Monday, November 30, 2009

The Yankee Years

The Yankee Years
By Joe Torre and Tom Verducci
Doubleday, 2009. 502 pgs. Non-fiction

Joe Torre had just been fired from his third job and wasn't sure he'd ever manage again when he was offered the job managing the New York Yankees. Although he was their fourth choice, he turned out to be a good one, managing the team for twelve years and leading them to four World Series titles.

In this book, readers get an inside view into Torre himself and his managing views, but also get to look at Yankees players and the dynamics of baseball. The book touches on the issues of steroids, free agent signings and trades made by the Yankee higher-ups, money issues, and more. Although it would be tempting for an ousted manager to resort to mudslinging, Torre and Verducci have written a book that is insightful, candid, and classy.

AE

Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie

Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie
By Maggie Stiefvater
Llewellyn Publications, 2009. 352 pages. Young Adult

James Morgan is a prodigiously talented musician who attends the Thornking-Ash School of Music with his best friend Deirdre. He has long been harboring an unrequited crush on Dee who is beautiful, mournful, and sees Faeries. James is tired of pining after Dee and bored with the conservatory. Nuala is an alluring faerie muse who sets her sights on James. As she states at the beginning of the novel, “I liked them young, talented, male. The more handsome the better.” Nuala sucks the life force out of her victims while at the same time inspiring them to be creative geniuses. Due to his previous experiences with faeries James is the first mortal to say no to Nuala’s bargain. However, as Dee pines for a lost boyfriend and behaves in an increasingly bizarre manner James turns to Nuala for friendship. James soon learns that both Dee and Nuala are in danger from the new Queen of the Fey.

James only plays a minor, albeit charming, role in the first Faerie novel Lament. I was happy to see an entire book devoted to him in Ballad. James is the driving force behind this novel which doesn’t focus as much on plot as the characters. James is skittish, eccentric, artistic and a rebel. Although I didn’t personally like this novel as much as Lament I still enjoyed inhabiting Stiefvater’s edgy supernatural world for the hours it took me to read the book. I would recommend reading Lament before Ballad.

ALC

Heat Wave

Heat Wave
By Richard Castle
Hyperion, 2009. 198 pgs. Mystery

NYPD Homicide Detective Nicki Heat was been assigned too many grisly crimes and difficult assignments but none have tried her ability to follow orders as has her Chief’s request to allow journalist Jamison Rook tag along on her investigations. Her most recent case involves the murder of a real estate mogul which becomes more personal when Heat’s own safety is in question. Dealing with Rook quickly becomes the least of her worries.

This book is written for fans of the TV series Castle which is now in its second season. The book’s actual author is unknown but the cover lists Richard Castle, the main character on the TV show, as the writer and includes a recommendation from James Patterson who has guest starred in several episodes. If you like the show, you’ll enjoy this quick mystery alluding to some of your favorite characters.

CZ

Open

Open: An Autobiography
By Andre Agassi
Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. 385 pgs. Biography

Andre Agassi was born to a father obsessed with raising the world’s greatest tennis player. His childhood was spent practicing and drilling in the tennis court that occupied the family’s back yard. Later, he would be shipped to Florida to attend an intense tennis camp where he struggled with academics eventually dropping out of school in the 9th grade. Despite his hatred for the game, his father’s drills and his own natural talent propelled him into the world of professional tennis while he was still a teenager struggling to define himself.

This is a fantastic autobiography of an athlete who seems to have found peace with himself as his career drew to an end. The honesty with which he tells his story feels heartfelt and sincere. He admits mistakes and poor judgment, gives credit to the close friends and family who helped him achieve his goals, and presents an intriguing view of the loneliness he often felt on the court. This book belongs beside Armstrong’s It’s Not About the Bike and other insightful and inspirational athletic biographies.

CZ

Dragon Spear

Dragon Spear
By Jessica Day George
Bloomsbury, 2009. 248 pgs. Young Adult

Creel's adventures continue when she, her brother and her betrothed travel across the seas to visit their dragon friends and become involved in a battle against an alien group of dragons that has kidnapped Queen Velika, endangering her and her expected litter of hatchlings.

It was touch and go for most of this book and I wasn’t sure if everything was going to turn out ok. I don’t want to give anything away, just know that I really liked this third book. By the end of this trilogy, I’ve decided that talking dragons are okay when the characters are as charming as the ones developed by Jessica Day George.

AMM

Dragon Flight

Dragon Flight
By Jessica Day George
Bloomsbury, 2008. 262 pgs. Young Adult
Young seamstress Creel finds herself strategizing with the dragon king Shardas once again when a renegade dragon in a distant country launches a war against their country, bringing an entire army of dragons into the mix.

I enjoyed reading about the further adventures of Creel. Jessica Day George kept the action coming in the second book of her dragon trilogy. Again she left us with a cliff hanger, so of course I had to read the third book to see how it all would end.

AMM

Dragon Slippers

Dragon Slippers
By Jessica Day George
Bloomsbury, 2007. 324 pgs. Young Adult
Orphaned after a fever epidemic, Creel befriends a dragon and unknowingly inherits an object that can either save or destroy her kingdom.

I’ve owned this book for a few years, but had not read it until a week or so ago. I picked it up on a whim, not sure how I would like it since I’m not a big fan of talking dragons.

However I couldn’t put this book down. It was the perfect blend of adventure, romance, and fantasy. In fact after finishing Dragon Slippers I found out that it was the first in a trilogy, so I spent much of my Thanksgiving weekend reading the rest of the trilogy.

AMM

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Distant Waves: a novel of the Titanic

Distant Waves: a novel of the Titanic
By Suzanne Weyn
Scholastic Press, 2009. 330 pgs. Young Adult

Raised by a strong, spirited mother who works as a ghost medium, Jane Taylor's life is far from ordinary. Along with her sisters--Mimi, Blythe, Emma, and Amelie--she finds herself transplanted at a young age to Spirit Vale, a gathering place for all people who claim to be mediums for the spirit world. Despite such an environment, Jane manages to maintain strong common sense and even develops skepticism towards spiritualism. When she travels with her sister Mimi to New York in order to interview the fascinating scientist, Tesla, the lives of all the Taylor women are affected by the chain of following events, most particularly by Mimi's invitation to sail on the Titanic.

It is rather misleading that this book is titled "a novel of the Titanic." Although the infamous ship does make its appearance in the story, it doesn't surface until the later portion. It makes for a dramatic ending but may be a bit disappointing for readers who expect the book to be all about the Titanic. That being said, I actually preferred Weyn's decision to leave the Titanic scene for the end. The reader gets the chance to know the characters as they grow up and develop a stronger feeling for them rather than being thrown into their lives only while they are on the ship. I thought the constant stream of two dimensional famous characters was too forced and really detracted from the story, although some readers may be delighted with such references. The thread of romance was a nice touch and the tie between history and the supernatural was quite intriguing. Being simply written, this book might be more appropriate for 5th and 6th grade readers or perhaps teenagers looking for an easy read. It could definitely be an option for readers needing historical fiction but wanting more of a story. Although not Weyn's best work, it was still worth reading.

CW

The World is Flat: a Brief History of the Twenty-First Century

The World is Flat: a Brief History of the Twenty-First Century
By Thomas L. Friedman
Farrar, Straw, and Giroux, 2006. 488 pgs. Nonfiction

This book was more than I expected. It gives a brief overview of how computer technology has developed and impacted the world since the advent of the PC. The PC was followed by Windows which was followed by the world wide web, all of which create a platform for doing business in an entirely new way. The effect is to connect people, information, and materials, from the various levels of society and from disparate places on earth. There is some really interesting innovation going on. For example, did you know that UPS is repairing busted laptops? (silly me, I just thought they did deliveries).

Despite the array of interesting information, I felt that this book contained too much repetitive information--in fact, I think the book could have been much more effective if it were edited down to about half its size (it's 660 pages). I actually listened to this on CD so it was 15 discs (over 19 hours). An interesting feature of the audio program was that whenever the text of the book would refer to itself it substituted the words "audio program". Highly recommended, despite the length.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fakes & Forgeries

Fakes & Forgeries: The True Crime Stories of History’s Greatest Deceptions
By Brian Innes
Reader’s Digest, 2005. 256 pgs. Nonfiction

This fascinating book covers the details behind the criminals and victims of the infamous and not so infamous scams played throughout the world. Fake money, stolen identities, forged works of art, and even medical scams are discussed. In some instances I couldn’t believe how gullible people could be and in others I was surprised the person was ever caught. It was interesting to discover that even the imitations have become collectable and valuable in their own right. Overall a fun book to flip through with pictures on every page making it great for adults and teens.

KK

The Summer I Turned Pretty

The Summer I Turned Pretty
By Jenny Han
Simon & Schuster, 2009. 276 p. Young Adult

Isabel, nicknamed Belly, truly lives for the summer time. Not just like every other fifteen year old kid yearns for summer vacation. All other seasons - fall, winter, spring, are just time to pass until she can return to the beach house, and more importantly, the brothers Jeremiah and Conrad. Every summer Isabel, with her mom and brother Steven, go to the beach house of her Mom’s wealthy best friend Susannah. Susannah is the mother of Jeremiah and Conrad who have been everything to Isabel – annoyances, friends, brothers, and crushes. Belly has long fought to be included in the trio of three older boys on equal footing. Perhaps it is only then, she feels, that Conrad will take her seriously. Since she was small Belly has nursed an obsession with him and longs for a reciprocal relationship. His increasing moodiness however, has turned her attentions away from him and towards fun loving Jeremiah. The instant the brothers notice her this summer Belly knows it will be different, because this is the summer she has turned pretty.

Author Jenny Han has her master’s degree in Creative Writing for children. As a result the writing is above average and capably describes a coming-of-age summer. The teenagers in this novel must decipher the adults around them while trying to sort out their changing relationships with each other. Belly must learn how to discriminate between feelings of love, lust, infatuation and friendship as she copes with the attention she now attracts from boys. Although there are many books with similar themes Han’s writing approaches them with a realism and subtlety similar to Sarah Dessen.

ALC

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Googled

Googled: The End of the World as We Know It
By Ken Auletta
Penguin Press, 2009. 384 pgs. Nonfiction

Google is one of the most powerful companies and brands in business today. This book describes how it got there. Founded by two college friends, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google quickly came to dominate the online search market though it was years before they were actually able to monetize their product and start making money. Closely tied to Google’s history is the history of the Internet and media. Google’s seemingly effortless rise corresponds with the increasingly desperate fall of print or broadcast media. Auletta presents the opinions of many key players in this high stakes struggle to inform and entertain the world and make money while doing it.

Googled is an interesting look at the wave Google has created. They are so frequently featured in the news, sometimes as the villain and sometimes as the hero, that it is difficult to decide to love them or hate them. Auletta presents an even report without giving too much credit to the company’s obvious desire to improve the world, nor too much blame for their failure to incorporate copyright law into their business plans. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in current media trends and how the Internet and Google has changed our world.

CZ

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Surrounded by Strangers

Surrounded by Strangers
By Josi S. Kilpack
Bonneville Books, 2003. 242 pgs. Fiction

Pamela Bennion isn't who she pretends to be. Working as a waitress in a low-end truck stop, she's desperate to hide her children from their abusive father--and to keep the law from finding her before she can build her case against her ex-husband. Although she has a few safe contacts, she has maintained her distance from all others, trusting no one. But when Bryan Drewry sweeps into her life just as her children's safety is at risk, she finds it necessary to rely on him more than she would like.

A mixture of romance and mystery, this book has a good plot, with a mother who will do anything to protect her children and an evil, powerful villain. The romance develops a bit quickly for my tastes, but overall, it was an intriguing concept.

AE

The Forgotten Man

The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression
By Amity Shlaes
HarperCollins, 2007. 464 pgs. Nonfiction

Shlaes takes a look at the Great Depression from a financial standpoint and examines how the main characters involved in the economic crisis did not fully understand the financial workings of it. She also details the stories of people I never learned about in school who had an impact on the Depression. Shlaes talks about how the Depression and New Deal affected the “Forgotten Man” and how both political parties used that phrase for different ends. Shlaes' large examination of Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) and how he conducted business during the Depression through the New Deal and other efforts will infuriate you regardless of your political beliefs and feelings about FDR. You will either be appalled at the seemingly random way he targeted businesses, people, and the Supreme Court justices or you will be appalled that Shlaes think he did all those things as part of a mighty power struggle.

This was a hard book for me to finish. I love history, but the economics in this book went over my head at times and made the reading somewhat tedious. Shlaes also recounts the tales of so many people that I just could not remember who some of them were. She also included some details that I felt were unnecessary and dragged the narrative down a bit. But it was a somewhat interesting look at how the people in Washington and others prolonged the Great Depression.

MN

Your Inner Fish

Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body
By Neil Shubin
Pantheon Books, 2008. 229 pgs. NonFiction

Neil Shubin, respected paleontologist and professor of anatomy, takes his readers on a journey through the history of life on our planet. He uses human anatomy to demonstrate how we share structure and function with some of the most basic and humble creatures to occupy our world. From fish to worms to flies, life on this planet is integrally linked and that linkage is continually reinforced through scientific discoveries being made each day.

I am usually a big fan of science writing, but I admit that I had a hard time really enjoying and engaging with this book. I’m not sure if it was the writing, the narration, or the subject matter that threw me off. If a reader is interested in anatomy, paleontology, or the theories of evolution, this book would definitely be of interest. But I wouldn’t recommend it for a summer beach read.

CZ

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In Defense of Food

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
By Michael Pollan
Penguin Press, 2008. 244 pgs. Nonfiction

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Thus starts the book written by Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. He admits that he sort of hates to give it all away right there at the beginning, but that’s basically the conclusion. Of course he spends the rest of the book explaining just what he means. For instance, it may seem moronic to encourage people to “eat food,” but he means real food, from the ground to your stomach in as few steps as possible, and he explains why. A large portion of the book is devoted to decrying industrial food processing, and explaining how after so much processing it’s not even what he considers a food anymore, but rather a “food product” – lacking in nutrients even though the label may deceptively advertise one strong nutrient like “more fiber!” He makes some excellent points and notes a lot of very interesting studies to illustrate how the processing of food is failing us nutritionally and aesthetically.

I didn't realize this would be so much about the processed versus unprocessed food debate (which I have never tried to learn about before), but still I found this book very interesting. There are some points he made that I don’t necessarily agree with - for instance, I think there are some foods that can still be valuable even if some processing has taken place, but he really comes off discrediting processing of any kind. The book is split into three sections, and really if you just wanted some good motivation and suggestions for healthy changes you could make to your diet, you could read the last section which is devoted to an annotated list of he thinks we should do differently. After reading this, I’ve made my own list of what I think I can and want to change, and I’m motivated to do it knowing what I do after reading the book.

BHG

The Boyfriend List

The Boyfriend List
By E. Lockhart
Delacorte Press, 2005. 229 pgs. Young Adult

Ruby Oliver's life has fallen apart. She's managed to lose her boyfriend, her best friend, and every other friend. She's managed to acquire quite the reputation and the tendency to have panic attacks. Her parents decide she'll need to see her shrink, and Doctor Z tells Ruby to make a boyfriend list--a list with every boy she's ever dated or even thought about dating. Ruby embarks on a journey to understand her interaction with the opposite sex and how she ended up in such a mess.

Ruby is a highly engaging narrator, providing little asides in the form of footnotes which really added to the humor of the book. Ruby's voice is so realistic and strong, and the story is so painfully true to high school that readers will likely be reminded of their own experiences (or those of someone they know).

AE

Monday, November 16, 2009

Appaloosa

Appaloosa
By Robert B. Parker
G. P. Putman’s Sons, 2005. 276 pgs. Fiction

Lawmen, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, are for hire to clean up the roughest towns. Their friendship spans over a decade of watching each others’ back. They can take on the toughest of men, even Randall Bragg, a man who will not back down. But Virgil’s and Everett’s friendship is tested when Allison French comes to town.

Parker known for his mysteries has no problem switching genres into the Western arena. Fans of Larry McMurtry will be pleased to add this author to their list to read.

KK

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Wreath for Emmett Till

A Wreath for Emmett Till
By Marilyn Nelson

Houghton Mifflin, 2005. 34 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Marilyn Nelson weaves an intricate memorial for Emmett Till, whose murder in 1955 helped spark the civil rights movement. In fifteen sonnets, Nelson's haunting poetry alludes both to Emmett Till's tragic situation as well as other instances of discrimination and hate and wonders what Emmett Till's life would have been like if he'd been allowed to live, rather than dying as a teenager.

Although the book is short, it certainly packs a punch. The illustrations also highly enhance the content. A wonderful lesson about history, this book would also be useful in discussions of poetry. Nelson's crown of sonnets has each poem starting with the last line of the previous poem, and then the fifteenth poem brings together the first lines of each of the fourteen previous poems--and manages to have the first letter of each line come together to spell out RIP Emmett Till. An amazing example of poetry, as well as a moving examination of Emmett Till's murder.

AE

Brothers in Battle

Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends
By William Guarnere
Berkley Caliber, 2007. 296 pgs. Nonfiction

William Guarnere and Edward (Babe) Heffron were two of the World War II paratroopers with 101st Airborne (Easy Company) who parachuted into France on D-Day. Easy Company later parachuted into Holland for Operation Market Garden and were surrounded by the Germans but held out during the Battle of the Bulge. Lifelong friends, the two men were interviewed by Stephen Ambrose for “Band of Brothers” and were advisers on the set of the film based on the book. “Brothers in Battle” presents first- hand accounts from these two men as they were interviewed by Robyn Post.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, these two men would never call themselves heroes; but their tenacious courage in battle, along with others of the 101st Airborne, has earned them the title nonetheless. Members of the 101st Airborne remained close after the war through annual reunions and visits to the countries where they fought. This made them the perfect group to be interviewed by Ambrose about World War II, resulting in the book and film. The audio presentation of their stories, read by Dick Hill, is engaging, genuine, and moving and I highly recommend it.

SH

Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia

Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia
By Robert Lacey
Viking, 2009. 404 pgs. Nonfiction

Robert Lacey is the author of twenty books, including “The Kingdom” which was published in 1983. He has lived in Saudi Arabia for the last three years. “Inside the Kingdom” traces the impact of the uprising in Mecca in 1979, the contradictory consequences of the invasion of Kuwait and the repercussions of 9/11 on Saudi society. He gives enough historical background to help the reader understand the religious and political background of Arabia. Of greatest interest are his interviews with Saudi citizens through which we can see the impact of outside events on peoples’ lives and attitudes.

The last thirty years have been critical ones for the world and for the nation of Saudi Arabia. Lacey does an excellent job of summing up Saudi attitudes and the direction the royal family is trying to take Saudi in the years to come. “Inside the Kingdom” is accessible and interesting, even for those who know little about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

SH

Nine Dragons

Nine Dragons
by Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, 2009. 374 pgs. Mystery

When Harry Bosch draws a case in South L. A. apparently involving the triads, an ancient and pervasive Chinese criminal organization, he pursues his usual methodical but intense search for the perpetrators. But when he receives a message from his daughter, held hostage in Hong Kong, he goes ballistic and speeds to Kowloon to take on the triads in their den. Many surprises, not to mention a pile of red herrings and lots of gunplay greet Harry in the Orient. His relentless, breakneck, sometimes wrongheaded pursuit of his daughter and her captors leads to multiple tragedies on either side of the Pacific and irony piled on irony. But the ultimate thoughtfulness of the narrative doesn't slow the action in the slightest and one can hardly turn the pages fast enough. One final shooting along with a kicker ending seem a bit much, but Connelly and Bosch are close to unbeatable in the police procedural division and Nine Dragons is no exception with the bonus of an exotic locale.

LW

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture
By Ellen Ruppel Shell
Penguin Press, 2009. 296 pages. Nonfiction

When I picked up this book, I doubted what the author could discuss that might convince me that buying cheap is a bad idea. I am a firm believer in buying local products, though they may cost more, but beyond that I couldn’t see the disadvantage. Shell certainly brings up some good points that the American obsession with bargain-hunting and low-price goods has a direct correlation to lower wages for workers and reduced quality of goods for consumers. The book does discuss small things we can do to make changes, but nothing shows how consumers, on a mass scale, can make effective changes to the world of retail.

I did find the book interesting and not too dry. I especially enjoyed the chapters on the psychology behind pricing where Shell revealed how retailers manipulate subconscious bargain triggers that affect us even though we may be aware of them.

AJ

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Odyssey

Odyssey
By Homer; Translated & Narrated by Stanley Lombardo
Parmenides Audio, 2006. 10 CDs. Nonfiction

One of the greatest heroes of all time, Crafty Odysseus, is the focus of this ancient yet enduring story. The Odyssey is the story of Odysseus' return home from the Trojan War. Odysseus spent 10 years with the other Greeks trying to take down the Trojans. He spends the next ten years trying to return home (difficult when the Gods are against you).

He begins with 12 ships and many crew members. He eventually is a lone man on raft. When he does arrive back in Ithaca he does so incognito, disguised as a beggar. From this vantage he determines who of his household has been loyal and who hasn't. Ultimately, those that have been disloyal or have been preying upon his household are all killed by Odysseus and his son, Telemachus. This is fantastic adventure story.

I listened to this on CD and found the narration quite enjoyable. Stanley Lombardo, the translator, reads the main text and Susan Sarandon reads the general introduction and the introduction to each chapter. Prior to each segment was music--drums, pipe, etc. and the sound of the surf--a nice touch.

As You Wish

As You Wish
By Jackson Pearce
HarperCollins, 2009. 298 pages
Young Adult Fiction

Viola, an artist, would rather sit back and watch her high school peers than interact with them. In particular, Viola is entranced by the beautiful and popular set that she calls, “royalty.” Viola is still devastated by her breakup with her hot best friend Lawrence, who is now part of the royal group. Ever since Lawrence surprised everyone, especially Viola, by announcing his homosexuality his popularity has soared. While sitting in English class one day Viola wishes she didn’t feel invisible. A beautiful young man with dark curls appears to grant her wish. Jinn comes from Caliban, a world where there is no individuality or love. When summoned by a human he must grant three wishes and then return rapidly to Caliban or die. However, Viola doesn’t want to make the wrong three wishes. As Jinn is stuck in Earth, chained to his “master”, he and Viola have long conversations. Eventually Viola wonders if she really wants her wishes granted and Jinn to return to Caliban.

Although there is some cleverness in this novel Jackson Pearce is a young author. The primary character, Viola, doesn’t feel she will be complete or belong to anything unless she has an extraordinary boyfriend. To her credit, the author does have Viola eventually speculate on why she feels so hollow in the first place. But I felt like Pearce’s answers to Viola’s problems were too shallow and based on the philosophy that a boy will solve a girl's problems. That said, the characters were mostly likable. In addition, Pearce does write some discerning dialogue about the difference between what we wish for, and what desire that wish really represents.

ALC

Front and Center

Front and Center
By Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Houghton Mifflin, 2009. 256 pgs. Young Adult

D.J. just wants to blend back into the background; she doesn’t want to be the center of attention anymore. This is proving hard to do though as colleges start noticing her basketball abilities and as a boy in school is flirting with her in front of everyone. As the pressure mounts for her to pick a college and her heart tells her to talk to Brian, D.J. is feeling more and more out of sorts.

Fans of the Dairy Queen series will want to read this latest book about D.J. It’s been a while since I have read the last one, but it felt good to be reading about D.J.’s problems again in her realistic teen voice.

MN

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Demon's Lexicon

The Demon's Lexicon
By Sarah Rees Brennan
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2009. 322 pgs. Young adult fiction.

Nick's world consists of battling and running from magicians and their captive demons, along with his brother, Alan. When two siblings become tangled in their world, all sorts of complications arise, the most important being that Alan is death marked by a demon. In Nick's relentless quest to heal Alan, he uncovers devastating truths that could break him completely.

Great characters and an unusual plot make this an interesting novel. Nick's particularly dark, brutally honest personality really contrasts with Alan's sweet but deceiving nature. I definitely struggled with wanting Nick to show more compassion and yet admiring him for his nerves of steel. With the addition of other unique and complex people in the mix, this story is captivating. I'm certainly looking forward to the next book in the series, especially with the cliffhanger ending.

CW

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mistakes were made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts.

Mistakes were made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts.
by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
Harcourt Publishing, 2007, 292 pgs. Nonfiction

This book was all about self-justification and how people use it to cope with their daily lives. Subjects varied from politicians, to repressed memory, to criminal law, and in each the authors explain how it happens that people make bad decisions and then proceed to justify them to themselves and others. This was an entertaining book, and informative and eye-opening as well.

Guns, Germs, and Steel

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
By Jared Diamond
Norton, 2005. 518 pgs. Nonfiction
Books On Tape 13 discs

Although guns, germs and steel do play an important part of this book and the development of civilization, the majority of this book is dedicated to the domestication of both wild plants and animals. Development of domestication seems to lead to advanced technology. Some sections, containing nothing but lists of cultural centers and the years things developed, seem to drag on forever. I do admit I did find some ideas scattered throughout extremely interesting. I listened to the “Books on Tape”, 13 disc, unabridged edition of this Pulitzer Prize winning book. Even though I normally would have been extremely interested in this topic, I found my thoughts drifting all over the place instead of focusing on the book. The reader Doug Ordunio was ok but he just could not keep my attention. I would recommend this to the most dedicated students of the rise of civilization who don’t mind every idea being compared to the development or nondevelopment of New Guinea.

mpb

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Amaranth Enchantment

The Amaranth Enchantment
By Julie Berry
Bloomsbury, 2009. 308 pgs. Young Adult

Lucinda Chapdelaine, orphaned when she was five years old, lives with her uncle and her malicious step-aunt, assisting them in their floundering jewelry shop. When the prince, the Amaranth witch, and a strange gem all enter the shop on the same day, Lucinda's life takes off on an unexpected path. Lucinda finds herself on a quest to help the witch and improve her own fate, but she ends up facing forces darker than she dreamed.

This book has some Cinderella elements--Lucinda's fall from fortune, the prince, the ball, and the fairy godmother figure--but it falls flat compared to other fractured fairy tales. Lucinda is a likable enough, but her connection with the prince is undeveloped. The quest element has some interesting twists and turns, but the story just doesn't have enough depth to make it a truly great story. Fairy tale fans looking for a quick read may still enjoy it, though.

AE

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Sweetheart of Prosper County

The Sweetheart of Prosper County
By Jill S. Alexander
Feiwel and Friends, 2009. 212 pgs. Young Adult

Austin wants to be noticed (and not by being teased by Dean Ottmer). She doesn’t want to be standing on the curb at the “no-Jesus” Christmas parade—she wants to be in it. So Austin decides that she will try to be the “Sweetheart of Prosper County” the next year by raising a pet and participating in the Future Farmers of America. As Austin raises her pet rooster, Charles Dickens, she learns a lot about herself and about her mother who has been grieving the death of her husband for six long years.

This is a great story of a young woman maturing and learning who she is and how she will deal with trouble. The setting in east Texas also provides some laughs and a different, and welcomed, feel. Fans of Joan Bauer’s plucky heroines should enjoy Austin’s tale.

MN

Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places

Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places
by Bill Streever
Little, Brown, 2009. 292 pgs. Nonfiction.

Streever begins his chilling narrative (ha ha, just kidding, sort of) with a plunge into Prudhoe Bay's 35 degree water so he can describe the feelings that precede hypothermia. From there he takes the reader over frost-heaved highways, under the snow to see the sub-nivean lives of lemmings, and into the world of thawing mammoths (who smell really, really bad). Pretty much everything you might imagine there is to know about cold and cold places, Streever knows and shares: hibernating ground squirrels whose blood actually freezes and who have to "shiver back to life," the quest for absolute zero; what to wear in the coldest of climates (yak wool is best). All these stories and experiences add up to a fascinating chronicle of cold, the anti-commodity we cannot live without.

LW

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sleeping Murder

Sleeping Murder
By Agatha Christie
Dodd Mead, 1976. 242 pgs. Mystery

Newly married Gwenda, when searching for a house in England, knows she has found the perfect home in the villa named Hillside. It felt like home the minute she stepped inside. The longer she lives there, the more she experiences déjà vu moments and begins to wonder if the house is haunted or if she is just losing her mind. Meeting up with Miss Marple through an acquaintance, Gwenda along with her husband Giles, decide that the answer may be in Gwenda's childhood and the disappearance of her stepmother. But will they heed Miss Marple’s warning to let sleeping murders lie?

I have read many of Christie’s works and I would have to say this is one of her best. The person I knew had to have done it was innocent. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a mystery that tricked me like that. I highly recommend this cozy mystery.

KK

The Shakespeare Stealer

The Shakespeare Stealer
By Gary L. Blackwood
Dutton Children’s Book, 1998. 216 pgs. Young Adult

Widge, an orphan sold into apprenticeship, has the art of shorthand. His new master assigned him to steal the play Hamlet. While watching the performance at the Globe Theater in order to copy the play, he becomes enraptured and forgets that he is supposed to be writing the play down. His solution is to become a member of the cast and steal the book so he will not go back to his master empty handed. The problem is that he becomes friends with the Shakespeare Company. Who will Widge serve-his master or his friends?

A fun, light insight into the world of Shakespeare that will appeal to teens with its action and humor.

KK

The Icebound Land

The Icebound Land
By Jonathan Flanagan
Philomel Books, 2007. 266 pgs. Young Adult

Jark Erak, not wanting to leave a losing battle empty-handed, takes Will and Evalyn as prisoners and boards his ship that's heading home to Skandia. With winter setting in and the storm seas fierce, they make port in Icebound Land to wait out the storms. Will and Evalyn decide that their only chance for escape is to flee the island before they reach Skandia to be sold off as slaves. Back home in Araleun, Holt is determined to go after Will, but the King has declined his wishes. Holt resorts to desperate measures to ensure his rescue mission of Will.

The action continues in this great series recommended for any adventure reader.

KK

Splendor

Splendor
By Anna Godbersen
Harper, 2010. 391 pgs. Young Adult

Will everyone end up happy at the end of the Luxe series? These young women and men have had their shares of heartaches and happiness, while enjoying wealth and luxury due to their backgrounds and status, but will they finally gain what they desire the most? Diana has followed Henry to Cuba and is eager to spend the rest of her life with him, in whatever position that might be. Penelope is starting to realize that Henry’s love is out of her reach, but finds she might gain the love of another. Carolina’s sole desire is to marry Leland, but her shady background is always a small step behind her. Elizabeth is enjoying the security of a new marriage and home, but will that feeling last?

The conclusion to the Luxe series is as entertaining and delicious as the first three books. I was very eager to read this and see how Godbersen resolved the characters’ relationships. I admit I was surprised by some of the conclusions, but they make sense and seem fitting to the characters and their personalities. Overall, this is a great conclusion to an addictive series.

MN

Monday, November 2, 2009

See You in a Hundred Years

See You in a Hundred Years
By Logan Ward
Bantam Dell, 2007, 252 pgs. Nonfiction

The Ward family decided to leave their hectic lives in New York City and try to live for one year as if it was the year 1900. They soon find that they have traded in one kind of stress for another. Learning to do all the skills necessary to milk two goats, tame a headstrong draft-horse, produce and can all the food they will need for the whole year, and live without electricity or indoor plumbing prove to be a huge challenge.

The days may have been exhausting for the Ward family but, at the end of the day, there was a certain satisfaction found in learning to live off the land and to appreciate the simple things in life.


This book made me realize that we create a lot of our own stress and that modern conveniences can make our lives more hectic.
Logan Ward's writing is very engaging. I really enjoyed this book, I just wished there had been more pictures, but that wouldn't have been in keeping with a farmer in the year 1900.

AL


God of the Rodeo

God of the Rodeo
By Daniel Bergner
Crown Publishers, 1998. 297 pgs. Nonfiction.

When journalist Daniel Bergner first visited Angola prison, he was intending to a do a brief magazine article; instead, it turned into a year-long project of meeting with the prisoners, employees, and the warden. Warden Cain had a reputation as being a religious man, determined to help the men find redemption and turn their lives around--even though the majority of them were facing life in prison in a state that didn't offer parole on life sentences. Bergner wanted to know if this was possible and set out to examine the programs--including an annual inmate rodeo, church programs, and literacy programs--as well as the personnel, both to see if the men could change and if the man in charge of it all was as good as he seemed to be. He relates stories of a few specific prisoners, tracing the stories of the crimes that earned them their sentences and their time in the prison.

This gritty and graphic look at prison life is highly detailed and hard to stomach. Bergner absolutely does not gloss over the realities of prison life; the behavior and language are intense, shocking, and disgusting. At the same time, this book gives much to ponder about prison systems, where prisoners are out of sight, out of mind, and whether redemption is possible. If you can block out the more disturbing elements of the book, you find yourself pulling for some of these men--men who committed horrific, violent crimes--and yet, who, through Bergner's tale, are human beings with hopes, dreams and heartaches. This is one of the most intense, disturbing books I've ever read--and I will not ever reread it--but it certainly is thought-provoking.

AE

Born to Run

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen
By Christopher McDougall
Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. 287 pgs. Nonfiction

Christopher McDougall wanted to know why his feet hurt every time he tried to run any great distance. He stretched and warmed up, trained and purchased the best running shoes. Yet, despite these efforts, he still couldn’t run without pain. So began a search that led him to the Copper Canyons of Mexico and a unique, peaceful tribe of superathletes who can run hundreds of miles without rest or injury and smile every step of the way.

This book will make you want to run barefoot, uphill, over miles of open trail (…or at the least, it will make you want to want to run). McDougall makes the lost art of the long distance run sound extremely appealing. The discoveries he makes and the characters he encounters on his journey are fascinating. I’d recommend Born to Run to anyone interested in running, racing, or the amazing potential we each have in our own legs, feet, and lungs.

CZ

Still Alice

Still Alice: a Novel
By Lisa Genova
Pocket Books, 2007. 293 pgs. Fiction

Alice Howland is a successful Harvard professor at the top of her field. She has a happy marriage, three grown children, and will soon be a grandmother. However, soon after her 50th birthday she begins to experience lapses in her memory and in a terrifying episode gets completely lost two blocks from her home. Her physician sends her to a specialist who diagnoses her with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The rest of the book describes her emotions and thoughts throughout her mental decline.

I can’t say I enjoyed reading this book. That said, it is still a powerful portrayal of a little understood terminal condition that affects many aging individuals and their families. Genova definitely gives the reader a glimpse into a mind aware of its own diminishing capacity and it’s a devastating viewpoint. I am certain that the difficulty I experienced in reading this story comes from a close personal connection to Alzheimer’s which runs rampant in my father’s family. The story rang true and exposed emotions I hadn’t revisited in several years. Definitely a book to recommend to anyone wanting a better understanding of the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease.

CZ

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance
By Elna Baker
Dutton, 2009. 276 pgs. Biography

Elna Baker is a Mormon actress/waitress/comedian living in New York City. Her entertaining memoir describers her efforts to live her religion while still chasing her dreams in a city whose moral standards deviate from those she was raised to practice. After losing over 80 pounds, she finds herself attracting the male attention she has always craved and struggles to find a balance between her sexuality and her spirituality.

Baker is an entertaining writer, but as I finished her book, I had a variety of conflicting opinions. At times I laughed out loud and completely sympathized with her observations concerning Mormon culture vs. the ‘real world’. I was especially impressed with the way she expressed her beliefs and spoke of LDS doctrine in a respectful and touching voice. However, her description of the Mormon culture and the members she associates with contains an overwhelming amount of contempt and ridicule. Her desperate need to be loved and admired was another aspect of her narrative that grated a bit on the nerves. Overall, this is an interesting viewpoint from a talented young writer.

CZ