Friday, October 29, 2010

Hitler's Holy Relics

Hitler's Holy Relics: A True Story of Nazi Plunder and the Race to Recover the Crown Jewels of the Holy Roman Empire
By Sidney Kirkpatrick
Simon and Schuster, 2010, 336 pgs.

Before and during World War II the Nazi’s plundered and hid away an immense number of art treasures. The art was hidden in salt mines, underground bunkers and vaults. During and after the war, the officers of the Monuments Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA), a special Allied military group, worked to determine the original owners and repatriate stolen art. Walter Horn, a German national who had moved to the United States before the war, was one of these men charged with preserving the cultural monuments and heritage of war-torn Europe. He volunteered to serve in the military and was assigned to interrogate German prisoners of war in preparation for Nazi war crimes tribunals.

One of the POWs told him of a special bunker under the city of Nurenburg containing the 1000 year-old crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire. When the bunker was entered by the US military, several important items were missing from the collection. Captain Horn was assigned to discover who took them. As a German and a former art history professor at Berkeley he was well prepared to understand the significance of the crown jewels to the Nazi movement and Hitler personally. This book follows his investigation and reveals the symbolic importance of the relics.

The retelling is gripping, though I missed seeing the photos since I listened to the audiobook. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in World War II or art history.

SH

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Charming Quirks of Others

The Charming Quirks of Others
By Alexander McCall Smith
Pantheon Books, 2010. 256 p. Mystery

“One should never mislead a friend, or an enemy for that matter, she thought. We owed the same duty of truthfulness to everybody, no matter what we thought of them.”

This is merely one of the ethical conclusions drawn by the beautiful mind of Isabel Dalhousie as she ponders the perplexities of the human condition. As a moral philosopher living in Edinburgh, Isabel is the endearing protagonist in the Sunday Philosophy Club series and is always engaged in more than one ethical mystery or another. Unable to say no to anyone in need of help, this time Isabel reluctantly agrees to sort out an anonymous message portending searing consequences in the hiring of a school principal.

Yet again, McCall Smith delivers his ever-charming, deliciously quirky cast of characters, juxtaposing a deep awareness of the human psyche and an entertaining story, gracefully told. But, it’s McCall Smith’s ability to gently push us to examine our own conscience that might be his greatest achievement. Although it's not a mystery of Halloween proportions, it's one that will warm your soul.

DAP

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight
By Terry Pratchett
Harper, 2010. 355 pgs. Young Adult

Tiffany first notices the rough music when one of the local men beats his daughter and the crowd gathers to condemn him. She realizes the rough music is growing and that people are beginning to harbor bad feelings against witches. Worried about this, she discovers a shadowy man with no eyes and the foulest order following her. Another witch informs her that this is the Cunning Man, who appears every few hundred years, hardening people’s minds and hearts against the witches and he wants to consume Tiffany. With the help of the Wee Free Men and a local young man, Preston (a wonderful new character to the series), Tiffany plans how to defeat the Cunning Man.

Fans of this series will delight in this newest, and I believe final, addition to the Tiffany Aching series set in Discworld. Tiffany is a fantastic heroine-bright, stubborn, and loyal. The Wee Free Men provide their usual humor and Pratchett makes lots of fun and pointed observations about humans. Readers who haven’t read this series, but like weird, humorous, fantastical adventures, should pick up The Wee Free Men, the first in this series.

MN

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rich Boy

Rich Boy
By Sharon Pomerantz
Twelve 2010. 517 pgs. Fiction

Robert Vishniak was born to a working-class, Jewish family in Philadelphia during the late 1940s. Early in life, he decides that he is destined for much more and uses his natural charm and easy good looks to gain access to the social circle of the wealthy. His desire to leave his origin and family behind to create a new life for himself leaves him oscillating between the two worlds, unable to find or be himself.

The author seems to want Robert to be a sympathetic protagonist striving for the American Dream. However, for me, he comes across as a conceited jerk exhibiting obnoxious amounts self-pity, self-loathing, and self-destructive behavior. The historical aspects of the novel somewhat make up for the lack of a plot readers can invest in, however several chapters toward the beginning of the book describing Robert’s early sexual exploits make this a difficult book to recommend.

CZ

Women, Food and God

Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything
By Geneen Roth
Scribner, 2010. 211 pgs. Nonfiction

In Women, Food and God, Geneen Roth claims that our relationship with food is a reflection of our relationship with God. She speaks to those who struggle with addictions to food, dieting, or any type compulsive behavior driven by a need to numb ourselves to life. Her instructions encourage readers to live in the moment and recognize the issues behind their addictive behaviors as the only way to gain freedom from them.

While there are certainly some gems of insight within this book, Roth’s subtitle which promises a “Path to Almost Everything” is a serious oversell. Her writing reminds me of a yoga instructor I once had, speaking of centering my breath and anchoring myself in my gut…whatever that means. She is very encouraging and passionate about our ability to overcome addictions, but I felt she gave little real help for those looking to achieve change in their lives.

CZ

The Scorch Trials

The Scorch Trials
By James Dashner
Delacorte Press, 2010. 361 pgs. Young Adult

In the second book of The Maze Runner series, Thomas has stepped out of the frying pan and into the fiery, baked land known as "the Scorch" - the most barren, wasted area earth has known since sun flares devastated the planet years ago. Thomas and the other Gladers have two weeks to cross the Scorch, somehow enduring the extreme heat and barren earth, as well as the Cranks - people driven to murderous insanity by a disease known as the Flare. And it doesn't help knowing that the masterminds behind these Trials, WICKED, are stacking the odds against them. Thomas longs to be free from the manipulation of WICKED, but he can't help but feel that the path to freedom might be locked within his own mind.

James Dashner delivers another action-packed, gripping segment of this story. A few moments in the book had me especially terrified, and the reader shares in Thomas's frustration as WICKED's mind-games constantly keep you guessing about what is real, what is not, and above all what will happen next. I think that this series will especially appeal to teenage guys, although I think anyone who is a fan of young-adult or science fiction novels will enjoy this. I'm eagerly looking forward to the final book in this series.

BHG

Forge

Forge
By Laurie Halse Anderson
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010. 297 pgs. Young Adult

Curzon, a recently escaped slave, has parted ways with Isabel, the girl who rescued him. Isabel was determined to head to Charleston to look for her little sister; Curzon thought the plan was foolish, so Isabel left without him. In order to survive, Curzon somewhat accidentally enlists in the Continental Army and is among the troops stuck in Valley Forge for a miserable winter. All the while, he's trying not to think about Isabel, dealing with prejudice from other soldiers, and planning his future.

The second book in the Chains series is a fine piece of historical fiction. Curzon is a likable character, and many readers will be interested to see how things play out between him and Isabel. The look at life at Valley Forge is interesting, and the look at slavery in a country fighting for its freedom is definitely intriguing. There are some slow moments, but all in all, it's a thought-provoking and entertaining book.

AE

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tomb of the Golden Bird

Tomb of the Golden Bird
By Elizabeth Peters
William Morrow, 2006. 381 pgs. Mystery

Elizabeth Peters is a pseudonym for Barbara Mertz, who holds a PhD. in Egyptology from University of Chicago, therefore her mystery novels featuring Egyptologist Amelia Peabody are bound to have some degree of contextual authenticity. Unfortunately, although I made it through this mystery, I never found it very engaging. The plot and the characters were just not really interesting. This book is the last in the series (following the internal chronology)--I may give her another chance by selecting one of the earliest in the series. I listened to this book on CD. Barbara Rosenblat does the narration and her voicing of the various characters was excellent.

Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk and Honey
By Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor, 2010. 304 pgs. Fantasy.

Ever wonder why all those women fainted back in Regency England? Little did you know it was because of over exertion while weaving glamours. In Mary Robinette Kowal’s alternate version of Jane Austen’s England, a lady must be able to weave the subtlest of glamours into her home and personage in order to be considered truly talented. It must not be anything too garish, just simple things like making the fire glow a little brighter or swaying trees in a painting.

Jane and Melody are two sisters hoping to make advantageous marriages, but Jane has all the talent and Melody has all the beauty. When Jane discovers that one of Melody’s suitors is a scoundrel set on taking advantage, she uses her skills to try and set things right. However, Jane still doesn’t believe her talents are enough to attract a match and almost overlooks the love of a man right in front of her.

This is a quick, fun read. I enjoyed the fantastical elements mixed in with Jane Austen type characters. However, I felt the concept was better than the actual results.

AJ

Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure

Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure
by Emma Campbell Webster
Riverhead Books, 2007. 352 pgs. Fiction

Your name: Elizabeth Bennet. Your mission: to marry both prudently and for love, avoiding family scandal. Equipped with only your sharp wit, natural good sense, and tolerable beauty, you must navigate your way through a variety of decisions that will determine your own romantic (and financial) fate. Ever wonder what would happen if Elizabeth accepted Mr. Darcy’s proposal the first time around? Or ran from his arms into those of Persuasion’s Captain Wentworth? Now is your chance to find out.

This grown-up Choose Your Own Adventure novel is an irresistible draw for any Janeite. Although the book is essentially a retelling of all Austen’s novels, the enjoyment comes in imagining what would have happened if Elizabeth Bennet had married Willoughby or Mr. Knightley rather than Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth’s fate often ends in failure (or worse), but the novel is all in good fun.

LF

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Copper Sun

Copper Sun
By Sharon Draper
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006. 302 pgs. Young Adult

Amari's life changes forever when her African village is invaded by white men who kill the children and the older people and capture the fittest, healthiest youths, forcing them into a life in slavery. Amari's parents and younger brother are killed, and she suffers humiliation and degradation as she is forced from her home, branded, and sent across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States. After being raped and abused on the ship, she is then sold at an auction and purchased by a cruel man who gives her to his son Clay for his birthday present. On the plantation, she meets Polly, an indentured servant, and they form an unlikely friendship, and as their lives spiral out of control, Amari and Polly find themselves fighting for a common goal: freedom.

This gripping story is one that does not shy away from the horrors of slavery, but at the same time, Draper handles the material with dignity, showing Amari's strength. The dialogue is true to the time and place, and the book is rich with historical details. This book shows the complexity of slavery and race relations, with varying degrees of the acceptation or rejection of slavery by the characters. Polly's change in attitude as her friendship with Amari grows helps debunk misconceptions held by many whites, and Amari's continued hope and her struggle for freedom demonstrate the strength of the human spirit even in the bleakest of situations. An excellent choice for fans of historical fiction or those looking for a great multicultural novel.

AE

The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June

The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June
By Robin Benway
Razorbill, 2010. 281 pgs. Young Adult

Following their parents divorce, sisters April, May, and June move to a new town with their mother, and suddenly, special gifts that they had as children reappear in their lives. April can see the future--and doesn't always like the images she sees. May can make herself invisible and June can read people's thoughts. When April sees something bad happening, but can't make sense of the scene (flashing red lights, June and April's love interest, Julian), she is determined to protect her sister, even though June has no desire to be protected; she's just concerned about being popular. Meanwhile May is struggling to adjust and finds herself constantly irritated by her history tutor--and the fact that parts of her body just disappear against her will.

This book wasn't completely satisfying; there were some issues that I felt the author didn't address enough (Why did the powers disappear for so many years? How does their gifts relate to those of their grandmother and her sisters?), and the way things all came together in the end didn't quite make sense to me. But, I really enjoyed the romantic elements; the interaction between the girls and the boys in their lives was realistic and witty.

AE

Divinely Designed

Divinely Designed
By Rachael Renee Anderson
Bonneville Books, 2009. 182 pgs. Romance

En route to Tempe, Arizona where she'll be starting a new job for a prestigious interior design company, Kennedy Jackson gets a flat tire; Braxton Taylor stops to help her, and is charmed by her sense of independence and determination to fix the problem on her own. Although they go their separate ways, they soon run into each other again--Kennedy's new roommate Stacey has a crush on Braxton and he, as the ward mission leader, is trying to help her learn about the LDS Church. However, Braxton hires Kennedy to decorate some houses he's building, and as their work relationship develops, so do their feelings for each other.

This lighthearted romantic comedy is a good choice for fans of LDS chick-lit. I wish some of the deeper issues of the book had been addressed a little more and not resolved quite so easily, but overall, it's nice, uplifting story.

AE

House of Learning: Getting More from Your Temple Experience

House of Learning: Getting More from Your Temple Experience
By M. Richard and Kathleen H. Walker
Deseret Book. 2010. 128 pgs. Nonfiction

Many people express their love of the temple. They say that they feel good while they’re in the temple. But often patrons and even temple workers feel a need to bring greater focus to their temple worship. This insightful book from a former temple president and matron is designed to help.

I liked that this book was filled with personal stories from the Walker's experiences working in the temple. These stories helped illustrated the principles they have outlined. This book can easily be read in one sitting and left me pondering how I can get more out of my own temple service.

AMM

Thursday, October 21, 2010

834 Kitchen Quick Tips: Techniques and Shortcuts For the Curious Cook

834 Kitchen Quick Tips: Techniques and Shortcuts For the Curious Cook
America’s Test Kitchen. 2006. 585 pgs. Nonfiction

The Editor’s of Cook’s Illustrated have compiled techniques and tips for solving common kitchen problems in preparing and serving meats, fruits, vegetables, spices, and condiments.

Did you know you can restart a barbecue grill with a hairdryer, soften butter with a rolling pin, or prevent scorching a saucepan using marbles? These unique tips and many more are in this handy volume. Initially I picked up the book to see how to easily peel peaches, but then I was so fascinated I had to read through each and every tip. This would be a great gift for novice and experienced cooks alike!

AMM

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

One Day

One Day
By David Nicholls
Vintage Books, 2010. 437 pgs. Fiction

Dexter and Emma meet on graduation day in Edinburgh and share the night together, but in an unconventional way. Em and Dex’s friendship continues for the next twenty years, and the reader sees how it evolves, or doesn’t evolve, along with their lives each year on the same date they met. As they live their mostly unsatisfying lives, their relationship is the one thing that centers them.

I cannot believe I actually finished this book. Intrigued initially by the premise, I kept reading because I wanted to know what eventually happens to their relationship. That’s the only thing that kept me going though. For most of the book, Dex is a self-absorbed twit who doesn’t really change, but continues his fast living with women, drugs, and such. Em is better, at least realizing that she is not happy in various situations and changing that, but she can be whiny as well. The will-they or won't-they gimmick quickly tires. Fans of off-beat love stories might appreciate this, but readers who appreciate character development will be put off by it. Those readers who like their books clean, or even somewhat clean, will want to keep away from this one.

MN

Monday, October 18, 2010

Proofiness

Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception
By Charles Seife
Viking, 2010. 295 pgs. Nonfiction.

Each day we encounter statistics and figures presented to inform or persuade. We rely on them to accurately represent reality. But Charles Seife’s new book is filled with reasons why we should be hesitant to accept the validity of many figures. Advertisers present findings out of context, politicians manipulate poll results, expert witnesses provide misleading numbers with which to sway judges and juries, and journalists “cherry pick” sensationalized data to draw an audience.

While Seife’s writing is somewhat snarky in tone, he presents statistical and mathematical concepts in an approachable and entertaining manner. His examples of mathematical manipulation and statistical deception clearly (and at some times embarrassingly) demonstrate how easily society can be misinformed. But, my favorite aspect of this book by far is Seife’s word choice, phrasing, and ability to create his own lexicon. I find it hilarious. For example, he writes of how our “minds revolt at the idea of randomness.” He has titled our tendency to create patterns out of entirely chaotic data “randumness”. This is a great piece of science writing perfect for anyone interested in math, statistics, or political, journalistic, or judicial ethics.

CZ

Mare's War

Mare's War
By Tanita S. Davis
Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. 341 pgs. Young Adult

Octavia and Tali, teenage sisters, are not excited about their plans for the summer: driving across the country from California to Alabama with their grandmother for a family reunion. Their sports-car-driving, high-heel-wearing grandmother, Mare, is unpredictable, and not at all like the average grandmother. However, as they travel across the country, making stops at random roadside attractions, Mare tells the girls about her life as a teenager, when she ran away from home and her job cleaning houses to try to make a better life for herself and her younger sister.

A 2009 Coretta Scott King Honor book, this book combines the best of historical fiction and combines it with spunky, contemporary characters. The look at life in the south during the 1940s, the struggle that Mare faced in the army during and afterward due to continued segregation are all portrayed with a deep respect for those who struggled to find their place in the world. A look at race relations and an exploration of family relationships, this book is as informative as it is entertaining.

AE

The Return of Buddy Bush

The Return of Buddy Bush
By Shelia P. Moses
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2006. 143 pgs. Young Adult

In the sequel to The Legend of Buddy Bush, Pattie Mae heads north to Harlem with her sister to visit for a few weeks. She is determined to find her uncle, Buddy Bush, to let him know that her grandfather has died and that the KKK members who kidnapped Buddy have been arrested and will stand trial.

While I enjoyed returning to Pattie Mae's world, I didn't like this book as much as the first one, perhaps because we didn't see as much of the other lovable characters, such as Grandpa and Grandma Babe, who really brought the first book to life. However, I did enjoy learning more about the Buddy Bush story and Pattie Mae is still a highly engaging narrator.

AE

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Best Birth: Your Guide to the Safest, Healthiest, Most Satisfying Labor and Delivery

The Best Birth: Your Guide to the Safest, Healthiest, Most Satisfying Labor and Delivery
By Sarah McMoyler
Da Capo Press, 2008. 262 pgs. Nonfiction

Most expectant mothers must decide whether or not to have a “natural” childbirth or one using “medical pain-management options.” This book promotes the “McMoyler Method, the childbirth method for the twenty-first century.” Who is McMoyler of the McMoyler Method? Sarah McMoyler, the author and a labor and delivery nurse.

Ultimately, the book is less about promoting a certain method and more about providing a good discussion of what to expect during a natural, medicated, or caesarean childbirth. The author also includes helpful tips for what to bring to the hospital, how the husband or partner can be more involved in childbirth, the role of each member on the hospital staff, and even some of the nitty-gritty details women may not know about the birthing and recovery process.

This book is a manageable length and can be a helpful resource for any woman expecting a baby and looking for more information on the process.

LF

Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman

Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman
By Sam Wasson
HarperStudio, 2010. 231 pgs. Nonfiction.

This is the story of the making of Breakfast at Tiffany's, an unusual and captivating film. Truman Capote wrote the original story which differs in substantial ways from the film version. Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe for the role of Holly Golightly--the role made famous by Audrey Hepburn. Sam Wasson explores the influences on Capote's story and the ways in which the story was adapted for Hollywood. Also how Audrey Hepburn came on board, the origin and impact of Audrey's little black dress, and the adventure of filming in Tiffany's." You might be surprised how Mickey Rooney came to be horrendously mis-cast as a Japanese neighbor. And how Mancini and Mercer came up with the Oscar-winning "Moon River." This sexy little book is well-written and cleverly put together (but a bit vulgar in spots).

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Reversal

The Reversal
by Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, 2010. 389 pgs. Fiction.

The first "reversal" in Michael Connelly's latest Mickey Haller/Harry Bosch thriller is that Mickey is standing for the prosecution. (What?! The Lincoln Lawyer gone City Hall?) Haller has been asked, in a somewhat far-fetched scenario, to serve as an independent prosecutor in a retrial of Jason Jessup, a man convicted of killing a young girl twenty-four years earlier, who has been freed because of DNA evidence. Jessup is a truly wicked man and the fact that he has been released during the trial on his own recognizance amps up the tension as Connelly moves deftly back and forth between Mickey and ex-wife Maggie preparing for trial and Bosch and the LAPD special surveillance unit following Jessup as he engages in frightening and inexplicable late-night rituals. Just when you think justice is about to be served and it's safe to go back in the water, everything explodes in a wild conflagration of a conclusion. Connelly at his finest, which is mighty fine.

Start Over, Finish Rich

Start Over, Finish Rich: 10 Steps to Get You Back on Track in 2010
By David Bach
Broadway Books, 2009. 211 pgs. Nonfiction

Confronted by a person reeling from the recession, Bach felt prompted to write this guide about 10 financial steps that will lead the reader to recommit to wealth in 2010. The 10 steps are standards, advocated by most personal finance experts, such as dealing with credit card debt and re-energizing your retirement plan. This slim guide does not provide too many details, but is a good beginner for those who want to recommit or start from scratch. Especially helpful are the checklists at the end of each chapter that remind the reader of the things Bach recommends they do. Bach does not present anything new or earth-shattering, but the steps are sound ones and a refresher course on how important these matters are is always welcome.

MN

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sheri Dew Collection

Sheri Dew Collection
By Sheri Dew
Deseret Book, 2009. Nonfiction Soundrecording.

A collection of six of Sheri Dew's best-loved audio books and talks on nine CDs and one DVD. The CDs include: Famous last words --God wants a powerful people --If life were easy, it wouldn't be hard : and other reassuring truths --Living on the Lord's side of the line --The savior heals without a scar (with Wendy Watson Nelson) --This is a test : it is only a test --Awake, arise, and come unto Christ. The DVD presents: Time out for women: The parable of the streetlight.

I really enjoyed these talks by Sheri Dew. She has a great way of presenting truth in a manner that I relate to. She is humorous, yet spiritual in her discourses. I particularly enjoyed seeing her visual aid for “The Parable of the Streetlight.”

AMM

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Always the Baker Never the Bride

Always the Baker Never the Bride
By Sandra D. Bricker
Abingdon Press, 2010. 308 pgs. Fiction

Thirty-six-year-old Emma Rae Travis is an award-winning baker who can't eat her own confections. When she teams up with Jackson Drake, who is starting a wedding destination hotel, this twosome and their crazy family ties bring new meaning to the term "family circus." Can these two ill-suited players master the high-wire act and make a go of their new business venture?

This was a sweet novel that not only has a cute love story, but also includes recipes and tips for both the baking and wedding industries. Although it was a bit predictable, I enjoyed this light-hearted, humorous story.

AMM

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Legend of Buddy Bush

Legend of Buddy Bush
By Shelia P. Moses
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2004. 216 pgs. Young Adult

Twelve-year-old Pattie Mae can't wait to go north to visit her older sister and to get away from Rehobeth Road in North Carolina. Although she has loving grandparents and a mother who is strict but caring, Pattie Mae is eager to go to Harlem. In the meantime, though, she's enjoying spending time with her uncle Buddy, who even takes her to see her very first movie. However, Buddy is accused of attacking a white woman, and in the 1947 South, just being black is enough to convict Buddy of a crime he didn't commit. As the family tries to help Buddy, they must also deal with Grandpa's failing health.

Pattie Mae is absolutely delightful; her story is one that will have readers laughing and crying on the same page. The rich setting, excellent character development, and interesting storyline provide something for just about everyone. This great work of historical fiction is a National Book Award finalist and a Coretta Scott King honor book, and I am delighted to know that there's a sequel, The Return of Buddy Bush, which I'm checking out immediately.

AE

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Secret Kept

A Secret Kept
By Tatiana De Rosnay
St. Martin’s Press, 2010. 305 pgs. Fiction

Antoine surprises his sister Melanie for her fortieth birthday with a trip to the seaside resort they visited as children. But the relaxing trip concludes with a near fatal accident and some equally disruptive discoveries about their mother who died of a brain aneurysm thirty years ago. Antoine’s life, which was already spiraling down after his recent divorce, now seems to come completely unglued as Melanie fights for her life, his teenage children continue to pull away from him, and he struggles to connect with an always distant and now aging father.

This is a book about the secrets we keep in life and the unanswered questions we all leave at death. Antoine’s struggles are all very real and de Rosnay tells a story that gives readers a taste of closure, but the unmistakable reminder that real endings are never neat. When a life is unfairly shortened the world is left without answers to what could have been and those left behind must find a way to deal with the questions that will always remain. I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as “Sarah’s Key”, but it was an interesting read by a thoughtful author.

CZ

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Day of Tears

Day of Tears
By Julius Lester
Hyperion Books for Children, 2005. 177 pgs. Young Adult

Pierce Butler is holding the biggest slave auction in history in order to pay off his gambling debts. His oldest daughter, Sarah, takes after her mother (who has divorced Pierce) and opposes slavery. His younger daughter, Frances, is in favor of it. Mattie and Will, two of Pierce's slaves, have known Pierce since he was a child, and their daughter Emma now cares for his daughters. So, none of them expect him to auction Emma off, and yet, desperate for money, he does just that.

Told from multiple perspectives, both in flashbacks looking at the actual auction and surrounding events, and as flash-forwards reflecting on the events, this book is a great look at slavery and how it impacted people. Based on an actual event and people, this book is incredibly touching. This Coretta Scott King Award winner should be read by everyone.

AE

Dark Sons

Dark Sons
By Nikki Grimes
Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, 2005. 216 pgs. Young Adult

This book alternates between Ishmael and Sam. Ishmael, son of Abraham, who for many years has been his father's only son, and while Sarah, Abraham's wife, isn't fond of him or his mother, Hagar, Abraham's concubine. However, Sarah's pregnancy means Ishmael's entire world is changing. Sam, a contemporary African American teen, is facing family changes of his own: his father, who has always idolized, has run out on his mother and now intends to marry his white mistress. Both Sam and Ishmael have to figure out what relationship they will have with their fathers, as well as reexamine their relationships with God.

A Coretta Scott King Honor Book and YALSA Best Books for Young Adults Choice, this novel in verse is superb. The boys' struggles are heart-wrenching and the writing is lyrical. This wonderful story about faith, hope, and family is one I highly recommend.

AE

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Who Am I Without Him?

Who Am I Without Him?
By Sharon Flake
Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, 2004. 168 pgs. Young Adult

Ten short stories explore the relationships of African American teenagers, including a girl who only wants to date white boys, a girl who puts up with her boyfriend's abuse because of her insecurities, and an absentee father writing to his teenage daughter with advice about how to succeed in her relationships with boys.

A 2005 Coretta Scott King Honor book, this book features funny, sweet, and sad stories. Flake does a wonderful job of providing deep characters, even though the stories are fairly brief. This is a great look at urban African American life, but also a great reflection on teens who just want to be accepted and loved.

AE

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Ghost and the Goth

The Ghost and the Goth
By Stacey Kade
Hyperion, 2010. 281 pp. Young adult fiction.

Alona Dare, former Queen of Popular, is now a wandering spirit after her unfortunate collision with the school bus. Expecting her classmates and friends to wildly mourn her death, she is shocked by the lack of respect she receives after her funeral. To top it off, someone can hear and see her--but that someone is Will Killian, weirdo extraordinaire in Alona's book. Nonetheless, Alona coerces Will to help her reach the "white light" she's expecting, because even weird help is better than none at all. In the process, both discover unanticipated depths in each other and actually even form a sort of friendship.

This was a light, funny, and surprisingly enjoyable novel. I've read other young adult books with similar topics, but this was actually successful. Although peppered with some more mature portions, I found this book to be even heartwarming. This will appeal especially to the crowd who enjoys supernatural romances, particularly to those looking for a lighter touch than standard fare.

CW

Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist

Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist
By Donald P. Ryan
William Morrow, 2010. 286 pgs. Nonfiction

A very enjoyable memoir of a modern-day archaeologist. As the sub-title indicates, he is an "unconventional" archaeologist and the author does detail his unusual career path from rock-climbing in Washington into tomb-exploration in Egypt. Most interesting were the chapters covering his explorations in Egypt, especially the discovery of a mummified female woman in KV60. Some believe this to have been Queen Hatshepsut--the female Pharaoh. Ryan's association with Thor Heyerdahl was quite interesting as well. This gave me a renewed appetite for archaeology (armchair archaeology) causing me to seek out more books about the Valley of the Kings and the history of its exploration. The book is a varied narrative, avoids the technical and should therefore appeal to a wide range of readers.

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron
By Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books, 2010. 339 pgs. Mystery

Jane Austen and her brother Henry travel to Brighton to comfort themselves after the death of Henry’s wife and Jane’s dear friend Eliza. While journeying there, Jane rescues a young woman, Catherine, trapped in a carriage only to discover that Lord Byron is her captor and ardent suitor. Jane and Catherine meet a few more times and Catherine confides her fear of Byron to Jane. When Catherine is found dead in Byron’s bedchamber, Jane sets out to find Catherine’s murderer.

This is the latest in a series featuring Jane Austen as a detective and is another great addition. Barron has really captured Jane Austen’s voice and has put her, for the most part, in the places Austen really lived and visited during her life. Fans of mysteries and of Jane Austen will love this series.

MN

Clockwork Angel

Clockwork Angel
By Cassandra Clare
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010. 479 pgs. Young Adult

Tessa knows nothing of the supernatural world when she departs New York City to meet her brother Nate in London. She quickly learns of it when the Dark Sisters kidnap her as she disembarks in London and the Shadowhunters rescue her. Tessa discovers that she is a supernatural being, one that has power to change into someone else and that this is a rare talent in the supernatural world. Working with the Shadowhunters to discover who kidnapped her and to find her missing brother, Tessa also finds herself drawn to Will, one of the Shadowhunters.

Fans of Clare’s The Mortal Instrument series will enjoy this one as well. New fans don't need to read the first series to read this. Set in a different time and era, this book has some similar elements to Clare’s first series, but is different enough that it doesn’t feel old or rehashed. I look forward to the next book in the series.

MN

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English
By Natasha Solomons
Little, Brown & Co., 2010. 357 p. Fiction

There are a strict set of rules to follow if one wishes to be a true English gentleman and this is the sole desire of Mr. Rosenblum’s heart. A three member family of German Jews, the Rosenblums are fortunate enough to arrive on English soil just before WWII breaks out. Given a set of rules to follow in order to blend in with the natives, Mr. Rosenblum proceeds with exactitude and throughout the ensuing years he continues to add to the original rules with dearly naïve, comical observations.

As the years pass Mr. Rosenblum has yet to achieve the last step rule in the gentleman's rule book - entry into a golf club. But due to his "unfortunate" heritage the clubs will never accept him, so taking a proactive approach, Rosenblum decides he will simply build his own. The building of the course is full of adventure as Mr. and Mrs. Rosenblum navigate the tricky business of village life. But, just as the course reaches fruition tragedy arrives in the form of a wolf in sheep’s clothing and the “gentleman” Mr. Rosenblum believed to be his friend ends up bestowing a most crushing betrayal.

Solomons delivers a solid read with her delightfully light-hearted, endearingly bittersweet, international bestseller. With a depth that offers complete satisfaction, Solomon manages to evoke the difficulties of the Jewish experience in England and explore what it truly means to be both friend and gentleman.

DAP

The Amulet of Samarkand

The Amulet of Samarkand
By Jonathan Stroud
Hyperion Books, 2003. 462 pgs. Young Adult

This book is set in an alternate London where the Parliament is comprised of powerful magicians who rule the British empire. Nathaniel is a magician’s apprentice, and despite his master’s rather mediocre abilities, Nathaniel is a prodigy who delves into advanced books and gains skill beyond his years. He summons Bartimaeus, a magical djinn and commands him to steal the powerful Amulet of Samarkand. The narrative alternates between these two, but the real fun of the book is Bartimaeus’s character: flippant, cocky, and annoyed with thousands of years of being summoned by condescending magicians. His chapters include asides in the form of informative and humorous footnotes. This book has plenty of action as we learn why Nathaniel wants to steal the Amulet in the first place, what its significance is, and what happens once its owner finds that it is missing.

BHG

Maybe This Time

Maybe This Time
By Jennifer Crusie
St. Martin’s Press, 2010. 342 pgs. Romance

Andromeda walked away from Archer North and their twelve months of marriage ten years ago. She has decided to marry again and, in an attempt to establish closure to that portion of her life, Andie visits her ex’s law office to return her uncashed alimony checks and say a final goodbye. But instead of making the clean break she was hoping for, she finds herself hired as a nanny to care for Archer’s two young wards living in a reportedly haunted castle in the middle of nowhere. Now she must save the troubled children from the malevolent spirits determined to keep them from ever leaving the estate.

This is perhaps the best work of supernatural romance I have yet to discover. Crusie uses the perfect combination of comedy and horror to create a creepy but heartwarming story. Her characters are endearing and while the story doesn’t stray far from the expected, there are still some plot twists keep the pages turning.

CZ

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Only Game in Town: Sportswriting from the New Yorker

The Only Game in Town: Sportswriting from the New Yorker
Edited by David Remnick
Random House, 2010. 492 pages. Non-fiction

I am not really in the soul-selling market, but I would give a whole lot to be able to write even one sentence as well as Roger Angell writes every sentence. Likewise for A. J. Liebling, Ring Lardner, and John Updike. And Adam Gopnik. In this volume, all these guys write about sports: baseball, boxing, horse racing, the Olympics. Martin Amis trashes the "personalities" of tennis and Ben McGrath tries to demystify the knuckleball. In addition to the lovely, precise prose about the games we love to watch and play, The Only Game in Town includes a judicious sprinkling of New Yorker sports cartoons; e.g., a cow pole vaulting towards a distant moon and a guy calling for a ride to a round of golf because his wife is leaving him and taking the car. If you like sports stories, exquisitely well-written, this really is the only game in town.

The Sonderberg Case

The Sonderberg Case
By Elie Wiesel
Alfred A Knopf, 2010. 178 p. Fiction

“Guilty and Not Guilty” -- that is the plea Werner Sonderberg enters when he is placed on trial for the murder of his uncle.

From the Nobel prize-winning author of Night comes The Sonderberg Case by Elie Wiesel. The plot follows two separate threads and Wiesel slowly and circuitously unwinds and intertwines the story of Sonderberg and his uncle (two German men who enter the mountains but only one returns) and the life of Yedidyah, a Jewish theater critic working at a local newspaper given the task of covering the trial. Yedidyah is a complicated soul with a complicated past (and present), but the trial’s impetus will allow him to question and resolve much of his personal angst. And when you finally find out what happened on that mountain, the discovery will leave you reeling.

This is no ordinary legal thriller, but instead a deeply introspective, moral conundrum. Wiesel asks us to examine the legality and the morality of action and consequence, whether or not our personal actions affect the lives of those in our sphere and to what degree we are culpable. With this book our debt to Wiesel increases: for the beauty he creates, for his constant examination of the human character and for his ability to push us to greater levels of consciousness.

DAP

Dress Your Best

Dress Your Best
By Clinton Kelly and Stacy London
Three Rivers Press, 2005. 255 pgs. Nonfiction

The co-hosts of TLC's What Not to Wear offer up advice on how to find clothes that will look best with your body type. With eighteen different body types for women and eight for men, there's a lot of advice dispensed. Each body type is shown three different looks: work, weekend, and evening. They focus on general principles, rather than things that would date the book quickly, such as what colors are in for a particular season. Readers will find a lot of information by turning to their body shape, but browsing other types, too, will round out their understanding of fashion principles.

This book isn't quite as fun as watching Stacy and Clinton on TV, and sometimes the writing style was a little choppy (perhaps because they took turns writing), but still, it's a fun and informative resource for those of us who are fashion-challenged.

AE

Earth (the book)

Earth (the book): A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race
By Jon Stewart
Grand Central Publishing, 2010. 244 pgs. Nonfiction.

When we humans have finally destroyed ourselves and alien beings have found their way to our abandoned planet, this book will be waiting for them as a primer to the extinct human race. Our planet’s visitors will find an attractively illustrated guide to our cultures, religions, governments and life cycles written in a way only the staff of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart would dare.

This book is formatted much like a DK guide and is filled with interesting, if not factual, bits of information. Readers should expect to be entertained and offended, probably in equal parts as they peruse this irreverent and snarky description of life on our planet.

CZ

Thin, Rich, Pretty

Thin, Rich, Pretty
By Beth Harbison
St. Martin’s Press, 2010. 342 pgs. Fiction

Twenty years ago, Holly, Nicola, and Lexi met at summer camp for one long month filled with inedible food and cliché art projects. Today, each girl finds herself still plagued by the insecurities and self-doubt that, that summer, had only begun to take root. Lexi, the spoiled rich girl, is about to learn the realities of life as a disinherited heiress. Nicola has enjoyed a small degree of success as an actress but is now faced with mounting pressure to alter her appearance to conform with the world’s definition of beauty. And Holly has been given an ultimatum from her boyfriend to lose a few of her extra pounds or lose the possibility of their engagement. These three women will once again find their lives intersecting as they learn what strength they have within themselves.

This was not really the light and entertaining piece of chick-lit I had been expecting. Though it was, at times, amusing, the story never really took off and the characters failed to gain any degree of depth. The author’s obvious agenda to demonstrate how self worth and true beauty come from within, is a bit heavy handed and gives the book a didactic feel.

CZ