Saturday, February 27, 2010

Wedding Girl

Wedding Girl
Madeleine Wickham
Thomas Dunne Books, 2009. 327 p. Fiction

Milly adores wearing a wedding dress, the richness of satin and tulle combined with a delicate tiara and maybe just a hint of a veil. Of course the handsome man by her side only adds to the exquisite picture she knows she presents, but he’s really just the accessory--especially under the circumstances. As the cameras click, click away on those London steps, she smiles and enjoys the marriage she knows won’t last. (Fast forward 10 years) Perhaps that’s why she doesn’t hesitate to become engaged once again. It’s just so easy to forget she’s already done this before and it didn’t really count, not that first time anyway. But what will happen if Simon discovers that, well technically, she is still married.

For Americans, love with a British accent makes everything more tantalizing. Sophie Kinsella is the reigning star in chick-lit circles and she has claims to the Wedding Girl, although she’s writing under the pen name, Wickham. Kinsella/Wickham delves into some potentially heavy topics that all involve marriage: honesty in relationships, keep the baby/don’t keep the baby, the gay/straight dilemma and what to do when you’ve reached that blasé phase of middle marriage but, because it’s all accomplished with upper-class posh and plenty of chuckles it definitely won't leave you feeling mentally overtaxed. It’s a nice beach read if you can find one this time of year.

Language will be a deterrent for the conservative crowd and Kinsella fans might want to try Twenties Girl, a stronger, gayer novel with all the right touches of whimsy and humor.

DAP

Friday, February 26, 2010

Once Was Lost

Once Was Lost
By Sara Zarr
Little, Brown, 2009. 217 pgs. Young Adult

Sam is a pastor’s kid and it bothers her at times. Even her good friends don’t invite her to certain parties for fear of what she will tell her dad. So how does she tell anyone that she is not sure she believes anymore? She can’t tell her emotionally-absent father who is always doing church work and her mother is an alcoholic in rehab. Sam keeps all this to herself, along with her frustrations towards her parents. Sam’s doubts increase when a thirteen-year-old girl from her congregation, Jody, is kidnapped after church.

I vaguely remember what it was like being a teenager, but I don’t know if I would have kept all these doubts bottled up in myself like Sam does. That was my biggest frustration with this book, and perhaps the point of it—Sam never tells anyone, not even the boy she becomes closer to, that she has some doubts. I would have exploded. But perhaps this book will help the doubting soul who keeps everything inside.

MN

Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood: A Graphic Novel

Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood: A Graphic Novel
By Tony Lee, Sam Hart, and Artur Fujita
Candlewick Press, 2009. 160 pages. Young Adult

Robin of Loxley, trying to avenge his father’s death, enters the Sherwood Forest to confront John Little who Lord Murdach claimed was his father’s killer. After fighting John, Robin learns the true identity of the killer and joins up with the John Little’s crew to take on Lord Murdach.

I have not read many graphic novels, but I had read so many good things about this book in review journals that I decided to pick it up. I was not disappointed. Even though one might be familiar with the legend of Robin Hood, the author brings out new angles of the legend. There is some mild language, but I would recommend it to teens and adults.

KK

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Friday Night Knitting Club

The Friday Night Knitting Club
By Kate Jacobs
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2007. 345 pgs. Fiction

Georgia Walker runs her own knitting store, Walker and Daughter, in New York City. A single mother who doesn’t have much interaction with her parents, Georgia is not lonely in terms of friendship. Anita, the older woman who first inspires Georgia to open her store, works every day with Georgia and is her surrogate mother. Peri, a law student who wants to go into fashion, works part-time and K.C., Georgia’s friend from her publishing days, comes in often as well. Dakota, Georgia’s daughter, makes goodies for all the women and Lucie, a film producer, is a frequent customer. All these women make up the Friday Night Knitting Club and the book follows these women through a year where changes happen to all of them.

The action focuses mostly on Georgia who must deal with the arrival of her long-ago boyfriend James, who is also Dakota’s father and wants to be a part of their lives now. Georgia’s best friend, Cat, from high school also reappears and wants to make amends for her betrayal of Georgia before college. Cat challenges each woman to do something beyond their comfort zone, yielding interesting results for all. I really enjoyed this tale of friendship and was glad when I could pick it up again. I particularly liked the words of wisdom imparted by the older women which the younger women actually thought about. All-in-all, a good, quick read.

MN

Waiting for Normal

Waiting for Normal
By Leslie Connor
Katherine Tegen Books, 2008. 290 pgs. Young Adult

Twelve-year-old Addie's life is anything but normal. Her irresponsible mother, recently divorced from Addie's beloved step-father Dwight, has lost custody of Addie's two younger half siblings, due to a tendency to leave the three girls home alone. As Addie and her mother move to a new town, Addie hopes that things will be different, that somehow things will work out better, but it doesn't take long before her mother's new "job" has her away from home for hours and even days at a time. Frustrated by her mother's behavior and desperately wanting to spend more time with her former step-father and her little sisters, Addie must find the resiliency to survive as she's waiting for normal.

This is a very enjoyable book. Addie is a delightful character--resourceful and intelligent while at the same struggling with a learning disability. Her struggle against hope, as she tries to brace herself against pain and disappointment, rang true to me. Well-developed characters and an uplifting message make this a wonderful book.

AE

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden
By Kate Morton
Atria Books, 2009. 552 pgs. Fiction

The Forgotten Garden begins with a small child, seemingly abandoned, on a boat headed for Australia. She claims to not know her name or why she carries with her a small suitcase containing an illustrated book of fairy tales and one single change of clothes. From this central point the mystery of who she is and where she came from is slowly revealed over a 100 year span of time. This book is all at once a family saga, a romance, and a mysterious tale of tragedy and redemption.

This is a spectacular piece of storytelling and a work of fiction I can easily recommend to almost anyone. The Forgotten Garden reminds me of The Thirteenth Tale but with a much better conclusion. Morton’s method of slowly unraveling a complicated story is engrossing and I had a hard time setting the book down each night. By far my favorite book of the year and one I can see myself recommending for years to come.

CZ

Heist Society

Heist Society
By Ally Carter
Disney-Hyperion, 2010. 287 pgs. Young Adult

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her on a trip to the Louvre...to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria...to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own--scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she'd expected.

Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has good reason: a powerful mobster has been robbed of his priceless art collection and wants to retrieve it. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat's father isn't just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat's dad needs her help. For Kat there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it's a spectacularly impossible job? She's got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in history--or at least her family's (very crooked) history.

Ally Carter has done it again. Fans of the Gallagher Series will want to check out Heist Society. This was a book that I didn’t want to put down and one I wished I could have read in one sitting. On her blog Carter hints that there will be more books about Kat, so look for another great series from Ally Carter in the future.

AMM

Friday, February 19, 2010

Country Driving: a Journey Through China from Farm to Factory

Country Driving: a Journey Through China from Farm to Factory
By Peter Hessler
Harper, 2010. 438 pgs. Nonfiction.

If you want to see China but don’t have money to go there, join Peter Hessler on his country drives. Your first “trip” of 7000 miles follows the Great Wall (which is actually a series of walls) from Beijing to the Tibetan plateau. You’ll camp in the desert so the local authorities won’t know you don’t have travel documents, and meet a wide variety of Chinese hitchhikers, truckers and workers. For a more intimate look at life in a small village, Hessler will be your sympathetic Chinese speaking guide to the small village of Sancha just outside Beijing. You’ll be part of village life and watch the changes that come with the new highways connecting the village to the big city. Last, Hessler takes you to a new economic development zone to watch a factory start from the ground up.

I highly recommend this wonderful book. Anyone with an interest in China should read it. And if you wonder if you might be interested in China but don’t know what book to read first, start here. Hessler is a well-informed guide who shares his experiences with humor and unreserved affection for the Chinese people. He has also written Oracle Bones: a Journey Between China’s Past and Present and River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. SH

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels

The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels
by Janet Soskice
Knopf, 2009. 316 pgs. Nonfiction

Agnes and Margaret Smith's beginnings were not exactly humble, but who could have predicted that they would grow up to be world-renowned for biblical scholarship and the discovery of a great number of priceless ancient texts. Enormously wealthy from an unexpected windfall (a story in itself), the twins' father believed deeply in the education of women and gave his girls every opportunity for formal education and informal study. When they showed an early facility for languages, he promised them a trip to every country whose language they learned and they visited France, Germany, Spain, and Italy in fairly rapid succession. But when they traveled to Egypt after the death of their father, they would discover a manuscript of great antiquity and enormous importance, a Syriac transcription of the four gospels. Later accounts from miffed scholars and journalists with an eye to an amusing story suggest the sisters discovered the codex accidentally when a page was used as a "butter dish" at the monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of the mountain, but, in fact, the sisters went to Sinai with malice aforethought, as it were, looking for manuscripts in a "dark hole" described to them by a previous visitor to the monastery. Because the sisters had no scholarly credentials (and were not allowed to have them at the Cambridge of that era) they called upon scholars in the field for help in transcription and translation. These "gentlemen" tried to devalue the sisters' contributions but Agnes and Margaret stuck to their guns (Agnes even learning Syriac so she could translate the text herself) and were finally fully recognized not only for this find, but for their catalogue of mss. in the St. Catherine's library, and for saving great numbers of ancient texts from black marketeers. This is a fascinating story. It reads better than most novels and is filled with the kind of information that makes the reader want to know much more.

LW

Reality Check

Reality Check
by Peter Abrahams
HarperTeen, 2009. 330 pgs. Young Adult

Cody is a poor kid. Clea is rich. When Clea's dad gets wind of their budding relationship, he sends Clea back east to a high-toned boarding school. Angry, Cody breaks things off and after a season-ending knee injury, quits the football team and drops out of school to work in a lumberyard. But when Clea goes missing during a horse ride in the woods, Cody drives to Vermont to find her. An icy landscape, a chilly reception from many who might be involved in the disappearance, and physical and verbal threats fail to deter Cody from his search until things take a deadly turn. Cody is a nuanced and sympathetic protagonist (though he seems a bit slow to figure things out towards the end). Abrahams' prose is atmospheric and suspenseful. Some bad language makes this book best-suited to older teens, but Cody's courage, determination, and increasing understanding of himself and others make this book more than just a compelling mystery, which it also is.

Wench

Wench: A Novel
By Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Amistad, 2010. 293 pgs. Historical Fiction

Lizzie is her master’s mistress; Drayle loves her and she has given him two children—the only two children he has. Lizzie has spent the last few summers at Tawawa House in Ohio, where southern gentleman escape for the summer with their black slave mistresses. Lizzie has made friends at Tawawa, Sweet and Reenie, who are both in similar situations. However this summer and the next one are different for Lizzie and her friends. A new slave mistress is there, Mawu, who has different ideas which shape the two summers.

Lizzie has a great love for her children, her friends, and for her master. It’s intriguing to see how this love grows and changes from the time Lizzie becomes Drayle’s mistress to the new feelings and situations she experiences during these summers. This novel is a different look at a hard time in American history, but it is engrossing.

MN

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Contentment: Inspiring Insights for LDS Mothers

Contentment: Inspiring Insights for LDS Mothers
By Maria Covey Cole
Covenant Communications, 2009. 87 pgs. Nonfiction

Maria Covey Cole has written this little book to help the many LDS women who struggle to find contentment in their role as mothers. She uses personal stories and those of friends, along with quotes from books and talks, to teach the importance of gaining perspective in our lives. She argues that one of the most destructive things we do as women is to compare ourselves to others. She also focuses much of the book on overcoming discontentment and showing ways we can be more content in our lives.

Her writing style is easy to read, and the length of the book makes it possible to get through, even with the many interruptions of a family. I did find myself thinking that at some points, it just felt like a really long talk, but many women will find comfort in this message.

AL

Undaunted: the Miracle of the Hole-in-the-Rock Pioneers

Undaunted: the Miracle of the Hole-in-the-Rock Pioneers
By Gerald Lund
Deseret Book, 2009. 804 pgs. Historical Fiction

Lund’s saga of Utah pioneers actually starts in the coal mines of southern Yorkshire, England, and follows young David Draper and his father from 1862 to 1880 when they are part of the pioneer company building the road through the Hole-in-the-Rock. Through these and other fictional characters, Lund tells a well researched story of the pioneers who challenged the impassable Utah wilderness in what is now known as Glen Canyon. Lund carries readers through a lot of history with a thread of romance and adventure. With so much story to tell, I wish Lund had done this as a series instead of a single book.

The author has helpfully created the website Undaunted-The Novel, to show the spectacular area that caused the pioneers so much difficulty. He also provides extensive footnotes throughout the book to share facts about historical events and the real pioneers who also inhabit this novel. SH

Age of Wonder

Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science
By Richard Holmes
Panteon Books, 2009. 552 pgs. Nonfiction

During the late 18th century, a handful of men and women dedicated their lives to exploring the mysteries of Earth and Space. This book tells the stories of these brilliant individuals and how their passion for knowledge, not to mention their fearlessness in pioneering new frontiers, led the world into the Romantic Age. A list of the key players described in Holmes’ book would include explorer Joseph Banks, astronomer William Herschel and his sister Caroline, and the chemist Humphry Davies.

Scrupulously researched, Age of Wonder is a fascinating journey through this amazing era of discovery. Holmes does an excellent job of recreating the excitement that new discoveries created throughout the world of intellectuals. I admit that I didn’t find all the chapters equally interesting; but I was never tempted to abandon the book, either. This is definitely recommended reading for anyone interested in this era’s literature as well as history and science, since major poets and writers of the age play minor, but important, roles in the narrative.

CZ

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Room for Improvement

Room for Improvement
By Stacey Ballis
Berkley Books, 2006. 294 pgs. Fiction

Lily Allen is an interior designer who gets an awesome job as a designer on Swap/Meet, a makeover TV show with a twist--not only do the participants get a new look for their apartments, they also get a makeover for themselves and the chance to meet some other singles. Lily is thrilled with the opportunity but finds herself hit with a hard dose of reality--the home makeovers don't go as smoothly as intended, her lifelong best friends accuse of her letting work consume her life, and her life is sadly lacking in romance. Although she has a series of flings, she can't get herself to face the one guy who was interested in a relationship.

This book had a fun premise; the makeover TV show is what made me decide to read it. This is good example of true chick-lit, with Lily living the single life, bouncing between relationships, and having some great friends to support her on her journey to self-realization and growth. However, the sex, alcohol, swearing, and even pot-smoking made the book a little tough to stomach. Toned down a little, I would like this book a lot; however, as it is, I think it has room for improvement.

AE

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Little Change of Face

A Little Change of Face
By Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Red Dress Inc., 2005. 328 pages. Romance

Scarlett Jane Stein hates her name but loves her appearance. She easily attracts men. By her own admittance Scarlett chose the profession of librarian in order to rebel against stereotype. In fact, when interesting men first see Scarlett behind a library desk they exclaim with surprise that she should choose to "hide" herself there. Scarlett is involved in an unhealthy relationship with her default best friend Pam. Pam continually taunts Scarlett about her beauty and issues a dare. The dare is that Scarlett won't be able to captivate men and get dates just by personality alone. After a bout with the chicken pox and a some time to re-evaluate her life Scarlett accepts and proceeds to complete a make-under. She changes her sexy name and wardrobe, wears glasses instead of contacts, cuts her wavy long hair, abandons all grooming and moves to a new workplace to try it all out. Surprise! It turns out Scarlett finds that most men do treat her differently. The exception is Steve Holt, a winder painter, who likes Scarlett without all the flash. But Scarlett finds out Steve has his own secrets.

I picked up this example of chick lit intrigued by the spin on the classic makeover story. "From swan to ugly ducking..."are the teaser words on the pink front cover. The author writes in first person narrative and the novel suffers spending so much time in Scarlett's head. There is an entire chapter devoted to Scarlett's love of her physical anatomy. Her tone of voice is whiny and irritating. The only possibly interesting point of this novel is the attempted insight into the psychology of female friendships - from Scarlett's inability to break things off with Pam due to fear of loneliness to Scarlett's unwillingness to befriend someone better looking than her at work. However, the author disappoints in her attempt at exploring the nature of physical beauty and its effects in female friendships. This novel attempts to uncover the shallowness of men, but the effort backfires. The women swear extensively and crudely, drink excessively, have risky one-night stands, and back stab each other. If the men in the novel behaved the way the women do they would be considered the worst kind of pigs.

ALC

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Lock Artist

The Lock Artist
by Steve Hamilton
Minotaur, 2009. 304 pgs. Mystery

Michael can pick any lock and he never speaks, both traits incident to an horrific narrow escape from an unnamed trauma when he was nine. As his story begins he is in jail, and he tells how he got there in alternating chapters taking place in 1999 and 2000. When Mike is pressured by some kids from his high school football team into letting them into a rival player's home, he is the only one caught and sentenced to a summer's worth of work for the home's owner. There, while digging a hole for a swimming pool in the backyard, he meets Amelia and they fall in love. Things go south from there, as Amelia's father discharges Michael's debt by contracting his services out to some crooks to whom he owes lots of money. Amelia being at risk, Mike cannot refuse and comes to realize that his "unforgiveable" skills will always attract bad people, giving him scant hope for a decent life. Truth to tell, Michael is such an appealing character and the people he robs so deserving of losing their money that one can't help but enjoy his criminal enterprises though by and by his companions are so vile that he can only see one way out, and he takes it. The Lock Artist is an unusual novel of suspense, the mysteries rising from unlikely sources, but it is so beautifully well written and so deeply engaging that once picked up, it is difficult in the extreme to lay aside. (Prospective readers should be aware that some sections of the book contain foul language and graphic violence.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Splendor Falls

The Splendor Falls
By Rosemary Clement-Moore
Delacorte Press, 2009. 517 pgs. Young Adult

Sylvie, devastated by her leg-breaking career-ender and her father’s death, drinks one too many glasses of champagne at her mother’s wedding and has a very strange hallucination. Believing Sylvie is going crazy, her mother sends her to Sylvie’s father’s ancestral home in Alabama and to the care of her father’s cousin. Here Sylvie meets two very different boys and one very menacing ghost. As she works in her father’s garden and learns about the history of her family and the town, Sylvie wonders if magic is real and if she can find something other than ballet as her life’s passion.

How refreshing to find a maturing, spunky, needs-no-man (although having a boyfriend is welcomed!) heroine in a supernatural book! Sylvie’s snarky attitude, her realistic troubles, and her character growth make her a character to root for. The history and geology behind the possibility of magic roots the supernatural aspect in this well-written, compelling, and fun read.

MN

Fallen

Fallen
By Lauren Kate
Delacorte Press, 2009. 452 p. Young Adult

Suspected in the death of a peer after an unexplained fire, Lucinda Price is sent to a reform school to deal with her issues. Haunted by strange, frightening shadows since she was young, Luce finds them to be even more persistently near at the Sword and Cross. After meeting the peculiar and varied students that populate the school, two in particular stand out to her--dark, charming Cam, who shows a definite interest, and the elusive Daniel, who at turns is both hot and cold. As Luce is caught up in the mystery of who Daniel is and why she feels so drawn to him, her life becomes more confusing and complex than ever before.

I felt torn about Fallen. I liked the book and read it quickly, but it definitely did feel like a rehash of other books I've read before, such as Twilight and Evermore. Although better written than the aforementioned books, it nonetheless had a slow, frustrating pace in regard to Luce discovering the mystery involved. It was hard to believe that she was supposed to be intelligent but yet was so painfully slow to understand--when the mystery is blatantly obvious to the reader, it seems that the book character could be a little quicker on the uptake. However, there are redeeming elements, such as the haunting shadows and certain characters, that intrigue me enough to read a sequel. The character development is better in some than others--I am awfully tired of female protagonists who can't believe they're good enough to attract a special guy. Despite its flaws, fans of supernatural romance are still sure to love this novel.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Talking About Detective Fiction

Talking About Detective Fiction
by P. D. James
Knopf, 2009. 198 pgs. Nonfiction

Mystery writer P. D. James takes on the whole genre in this fascinating little book about the origins and development of the detective novel. Beginning with Wilkie Collins (The Moonstone) and Edgar Allan Poe (C. Auguste Dupin stories) James takes us through Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, through the "Golden Age" of detective fiction between the World Wars, through the various manifestations of the peculiar genius of the British for this genre, and into America's hard-boiled and psychological thrillers. James, now in her ninetieth year, writes from an extraordinary depth and breadth of knowledge, and with a piercing intelligence, about the deep, even archetypal, satisfactions of a story which goes from order, to a terrible disorder, to order again. She explains which writers are good at what and why: Arthur Conan Doyle, character; Agatha Christie, plot; Dorothy Sayers, the puzzle itself . . . and so on. James discusses her own use of setting in the Adam Dalgleish novels and the whole book is written in such enviably elegant prose one wants to go back and read everything James every wrote, along with all the terrific titles she discusses. If you love a good mystery novel, you will love this book. If you don't love a good mystery novel, read this book and you will. Either way we'll get you. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Going Rogue: An American Life

Going Rogue: An American Life
by Sarah Palin
Harper, 2009. 431 pgs. Biography.

I am not a Sarah Palin fan, politically speaking, but in this book found her to be plain-spoken, cheerful, confident, and likeable, significantly different from the ambition-crazed airhead she was made out to be during the 2008 presidential campaign. She addresses and answers some of the questions raised as she so suddenly rose to national prominence. For instance, her "drill, baby, drill" persona remained in place largely because her stated belief in the development of alternative energy sources was edited out of the infamous Katie Couric interview. On the other hand, in the same interview, she says she refused to tell Couric what newspapers she read everyday because she was annoyed at Couric's condescension, surely an odd response from someone trying to establish intellectual credentials.

There is much to enjoy in this narrative. Palin, as it turns out, really can field-dress a moose (though she draws the line at handling the eyeballs). Her withering assessment of Hollywood types declaring policy about a wilderness they have no notion of is funny and instructive. Some potholes remain. No explanation is given of why Palin would support the construction and funding of the Ketchikan to Gravina Island bridge at home, but deny she did so abroad. Nor does one ever get a clear sense of who was looking after her family while husband Todd was working on the North Slope and she was busy being governor, though they do seem to have a strong family life. Refreshingly, she makes no bones nor excuses about believing in God and praying for help and direction. Oddly, the Democratic Party and even the national media get fewer barbs from Palin than members of John McCain's election staff, who drafted "her" response to the announcement of daughter Bristol's pregnancy and refused to make the changes she and her husband asked for to more accurately reflect the family's feelings. But her reasons for resigning the governership, though clearly stated in the book as stemming from the many ethics charges (all dismissed) brought against her which were wasting her staff's time and bankrupting her family, are given only passing mention in her resignation speech.

One lesson that can be taken from this engaging but also enigmatic text is that tough times require tough-mindedness and that as citizens of the Republic we have the ultimate responsibility to do the hard work necessary to separate fact from fulmination as we select and support our leaders. It remains to be seen whether, as Ross Douthat observed in the New York Times, Sarah Palin and her fellow presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee will choose to "take their newfound eminence seriously," or whether they will simply "cash in on their celebrity." Interesting days lie ahead.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Salt

Salt
by Maurice Gee
Orca, 2009. 252pgs. Young Adult.

First in a project trilogy, Salt tells the parallel and then intersecting stories of Pearl, a child of privilege, and Hari, born in the Burrows to poverty and degradation, and their quest to save Hari's father from Deep Salt, a deadly mining operation from which no one has returned and whose yield is a substance of great power and destructive force. Tutored by Tealeaf, Pearl's former maid, both young people find their own source of power in their ability to control others with their minds. When Company, the brutal overlords of the land are brought down, but replaced with an equally wicked despot, and then with mob rule, Hari and Pearl make their escape to establish a household in a beautiful, sheltered place, and to raise their tiny daughter in peace. But will they be allowed to remain? Probably not, as we will discover in part two of the Salt trilogy, a thoughtful, sometimes preachy, but mostly engaging fantasy from New Zealand.

Pirate Latitudees

Pirate Latitudes
By Michael Crichton
HarperCollins, 2009. 312 pgs. Fiction

Pirate Latitudes takes readers on a dangerous adventure with Captain Edward Hunter from Port Royal to the Spanish outpost of Matanceros and back again. Hunter and his cunning and vicious crew set out to capture a treasure galleon that could potentially make them all extremely wealthy. Their plan to penetrate the island’s enforcements is a long shot to begin with, and when things start going wrong from the first hoisting of the anchor, their chances of survival, let alone success, are unlikely.

If you are looking for a fast paced pirate adventure, this is the book for you. Don’t look for too much character depth or development, but Crichton makes up for it with a great story that kept me entirely engaged. The historical details describing 17th Century Jamaica were really interesting and enforce my appreciation for the 21st Century.

CZ

Touch the Dark

Touch the Dark
By Karen Chance
ROC, 2006. 307 pgs. Fiction

Cassie Palmer is a clairvoyant travel agent hiding from the ruthless vampire who raised her after her parents were both killed in a tragic accident. Her ability to speak with ghosts and see into the future makes her a valuable prize. A prize the opposing factions of the magical world all seem desperate to control.

If you are going to read a vampire series, I wouldn’t recommend this one. The magical world Chance created took way more explanation than I wanted to read. The storyline reminded me a bit of a certain popular young adult vampire novel which has a whole lot of buildup but very little real follow through. Add to that some gratuitous sex and few likable characters and you will have a good picture of why I wouldn’t recommend this book to….well, anyone.

CZ

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wish You Were Dead

Wish You Were Dead
By Todd Strasser
Random House, 2009. 236 pgs. Young Adult

An anonymous blogger posts a series of entries about how she hates Lucy Cunningham and other popular kids in her school because they put her down due to her looks and clothing. Soon after the first post, Lucy vanishes. Two more teenagers disappear after their names are specifically mentioned. Madison, good friends with the second and third missing teenagers, wonders what has happened and if both her online stalker and new crush are involved. An absorbing thriller, this fast-paced read is also an interesting commentary on the perils of the Internet. This is definitely not for the faint of heart though.

MN

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Every Boy's Got One

Every Boy’s Got One
By Meg Cabot
Avon, 2005. 328 pages. Fiction

This is the third and my least favorite book in Cabot’s Boy series. Cabot still following the format of the previous two books tells the story in the format of travel journal and text messages.

The New York Journal is left behind for the Italian country-side where Holly and Mark, minor characters from the previous books, are eloping. Jane, the maid-of-honor, thinks it’s so romantic, but Mark’s best man, Cal, a cynical divorcee is trying to find the best way to talk Mark out of it. Jane and Cal instantly clash over their views of love and marriage, but when a missing document potentially prevents the wedding from taking place, will Cal prove he’s got one (a heart) and work with Jane to save the day?

This novel was apparently inspired by Meg Cabot’s own wedding in Italy. There are definitely some cute and funny moments, but overall I enjoyed it far less than Cabot’s first two books.

AJ

Boy Meets Girl

Boy Meets Girl
By Meg Cabot
Avon, 2003. 387 pages. Fiction

Cabot’s second book in the Boy series (although, each book can be read as a stand-alone novel) is also written through emails with the addition this time of journals, text messages, to-do lists, and even notes scribbled on menus. Kate Mackenzie works in the H.R. department of the New York Journal and her tyrant boss, Amy Jenkins, has just ordered her to fire Ida Lopez, the beloved dessert cart lady for refusing to sell desserts to Stuart Hertzog, the Journal’s legal counsel and general uppity jerk. Gentle Ida sues for wrongful termination, and Stuart asks his younger brother, Mitch, to take on the suit since he can’t. But unlike Stuart, Mitch actually cares about justice. Mitch and Kate soon bond over their common belief that Ida was wronged, but when Amy tries to lay the blame for her H.R. blunder on Kate, Mitch will do anything to prove she is innocent.

Cabot is spot on with some of her characters and the witty emails that zip back and forth. This is an enjoyable novel, but I didn’t like it as much as her first book, The Boy Next Door.

AJ

The Boy Next Door

The Boy Next Door
By Meg Cabot
Avon, 2002. 374 pages. Fiction

Although it seems a little trite now, this book was one of the early novels to tell the entire story in email format. Melissa Fuller is always late for work at the New York Journal where she works as a gossip columnist, but this time (as she explains via a series of emails to Amy Jenkins, the evil H.R. boss) she has a good reason. There was an attempted murder of her elderly next-door neighbor, Mrs. Friedlander.

Kind hearted Mel agrees to watch the old lady’s many pets until her nephew, Max, can be reached. Mel is quickly warned by her office colleagues that Max is a notorious lady’s man, but when she finally meets him, he turns out to be down-to-earth and funny—someone she could really see herself falling in love with. Soon they begin to date, but when a mysterious email arrives explaining that Max may not be everything he seems, Mel breaks it off. The only problem is Mrs. Friedlander’s attacker is still out there. Can Mel and Max still work together to catch the killer?

This was a cute and funny read by Meg Cabot who is better known for her teen fiction such as The Princess Diaries. I found the email format equal parts clever and annoying. There are definitely limitations to how the story can play out if you can only read it through what people might send to each other.

AJ

Curse of the Bane

Curse of the Bane
By Joseph Delaney
Greenwillow Books, 2006. 455 pgs. Young Adult

When Mr. Gregory’s brother is killed by a boggart, he and Tom head to Priestown to attend his funeral. As a spook, Mr. Gregory has avoided Priestown not being welcomed by the church. He is determined to return though to take care of a problem he should have dealt with years before – to rid the town of the Bane that is locked up in the catacombs under the city. When they arrive they realize that the bane has grown more powerful and is influencing the leaders of the town. They have to act quickly before the Church arrests them and the Bane is set free.

KK

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Death Collector

The Death Collector
By Justin Richards
Bloomsbury, 320 pgs. 2006. Young Adult

George, the youngest curator at the British Museum, ends a typical day at work visiting his friend Percy--who is cataloging newly acquired journals of a recently deceased scientist. While there, they come under attack and Percy is killed and the journals are destroyed. All that remains from the journals is a scrap of paper. George is determined to figure out what was so important in those journals that would lead to his friend's death. In his search he joins up with Liz, a would-be actress, and Eddie, a pickpocket, to solve the mystery. The closer they get to the truth the more dangerous it becomes for them.

The story has a bit of everything: action, mystery, horror, fantasy, and a bit of humor thanks to Eddie. Those who enjoy Steampunk novels such as the Hunchback Assignments by Arthur G. Slade will also enjoy this.

KK

The Hunchback Assignments

The Hunchback Assignments
By Arthur G. Slade
Wendy Lamb Books, 2009. 278 pgs. Young Adult

Modo, a hunchback, is rescued as a child from a traveling freak show by a mysterious man, Mr. Socrates. Mr. Socrates wants Modo for his unique ability to be able to transform his disfigured body into any human shape he wants for a period of time, making him a perfect spy for the Permanent Association. Raised in isolation and trained daily in the arts of spying, Modo is then released out onto the streets of Victorian London at the age of fourteen to prove if he can survive on his own.

I enjoyed the author’s usage of classic characters and look forward to where he will pull from in his next installment in this series. This is a great book to start with if you have never read anything in the steampunk genre.

KK

The Hunter's Moon

The Hunter’s Moon
By O.R. Melling
Amulet Books, 2005. 289 pgs. Young Adult

Gwen always believed in magic and has been saving her money to visit her cousin Findabhair in Ireland. She wanted to travel the backwoods to discover if the land of Faerie does exist. When she arrives they end up getting more then she expected. One night while sleeping in the Grave Mound of the Hostages (a source of great Faerie magic) Findabhair is kidnapped by the Faerie King himself. Gwen is on her own to battle the Faeries to rescue her cousin. She finds that there are others like her that believe in the Faeries and they give her aid.

The short chapters make it a fast read and it is interesting to learn a bit of Gaelic and the Irish Faerie customs, but I didn’t get totally pulled into the story. Gwen's timid character transformed within a few days to be a warrior leader and the boy, Dara, on seeing her instantly falls in love. Yes, I know it is fantasy and you need to suspend reality, but I think those elements of the story could have been handled better. Then again it could just be me because both School Library Journal and Booklist gave it a starred review.

KK

Captivate

Captivate
By Carrie Jones
Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2010. 276 pg. Young Adult

In the second book of the Need series, Zara and her friends have further run-ins with pixies. Although they've trapped Zara's father (the pixie king in their area) and his followers, many other pixies are attracted to the area, sensing the opportunity to gain more territory and power. Zara and her friends need to find out as much as they can about pixies in order to defend themselves and their townspeople against the pixie invasion. Zara will do anything to keep her friends safe, even if it means sacrificing herself.

Captivate didn't quite captivate me. There were a LOT of unanswered questions, which I'm sure will be addressed in future books, but I felt like there were so many left unanswered that it was somewhat annoying. Although there were definitely action scenes, there were also moments of too much down time. This book just didn't quite flow the way I would like. However, I'll definitely read the next book, as there are definitely things I need to know.

AE

The Betrayal of the Blood Lily

The Betrayal of the Blood Lily
By Lauren Willig
Dutton, 2010. 401 pages. Historical Fiction.

Book six in the Pink Carnation series that is part spy thriller, part historical fiction, part Regency romance. For the first time the story leaves Europe for colonial India where the Marigold, the latest in a long line of flower named French spies is causing trouble for Captain Alex Reid. Who would have thought that even more trouble than a French spy would be Lady Frederick Staines, nee Penelope Deveraux, who was last seen compromising herself in a London drawing room and is now married to the good-for-nothing Freddy and living in India to weather the scandal of a rushed marriage.

As Alex soon discovers, though born a lady Penelope refuses to act like a proper one. She shoots and rides like a man and worst of all refuses to be left at home to sit and cross-stitch as a lady should. Instead she gets embroiled in the very heart of a plot to bring the British Empire to its knees. Can Alex and Penelope work together to discover the identity of the Marigold before it is too late?

I had a hard time getting through this book and if how long it takes me to read a book is any judge of how well I like it, then I didn’t much care for this book. I quite enjoyed the first few books in Willig’s Pink Carnation series, but the last two or three have not held my interest as much. Still, it was enjoyable enough that I will keep reading the series.

AJ