Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Packing for Mars

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
By Mary Roach
W.W. Norton, 2010. 333 pgs. Nonfiction

Mary Roach has a knack for selecting odd but fascinating topics and her writing style is equally quirky and filled with humor. Her new book Packing for Mars delves into the science and research involved in sending humans into space. She discusses how astronauts are selected and trained, how they keep sane or go insane while in orbit, what happens to their bodies while in a weightless environment, as well as the more private aspects of day to day life in close quarters without the benefits of gravity.

Like her previous books, Stiff and Bonk, Packing for Mars isn't for the squeamish. Chapters covering motion sickness, space food, and the biological results of eating space food certainly take the glamour out of space travel. While a little graphic and bordering on potty humor, these chapters also remind readers that pace engineers, cosmonauts, and scientists are entirely human. They are just regular people but have chosen to dedicate their lives to reaching beyond our natural realm. Completely entertaining and intriguing scientific writing.

CZ

I Curse the River of Time

I Curse the River of Time
by Per Petterson
Graywolf Press, 2010. 233 pgs. Fiction

Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses is one of my favorite books of all time, one of the best-written, most beautiful I have ever read. I Curse the River of Time shares the exquisite writing, but the story is so relentlessly gray and defeating the reading becomes hard slogging. Arvid Jansen is the first-person protagonist, a thirty-seven year old who is about to be divorced and whose mother has just been diagnosed with cancer. We see in flashbacks Arvid's courtship of his soon to be lost wife, and of his Communist youth when he forsook the college education his mother had worked so hard to provide him in favor of a factory job with the proletariat. The cold, the dark, Arvid's incessant need for cigarettes and liquor to push back the unhappiness of his life, all speak to an inability to amend what has already been swept away in time's river.

Perhaps it is true, as some say, that only very young countries have the luxury of optimism, of having any hope for nurturing, enduring relationships and happy endings. Petterson certainly shows the Old World view in this book, bleak as a Scandinavian winter. (I Curse the River of Time is a sequel to In the Wake, a book that follows chronologically but that should be read first.)

LW

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
By Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books, 2004. 219 pgs. Young Adult

When Turner Buckminster's family moves to Phippsburg, Maine, where his father has accepted the position as the town's new minister, things don't start out so well for him. He doesn't exactly hit it off with the other kids. But then Turner meets Lizzie Bright Griffin, a girl his own age who lives on nearby Malaga Island, and Lizzie teaches him all about clams and how to hit any baseball that comes near him. Just as things are looking better for Turner, he realizes that the town elders are planning to get rid of the Malaga Island settlement--by ridding the town of the black families who live on the island, they hope to introduce the tourism industry by building hotels. With the threat of Lizzie losing her home looming over them and Turner's father forbidding Turner to go the island, Turner has to figure out how he can help his friend.

It's no wonder this book is both a Printz Honor and Newbery Honor selection. Gary D. Schmidt shares a beautiful story that is simultaneously touching, sad, and hopeful. Turner is sweet, Lizzie is a jewel, and the side characters really round out this book. In addition to great characters, this coming-of-age historical fiction novel contains beautiful language and a satisfying conclusion.

AE

Girl in the Arena

Girl in the Arena: A novel containing intense prolonged sequences of disaster and peril
By Lise Haines
Bloomsbury, 2009. 324 pgs. Young Adult

In Massachusetts, eighteen-year-old Lyn, who has grown up in the public eye as the daughter of seven gladiators, wants nothing less than to follow her mother's path, but her only way of avoiding marriage to the warrior who killed her last stepfather may be to face him in the arena.

If you can’t get enough of the Hunger Games trilogy, you might be interested in this novel with a similar storyline. Lyn does not want to be a Glad wife like her mother. However, when Caesar’s Inc. makes a new bylaw concerning gladiator culture, it doesn’t look like she will have much choice in the matter. Although this book is not as well written as The Hunger Games series, it is action packed and an interesting look at what modern day gladiators might be like.

AMM

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Bride in the Bargain

A Bride in the Bargain
By Deanne Gist
Bethany House, 2009. 365 pgs. Romance

Joe Denton, who owns a logging company in rural Washington, does not want a wife. However, he was allotted enough land for two people--himself and his wife. However, since his wife died before she could join him, Joe stands to lose half of his land. So, reluctantly, he lets Asa Mercer, who is on a mission to round up wives to bring east, find him a bride. Asa Mercer does secure Anna Ivey for Joe; however, Anna, who has no desire to get married, thinks she'll be working as Joe's cook. Joe has seven weeks to get her to change her mind.

Popular Christian romance author Deanne Gist's latest offering is somewhat less than satisfactory. The attraction between Joe and Anna seems mainly to be based on physical attributes, and Anna's reason for not wanting to get married is underdeveloped. Still, it is a gentle read, with an enjoyable setting and both Joe and Anna are nice characters.

AE

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wolves, Boys and Other Things That Might Kill Me

Wolves, Boys and Other Things That Might Kill Me
By Kristin Chandler
Viking, 2010. 371 pgs. Young Adult

KJ Carson, who has been both awkward and ugly for most of her life, blossoms over the summer before her junior year. However, turning pretty hasn't made her any more eager to be in the spotlight. When she attracts the attention of Virgil, the new guy in town, whose mother is studying the wolves that have been reintroduced to the Yellowstone area, KJ finds that she's going to be on center stage more often than she desired. KJ is drawn to both the wolves and Virgil, and as she writes stories to accompany Virgil's photos of the wolves, she angers the ranchers and hunters in town who think the wolves are a menace.

Kristen Chandler's first novel is a refreshing addition to teen literature. KJ's advocacy for the wolves will appeal to fans of Joan Bauer's work, and there's something entirely lovable about KJ and Virgil and the awkwardness of their budding relationship.

AE

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Utah Women

More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Utah Women
By Christy Karras
Globe Pequot Press, 2010. 157 pgs. Biography

Here is presented 13 short biographical sketches of women who have influenced Utah’s history. The author picked her subjects hoping to “go a little way toward putting Utah’s women into the larger context of the West.” These sketches contain limited personal information and spend more time discussing the impact their lives had on Utah’s politics, literature, and culture. Some women are already widely known such as Eliza R. Snow while others, like Jane Manning James, may be unfamiliar to readers.

This is a perfect book for book clubs! It’s a quick, easy read but is chuck-full of discussion points surrounding these fascinating women. I wasn’t blown away by the authors writing but the stories she tells still succeed in making in impression. I was a little surprised at the major role polygamy plays in a large number of the sketches. I can easily recommend this to anyone wanting to learn a little more about Utah’s history and a few of the amazing women who played a key role in getting us where we are.

CZ

The Invisible Bridge

The Invisible Bridge
By Julie Orringer
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. 602 pgs. Historical Fiction

This is the story of Andras Levi, a young Hungarian Jew who dreams of becoming an architect. He is accepted to the Ecole Speciale in Paris but as World War II begins to unfold he, his family, friends, and whole world are plunged into a nightmare of uncertainty and disaster. This sweeping saga is at times a touching love story, an insightful piece of historical fiction, and an epic tale of one family’s struggle to survive in a world determined to tear them apart.

The Invisible Bridge is Julie Orringer’s first novel and it is truly a beautiful piece of literature. I didn’t love every aspect of her plot, but her characters inspire a great deal of empathy as she takes them through this turbulent period of European history. Orringer is also able to move the story quickly, which is fortunate since the book is a hefty 600 pages long. This story is not for everyone since it contains some harsh and graphic language, but I still recommend it to readers who enjoy epic historical fiction.

CZ

The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon
By Dashiell Hammet
Vintage Books,1930. 217 pgs. Mystery

Sam Spade, a no nonsense detective, takes on a case for a femme fatale pleading for help that gets his partner killed. With the police suspecting Sam of the murder (with him sleeping with his partner’s wife and all) he decides to follow the case through to find the real killer which leads to a stolen gold statuette of a falcon.

Don’t let the date fool you; this signature classic from 1930 took me by surprise with its gritty writing style complete with language and mature subject matter. Though at times the plot moved a bit slow and seemed choppy, you can see how Dashiell Hammet has inspired many contemporary mystery writers for a good reason.

Ship Breaker

Ship Breaker
by Paolo Bacigalupi
Little, Brown, 2010. 323 pgs. Young Adult Fiction.

On the Gulf Coast in a dystopian future, Nailer, a teenage boy, works "light crew" for a salvage operation, pulling and stripping copper wire from grounded vessels to meet the quotas set by his ruthless crew chief. After a hurricane stops work for a day, Nailer and a friend find a salvageman's dream--a clipper ship exquisitely engineered for sailing and loaded with loot. But one young woman is alive on the ship. Should they kill her so the ship can be claimed as salvage? Or let her live for the reward and a chance at a better life that she promises her father will give them? Nailer makes his choice, a risky decision in a society that almost exclusively values survival and getting ahead over any degree of compassion or fellow feeling. Though his only remaining blood kin is his father, a brutal addict, Nailer manages to cobble together something of a family for himself among the ruins of New Orleans, thrice-built, thrice-destroyed. Ship Breaker is a fine adventure novel, filled with danger and suspense, but it has even more to say about what is truly valuable and what is not.

Tantalize

Tantalize
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
Candlewick Press, 2007. 310 pgs. Young Adult

Quincie Morris's life revolves around her family restaurant. Since her parents died, the restaurant--and the uncle who stepped in to raise her--are all she really has left. So, when the competition threatens to put them out of business, Quincie knows they need to step up their game, which they do by planning a vampire-themed restaurant. However, when the restaurant chef is murdered, Quincie's life becomes a lot more complicated because her best friend/love interest, Kieran, who is half-werewolf, is the prime suspect. At first, Quincie is sure that Kieran can't be behind the murder, but when her uncle doubts him, and the new chef, Brad, starts monopolizing all her time, Quincie doesn't know what's true and what's not.

This Goth teen romance is a cut above many of those out there--likely because Leitich Smith, an MFA professor, knows how to write. Although I'm not really interested in vampires or the like, I do appreciate the fact that this book has a plot and a strong protagonist and has been well-edited.

AE

Mockingjay

Mockingjay
By Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, 2010, 398 pages, Young Adult

In Suzanne Collins’ highly anticipated conclusion to The Hunger Games series, things go a bit awry in my opinion. Yes, this book gives a satisfactory if hurried conclusion to the Districts’ battle for independence from the Capitol and even a conclusion to Katniss’s own journey. Yes, this book answers the Gale or Peeta question, but the problem is this third book goes to a much, much darker place psychologically than the previous two and I think a lot of people will not like where it takes them. I would even say this book will probably be too much for younger teens.

As we discovered at the end of Catching Fire, Katniss is saved from the Capitol’s clutches by a resistance force she didn’t even know existed. Now, they want her to be their symbolic Mockingjay to rally the Districts to stand up and fight together. The problem is Katniss can’t bear to be the cause of any more deaths and to make matters worse she might even have to count Peeta as one of those deaths.

As one terrible event after another happens, Katniss becomes more and more traumatized by what she sees. She also suspects that the resistance may not treat human life with any more value than the Capitol. This book is a dark look into the horrors of war, why war continues to happen, and what it can do to a person’s psyche.

AJ

Pastworld

Pastworld: a mystery of the near future: a novel
By Ian Beck
Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2009. 355 pp. Young adult fiction.

In the year 2050, old Victorian London is recreated, formed into a sort of theme park that those living in the current contemporary world can visit in all its authenticity, complete with authentic inhabitants. Caleb Brown and his high-ranking father, Lucius, visit Pastworld, but what was intended as a diversion ends up a calamity as Lucius is kidnapped by the frightening Fantom and Caleb escapes, pinned as a murderer. The Fantom is both the terror and the legend of Pastworld, a figure similar to the ancient Jack the Ripper. When Caleb escapes after his father's kidnapping, he encounters a friendly thief, Bible J, who takes him under his wing. Another mysterious occupant of Pastworld is Eve, who doesn't even realize she is living in a recreated world, but has strange and fascinating abilities and seems to be oddly linked to others in the story. How all the characters' lives cross and mesh leads for an intricate, mesmerizing tale.

A mix of science fiction, steampunk, and historical fiction, this is a story that will span a variety of interests. Despite being riddled with a terrible lack of, or sometimes purely incorrect, punctuation, this book was still a fascinating read. I wished at times for more complete explanations and for further character development, but I still found it a interesting and satisfying read.

CW






Monday, August 23, 2010

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.
By Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. 172 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Susan Campbell Bartoletti describes how the Ku Klux Klan arose, beginning in 1866 with six friends in Pulaski, Tennessee who decided to start a club. From that group, which enjoyed riding around in white sheets, pulling pranks. However, in the southern states, where many were frustrated by the restrictions of Reconstruction after the Civil War, the group exploded into the "Invisible Empire," set on enforcing white supremacy, using fear and violence both to coerce whites to join and to try to keep former slaves from succeeding.

This book is interesting and highly informative. Bartoletti does a great job of describing the post-Civil War south and recounting how a group like the K.K.K. could begin and wreak havoc on others. This is an excellent example of historical young adult reading.

AE

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Blind Side

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game
By Michael Lewis
W.W. Norton, 2006. 299 p. Biography

More than just a blockbuster movie with an Oscar winning cast, The Blind Side began life as a biography recounting the true story of Michael Oher. And if you liked the movie, you’ll love the book.

It all begins with the left tackle. Quarterbacks are the highest paid player on the football field; the left tackle is the second. That’s because the NFL finally realized that protecting the quarterback’s “blind side” was the 2nd most important spot on the team. Coincidentally, Michael Oher is an enormous black kid growing up on the wrong side of town in Memphis, TN, with all the makings of a star left tackle. The only problem is that he’s homeless, doesn’t go to high school and doesn’t even know how to play football. It isn’t until Michael miraculously winds up at the Briarcrest Christian School and falls under the care of the Tuohy’s that he starts making sense of his innate talent. Leigh Ann and Sean Tuohy are a wealthy, football-loving couple that begin by making sure Michael has something to eat and end up legally adopting him as their own son.

Lewis writes pretty good football for the sporting illiterate. But if you’re a reader who only watches football in order to critique the uniforms, it’s easy to skip all the left tackle jazz and focus on the true heart of this inspirational story, that of a poor orphan kid with no future making it to the big time against incredible odds. Locals are sure to love BYU’s role in Michael’s rise to fame thanks to the Independent Study program. The school’s help earned them the back-handed compliment, “Mormons might be going to Hell, but they’re sure good people.” Good football, better reading.

DAP

Perfect Chemistry

Perfect Chemistry
By Simon Elkeles
Walker, 2009. 360 pgs. Fiction

Alex and Brittany couldn't be more different--or so they think. Alex is a Mexican American gangbanger living on the south side of town. Brittany is the head cheerleader and has a seemingly perfect life--fancy car, designer clothes, and anything money can buy. When they're assigned to be chemistry partners, neither is particularly happy about. However, they soon find that they're each hiding behind a front, and when they start getting to know each other, they're undeniably attracted to each other.

This book is pretty raw--intense emotions, plenty of language, and some adult situations. The West Side Story type plot moves pretty well, but I couldn't help but feel that the ending was a little cheesy. That said, I'd recommend this book to those who love the bad-boy-with-a-soft-side type of hero; Alex is pretty yummy. Those who get hooked on the first book will want to move on to the sequel, Rules of Attraction.

AE

This Book is Overdue!

This Book is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All
By Marilyn Johnson
Harper. 2010. 271 pgs. Nonfiction

Maybe a book that tells how great librarians are IS overdue. Librarians, Johnson says, have transformed from “quiet gatekeepers” of “discreet palaces of knowledge” to information professionals “wrestling a raucous, multi-headed, madly multiplying beast of exploding information and information delivery systems.” It’s great to have someone notice! Johnson describes with admiration the librarian bloggers, activists, archivists, educators, collectors of the zany, and computer savvy professionals ready to help in person, online and even in the street.

Librarians know firsthand the technological challenges and innovations that are changing our work while also helping us be more valuable information professionals. But sometimes we’ve been so busy blogging, organizing, reading, learning, helping, cataloging, digitizing, and teaching that we haven’t managed to let the world know about it. We can thank Marilyn Johnson for helping do that job for us.

SH

Ten Things I Hate about Me

Ten Things I Hate about Me
By Randa Abdel-Fattah
Orchard Books, 2009. 297 pgs.

Australian teenager Jamilah doesn't want to deal with the discrimination she'll face if her classmates know she is a Lebanese Muslim. So, with the help of bleached hair and blue contacts, she convinces her classmates she's Jamie, a perfectly normal teenage girl. However, keeping her true identity a secret is difficult, especially since her father is super strict, requiring her to be home before sundown, and she has to attend weekly Arabic lessons. When a new email buddy tells her she should just be comfortable being herself, Jamilah has to decide who she wants to be.

This was an interesting look at what it means to be true to yourself. I really enjoyed the description of Jamilah's Arabic culture and the discrimination faced as a result of it. Also, the family relationships portrayed are both realistic and touching.

AE

Life, Love and the Pursuit of Free Throws

Life, Love and the Pursuit of Free Throws
By Janette Rallison
Walker, 2010. 185 pgs. Young Adult

Josie and Cami have been best friends for years, but their friendship is put to the test when each has a chance to get what the other wants most. Josie has a huge crush on Ethan but doesn't know how to talk to him; Cami, on the other hand, finds that talking to Ethan isn't that hard for her. what Cami wants most is a chance to meet her favorite basketball player, Rebecca Lobo, but their coach is going to pick the team's MVP to meet her--and Josie is the team's high scorer.

A quick read about friendship, this book doesn't have a ton of substance, but for readers looking for something light and clean, this is a good choice.

AE

Making Rounds with Oscar

Making Rounds with Oscar
By David Dosa, M.D.
Hyperion, 2010. 225 pgs. Non-fiction

"Why can't you do this anymore? A child could do it." "The difference is that a child is learning. A patient with Alzheimer's is...unlearning."

Dementia/Alzheimer's is relentlessly destructive to patients and their loved ones. Dealing with dementia brings us unwillingly into an uncomfortable, unknown dimension. Luckily for patients living on the 3rd floor of Steere House, a nursing facility housing for dementia/Alzheimer's patients, Oscar lives there too. Oscar is an "ordinary cat with an extraordinary gift", the gift of compassion. He knows when patients are about to die and curls up with them, offering purring comfort. Sometimes he is the only one in the room. His presence also seems to offer comfort when family members are present. Much of this book, written by former Oscar gift nonbeliever, Dr. David Dosa M.D., is based on interviews from actual "Oscar visited" family members who willingly share their ordeals with Alzheimer's and Oscar's unique gift. It is a sweet, clean, quick read. Making Rounds with Oscar" is NOT just for animal lovers, but is for anyone who is dealing with, knows someone who is dealing with or someday will deal with this dreaded disease.

mpb

Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake
By John Sugden
Henry Holt Company,1990. 353 pgs. Non-fiction

For those interested in world exploration, British history during the late 1500's and biographies of fascinating men, this book should be included in your "Must Read" list. John Sugden's meticulously researched book, Sir Francis Drake, gives insight into the man who changed British and world history forever. Religious, daring, loyal, courageous, explorer, captain, admiral, statesman, privateer (some say pirate), businessman and husband are just some of the facets of Drake's life discussed. Information acquired from ship logs, diaries, public records and letters make the entries describing sea battles, ship life and plundering cities across the world in the name of the "Queen" and religion especially enlightening. This book gave me a whole new perspective of this sliver of history. Sir Francis Drake is also available on audio cassette by Recorded Books with Ian Stuart doing an admirable job as narrator.

mpb

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fever Crumb

Fever Crumb
By Philip Reeve
Scholastic Press, 2009. 325 pgs. Young Adult

In a future London where technology from past eras is ancient and mysterious, Fever Crumb is a orphan girl who has been adopted and raised by the order of Engineers where she serves as apprentice. Soon though, she must say goodbye to Dr. Crumb - nearly the only person she's ever known - to assist archeologist Kit Solent on a top-secret project. As her work begins, Fever is plagued by memories that are not her own and Kit seems to have a particular interest in finding out what they are. Fever has also been singled out by city-dwellers who claim she is a member of a hated race known as Scriveners. All Fever knows is that she is an orphan. Is Fever a Scriven? Whose memories does she hold? Fever's past could be the key to a secret that lies at the heart of London.

This is the first of three prequels to The Hungry City Chronicles. The story was engaging, many of the characters were interesting, and some elements of the story I found very meaningful and sometimes even heartbreaking. Unfortunately, I didn't care very much for the main character. At one point in the book when she is afraid of losing her identity, I thought to myself, "That wouldn't be so bad." I did enjoy the post-apocalyptic world and the scattered, fragmented references to our present day culture, such as a religious group chanting, "hari, hari potter."

BHG

The Body at the Tower

The Body at the Tower
By Y.S. Lee
Candlewick Press, 2010. 337 pgs. Young Adult

In the second book in the Agency series, Mary Quinn finds herself with an unusual assignment: to disguise herself as a boy and try to discover what she can about the death of a man at the construction site of the House of Parliament. The Agency isn't in the habit of having their women spies work as men, and for Mary there's an extra challenge as it reminds her of her days of extreme poverty and homelessness before she was rescued by members of the Agency. Still, she's determined to face her fears and do her best for her employer by working at the building site as an apprentice. However, her task proves more difficult than she expected--especially when her former ally James Easton shows up on the building site.

This second installment of the Agency series is a good pick for those who enjoy a Victorian setting with a modern tone: it's faster-paced than the classics and has a protagonist who's willing to flout some social mores. With adventure, romance, and intrigue (and only a little bit of language), there wasn't much I didn't like about this book.

AE

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four
by Pittacus Lore (pseud.)
Harper, 2010. 440 pgs. Young Adult

First in the Lorien Legacies series, I am Number Four tells the story of a young man with multiple names, changed each time he has to run from the alien Mogadorians who destroyed his planet Lorien and then followed him and nine others to destroy them and to take over the earth. John Smith, as he is currently known, travels with a guardian assigned to protect him and his growing "legacies," superpowers which the nine have to help them defeat the Mogadorians and perhaps eventually to return to Lorien. John and Henri have just arrived in Ohio where John makes a friend and meets a girl whom he comes to love. When John foolishly (but most satisfyingly) unleashes his powers against a bully, Henri wants to leave but John has found a home at last and refuses to go. All goes well for awhile, but when he saves his girlfriend from a burning house, the Mogadorians close in. I am Number Four is good basic sci-fi reading most of the way through but towards the end becomes less an adventure and more a Harlequin romance. The battle scene at the end is filled with really creepy Mogadorians and their giant icky beasts, but is so floridly overwritten it is more laughworthy than fearsome. In the end, John has to run for his life, leaving Sarah behind and setting the stage for more adventures and for the revelation of further legacies and strengths. The story is good; hopefully the writing and editing will gear up in the next installment.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shattered Silence

Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer's Daughter
By Melissa G. Moore
Sweetwater Books, 2009. 241 pgs. Biography

Melissa Moore, the daughter of "Happy Face Killer" Keith Jesperson, recounts her childhood experiences. She tells of her early life and how she had mixed feelings about her father who could alternately be fun-loving and horrifically violent, doing things like strangling stray cats. When Melissa's parents separated and she no longer lived with her father, she missed him but also experienced times when she sensed that he was dangerous. After being raped by her boyfriend, having an abortion, and being subjected to the violent behavior of her mother's second husband, Melissa yearned for a life with her father--only to find that her hopes were shattered as her father was arrested for murder. Rather than being her rescuer, her father became a source of shame for her and she had to deal with her own emotions and free herself from the feelings of guilt she felt for being the daughter of a serial killer.

While Moore's story is interesting, I didn't particularly care for the writing style, which was somewhat choppy. Also, while the subtitle would lead you to believe that the focus of the story is on the father-daughter relationship, much of the book is about her life away from her father and is as much a story about growing up in poverty as it is about having a father who turned out to be a monster. Don't expect a true crime novel; Moore doesn't detail her father's crimes or trials. Perhaps the most interesting part of the story are the last few chapters where Moore briefly discusses joining the Mormon church, getting married, and taking steps to heal from the trauma of her early life.

AE

Bruiser

Bruiser
By Neal Shusterman
HarperTeen, 2010. 328 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

As the student voted “Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty”, Brewster (aka Bruiser) seems an unlikely candidate for Bronte to date. Tennyson, her twin brother, warns Bronte to stay away from Brewster, but Bronte sees a project in him and they begin dating. Brewster lives with his uncle and younger brother Cody and it appears to be a miserable home life. He is reluctant to get close to anyone, but Bronte wears him down and he begins to care about her and soon Tennyson as well. As their relationships with Brewster strengthen, both Bronte and Tennyson realize there is something very unusual about Brewster.

I love how Shusterman can write anything from a humorous tale of a teen in Brooklyn to a disturbing look at the future to this haunting novel about how people hurt each other and how they handle that pain. While different in tone from his previous novels, Shusterman has another winner on his hands with this novel filled with rich characterizations and an intriguing look at relationships.

MN

Three Rivers Rising

Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood
by Jame Richards
Knopf, 2010. 293 pgs. Young Adult

Peter, a poor boy, and Celestia, a daughter of privilege, meet and fall in love in the ill-fated days before the Johnstown Flood of 1889, when 2,209 people died after an earthen dam gave way sending billions of gallons of water down a narrow canyon in Pennsylvania. In Jame Richards' exemplary new verse novel, Peter, Celestia, Celestia's father, the wife of a railroad engineer and a young widowed nurse alternately tell their stories of the days leading up to and the horror following the--at that time--greatest civilian disaster in United States' history. Peter and Celestia are lovely young people with whom it is easy to sympathize and we follow their secret romance with the growing tension of knowing that when she runs away from her snooty industrialist father to be with Peter, they will both be in the path of the flood. The reader also doesn't know whether Maura's husband will outrun the flood as he steams down the mountain with his train whistle blowing full blast, or whether Kate should stay in the safety of the train leaving the valley or make her way to high ground. Reluctant seekers of historical fiction will find a treasure in this short but powerful narrative which has a bit of everything: suspense, sorrow, family feelings and rejections, class injustices, and as frightening an historical event as one might well imagine.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Girl She Used To Be

The Girl She Used To Be
By David Cristofano
Grand Central Publishing, 2009. 241 pgs. Fiction

Melody Grace McCartney was six years old when she and her family witnessed a horrible murder that sent her family into the witness protection program. Twenty years later she is still in hiding and her parents have been killed. She has had so many identities given to her that she doesn't even know who she really is anymore. After growing bored in her current location, she claims to have been discovered by the Bavaro mob and once again she is whisked away to start again. But this time is different, because she really has been discovered and as she gets to know Jonathan Bavaro, the lines between good and bad start to blur.

This was a really quick read. From the very beginning I was drawn into the story and the characters. Melody was an interesting narrator and her desire for a family and security were very real. There was some swearing and adult situations but it didn't feel excessive.

AL

The Nature of Jade

The Nature of Jade
By Deb Caletti
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2007. 288 pgs. Young Adult

Jade DeLuna is not a likely candidate for working with elephants. She suffers from anxiety and enjoys things that are safe and routine. However, the nearby zoo has an elephant cam, a 24-hour-a-day view of the elephant area, and when Jade catches sight of a young man, along with his young son, watching the elephants, she feels drawn to them. She meets the elephant keeper before she meets the young man, and soon she finds herself working with the elephants. A few months later, she finally meets Sebastian and is drawn into his life--and into the secret he is hiding.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book--beautifully written with likable characters, there's not much not to like about this one. A little bit of language, but not so much that it detracts from the story. Deb Caletti is an excellent storyteller who captures what it's like to be a teenager falling in love, struggling for freedom, and trying to find your place in the world.

AE

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle
By Dodie Smith
Boston, Little, Brown, 1948. 343 p. Historical Fiction

Managing your family is difficult under the best of circumstances, but when you’re merely the daughter of the household and your family consists of the quirkiest members imaginable, you’ve got a bigger job than most. Cassandra and her family have been reduced to a life of gentile poverty and been forced to move into an old, tumbling little castle in England. Her father was a one-time, superbly famous literary critic, but has lost his knack for writing. Her stepmother is a vaguely airy-headed, ex-portrait model with a surprising gift for housekeeping and her dear sister takes the role of the beautiful heroine destined for…something grand to be sure. Her younger brother is good for adventures and such and the servant boy is more a family retainer than true hired help. With such an assortment of characters the comedic element is ripe and when circumstances force the family to lock up father in the castle tower until he agrees to begin writing again a grand hullaballoo ensues. Moreover, when a duo of wealthy brothers moves into the village the possibilities for romance become ever more likely.

I Capture the Castle takes place during the period between the two world wars and is told in semi-journal format from the point of a truly endearing young woman. It has to be one of the most delightful, charming books I’ve read in years. I laughed myself silly and was utterly captivated from beginning to end. The veritable J. K. Rowling herself said, “This book has one of the most charismatic narrators I’ve ever met.” It’s a superb choice for any selective reader and the library recently purchased a Book Club set for everyone’s enjoyment. Highly Recommended.

DAP

The Good Son

The Good Son
by Michael Gruber
Henry Holt, 2010. 383 pgs. Fiction

When Sonia Laghari tries to convene a peace conference in Pakistan she and her fellow participants are kidnapped, the rich one ransomed out and the rest doomed to beheading, one at a time, when next "the infidels" strike against civilians. In Washington, Sonia's son Theo, a Special Ops soldier recovering from battle wounds takes semi-official leave from the Army to set up and carry out a rescue scheme. Simultaneously, one Cynthia Lam, an NSA translator overhears transmissions supposedly discussing the movements of nuclear materials in Pakistan which she is sure are bogus bait, but which her superiors take seriously. Shifting viewpoints take us expertly through these converging stories as Sonia, a Christian-Muslim-Jungian therapist works on her captors with religion, psychology, and dream interpretation and Theo and his father work against Cynthia because they need the army to think something fissile is about to happen in the Taliban stronghold where the captives are being held. Even better than this complex, suspenseful plot, however, are the rich characterizations, not only of the people involved but of the irreconciliable differences of societies at war. Masterful storytelling--an important book.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Overton Window

The Overton Window
By Glenn Beck, et al
Threshold Edition/Mercury Radio Arts, 2010. 321 p. Fiction

Public Relations is all about who can tell the most convincing lies. Thankfully, Noah Gardner and his father are some of the best. They’ve helped spin the glamour of bottled water (while disguising its idiocy) and the American people have lapped it up like kittens. Then steps in a powerful group that wants the firm to spin a story like no other. With a current-day America heading toward financial and political disaster, this group wants to “transform” the country into a socialized, police state. Except the firm hadn’t reckoned on Molly Ross and her organization, who’ve set out to save the country before disaster (and a nuclear weapon) strikes. And when Noah comes under Molly’s charming spell it seems he’s headed towards a conflict of interests, so whether his father or his new lady love will win his loyalty is yet to be decided.

It’s not necessarily fiction, but it’s not nonfiction either. At least that’s Beck’s perspective. He asserts that his venture into novel writing is a blend of both fact and fiction and should appropriately fall into a new genre entitled, (drum roll please), “faction”. The Overton Window is ripe with bombastic overtones, conspiracy laden plots, patriotic speeches and laudable references to the US Constitution—much like Beck himself. Granted, there are some incredibly cringe-worthy lines, but it has a certain magnetism as well. Whether all that can be attributed to Beck or his 3 co-authors is debatable. In the end, it’s a credible political thriller—not great literature, but definitely entertaining, from many points of view. And with an ending that is less about wrapping things up and more about opening a window for a sequel, Beck fans are sure to be pleased.

DAP

Fire of the Covenant

Fire of the Covenant
By Gerald Lund
Bookcraft, 1999. 764 pgs. Historical Fiction

Gerald Lund weaves the stories of fictional families into the Willie and Martin handcart companies as they cross the plains to get to the Salt Lake valley. Maggie McKensie is reluctant to leave her beau in Scotland, but when she receives a witness that she should go to Zion with her family, she joins them on their trip across the Atlantic. Soon, she is recruited to teach English to some Norwegian saints--including handsome Eric Pederson--which makes the journey somewhat more bearable. However, when the group reaches Iowa City and finds that they are not expected by the Church agents, and therefore the needed supplies supposed to be supplied along the way likely will not be there, the Saints decided to press on to Zion.

This is the second time that I've read this book, and I thoroughly enjoy the story of the faith of the handcart companies. I also enjoy the bits of romance and the description of the friendships that are formed. Historical notes at the end of each chapter helps readers gain insights into which parts are true and which are the author's imaginings. I did find some of the repetition of minor details about the characters slowed down the story a little bit, but overall, it's an inspiring story.

AE

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark
By Glenda Millard
Holiday House, 2010. 180 pp. Young adult fiction.

Skip, nicknamed for his habit of running away or "skipping" from foster families, has decided to live on the streets rather than endure the abuse experienced from those who were supposed to care for him. Unfortunately, a war hits Australia and Skip is caught in the midst of it. He joins forces with Billy, a homeless man, and Max, a lost six-year-old. As they flee the city and claim the House of Horrors as their home in an abandoned amusement park, they are joined by Tia and her infant. Skip feels a familial connection with this rag-tag group and desperately strives to bond them all permanently together. They struggle to find food and to remain hidden from the patrolling enemy soldiers. Despite the horrific circumstances, Skip's artistic soul sees the beauty in the world around him, especially in his makeshift family. This is a haunting, tender story that is delicately and poignantly told.

Beautifully written, this book is one that addresses war but is also about family, love, and hope. Narrated by eleven year old Skip, the reader gets a glimpse into his world of failed families and loneliness and sees it transformed into a better one, ironically, because of the war. There is such a sense of hope and light in Skip's perspective, written in an almost poetic language. This was an excellent read and is definitely one to be recommended.

CW

Monday, August 9, 2010

Committed

Committed: a Skeptic makes Peace with Marriage
By Elizabeth Gilbert
Viking, 2010. 285 pgs. Biography

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby…you know the rest. However, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the immensely popular Eat, Pray, Love published in 2006, is now arguing against the staid virtues of that well-known rhyme because, quite frankly, the state of marriage is abhorrent to this divorcĂ©e. In Committed, her latest memoir, she’s fighting to keep her single state. That is, until her partner, FelipĂ©, is forced to surrender his American passport and notified that he will only be allowed to re-enter the country if the couple legally join together in the official state of matrimony, holy or not.

Thus, Gilbert and her Brazilian lover (whom she met in Bali at the end of Eat, Pray, Love) grudgingly agree to wed, but only in order to appease the authorities. And so Gilbert begins her research, seeking to come to terms with her impending shackles. She sets out to explore marriage as an institution, melding the books she reads with the stories and experiences of the southeast Asians she meets while awaiting immigration’s permission to return to the U.S. Her adventures and insights are just as compelling as those of her first memoir, but conservatives will find her conclusions disturbing as Gilbert ends up seeking a broader interpretation of traditional matrimony -- the author ultimately decreeing that it is not she (or others) that will have to bend to the constraints of marriage, but “it is the institution of marriage that has to bend around us.”

DAP

Dear John

Dear John
By Nicholas Sparks
Warner Books, 2006. 276 p. Fiction

War has a sorry history of affecting everyone, not just the soldiers being paid to fight. When John makes the decision to join the army he gives up a lot; however, saying goodbye to a lazy, rebellious past can only be an improvement. His relationship with his single-minded, coin collecting father has been tenuous for years, but he’s hoping his career choice will somehow make his father proud. Army life is hard, but as it begins to mold John into the man he wants to be, he knows he made the right decision. Nevertheless, when Savannah slides into John’s world like a warm, southern lilt, the life he’s already committed to will clash harshly with the life he wants now.

Besides being just another sentimental love story, Dear John also takes on deeper themes such as: Asberger’s syndrome, father-son relationships, army life and the effects of 9/11 on specific individuals. In the end, Dear John asks us all to contemplate what we would sacrifice in order to make our true love happy. Now a major motion picture, Sparks fans can see the book unfold on the big screen.

DAP

Pearl of China

Pearl of China
By Anchee Min
Blommsbury, 2010. 278 pgs. Fiction

This is a fictionalization of the life of the Nobel Prize winning author Pearl S. Buck. The story is told from the perspective of the Chinese people who were so central to Buck’s life and work. This is done through the narration of a fictional best friend named Willow. Pearl’s father was a missionary in China throughout her youth and she grew up identifying and loving the Chinese culture despite her blonde hair and American citizenship. As she ages, her love for the East only deepens and she is driven to tell the stories of the peasants and common people she thought of as family.

This is a fascinating look at a fascinating woman. The author’s way of telling the story is very effective and her description of China’s landscape is as breathtaking as her descriptions of the Revolution's effects on the common people are heartbreaking. A great recommendation for those interested in Chinese history.

CZ

God Is in the Pancakes

God Is in the Pancakes
By Robin Epstein
Dial Books, 2010. 265 pgs. Young Adult

Working as a candy striper at the local nursing home has been great for Grace. She enjoys the work and visiting Mr. Sands, one of the patients, is the highlight of her shift. He has become the father figure she needs since her dad left the family a year ago. But when Mr. Sands asks her for a particular, shocking favor, Grace starts dreading their visits. Grace also has to deal with numerous other issues. Realizing this is more than she can handle, she decides to start praying again, but is unsure if God will help her.

Grace is a great, realistic character and the relationship she develops with Mr. Sand’s wife is fantastic. However, too many issues overcrowd the story and bog it down. How Grace handles the very important request Mr. Sands makes of her is realistic and heartbreaking. She really struggles with it and doesn’t talk to an adult (or anyone else), but this is true of some teenagers. She muddles through her faith and reaches what she feels is the best moral reality for the situation.

MN

Friday, August 6, 2010

Revenge of the Cheerleaders

Revenge of the Cheerleaders
By Janette Rallison
Walker, 2007. 247 pgs. Young Adult

Cheerleader Chelsea has never gotten along with her younger sister's boyfriend, Rick. He goes too far, though, when he performs a bunch of anti-cheerleader, and anti-Chelsea, songs in front of the whole school. Chelsea vows revenge and plans to get Rick where it hurts the most--by beating him at the High School Idol competition that he's hoping to win. Rick will be in for the surprise of his life...but Chelsea's in for a surprise to when she finds the new guy she's been dating is Rick's older brother.

This is a quick, clean chick-lit sort of book. Humorous and fast-paced, it has just enough depth to make it interesting as well as entertaining.

AE

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Promises to Keep

Promises to Keep
By Jane Green
Viking, 2010. 343 p. Fiction

The Tollemache family has much to learn this year. Steffi’s cooking up a vegan storm in her new job as head chef at Joni’s, the hippest restaurant in Manhattan. But when one of her hottest (and unfortunately married) customers needs a dog-sitter she happily leaves her rock-star boyfriend and the city life to live in Mason’s charming old house in the country. Her sister Callie is living the suburban dream, with a handsome husband, 2 kids and a thriving home photography business. Their parents have been divorced since the girls were little, but the sisters have always held onto a faint hope that they’ll somehow reunite. But tragedy strikes everyone when Callie begins to experience disturbing medical abnormalities and how they manage to survive the crisis will take more willpower and love than any of them imagined possible.

Jane Green is the author of numerous bestsellers in the chick-lit genre. However, Promises to Keep falls somehow flat, lacking depth and character strength, even though the subject is particularly emotional and the characters seem interesting from the outside. Yet, hope is always a welcome message and with an ending imbued with it perhaps the book will appeal to those looking for a light, marshmallow-ish read.

DAP

The Rembrandt Affair

The Rembrandt Affair
Daniel Silva
Putnam's, 2010. 484 pgs. Fiction

In Silva's latest Gabriel Allon thriller, the art restorer/spy has retreated with his wife to Cornwall, hoping to leave the Israeli intelligence service for keeps. But he is soon back in action when a friend and gallery owner asks him to locate a stolen Rembrandt--taken at the cost of a fellow restorer's life. Allon soon finds it necessary to call in his friends from MI5, the CIA, and from King Saul Boulevard when this "simple" case of murder and theft reawakens the horrors of the Holocaust and foreshadows the future for Israel--and the world--if or when Iran becomes nuclear weapons capable. Silva's own formula works well here, of innocence threatened and redeemed by agents of light who must live in the dark.

LW

Crossing Stones

Crossing Stones
By Helen Frost
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. 184 pgs. Young Adult

Muriel and Ollie Jorgensen have always been good friends with their neighbors, Frank and Emma Norman, frequently stepping across the stones that span the river that separates their families' land. Things start to change, though, when Frank enlists in the army during WWI, and Ollie, although too young, wants to do the same. Outspoken Muriel is opposed to the war and in favor of women's suffrage, while Emma is busy trying to take on the additional chores around the home since Frank has left.

Muriel, Emma, and Ollie take turns narrating this novel, with Muriel's poems taking the form of a river and Emma's and Ollie's taking the shape of the stones. (Check out the author's note at the end of the book for other information about the way she designed the poems to work together.) Besides the interesting structure of the story, it provides an inside look at the what was happening on the home front during WWI.

AE

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Fierce Radiance

A Fierce Radiance
By Lauren Belfer
Harper, 2010. 532 pgs. Historical Fiction

Who knew a mystery/romance/historical fiction novel set against the backdrop of the development of penicillin during World War II could be so interesting? Claire Shipley is a photojournalist for Life magazine and a single mother whose family history includes a daughter who died from a scratch and a father who abandoned her when she was young. Sent to capture the treatment of a dying man with penicillin, a drug that has not yet saved one person, Claire finds herself emotionally invested, knowing this drug might have saved her daughter. Claire also meets Jamie Stanton, one of the doctors researching penicillin, and they begin a relationship.

The story on penicillin and Claire’s involvement in it is the beginning of a race against time, drug manufacturers (including Claire’s father), and the U.S. government. In war, motives and desires change and Claire begins to realize that what she thought about her own morals, and those of others, might change due to the unusual circumstances. This is a great look at the development of penicillin and a new view of the home-front during World War II.

MN

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I'll Mature When I'm Dead

I’ll Mature When I’m Dead: Dave Barry’s Amazing Tales of Adulthood
by Dave Barry
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2010. 254 p. Nonfiction

When retirement hits, Dave Barry surprisingly finds himself doing a lot more than he expected—namely activities involving sloth. Let's here it for sloth! But foregoing wisdom and good advice he decides to document his journey through this strange period anyway, through a series of essays dedicated to fatherhood, parenting and general unpleasantries involving highly over-rated medical procedures such as the vasectomy and the colonoscopy. My advice is not to read or listen to this section while eating…seriously.

With his characteristic wit, Dave expounds on the absurdities of Miami, where you can either be mugged during a free shuttle ride from the airport or take the public transit system with a live shark—pick your poison. He regales the crowd with his take on his daughter’s ballet recitals (boring as all get out, except the 3 minutes where she is actually on the stage and he manages to pick her out from the 10 other little girls dressed in just the same way) and the over zealous soccer moms and dads of the peewee league (hot-headed miscreants who are spoiling youth sports for the entire human race). But through it all you will not (or should not) be surprised to find the quintessential bathroom humor he is known for. It’s guaranteed to provide a laugh for many and offend even more and that is precisely why Dave will never be described as mature, even when he’s dead.

DAP

True Love, the Sphinx and Other Unsolvable Riddles

True Love, the Sphinx and Other Unsolvable Riddles
By Tyne O'Connell
Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2007. 228 pgs. Young Adult

When a class of American boys meet up with a class of British girls on a tour of Europe, most of the teens are more concerned with the opposite sex than they are with their surroundings. Problems arise when Octavia decides she likes Salah, who likes Octavia's best friend Rosie, and Salah's best friend Sam likes Octavia. It takes some skillful maneuvering to get the right couples together.

As might be expected from the title and cover, this is a fluffy read with no depth. Told from four points of view, it makes it hard to truly get to know--or like--any of the characters very much. Octavia is particularly prone to grating on the reader's nerves.

AE

Monday, August 2, 2010

Horrors of Andersonville

Horrors of Andersonville
By Catherine Gourley
Twenty-First Century Books, 2010. 192 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

In need of a place to house Union prisoners during the Civil War, the Confederacy built Andersonville, a prison camp designed to hold 10,000 prisoners. However, over 30,000 prisoners were sent there and subjected to little food, squalid conditions, and completely inefficient medical care. As a result, 13,000 prisoners died, and following the war, Henry Wirz, the camp's commander, stood trial for war crimes.

Gourley provides readers with an inside view of an interesting piece of American history. With excepts from the writings of camp survivors, readers can truly connect with the prisoners and sympathize with the horrible conditions they faced. I had one problem with the book: it did jump from one prisoner to another and back again--I had to keep consulting the cast of characters at the beginning of the book. Other than that, though, I really enjoyed this book.

AE

Here's Looking at Euclid

Here’s Looking at Euclid: A Surprising Excursion Through the Astonishing World of Math
By Alex Bellos
Free Press, 2010. 319 pgs. Nonfiction

Sometimes a book’s title is just so brilliant you just have to read it, even if it is about a topic that is often not considered particularly gripping. This is such a book and the good news is that it actually delivers a lot of the entertainment promised in its title. Yes, this is a book about the history of math, but it is written with wit, humor, and a contagious love of the wonder of numbers.

Fans of quality science writing will enjoy this interesting and informative journey through the world of numbers.

CZ

The Imperfectionists

The Imperfectionists
By Tom Rachman
Dial Press, 2010. 272 pgs. Fiction

The Imperfectionists is about an English language newspaper published out of Rome. Each chapter tells about a different individual associated with the paper and then concludes with a brief history of the newspaper’s history, beginning at its founding and proceeding through the different owners and editors. Featured protagonists include a driven editor, a troubled obituary writer, a lonely accounts payable officer, and an overwhelmed publisher. Each story illuminates a new aspect of the working environment and personality of the paper as it struggles to survive in a digital world.

At its core, this is a collection of short stories, though they are each connected and enrich each other with different insights and perspectives. I finished the book wanting a little more of each character’s story, which is common for me when I read short works of fiction. They just never seem to give me enough. Rachman is undoubtedly a good writer and while I didn’t love The Imperfectionists, I liked it well enough and would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Olive Kitteridge.

CZ