Monday, February 28, 2011

Fall for Anything

Fall for Anything
By Courtney Summers
St. Martin's Griffin, 2011. 230 pgs. Young Adult

Eddie Reeve's father committed suicide, and she is left wondering why he made that choice. She repeatedly returns to the site of his suicide, and while there, she meets Culler Evans, a former photography student of her father's. Culler seems as driven to find out why his mentor did what he did as Eddie is, and soon, despite the protests of Eddie's best friend Milo, Eddie and Culler set out to visit the last few locations that Eddie's father photographed before his death, looking for clues into why he did what he did.

Eddie's quest is an interesting one, and I think that's the main thing that kept me reading. I didn't ever feel like I connected with her as a character; while her emotions (or sometimes, lack thereof) are fitting with someone in grief, I also felt distanced from her. I actually like Milo better and felt more drawn to him as a character. Still, Eddie's task is interesting, and the feeling that something just isn't quite right with Culler kept me going, wondering how things would play out in the end. The writing style is more serious than a lot of young adult literature, and that combined with what I thought was an unnecessary amount of profanity, would make it more suitable for older teens.

AE

Grace

Grace
By Elizabeth Scott
Dutton Books, 2010. 200 pgs. Young Adult

Grace was raised in a land where Keran Berj rules, and while his followers try to put up with his many nonsensical laws, the People, who live on the outskirts in the Hills, are trying to overthrow him. Grace's mother was one of Keran Berj's followers; her father is one of the People, and to after her mother's death, Grace is given to the People to be raised as an Angel--a suicide bomber. However, when it comes time for Grace to complete her suicide bombing mission, she decides she wants to live. That makes her a disgrace among the people, so she tries to find her way out of the country, along with a follower of Keran Berj whom she's pretty sure she shouldn't trust.

I didn't ever find myself particularly attached to Grace, and for other character-driven readers, this might not be the best choice. However, it book certainly provides food for thought; although the country is fictional, certainly the situations presented are represented in our world, and an interesting discussion could center around world politics, as well as, as Grace comes to realize, the similarities between the two sides. Although they are bitterly opposed, their philosophies and strategies are similar.

AE

Saturday, February 26, 2011

These Things Hidden

These Things Hidden
By Heather Gudenkauf
Mira, 2011. 337 pgs. Fiction

This novel is told by four different women who all have a connection to one innocent little boy named Joshua. Allison has just been released from prison for a horrible crime and now must deal with her estranged family and the hatred of her small community. Brynn is Allison's sister and is trying to escape the shadow of her perfect sister who turned out to be not so perfect. Joshua's adoptive mother, Claire, believes that everyone should be given a second chance but she doesn't realize what that second chance might do to her family and Charm is just trying to do the right thing in life.

As the story unfolds, each woman takes a turn revealing just the right amount of the story to keep me flying through the pages. Sometimes having multiple narrators bothers me but I can't imagine this story being told any other way. It is through each woman's voice that the reader can better understand the story and the character's feelings and motives. Lies can be devastating but even good intentions can have unforeseen consequences.

AL

Friday, February 25, 2011

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
By Mike Brown
Spiegel & Grau, 2010. 267 pgs. Nonfiction

Our solar system is but a fleck in the expanse of our galaxy, but within that fleck is a broad array of space and objects within that space. Mike Brown has spent his entire career searching the skies for wandering points of light. His true goal was to find the tenth planet to the solar system, but what he achieved was to demote Pluto, our solar system’s true underdog, from its status as a planet.

Brown’s chatty and delightful account of these events may not convince everyone of the justness of an 8 planet system, but it certainly provides a good argument and a delightful look into the world of astrological exploration.

cz

Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
By Kelly O’Connor McNees
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2010. 342 pgs. Fiction

At 20, Louisa May Alcott has enjoyed some little writing success, but her ambitions require that she take her modest savings, leave her financially struggling family, and live on her own in Boston to pursue writing full time. Execution of her escape is ever delayed by obligations to her family and a growing attachment to a young man whose own family obligations threaten their relationship’s progression. In one short summer, Louisa discovers the power of true love, the heartache of loss and disappointment, and the inspiration for a story that would touch the hearts of millions.

The author’s imagined adventures for the famous author of Little Women is sweet and appealing. The glimpses into her childhood and family life give added dimension to Alcott and the most famous of her protagonists.

CZ

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Zodiac Killer

The Zodiac Killer
By Brenda Haugen
Compass Point Books, 2011. 96 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

This books describes the series of murders (and attempted murders) that the self-named Zodiac Killer committed in California in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Zodiac Killer began sending coded messages to local newspapers, taking credit for the murders and claiming that the police would be able to find him if they cracked his codes. However, many of his codes were never cracked (perhaps because the Zodiac Killer wasn't very good at spelling), and the murderer was never caught.

This story of true crime is a brief introduction to the Zodiac Killer. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered (mainly because so many questions remain about the Zodiac Killer), so readers will likely want to do some addition reading or research. Luckily, the book has a bibliography and references for more information. This is a good choice for those who are interested in crime stories but who don't necessarily want a bloody, gory description of the crimes.

AE

The Emperor of all Maladies: a Biography of Cancer

The Emperor of all Maladies: a Biography of Cancer
by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Scribner, 2010. 571 pgs. Non-fiction.

Siddhartha Mukherjee, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and staff physician at Columbia University Medical Center, has written a magisterial history of what he describes as a magisterial disease. Cancer is an ancient curse, first appearing in recorded history in 2500 B.C. Variously described through the years as a disorder of the humors (black bile), a reaction to chemicals or radiation, a viral infection, cancer was attacked with radical surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, herbal and homeopathic remedies. None was the elegant solution--the cure--that everyone sought. But the tireless (literally) efforts of doctors and other researchers have brought us to a point where we know that cancer is not one disease but many, arising from damaged and mutated genes, oncogenes that turn the switch relentlessly on for cell division and turn the switch off for tumor suppressors, mutating further as they go. Cancer treatment now depends on discovering the "pathways" the disease takes and trying to circumvent the advancing killer. Dr. Mukherjee describes his book as a biography because cancer is more an entity than a thing, "a malign variant of ourselves." Rarely has a story been more elegantly or compassionately told.

LW

Lincoln's Flying Spies

Lincoln's Flying Spies
By Gail Jarrow
Calkins Creek, 2010. 109 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

When the Civil War broke out, Thaddeus Lowe, a balloonist, believed that hot air balloons could be used to aid the Union Army's efforts against the Confederates. Lowe set about to convince President Lincoln and Union generals that it would be beneficial to the army and established a balloon corp to spy on the Confederates. Lowe also worked out systems for relaying messages to generals on the ground, figured out how to make stronger balloons, and devised portable methods for filling the balloons.

I'd never thought about the use of balloons in warfare. With many photos and illustrations, as well as sidebars, this book has a nice format to complement its unique topic.

AE

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Waterless Sea

The Waterless Sea
By Kate Constable
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003. 314 pgs. Young Adult

Calwyn and her friends have traveled to the dry desolate empire of Merithuros where they must cross an unforgiving desert in search of two kidnapped children who where taken to the Palace of Cobwebs because of their gift of Chantment. Meanwhile Darrow has gone off on his own to come to terms with his emotions after his encounter with Samis.

This is the second novel in the Chanters of Tremaris trilogy and I actually enjoyed it more than the first. The action is not as fast paced but I felt that there was more depth to the plot. Many changes take place in the Empire and also in the characters as they encounter new challenges and unexpected situations. I hope that the third book in the trilogy is not a disappointment.

AL

Not That Kind of Girl

Not That Kind of Girl
By Siobhan Vivian
PUSH, 2010. 322 pgs. Young Adult

Natalie Sterling is a good girl: she studies hard and is involved in student council, and she's definitely not the type to bother with boys. She prides herself on being sensible, capable, and strong, and wants to empower other girls to feel the same way. However, as senior year starts and she gets elected student council president, she finds that more and more things seem to be spiraling out of control, and a boy she would normally never bother with seems to be taking up more and more of her time.

I have mixed feelings about this book; Natalie wasn't the best narrator ever, but she was all right. I liked her love interest, and I thought some of the lessons she learned about herself and others were good but there were others that I completely disagreed with. I think some readers will like it, others will hate it, and still others won't be quite sure what to think of it.

AE

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fatty Legs

Fatty Legs
By Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
Annick Press, 2010. 104 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Olemaun is a young Inuvialuit girl living with her family in Canada. She begs for the chance to go to a Catholic boarding school, and her family reluctantly agrees to let her go. When she gets there, though, she finds out that it isn't as great as she'd expected. She thought she'd be focused on reading and learning but she finds that she's punished for speaking her own language, forced to spend hours cleaning, and even has to answer to a new name, Margaret. To make matters worse, one of the nuns, whom she calls the Raven, seems to really hate her and singles her out for punishment.

Olemaun is a spunky girl, and I appreciated the chance to read her story and see how she was determined to make the best of a bad situation. She showed both good and bad things about the boarding school and those running it, but mostly, she demonstrated the strength it takes to overcome obstacles.

AE

Friday, February 18, 2011

Eighth Grade Bites

Eighth Grade Bites
By Heather Brewer
Dutton’s Children’s Books, 2007. 182 pgs. Young Adult

Vladimir Tod is a typical eighth grader—he’s shy, likes video games, and gets picked on by bullies. But he also has a secret, one that is much deeper than a typical eighth grade crush. Vladimir is half vampire. Only his best friend (who Vladimir accidently bit as a child) and the woman who has raised Vladimir since his parents’ death know his secret—until Vladimir’s teacher goes missing. The new substitute teacher seems to know exactly who Vladimir is, and soon he worries his life may be in danger.

This isn’t your typical vampire book that makes the character out to be good-looking and popular. Instead, it covers a true teenage crisis: figuring out how you fit in the world. Filled with humor, this book is a quick read for any reluctant reader.

KK

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage
By M.C. Beaton
St. Martin’s Press, 1996. 196 pgs. Mystery

Agatha Raisin had always presumed that her first husband had died years ago of alcoholism and never bothered to investigate further. However, when she plans to marry long-time bachelor James Lacey, she sure wished she had. An unexpected guest arrives just in time to spoil all her plans of happily ever after, and when that guest ends up dead, Agatha becomes the prime suspect.

Not as enjoyable as M.C Beaton’s Hammish MacBeth series, but a good filler when you need a light mystery to read.

KK

Road Rage

Road Rage
By Ruth Rendell
Crown Publishers Inc, 1997. 400 pgs. Mystery

The construction of a new highway through Framhurst Great Wood has environmentalists up in arms bringing protests to the small town of Kingsmarkham. All the while Inspector Wexford is investigating two missing persons cases that might be related to each other. Then things accelerate when Inspector Wexford receives a call from his daughter saying that his wife never arrived at the train station to visit her. His suspicions that his wife has been kidnapped are confirmed when he receives the ransom demand—stop the construction of the new highway.

Though this is book seventeen in the Inspector Wexford series, it can be read and enjoyed on its own without reading the others.

KK

A Time of Miracles

A Time of Miracles
By Anne-Laure Bondoux
Delacorte Press, 2010. 180 pgs. Young Adult

Is he Koumail or Blaise Fortune? Unsure of his history, Koumail lives with Gloria, who rescued him, as a baby, from a train accident in the Caucasus in Europe. Whatever his story, Koumail is a French citizen and one day will find his mother there. Meanwhile, Koumail and Gloria reside in a refuge camp, constantly ready to flee whenever the soldiers or rebels appear. When their camp is broken up, Gloria decides it is time for them to travel to France. It takes many years and many hardships, but Koumail and Gloria are determined. This book feels as though it takes place in an earlier time period, but occurs mainly during the 1990s. It is heartbreaking to read such an account, of refugees and the hardships and privations they suffer. But as the title suggests, miracles do happen for Koumail in this satisfying story.

MN

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Unidentified

The Unidentified
By Rae Mariz
Balzer + Bray, 2010. 296 pgs. Young Adult

Katey (a.k.a Kid) lives in a future USA where the government couldn't afford to pay for education, so businesses stepped in. Katey's "school" is the Game, where kids and the sponsors are connected wirelessly, school is conducted over the computer and via video games, and most people are desperately trying to get "branded" (selected out by a sponsor to be one of their representatives) and to establish large networks of friends. Kid's best friend Ari is one of those who wants more than anything to be branded, while her friend Mike seems to be more interested in having fun and messing around with the games. Kid isn't sure exactly who she is or what she wants. However, when a stunt pulled by a group known only as "The Unidentified" catches Kid's attention, she finds that she's attracting unwanted attention.

This was an interesting look at how our society could end up some day, with technology and consumerism ruling life; however, since Mariz framed that view within a story that is equally interesting, she manages to create a book that critiques society without being didactic. I liked Kid, and I was intrigued by her attempts to discover who belonged to The Unidentified, her discovery of what friendship really is, and the little bits of romance thrown in. As a stand-alone title, this is a good choice for those who might want to venture into the science fiction genre without committing to a huge series.

AE

Escape to Zion

Escape to Zion
By Jean Holbrook Mathews
Covenant Communications, 2010. 293 pgs. Historical Fiction

I was intrigued by the premise of this book. Maria, a German born indentured servant, raped and denied her freedom from her master (he claims she is a slave), runs away. Saved from drowning by a river boater, her new life begins. Maria faces many pioneer type hardships but worst of all is the fact that her former master seems to be able to track her down even when she marries and moves west with the Mormon pioneers. Will she ever find the peace she so desperately desires?
Even though I liked the premise of the book, I was disappointed in the actual plot and writing style. Unfortunately the audio version amplified these weaknesses. mpb

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lost Boy, Lost Girl

Lost Boy, Lost Girl
By John Bul Dau and Martha Arual Akech
National Geographic, 2010. 159 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

John and Martha alternate chapters, describing their experiences during the Sudanese civil war. John was a teenager when he was driven from his home; Martha was only a child. Both walked to a refugee camp in Ethiopia and spent a few years there before being forced to leave again, this time crossing back into Sudan and walking to Kenya. It was in Kenya that they met, before each was able to move to the U.S., where they eventually married.

This is an informative look at the Sudanese civil war and how it affected millions of children. John's and Martha's accounts are told in a straightforward manner, without a lot of emotion, but at the same time, the story of these lost children is a touching one.

AE

Hazard

Hazard
by Gardiner Harris
Minotaur, 2010. 357 pgs. Fiction

Hazard, Kentucky lives up to its name in this suspenseful story of a fatal mine inundation, triggered when Amos Blevins' coal excavating machine punches through the wall of the Blue Dog mine into a water-filled abandoned mine just next. Will Murphy works for the Mining Safety and Health Administration and is assigned to investigate the disaster, even though his family owns the mine and his brother runs the outfit. MHSA employees are no strangers to potential conflicts of interest and other corrupt practices, taking money under the table to conduct cursory inspections and rubber-stamp investigations. But this time Will decides to play it straight. Not only does a series of supposedly drug-related shootings of involved miners point towards a cover-up, but rumors suggest the existence of a more accurate map than the one that got the miners killed. The suspense is thick, the action relentless, but without sacrificing character development, setting, or the inclusion of a boatload of information about mining. Harris, a prize-winning investigative reporter, knows whereof he speaks about coal country and ably proves it in this fine thriller.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Close to Famous

Close to Famous
By Joan Bauer
Viking, 2011. 250 pgs. Young Adult

Twelve-year-old Foster and her mother hightail it out of Memphis when Huck, Foster's mom's Elvis-impersonator boyfriend, gets violent. They wind up in Culpepper, West Virginia where Foster works toward her dream of being a famous baker and conquering the world one cupcake at a time. As she's developing her various cupcakes, she also deals with the threat of Huck, her difficulties reading, and making new friends in her new town.

Joan Bauer has done it again! I love her books, and I was delighted by her newest offering. Foster and her new friends are delightful characters, Foster's struggles are moving and inspiring, and her cupcakes sound delicious! This book left me with a big smile on my face, and the only bad thing I have to say is that now I'll have to wait a couple of years for Bauer to publish another book.

AE

Cleopatra: A Life

Cleopatra: A Life
By Stacy Schiff
Little, Brown and Co., 2010. 368 pgs. Biography

Cleopatra could easily be considered among the most famous women in history. For the average person, her name evokes the image of a beautiful and cunning woman who seduced men and destroyed empires. However, this image is based upon legends that have strayed from actual events and what scholars know about the infamous Egyptian Queen. Schiff’s meticulously researched book attempts to clear up many of those misconceptions.

I was surprised by the amount of detail that is known about Cleopatra’s daily life. Schiff does an excellent job of defining which details are fact and which are conjecture by those who documented the famous events surrounding Caesar, Cleopatra, and Antony. History buffs should enjoy this very readable portrait of, not only a fascinating individual, but a fascinating and pivotal period of world history.

CZ

Beauty

Beauty
By Susan Wilson
Crown Publishers, 1996. 200 pgs. Fiction

Traveling to New Hampshire to paint the portrait of novelist Leland Crompton, Alix Miller finds a man hideously deformed by a rare genetic disease, but as she spends hours working on the portrait, Alix discovers the magnificent man inside the recluse.

This is a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I enjoyed the book, but didn’t really like the way it ended. Overall a good fractured fairy tale though!

AMM

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dark Water

Dark Water
By Laura McNeal
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. 287 pgs. Young Adult

Pearl DeWitt lives in California on her uncle's avocado farmer. Amiel is a migrant worker who catches her eye with his miming and juggling skills, and Pearl convinces her uncle to hire him. Amiel doesn't speak, and Pearl is convinced to break through to him, trying to speak to him and leaving him notes, and, once she stumbles across the shack near the river where Amiel is living, visiting him. Frustrated with her life--her father has recently left her mother, leaving Pearl and her mother living in poverty--Pearl pursues this relationship, even though both she and Amiel know it's not one that would be socially acceptable.

I never really connected with the characters in this book; Pearl seemed distant (even though the novel is written in the first person), and I also never really understood her attraction to Amiel. Their relationship just never came alive for me. I think the main thing that kept me reading in this book was the foreshadowing--we find out early on that there's a wildfire and that there are serious consequences, although we don't know what exactly they are,. When they are finally revealed, they provide for what could be an interesting discussion about choices and consequences.

AE

Sweethearts of Rhythm

Sweethearts of Rhythm
By Marilyn Nelson
Dial Books, 2009. 1 volume, unpaged. Young Adult Nonfiction

Award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson combines with award-winning illustrator Jerry Pinkney to create a colorful book about the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, an all-girl band popular in the swing era of the early 1940s. Told through the voices of the instruments formerly owned by the band members, readers get a glimpse of the many layers of the era--World War II, Jim Crow laws, women filling new roles as men headed off to war, and more. The book is interesting not only for its story but also for Nelson's skill in crafting poetry and Pinkney's skill in creating artwork to compliment it.

AE

The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language

The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language
By Christine Kenneally
Penguin Books, 2007. 357 pgs. Nonfiction

Not what I expected, but fascinating. I thought this book might be a summary of explorations into the origins of language through the study of historical linguistics and make some conclusions about when and where language arose and what it may have been like. Instead, this is a look at how language may have evolved by studying biology, psychology, and anthropology. There is truly a good deal of interesting information in this book--summarized from various studies over the past couple of decades. What's the relationship between language, cognition and culture? Toward the end of the book Kenneally shows some of the similarities of how language evolves and and how viruses spread and evolve. Well written and thought provoking.

SML

Friday, February 11, 2011

When Winter Returns

When Winter Returns
By Kathryn Miller Haines
HarperCollins, 2010. 333 pgs. Mystery

Rosie Winter and her best friend, Jayne, have just returned from their USO stint in the South Pacific in the fall of 1943. They head upstate to visit the family of Jayne's recently deceased fiance, but the man in the family's photographs is a stranger to them both. As Rosie searches for the truth behid his identity - and a way to help heal Jayne's broken heart - she faces an unpleasant homecoming of her own: her ex, Jack Castlegate, is back in Manhattan and engaged to a gorgeous WAC private, Rosie's friend Al is living on the streets with no one to help him, and Rosie and Jayne can't seem to get any work.

This is the fourth book of the Rosie Winter Mysteries, and this series just seems to get better and better. Rosie's own personal life is more closely woven with this plot, and the story in general has more depth than any of the series so far. One minor flaw is that this book isn't quite as smoking with the usual wit and verve of Rosie's sassy personality - the narration is a bit more subdued than books past. But I think this is more of a reflection of what is happening in the book than any fault of the author, and I still loved it.

The first book in this series is The War Against Miss Winter.

BHG

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Deryni Rising

Deryni Rising
By Katherine Kurtz
Ballantine Books, 1970, 270 pgs. Fantasy

After his father is mysteriously murdered, Prince Kelson, age 14, is suddenly placed into the daunting role as King. (Is Charissa involved?) Protected and tutored by Alaric Morgan and Father Duncan, two Deryni loyal to his father, young Kelson must come of age while struggling with a family secret, his newly discovered magical powers and the political unrest in his alternate medieval kingdom, Gwynedd. Being known as a Deryni could be a death sentence, using those powers openly could seal one's fate. But Kelson and his protectors MUST try to maintain their hold on the kingdom. As the magic thickens, so does the plot.

As one reads this book, keep in mind that it was written over 40 years ago so it may seem a bit old fashioned. Katherine Kurtz was one of the first who dared to write in the then new genre, fantasy. There is a small amount of mild language. While I didn't love this book, I would still recommend it to someone (teen or adult) who was just trying out the magical genre of fantasy. "Deryni Rising" if the first book in the "Chronicles of the Deryni" series.

mpb

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Winter Shadows

Winter Shadows
By Margaret Duffie
Tundra Books, 2010. 327 pgs. Young Adult

In 1856, Beatrice Alexander has returned home from her boarding school to help care for her injured father and ailing grandmother. The most difficult task of all is dealing with her father's new wife, Ivy, who loathes her. In the present day, Cass, living in Beatrice's house, is miserable following her mother's death and her father's subsequent marriage. Jean, Cass's stepmother, seems to hate Cass and any reminders of her mother. Beatrice's and Cass's stories are woven together as they begin to see shadowy glimpses of each other and Cass even gets to read Beatrice's journal.

I found this book to be interesting but flawed. I enjoyed Beatrice's parts of the story somewhat more than Cass's. The present-day dialogue seemed stilted and abrupt in places; it just didn't really seem like someone would talk. Also, the reason for the connection between Beatrice and Cass seems a little weak, and the author introduced some issues that were never resolved and, in my opinion, should have been left out if they weren't going to be developed.

AE

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Crossing

The Crossing: How George Washington Saved the American Revolution
By Jim Murphy
Scholastic Press, 2010. 96 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Jim Murphy describes the circumstances leading up to Washington's fateful crossing of the Delaware, explaining how the Continental Army, after their success in Lexington, Concord, and Boston, soon lost ground in New York. With men deserting right and left and the Continental Congress discussing whether Washington should be relieved of his command, the general organized a secret attack on the Hessian soldiers stationed in Trenton , crossing the Delaware in the middle of the night. That fateful decision renewed morale and kept the Revolutionary War going when it had only shortly before seemed more likely to fail.

I liked this clear, concise account of the crossing of the Delaware. It's one of those things that has been immortalized in paintings and whatnot, but I was a little fuzzy on the details, but this book provided a great refresher. Another great resource from Jim Murphy.

AE

Monday, February 7, 2011

Every Last One

Every Last One
By Anna Quindlen
Random House, 2010. 299 pgs. Fiction

Mary Beth Latham loves being a mother to her three teenage children. She has a successful landscaping business and a loving husband. As one of her sons, Max, slips deeper into depression her focus shifts to him and she is blindsided by an act of violence that shatters the life she has known.

Anna Quindlen does an excellent job of writing very realistic characters. At one point I had to go back and make sure I was reading a novel and not a biography because the characters felt so real and the situations so normal. This book is about facing our darkest fears and having the courage to keep living our life, even when it seems impossible to go on.

AL

The Orchid Affair

The Orchid Affair
By Lauren Willig
Dutton, 2011. 405 pgs. Historical Fiction

The Pink Carnation has, once again, sent an agent abroad to assist in her attempts to undermine the new French government. Laura Grey, a governess with sixteen years of experience, fears that her opportunity for adventure and excitement is long gone. She is tired of raising the spoiled children of the English Aristocracy and leaps at the opportunity to join the League of the Pink Carnation. Following intensive but brief espionage training, Laura is sent to her native home of Paris to take the charge of two motherless children and spy on their father, a highly placed official in Fouche’s ministry of police.

This is the seventh installment in Willig’s Pink Carnation series. Each historical adventure is told interspersed with a modern story which follows a graduate student discovering pieces of lost history surrounding English spies and French villains. The modern story fell a bit flat after the first couple of books, but the historical adventures continue to entertain. The endings may be predictable, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment readers can experience. There are spies, romance, and adventure. What more could you ask for in a quick little guilty pleasure?

CZ

The Singer of All Songs

The Singer of All Songs
By Kate Constable
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2004. 297 pgs. Young Adult

Calwyn has lived her entire life with the priestesses of Antaris learning the chantment of Icesong, one of the Nine Powers of chantment, that creates magic using song. When Calwyn stumbles across a strange man who was able to get inside the protective ice wall of the city, she is drawn to him and is soon on a dangerous adventure as they join with others to defeat the sorcerer Samis who is trying to united all Nine Powers and become the Singer of All Songs.

This book is a good mix of adventure, magic and a little bit of romance. It is the first in the Chanters of Tremaris trilogy and I look forward to finding out what happens to Calwyn and her friends in the next book.

AL

What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know

What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know
By Sonya Sones
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2007. 291 pgs. Young Adult

High school freshman Robin Murphy is dating Sophie and loving it--except for the fact that he's considered a loser and Sophie, who used to be popular, has been dropped by all of her friends, who are horrified that she's dating him. So high school is a miserable experience, but while he's attending a drawing class at Harvard, he find that he fits right in--except for the fact that he's years younger than the rest of the class.

This novel-in-verse follows What My Mother Doesn't Know, further exploring Robin and Sophie's budding relationship. The plot line and characters are all right--nothing special about either--but many readers will be put of by the emphasis on the physical aspects of a relationship, which tends to take over the plot. While I like the messages of not caving to peer pressure and be yourself no matter what, I'm not sure there's much beyond that that I would recommend about it.

AE

The Good Daughter: a Memoir of My Mother's Hidden Life

The Good Daughter : A Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life
By Jasmin Darznik
Grand Central. 2011.324 pgs. Nonfiction

Jasmin Darznik was an adult before she discovered her mother Lili’s long kept secret: her life as a 13- year- old bride to an abusive husband in Iran and the daughter she gave up when she divorced him. Darznik was raised in California as the daughter of a German father and an Iranian mother and only knew her mother as a hard-working immigrant coping with an alcoholic husband. To tell the story of her mother, Darznik shares the stories of three generations of Iranian women and their extended families.

The Good Daughter is a finely written biography that should appeal to anyone who read and enjoyed Reading Lolita in Tehran (Azar Nafisi), or the fictional, A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khalid Hosseini). SH

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels—A Love Story

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels—A Love Story
By Ree Drummond
William Morrow. 2011. 341 pgs. Biography

"That's when I saw him—the cowboy—across the smoky room."
I'll never forget that night. It was like a romance novel, an old Broadway musical, and a John Wayne western rolled into one. Out for a quick drink with friends, I wasn't looking to meet anyone, let alone a tall, rugged cowboy who lived on a cattle ranch miles away from my cultured, corporate hometown. But before I knew it, I'd been struck with a lightning bolt . . . and I was completely powerless to stop it.
Read along as I recount the rip-roaring details of my unlikely romance with a chaps-wearing cowboy, from the early days of our courtship (complete with cows, horses, prairie fire, and passion) all the way through the first year of our marriage, which would be filled with more challenge and strife—and manure—than I ever could have expected.
This isn't just my love story; it's a universal tale of passion, romance, and all-encompassing love that sweeps us off our feet.
It's the story of a cowboy. And Wranglers. And chaps. And the girl who fell in love with them.

I’d read most of Ree and Marlboro Man’s story on her popular blog (www.thepioneerwoman.com) when she posted it segments a few years ago. Although there is not a lot of new material in this book, I thought it was an enjoyable read. Ree’s unique voice shines through the text and she even includes a few of her trademark recipes at the back of the book. If you are looking for a love story this February, this might just do the trick!

AMM

Friday, February 4, 2011

Spies of Mississippi

Spies of Mississippi
By Rick Bowers
National Geographic, 2010. 120 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

During the Civil Rights Movement, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission launched a campaign to prevent integration. Many white Mississippians desperately wanted to maintain segregation, and the Sovereignty Commission was a state-sanctioned organization that launched a widespread propaganda campaign, as well as investigated those that they suspected of being in favor of integration. They also paid off blacks and whites alike to spy on those involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

This book was highly informative, showing the desperate measures many Mississippians went through to try to maintain segregation. I thought the writing was a little on the dry side, and somewhat uneven, but the topic in and of itself is interesting and the research seems sound.

AE

Five Flavors of Dumb

Five Flavors of Dumb
By Anthony John
Dial Books, 2010. 337 pgs. Young Adult

High school senior Piper isn't a likely pick to the be the manager for the local teen Battle of the Bands winning bad--for one thing, she's not exactly popular, and for another, she's deaf. Yet, a turn of events lands her in exactly that position and she has one month to find the band a paying gig, which turns out to be more difficult than expected, since the band members all have their distinct flavors: there's self-absorbed Josh, tough girl Tash, pretty girl Kallie (who can't exactly play an instrument), nerdy Ed, and silent Will. Pulling this band together is more work than Piper anticipated but it also turns out to have more rewards than expected as well.

When I picked up this book, I wasn't sure if I was going to like it or not; I'm definitely not a rock band fan, and there were places where the book ventured into talking about music greats that I frankly don't care about at all. However, this book was much more than a book about a high school band. Piper's struggles with her deafness and how that affects her feelings about herself and her interactions with others was an engaging topic; I liked Piper from page one and really enjoyed following her journey to figure out who she really wants to be and how she's going to manage a band. Side stories of her family interactions and a little romance rounded out the package, and I liked this book a lot more than just about anything else I've read recently. A little bit of language, but not enough to bother most readers.

AE

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day for Night

Day for Night
by Frederick Reiken
Little, Brown, 2010. 326 pgs. Fiction.

Such an unusual book, but good. Ten narrators tell a story that begins with Beverly Rabinowitz, a Holocaust survivor who fled Poland as a child and who, as the novel begins, is with her dying boyfriend David in Florida. She and her family swim with the manatees in the river, guided by a young man named Tim Birdsey who travels with the lead singer from his garage band to Salt Lake City where her brother lies in a coma after a motorcycle accident in Israel. They are questioned by the FBI because they were sitting next to a woman on the plane who is suspected of being part of a radical/terrorist group in the sixties, but who seems to have mystical powers and who can appear and disappear at will. With a less skilled writer, pandemonium might result, but Reiken takes his characters and readers firmly in hand and delivers a luminous "six degrees of separation" story where people, circumstances, landscapes, and experiences that seem disparate beyond reconciliation combine at last into a lovely, satisfying close. (Some sexual situations and language.)

LW

Real Live Boyfriends

Real Live Boyfriends
By E. Lockhart
Delacorte Press, 2010. 224 pgs. Young Adult

In the fourth installment in the Ruby Oliver series, Ruby is dating Noel and things seem to be going well--until Noel goes to New York and stops responding to Ruby's calls and emails. Besides trouble with Noel, Ruby is also dealing with her parents: her father is spiraling into depression after his mother's death, and Ruby's mother, always eccentric, has gone from eating only raw foods to being a complete carnivore, preparing outrageous meat concoctions to spite vegetarian Ruby.

I highly enjoy the Ruby Oliver books and was glad to see a fourth installment in what I thought was only going to be a trilogy. Ruby is as neurotic and lovable as ever, and this book is just as fun as the rest of the series.

AE

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Crack In The Sky

A Crack In The Sky
By Mark Peter Hughes
Delacorte Press, 2010. 405 pgs. Young Adult

In a future where global warming has turned Earth into a scorched wilderness, the remnants of humanity survive in dome-covered cities, waiting for the Cooldown. But thirteen-year-old Eli Papadopoulos is worried. Recently, he's noticed that there's something wrong with the artificial sky, and the city is hotter than ever. When he begins asking questions, he is contacted by operatives of a dangerous terrorist group. They claim to have the answers he is looking for, but learning the truth might cost Eli everything that is dear to him.

This is a respectable addition to the growing group of young-adult dystopian-future books. It pales a bit in comparison to what's already out there, but it still satisfied the part of me that loves this genre. This will be especially interesting to people concerned with global warming and the consequences of drastic climate chance. This is the first in a series.

BHG

Halo

Halo
By Alexandra Adornetto
Feiwel and Friends, 2010. 484 pgs. Young Adult

Gabriel, Ivy, and Bethany are angels sent to earth to help a small town against the evil that is gathering there. When Bethany, the youngest of the angels, sees the mortal Xavier, she is drawn to him and, though it is forbidden, she falls in love.

The novel seemed to keep contradicting itself. Bethany was too innocent/good to understand some things but would knowingly break the rules the next minute. Bethany’s character never seemed to be trying to do good, as is her mission on earth; she just cared about the Prom and hanging out with shallow friends. Xavier behaved more like an angel than Bethany. About three-fourths of the way through the book, I wanted to give up but since I invested so much time into it, I decided to see it through, though I will not be continuing the trilogy. Oh, I had to cringe when Bethany used her powers to save someone in a school parking lot car accident—sound familiar?

KK

The Cypress House

The Cypress House
by Michael Koryta
Little, Brown, 2011. 426 pgs. Fiction.

During his service in World War I, Arlen Wagner discovered an unsettling "gift": those who were about to die he saw as skeletons with smoke-filled eyes. Though they could never save themselves, others sometimes could. Back home and riding south to a job opportunity in Florida, Arlen sees his train car fill with skeletons and though he tries to get everyone off, only his young friend Paul Brickhill believes and stays. Caught in the Cypress House, a local fishing and hunting resort, by a hurricane, the two men stay to help the resort's enigmatic manager, a lovely young woman named Rebecca. Smitten, Paul won't leave without helping Rebecca repair the damaged lodge though Arlen feels spooked and wants to get out. Soon the two are embroiled in the machinations of a frighteningly wicked local judge and his corrupt "law enforcement" officers. Violent deaths and gruesome warnings follow as Arlen fights to save an occasionally skeletal Paul
from the judge and from his own impetuous behavior. The truly frightening final scenes play out in a snake-filled swamp where Arlen not only meets his destiny, but is at last reconciled with his dead father. Well-written, deeply atmospheric, and redolent with the ghosts of the Deep South,
The Cypress House is inexorably suspenseful, a great read for the waning winter nights.

LW