Ellen Heltzel: What to Read Now

      Book Critic Ellen Heltzel joined us today to tell us about five books that are hot on the bookshelves right now.

      You'll find more from Ellen on her website, The Book Babes.

      FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, by E.L. James -- This is actually a trio of erotic romance novels that have been selling like the proverbial hotcakes. But how can a book critic advocate for ANY novel that has a dangling modifier on the opening page? Honestly, I don't understand the thrill of these books, erotic as they may seem, because the plot -- at least in the first novel, which is the only one I could stomach -- is so cliched: Rich, powerful sadomasochist finds viirginal college coed to serve as his partner. Give me "The Story of O" any day!

      VOYAGERS OF THE TITANIC: Passengers, Sailors, Shipbuilders, Aristocrats, and the Worlds They Came From, by Richard Davenport-Hines -- Titanic stories including a new version of James Cameron's movie are all the rage on this, the 100th anniversary of the terrible disaster at sea. But Davenport-Hines' book stands out from the rest by showing how flawed the concept of Cameron's movie's front story was. The author shows how much class made a difference 100 years ago and how far we've come as an egalitarian society by contrasting the stories of the rich and famous and the poor and unknown who survived or went down with the ship.

      THE SONG OF ACHILLES, by Madeline Miller -- This novel is all the rage in critical circles. A retelling of Homer's Iliad from the point of view of Achilles' comrade, Patroclus, it revolves around a homosexual relationship between the two that is not in the original telling but which Miller uses to explain the profound grief Achilles feels when his soulmate is killed in the war against Troy.

      WILD: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed -- This Portland author hits a home run with her memoir about running away from her pain by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. After her mother died and her marriage fell apart, Strayed got the impulse to hike from southern California to the Columbia River, alone. The fact that she survived is commendable. The fact that she can tell the story of that trek, and all the suffering that preceded it, is remarkable.

      PARIS IN LOVE, by Eloisa James -- Another memoir, this is a confection of a story built on the blogging James did while she and her family spent a year in Paris, a sabbatical that strengthened their family ties while giving them all a luxurious escape from the normal routine. Not that their life was necessarily luxurious, but that PARIS is by definition a magical world.