Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Obernewtyn

Obernewtyn
By Isobelle Carmody
Tor, 2000. 246 pgs. Young adult fiction.

In a post-holocaust world where people who are deemed abnormal are either burned or carted off to work as labor, Elspeth Gordie is forced to keep her unusual mental powers hidden. When she is denounced as a Misfit, one who has such powers, her punishment is banishment to the compound called Obernewtyn, buried deep in the mountains. She finds people both wonderful and terrible there and realizes she must stop the evil designs of those attempting to resurrect destructive forces.

This was an excellent, fast-paced read with complex characters and intriguing twists and turns. The first in a series, I look forward to reading the continuing books.

CW

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Forgotten Fire

Forgotten Fire
By Adam Bagdasarian
Laurel-Leaf Books, 2002. 272 pgs. Young Adult

Forgotten Fire tells the story of one boy's experience during the Armenian genocide. Vahan Kenderian has a nice home and good family. But in 1915, the Turks decide to wipe out the Armenians, and Vahan's family is included. His father is taken away, two of his brothers killed, and the remaining members of his family led on a death march. Vahan and his only remaining brother escape, but they don't know where to go, as Armenians across the country are being exterminated as quickly as the Turks can find them. Vahan ends up on his own, desperately trying to survive.

This book is intense and powerful. It is valuable in providing information about the Armenian genocide, but it's also a wonderful story about the human spirit and Vahan's determination to survive. Based on the story of the author's great-uncle, it bluntly recounts the atrocities Armenians faced, but at the same time is a beautifully written and memorable story. The intensity and the themes (including violence, rape and death) may make it hard for some readers to stomach, but those who make it through will be rewarded.

AE

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Lost Symbol

THE LOST SYMBOL
Dan Brown
Doubleday, c2009. 509 p. Fiction

All hail Da Vinci Code enthusiasts, Robert Langdon’s back. The famous symbologist of Dan Brown’s Parisian adventure now finds himself embroiled in another mega-thriller and this time the setting is Washington D.C. and the Grand Masonic Lodge, home to the highest order of the Freemasons.

Conspiracy theorists should gleefully devour this dramatic suspense novel based on the Masons, their primordial history and their rituals of cloaked secrecy. However, the ranks of the Masons consist of many a well-known historical figure, Isaac Newton and George Washington included, and both these revered men figure prominently in the book. Encoded messages, an ancient pyramid, CIA involvement and the requisite raging psychopath ensure that Langdon is on the run the entire novel. The appearance of a lovely scientist adds a romantic element and her research into Noetics and apotheosis—the idea that men can become gods—will cause raised eyebrows in some and a satisfied nod in others. But, a quest for ultimate power will leave someone dead.

It’s a blending of fact and fiction, the mystical and the scientific and it’s difficult to distinguish between the two—which is exactly Brown’s point. He's done his research though, and that might be what took so long to bring Langdon back in the game. Be sure to read the Fact page, which carefully notes that “all organizations in this novel exist…all rituals, science, artwork, and monuments are real.” Now that certainly ups the ante. There’s even a three line shout out to Mormonism the local community might find interesting. In the end though, despite Brown's respectful (at times almost reverential) tone, I can’t help wondering what the Masons will think of all this.

DAP

Princess Ben

Princess Ben
By Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Houghton Mifflin, 2008. 344 p. Young Adult

In this fresh fairy tale, Princess Benevolence, known as Ben, starts off as a slightly spoiled, self-indulgent girl who has no interest in her royal inheritance. When her parents and the king, her uncle, are killed, her aunt Sophia becomes queen and Ben has no choice but to be groomed as heir to the throne. During this painful period, Ben discovers something magical about herself and her castle room that proves a wonderful and liberating diversion during her internment. This discovery leads to Ben's final blossoming into maturity as well as helping her find the strength she needs to step into her rightful role as royal heir. With adventures, magic, and a touch of romance, this unlikely princess is sure to please.

I was very delighted with this book as a fairy tale. I liked that the princess was atypical in her gluttonous nature and rotund physique; it added an interesting and unusual element to a princess tale. I really enjoyed Ben's narrative voice and felt the author truly drew in readers with her frank and authentic writing. The magical element was a great touch, layering well with the story as a whole and proving key to the plot. All in all, this was a fun, satisfying book to read whether you're looking for a princess story/fairy tale or just a coming-of-age tale.

CW

Inexcusable

Inexcusable
By Chris Lynch
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2005. 165 pgs. Fiction

Keir Sarafian is a good guy, so he can't be capable of doing what Gigi Boudakian says he did. He loves her, and he knows that when a girl says "No," she means no. Keir just isn't capable of doing something like that, and he sets out to prove that to the reader, offering proof that he is what he says he is--a good guy. This book alternates between the present, with Keir trying to convince Gigi that everything is okay, and the past, with Keir narrating the events of his senior year, leading up to that night with Gigi.

This is a thought-provoking book. Keir doesn't always see things the way that they are, and the reader needs to discern what is true and what is Keir's distorted reality. Reading between the lines to get the real story and considering the implications of what Keir has done and who he really is make this book a compelling read.

AE

The Stolen One

The Stolen One
By Suzanne Carlisle Crowley
Greenwillow Books, 2009. 405 p. Young Adult

Katherine Bab is a wild, irrepressible girl with an amazing gift for embroidery. When her foster mother dies, Kat and her deaf sister travel to London in order to unearth clues to Kat's parentage. When Kat is invited to join Queen Elizabeth's court, she becomes tangled in its complex dynamics, love being not the least of these. As she struggles to understand her feelings and her true desires, her story and the truth about her past are revealed in unexpected ways.

This was an interesting story with great appeal for the historical fiction fan. Although I encountered some personal frustration with Katherine's character, she was vividly drawn, as were all the characters in the novel. Although it was intriguing, this is not a book I would choose to read again, but it is, nonetheless, worthy of recommendation.

CW

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen
By Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 275 pgs. Young Adult

D. J. Schwenk is 15 years old. She is pretty much running the family’s dairy farm because her father's accident left him unable to work. With the little spare time she has, her father's friend asks her to help train Brian, the rival high school football player. She gained those skills while training her brothers when they played. This is just the beginning of D.J.’s discovery of herself, her first love, and resolving the problems between her family members.

I have to say, I was reluctant to read this book though I had heard so many good things about it. The old book cover had a picture of a cow wearing a jeweled crown. I was afraid this was going to be about a girl who had to change her tomboy ways to be homecoming queen. That is not what happens and that is not what the book is about. It is about discovering oneself and being good at it. Don’t miss this well written novel.

KK

Crocodile on the Sandbank

Crocodile on the Sandbank
By Elizabeth Peters
Dodd Mead, 1975. 273 pgs. Mystery

After receiving a large inheritance, and having no desire to marry as is the custom in Victorian England, Amelia Peabody decides to travel. During her travels she helps rescue Evelyn, a disgraced young woman with no means. She decides to have Evelyn be her traveling companion on her trip to Egypt. While in Egypt Amelia delves into her passion of Egyptology and visits archeological digs. She crosses paths with Radcliffe Emerson, an archeologist who is just as stubborn as she. During their exploration Evelyn becomes a target of kidnapping and ghostly apparitions and Amelia decides it is up to her to get to the bottom of things.

The mystery may be easy to solve in this first book of the series, but don’t let that stop you from reading the others. Peabody’s spunky attitude with her formidable parasol (no woman should be without) sparring wits with Radcliffe’s set in his ways attitude are a delight to read.

KK

The Hot Rock

The Hot Rock
By Donald E. Westlake
Mysterious Press, 1970. 304 pgs. Mystery

John Dortmunder, recently released from prison, receives an offer to steal the famed Balabomo Emerald for a United Nations African Ambassador. He gathers a team of eccentric criminals to help pull off the heist. Just when they think their plan is perfect, things start to go awry and hilarity ensues.

Westlake’s humor makes this an enjoyable, lighthearted caper that keeps you guessing if Dortmunder’s team will ever succeed.

KK

A Short Guide to a Happy Life

A Short Guide to a Happy Life
By Anna Quindlen
Random House, 2000. 50 pgs. Nonfiction

A Short Guide to a Happy Life is just that-short and to the point. Anna has learned that though we are the generation of having more, we feel the glass half empty syndrome. We should live by the words of Senator Paul Tsongas, “No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time at the office.” Another point she continually brings up is to remember that through life’s events try to laugh. Every other page has a pondering photograph that captures the statement that she is making at the time.

A fast read that can be read during a lunch break, even a fifteen minute break.

KK

Great Kisses...and Famous Lines Right Out of the Movies

Great Kisses . . . and Famous Lines Right Out of the Movies
By Timothy Knight
Harper Entertainment, 2008. 108 pgs. Nonfiction

The lights are low, soft music is playing in the background, the guy leans in and says those magic words, that only a screenwriter can write, and then…they kiss. This tiny but photo filled book covers 50 great romantic films such as Roman Holiday, Random Harvest (personal favorite), Moonstruck and yes, even Rocky has a place in great kisses history. This is a fun book to flip through even if you only have a few minutes.

KK

The Widow's Kiss

The Widow’s Kiss
By Jane Feather
Bantam Books, 364 pgs. 2001 Romance

Lord Hugh, by the order of the Privy Seal, investigates the latest demise of Lady Guinevere’s fourth dead husband, Sir Mallory. Is she murdering her husbands for money or is she a witch? Set during the reign of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, this historical romance finds Lord Hugh falling for the beautiful Lady Guinevere himself. Will he become her next victim?

This historical romance gives great insight into the time period, but beware, there are a few steamy scenes.

KK

A Stranger Is Watching

A Stranger Is Watching
By Mary Higgins Clark
Simon and Shuster, 1977. 314 pgs. Mystery

In just a few days the convicted murderer of Steve Peterson’s wife will be executed, allowing Steve to move on in life with his son. He even started dating Sharon, a colleague of his. One night just like the one a few years before, someone enters Steve’s home and the nightmare starts all over again. Can Steve protect them this time or will he lose everything?

Even though this book was written in the seventies, the mystery still holds tight for today’s readers.

KK

Spells and Sleeping Bags

Spells and Sleeping Bags
By Sarah Mylnowski
Delacorte Press, 2007. 293 pgs. Young Adult

Rachel, who has finally received her witch powers, is off to Camp Wood Lake with her sister Miri for the summer. Being a city girl she is not overly thrilled about the great outdoors except for the prospect of getting back together with Raf, who is also attending camp. As she makes new friends and practices her new powers, she also makes new enemies. Why is Liana, the evil girl in the next cabin, out to ruin her?

At times Rachel and Miri can be annoying as they whine over their angst, but still, I can’t stop reading the series. Maybe I’ve been put under a spell?

KK

The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind
By Patrick Rothfuss
Daw Books. 2007. 660 pages. Fantasy

He has been known as Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, and Kvothe the Kingkiller. Stories are told of him throughout the land, sometimes as a hero, sometimes as a villain, but always highly embellished and inaccurate. Kvothe who is presumed to be dead is now hiding out as a humble innkeeper name Kote. One day he is recognized by a chronicler of the realm and soon agrees to recount his life from young prodigy to the most notorious wizard, musician, thief, and assassin in the world.

This is a vastly interesting novel and Rothfuss is a masterful storyteller. So much so, that I am willing to forgive some major flaws in the book. It takes Rothfuss 660 pages to get. . .really nowhere. You learn a lot about Kvothe, and the stories are rich and absorbing, but it also left me with questions on just about every plot point. There is a planned sequel, but its publication date has been delayed for at least another year. If you are willing to commit to a long book and what, I am assuming, will be a long series, then I would definitely recommend this book. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother.

AJ

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Duty to the Dead

A Duty to the Dead
By Charles Todd
William Morrow, 2009. 329 pgs. Mystery.

Bess Crawford has a sacred duty to the dead—she has been commissioned by a dead soldier to pass along an important message to his brother. Bess has been avoiding this duty, but finds herself having the time after her Red Cross ship is hit by mines during World War I. She travels to the Graham home to deliver the message, but is disturbed by Jonathan’s dismissive response to it. Bess is further distressed by the Graham family’s treatment of the oldest brother, Peregrine, a resident of the local asylum who comes home to die from pneumonia. Bess nurses Peregrine back to health, which results in her becoming involved in a mystery and dangerous conditions.

I am a huge fan of the author’s Ian Rutledge series (also set in post-WWI England) which are top-notch mysteries. I am hoping that, since this title is the first in a new series, the next Bess Crawford books pick up in pace and have tighter mysteries. This mystery had some holes in it and there was a lot of “talking” in this book instead of the author showing the reader what we needed to know. I will read the next one in the series and hope it improves on this one.

MN

West of Cheyenne

West of Cheyenne
By Lee Hoffman
Doubleday, 1969. 190 pgs. Fiction

When Eben Hawkins headed west, he thought he could leave the past behind. Free after several years as a prisoner, he just wanted to be left alone. Hawkins could stand a lot of heat, but when a rancher named Starrett and his bully cowboys tried to burn him out of a homestead where he had every right to be, they were tangling with the wrong man.

This is a great, classic western story about protecting what's yours and standing up for yourself. I enjoyed this book, though I started out disliking the main character. But he went from a hardened and untrusting man to finding himself again - very satisfying.

BHG

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Blue Bloods

Blue Bloods
By Melissa De La Cruz
Hyperion. 2006. 302 pages. Young Adult

Schuyler Van Alan is the last line of her prominent family which can be traced all the way back to the Mayflower. Although her family is now poor, she still attends an exclusive private school in New York. Schuyler and her friend Oliver are treated like outcasts by the popular elite such as Mimi Force and her twin brother Jack. But when Jack begins to notice Schuyler and strange things start to happen to her body such as strong blue veins showing through her skin, she learns of her true heritage and connection to the elite families of Manhattan. However, there is trouble a foot when a girl is murdered from her school.

This romantic vampire tale has many appealing factors for teens (such as a voyeuristic view into the privileged lifestyle of upper class New Yorkers). It is also a perfect read-alike for such books as Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Eternal, Vampire Kisses, Evernight, etc. etc. It should be noted, however, that the book contains prevalent smoking and use of alcohol by underage teens and one scene where two teens nearly sleep together.

AJ

Pop

Pop
By Gordon Korman
Balzer & Bray, 2009. 260 pgs. Young Adult.


Marcus Jordan is having a rough time. He has just moved to a new town whose high school football team has just had a perfect year. Marcus possesses a great arm, but the entire football team is reluctant to take him on because of their perfect year. To add insult to injury, Marcus has also attracted the attention of the quarterback’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Alyssa, which makes him more of an outcast. And then there is the strange, older man who plays football with Marcus in the local park. This old man likes to play expensive pranks, involving Marcus in the pranks. Needless to say, Marcus begins a relationship with the local police officer.

Matters become more complicated when Marcus realizes the old man is the quarterback’s father and an old NFL player. Marcus realizes the family is hiding a secret about the old football player and has to decide how much he will help his new (and only) friend. I was hoping for a more laugh-out loud offering from Korman, a master of humor, but this was a great read about an unlikely friendship.

MN

Monday, September 21, 2009

Forest Born

Forest Born
By Shannon Hale
Bloomsbury USA Children's Books, 2009. 389 pgs. Young Adult

In the fourth enstallment of the Books of Bayern Series, fifteen-year-old Rin, Razo's little sister, has always lived in the forest, taking comfort in the trees and being careful not to let loose a darkness she feels lurking inside of her. But when the trees no longer soothe her, she accompanies Razo out of the forest to the city, becoming a lady-in-waiting for Queen Isi. As Rin cares for Isi's son, Tusken, she also finds herself being comforted by the queen's presence. When Bayern is attacked and King Geric is wounded, and Isi, Enna, and Dasha set out to find out who is behind this latest treachery, Rin tags along. Along the way, she figures out what the darkness inside her is and had to come to terms with who she is and what she is capable of doing, all the while trying to protect her friends as well as Razo.

Although I didn't like this book as much as the first three books of the series, I still think it's one that fan of Shannon Hale will enjoy. Like the other books, there are elements of a coming-of-age story, with Rin discovering who she is and who she wants to be. The language has hints of lyrical magic mixed with the funny bluntness of those who are forest-born. Overall, not as enjoyable as the first three books, but it's still one worth reading.

AE

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Version of the Truth

A Version of the Truth
By Donna Kaufman and Karen Mack
Delacorte Press. 2008. 322 pages. Fiction

Cassie Shaw’s husband has just died, but that’s the good news. He was a cheating jerk who left her with nothing but debt. Now Cassie, who barely finished high school because of her dyslexia, is so desperate for a job that she lies on a job application for office assistant at the local university.

Working in the psychology department, especially under the charming William Conner, an animal behavior professor, soon ignites a passion for learning. Cassie begins to read poetry and philosophy especially if they are about her passion, animals and nature. Her thoughts and opinions soon become valued by the department professors, something that means so much to Cassie.

This book was everything I was hoping for in Kaufman’s first novel, Literacy and Longing in L.A. It made me want to go read all the books that Cassie reads, which in this novel, are mainly about nature such as the transcendentalist writers, Whitman and Emerson. I enjoyed Cassie’s character who was so quirky and flawed, but despite that, she is willing to risk a lot to become the person she’s always wanted to be. This novel does a great job of mixing together love, humor, philosophy, and a passion for nature.

AJ

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Sky-Liners

The Sky-Liners
By Louis L’Amour
Bantam Books, 1967. 188 pgs. Fiction

Flagan and Galloway Sackett enter the town of Tazewell, Tennessee to pay off their late father's debt, but they get more than they counted on. First, they run into Black Fetchen causing trouble in town and they get the better hand of him, making Fetchen swear vengeance. Second, they run across the Costellos, an old family friend, and promise to escort their granddaughter Judith back to her father in Colorado. Third, Judith is engaged to Fetchen. So what the Sacketts thought would be an easy trip turns into an adventure, but then again, we are talking about the Sacketts.

Fast and enjoyable, as with all the other L’Amour books.

KK

The Last Lecture

THE LAST LECTURE
Randy Pausch w/ Jeffrey Zaslow
Hyperion, 2008. 206 p. Biography

If you knew death was waiting a mere six months for your soul, what last words would you leave for posterity? It’s a sobering thought and most of us don’t have such precipitous forewarning, but Randy Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and with it came an imminent death sentence.

However, as a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, Pausch was afforded an opportunity given to all academics as they leave the school—a chance to give one “last lecture”. So Randy decides to speak as if he were giving all the advice, wisdom and love he would offer if speaking to his own three children. Because the lecture will be taped, he knows his wife and young children will be able to watch it after his death. He touches on the achievements he’s made in life, but more importantly the wisdom he’s learned from his varied experiences and relationships. He’s a self-confessed egoist, but an engaging fellow and this little book is an easy to read, interesting and inspirational story without any wallowing. As a national bestseller, Randy's last lecture has achieved more than a few followers. Highly Recommended.

The book will have you contemplating your own Last Lecture and leave you with a stirring urge to live more fully, more exuberantly and more wisely while you have the chance.

DAP

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Danger Trail: Knife Thrower's Journey West

Danger Trail: Knife Thrower’s Journey West
By Boyd Richardson
Covenant Communications, 1995. 199 pgs. Western

As a young boy Samuel Harold sees his Mormon parents killed by a mob in Missouri. He escapes the mob and is adopted by the Pawnees who name him Knife Thrower because of his skill with knives. When he returns to live with the white community he becomes known as Brigham Harold because of his allegiance to Brigham Young and the Mormons. Brigham Harold is a peace loving man but he has all the skills he needs to handle any enemy – and he has a few. When a beautiful girl named Erma refuses to marry a drunken settler in the town of Steady and falls in love with the Knife Thrower instead, the two of them find themselves tracked and harassed by ruffians looking to steal their gold and feuding brothers of the rejected suitor.

Alternating chapters from the viewpoints of Erma and Brigham Harold move this western adventure forward. In Manti, Utah, they make a home but, in classic western style, there will be no peace for the two of them until after a showdown with their enemies. SH

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
By Lewis Carroll
William Morrow & Co. 1992. 196 pgs. Young Adult

Alice falls down a rabbit hole and lands in Wonderland, a place with strange talking animals, nonsensical rhymes, and characters including the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, and the White Rabbit.

I had never before read this children’s classic. I can’t say that I really loved it. The story doesn’t have a very straightforward plot. That being said, I am interested in seeing Tim Burton’s adaptation of the story starring Johnny Depp which will be in theaters on March 5, 2010.

AMM

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Live your Life for Half the Price

LIVE YOUR LIFE FOR HALF THE PRICE
Lyle and Tracy Shamo
Deseret Book, 2009. 207 p. Nonfiction

Could you wear the same dress for an entire year? That’s 365 days…in a row. Now men might balk for obvious reasons, but not a single female I know would approve of this economy saving measure. However, one brave woman had the chutzpah and then blogged about her experience. And you know, most people didn’t even notice.

While the authors of this new personal finance guide aren’t advocating such extreme measures for everyone, they do relay the story. The Shamos divulge their secrets for what we all want to know--how to live on less. The book is chock full of all the best bits of monetary wisdom and how to get the most from your dollars. If your piggy bank has shrunk under the current economic crisis, you’ll want to flip through this collection of practical advice. Easy readability on an assortment of fiscal topics organized under useful chapter headings. Information ranges from 'family fun on a shoestring' and knowing your home mortgage and health insurance options to coping with job loss, etc. I learned that Wednesday is the best day to shop--less people, more sales. Let’s face it people; frugal is the new sexy.

My personal finance tip: Return your library books the day before they’re due and you’ll never have to worry about late fees again. Cha-Ching! It’s like money in your pocket.

DAP

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet
by Reif Larsen
Penguin, 2009. 374 pgs. Fiction

Twelve year old T. S. Spivet is a cartographer, illustrator, and first-rate scientist who lives with his father, mother, sister Gracie (and the sorrow of his brother Layton's death) on the Coppertop Ranch just north of Divide, Montana. The Smithsonian knows only the scientific and Montana parts of Tecumseh Sparrow's life when they offer him the prestigious Baird award and fellowship for the popular advancement of science. Knowing they don't know how young he is, T. S. at first declines but changes his mind and hops a freight for the nation's capital where he will be expected to make an acceptance speech to the learned body and assume the duties of a year-long fellowship. T. S.'s goal in life is to map and otherwise diagram the known and unknown worlds and his story is accompanied by side notes, footnotes, and illustrations of everything from a Map of North Dakota Showing Ecoregions, Surface Water, and Locations of Twenty-Six McDonald's to Patterns of Cross Talk at his family's dinner table, not to mention a graph of Synchrony in Montana Photinus pyralis. T. S.'s overland journey on a flatcar in a Winnebago named Valero gives him a chance to know himself, his roots, and the space-time continuum better (as the whole train makes a brief detour into one of several unmapped wormholes in the Midwest). Funny, touching, mind-bending, and heartfelt, The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet, though a bit boggy and uneven here and there, is a delight, with a young hero you are unlikely ever to forget.

LW

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre
By Amanda Grange
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2009. 308 pgs. Fiction

This book picks up where Pride and Prejudice left off. Following a double wedding with Jane and Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth begin their wedding journey to Paris. Elizabeth soon finds that life as Mrs. Darcy is far from what she had expected. Her husband seems overwhelmed with concerns he refuses to share with her and he is reluctant to touch her and never visits her room at night. The title of this book tells the reader of Mr. Darcy’s dark secret, but his wife remains unaware of the curse Darcy is trying to hide.

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre was everything I had expected from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but did not get. It was fun to see the supernatural world interacting with long-loved characters without it becoming unbearably ridiculous. The ending was rushed and a little trite, but this is a great choice for anyone looking for a really quick, light, entertaining, and surprisingly clean read.

CZ

Twenties Girl

Twenties Girl
By Sophie Kinsella
Dial Press, 2009. 435 pgs. Fiction.

Lara’s life is a bit of a mess. Her career is quickly unraveling, her boyfriend has just dumped her, her family relationships are a bit beyond strained, and on top of all that, she is being haunted by her Great-Aunt Sadie. Sadie, who recently passed away at the age of 105, appears to her great-niece as a vibrant and demanding flapper in her 20’s, who desperately needs Lara’s help in order to ‘rest in peace.’

This entertaining piece of romantic comedy is one of Kinsella’s cleaner books, which is still far from being a clean read. I really enjoyed the glimpses of the 1920’s along with the idea of generations meeting and finding common ground. If you like British chic-lit, you will like this newest addition to the genre.

CZ

The Bar code Tattoo

The Barcode Tattoo
By Suzanne Weyn
Scholastic. 2004. 252 pgs. Young Adult

It's 2025, and the thing to do on your 17th birthday is to get a bar code tattoo, which is used for everything from driver's licenses to shopping. Kayla, almost 17, resists because she hates the idea of being labeled. Then the tattoos begin to drive people to commit suicide, Kayla's father among them, and she soon finds out that the markings contain detailed information about their bearers, including their genetic code. When the government, controlled by a corporation called Global-1, makes the tattoo mandatory, Kayla joins a teen resistance movement.

I thought that the premise of this book was really intriguing. However, I felt that the authors’ writing was a bit choppy. I liked the book ok, but can’t say that it is my favorite.

AMM

Friday, September 11, 2009

Nights of Rain and Stars

NIGHTS OF RAIN AND STARS
Maeve Binchy
Dutton. 2004. 294 p. Fiction

Set on a quaint Greek island, this novel begins with a boat tragedy that forever changes the lives of all who were there, tourists and residents alike. This book is rich in character development focusing on; Andreas the elderly tavern owner who had a falling out with his only son; Elsa the striking German TV reporter who gave up everything to sort out her life; David, the only son of an English family who does not want to follow in his father’s footsteps; Fiona, the young girl from Ireland who left her family and nursing job to follow her “love?”; Thomas the Californian on sabbatical and escaping his recent divorce; and Vonni the Irish transplant who has lived with her numerous secrets for over 30 years in the small Greek village. As the days go by, their lives collectively intertwine. Each needs much. Each has much to give. Sounds complicated but really this is a clean easy read for anyone who just wants a story to enjoy. The unabridged, 8 disc, 9.5 hour BBC Audio version is read by Terry Donnelly who does a delightful job of keeping all the characters charming and personable.

mpb

Literacy and Longing in L.A.

Literacy and Longing in L.A.
By Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack
Delacorte Press. 325 pages. 2006. Fiction

Dora (named for Eudora Welty by her book-loving alcoholic mother) is at a low-point in her life. She recently separated from her husband and is trying to get back into the workforce after a 10 year absence. Unlike most women who might use food or shopping to try and raise their spirits, Dora reads books. She can stay in her apartment for days reading anything under the sun to avoid reality. Will falling for the manager in her favorite bookstore pull Dora out of her depression or merely offer her another form of escape?

When I first read the title and summary of this book, it seemed tailor-made for me. What could be more fun than a character who is a love-challenged book junkie? But this book fell short in a few ways for me. First, Dora just wasn’t as interesting as I hoped she would be and second, the ending seemed a little clunky and abrupt. I did, however, love the many many book references and the quirky secondary characters.

AJ

All the Pretty Horses

ALL THE PRETTY HORSES
Cormac McCarthy
Vintage Books, 1993. 301 p. Fiction

If you've got a horse and a pistol it's all you need for adolescent adventure. In this western coming-of-age novel, sixteen-year-old John Grady Cole has both. Enlisting his cousin, the two boys leave the familiarity of their Texas ranch under the quietude of night and head south across the Mexican border to test their skills as cavalleiros. The boys are coarse and their language reflects this, but they live by a code of ethics the western cowboy has long been known for; a code that will be tried again and again as their journey progresses. And in the end they will find that living on their own, on the harsh edges of their known civilization, will force them into manhood almost before they are ready.

It’s a beautiful tale of heartbreaking survival. McCarthy’s writing has a stark, haunting quality--mirroring the Texas/Mexican landscape and you’ll come away with a melancholy that’s hard to shed.

Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction and other prestigious honors, this is the 1st in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy and one to add to the ‘New Classics’ list. With Frank Muller as narrator of the audio version, his superb rendering completes the experience.

DAP

The Finishing Touches

The Finishing Touches
By Hester Browne
Pocket Books. 411 pages. 2009. Fiction

After being left on the doorstep of an old-fashioned finishing school, Betsy Phillimore is taken in and grows up wanting to be just like the girls at the academy, but Lord and Lady Phillimore (in hopes that she will take advantage of her considerable math skills) tell her the academy is not for her.

Years later at the memorial service of Franny Phillimore, Betsy finally returns to find enrollment low and the academy in terrible disrepair. It’s up to Betsy to make use of her marketing degree and bring the school into the 21st century. But Betsy is also dealing with her own personal issues such as who her parents really are and the reappearance of her girlhood crush.

The Finishing Touches is by Hester Browne who also wrote The Little Lady Agency which I also enjoyed. She always creates such cute and funny characters, and her books tend to be cleaner than a lot of chick-lit books. I especially enjoyed all the bits of advice Betsy relates throughout the novel that she picked up from Lady Franny Phillimore.

AJ

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Temple: Where Heaven Meets Earth

THE TEMPLE: WHERE HEAVEN MEETS EARTH
Truman G. Madsen
Deseret Book, 2008. 193 p. Non-Fiction

The temple is considered the most sacred edifice for people of the LDS faith--the pinnacle of their religious experience. Truman G. Madsen, well-renowned religious scholar, has spent much of his time researching and pondering the myriad aspects of temple worship. He had a desire to “know the beauties—which include truths and powers and blessings and promises”. Although these writings are not new, they were scattered amongst various sources. At last, this fine compilation brings together the numerous talks and papers he has written on the subject and allows the reader to reap the benefits of his scholarship in one publication. Madsen discusses a number of fascinating topics with chapters such as: ‘The Temple and the Mysteries of Godliness’, ‘Joseph Smith and the Kirtland Temple’ and ‘Ancient Temples and the Restoration’. Spiritually illuminating.

People say the temple requires a lifetime of attendance to understand its deeper significance and so do Madsen’s writings require numerous readings to fully absorb the more erudite chapters--but worth the extended effort. An excellent read for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and something non-members might appreciate also, who often wonder "why all the mystery?" Here is Madsen's answer.

DAP

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening and The Struggle

Vampire Diaries: The Awakening and The Struggle
L.J. Smith
Harper Teen, 1991. 492 pages. Young Adult

Beautiful, orphaned Elena is the queen of her high school in Fells Church, Virginia. But after summer vacation everything changes. Elena’s best friend Caroline becomes her rival for popularity and her sunny all American boyfriend Matt is replaced by the mysterious Italian Stefan Salvatore. Stefan is dark and handsome and reveals a good deal of insight about the Italian Renaissance in seventh period history class. In the first volume, The Awakening, there is a grisly murder in the Elena’s quiet town. Stefan suspects the culprit may be his dangerous older brother Damon seeking revenge. Stefan and Damon were once rivals for their first love Katherine’s heart. In the quest to win Katherine both Stefan and Damon were changed into creatures of the night. Stefan resists his morbid lifestyle but Damon relishes the power and blood lust. As the brothers stumble upon Elena they are staggered by her uncanny resemblance to long dead Katherine.

In the second volume, The Struggle, both brothers court Elena in different ways and with a different end in mind for her. Elena and Caroline continue to plot and scheme against one another with consequences that may affect Stefan and his ability to live innocently among the mortals of Fells Church.

There are a surprising amount of similarities between the Vampire Diaries and Twilight. Vampire Diaries was written before Twilight and Stephenie Meyer claims not to have read any vampire fiction before she wrote her epic series. Even though Elena is self-centered and a stereotypical high school notable, she is a natural leader and more game than passive Bella. I enjoyed Elena as a leading character better than Bella. In addition, there is actual high school business in this novel. This novel is a lot cleaner than many other Urban Fantasies that have been released lately. Maybe Twilight meets Buffy meets Gossip Girl? I look forward to reading the inevitable conclusion.

ALC

Catching Fire

Catching Fire
By Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press. 391 pages. Young Adult

In this sequel to The Huger Games, Katniss and Peeta are back in District 12 after surviving the Hunger Games, a televised tournament in which children from each of the 12 Districts of Panem fight to the death. Life should be great for Katniss and Peeta now that they have won a lifetime of wealth and food, but Katniss is visited by President Snow who tells her that her subversive win is viewed as a defiance against the capitol and that if she does anything else he will harm her family. While on their mandatory victory tour, Katniss and Peeta learn that a rebellion has indeed been sparked by their triumph over the capitol.

I looked forward to reading this second book by Suzanne Collins with equal parts anxiety and excitement. The Hunger Games had such an unresolved ending that I couldn’t wait to continue the story, but I enjoyed the first book so much, I was worried I wouldn’t like the sequel as well. I am happy to report that I found this book just as enjoyable. Although be warned that this book will leave you craving to know what happens next.

AJ

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What My Dog Has taught Me About Life

WHAT MY DOG HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT LIFE
Gary Stanley
Honor Books. 2007. 190 p. Nonfiction

Another in the immensely popular “dog teaches man” philosophy books. However there are a few things that make this book stand out from the crowd. The winsome dog photos on brightly colored pages give the reader a sense of cheer. Besides the short tales of “man and his best friend”, the reader is treated to “Something To Chew On” (words of wisdom from a dog’s viewpoint), “Paws for Prayer” (prayers from a dog’s perspective which humans possibly could learn from), some biblical scripture quotes and pages called Mutterings (quotes by the author and other humans). The book is both a pleasure to look at and read. Recommend reading and enjoying to all, especially those who are dog lovers or likers.

mpb

Drums Of Change

DRUMS OF CHANGE
Janette Oke
Bethany House. 1996. 235 p. Romance

Taking place in Canada during the late 1800’s, Drums of Change by Janette Oke, is the coming of age story of Running Fawn. Running Fawn desperately clings to the “traditional” ways of her people wishing things never to change. But the white settlers are arriving, the buffalo are disappearing as well as the Blackfoot’s way of life and then horrible sickness decimates their small band. To make matters worse, a white missionary comes to live with the band and wants to teach them a new religion (Christianity). “Haven’t their Gods provided for them in past generations?” asks Running Fawn. Running Fawn, along with Silver Fox, the chief’s son, are picked to go to the mission school in Calgary to learn the white man’s ways. Silver Fox wants to learn so he can someday lead his people wisely. Running Fawn does not enjoy the experience. She is constantly in inner turmoil with the new and old ways, leaving her feeling she doesn’t fully belong to either. While the story- line is not particularly riveting, it does make one ponder about the hardships, tragedies and multitude of adjustments the Native Americans had to endure. This is a squeaky clean easy to read book that women interested in the west and Native American life, may enjoy. It is #12 in the “Women of the West Series.” I listened to the unabridged 7.5 hour Recorded Books version with an excellent reading by Barbara Caruso.

mpb

Geek Charming

Geek Charming
By Robin Palmer
Speak, 2009. 338 pgs. Young Adult

Dylan Schoenfield is the most popular girl at Castle Heights High--with the best clothes and the most popular boy in school as her boyfriend, her life is just how she wants it. However, when she ends up owing film geek Josh Rosen a favor, she has to let him film her and her A-crowd friends for a documentary. Although she's reluctant at first, she finds that Josh might not e as bad as she originally thought. And when her social status plummets, Josh is the friend who's there to help her out.

This story is told in chapters that alternate between Dylan and Josh, which is a relief because Dylan's initial spoiled self-centeredness is difficult to stomach. Her blossoming friendship with and the way both of them grow because of their interaction is done in a smooth way, rather than in an abrupt manner that would be difficult to believe. Also this isn't as good as Palmer's Cindy Ella, it's still a fun quick read that readers of Young Adult-chick lit will likely enjoy.

AE

The Chosen One

The Chosen One
By Carol Lynch Williams
St. Martin's Griffin, 2009. 213 pgs. Young Adult.

Kyra has been Chosen. Chosen to marry her much-older uncle; be his seventh wife. Kyra, thirteen years old, believes this is her punishment for breaking rules—for sneaking out and reading forbidden books on the bookmobile and for meeting and kissing a boy late at night. Kyra loves her family, her father, his three wives, and her twenty brothers and sisters and they love her. She thought she loved her way of life, but questions it now that she has been betrothed to this old man. Taught to be submissive and obedient, Kyra must decide now if that is the right path for her.

Chilling and horrific, I couldn’t put this down. I started reading it one evening and stayed up past my bedtime to skim the rest of it; I had to know what happened. Then I went back and read it completely through and was just as horrified the second time. How sad to know this really does happen to young women.

MN

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain
By Annie Proulx
Scribner, 1997, 55 pgs. Fiction

A compelling tale (more a short story than novel) of unconventional love. Two cowboys raised to be tough and unemotional face an overwhelming attraction to each other. Because their situation does not allow them to be together, they each marry and attempt to live conventional lives but are unable to break their connection to one another. There is some graphic language and sexual content but it is not gratuitous and is not the focus of the story. The heartbreaking and abrupt conclusion evokes compassion and sadness for anyone caught in their situation.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Hourglass Door

THE HOURGLASS DOOR
Lisa Mangum
Shadow Mountain, 2009. 400 p. Young Adult

Now if you had a choice between dating the perfectly nice young man next door or the mysteriously handsome, Italian exchange student, what would you do?

Abby’s life seems pretty good for a seventeen-year-old. She’s applying to college, helping out with the school play and dating her best friend. But it’s all feeling a bit too predictable, especially when all her choices feel like they’re being made for her, not by her. So when Dante appears out of nowhere life becomes pleasantly unpredictable. But Abby didn’t realize that unpredictable can turn into erratic chaos when you’re dealing with the complicated balance of time travel and a host of prisoners from fifteenth century Italy. Moreover, a nagging voice keeps asking, “how can you have a relationship with someone if the more time you spend together, the more time you’re forced to spend apart?” Not to worry, with what appears to be the first in a series, Abby will have lots more time to make up her mind.

A fun read exploring themes of classic concern: love, choice, balance and accountability. Readers overwhelmed by the recent vampire craze might appreciate this Twilight read-a-like without encountering any paranormal creatures.

DAP

The Eternal Smile: Three Stories

The Eternal Smile: Three Stories
by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim
First Second Books, 2009. 170 pgs. YA Comics

Yang and Kim's compilation of three short stories is unsettling, irritating, and eye-opening. And, of course, extremely well wrought. In "Duncan's Kingdom" a young man lives a heroic life in a fantasy kingdom threatened by the king of the frogs. He might have lived happily ever after . . . but he insists on knowing the truth. One could almost name real names of the greedy gopher and sort of Scrooge McFrog figure amassing cash in rival Churches of the Eternal Smile.
Little do those creatures know they are being manipulated by someone even higher up. In "Urgent Request" a lonely, dowdy little flunky at CommTech communications seemingly falls for the old Nigerian prince scam, but in fact discovers something more valuable to her than her monetary losses. Yang and Kim administer a big-time beatdown to organized religion in these pages, but also have interesting points to make about the uses, for good and ill, of fantasy and imagination.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Book Thief

The Book Thief
By Marcus Zusack
Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. 552 pgs. Fiction

Death himself narrates this novel. Weary of his job, Death brightens his own life and ours by sharing the story of Liesel Meminger, who is a young girl in Germany during World War II. En route to live with foster parents, Liesel encounters Death as her little brother dies on the train. She also begins her career as a book thief, taking a gravedigger's manual from the graveyard. Although at this point in her life, she is illiterate, she is determined to read and words come to play an important role in her life. Her foster parents, Hans Hubermann, who is a kind-hearted non-Nazi German, and Rosa Hubermann, tough-skinned, loud and loving in her own way, are endearing people, struggling to get by during the war. Next-door-neighbor Rudy Steiner quickly becomes Liesel's best friend and partner in crime. These and other characters add to Liesel's life, and as Death learns about them, they brighten his existence as well.

This book is brilliant. Liesel's story is beautiful, even in the midst of the horrors of war, and although Death seems like an unappealing narrator, he's perfect--searching for his own reasons for hope, his own reasons to care about humanity, he shares them with the reader. Some readers may object to some of the language, but the story is amazing, definitely worth reading--or rereading.

Another option to try is the audio version. I listened to this on CD. I wasn't sure what Death should sound like, but Allan Corduner has the perfect voice. This is probably the best audio book I've ever listened to. (As BHG mentions in her comment to this post, the drawings in the book are important as well. So what you should really do is read it AND listen to it...although you could probably do them at different times.)

AE

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Snake Head: an Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream

The Snake Head: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream
by Patrick Radden Keefe
Doubleday, 2009. 414 pgs. Nonfiction.

On June 6, 1993 a beat-up ship ran aground near the Rockaway Peninsula between Brooklyn and Queens. Patrolling police officers heard screams from the water, and discovered many dozens of emaciated Chinese leaping into the ocean and scattering if they reached land. Many did not, and drowned. From this dramatic beginning springs the story of Sister Ping, a diminutive woman from China's Fujian Province who masterminded the entry of thousands of illegal immigrants into the United States, ran an underground banking system moving millions of dollars between China and the U. S., and employed violent gangsters to offload her ships and protect her interests. As a "snake head," the intelligent end of a labyrinthine body that wound through many nations to bring illegals ashore, Sister Ping ran her multimillion dollar smuggling operation out of a noodle restaurant in New York's Chinatown, arranging for the purchase of bogus passports from Belize and routing her Fujian clients by plane, boat, or whatever availed through Africa, South America, and Russia to spots in the U. S. where the border was most porous. Reading like a fine suspense novel, The Snake Head tells Sister Ping's incredible tale and the story of the tenacious law enforcement teams who finally smoked her out and nailed her down. A crackerjack of a story, well told.

LW