Hotel Crystal

Hotels are incubators of restlessness and dreams. They prick the occupant's mind with their unfamiliar environments -- which, by extension, loosen the collar of identity. Olivier Rolin's Hotel Crystal makes playful use of this notion by exploring one man's attempt to recall all of the hotel rooms in which he has ever resided. The novel's chapters typically begin with a detailed description of a room, followed by a far-out, frequently droll anecdote about events that transpired therein. The Zelig-like protagonist, who shares the same name as the novel's author, is a writer who moonlights as a spy, arms dealer, smuggler, tutor to fallen monarchs, and consultant to the likes of economic wizards such as Alan Greenspan. Alas, perhaps due to his more dangerous exploits, or weariness with life, "Olivier Rolin" is unable to bring his project to a conclusion. After he goes missing, an acquaintance chances upon his recollections, which have been jotted down on disparate pieces of stationery. She turns these over to a group of editors, who collate the work and embellish it with amusingly pointy-headed footnotes. This smart, madcap book is ideal for the inveterate traveler as well as for anyone who enjoys academic farces (especially when punctuated with things such as a hijacking of the Mars landing probe, the manipulation of a Vatican insider, and an attempt to purchase a literary prize -- aborted because the funds required for that purchase are stolen by "Rolin" to pay off terrorist kidnappers).

July 28: Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin eloped on this day in 1814.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).