Who's asking: Dan Freedman, Cheshire, UK
First, before any rumors start when people click through to that link: I have no current plans to join any radical Afro-jazz musical groups. (I could probably make my hair form dreadlocks if I tried, though.)
I am sorry to have to tell you, Dan, that the American pronunciation of this word ("urb") is the correct one. English borrowed this word from the French, who did not pronounce the "h," in a manner similar to the words honor, hour, and heir. The English restored the voiced "h" at some point, when they added the voiced "h" back to other French-derived words, such as humble and human. (Donald Trump didn't get the memo about this, but Americans pronounce those h's, too.)
So we actually pronounce "herb" in a more traditional and accurate way, except when we use it as a prefix in the words herbaceous, herbicide, and herbivore. Our mother tongue is a capricious mistress, not to say a vicious bitch.
What I Read These Weeks (special double edition):
Peter Spiegelman, Red Cat. Peter Spiegelman's private investigator, John March, is the black-sheep son of a prominent New York investment banking family. In this third outing, March's own brother, David, comes to him in desperation for help in identifying a blackmailer. The only identifying information David can give his brother about the woman he had an affair with is that she had a red cat tattoo. When a corpse with that tattoo is pulled out of the East River, John has to figure out just how much trouble his brother is in. Spiegelman is among the best writers in crime fiction today; I'd go so far as to say he's this generation's heir to Ross Macdonald, offering sharp and compassionate observations about the way families keep their secrets. This book comes out next February.
Megan Abbott, The Song is You. Abbott's second novel is based on the 1949 disappearance of actress Jean Spangler, whose purse was found in Griffith Park days after she was last seen. As in her first book, Die a Little, Abbott gives us an almost hallucinatory picture of 1950s Los Angeles, following her main character, a burnt-out Hollywood press agent, as he digs for the truth about what happened to Jean. And as in any classic noir novel, no one gets out of this one unscathed. Well done.
Anne Tyler, The Amateur Marriage. Michael and Pauline fall in love with each other the week after Pearl Harbor, and the fever of wartime sweeps them into marriage before they can realize that they are wholly unsuited to each other. Tyler follows them through the next six decades, through birth and death and loss and divorce, illuminating the nature of marriage, and of love that persists even when you can't stand each other. Anne Tyler has always been one of my favorite novelists, but this book stands above almost everything she's written.
Chris Grabenstein, Mad Mouse. Grabenstein's first novel, Tilt-a-Whirl, won the Anthony for Best First Novel, and while I was rooting for my own client (Theresa Schwegel) to win, and also really, really loved Megan Abbott's first book, I was delighted to see Tilt-a-Whirl get some formal recognition. Grabenstein's heroes, the young cop-in-training Danny Boyle and his partner, the formidable John Ceepak, return in this sequel, which is just as good as the first book. As the town of Sea Haven, NJ prepares for a blowout Labor Day weekend, someone starts taking shots with a paintball rifle at Danny and his friends -- but then the shots are real.