Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lawn Boy Returns

Lawn Boy Returns
By Gary Paulsen
Wendy Lamb Books, 2010. 101 pgs. Young Adult

Having expanded his summer lawn mowing job into an ever-growing business conglomerate, a twelve-year-old boy gets involved in high finance thanks to his hippie stockbroker, takes on sponsorship of a boxer, and becomes a media sensation.

Lawn Boy’s adventures continue in the follow up to Lawn Boy. He faces trouble when his friends and random strangers want a piece of his fortune. His business partners increase daily and he’s feeling worn out. Will Lawn Boy survive this epic summer?

AMM

Lawn Boy

Lawn Boy
By Gary Paulsen
Wendy Lamb Books, 2007. 88 pgs. Young Adult

On his 12th birthday Lawn Boy is given a lawn mower by his grandmother. He is a bit surprised at this gift, but figures that maybe he can earn a few bucks to buy an inner tube for his bike. It turns out that the lawn service that used to take care of his neighborhood is no longer in business and he’s hit the jackpot. Lawn Boy not only makes enough to buy an inner tube, but learns about investing from his stockbroker neighbor when he continues to make more money than he knows what to do with.

This short book packs a hilarious punch. I read it in a matter of hours and was certainly entertained.

AMM

Livvie Owen Lived Here

Livvie Owen Lived Here
By Sarah Dooley
Feiwel and Friends, 2010. 229 pgs. Young Adult

Fourteen-year-old Livvie Owen, who has autism, and her family have been forced to move frequently because of her outbursts, but when they face eviction again, Livvie is convinced she has a way to get back to a house where they were all happy, once.

I liked the voice of this book and how the interactions between Livvie and her family were portrayed. I felt like the flap of the book was a bit misleading in that it says that the house Livvie’s family used to live in burned down at her hand. However, the novel never explicitly states this; I suppose the reader is to infer this fact from the matches on the cover. Overall a good book though.

AMM

Matched

Matched
By Ally Condie
Dutton, 2010. 384 pgs. Young Adult

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her, so when Xander appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows he is her ideal mate--until Ky Markham's face appears for an instant before the screen fades to black.

I enjoyed the first book in this new dystopian series. The Society has made sure that everything is as perfect as possible. You are assigned a spouse, a job, and the ideal nutritional balance for your meals all based on your personal data. Cassia was fine living in this perfect bubble, until she began to see what the world could be like outside the Society.

I look forward to seeing Ally Condie on December 7th here at the Provo City Library. She will be speaking and signing at 7:00 pm in the Bullock Room, #309.

AMM

Monday, November 29, 2010

White Noise

White Noise
By Don Delillo
Penguin Books, 2009 (c1984). 310 pages. Fiction.


In this dark satire of American society, Jack Gladney is a professor and chairman of the department of Hitler studies at "College-on-the-Hill." Jack is married to Babette who brought several children to the marriage from previous relationships. In the story a tank car containing a toxic substance is derailed releasing Nyodene Derivative into the air. This is at first a "feathery plume," shortly thereafter it's a "black billowing cloud," and ultimately referred to as the "airborne toxic event."

Delillo turns his wicked wit on American society, consumer culture, and academia. Ultimately the novel is about death--references and images of death are replete throughout the text--in fact, the title itself is a reference to death. Despite the oddness of these characters and some of the storyline, I found the descriptions, dialogue, and Jack's stream-of-consciousness all very natural and genuine. Fascinating like a slow-motion train wreck.

SML

The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Truth Behind the Mystique

The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Truth Behind the Mystique
By Lawrence H. Schiffman
Recorded Books, 2007. 7 CDs. Nonfiction.

This series of 14 lectures is a rudimentary introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls. You will learn a little about the origin of the scrolls, the content of the scrolls, the sect that created and hid them, the discovery of the scrolls, their translation and publication. You will hear more frequently what the scrolls are not--Schiffman repeatedly dismisses what he refers to a "one-person theories."

I was a little disappointed that there was far too little attention given over to analysis of the scrolls with respect to what they teach us concerning Second Temple Judaism and the origins and antecedents of Christianity. Apparently the field is too young. Schiffman states that the scrolls only recently have been completely published, making them widely available for scholarly research and analysis. At the conclusion of his series of lectures, he makes a call for the kind scholarship and analysis I was hoping to hear presented in this audio presentation.

SML

The Disappearing Spoon

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
By Sam Kean
Little, Brown & Co., 2010. 391 pgs. Nonfiction.

Did you know that aluminum, the disposable stuff we use to line pans when we don’t want to have to scrub them, was once the most valuable metal in the world? How about that gold is thought by some to be our best hope for treating cancer? Or perhaps that Oklo, an area in Africa, is home to the only known natural nuclear fission reactor? Sam Kean includes these and many, many more fascinating facts and stories about the people and elements connected to the periodic table of elements.

I believe that what makes science writing so much fun to read is that scientists, these serious men and women who spend their lives studying our vast and complicated universe, are so completely human and at times completely crazy as well. Kean’s fascination with the physics, chemistry, and history of our elements makes it difficult to avoid being fascinated as well. The Disappearing Spoon is a treasure trove of entertaining facts and stories and is a pleasure to read.

CZ

The Envoy: The Epic Rescue of the Last Jews of Europe

The Envoy: The Epic Rescue of the Last Jews of Europe . . .
by Alex Kershaw
Da Capo, 2010. 294 pgs. Non-Fiction

This beautiful, terrible narrative tells the story of Raoul Wallenberg, Adolph Eichmann, and the near-annihilation of Hungary's Jews during the last days of World War II. Wallenberg, dispatched with U. S. money from neutral Sweden to try to halt or delay Eichmann's rush of Jews to the death camps, saved tens of thousands of Jews by issuing them Schutzpasses, documents conferring Swedish protection and allowing him to move people into Swedish safe houses and some to escape the country. Again and again Wallenberg risks his own life and freedom by setting up his "little black table" at the train station and pulling people off the transports at the last minute by randomly calling out the most common Jewish names. Kershaw tells his story in a powerful understated prose filled with poignant details about individual Hungarians as well as the historic figures of the time. Descriptions of the Blue Danube running red with the blood of women and children shot on its banks, their bodies thrown into the water, and of Jewish bodies laid out on the ice in a pattern mocking the Star of David bring a terrible immediacy to Kershaw's historical narrative. Contrast this with the hope against hope and eventual salvation of those whom Wallenberg's intervention saved, as he appeared suddenly, almost as an angel of light, among the deportees at the station. Wallenberg's own disappearance into the Soviet gulag brings this extraordinary book to a heartbreaking conclusion, though the appendix which details the number of people saved and the estimated number of their descendants makes powerfully the point of how much may be accomplished by even one very good man.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Wave

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean
By Susan Casey
Doubleday, 2010. 326 pgs. Nonfiction

The ocean is home to some of the world’s deadliest creatures. But, even without the deadly wildlife, the ocean’s vast size and movement presents a powerful force of destruction. The Wave is an exploration of the force exhibited by the ocean’s waves. The author spends chapters on both the scientists trying to understand and possibly harness the power behind the ocean’s movement, and the surfers who risk their lives to ride these mammoth walls of water.

This book has been described as “part science lesson and part adrenaline rush”, and I whole-heartedly agree. Casey’s love of the ocean is plainly exhibited as she writes of the beauty and hostility of the freak waves that have been known to tear boats in half and demolish coastlines. Even with her careful description, readers will still want to make a quick trip to youtube to see these enormous waves being ridden by professional tow surfers. This book is an excellent read for any armchair adventurer.

CZ

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Three Black Swans

Three Black Swans
By Caroline B. Cooney
Delacorte Press, 2010. 276 pgs. Young Adult

Disturbed by something she hears on talk radio, Missy plans a hoax for school where she and her cousin, Claire, reveal themselves to be twin sisters long ago separated. The hoax scares Claire, but she goes along with it until she realizes the reason she’s scared is because she believes it might be true. Missy also believes she and Claire are truly sisters, but doesn’t understand how their parents could have kept this from them. Genevieve sees the uploaded video twenty miles away in Manhattan and realizes Missy and Claire are not twins, but triplets and she is the third sister. Secrets and relationships start to unravel as the girls discover the truth.

Cooney is hit or miss for me these days. This one was a miss. Parts of it were interesting and I did want to know how this happened. But parts of the book didn’t ring true. Also, Cooney’s feel for teenagers nowadays and how they act, speak, and such, seems to be off, which makes the book more unbelievable.

MN

Behemoth

Behemoth
By Scott Westerfeld
Simon Pulse, 2010. 485 pgs. Young Adult

Behemoth continues the story of Austrian Prince Alek who, in an alternate 1914 Europe, eludes the Germans by traveling in the Leviathan to Constantinople, where he faces a whole new kind of genetically-engineered warships.

If you enjoyed Leviathan you are going to love Behemoth. This novel was action, action, action. I loved getting to know the characters better and their interactions with each other. The illustrations were again magnificent. If you missed Scott Westerfeld at our Teen Book Fest you can watch his keynote address here: http://provout.swagit.com/play/11182010-90/0/.
Watch for the end of this trilogy Goliath in 2011!

AMM

The Girl Who Chased the Moon

The Girl Who Chased the Moon
By Sarah Addison Allen
Bantam Books, 2010. 269 pgs. Fiction.

Changing wallpaper and mysterious lights in the woods at night are just some of the magical pieces Allen sprinkles into her story. Emily Benedict moves to Mullaby, North Carolina to live with her 8 foot tall grandfather after her mother dies. Her mother, Dulcie, never spoke of her time in Mullaby and Emily quickly discovers that the town has a grudge against Dulcie, but no one will tell her why.

Julia Winterson has returned to Mullaby after a long absence to take care of her deceased father’s barbeque restaurant. Julia just wants to do her time, see the restaurant back on its feet, and then high-tail it back to Baltimore. This plan, however, is thwarted when, Sawyer, an old high school mistake (and perhaps the only man she has ever loved) starts insinuating himself into her life.

In Mullaby, Emily and Julia are finally able to find their place in the world in the last place they ever thought to find it.

I really enjoyed this sweet, quiet story of the magic that can be found in life.

AJ

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
By Heidi W. Durrow
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010. 264 pgs. Fiction.

Rachel identifies herself as ‘the new girl’. She has just moved to Portland to live with her Grandmother and Aunt Loretta following a family tragedy atop a Chicago apartment building which she alone survived. Her childhood in Germany as the daughter of a black G.I. and a Danish mother did little to prepare her for race relations in the United States. Her bright blue eyes and dark skin bring attention, both admiring and hostile, as she enters her teenage years searching desperately to understand who she is and why she has been left so dreadfully alone.

This story is simply and powerfully told. Rachel is just one of several narrators who slowly unravel the events in Chicago. The true brilliance in Durrow’s writing is how deep the characters are developed despite the spare writing style. It is startling how issues of race, violence, guilt, grief, love, addiction, family, and redemption are all vividly explored. This is a truly amazing novel by a gifted new writer.

CZ

The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours
By Kate Morton
Atria Books, 2010. 564 pgs. Fiction.

A letter delivered 50 years late begins a chain of events that lead Edie Burchill to a crumbling castle deep in the heart of Kent. This ancient estate is believed to be the inspiration for The True History of the Mud Man a classic novel Edie fell in love with as a child. Now she has been given the chance to investigate the origin of the book, the lives of the author’s three aging daughters, and the castle’s unexpected connection to her own family’s history.

Kate Morton weaves this gothic mystery with a narrative that changes perspectives and time periods, a writing style she has definitely succeeded with in the past. I’m not sure if my disappointment is due to the writer’s shortcomings or my high expectations after falling in love with her previous book The Forgotten Garden. Since most reviews were extremely positive for this new novel, I am almost convinced my expectations were far too high. The Distant Hours does present an intriguing story with beautifully developed characters….it just wasn’t as good as I had hoped it would be.

CZ

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Man's Heart

A Man's Heart
By Lori Copeland
Zondervan, 2010. 317 pgs. Romance

Jules Matias has broken her engagement to Cruz Delgado not once but twice. After the second time, she heads off to college, determined to create the perfect potato in order to help her father, a potato farmer, improve his financial standing. Just as she's about to graduate, however, her father dies, drawing her back home. With her estranged sister in town and her broken relationship with Cruz, things are already spinning out of control. However, they take a turn for the worst when her best friend Sophie--who happens to be Cruz's sister--is diagnosed with cancer. Jules and Cruz are thrown together as they try to care for Sophie's two children.

There was a lot going on in this book--perhaps too much. Some readers might enjoy the themes of love and forgiveness, but at the same time, the lack of real character development might alienate others. I found it difficult to really get into the story and care about the characters; nothing really kept my attention or made me want to keep reading.

AE

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Do It! Let's Get Off Our Buts

Do It! Let's Get Off Our Buts
By John-Roger & Peter McWilliams
Prelude Press, 1991. 494 pgs. Nonfiction.

This is a terrific motivational resource. Whether you're just starting out in life or have already sailed through most of it, here is a collection of brief snippets--mostly advice on how to live our dreams. The information is organized in 6 broad categories: Why We're Not Living Our Dreams, Built for Success, Discovering and Choosing Our Dreams, Becoming Passionate About Your Dream, Doing It, and Living Your Dreams. This is a light read, with every other page containing a single quote (or occasionally two), such as this one from Reggie Leach, a retired hockey player: "Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire." Or the quote from a former Librarian of Congress, Daniel J. Boorstin: "The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance--it is the illusion of knowledge."

SML

Friday, November 19, 2010

Oh No She Didn't

Oh No She Didn’t: The Top 100 Style Mistakes Women Make and How to Avoid Them
By Clinton Kelly
Gallery Books, 2010. 201 pgs. Nonfiction

Clinton Kelly, the cohost of TLC’s popular What Not to Wear, has written a quick and conversational book outlining some of the big fashion no-no’s women continually embrace. He includes things like the mom pants, red lipstick, denim on denim, and wet hair ponytails. Clinton’s criticisms boil down to women not taking the time or thought necessary to really look their best.

I’ll be honest, I make some of Clinton’s 100 mistakes and I am not sure I’m ready to take all his instructions to heart. (Don’t make me throw away my hoodies! They may not be flattering, but they make me happy. I promise not to wear them to social functions, but I think they are still ok for a trip to the grocery store no matter what Clinton says!) But I do appreciate his reminders that beauty is within the grasp of everyone, we just need to decide to take the time and effort necessary to shine in our own special way.

CZ

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Land

The Land
By Mildred Taylor
Phyllis Fogelman Books, 2001. 375 pgs. Young Adult

Paul-Edward Logan is the son of a black former slave and her former owner, a white man who raises his two illegitimate children much the same as he does his three sons by his wife. He teaches Paul and his sister to read and write, and Paul has a happy life on his father's plantation, spending time with his brothers and his books. However, as he gets older, Paul begins to realize that being part black will always make it so he won't be treated the same as the white members of the family. Although he had always dreamed of living on his father's land, of it being his someday, he realizes that there is not a place for him, so he runs away and sets out to find land of his own.

This book is a prequel to Taylor's Newbery Award winner, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and bases this book of the experiences of her ancestors. The book provides an interesting look at the South after the Civil War, especially the racial dynamics. The book has a leisurely pace, and while it was published for the teen market, I honestly have a hard time believing it would appeal to very many teens. It's well-written, though, and Taylor is a good storyteller, so those who like historical fiction with rural settings and lovable characters will be rewarded for sticking with it.

AE

Standing against the Wind

Standing against the Wind
By Traci L. Jones
Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2006. 184 pgs. Young Adult

Patrice Williams is smart, shy, and prone to tears. Having recently moved to Chicago, she lives with an aunt and two cousins, and while she does her best to help around the apartment and get good grades, she doesn't fit in at school and wishes she could get out of Chicago. So when she hears about a scholarship to a prestigious African American boarding school, Patrice is determined to apply. In the meantime, though, she finds herself forming a friendship with Monty Freeman, who despite his status as one of the popular kids, actually seems to like Patrice.

This is a sweet story of friendship and growth, but I felt like the writing style was somewhat stilted and awkward in places--the author tends to tell more than show. Still, I enjoyed the message of the book and would be interested in reading the author's second novel.

AE

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters
By Natalie Standiford
Scholastic Press, 2010. 313 pgs. Young Adult

Arden Louisa Norris Sullivan Weems Maguire Hightower Beckendorf, otherwise known as Almighty Lou, summons her son, daughter-in-law, and six grandchildren to her Baltimore mansion on Christmas day to inform them that one of the grandchildren has offended her deeply. Unless the grandchild confesses and apologizes for the offense, the whole family will be cut out of her will and Almighty is extremely wealthy. The family returns home and concludes the offender must be one of the three Sullivan girls. So responsible Norrie, rebellious Jane and angelic Sassy each take their turns writing their confessions and learning how much of a Sullivan they truly are. This was a quick read with nothing special about it.

MN

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Even Silence Has an End

Even Silence Has An End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle
By Ingrid Betancourt
Penguin. Nonfiction. 528 pgs.

Imagine – you are chained by the neck to a post in the middle of the Amazon jungle, subject to the whims of your captors for every need. Torrential rains fall, monkeys howl overhead, snakes, trapdoor spiders, ants and giant bees torment you. When your captors are on the run you are forced to march and scramble with them through the jungle for days on end to a new camp, a new place of loss and suffering. You contract malaria and hepatitis; you dream of escape and manage it three times, only to be recaptured.

This was Ingrid Betancourt’s life for six and a half years after she was captured by rebel members of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) while campaigning for the Presidency of Colombia in 2002. Though some readers may find the account of her suffering lengthy, Betancourt seems to have needed to tell it all, work through it all, find some healing of her trauma through the telling. Her writing is self-aware, articulate and descriptive. Though there is some controversy concerning her capture (some critics say she shouldn’t have traveled in a dangerous area) and her behavior in captivity (some fellow prisoners say she was demanding and difficult and caused additional hardship for her companions) there is no doubt that she suffered greatly and has shared a gripping story. SH

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
By Helen Simonson
Random House, 2010. 358 pgs. Fiction

Can a village seeped in out-moded convention give an atypical love story her blessing? The widowed Major Ernest Pettigrew lives a contented, albeit solitary, life in the idyllic village of St. Mary, England, and trods along well enough until his only brother dies. However, in the midst of his grief, the lovely Mrs. Jasmina Ali--widow of the late Pakistani shop owner--begins turning up in the most pleasantly fortuitous moments. Despite their difference in heritage, the two soon find they have much in common.

And yet, both the village and their families aren’t ready to approve the growing courtship between the Major and Mrs. Ali. In the end, Major Pettigrew will be forced to decide exactly what ties he must break in order to make his most judicious stand.

Lots of charm, lovely characters and a chance for self-reflection make this a most definite, crowd-pleasing read.

DAP

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why Don’t I Do the Things I Know Are Good For Me?

Why Don’t I Do the Things I Know Are Good For Me?
By BJ Gallagher
Berkley Books, 2009. 253 pgs. Nonfiction

We all know what we need to do—eat right, exercise more, get plenty of rest, save our money, and make smart decisions in our own best interests. But instead, it seems like we take good care of everyone else and neglect ourselves. Don’t despair—it’s not hopeless and you’re not helpless. Sociologist and self-care expert BJ Gallagher shows you 52 way to put yourself first on your priority list rather than last.

Although this book was geared more towards women, I think men and women alike can benefit from this short book. Written in three sections, Gallagher has readers explore why they don’t do what they know is good for them, how to change their habits of self-care, and what can bring about successful, long-term, personal change.

With chapter headings like “Catch yourself doing something right (or approximately right). Then pat yourself on the back for it,” “Go to bed half an hour earlier. Self-care begins with the basics,” and “Lighten up and laugh…a lot” there’s something for everyone in this book. The chapters are short and thought provoking. Now to just put into practice what I read!

AMM

Monday, November 15, 2010

Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment

Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment
By Tal Ben-Shahar
McGraw-Hill, 2007. 192 pages. Nonfiction

Tal Ben-Shahar is a professor at Harvard University where he teaches a course on “Positive Psychology” which is basically a class about how to be happy. After its first year, word spread and the class has since been one of the most popular courses at Harvard with over 1/4 of the student population having taken it. After all, who wouldn’t want to be happier?

Ben-Shahar uses scientific research, personal insights, and reader exercises to carry you through the major book topics of what is happiness, why aren’t we more happy, and what we can do to change that.

There are of course no easy answers or “magic pill” in this book, but I found the discussion fascinating. I was expecting this book to merely be a reminder of things I already knew, but there were several things I found very intriguing especially some of the research into what makes us happy and how that doesn’t necessarily match up with popular opinion.

AJ

Raising an American Girl: Parenting Advice for the Real World

Raising an American Girl
by Therese Maring
Pleasant Company Publications. 2010. 173 pgs. Nonfiction

If you are looking for practical advice on dealing with a girl entering her teens, then this is the book for you. The short, concise chapters explain the seemingly irrational behavior teenage girls often exhibit; and it offers practical advice for handling said behavior. The more strength, perspective, and patience a mother can garner during this time, the better.

Start Late, Finish Rich

Start Late, Finish Rich
By David Bach
Broadway Books, 2005. 348 pgs. Nonfiction

This book is very optimistic that no matter what age you start, it is possible to retire with a substantial nest egg, it just requires that you be willing to make some changes in your life. He recommends that you find your "latte factor" or things that you spend money on everyday, that you can decide to save. The book also encourages putting more money into a 401K or IRA, finding ways to get a raise, getting out of debt and earning more money on the side.

David Bach is very encouraging but a lot of his advice does not seem as applicable now that the economy has changed. I did like that at the end of each chapter there is a box that summarizes what was taught and then a checklist of things you should do. The problem is deciding to make the changes.

AL

Star Crossed

Star Crossed
By Elizabeth C. Bunce
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010. 359 pgs. Young Adult

Foiled at their latest attempt at thievery, a wounded Tegen tells Digger, his partner, to run from the Greenmen, who are the tools of the dreaded Inquisition, and so she does. She falls in with a group of young noble men and women who offer her a place on their boat as they sail out of the city of Gerse. Emboldened by the alias Digger has given them, she becomes Celyn Contrare, lady-in-waiting to one of the young women, Meri, who has a special secret of her own. Digger and Meri travel with Meri’s family to their new home in the mountains where Digger’s talents as a thief serve her and another newcomer well. Digger discovers that everyone visiting the mountain home has secrets tied to each other and the Inquisition and she must decide whose side she is on.

Overall, this is a great start to what will, hopefully, be a new series. Digger is a strong heroine (somewhat akin to Katsa and Katniss) who thinks for herself and is not overly whiny or petulant. Most of the supporting characters are also fully realized and the prince, in particular, is quite engaging. Interesting twists and turns abound, although they are not as well done as in Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia series. My one quibble is that the background information on this world and its religious history are not fully detailed, and while the reader picks up some clues, it was still confusing as to what gods were acceptable and why others were not.

MN

Lafayette and the American Revolution

Lafayette and the American Revolution
By Russell Freedman
Holiday House, 2010. 88 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Freedman gives readers a brief overview of Lafayette's involvement in the American Revolution, showing his disdain for court life and his desire to be a solider and an officer, even as France was disbanding many of its military units. His zeal led him to the American continent, where he served with George Washington, and back to France where he rallied support for the Americans. Interesting and informative, this book only provides a brief overview of Lafayette, but it has enough information to help readers to understand this man's role in American history as well as to pique interest in finding out more.

AE

Bronx Masquerade

Bronx Masquerade
By Nikki Grimes
Dial Books, 2001. 167 pgs. Young Adult

A class of students in the Bronx has been studying the Harlem Renaissance; inspired by the topics, many students begin writing poetry of their own and presenting them in their class on Open Mike Fridays. As they share their poetry with each other, they begin to see that there's more to their classmates--and to themselves--than they previously thought.

Bronx Masquerade examines and dispels stereotypes and invites readers to consider what it means to exist in a multicultural society. Through the poems the characters share on “Open Mike Fridays,” readers see what incorrect, preconceived notions people have and how those ideas change as the characters share their poems with each other. Although readers only get glimpses of each character, the lifestyles are realistic but also represent a diverse range of backgrounds and speech patterns. As the characters come to discover their identities while also discovering their strength within themselves, readers can be inspired to take another look at themselves and those around them.

AE

Travels in Siberia

Travels in Siberia
by Ian Frazier
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. 529 pgs. Non-fiction.

Finding himself suddenly infatuated with Russia in the early 90s, Ian Frazier began a series of forays into the land. Hopping across from Alaska to a Siberian outpost he becomes besotted with that land, so long synonymous with exile, solitude, and unimaginable cold. As usual, Frazier's narrative is filled with fascinating background: history, geography, art, warfare, flora and fauna. Having explored the fringes, Frazier undertakes a cross-continent journey with a couple of Russians in a decrepit van. What ought to have been the defining journey of the book bogs a bit because Frazier seems so frustrated by his circumstances that the trip becomes something he wants to have done, but doesn't enjoy doing. But although this is not the seamless narrative we have come to expect from him, Frazier still fills the pages with terrific stories of murderous Tatars, star-crossed Tsars, and dueling poets, not to mention sky-darkening mosquito swarms and generous fish poachers. Ian Frazier is one of the great prose stylists of our time or any other and his portrait of the vast reaches of Mother Russia should not be missed.

LW

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The House of Dead Maids

The House of Dead Maids
By Clare B. Dunkle
Henry Holt, 2010. 146 pgs. Young Adult

Eleven-year-old Tabby Aykroyd, who would later serve as housekeeper for thirty years to the Brontë sisters, is taken from an orphanage to a ghost-filled house, where she and a wild young boy are needed for a pagan ritual.

Dunkle’s novel is a fast, enjoyable read and maintains a consistently unsettling atmosphere throughout. The book cover claims the novel is “A Chilling Prelude to Wuthering Heights,” and Dunkle ties the story to the Brontë family in the last few pages; however, I found this maneuvering unfortunate and gimmicky. The book could easily stand alone as a dark glimpse into pagan Victorian England and only loses credibility by trying to piggyback on the Brontës’ fame.

LF

Friday, November 12, 2010

Grammar Smart

Grammar Smart: An Audio Guide to Perfect Usage
By Julian Fleisher
Living Language, 2001. Nonfiction Sound Recording.

This short tutorial is not meant to turn you into a grammar perfectionist or make you sound pretentious, but rather it covers common grammatical mistakes in spoken language. While listening to an audio book about grammar may seem complicated or boring, this guide spices it up with conversational narration, funny examples and stories to illustrate correct usage, and question-and-answer quizzes to test what you've learned. If you want a quick refresher on grammar, or if you just can't remember when to use "who" or "whom," this tutorial has the answers and useful tips on how to remember the difference.

BHG

Routes of Man

Routes of Man: How Roads are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today
By Ted Conover
Alfred A. Knopf. 2010. 333 pgs.

Routes of Man is a collection of essays describing the author’s adventures on highways in Peru, East Africa, the West Bank, the Himalayas (a frozen river is the local highway), China and Nigeria. Conover is an adventurous and amiable guide, venturing where most of us would never dare. Every where he goes he makes connections and travels the roads with people who use them daily: truckers, ambulance drivers, commuters and (in China) a driving club. He describes and discovers but never prescribes or pontificates. Conover is an interesting and ironic host.

The subtitle might lead you to think the book is a cohesive commentary on roads and their impact, but it is not. Some of the essays previously appeared in National Geographic and their only connection is that Conover was the traveler with the audacity to make the road trips happen. But the places he chose are all fascinating and very, very far from the interstate highways we travel. Previous road trips have also yielded books by Conover: Rolling Nowhere and Coyotes. SH

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Daughter of the Forest

Daughter of the Forest
By Juliet Marillier
Tor Fantasy, 2000. 400 pgs. Fantasy

Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Her mother died when she was just an infant but her brothers love and protect Sorcha and are determined that she know only happiness. Soon life changes for them all when their father marries an evil enchantress that casts a horrible spell on the brothers but not before they are able to warn Sorcha to flee. Now it is up to her to undo the spell. As she sets out on her quest she must remain silent or she will lose her brothers forever.

Sorcha is an wonderful character that has to endure much heartache in her young life. I would use some caution in recommending this book to all readers because of a rape that happens somewhat early in the book. I really enjoyed the overall story and the idea that love is the strongest magic of all.

AL

Before My Heart Stops

Before My Heart Stops: A Memoir
By Paul Cardall
Shadow Mountain, 2010. 275 pgs. Biography

Paul Cardall has been one of my favorite musicians for many years. His music has always been able to provide me with peace and comfort. I knew that he had some heart problems but until I read this book I didn't realize how many times his life has come close to ending. This memoir is a compilation of blog entries that Paul Cardall wrote while waiting for a new heart from 2008 - 2009. Through his entries you learn of past surgeries he has had to endure, the trials he has had to face, and his incredible testimony of putting your trust and faith in a loving Heavenly Father and in the plan that he has for each one of us.

At first I wasn't sure I would like rereading old blog entries but it made the whole experience more real because I got to experience the emotions as Paul and his family dealt with so much uncertainty. It has a different feel than someone writing a book after they have made it through and have a happy ending to tell. The Cardall family wasn't sure what kind of ending they would have.
I was deeply touched by this book. The quotes and stories that are shared in this memoir can help anyone going through any kind of trial. I highly recommend this book.

AL

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Colorado Kid

Colorado Kid
By Stephen King
Dorchester Pub., 2005. 184 pgs. Mystery

Two old newspaper men running a small weekly newspaper on a tiny island off the coast of Maine tell their young intern of a true, unsolved mystery. This is the account of the Colorado Kid whose body was found under unexplained and mysterious circumstances.

This is Stephen King’s really short tribute to the classic mystery. I picked it up because it is the basis of a SyFy series titled “Haven”. However, other than a similar setting and a couple identifiable characters, it doesn’t really shed much light on the unfolding drama, so I was a little disappointed. Still, if you know anyone who would like a taste of King’s writing style without his trademark horror, violence, or language, this novella is a perfect recommendation.

CZ

The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay

The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay
By Beverly Jensen
Viking, 2010. 307 pgs. Fiction

Idella and Avis are sisters growing up on the harsh Canadian east coast in a little fishing and farming community. Left motherless at a young age, their father attempts to raise them with only mild success due to his uncontrolled temper and unconsoled grief over his wife’s death. Eventually the girls escape to New England and attempt to establish better lives for themselves and their families.

I should not have been surprised that a book Stephen King said “roars from hilarity” would involve someone randomly shooting themselves in the head, but for some reason I still was. Despite what I think was meant to be an overall theme of hope and love amongst family, this book completely depressed me. All the yelling and swearing and drinking tempted me to nominate the Hillock family as one of the most dysfunctional in literature. In all fairness, I did laugh out loud several times and the writing kept the story flowing with some really beautiful language, but there wasn’t a single character in this story I would want to meet in real life and I’d have a hard time recommending this novel to anyone.

CZ

The Lock Artist

The Lock Artist
By Steve Hamilton
Minotaur Books, 2010. 304 pgs. Mystery

Twenty years ago, at the age of eight, Michael experienced something so traumatic it left him incapable of speaking despite the efforts of social workers, therapists, and doctors. Now, while sitting in a prison cell doing hard time, Michael writes his story. He tells of discovering an unexpected ability to open almost any lock he encounters. After letting the wrong people know of his special gift, Michael becomes trapped into living a life of crime and forced to leave the one person who may be able to unlock his ability to speak.

I wouldn’t quite classify this as a thriller, but it was definitely a gripping story of psychological suspense. Michael is a terrific character and I thoroughly enjoyed being inside his head as he silently encounters a dangerous cast of characters. The story of his tragedy and where it leads him unfolds beautifully and, for me, kept the pages turning well into the night. Because of some harsh language and violence, this book may not be for all readers.

CZ

Slam

Slam
By Walter Dean Myers
Scholastic, Inc., 1996. 266 pgs. Young Adult


Greg Harris, aka Slam, is an African American teen attending a private school, getting a better education than the local public school can provide. However, his grades are slumping, and the thing he cares about most—basketball—isn’t working out for him as well as he hoped. Basketball is his way out of the poverty cycle, and he knows he’s a good player, but his coach doesn’t seem to respect his game, and Slam has a hard time getting along with some of his teammates, especially the white kid who’s the second best player on the team and seems to be the coach’s favorite.

Myers does a great job portraying a realistic character facing the problems in his life. While the black-boy-who-likes-basketball is a commonly used stereotype, Myers takes readers beyond that by making Slam a believable character by drawing on his own experiences—his life in Harlem, struggles with school, a passion for basketball, and a love for his community—to bring Slam to life. Myers shows some of the darker sides of Slam’s life, with his father not being able to find consistent work and his best friend getting involved with dealing drugs, but he also shows how Slam’s strength to work for his dreams.


AE

Tongues of Serpents

Tongues of Serpents
By Naomi Novik
Del Rey, 2010. 274 pgs. Fantasy.

Despite saving England from Napoleon’s invasion, Laurence and Temeraire’s treason sentence was not overturned and they are now in the prison colony of Australia. In a half-hearted attempt to make the best of the situation, Temeraire and Laurence have been entrusted with three dragon eggs to be used in the new colony, but Laurence and Temeraire are at loose ends as to what else they can do. Laurence is still too loyal to the British Crown to strike out on his own and so they hatch a plan to use the dragons to survey the mountains in the hopes of finding a pass into the interior that they believe smugglers have already found their way through. The terrain proves to be far more difficult than they had anticipated and while camping one night one of the dragon eggs is stolen. Now Laurence and Temeraire must recapture the egg from the smugglers. A quest than sends them far into the Australian Outback.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this series. Temeraire is one of my all-time favorite characters, but this is the sixth book in the series, and it’s starting to feel like the author is just dragging things out. Something I really don’t appreciate. As I stated on my last review, I would still recommend reading this book just to spend a little more time with Laurence and Temeraire.

AJ

Victory of Eagles

Victory of Eagles
By Naomi Novik
Del Rey, 2008. 332 pgs. Fantasy.

Naomi Novik continues her historical fantasy series in this fifth adventure of Temeraire the dragon and former naval captain, Will Laurence.

Because of the short-sightedness of some of the men in power, Laurence and Temeraire had to commit treason to be able to save the entire population of dragons in England from a terrible wasting disease. Laurence has been sentenced to a prison ship headed for Australia and Temeraire to a breeding ground for obsolete dragons. All of this changes, however, when Napoleon invades England and once again Laurence and Temeraire must risk life and limb to save England.

This book was not my favorite in the Temeraire series. Laurence just wasn’t himself and everything seemed to go wrong for him and Temeraire. I would still highly recommend this series for anyone looking for a fun fantasy adventure.

AJ

Empire of Ivory

Empire of Ivory
By Naomi Novik
Del Rey, 2007. 404 pgs. Fantasy.

How would the Napoleonic wars between Britain and France have been different if dragons had been involved? In Novik’s vividly detailed alternate history novel, dragons not only exist, but make-up a division of the British Royal Army known as the Aerial Corps. Empire of Ivory, is the 4th book in a wonderfully entertaining series telling the adventures of Temeraire, a Celestial Chinese Dragon and his aviator, former British Navy Captain Will Laurence.

The British Aerial Corps has recently been decimated by a highly contagious dragon disease which Temeraire is the only dragon who is immune. This sends Temeraire and Laurence off on a quest to Africa to hopefully find the cure.

The Temeraire series is my new favorite fantasy series. I love the historical detail, but the characters are truly what make this a must read for any fantasy reader.

AJ

Viola in Reel Life

Viola in Reel Life
By Adriana Trigiani
HarperTeen, 2009. 282 pgs. Young Adult

Having read many of Trigiani’s adult novels, I was intrigued to see how she would do with a Teen fiction novel.

Viola is a single child living in Brooklyn, New York whose parents send her to boarding school in South Bend, Indiana after getting hired to work on a documentary film in Afghanistan. Viola, who has never been good with change, feels completely abandoned by her parents and has resolved that nothing will make her happy. She quickly writes off her new roommates until she realizes that she needs them in order to keep from being a total social pariah.

Through the help of her (too sensitive to be realistic) roommates and Viola’s own passion for filmmaking she is able to accept the loss of her beloved home town and parents, get her first boyfriend and first kiss, and really begin to feel at home in Indiana.

This is a sweet story about a young woman taking her first steps toward discovering who she is and who and what matters in her life. It does not have the depth of character that Trigiani’s other works contain, but still a fun, quick read.

AJ

When Hollywood Came to Town

When Hollywood Came to Town: a History of Moviemaking in Utah
By James V. D’Arc
Gibbs Smith, 2010. 304 pgs. Nonfiction

Do you think the only movies filmed in Utah were directed by John Ford? Guess again. James V. D'Arc, the Curator of the Motion Picture Archive in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections of the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University, has compiled an impressive film history book that goes beyond the filming done in Monument Valley.

What makes this book really stand out is that there are pictures on every page, making it fun to flip through. This easy to read book is for anyone interested in film or the impact Utah has had on the industry. I’m definitely putting this book on my Christmas wish list this year.

KK

The World According to Mister Rogers

The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember
By Fred Rogers
Hyperion, 2003. 197 pgs. Nonfiction

This small, but insightful quote book is filled with advice given by Mr. Rogers over the years about our important role as a neighbor and what it truly means. Though focused heavily on our interaction with children, due to the audience he worked with, it is appropriate for all. Because just like he said, “The child is in me still . . . and sometimes not so still” applies to all of us, or at least to me.

KK

Of These Emblems

Of These Emblems
Covenant Communciations, 2010. 102 pgs. Nonfiction

Eight LDS scholars share their insights into the sacrament to help others get more meaning out of this ordinance. By discussing symbolism and tying in scriptures and stories from their own experience, they invite readers to take a deeper look at what the sacrament is really about and why sacrament meeting should be the most holy of LDS meetings.

This book was easy to understand and gave good points to ponder. It's helpful resource for those looking to elevate their weekly sacrament experience.

AE

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
by Tom Franklin
Morrow, 2010. 274 pgs. Fiction.

Larry Ott, never popular, becomes the pariah of his small Mississippi town after he takes a girl to the movies and she never comes back. Larry's loneliness is made worse by the fact that his childhood friend Silas, a black kid also without friends, has pulled away for this and other reasons. When another girl goes missing from the town, Larry is suspect. Silas, by then the town constable, is drawn into an investigation which will force both men to come to terms with their shared past and with what they have become. No plot summary can begin to convey the richness of setting, dialogue, fellow feeling and pain with which this narrative is charged. Easily one of the best books of the year, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a thought-provoking, heartbreaking work both American to its core, and universal in its reach. (Also violent and a bit languagey).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Secrets of a First Daughter

Secrets of a First Daughter
By Cassidy Calloway
HarperTeen, 2010. 197 pgs. Young Adult

Morgan Abbott's life is hard enough--her mother's the President of the United States--but things become more complicated when she bombs the SATs, everyone is pressuring her about where to go to college, and her worst enemy, Brittany, gets to come along on the Presidential trip to London. To make things worse, Brittany finds out about Morgan's secret boyfriend, Secret Service agent Max Jackson, and since Max's job prohibits him from dating Morgan, Morgan finds herself being blackmailed.

This follow up to Confessions of a First Daughter is as fun as the first book. An entertaining piece of chick-lit, it's a quick read perfect for an amusing afternoon of light reading.

AE

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Watsons Go to Birminghman-1963

The Watsons Go to Birminghman--1963
By Christopher Paul Curtis
Delacorte Press, 1995. 210 pgs. Young Adult

Ten-year-old Kenny and his family, the Weird Watsons, live in Flint, Michigan, where Kenny's older brother By keeps acting up, his Momma and Dad try to discipline him, and his sisters Joetta tries to intervene to protect him. By's bad behavior prompts Momma and Dad's decision to take the family to Birmingham, where they plan to leave By with his grandma until he learns to behave.

This hilarious book will have readers laughing but also get you thinking. Although the story is mostly about Kenny's family and takes place in Michigan, the poignant moments of their time in Birmingham and their fictionalized experience with the 16th Street Church bombing will help readers empathize with the families of the little girls who died in the bombing and could spark interest in learning about the bombing as well as the Civil Rights Movement. This is a must read!

AE

Fortune's Bones

Fortune's Bones
By Marilyn Nelson
Front Street, 2004. 32 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

The Mattatuck Museum in Connecticut is home to 200 year old skeleton. For many years, no one knew whose skeleton is was; however, after some research, they discovered that it was the skeleton of Fortune, a slave owned by local doctor, Preserved Porter. Through poetry as well as historical sidebars, Marilyn Nelson helps give Fortune an identity, providing details about his life as well as about his skeleton after his death. An interesting and original piece of literature, it's also one worth checking out for the stylistic elements.

AE