director of USF's Florida Studies program.

Review: The Book Babes guide, by Margo Hammond and Ellen Heltzel, has appeal beyond the chick-lit set 10/18/08 [Last modified: Saturday, October 18, 2008 4:30am]

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