Saturday, January 30, 2010

Misery Is a Smell in Your Backpack

Misery Is a Smell in Your Backpack
By Harriet Ziefert
Blue Apple Books, 2005. 40 pgs. Young Adult

In this picture book for teens, Ziefert describes several misery-inducing incidents--such as your friends having early lunch when you have late lunch, or seeing two other girls wearing the same dress as you. This is a quick pick-me-up read for those days when you're feeling blue. Fun pictures by Jennifer Rapp add to this entertaining read.

Calamity Jack

Calamity Jack
By Shannon and Dean Hale
Bloombury, 2010. 144 p. Young Adult

In this sequel to Rapunzel's Revenge, Jack takes center stage. He and Rapunzel head back to the city so Jack can try to repair the damage he's done there previously. When they discover Jack's enemy Blunderboar is in charge of the city, which is overrun with giants and huge ants, they have to set things right before it's too late.

This graphic novel is a quick read with action and just a touch of romance. It gives some background information about Jack (and his beanstalk) but also lets Jack and Rapunzel have an exciting new adventure together. It also has some good character development, as Jack is struggling to figure out who he is and how to move forward after an unsavory past.

AE

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
by Atul Gawande
Holt, 2010. 209 pgs. Nonfiction

A surgeon, associate professor at Harvard Medical School, head of the World Health Organization's Safe Surgery program, and staff writer for the New Yorker, Atul Gawande knows whereof he speaks. In this book it's checklists, not for groceries, Things to Do, books to read, etc., but checklists for projects of extreme complexity such as raising a many-storied building, flying a jetliner, running a high-end restaurant, performing major surgery. The homely, no-tech expedient of a checklist seemed irrelevant to many highly trained professionals who "knew their jobs," but the instantaneous and steep decline in postoperative infections and complications when use of a simple checklist was combined with a team approach brought many hospital administrators on board in the United States and around the world. Gawande himself thought surely he didn't need a checklist until one of his own patients survived a massive hemorrhage only because a nurse had checked an item off her list. Gawande is a fine prose stylist and his message is clear: in critical situations, complexity often yields to simplicity.

LW

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fever, 1793

Fever, 1793
By Laurie Halse Anderson
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2000. 251 pgs. Young Adult

Mattie Cook has big dreams of turning her family's coffeehouse into much more, but her day to day reality involves following orders from her cross mother. When yellow fever hits Philadelphia, and hysteria accompanies it, Mattie wants nothing more than to keep her family safe and together. When Mattie's mother contracts the disease, though, she wants Mattie sent away for her own protection. Mattie finds herself fighting for her survival and the survival of those around her.

Anderson's historical fiction tale was a pleasure to read. Although the topic is certainly grim, I appreciated the way she created a character as realistic as Mattie to explore it for us. The environment, with people terrified to be near anyone who might have yellow fear, was well-described. A great look at a dark time in American history.

AE

Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting

Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting
By Jim Murhpy
Scholastic Press, 2009. 116 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

When World War I began in July 1914, many people thought it would be over in a matter of weeks. However, weeks quickly turned into months as both sides turned to trench warfare, settling into mud and slime. As Christmas approached, commanding officers demanded there be a continuous push at war, but thousands of men in the trenches along the western front had other ideas. Truces were established between Germans and Allies, and many spent Christmas Eve together in No Man's Land, exchanging presents, sharing food, and taking pictures.

Murphy does a great job of providing background information about what led to World War I and the expectations of both sides. His text is easy to understand and illustrations and photographs add greatly to the book. Murphy also helps the reader wonder, as did Winston Churchill when he wrote to his wife in 1914, "What would happen, I wonder, if the armies suddenly and simultaneously went on strike and said some other method must be found of settling the dispute?" Is there another way to solve conflicts? Murphy's book is a great resource for thinking about some of the causes for war and what would happen if people looked for other solutions.

AE

Live a Little!

Live a Little! Breaking the Rules Won’t Break Your Health
By Susan Love and Alice D. Domar
Crown, 2009. 234 pgs. Nonfiction

I picked up this book because the front cover told me to eat a brownie, blow off my run, stay up late, and stop worrying about my health. That is a message every woman in this country needs and wants to hear. Love and Domar are doctors in different fields of women's health who collaborated to create a much needed voice telling us that all the pressure we place on ourselves to be our healthiest, is really stressing us all out and not achieving its desired results. Instead, they assert, we should ‘live a little’. We should do what we can, try our best, but always enjoy life.

I highly recommend this book as a remedy for all those diet and health books that require readers to restructure their entire lives in order to find health and happiness. Instead, these authors present health research in an honest and clear way. They encourage their audience to aim for a “pretty healthy” lifestyle. We should eat healthy and moderate meals, exercise when we can, sleep when we are tired, and nurture healthy relationships. Their demonstrations on how to interpret and incorporate the health messages we encounter is refreshing and surprisingly comforting.

CZ

Drive

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
By Daniel H. Pink
Riverhead Books, 2009. 242 pgs. Nonfiction

In this new business management book, Pink suggests that our economy is built on the flawed belief that people are motivated by rewards. In reality, he asserts, we are motivated by an internal drive to achieve greatness and produce something of worth. Instead of motivating people through bonuses, employers should create a corporate culture that provides each employee the greatest possible level of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If this environment can be established, employees, employers and society all benefit to the greatest degree possible.

While managers and administrators can gain a great deal from the ideas outlined in Pink’s book, any reader will find many insights into how to motivate ourselves and others. Not only is the science fascinating, but Pink’s writing style is quick and entertaining. Highly readable.

CZ

Chronic City

Chronic City
By Jonathan Lethem
Doubleday, 2009. 467 pgs. Fiction

Chase Insteadman lives off residuals earned from his work as a child star two decades ago. His fiancé is an astronaut trapped on a Russian space station. His life is composed of a series of social events where he contentedly plays his role as a celebrity conversation piece. But, quite by chance, he becomes friends with Perkus Tooth, an agoraphobic conspiracy theorist, who introduces Chance to a whole new side of New York City and a cast of new friends that alter his perception of the world and himself. Oh, and this story also involves a massive tiger demolishing buildings throughout the city and an insane amount of marijuana.

I didn’t have many expectations when I picked up this novel and I am still unsure, after reading the entire thing, how to describe it. Not an easy (or clean) read, it is filled with oddly endearing personalities and a fascinating theme of self discovery and the concept of truth. As Chase is forced to face the reality of what is of worth in life, so is the reader. I suppose it is a sign of good writing that I, the reader, feel a desire to reread the novel to revisit some of the revelations and insights I only fully discovered near the end.

CZ

Strength in What Remains

Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness
By Tracy Kidder
Random House, 2009. 277 pgs. Biography

This is the true story of Deo and his escape from war torn Burundi and the Rwandan genocide. After six months on the run, he was able to secure a business visa to the United States and arrived in New York City completely friendless, unable to speak English, and with only $200 in his wallet. Only a few years later, he was able to graduate from Columbia University and enter medical school thanks to his own dedicated efforts and the help of a few friends he was lucky enough to find.

While Deo’s story of survival and achievement is unquestionablely admirable, I was somehow left a little underwhelmed. His story was so intriguing but the narrative seemed to skim over the best parts and the most fascinating people. During the last half of the book, Kidder describes a trip he and Deo make back to Burundi. They visit many sites where horrific scenes unfolded, but again, the narrative failed to satisfy my curiosity concerning what was going on and how people survive and move on from such terrible violence.

CZ

Monday, January 25, 2010

Eat Cake

Eat Cake
By Jeanne Ray
Shaye Arehart Books, 2003. 258 pgs. Fiction

Ruth draws on her talent for concocting delectable cakes and desserts when her family begins to disintegrate around her--her husband loses his job, her mother moves in, and her long-estranged father shows up at the door with no place to go.

I really liked this story about family relationships and cake! In addition to an interesting plot, there are recipes for several of Ruth’s cakes at the back of the book.

AMM

The Bride's Farewell

The Bride's Farewell
By Meg Rosoff
Viking, 2009. 214 pgs. Historical Fiction

In the early morning of her wedding day, Pell slips out of the house and runs off to the Salisbury Horse Fair. Determined not to become like her mother and bear hungry child after hungry child, Pell takes off in hopes of finding work somewhere else and escapes, only to find that her youngest brother, Bean, has followed her. After meeting colorful and helpful people, Pell meets a horse trader who seems to rip her off and steal Bean. Losing hope of finding Bean, Pell takes shelter with a poacher. Eventually the desire to find Bean returns and Pell takes off on a journey that takes her back to where she started. I enjoyed this quiet and lovely book about hopes, dreams, love, and reality.

MN

The Hollow

The Hollow
By Jessica Verday
Simon Pulse, 2009. 515 pgs. Young Adult

Abbey cannot believe her friend Kristen is dead. The two friends were always so careful on the Washington Irving Bridge in their town of Sleepy Hollow and Abbey doesn’t know how Kristen could have slipped. Abbey tries to contain her emotions of guilt, anger, and sadness, alone, immersing herself in her perfume-making and in her daily visits to the cemetery. At Kristen’s funeral, Abbey meets a handsome young man, Caspian, she doesn’t recognize and falls in love with him. She also meets an older couple who were once caretakers at the graveyard that she becomes friends with. Abbey then discovers a secret about Kristen that makes her question her relationship with the dead friend.

I appreciate the details needed to establish a new story and series; however, I don’t appreciate reading four hundred pages worth of set-up and descriptions. I expected more to happen in this five hundred plus page book. The climax and the set-up for the rest of the series happens at the very end, leaving the first several hundred pages to describe how Abbey copes with Kristen’s death and her burgeoning relationship with Caspian. Although the story has promise, I ended up skimming it from page 250 onwards instead of reading and don’t think I will be reading the next in the series.

MN

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Noah's Compass

Noah's Compass
by Anne Tyler
Knopf, 2009. 277 pgs. Fiction

Liam Pennywell is, in the common parlance, a loser. Holder of an advanced degree in philosophy, his job path has followed a descending curve so that when he is laid off, at age 60, it is from a position teaching fifth grade at a low-budget private school. While he is considering whether to look for another job or just retire, Liam moves to a less expensive apartment in a not-that-nice Baltimore neighborhood. He goes to bed his first night in the new digs and wakes the next morning in a hospital with no recollection of the intruder who apparently mugged him the night before. Although he is told that memory loss is a common problem after such an attack, he is obsessed with recalling what happened and contrives to meet a young lady whom he discovers has been hired as a sort of "rememberer" for an aging corporate executive.

Eunice cannot restore his lost memories but she does get him in a heap of trouble as he falls for her, a much younger woman, and she for him. Many of Tyler's protagonists are uncertain and undecided, to put it kindly, and Liam may well be the blandest of the bunch, but he does realize towards the end of the story, that his habit of detachment may have cost him. Paraphrasing the old Dean Martin joke, he asks his ex-wife if "he had a good time" in his own life, knowing that he observed it more than he really lived it. Tyler's trademark goofy and endearing secondary characters enliven the book and there is no one better at reflecting our own foibles, nor of revealing the blessing of the light of common day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Pluto Files: the Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet

The Pluto Files: the Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet
By Neil deGrasse Tyson
W.W. Norton, 2009. 194 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Quoting reasoned scientific opinion and impassioned letters from elementary students – “Why do you think Pluto is no longer a planet? I do not like your anser!!! Pluto is my favorite planet!!!!," Tyson documents the controversy surrounding the definition of a planet established by vote of the International Astronomical Union in 2006. This hotly contested definition officially demoted Pluto to the status of a “dwarf planet.”

The political cartoons, photos, song lyrics and scientific illustrations make this book a delight to browse or read. I highly recommend this book to teens or adults with an interest in science or popular culture.

SH

The Monstrumologist

The Monstrumologist
By Rick Yancey
Simon & Schuster, 2009. 448 pgs. Young Adult

"Snap to, Will Henry!" cries Dr. Pellinore Warthrop when a strange package arrives at his back door amidst the night, delivered by a decrepit graverobber. And Will Henry--exhausted, exploited, twelve-year-old Will Henry--must rise to assist the doctor of dubious philosophy as the package is opened. . . and terror itself rises from the shadows and ashes of a father's past. Terror that the "good" monstrumologist and his adolescent assistant must track, define, study, and quite horrifically, face and destroy.

Few young adult novels aspire to the beauty and complexity of Yancey's work. On the surface, The Monstrumologist is a harrowing, morbid tale of the Anthropophagi, mythical beasts remembered in the works of Shakespeare and Herotodus, and their stalking of a sleepy nineteenth-century Massachusetts town. But Yancey is a storyteller of remarkable distinction and skill; and as his macabre plot unfolds, twisting its claws into the reader, one begins to realize that Yancey isn't merely weaving a gripping, chilling story, but defining humanity in terms of monstrousness, in the terms of ties that bind, and of those emotions and abilities that truly elevate us beyond the beast.

As a warning: this book is graphically violent, and the Anthropophagi are creatures vaulted beyond the realm of nightmare. Not for the faint of heart, but certainly worth the journey. Five stars.

CA

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Rose of Sebastopol

The Rose of Sebastopol
By Katherine McMahon
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009. 380 pages. Historical Fiction

It is 1850s England and the Crimean war is brewing in the faraway city of Sebastopol on the shores of the Black Sea. The book begins with a scene that hints at the tumult that is to come to small, timid Mariella and then travels back in time to open up the absorbing relationship of Mariella and her head-strong cousin, Rosa.

After receiving an unsettling letter that her fiancé, a Crimean War surgeon has fallen ill, Mariella breaks out of her comfortable routine to go to him. Once there, she learns that her cousin, Rosa, who was denied entry into Florence Nightingale’s nurse corps, but brazenly goes anyway, has gone missing. Mariella despite being far too scared ends up traveling to the Crimean war front to search for Rosa and thus begins a journey that changes everything for her.

This is an immensely readable account of two women caught up in the larger events of their time. I found the book difficult to put down and especially enjoyed the glimpses of Victorian London, the medical world of the time, and the conditions of war. I felt the ending was a little rushed, but would otherwise highly recommend reading this book.

AJ

Nanny Returns

Nanny Returns
By Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
Atria Books, 2009. 305 pages. Fiction

It’s been 12 years since Nanny was fired and then forced to abandon her charge, Grayer, in this sequel to The Nanny Diaries. Nan has since married “Harvard Hottie” a.k.a. Ryan Hutchinson and moved abroad while he worked for the U.N. Now having moved back to New York, Nan is thrust into the X’s world again after a late-night, drunken visit from a now 16-year-old Grayer who blames Nan for deserting him. Other than a second son, Stilton, nothing much has changed in the X household. Mr. and Mrs. X are still emotionally unavailable and Grayer still longs for his father’s approval.

In Nan’s own life, Ryan has decided he is ready to have children, but Nan isn’t so sure. In addition to trying to get a new consulting business off the ground and renovating their home while Ryan travels to Africa for a job, Nan isn’t even sure she wants to have children. She’s seen too many parents screw their kids up and is afraid of doing the same thing.

I enjoyed reading the first book, The Nanny Diaries, but this book was mostly a disappointment for me. There was somewhat of a final resolution for Grayer, Nanny, and the X’s, but I was hoping for newer material instead of the same old recrimination of the lack of morals and care for other human beings that the wealthy elite have.

AJ

The Red Door

The Red Door
By Charles Todd
William Morrow, 2010. 344 pgs. Mystery

Is it wrong to have a book crush on a psychologically-tortured man? If so, I don't care--I love Inspector Rutledge.

Florence Teller paints her front door a vibrant red color to welcome her husband home from the Great War. A year and a half later Florence’s husband has still not returned home and she is found dead in front of the red door. Around the same time Florence is murdered, and miles away, Walter Teller disappears after having a mysterious crippling incident. Inspector Ian Rutledge investigates both situations and wonders if the two families and cases are related. Walter Teller’s family insists that they don’t know the dead woman, however, and Rutledge is forced to press the family for the connection.

Inspector Rutledge is a first-rate detective and he doesn’t disappoint in this latest mystery. While he is still haunted by his service in the war, what is great about this entry and, one of the book's strong points, is that Rutledge finally starts to face some of his fears and feelings and begins waking up emotionally.

MN

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Safe

Safe
By Susan Shaw
Dutton Books, 2007. 168 pgs. Young Adult

After thirteen-year-old Tracy is raped and left for dead, she just wants to forget that anything happened to her. She no longer feels safe going outside, so in an attempt to regain feelings of security, she practices the piano for several hours each day. Although her friends try to encourage her to participate in her former hobbies and her father thinks therapy will be helpful, Tracy thinks she can get through things in her own way.

This book doesn't have the edge of Speak, but it'd actually be a good one to use in combination with Speak, as readers could then discuss the similarities and differences between the two stories. Shaw handles the topic of rape without providing any gory details. I thought the ending was a little too simplistic, but at the same time, it's appropriate for younger readers.

AE

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Love, Rosie

Love, Rosie
By Cecelia Ahern
Hyperion, 2005. 503 pgs. Fiction

Rosie Dunne and Alex Stewart are best friends; they have known each other since they were children and are a vital part of each other's lives--and at times, it seems something romantic might blossom between the two. However, Alex lives in Boston, since his family moved there when he was a teenager, and Rosie is in Ireland, and things always seem to spring up just when Rosie and Alex appear to finally be about to declare their true feelings, leaving the reader to wonder if they'll ever discover true love and be able to act on it.

This book is written entirely in the format of letters, instant messaging conversations, and emails, which can be a bit wearying in a 5oo page book. Also, along the way, I got a little frustrated that things were taking so long. However, the book is well-written and enjoyable as long as the reader doesn't expect immediate gratification and is willing to go on a long journey with Alex and Rosie.

AE

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel
Holt, 2010. 532 pgs. Historical Fiction.

The "familiar" story of Henry the Eighth, Catherine of Aragon, and Anne Boleyn is told here through the little-known lens of the life of Thomas Cromwell, a commoner, son of an abusive blacksmith father, who rose from a soldier, wool merchant, and trader to become Henry's confidant in the highest circles of the Court. Cromwell is a deeply sympathetic protagonist, a self-taught polymath who's sufferings are sore, but whose compassion and intelligence make him the man for all season which Thomas More, in these same pages, is not. The depth, breadth, and sheer virtuosity of Mantel's prose delivered her the Man Booker Prize for 2009, the most popular winner ever (judging by sales of the book), and makes reading the novel a rare, memorable, even transcendent, delight.

The Crimson Thread

The Crimson Thread: A Retelling of Rumpelstiltskin
By Suzanne Weyn
Simon Pulse, 2008. 207 pgs. Young Adult

Bridget O'Malley and her family, having fallen on hard times in Ireland, have moved to New York, but they find America may not be the land of opportunity for Irish folks after all. A quick name change to Bertie Miller and some elaboration of the truth by her father lands Bertie a job working as a seamstress for the textile tycoon J.P. Wellington. When a business error by his son could prove disastrous for Wellington, Bertie's father again resorts to fabrication, exaggerating Bertie's abilities in an attempt for the family to get ahead. Now Bertie has to save the business, and while she's not capable of doing it, Ray Stalls is--but is she willing to pay the price that he demands for his help?

Rumpelstiltskin has never been a favorite story of mine, but I do like this retelling. It's not as good as A Curse As Dark As Gold, but still, I like how it tells a story that really doesn't involve magic as much as hard work and talent. I also like how the Rumpelstiltskin character is portrayed, although I do think character development for his character is lacking. I also thought the epilogue wrapped things up a little too neatly, but I guess it's true to the "and they all lived happily ever after" element of fairy tales.

AE

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Amazing Tales for Making Men out of Boys

Amazing Tales for Making Men out of Boys
By Neil Oliver
William Morrow, 2009. 364 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Where’s all the Men?!? It’s not just a cry from the coeds in Provo demanding an improvement in the lamentable 2 to 1 ratio. Neil Oliver also yearns to travel back to a time when boys were taught to be men, a time when heroes existed. As an archaeologist, he’s passionate about history and he tells a mean story too. He’s lovingly compiled a selection of tales that inspire and he’s recreated accounts of courage, adventure and honorable sacrifice. The stories include famous but sometimes little studied events such as The Demons of Camerone, The Charge of the Light Brigade and Thermopylae. Your boys will meet heroes such as Lord Nelson from the Battle of Trafalgar, Admiral Scott and his explorations in the Arctic and the moonwalkers of Apollo 13. It’s a lifetime of adventure in one readable volume.

Oliver does recommend his collection strictly for the masculine sex, lamenting his wife’s poor opinion of one story by saying “but she’s a girl and girls don’t understand.” Now that sounds like a challenge to me. Promising much, the book doesn’t come with a money back guarantee, but as an international bestseller its popularity can speak for itself.

DAP

Jane Bites Back

Jane Bites Back
By Michael Thomas Ford
Ballantine Books, 2010. 299 pgs. Fiction

Jane Austen is a vampire. She has changed her name and runs a small bookstore in upstate New York. In general, she is content selling books including numerous copies of her now classic works, despite the fact that she receives no royalties. One nagging discouragement is her inability to publish her new(ish) manuscript after decades of trying. Her life, or afterlife, is about to be upended when a dark man from her past appears and threatens those she has grown to care for.

This was fun to read. There was something charmingly ironic about an Austen spin-off consistently mocking the Austen-mania dominating a good portion of the publishing world. But beyond that you will find interesting, though perhaps shallow, characters and a whole bunch of hilarious literary references. Not a squeaky clean choice, but definitely an entertaining one.

CZ

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
By Stieg Larson
Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. 465 pgs. Mystery

Michael Blomkvist has spent years building up a reputation as a respected financial journalist, but it only takes moments for a jury to find him guilty of libel and sentence his career to the gallows. Lisbeth Salander is a troubled young woman whose special skills and obvious intelligence allows her to barely hang onto the fringes of society. And then there is Harriet Vanger, whose mysterious disappearance from her home over 30 years ago brings these two intriguing individuals together to solve this fascinating cold case.

This is the first book in a trilogy written by deceased Swedish author Stieg Larson. His story is truly captivating, though any reader should be warned that the violence described is extremely graphic and disturbing. I could hardly put the book down as the investigation twisted and turned. I plan to attempt to read the entire series (though I have been warned that the graphic violence continues and perhaps escalates).

CZ

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Last Thing I Remember

The Last Thing I Remember
By Andrew Klavan
Thomas Nelson, 2009. 346 pp. Young Adult

Charlie West wakes up strapped to a chair, unable to remember why or how he arrived there. All he can remember is being a regular high school kid leading a normal life--dreaming about what to be when he grows up, crushing on a pretty girl, and living for his karate. Now, covered in bruises, burns, and blood, he overhears a stranger order his death. What happened that got him into such a situation, and will he ever escape?

This is a fast-paced, gripping story. I really appreciated that it is written with such an authentic, believable voice with Charlie as the narrator. The reader immediately feels sympathy for Charlie and is drawn into his story. I was also impressed with what an upstanding character Charlie was--Klavan created a person who is is great example and role model without being sickly sweet or too priggish, even granting a certain coolness to Charlie. I'll be looking forward to the second in the Homelanders series, coming February 2010.

CW

The Otherwordlies

The Otherwordlies
By Jennifer Anne Kogler
Eos, 2008. 385 pp. Young Adult

Fern is odd, to say the least. She claims to communicate with the family dog, has extreme sensitivity to the sun, and is amazingly accurate at weather prediction. When she suddenly finds herself inexplicably transported from her classroom to a beach one day, she realizes her differences can be dismissed no longer. As Fern slowly discovers more about her true identity, she begins to understand the danger she and her loved ones must face.

An interesting take on supernatural powers, this story mixes fantasy and mythology. Written simply, The Otherworldlies was a quick, enjoyable read with some suspense and mystery tossed in. This book would be an especially good choice for tweens and young teenagers as it highlights a 12 year old and is a much more innocent take on vampires than most of the other fare available. Although the writing is rather forced in places, the story is nonetheless entertaining and will give the vampire-loving crowd yet another book to enjoy.

CW

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Red Wolf Conspiracy

The Red Wolf Conspiracy
By Robert V.S. Reddick
Del Rey, 2009. 450 pages. Fantasy.

This thoroughly enjoyable mix of high seas adventure, fantasy, and intrigue is written by first-time novelist, Robert V.S. Redick. The massive Chathrand is the last ship of its kind and the pride of the Arquali Empire. Built 600 years ago, it dwarfs any boat on the seas today. The Chathrand is about to depart on a mission of high importance. The ship and its crew are to deliver Thasha, the daughter of retired Admiral Isiq, to the Mizithran Empire to be married in a bid for peace between the two empires. But no one aboard seems sure whether this is a true attempt by the two empires to bind them together or merely a ploy to start an even more deadly game.

Pazel Pashkindle is a lowly tarboy aboard the Chathrand, but he has a unique talent brought on by magic that allows him to instantly learn any language when suffering from one of his “mind-fits.” As he is the only person aboard who can speak Zithrini, this puts him in the path of Thasha and the intrigue surrounding her. Soon Thasha and Pazel are working together to unravel the secrets that everyone seems to be hiding.

The Red Wolf Conspiracy has what is at first a confusing mix of characters. But once the story really gets going, it becomes quite the page-turner. This spirited and exciting story brings to mind historical adventures such as The Count of Monte Cristo and Master and Commander, but for more historical fantasy try His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik.

AJ

Shiver

Shiver
By Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic, 2009. 392 pages. Young Adult

Grace’s backyard opens into the woods and for years she has been fascinated with the wolves that roam there, especially one particular yellow-eyed wolf who saved her from a wolf attack when she was young. The gray wolf seems to watch her as much as she watches him until he disappears each summer.

Sam is that yellow-eyed wolf. He and his wolf pack can transform into humans when it gets hot enough, but they only have so many changes before they permanently become wolves.

One chilly September afternoon, Sam, in wolf form is shot by a group of hunters looking for the wolves that attacked a high school boy. Grace discovers him bloody and in human form on her back doorstep. She soon discovers who and what he is, but as winter draws near her time with human Sam will be short unless they can find a cure to keep Sam from transitioning into a wolf forever.

This is an interesting twist on the werewolf tale. Something we have seen happening with vampires for quite some time. What makes this novel stand out for me are the characters. They are interesting and refreshingly use their brains to deal with problems and most importantly Grace isn’t whiny and annoying.

AJ

Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools

Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools
By Philip Caveney
Delacorte Press, 2008. 338 pgs. Young Adult

Sebastian is following in his dead father’s footsteps, training to be a jester; the only problem is that he is not funny. With money running out at home, he decides that he must find an appointment with a king. He, along with his trusty talking buffalope Max, head off to Keladon. Along the way they meet up with Captain Cornelius Drummel, a warrior short in stature but big in courage, who is looking for a post in the Keladon army. Traveling together they rescue the princess Kerin of Keladon from an attack from the Brigands. Being heroes, Sebastian and Cornelius think they have found favor with the king, or so they thought.

I first picked up this book to listen to because I was intrigued with the narrator - Maxwell Caulfield (yes, that Maxwell Caulfield). I was not disappointed and in fact hope that Caulfield will be narrating more books in the future.

This is a fun adventure story with a little fantasy and lots of humor. I really enjoyed it and look forward to listening to its sequel when it comes out.

One of the Survivors

One of the Survivors
By Susan Shaw
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2009. 199 pgs. Young Adult

Joey Campbell understands the dangers of fire and when fire alarms go off, he reacts appropriately. If only the parents and other residents in his town understood that as well, perhaps they wouldn’t blame him and Maureen for the fire and the 24 dead people. 24 dead, 2 survivors—that’s all Joey can think of and he endures a summer of grief and pain as he contemplates why he and Maureen were the only survivors of the fire.

This quick read, while not overly emotional, effectively portrays a young man who deals with the guilt of having survived when others, including many friends, did not. I appreciated how the author made me think about what I would have done in this situation and seeing how Joey resolved his feelings towards the event.

MN

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Necropolis

Necropolis
By Anthony Horowitz
Sholastic Press, 2009. 389 pgs. Young Adult

The fourth novel in the Gatekeepers series has Matt and the other three Gatekeepers in search of their fourth and final member, Scarlet. The problem is that the evil corporation Nighrise, who is summoning back the powers of the Old Ones, is preventing them from finding her. Time is running out and evil is taking over. Will the Gatekeepers unite in time with their special powers to save the world?

The Gatekeeper series has all the action that the Alex Rider series has, but with a fantasy element.

KK

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

1776

1776
By David McCullough
Simon & Schuster, 2009. 386 pgs. Nonfiction

1776 was a pivotal year in the history of our great nation. The signing of the Declaration of Independence in July may be the most famous event of that year, but many other events occurred that were just as necessary for that independence to be won. McCullough has made Washington the central figure in his yearlong chronology telling of the general’s struggles to lead an army of untrained volunteers against an overwhelming force consisting of professional soldiers.

It is no wonder McCullough wins honors so consistently. He has such a complete understanding of history and an unquestionable ability to write it in an understandable and entertaining way. The events and personalities of 1776 are fascinating and inspiring. Washington’s leadership and the incredible sacrifices made of the entire revolutionary force cannot fail to elicit admiration and appreciation. This book is perfect for anyone wanting to dive into U.S. history, especially if they want to read McCullough but aren’t sure if they can commit to reading 500-1,200 pages.

CZ

The Murder of King Tut

The Murder of King Tut: The Plot to Kill the Child King: A Nonfiction Thriller
By James Patterson and Martin Dugard
Little, Brown & Co., 2009. 332 pgs. Nonfiction

Thriller writer James Patterson, with co-writer Martin Dugard, tackle one of the most fascinating murders in history in this “nonfiction thriller”. He tells three stories. First, that of his and Dugard’s investigation and discovery process as they searched for answers to this ancient mystery. Second, they describe the career of the Egyptologist Howard Carter who, after years of searching, uncovered the tomb of the Child King in 1922. And finally, in a novelized format, the story of King Tut unfolds from his birth and early ascension to the throne of Egypt, to his untimely and suspicious death.

I have not read any of Patterson’s work in years and was seriously disappointed in this choppy, misleading, and unsatisfying book. Patterson and Dugard’s story is annoying, self-important, and pointless. Carter’s storyline was the best part of the narrative since it was clearly based on actual events and tells of the man’s passionate dedication to discovering the hidden treasures of Egypt. Tut’s story is so clearly speculative I am still struggling with the book’s inclusion in our nonfiction collection. The prose and writing were so horrible, I’m a little embarrassed I finished it.

CZ

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Missing Girl

The Missing Girl
By Norma Fox Mazer
HarperTeen, 2008. 284 pgs. Young Adult

The man who watches the five Herbert sisters--Beauty, Mim, Stevie, Fancy, and Autumn--could be any normal man...but he's not. He watches them, only watches, trying to decide which one he likes best. The sisters don't know they are being watched; they are busy with the stresses of their own lives, including the fact that their father is out of work and the family is struggling to get by. They have no idea that disaster is about to strike.

This book started a little slowly and I wasn't sure if I would like it. Also, with multiple narrators (Beauty, Fancy, Autumn, and the man who watches them), I didn't initially really get a good feel for any particular character. However, I stuck with it and got hooked. It was an intriguing look at the mind of a criminal and the topic of abuse, without being too gruesome or detailed.

AE

This Family Is Driving Me Crazy

This Family Is Driving Me Crazy
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2009. 224 pgs. Young Adult

This collection of ten stories by popular teen authors focuses on the fact that while our families may drive us crazy, they're still our families and we can't help but love them. There are stories about learning to understand each other and find common ground, crazy wedding stories, and more. Authors include Gordon Korman, Jack Gantos, Joan Bauer, and Walter Dean Myers.

As is common in my short story reading experience, I definitely liked some stories better than others. However, with this collection, I don't think there was any story that I really disliked. A quick read that does remind us to find the good things in our families, however crazy they may be.

AE

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Death Wore White

Death Wore White
by Jim Kelly
St. Martin's, 2009. 390 pgs. Fiction.

As Detective Inspector Shaw and his partner George Valentine scour the Norfolk coastline for signs of toxic waste dumping, a body washes ashore, afloat in a small rubber raft. Nearby, a line of eight cars is stalled on a back road by a fallen pine tree. The driver of the first vehicle is alone, dead in the driver's seat, and there are no footprints going to or coming from his truck. Are the homicides related? How and by whom was each victim killed? Kelly's elegant, complex puzzle plays out in the bitter blasts of a North Sea winter, Britain's coastline heavy with menace and falling snow. Both plot and character driven, Kelly's book, the first in a new series, is excellent reading for the dark of the year.