Monday, January 31, 2011

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
By Eric Metaxas
HarperSanFrancisco, 2007. 281 pgs. Biography

Metaxas chronicles the life of William Wilberforce, primarily his efforts as a member of Parliament, working on his two great causes: abolition and the "reformation of manners," which focused on improving the conditions of England's poor. Wilberforce's efforts spanned more than two decades, as he initially met with repeated failure.

I think Wilberforce is a highly interesting person and it was fascinating to learn more about them. However, there were definitely times when I didn't like Metaxas's writing style, which had a tendency to be overly dramatic.

AE

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture
By Peggy Orenstein
HarperCollins, 2011. 244 pgs. Nonfiction

Over a decade ago, Peggy Orenstein wrote a book called Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap. She has since been regarded as a leading voice advocating for the need to empower young women with confidence and positive role models. Now the mother of a six year old daughter, Peggy presents a much less theoretical discourse on the battle parents are fighting against the pink tulle nets of consumerism that seem to have ensnared an entire generation. From Disney Princesses to Hannah Montana, this desperate mother investigates the effect these role models are having on the attitudes and aptitudes of young girls.

Orenstein writes with wit and a great deal of humility as she faces the limited control she has over our culture’s influence in her daughter’s life. She is constantly facing a delicate balance between raising a cynic and an unquestioning conformer. Parents may not find answers here to all the difficulties they face when raising girls, but they will find a kindred spirit and comforting camaraderie.

CZ

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tablet & Pen : Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East

Tablet & Pen : Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East
By Reza Aslan (Editor)
W.W. Norton, and Co., 2010. 657 pgs. Nonfiction

Tablet & Pen is a collection of short stories, memoirs, essays, and poems by both contemporary and historical Middle Eastern authors from such countries as Morocco, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Pakistan. Editor Aslan's goal is to provide "a different, more authentic perception of this rich and complex region."

Readers interested in literature will enjoy this collection from an often misunderstood area of the world. The stories and poems from authors including Nobel Prize Laureates Orhan Pamuk and Naguib Mahfouz offer a glimpse into life in the Middle East during the last century. Readers may be surprised to discover that the Muslim world, and literary tradition, shares as many similarities as it does differences with the Western world.

LF

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Twin's Daughter

The Twin's Daughter
By Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Bloomsbury, 2010. 390 pages. Young Adult

Lucy’s life seems perfect with an intelligent father and adoring mother. But her world begins turning upside down when a woman who looks exactly like her mother appears on the doorstep. Aunt Helen is the long-lost twin of Lucy’s mother, a sister no one knew about until now. Helen easily becomes part of the family and household and is educated and stylized to be part of the wealthy community Lucy’s family belongs to. But when the sisters begin wearing the same clothes, Lucy realizes she cannot always tell them apart. The consequences of becoming so much alike will be far-reaching in this creepy, twisty story. Those readers looking for a guilty pleasure filled with gothic overtones will enjoy this one.

MN

Crossing the Tracks

Crossing the Tracks
By Barbara Stuber
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010. 258 pgs. Young Adult

Ever since her mother’s death, Iris' father barely gives her a thought. So Iris is quite surprised when her father announces that, instead of going with him to open his new store in Kansas City, she is headed to the home of Dr. Nesbitt in another town to be his housekeeper and companion to his elderly mother. Iris quickly settles into a good routine with the Nesbitts and discovers a sense of family she has not had with her father. But Iris struggles with her feelings towards her father and toward another father and daughter who live down the road, who clearly have issues of their own. A delightful novel, filled with lovable characters possessing great depth and feeling. This quiet, thoughtful read also reminds us that family is not always your flesh and blood, but people who truly care about you.

MN

One Amazing Thing

One Amazing Thing
By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Voice/Hyperion, 2009. 220 pgs. Fiction

When nine disparate characters are trapped together after an earthquake, each of them takes a turn telling "one amazing thing" about his or her life.

While it took me a while to get used to the voice of this book, I enjoyed hearing each story from these trapped people. All of the characters reflect on their lives as they wonder if they will ever be rescued from the passport and visa office. Each tells in part why they were intending to travel to India and the background on why they were in the visa office that particular afternoon.

AMM

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Redeeming Love

Redeeming Love
By Francine Rivers
Multnomah, 1997. 480 pgs. Romance

Angel was sold into a life of prostitution at the tender age of eight and, despite numerous attempts to escape the life she hates, has become a cold unfeeling young woman bitter toward the world and the men who inhabit it. Michael is a hard working, God fearing farmer who has patiently waited for the wife the Lord promised to send him. When he sees the stunningly beautiful prostitute walking along the boardwalks in the gold rush town of Pair-a-Dice, he is told that this is the woman he should marry. With this, the stage is set for this retelling of the biblical story of Hosea. A story of love and redeption, forgiveness and rebirth.

I enjoyed the characters in this book, despite the frequent desire to smack them upside the head. The story was insightful and intruiging. Unfortunately, the uneven narration which skips from one point of view to another without any transitional is a huge distraction. I’m not sure I would enthusiastically recommend reading it to anyone, but I wouldn’t discourage it either.

CZ

Parrot & Olivier in America

Parrot & Olivier in America
By Peter Carey
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. 379 pgs. Fiction

Olivier Jean-Baptiste de Clarel de Barfleur, is a member of the french aristocracy. He and his family have just managed to avoid losing their heads to the guillotine and his parents have contrived his relocation to America in hopes to keep their young progeny safe. Parrot (John Larritt) spent his youth and much of his adulthood ekeing out a survival as man of many talents used by a mysterious benefactor. These two men will together travel to America and investigate what the young democracy has to offer.

For some reason, I was never able to connect to these characters. The story was interesting and the writing had some really nice moments but I just never cared about any of it. I enjoyed the relationship between the two men and how their differing perspectives illustrated their class prejudices. This is a good choice for those who love historically detailed fiction, I feel like at a different time I may have enjoyed it a lot more than I did.

CZ

Wuthering Bites

Wuthering Bites
By Sarah Gray
Kensington Pub. 2010. 362 pgs. Fiction

I find it surprising that the breakthrough novel of the twisted classics genre was a zombified version of Pride and Prejudice when so many other classic works lend themselves so much better to stories with horrific creatures of the night. Wuthering Heights seems to be made for such additions and while reading Wuthering Bites I often found myself wondering how the storyline even made sense without the undead literally roaming the moors. Heathcliff’s dark moods and Cathy’s inability to rest in peace are perfectly at home amid the vampires that populate England’s countryside in this new depiction of Bronte’s time-tested tragedy.

CZ

The Tiger

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival
By John Vaillant
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. 329 pgs. Nonfiction

In 1997, in a small outpost of Russian Siberia, a tiger stalked and devoured his human prey. Though tigers are universally considered dangerous carnivores this type of predatory behavior is actually very rare and after the disturbingly small amount of human remains are discovered following the attack, Yuri Trush an investigator for Inspection Tiger is called in to make sure no one else suffers the same fate. The roles of hunter and prey are constantly shifting as this gripping story unfolds. But beyond this tiger and this hunt, author John Vaillant presents a fascinating look at a relatively unknown portion of the world and the people who call it home despite its ever present dangers and hardships.

This is one of the best pieces of nonfiction I have read in years. There was barely a moment when the narrative didn’t fascinate me. The people, the wildlife, and the frozen wasteland of Siberia are all so unbelievably untamed and wild that I could barely believe I was reading a, not only true, but a modern story. I can enthusiastically recommend this to just about anyone.

CZ

Science of Kissing

Science of Kissing: What Our Lips are Telling Us
By Sheril Kirshenbaum
Grand Central Pub. 2011. 246 pgs. Nonfiction

“Is this a kissing book?”, a quote from The Princess Bride opens this short work of nonfiction investigating the history and meaning of the human habit of kissing as a show of affection or trust. Science and culture are both represented in chapters telling readers when humans first started kissing, what other animals participate in ‘kissing behaviors’, how someone could improve their kissing technique, more.

This is a short but interesting book, though it seemed at times the author was stretching a bit for content as she introduced and reviewed the same information multiple times. The topic and scope may have been more appropriate as a series of articles instead of the subject of an entire book. However, Kirshenbaum writes with wit and skill which compensates for most shortcomings the book contains. The read was totally worth my time if just for this fantastic quote from Albert Einstein stating “Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”

CZ

Ring of Solomon

Ring of Solomon
By Jonathan Stroud
Disney/Hyperion Books, 2010. 398 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

When Jonathan Stroud concluded his ‘Bartimaeus Trilogy’ in 2006, a great character was laid to rest. But, Bartimaeus lives again! “The Ring of Solomon” is a prequel to the trilogy and the snarky demon returns with tales of magic and mayhem. This story takes place in the days of the great King Solomon. Bartimaeus has been enslaved by a vicious wizard working for the wise monarch. As should be expected, Bartimaeus is unhappy with the arrangement and consistently does his best to undermine and sabotage his master’s will.

I was so excited for the release of this book and I wasn’t disappointed. Bartimaeus’s new adventures give him ample opportunity to entertain readers with his daring deeds and demonic opinions. This young adult title can be easily be enjoyed without the reader having read the previously published trilogy. Great fun for all ages.

CZ

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
By Rebecca Skoot
Crown Publishers, 2010. 369 pgs. Biography

Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with ovarian cancer while still a young mother with 5 small children. In 1951, as a poor African American migrant farmer in Baltimore, the best medical care available to her was at the clinic at Johns Hopkins. Before her death and without her knowledge, a sample of cells from her tumor was collected. These cells proved to be the “first immortal human cells” and were cultured and shared with scientists throughout the world. They allowed researchers to make discoveries leading to the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, and many other important medical discoveries.

Many issues are brought to the surface in the telling of Henrietta’s life, her death, and the continuing ‘immortality’ of her cells. Race relations, medical ethics, and even religious belief are all questioned and examined by the author as she searches for the truth and investigates the lives that are continuing to be touched by this vibrant woman decades after her death. This book has received a great deal of success and appears on multiple “Best of 2010” lists. While the story is undoubtedly intriguing, I found myself tiring of the time spent with the Lacks family and wishing more of the book followed the science surrounding the cells and their use in research.

CZ

You

You
By Charles Benoit
HarperTeen, 2010. 223 pgs. Young Adult

Kyle Chase is a tenth grader with anger issues, as well as a tendency to not do his homework and get in trouble with his parents and sometimes with his school. When his life hits a critical point, he reflects on how he ended up at that point.

This entire book is written in the second person, and constantly reading about "you" can be a little disconcerting for readers who aren't used it. I also think it created a little bit of distance between the reader and Kyle, which in turn made it harder to really care about him. The twists of the story are interesting, however, and plot-driven readers will be interested in finding out what happens to Kyle and why.

AE

A Long Walk to Water

A Long Walk to Water
By Linda Sue Park
Clarion Books, 2009. 121 pgs. Young Adult

In 1985, eleven-year-old Salva is caught up in the middle of the Second Sudanese Civil War and is forced out of his community and begins a long walk to safety. In 2008, Nya is a young girl who walks eight hours every day, making two round trips to get water for her family. Here, their stories are interwoven.

Salva's story is interesting and sparked my interest in Sudan, the Sudanese Civil Wars, and the Lost Boys (displaced Sudanese young men). His story was inspiring, and weaving it in with Nya's story shows how Salva could impact future generations. However, as far as fiction reading goes, this wasn't the most gripping presentation. Salva's story is important, but the writing style was more like a nonfiction book, spanning many years without very much character development. I didn't feel like I ever really got to know Salva very well (or Nya). Also, the story is based on a true story, and while there is some information about the real-life Salva, no information is ever provided about Nya, leaving me wondering if she's a real Sudanese girl or if she's simply a representation of Sudanese children in contemporary Sudan. I still recommend the book because I think it's an important story, but readers should be prepared for a book that feels more like a report than a story.

AE

I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend

I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend
By Cora Harrison
Delacorte Press, 2010. 342 pgs. Young Adult

Jenny Cooper and Jane Austen are cousins and best friends who live in the same boarding school in Portsmouth, England. One night, Jenny risks everything by sneaking out of the school to get a message to Jane's mother about her daughter's deathly illness. When Mrs. Austen arrives, she takes both Jane and Jenny back home to Steventon, and when Jane recovers they enter a world of beautiful dresses, dances, secrets, and romance. But should Jenny's secret about that desperate night become known, it would bring scandal not only to her, but also the kind Austen family. Her world turns upside down when the one person who saw her that night arrives in Steventon, someone whom she hasn't been able to stop thinking about, despite her best efforts.

This was the best Austen-related book I have read in quite some time. In creating Jenny's faux-diary, Cora Harrison researched biographies, critical studies, family letters, and Jane Austen's writing (both as a child and an adult), and I think she was rather successful at piecing everything together into a compelling, believable story based on actual events. I think in an effort to show Jane Austen as a playful teenager who didn't play by the rules of society, Jane's near-constant irreverence got a little bit annoying at times, but there was still a lot of heart to this book and overall this was very enjoyable and fun. I liked Jenny's character and it was fun to pick out bits and pieces of Austen's novels from the characters and events in this book (supposed "inspiration" for her later works). This is one for fans of Jane Austen, historical fiction, and romance.

BHG

Monday, January 24, 2011

Enchanted Ivy

Enchanted Ivy
By Sarah Beth Durst
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010. 310 pgs. Young Adult

Lily thinks she's just accompanying her mother and grandfather on a trip to Princeton for her grandfather's class reunion. However, when she gets there she finds out that she has been selected for a test--a test that if she passes will give her automatic entrance into Princeton, and, hopefully, help her mother, whose mental capacities are slipping. This test is unlike anything she'd expected, though, as it turns out there are two Princetons--one if the world Lily has grown up in, and one in the magical world which she never knew existed.

I thought this book started out really well--there's action, two cute guys, and a quest--but it didn't necessarily deliver everything it seemed to promise. The love triangle was underdeveloped to the point that it seemed tangential to the story rather than being a gripping element, and the whole quest seemed to be resolved a little too quickly and easily. However, for those who like contemporary fairy tales, this is one to check out.

AE

Revolution

Revolution
By Jennifer Donnelly
Delacorte Press, 2010. 471 pgs. Young Adult

Andi isn't dealing well with her younger brother's death and is in danger of being kicked out of her exclusive private school, so her father forces her to accompany him on a business trip to Paris, where he can keep an eye on her and make sure she's working on her senior thesis. While in Paris, Andi finds a diary dating from the French revolution. The writer, a young girl, Alexandrine, works for the royal family, entertaining the young prince, and she's desperate to keep him safe and happy when many in the country are calling for his death. As Andi reads from the diary, she finds herself drawn into the story more and more--and even sees herself in there.

I thought Andi's story was interesting, but I had a harder time staying interested in the diary entries. The history just didn't quite come alive for me; I liked the ending, but some parts leading up to it were boring or strange. Still, it's a decent mixture of contemporary and historical fiction, and it's definitely an original look at the French revolution.

AE

Waiting for You

Waiting for You
By Susane Colsanti
Viking Children's Books, 2009, 322 pgs. Young Adult

Marisa, who suffers from anxiety disorder, is waiting to find that perfect guy. She's been crushing on popular Derek--who has a girlfriend--for a long time, and he finally seems to be noticing her. At the same time, geeky Nash, who is just a friend but might actually have more in common with Marisa, seems interested in her, too. Besides her guy troubles, Marisa is also dealing with family issues and trying to keep an eye on her best friend, who has a tendency to fall for older guys or internet identities that she really knows nothing about.

I didn't really ever get drawn into this book. I felt like the issues with Marisa's family, best friend and her anxiety disorder didn't really get developed enough to make them feel real; instead, they seemed to be competing with the boy issue for attention. The boy conflict was somewhat better developed but neither boy was as round a character as I would have liked to see. Overall, it wasn't a bad book; there just wasn't anything that makes it memorable for me.

AE

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Confessions of an Unbalanced Woman

Confessions of an Unbalanced Woman
By Emily Watts
Deseret Book, 2006. 58 pgs. Nonfiction

We have probably all experienced times when we feel out of control as we try to fit everything into our busy lives. Emily Watts shares her experiences as a woman and mother and talks about how she went in search of finding balance in her life. She uses funny stories, the scriptures and gospel principles to help inspire the reader to keep going and to try to find the right priorities so that everything will turn out okay.

This is a Time Out for Women book that was a really quick read but it had a huge impact on me. I enjoyed this book and its simplicity and humor and plan on recommending it to many of my friends.

AL

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century
by Alex Ross
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007. 624 pgs. Nonfiction

Caution: this book will not only strike you with awe, at how much Alex Ross knows and how well he expresses what he knows, but may also fill you with an insatiable need to listen to all the music described. Ross's encyclopedic work begins at the turn of the century discussing the revolutionary work of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss and then proceeds through the life and work of all the musical luminaries of the twentieth century including Schoenberg, Debussy, Copland, Gershwin, Messiaen, people I had never heard of, and, of course, the Beatles who were--who knew this!?--influenced by Schoenberg and Berg. What makes The Rest is Noise particularly interesting is how Ross shows how the political and social trends and upheavals of the twentieth century influenced its music (think Shostakovich and Stalin; Hitler, Wagner, and R. Strauss) and how the music created its own trends and political situations. And who knew that composers don't just write music how they want to and let their fellow composers write in turn as they wish? Turns out in many circles if you write tonal music you are a traitor to the cause of modernism and worthless as a human being, and God forbid you should compose music in a way not pleasing to Pierre Boulez, the enfant terrible--and the grownup terrible--of the modern age who thought even Beethoven was a sellout. If you love music, read this book. If you don't, read it anyway and maybe you will.

LW

Across the Universe

Across the Universe
By Beth Revis
Razorbill, 2011. 398 pgs. Young Adult

Elder is on board the spaceship Godspeed, which left Earth hundreds of years ago, headed for a new planet that will sustain life. The only teenager on board, he is being raised to be the next leader of the ship. However, Eldest, the current leader, seems to be keeping secrets, and Elder is determined to find out what is going on. What he finds is beyond what he ever expected: there are frozen people on board, who are set to be thawed out when the spaceship lands on the new earth. However, one of them, Amy, is thawed out early, and now, Elder finds himself with another teenager on board--a teenager who is as determined as he is to get some answers.

This book started out a little slow for me, but it picked up in the middle. However, the ending was just so-so; one big problem was resolved satisfactorily but the other seemed a little oversimplified. I think there were some areas of the plot that were underdeveloped, such as Amy's relationship with her parents. However, the book is a good pick for those who want either a science fiction choice.

AE

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What My Mother Doesn't Know

What My Mother Doesn't Know
By Sonya Sones
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2001. 259 pgs. Young Adult

In this novel in verse, Sophie briefly describes a series of relationships as she's trying to find the right guy for her. Each time she finds the right guy, though, things turn out differently than she expected.

Sophie is a typical boy crazy teenager, and there isn't a ton of character development, but it's a quick read and will satisfy readers looking for a bit of high school romance.

AE

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Blind Contessa's New Machine

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine
By Carey Wallace
Pamela Dorman Books, 2010. 207 pages. Historical Fiction

Set in Italy around the turn of the century, this novel is less historical fiction and more an imaginative and dreamy account of Contessa Carolina Fantoni’s life as she gets married to the ultimate catch, Pietro, and slowly loses her eye sight. Like her parent’s, Pietro doesn’t take her seriously when she tries to tell them about the creeping blindness. It is only Turri, an eccentric male neighbor, who believes her. Carolina takes comfort in Turri’s kindness and they continue to meet near the lake she has always loved. When Turri invents a typing machine that enables her to write again, it sparks an affair that could have dangerous consequences for both of them.

This book led me in an entirely different direction than I expected. That being said, I was happy with the placed I ended up. Wallace is a first time author and it was noticeable in a few places. However, I look forward to reading more by this author in the future.

AJ

Troubled Waters

Troubled Waters
By Sharon Shinn
Ace Books, 2010. 391 pages. Fantasy

A unique new fantasy where the entire kingdom (status, personality, religion) is structured around the 5 elements. As a Coru women, Zoe Ardeley takes after her dead mother’s side of the family which means she has an affinity for water and blood. Zoe’s father, a Sweela man (fire affinity), was once a high ranking advisor to the king until his family fell out of favor and he and Zoe had to sneak away in the night and have now been living in hiding for the past 10 years. When her father dies, Zoe has no plans to return to the capital, but when Darien Serlast shows up, the new advisor to the king, she has no choice. There Zoe is thrust into the dangerous world of the court and must quickly learn who she is and what powers she wields.

Shinn does an excellent job of combining great characters, dangerous political scheming, secrets agendas, and a dash of romance to create a intriguing fantasy story that is hard to put down.

AJ

Radiance

Radiance
By Alyson Noel
Square Fish, 2010. 183 pgs. Young Adult

After crossing the bridge into the afterlife, a place called Here where the time is always Now, Riley's existence continues in much the same way as when she was alive until she is given the job of Soul Catcher and, together with her teacher Bodhi, returns to earth for her first assignment, a ghost called the Radiant Boy who has been haunting an English castle for centuries and resisted all previous attempts to get him across the bridge.

While twelve-year-old Riley can come off a bit irritating at first, her experiences help her to mature a bit by the end and accept what has happened to her. I wouldn't mind reading more in this series. Fans of Evermore by the same author will enjoy this spin-off.

BHG

When Your Prayers Seem Unanswered

When Your Prayers Seem Unanswered
By S. Michael Wilcox
Deseret Book, 2006. 62 pgs. Nonfiction

We have all had times when we feel that the heavens have closed and our supplications have gone unheard. In this inspirational book, author S. Michael Wilcox explains that the Lord often waits until the moment when we have nearly exhausted our resources and our strength to send an answer to our prayers.

This slim book packs a spiritual punch. Filled with personal stories as well as New Testament examples, this Time Out for Women book had an insightful message that I enjoyed.

AMM

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Penelope

Penelope
By Marilyn Kaye
St. Martin's Griffin, 2007. 230 pgs. Young Adult

Penelope Wilhern was born with a pig's snout instead of a nose, as a result of a curse placed on her family many generations before when a wealthy ancestor scorned a serving girl. Penelope's mother Jessica has hidden her away in their home, even faking Penelope's death to divert media attention. At the same time she's pretending Penelope is dead, Jessica is trying to break the curse placed on her daughter by finding a blue blood who will accept Penelope. When a potential suitor ends up running away from Penelope in horror, he crosses paths with a reporter who has been trying to prove Penelope's existence for years. The two of them recruit another blue blood, Max Campion, to pretend to woo Penelope and get picture to publish in the newspaper. However, Max turns out not to be who anyone expected.

This book based on the movie of the same name is just about as much fun as the movie. There are a few little differences from the movie, but overall fans of the movie will enjoy it, as will readers looking for a light, fun romance.

AE

Hunger

Hunger
By Jackie Morse Kessler
Graphia, 2010. 177 pgs. Young Adult

Just as she is about to commit suicide, Lisabeth Lewis hears a knock on her door. On the other side stands no ordinary deliveryman but Death himself, with a package for Lisabeth--and a job. Lisa becomes Famine, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and as she struggles with her own anorexia, she also must figure out how to deal with her new assignment.

This book was interesting as it showed Lisa's eating disorder as well as her despair and confusion over how to be Famine. It's a fairly short read and could appeal to reluctant readers.

AE

Choosing to SEE

Choosing to SEE
By Mary Beth Chapman with Ellen Vaughn
Revell, 2010, 279 pgs. Biography

This biography is the heartbreaking story of Mary Beth Chapman, who is the wife of popular Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman, as she tries to heal from the death of her 5 year old little girl Maria Sue. Her daughter was killed when she was hit by a car that her older son was driving. Mary Beth struggles with grieving her missing daughter but also worrying that she will loose her son and her family because of this trial. It was inspirational to read of Mary Beth's life and how she has dealt with trials by turning to God and having faith in Him even when she questions why hard things have to happen.

You'll need some tissues to get through this book, but there were also many laugh-out-loud moments. I enjoyed learning about the Chapman family and some of the background behind the songs that Steven Curtis Chapman has written. Although I didn't always share the same religious ideas as the author, her faith and hope in a loving Savior who can help us through hard times is universal.

AL

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

City of Golden Shadow

City of Golden Shadow
by Tad Williams
DAW Books, 1996. 780 pgs. Sci-Fi

Renie inhabits a future earth where it's more common to live in virtual reality than real life. Renie's little brother is constantly on the Net, visiting people and places that Renie isn't sure she entirely approves of. But when her brother mysteriously falls into a coma Renie suspects it has to do with the Net, and her investigation has her diving into the Net and down the rabbit hole in search of the truth.

This book was fascinating, bewildering, dark, and at times really had me wondering what was real and who was dreaming. I didn’t realize until I was done that this was published in 1996! The worlds he crafted here were so much like elaborate versions of Second Life and World of Warcraft that I thought he must have played those and built his story around the ideas. The fact that this book predates all of that is amazing. One challenge was that a few of the story lines were so different from one another I didn't know how they could possibly be connected. Over time they are slowly pulled together until everything, amazingly, starts to make sense, but it took about two-thirds of the book to get there. Unfortunately, the ending still leaves some questions unanswered and quite a substantial cliffhanger. Still, I liked this, I just wish I had more time to delve deeper into this series. I'd recommend this for fans of elaborate science fiction novels, people interested in online worlds, and anyone looking for an ample series to dive into.


BHG

Monday, January 10, 2011

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss
By Stephanie Perkins
Dutton, 2010. 372 pgs. Young Adult

When Anna's romance-novelist father sends her to an elite American boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school, she reluctantly goes. Anna meets an amazing boy who becomes her best friend, in spite of the fact that they both want something more.

I was in the mood for a love story and this book fit the bill. Anna is not excited to leave her friends and her sort-of, maybe, they kind of hooked up just before she left, boyfriend Toph. At first she just sits in her Parisian dorm room and doesn’t even try to explore the city. However after making friends with Meredith, Rashmi, Josh, and St. Clair (who just happens to be gorgeous) life gets quite a bit better. Reading this novel really made me want to visit the City of Lights!

AMM

The Replacement

The Replacement
By Brenna Yovanoff
Razorbill, 2010. 343 pgs. Young Adult

No one has ever said it, but Mackie Doyle is not human. He is a Replacement, one of the creatures that live under the town of Gentry; a replacement for a human child who was snatched to feed the creatures underground. Mackie acts like a human though; he has good friends who don’t call him out, a sister who always has his back, and he likes girls a lot. But when another girl is snatched, Mackie’s true nature is questioned and he begins to realize that he needs to figure out where he belongs. A chilling, horrific look at what makes us human.

MN

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Princess

The Princess
By Lori Wick
Harvest House Publishers, 1999, 294 pgs. Fiction

This is a modern romance set in the small kingdom of Pandaran. Prince Nickoli's first wife dies unexpectedly and he is required to marry again soon. With his permission, his parents find Shelby Parker and arrange a marriage between them. The story focuses on them learning to love each other after their marriage. They both rely on prayer and faith as they face the trials of their new life together.

It is a nice, clean story about how love is often a choice we make, not just a feeling we have. The characters all have a strong Christian faith that is shared throughout the book. This book was just okay for me. I know Lori Wick is a popular author but I was not really impressed with her writing style in this particular book.

AL

Friday, January 7, 2011

Wicked Girls

Wicked Girls
By Stephanie Hemphill
Balzer + Bray, 2010. 408 pgs. Young Adult

A fictionalized account, told in verse, of the Salem witch trials, told from the perspective of three of the real young women living in Salem in 1692--Mercy Lewis, Margaret Walcott, and Ann Putnam, Jr.

I enjoyed this historical fiction about the Salem witch trials, particularly since I was able to visit Salem, Massachusetts last January. It was interesting to read not only about the Salem Witch trials, but to get a visual of what life was like for women in the 1600’s. Family relationships, friendships, and religion played a key role in this particular portion of our history.

AMM

Whirlwind

Whirlwind
By Cathy Marie Hake
Bethany House, 2008. 358 pgs. Romance

Millicent Fairweather has been dismissed from her post as a nanny when her two young charges are set off to school. Joining her sister and brother-in-law, she boards a ship headed for the United States, where they plan to open a dressmaker's shop. Daniel Clark is also planning to head to the U.S., but when his nanny abruptly deserts him and his young son, he finds himself in need of a nanny. When traveling delays and a tragedy bring Millicent and Daniel closer together than they expected, life takes an interesting turn.

This book was a decent historical romance; there wasn't anything particularly noteworthy about it but there also wasn't anything in particular to dislike, either.

AE

Russian Winter

Russian Winter
By Daphne Kalotay
Harper, 2010. 466 pgs. Historical Fiction

Now in her 80s, Nina Revskaya, a former star of the Russian Bolshoi Ballet, decides to auction off her collection of jewelry. She claims it is to help the Boston Ballet, which she has supported for many years after her defection, but really it is to quiet the ghosts of her past. All the people Nina loved; her husband, mother, and best friend, Vera, have been lost because of the harsh paranoias of Stalinist Russia.

Grigori Solodin, a man adopted in Soviet Russia, has been searching for his birth parents for many years. He was given an amber necklace and a few love letters and photographs. These clues have led him to believe that Nina and her poet husband, Viktor Elsin, could be his parents, but the one time he approached Nina, she denied everything.

Drew Brooks is a 30-something single woman working for Beller, the auction house hired to auction Nina’s jewels. She has her own connection to Russia, and feels there is much more to Nina’s story that needs to be told.

The novel switches back and forth from current day to Nina Revskaya’s memories of her life in 1950s Soviet Russia as it slowly unfolds its mysteries. I found this to be a very enjoyable, fascinating read. While at times I felt the pace could have been a little quicker, I still had a hard time putting it down. I highly recommend picking it up.

AJ

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters

My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters
By Sydney Salter
Graphia, 2009. 345 pgs. Young Adult

Jory Michaels (a.k.a Super Schnozz) is determined to have a good summer; she's gotten a job and is saving up for a nose job. However, the job requires driving (something Jory isn't great at), one of Jory's best friends seems to be hooking up with her crush, and Jory can't seem to find anything that she's good at and wants to spend her summer doing.

Jory's journey of discovery is something I can sympathize with; I would say the majority of teen girls could relate to feeling insecure and unloved. However, I didn't really enjoy the book. It just wasn't anything special, and I find myself wishing I'd stopped reading it and found something more enjoyable instead.

AE

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

At Home in Mitford

At Home in Mitford
By Jan Karon
Lion Pub., 1994. 446 pgs. Fiction

Readers of all religious beliefs will find something uplifting in this charming tale of an Episcopalian rector and his parish in a small, delightful town in North Carolina. Father Tim, a bachelor rector, finds his faith dimming and his energy lagging after twelve years in Mitford. A new dog, a semi-orphaned boy, and a new attractive neighbor (amongst many other things) help strengthen Father Tim’s faith and resolve to serve his people. Reading this strengthened my own faith and was a great read for the beginning of a new year.

MN

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Girl with Glass Feet

The Girl with Glass Feet
By Ali Shaw
Henry Holt and Co., 2010. 287 pgs. Fiction.

St. Hauda’s Land is a cold northern island with menacing mountains and impenetrable swamps lands. This is the setting for a story full of strange creatures that can turn an animal pure white with one stare, and interwoven secrets from the past. Ida Maclaird has returned to St. Hauda’s to find a cure for a condition that is slowly turning her feet to glass. There, she meets Midas Crook, a young man who has difficultly making emotional connections since his father committed suicide several years before. Despite their difficulties, Ida and Midas soon fall in love which sends them on a desperate quest to stop the glass from killing Ida. Along this path they encounter people all interconnected to Ida and Midas whose motivations for helping her remain unclear.

I enjoyed the dreamlike quality of this debut novel. The characters were complicated and flawed, and yet still had the power to make changes in their lives. A melancholy novel that ended on a quiet note of hope.

AJ

Brain Jack

Brain Jack
by Brian Falkner
Random House, 2010. 349 pgs. Young Adult.

In a not too distant future, Las Vegas has been nuked off the planet, Black Hawk helicopters keep constant vigil over New York City, and computer commands are now executed by means of neuro-headsets, directly from your brain to the machinery. Trouble is, the electrical impulses go both ways, as Sam Wilson and friends discover, nearly too late. Recruited by the government in a kind of roundabout trip through a Juvenile Detention center way, Sam becomes part of an elite squad of counter-terror hackers protecting the United States against cyber-invaders. But when the "enemy" begins wiping brains along with hard drives, Sam and his friends have to go underground and on the lam to try save not just the planet, but the world. A kind of 2001: a Space Odyssey ending with firm but benevolent Oversoul implications brings this breakneck thriller to an odd close, but on the whole, a rip-snorting read for advanced sixth-graders and up, and especially fine for computer whiz kid types who may think they don't like to read.

LW

Teen Cuisine

Teen Cuisine
By Matthew Locricchio
Marshall Cavendish. 2010. 207 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Presents more than fifty recipes for teenagers who want to cook, with detailed instructions and advice on ingredients, kitchen equipment, and cooking techniques.

This is a more sophisticated cookbook for teenagers. Most recipes you make from scratch, not from a box or can. I would recommend this book to teen cooks who are looking for more involved, but always delicious recipes.

AMM

Do Not Open: An Encyclopedia of the World’s Best-Kept Secrets

Do Not Open: An Encyclopedia of the World’s Best-Kept Secrets
By John Farndon
DK. 2010. 256 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Inside you'll find the incredible truth about secret stuff you're not supposed to know: weird history, strange science, mysterious places, random happenings, freaky facts of nature. From DNA to the CIA, hackers to hoaxers, time travel to telepathy: it's all in here.

In classic DK manner, this book is filled with tons of pictures, diagrams, and open-the-flap type pages. This book is great because it can be skimmed or read cover to cover. I would recommend it to any teen (but especially teen boys) that is interested in how things work, strange coincidences, and freaky facts!

AMM

Epitaph Road

Epitaph Road
By David Patneaude
Egmont, 2010. 266 pgs. Young Adult

In 2097, men are a small and controlled minority in a utopian world ruled by women, and fourteen-year-old Kellen must fight to save his father from an outbreak of the virus that killed ninety-seven percent of the male population thirty years earlier.

This was an interesting dystopia looking at the differences between men and women and if the world would be better with a predominately female population. The action was fast and the story very interesting. I would recommend to those that have enjoyed other teen dystopias such as Unwind by Neal Shusterman or Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

AMM

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mr. Darcy's Diary

Mr. Darcy's Diary
By Amanda Grange
Sourcebooks, 2007. 329 pgs. Fiction

Mr. Darcy gets a chance to tell his side of the story. In his diary, he reveals his concern for his sister and his friend Bingley as well as his growing attraction for Elizabeth Bennet.

This is a quick read, and it's enjoyable for fans of Pride and Prejudice. I quite enjoyed the chance to re-live Darcy and Elizabeth's story without having to wade through Jane Austen's more detailed prose; although I like Pride and Prejudice, Darcy's version has less of the scenic description and a bit more of the lovely parts about Darcy and Elizabeth's journey toward understanding and love.

AE

That Certain Spark

That Certain Spark
By Cathy Marie Hake
Bethany House, 2009. 348 pgs. Romance

Karl Van der Vort is a strapping blacksmith who has absolutely no use for a female doctor. However, when Taylor Bestman accepts a position as the town doctor in Gooding, Texas, just after Karl has seriously injured himself at work, he reluctantly becomes her first patient. Even after she has successfully treated him, Karl still has his reservations, but when other men oppose Taylor's work and Taylor finds herself threatened, Karl becomes protective of the new doctor. Meanwhile, Taylor has committed herself to life as a doctor, never intending to have a husband and children, but as she comes to know Karl better, her dreams just might change.

I didn't enjoy this book as much as Hake's other books; it seemed like the majority of the book was dialogue about why it's okay for a woman to be a doctor. While it's certainly a valid argument, and the context of the 19th century makes it a particularly difficult profession for a woman to pursue, it didn't really make for a very interesting historical romance. Although the premise is that the sparring between Karl and Taylor is what leads to their affection for each other, it wasn't very engaging for the reader.

AE

A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage and the Quest for the Colour of Desire

A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage and the Quest for the Colour of Desire
By Amy Butler Greenfield
Doubleday, 2005, 389 pgs. Nonfiction

Red was once a color only worn by the aristocracy or the very rich. The difficulty of creating lasting red dyes made true red fabrics very, very expensive. The discovery of the new world brought a new source of red to markets in Europe. The source of the dye, the very small female cochineal insect, requires certain growing conditions and extensive hand labor. Nonetheless, the new world produced enough of it to drastically affect trade and social conditions. Spain’s cochineal monopoly was worth a fortune and triggered a hunt by the Dutch, the English and the French to find sources of the dye.

Cochineal’s saga is rich with intrigue, piracy and struggle. This book would be of interest to any one interested in history, fashion, botany or international trade.

At the Water's Edge

At the Water’s Edge
By Annette Lyon
Covenant Communications, 2004, 197 pgs. Romance

This LDS inspirational romance is set in Finland where a young woman, Annela, faces difficult consequences as a result of accepting the LDS faith. First, she has to separate from her boyfriend and then her abusive father refuses to let her return home to live. Fortunately, she finds strong support in her local congregation and before long she is romantically involved with a former missionary to Finland. But before she can achieve her dreams, tragedy strikes and her former lover stalks her. This should be a satisfying read for LDS romance readers.

Hitler's Scientists: Science, War and the Devil's Pact

Hitler’s Scientists: Science, War and the Devil’s Pact
By John Cornwell
Viking, 2003, 600 pgs. Nonfiction

In the first half of the twentieth century German scientists were at the forefront of scientific discoveries, including developments in physics that ultimately led to the atomic bomb. With Hitler’s rise to power and unfolding policies of “racial cleansing” these same scientists were faced with multiple political and ethical dilemmas. Could they help Germany best by continuing their work, even as Jewish colleagues were dismissed from academic faculties? Could they continue to do good science under the Fascist regime? Many scientists left the country rather than become complicit in Hitler’s agenda. Others stayed, but in the end, Hitler’s policies weakened German science and contributed to German defeat in World War II.

This book shows a different and fascinating side of World War II history. British historian Cornwell illuminates the choices and achievements of some of the most famous names in science including Einstein, Heisenberg, Von Braun, and Niels Bohr.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Left to Tell

Left to Tell
By Immaculee Ilibagiza
Hay House, 2006. 215 pgs. Biography

Immaculee Ilibagiza was living a good life in Rwanda; the first woman in her family to attend college, she was working toward a bright future. However, racial tensions, which had been in place in Rwanda for many years, erupted in 1994, and Immaculee was caught in the middle of it. As the majority group, the Hutus, began massacring the minority Tutsis, Immaculee, a Tutsi, found herself fighting for her life. In approximately 100 days, one million Tutsis were killed, and while Immaculee lost the majority of her family, she found a deeply personal relationship with Jesus Christ as she hid from the Hutus and prayed for her survival.

Immaculee's story is simultaneously sad, horrifying, inspiring, and moving. The atrocities committed against the Tutsis will turn readers' stomachs, but Immaculee's developing relationship with God is remarkable. This faith-filled story is an important one for people to become familiar with.

* This title is available as a book club set.

AE