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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Hollywood by Mona Simpson

I checked out this book, thinking it would be a light chick-lit read for the holidays.  It ended up being a little more entertaining and poignant than I thought it would be.  I listened to the library audio version of this book and now I highly recommend it.  It's possibly not for most men, or those who only want to read seriously gritty stuff, but I think a lot of women of all ages would like this book, especially the audio version.  The voices you hear are Lola's lilting Filipino accent, and the slightly "dude" California drawl of the white couples.  Lola, an upstanding older Filipina, is the main voice, and she is the thread that connects all the other characters, including the couples who hire nannies to raise their children.  When you read this book, you step unmistakably into California, with its preoccupied blondes and it's ambitious young men who work behind the scenes of television shows.  Thankfully, we can somewhat identify with one of the white women, Claire, who still has some redeeming qualities, despite the almost complete absence of her driven husband.  The heart of this book though, lies in the way we get to see the world through the eyes of the immigrant nannies, especially Lola, who is a rock of stability for the children she cares for, and the few employers who are smart enough to see her true worth, in the end.  Even if you've read "The Nanny Diaries" or "The Help" you will find something a little different here, maybe a new way to understand part of the price paid by the immigrant nannies who raise many children in this country.  Also interesting is the separate society the nannies have, as they create a family together while far away from home.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Confession by John Grisham

I think John Grisham is sort of the Jane Austen of the mystery and suspense genres, and I mean that in the best possible way, because I'm a Jane freak.  I don't think I've ever read a Grisham book that I haven't liked, but this one was really good.  A page turner, maybe even cant-put-downable.  There are some good little video links on this page.  Back to Jane Austen; in her wonderful, timeless novels, everyone gets their due, good or bad.  Grisham is a bit more realistic than that, but that's ok, because it's a totally different genre.  Jane IS her own genre.  But what I always look forward to in a Grisham book, is this same, satisfying conclusion, where justice really does win for the most part.  I love seeing the good be validated, and I LOVE seeing the bad guys get their butts kicked.  The comeuppance, the justice in everyday life that we have all wanted ever since we were little kids.  So, the story is that there's a serial killer running around, a young woman disappears, and the wrong man has gone to prison.  And the police put him there, because, desperate for a conviction, they took the easy route and set up the wrong man, who is now the supreme victim in all this.  Enter various other characters, such as the missing girl's mother, who puts all her energy and life into this wrongful conviction.  A young Baptist pastor who inexplicably finds himself right smack in the middle of all this.  The small Texas town itself becomes a character, and it comes alive on the pages, right down to the high school football scene that is so famous in Texas.  The clock is ticking for the innocent man on death row, and the real killer is running around loose, free to kill again.  Just a good read, a nice break from all the heavy literature.  And I, for one, am getting this for my husband for a Christmas present!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Swimming by Nicola Keegan

I know this book has been around for a year or two, but I'm just now getting around to reading it.  I'm glad I did, because it took me to a new world, into the rarefied air of an Olympic gold medalist.  I like a book that takes me someplace new.  Here is a quote from Publisher's Weekly:

Keegan takes on death, religion, relationships and coming-of-age in her gorgeously stylized and irreverent debut about a rising Olympic swimming star. Not even a year after Philomena "Pip" Ash is born in 1960s Middle America, her parents put their rambunctious infant in a pool and watch the remarkable sight of a nine-month-old gliding through the water. With some help from Olympic Supercoach Ernest K. Mankovitz, Pip becomes a mercenary swimming machine who wins an unprecedented collection of gold medals in three Olympic games. Though Pip's connection with water is preternaturally intense, she can't relate to people, a dilemma heightened by early encounters with death and her innate awareness of loathsome pain and insecurities. After going through a premature career climax and the subsequent plummet, Pip is forced to deal with emotions she's spent her life ignoring; her sarcastic (and f-bomb laden) musings provide many amusing turns, while Keegan's linguistic playfulness moves the story at a fast clip, even if it sometimes muddles what's going on—particularly toward the end. This is worth reading for the prose alone.
Some of the language seemed a bit clipped and narcissistic at times, until the story moved along and I realized that Pip did try to do what she could.  She had issues of her own to deal with and after all, the young ARE narcissistic.  I imagine that is really the case with extreme athletes also, and compared to most, maybe Pip is just trying to do her best in life, as we all are.  Something different and entertaining, for me anyway.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

There was a buzz around this book when it came out last winter, and now that I've listened to it, I can see why.  The audio voice of the main character "Little Bee" is absolutely haunting, and she narrates this tale of what powerful and distant greed does to the most innocent people.  On it says the publisher didn't want to ruin the story by revealing too much of the plot.  What I can say is that reading this book is a chance to step into a completely foreign existence, to see our world from the outside in.   For me, it reinforced the fact that everything we do (such as filling our gas tanks) has consequences for someone, like a "butterfly effect" of our own free will and making.  In this book, you'll go to Nigeria, and England, and meet a little boy who thinks he's Batman.  You'll see the real price of oil, and greed, and dishonesty, and desperation.  But you'll also see the value of the human spirit when all else is stripped away and no immediately-discernable hope is left.  Just as how you get to know people in real life, the history of the characters becomes more and more clear as the book goes on.  And the characters are all transformed by the circumstances.  A bit unforgettable, this book, and a beautifully produced audio book too.  I listened to several author interviews, but this one from Better World Books podcast (also on itunes) is my favorite and has less spoilers.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Outcasts United by Warren St. John

I read this book because it was chosen for the One Maryland One Book program for 2010.  Outcasts United is supposedly being made into a movie, and I can see why; it's super heartwarming.  It's about a kids soccer team called "The Fugees" that is a lifeline to many refugee kids from other countries.  Fugees is simply short for "Refugees," and is not named after the formerly-popular hip hop group.  The town of Clarkston, Georgia has had a complex influx of refugees from many countries since the 1990's.  Here's a video link on Luma Mufleh, the Jordanian woman who took these kids in hand and got them a soccer program, just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.  This book came out of a popular series of articles in the NY Times, and so it's written in a journalism style--it's not the great American novel, but I didn't care.  I listened to the book and found it easy to follow, despite the fact that it often digresses to highlight the backstory of a particular child and their family.  All the children are from war-torn countries and situations, and many have endured great hardship.  The book starts out at the very beginning of this now-successful soccer program, and takes you through their early struggles, including just trying to get the right to play on a safe plot of unused grass built for games such as soccer.   Here's a link to the Fugees organization with a touching short video showing the beautiful faces of the boys on the team.  Here's another link to a couple of good youtube videos by the author.  I don't even know how to play soccer, and I still liked this book!

Thursday, September 9, 2010


This book is really an adventure.  Set in 1900, it moves back and forth between Minnesota farmland, and the gold rush at Nome, Alaska.  Claims are jumped, fortunes are made, and dreams are shattered, all against the wild backdrop of the eastern Alaskan shorelines.  I really feel this is a great read for both men and women.  The main character is Essie, a capable young farm woman who flees her abusive husband and runs about as far away as she can get.  But she ends up in a man's world; a place teeming with machinery and men of all stripes.  As all the newcomers establish a foothold in this landscape that is so foreign to them, Essie's story unfolds, as does that of her husband, Leonard, and her new love interest, Nate.  This is not as heavy and political as, say, The Poisonwood Bible, but is every bit as adventurous and well researched.  The author's grandfather was a gold prospector in Nome, Alaska, from 1900-1902.  The amount of detail in the times and places was woven seamlessly in, and just made everything even more colorful.  The link for the book is here and it's got some great photos and author comments.  Just a really entertaining read, and with some beautiful, cut-glass phrasing to boot.  Highly recommended.   p.s.  A complementary movie to watch would be "Sweet Land" an absolutely wonderful movie set in MN.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

City of Thieves by David Benioff

At only 258 pages, this is a great, quick read for both men and women alike.  Set during the siege of Leningrad in 1942, this story revolves mainly around two young men, boys really.  Lev is Jewish and so his existence is precarious at best.  Kolya is blond, blue-eyed, with handsome Cossack features.  Where Lev is introverted and shy, Kolya oozes confidence, and charms everyone around him. 

Lev's father (a famous poet) has been "taken" by the secret police, and his mother and sister have fled the city.  Like most teenage boys, Lev proudly stays behind to defend his home, and is the commander of his apartment building's volunteer fire brigade.   One night on the roof, Lev and his friends see a downed paratrooper and rush to ransack the body.  You see, they are all starving.  Cannibalism is rampant (a true historical fact) and they are tearing apart books to boil down the bindings to eat the animal proteins in the glue.  This confection is called "Library Candy" and it's hard to come by and very expensive.  There are no dogs and cats left in the city.  Lev is caught looting the paratrooper's body, and sent to a formidable and infamous prison known as The Crosses.  There he meets Kolya, and the next morning, they are dragged before a high-ranking military officer who tells them they can go free on one condition.  They must somehow procure one dozen eggs, to be used in a wedding cake for the Colonel's beautiful daughter.  How they go about getting one dozen fragile eggs in the middle of a war, in the dead of a brutal Russian winter is the event-filled story.  This author was a student of Ann Patchett (Bel Canto) and he also wrote the screenplay for the movie The Kite Runner.  To write this book, David Benioff relied heavily on the personal diaries and journals of those who survived the actual siege, and historical books written about same.   The Nine Hundred Days by Harrison Salisbury was his bible as he wrote.  With the somber subject matter, I thought this would be a hard book to get through, but it wasn't.  It's not a long book and there are little moments of levity in among the harrowing circumstances.  A really interesting read.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

OK, this is the book of the summer for me.  It might even turn out to be the book of the year for me.  The author has ancestral ties to the old Mormon church in Utah, and maybe that's how he's been able to make it seem as if you're really stepping into that world behind the walls of a large polygamist family compound.  In an earlier post I reviewed the book The Nineteenth Wife  by  David Ebershoff.  Whereas the modern-day portion of that book was set mostly outside the grounds of the Mormon church and its family compounds, this one is right smack dab in the middle of it.  We have our main character Golden Richards; an innocent, bumbling hulk of a man who is overwhelmed by his four wives and his 28 children, and all the bills they come with.  Every character is finely etched, right down to Cooter the bug-eyed dog, and four-year-old Ferris who revels in running around with no pants on with all the joy of an escaped convict.  There's one wife, Trish, who is a bit more in focus than the others, and we see a lot of the Richards family through her eyes.  And then there's Rusty, the young boy who gives us an entirely different view of this cloistered world.   In The Nineteenth Wife, we saw more of the darker side of plural marriage, the Lost Boys, etc.  In this book, we see a lighter side, in that the many members of the Richards family are all good people at heart.  But, when you have that many children and wives, how can everyone feel validated?  That is the question.  And what are the consequences?  To find that out, you'll have to dive into this story.  And to entice you a bit further, there are a lot of funny and poignant moments in this book.  I couldn't put it down.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is the 2nd book by this author that I have read.  I have to say that, for me, this one blows her other book (Purple Hibiscus) out of the water.   And her other book was good.  So, if this book doesn't earn Adichie a coveted place in the hearts of the Nigerian People, I don't know what could.  It's just GOT to be a beloved classic for them, although only just published in 2007.  Whereas Purple Hibiscus felt very contained (which was entirely appropriate for the subject matter), this book makes you feel as though everyone in it is in danger of floating free of their physical moorings.  Set in the 1960s at the cusp of a bloody civil war that will hopefully birth the strong new nation of Biafra, this book is expansive and brilliant and Shakespearean, and based on history.  The main gist is that the Igbo people secede publicly amid rampant government corruption.  As always, the manipulative forces of Colonialism and foreign interests in the oil-rich nation are working behind the scenes.  These forces that could have been used for good, end up, as they most often do, costing a lot of innocent lives in the interest of greed.  With all of these government entities and armies, you would think that this book would be a bit cold, a bit dry.  But to the contrary, it's very, very intimate.  Many of the village people are good, desperately poor and naive, and want to believe that their government will come through for them finally.  They rally to the cause armed with only their ideals and the hope of a better life.  Our main characters, many of whom are Igbo,  are so fully developed that they seem real.  We have two Igbo sisters, Olanna and Kainene, and their men, and the houseboy, Ugwu.  Time and place are vividly brought to life, including a few Ex Pats and lots of locals, but the two characters who really become fully alive are beautiful Olanna and the innocent houseboy Ugwu.  They grow and develop along with the story, which will land you in the villages, in the towns, in the ragtag Biafran army where they have carved rifles out of wood, in the kitchens where Jolof rice is prepared, in the side yard where the butterflies flit, and in the back hall where Olanna's future mother in-law is literally using tribal witchcraft against her.  Whereas the first book was just dark for me, this book also has a lot of hope and light in it.  A lot of ideals and resourcefulness and things to admire.  This was a great history lesson for me too.  I had heard of the country of Biafra before, but if you had asked me to tell you where it was, I would not have known, and would have replied, "Somewhere in Africa."  Now I could never forget!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

A really fun page turner.  Don't let the fact that this book is classified as for Grades 7 and Up and Young Adult turn you off.  Big in the UK, this trilogy also has many fans in the U.S., such as Stephen King (who called it addictive) and Stephenie Meyer (who said she was obsessed with it).  If modern pop culture is any indication, it seems we are slightly obsessed with post-apocalyptic society; with books and movies such as The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Book of EliAn older novel on the subject is The World Ends in Hickory Hollow   by  Ardath Mayhar.  So, back to The Hunger Games by  Suzanne CollinsLionsgate has bought the movie rights and the third book in the trilogy will be released on August 24, 2010.  I've only read the first book, but will probably read the other two.  I'm really glad I did not read any reviews before reading this book, because then as I read, the details were more surprising than I anticipated.  Spoiler Alert:  I WOULD STOP READING HERE IF YOU ARE GOING TO READ THIS BOOK.  In a nutshell, The Capitol is an evil monopoly who takes children from the outer districts and throws them into a HUGE high-tech arena and makes them fight for their lives.  The last one standing is the victor.  To make it doubly vicious, there are two kids from each district, so it's quite possible that some will have to kill their own friend or neighbor.  Whereas the outer districts are fraught with hunger and starvation, the Capitol will remind you of the wealthy Roman Empire who watched the gladiators with blood lust for sport.  I won't tell you any more, because even the smaller details are surprising and entertaining in the book.  Here's the official web site.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

This is kind of a hot new book right now, and I was intrigued by the reviews on  I listened to a free library download, so don't have a good photo.  I do see on amazon, however, that there are illustrations inside this book that really add to the character of the hard cover.  Beginning in 1799, on a tiny island in Nagasaki Harbor, we meet our main character Jacob (pronounced yak-ob).  He seems to be a mid-level clerk in the Dutch navy.  Young, red-haired and freckled with green eyes, he's quite the oddity among both the Japanese citizens and the salty older sailors all around him.  If you enjoyed the book Shogun  by James Clavell back in the 1970's, you will probably like this one too.  To me, it's a shorter, lighter version of that theme, complete with the evil Lord, the lovely young Japanese midwife, and a cast of other characters.  It's really a fun armchair adventure, with colorful observations of the time, and a poignant ending.

The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier

This is a fun read that will appeal to many women.  As the title suggests, our protagonist Joy Harkness is starting a new life, in Amherst, Massachusetts.  Joy is a loner, an accomplished college professor of a certain age who moves to a new town, buys an old wreck of a Victorian house, and begins to slowly open up her life and heart.  There is a Dickinsonian air about Joy, in that she is a  poetess who holds herself aloof from others, but that begins to change in myriad ways.  Enter Teddy, a genius remodeling contractor who begins to transform Joy's old house into a lovely home.  The author, Diane Meier, is a style guru, and the colorful descriptions of the home's new decor sprinkled throughout will make any woman's heart go pitter pat.  Don't we all want someone to come in and fix things for us?  Of course, the more people Joy lets into her life, the more complicated her life becomes, and therein lies the story.  Not an overly deep book, but funny and smart, and not prissy--this really is a good read that kept me turning pages when I should have been asleep.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Reviews for this book on are great.  It's a longer book at about 700 pages.  But, I'm convinced this is a modern-day classic, right up there with The Poisonwood Bible, etc.   Perhaps it is the author's own multi-cultural background that makes this book so real.  At the same time, there are faint hints of spirituality infused by the varying religions and beliefs of the characters.  The author Abraham Verghese is of Indian descent, but was raised in Ethiopia.  He previously wrote a memoir about his time as a doctor in Eastern Tennessee during the early years of the AIDS epidemic when there were very little resources for treatment.  He's a professor of medicine at Stanford, and also has a masters in fine arts and went to the Iowa Writers Workshop.  And all these disparate parts of him come to bear in this epic novel that begins in a mission hospital in Addis Ababa, staffed by Indian doctors, indispensable locals, and formidable nuns.  Born into this environment are twins; Marion and Shiva, who although almost one body and soul, are also very different.  Marion is the main voice and you will strongly identify with him.  Shiva is akin to his namesake, a bit mystical, a dancer, with a mark on his head.  Shiva is seemingly a bit aloof but all compassion when need arises.  As you read this book, you'll be swirled along through decades and political regimes, and lots and lots of medical procedures.  You see, Ghosh and Hema, the two Indian doctors who are the lifeblood of this microcosm, are doctors who rise to every occasion, and teach as they go, because they must.  Resources are so low, that Ghosh must teach another doctor how to do vasectomies, so he can have his own done.  I am not fond of surgery, or blood or sickness, and that speaks to the power of this book to keep me reading.  In this volatile country, Missing Hospital becomes an oasis of family and love, a lifeboat that many cling to.  No one element is overdone, in my opinion.  The third-world airline flights, the clinical rigor of medical school, , it all became so vivid.  I learned a lot of history along the way too.  Who knew that Eritrea had such Italian influence, or that Haile Selassie was such a small man?  I listened to this book through a free library download and the slightly clipped British/Indian accents really made it come alive.   I kept thinking that if I were medically inclined, this would be even better, but it didn't detract from the book for me, as the teachings were often sprinkled with humor.   A great gift for anyone medically inclined, and an amazing tour de force for this author.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

If you wanna see a girl do some hellacious butt kicking, this book is for you!  Not since Kill Bill 2 have I seen such a powerful female character.  Lisbeth Salander is the heart and soul of this exciting trilogy.  I did read these books in order.  For some reason, I struggled just a tiny bit with the first book in the series, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  But perserverance pays off in the end, because that was the set-up for the second book (The Girl Who Played With Fire) and this final one.  Since Stieg Larsson is no longer among us, we are lucky to have The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest to tie things up.  We want closure, right!  And I got it in spades with this one.  A great murder mystery for men and women both!

I'm Down by Mishna Barton

If you ever felt like you were the wrong color or class as a kid, you might enjoy this amusing memoir, now out in paperback.  If you listen to the free library audio, as I did, you'll get to hear this story in the author's own voice, including her hilarious impressions of her own father, who, although he was White, thought he was very, very Black.  Set in a Black neighborhood of Seattle, Mishna and her younger sister Anora are also like black and white, apples and oranges.  While Mishna is a meek, gawky kid worried about everything and everyone,  Anora is by contrast, innately charming and fearless, and lives in the present moment.  Anora continues to assimilate easily to her surroundings (think corn rows), including the revolving cast of characters brought into their home by their Dad's love life.   This is really a story of Mishna though, and how she moves through adolescence.  When Mishna does very well on some aptitude tests, her hippie mother gets her transferred to a wealthy white school where once again, Mishna is traversing alien territory.  She learns tricks along the way, such as claiming she is allergic to raisins when asked why her lunch ticket (subsidized) is a different color than everyone else's.    Mishna's values are in stark contrast to that of the most influential person in her life, her dad.  In the end, she gets by on her brains, her heart, and her competitive spirit.   This book could easily have gone astray to one extreme or another, but somehow we see different sides of each character, just the way we are in real life.  A good summer read!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

This book is every bit as charming as it's cover.  Step into a quaint and bucolic English Village, and settle in with a cup of tea.  Major Pettigrew is an older widower, a very proper Brit, who has just lost his brother Bertie.  Bertie and Major P. inherited a pair of hunting rifles that were originally awarded to their father in Colonial India by a grateful Maharajah (he saved a Princess).  So we have a bit of frustration over Bertie's estate and greedy relatives, including the Major's own son.  Mix in the lovely Pakistani widow who runs the local shoppe, and a voracious developer, and you already have a good story.   British, American and Pakistani cultures collide and some riotous behavior ensues.  With all the heavy reading we do, this is really a light, fun read for summer.  Lest you think it's too light, the plot is surprisingly dense.  Don't forget the crumpets.  Good O.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Even if you've never been to a circus, this book will take you there.  Step Right Up, Ladies and Gentlemen--we've got Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!  Throw in the early years of the Great Depression, trains and tracks, the Big Top, a dwarf clown, the Fat Lady, and our hero, Jacob (both as a very young man and a very old man).  The beautiful equestrienne Marlena, and the Lewd Barbara,  Roustabouts and Hobos, a paranoid schizophrenic Ringmaster, and of course, a big, beautiful,brilliant Elephant who only understands Polish.

If a Circus is all Illusion, this book gives you a ticket to go behind the scenes and see what really went on back then, behind the smoke and mirros, and the flashing sequins.  Cut to a modern-day nursing home, and let Jacob tell you his amazing story, of Love and Compassion and Adventure.  Of taking what life hands you and making it into something beautiful.  So wonderfully written that you can smell the popcorn and cotton candy.  I came away with my heart and eyes more open to the ethics of entertainment, and having an even greater love for animals.

I listened to this book on my Sandisk Sansa MP3 player, through a free library download, and it was quite an experience, complete with different voices and piano music to set the moods.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The 19th Wife: A Novel by David Ebershoff

I read this book when it came out last summer, and really enjoyed it, thought it was one of the best books I read last year. It's unique in that it combines an antique memoir called Wife No. 19 by Ann Eliza Young, who was pressured into marrying the infamous polygamist Brigham Young. The new fiction novel half of this book features the main character of Jordan, a young gay male who was abandoned on the roadside by his own mother, out of her misguided "duty" to the Mormon church. This practice of abandonment is used in real life, as a way to get rid of eligible boys of dating age, so that these boys don't get in the way of the older men, who are pursuing young girls in the church to add to their harems. I don't want to spoil the book for you, but it's like a triple treat; with a fascinating nonfiction memoir, a well-written modern-day novel, and a murder mystery, all rolled up into one good read! There's a little video on the web site here.

Monday, March 8, 2010


This book is the journey of several characters, but mostly two men. One is white, and living in the exclusive gated community of Arroyo Blanco, at the top of Topanga Canyon in California. The other is a modern-day Job; Candido Rincon, a Mexican immigrant who only wants to work and have a few simple comforts such as a roof, and a refrigerator and running water. This book brilliantly uses metaphor and circumstance to illuminate two juxtaposed worlds. You will be forced to feel and think and you won't come away without opinions, although they may be jumbled. Having lived in California for a few years in my youth, it brought that golden place of contrast into sharp focus for me again. Although Drop City is my favorite T. C. Boyle book, this is the one I consider his most important. With Tortilla Curtain, Boyle has placed himself as a modern-day Steinbeck (in my opinion). Ok, my favorite Latin-American movies to go with this book are: My Family starring Jimmy Smits; The Perez Family starring Marisa Tomei; and Under the Same Moon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

I listened to this book through a library download, and it's a good listen. The voices are done in English but with Russian accents that add to the atmosphere of your read. The beginning was extremely bleak and chilling, so I had to steel myself to keep going. However, once you get into it, the book pulls you along with the suspense and mystery of the plot. It's a great "guy" book, but I know other women who have really enjoyed it as well. Hey, women love to read Grisham and other male authors too! After reading this book, I was reminded of an older movie that I saw in this same vein; a movie called Citizen X. This movie is out in DVD and is based on the true story of a hunt for the most notorious serial killer in Soviet history. I highly recommend both the book and the movie.