Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Word Snoop

The Word Snoop
By Ursula Dubosarsky
Dial Books, 2009, 246 pgs, Young Adult Nonfiction

This book could have been a dry boring look at the history of the English language. Instead, Dubosarsky grabs the readers attention with short chapters filled with jokes, cartoons, riddles, and random facts. A very entertaining look at all the eccentricities of the English language, covering everything from the plethora of silent letters, ridiculous punctuation and grammar rules, to an exploration of the art of texting.

DEF

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary
By Simon Winchester
Oxford University Press, 2003. 256 pgs. Nonfiction

The Oxford English Dictionary was compiled in response to a plea for a more complete and more accurate dictionary by members of the Philological Society in London in 1857. It had a difficult time getting off the ground. There were several editors in succession who took stabs at the project without really making much progress. It wasn't until James Murray became the editor in 1879 that the project really began to move forward. The dictionary was a massive undertaking, attempting to provide definitions, pronunciation, etymology, and examples of from 1,000 years of literature for all of the words in the English language. The publication was issued in fascicles of 64 pages each which could then be compiled together an bound as volumes. The first fascicle as published February 1, 1884 and the fascicles continued through 1928. The first edition was complete in 12 volumes; however, there was an immediate need for a supplement which would include words which had been added to the language since the beginning of the project (or for some that were intentional or unintentionally excluded). The supplement appeared in 1933.

In compiling and publishing the OED there were numerous challenges and difficulties. There were also numerous interesting and eccentric personalities involved. Perhaps the most famous of these in recent years has been Dr. William Chester Minor, the largest single contributor to the OED and the subject the book The Professor and the Madman.

The dictionary's advocates had a devil of time obtaining a publisher for the work--it was thought to be far to risky and expensive. It's a tribute to Murray that he pulled it off so successfully.

SML

Friday, April 29, 2011

Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Please Ignore Vera Dietz
By A. S. King
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. 326 pgs. Fiction

Vera Dietz isn’t sad about her former best friend’s death; in fact, she hates Charlie. She hates him, how he betrayed her, and the fact that he is dead now. But that doesn’t stop the Charlies from visiting her, pressuring her to tell the police what she knows about the night he died. Vera ignores them, focusing on her own life, even though she’s started drinking and making out with a 23-year-old. But as Vera relates her life in the present and her relationship with Charlie in the past, she begins to realize what she needs to do.

This is kind of dark and kind of hard to read. Horrible things happen to Charlie and Vera’s life is rough too. This is definitely not for the faint-hearted or those who want to avoid the bad, but realistic things of life. But if you can get past the bad language, the creepiness you feel at different situations, you will find a book about finally accepting the bad things of the past and realizing that a person doesn’t have to end up like their parents before them, but that they can forge their own identity and path.

MN

Red Glove

Red Glove
By Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2011. 325 pgs. Young Adult

In book 2 of the Curse Workers series, Cassel is trying to avoid Lila, even though he's crazy about her, because his mother, an emotion worker, has cursed Lila to love him, and Cassel doesn't want to take advantage of her. However, when she enrolls in his boarding school, it makes it hard for him to stay away. Meanwhile, after his oldest brother is murdered, federal agents approach Caseel, pressuring him to give them information, and Lila's father, the head of the Mafia-like curse-working family, is pressuring Cassel to join his "family".

Intrigue, romance, and adventure make this a hot new series. Cassel is an appealing character, not in the sense that he is always likable but in that he is really struggling to figure out who is and trying to do the right thing even though he has the opportunity to do things that are really, really wrong. A good choice for readers looking for an alternative universe to delve into or a non-paranormal fantasy.

AE

The Lost Hero

The Lost Hero
By Rick Riordan
Random House/Listening Library, 2010. 14 CDs. Young Adult

When Jason Grace wakes up on a school bus on a field trip, he has no idea who he is or where he is. Although Piper and Leo claim to be his girlfriend and best friend, respectively, he doesn't have any memories of them--or any memories at all. Soon, they find out they are all demigods and are taken to Camp Half Blood, where Annabeth is anxious to find Percy Jackson, who has gone missing. Jason, Piper, and Leo set out on a quest to save Hera, while at the same time wondering if it's all a trick since Hera isn't known for caring about the demigods. As Jason tries to figure out who he is, Piper is trying to figure out if they really have--or could have--a relationship, and Leo is trying to fight the memories horrible events in his past.

This book introduces three new heroes, all of whom are likable and have interesting back stories. They are a little bit older than Percy was in the Lightning Thief, so this series can keep the readers who have grown up with Percy. With action, adventure, and a hint of romance, there's a lot here that can appeal to a variety of readers. It sets the stage for a great conflict to come in future books, and I'm looking forward to the next installment in the series.

I listened to the audio version of this book, a little apprehensively since I recently attended a conference where the presenter said she really disliked the narrator and had to switch to the print version instead. Well, I stuck it out for the whole book, and I have to say, for the main characters (Jason, Piper, and Leo), the narrator was tolerable, but for the voices of a lot of secondary characters, I was rolling my eyes. However, the book is well-written, with good characters and adventures, so if you start the audiobook and can't stomach it, don't give up on the book entirely--just switch to the print version.

AE

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stay

Stay
By Deb Caletti
Simon Pulse, 2011. 313 pgs. Young Adult

Clara's relationship with Christian started out well enough, but as things progressed, she began to see an increasingly dark side of him, and as the book opens, Clara and her father are fleeing, heading off to a remote beach after telling everyone they'll be in Europe. Although they are hiding out from Christian, as they live on a beach that is rumored to be haunted, Clara can't escape the "ghost" of him--all the memories of their time together, the good things as well as the bad things. And even as she's trying to get things figured out--and embarking on a new romance--she can't quite shake the fear that has come to envelop her as a result of their relationship.

Told in chapters alternating between her present life at the beach and the past, detailing how she met Christian and how their relationship started to go downhill, the book weaves together the idea of being haunted as much by someone who is alive as someone who is dead. Besides the problems with Christian, who is controlling and demeaning and even stalks her, Clara also realizes that her father is haunted by things from his past, including something to do with her deceased mother. The book is beautifully written, but I did experience some skepticism when things play out with Christian; the fear wasn't quite built up enough for me to believe Clara's reaction. Overall, though, with side plots of the new romance as well as family issues to back up the main plot of the stalking, this book has a lot to offer.

AE



If Life Were Easy, It Wouldn't Be Hard

If Life Were Easy, It Wouldn't Be Hard
By Sheri Dew
Deseret Book, 2005. 3 CDs. Nonfiction

After a number of setbacks when she and her nephew and nieces were trying to visit Nauvoo, Sheri Dew was ready to cancel the whole trip, but one of the nieces remarked, "If life were easy, it wouldn't be hard," a statement that stuck with Dew and became the basis for her book, as she relates it to our experiences on earth. Acknowledging that life is hard, Dew also discusses how we may be carrying around extra baggage and burdens that make it harder than it needs to be and talks about how we can set aside our burdens and be who the Lord intends us to be--and to receive the help He is willing to give us.

I always love Sheri's books and talks, and this one is no exception. I had read this a few years ago and some of the stories had stuck with me, but I'd forgotten others, so it was great to listen to the CD version. Fans of the author won't be disappointed.

AE

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray
By Ruta Sepetys
Philomel Books, 2011. 344 pgs. Young Adult

Lina’s life of privilege in 1941 Lithuania comes to an end one night when Stalin’s police deport her, her mother, and her younger brother and ship them east into the Soviet Union. Lina doesn’t understand why her family has been deported and wonders what has happened to her father, who has disappeared. Conditions are horrific from the beginning for Lina and the other deportees; there is not enough food (let alone nutritional food) they are not allowed off the train for days, and deportees are shot on the spot for not immediately complying with the police. Lina vows to stay alive and her mother’s hopeful attitude and Lina’s drawings give her strength.

It’s amazing how the plight of Lithuanians, Finns, Estonians, and others at the hands of Stalin were partly ignored by the world because it occurred during Hitler’s reign and WWII. This book presents an absorbing read about these deportees and how they retained a sense of dignity throughout their long ordeal. Lina evolves naturally as one would do in such hardship and the supporting characters are fleshed out as well. It’s amazing how I wanted to keep reading it even though conditions always became worse for Lina.

MN

The Sky Is Everywhere

The Sky Is Everywhere
By Jandy Nelson
Dial Books, 2010. 275 pgs. Young Adult

Lennie's older sister has died, leaving Lennie feeling completely off--except, instead of feeling completely empty, she seems to feel things more intensely than she ever did before. On the one hand, she is horribly sad about her sister, a sadness shared by her sister's boyfriend Toby--a sadness that somehow attracts them to each other. On the other hand, new boy Joe Fontaine starts hanging around, and with him, Lennie feels amazingly happy. Torn between the boys, and her emotions, Lennie has to figure out how to deal with everything and how to adjust to life without her beloved sister.

This is a fantastic book about love and loss. Lennie is such a real character, so perfectly portrayed, and the supporting characters are all charming and the type of people you'd want to know in real life. The love triangle as well as Lennie's need to figure out what love is and what it means to lose her sister and who she is going to be without her are engrossing just for their premise and development, but they are enhanced by beautiful writing, including poems and thoughts that Lennie writes on scraps of paper and scatters around. This is one of those books that sticks with you after you read it.

AE

Dance with Them: 30 Stumbling Mothers Share Glimpses of Grace

Dance with Them: 30 Stumbling Mothers Share Glimpses of Grace
Edited by Kathryn Lynard Sopher
Segullah Books, 2010. 215 pgs. Nonfiction

When it comes to mothering school-age children-biological kids, step kids, or even the kids next door, with or without a partnering spouse-one of the biggest challenges is maintaining connection and balance during nearly constant flux. Each day we negotiate matters of independence, control, tolerance, closeness, expectations, safety, trust, acceptance, boundaries, conflict, and, perhaps most of all, the difficult reality that both mothers and children must learn through experience.

Our mothering relationships are like intricate dances through time and space, forming patterns as unique as our individual children. This anthology of personal essays and poetry begins on the first notes of middle childhood and concludes with the finale of high school graduation. Its pages explore a wide variety of turning points that come in the outward motion of family life and the inward dynamics of personal growth.

While I’m not a mother, I enjoyed this collection of essays from women in varying stages of motherhood. This book would be a great read for any mother and with Mother’s Day coming up in a few weeks; it might just be an excellent gift for a mother in your own life!

AMM

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Education of Bet

The Education of Bet
By Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Houghton Mifflin, 2010. 186 pgs. Young Adult

Bet is an orphan living with a wealthy patron whose nephew Will has been kicked out of boarding school yet again. Will wants to join the military; Bet wants to go to school. She convinces him that both are possible: she will go to his new school, disguised as a boy, while he can go join the military. However, it's more difficult being a boy than Bet imagined, particularly when she finds herself attracted to her roommate.

This is a fluffy piece of historical fiction, and it wraps up a little more neatly than I think might be realistic. Still, the romantic angle, combined with a forward-thinking protagonist, will draw in many teen girls.

AE

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
By Laura Hillenbrand
Random House, 2010. 473 pgs. Biography

Louis Zamperini has lived an amazing life. As a child he was out of control, causing all kinds of problems in his local town. As a teenager he discovered his love for running and was good enough to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and as a young adult he found himself fighting in WWII as an airman. On May 27, 1943 his plane went down in the Pacific Ocean and after several days of searching, the military declared it lost at sea along with all those on board. He and another airman survived for 47 days on a small raft and traveled over 2000 miles into enemy waters. They were soon captured and transferred to a POW camp in Japan where they suffered horrific treatment by the guards. Louis endured all of this with optimism.

I was actually surprised that I liked this book as much as I did. I don't usually read nonfiction, and it is really rare that one will interest me enough that I stay up late to read it, but I couldn't stop turning the pages to find out what he would have to overcome next. I was appalled at the treatment of the POW's in the Japanese camps and I have a new appreciation for the men and women who sacrifice so much for our country.

AL

Friday, April 22, 2011

Helen's Eyes

Helen’s Eyes: A Photobiography of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s Teacher
By Marfe Ferguson Delano
National Geographic, 2008. 63 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Annie Sullivan spent almost her entire life in the shadow of her famous pupil, Helen Keller. Her own inspirational story of achievement is constantly and unfortunately overlooked by history. In Helen’s Eyes, Helen Keller’s own great grandniece Delano, pays a much deserved tribute to an amazing individual and exceptional teacher. The book is filled with beautiful photographs of Annie, Helen, their families, and some of the famous individuals with which they associated such as Alexander Graham Bell and Samuel Clemens.

This is a perfect choice for students looking to learn more, not only about Keller and Sullivan, but of the work they did to promote the education of every child regardless of physical handicaps or obstacles.

CZ

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Enclave

Enclave
By Ann Aguirre
Feiwel and Friends, 2011. 262 pgs. Young Adult

In Deuce's world, people earn the right to have their own name only if they survive their first fifteen years. By that point, each unnamed 'brat' has trained for one of three groups: Breeders, Builders, or Hunters. Deuce has wanted to be a Huntress for as long as she can remember. As a Huntress, her purpose is clear: to brave the dangerous tunnels outside the enclave and bring back meat to feed the group while evading ferocious monsters known as Freaks. She's worked toward this goal her whole life, and nothing's going to stop her, not even a beautiful, brooding Hunter named Fade. When the mysterious boy becomes her partner, Deuce's troubles are just beginning. She and Fade discover that the neighboring enclave has been decimated by the Freaks who seem to be growing more organized, but the elders refuse to listen to warnings.

This is advertised as a book "for fans of The Hunger Games," and I have to say it was pretty satisfying in that regard. Deuce's character is a little one-sided, but she goes through some progression by the end of the story. While I was initially disappointed, this book slowly won me over and was quite a page-turner. The only problem is that saying it's for Hunger Games fans lends it to comparison with that book, and of course Enclave comes out a bit pale. Still, this was a fun read and even though it's the first in a series, it comes to a satisfying conclusion for those who hate cliff-hangers.

BHG

The Informationist

The Informationist: A Thriller
By Taylor Stevens
Crown Publishers, 2011. 307 pgs. Fiction

Vanessa Munroe is an expert at finding information. Large corporations contract her to ferret out the stuff no one else can uncover in countries few others dare to travel. Her gifts with language and observation uniquely qualify her for this work along with her terrifyingly single-minded ability to protect herself both physically and emotionally. Her newest assignment is different from those she usually takes. This time she is going to Africa to find the daughter of a powerful oil executive who, four years ago, disappeared without a trace.

This is Stevens’ debut novel and I loved it. It does seem to be setting up for a new series of books featuring Munroe and her associates but there was still a great deal of closure. So, while I look forward to more thrillers from this exciting new author, I like that I don’t feel the conclusion left me hanging. There is some rough language and violence but nothing I felt was gratuitous.

CZ

Bossypants

Bossypants
By Tina Fey
Little, Brown and Co. 2011. 277 pgs. Biography.

Tina Fey is best known for her years writing and performing on Saturday Night Live, as the star and executive producer of 30 Rock, and her imitations of Sarah Palin during the past presidential election. In her memoir she tells of growing up as an outsider, finding her love for performance, and years of work in the comedy field, which is notoriously dominated by men.

I’m going to be honest, the jacket art is hideous. It is probably the biggest obstacle to enjoying this book. It’s just creepy. But, if you can get past the “man hands”, Fey offers an entertaining journey through portions of her life. Be prepared for a bit of rough language mixed in with a great deal of sarcasm and number of laugh-out-loud observations from a very funny lady.

CZ

Nerve

Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool
By Taylor Clark
Little, Brown and Co., 2011. 310 pgs. Nonfiction.

Some of us tend to break out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of experiences and situations that others embrace and even seek with enthusiasm. In Nerve, Taylor Clark outlines new discoveries being made by neuroscientists about our natural reactions to environments that cause us stress and threaten us with harm, either physical or emotional. He provides excellent examples and perfectly balances instruction with entertainment. Best of all, he’s incredibly funny and personable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’m not one to pick up self-help titles and was actually surprised it was categorized as such since I had selected it while searching for a good science read. But Nerve brings to the table the best of both genres. It has great stories and insights that inform and inspire which makes this a perfect choice for people looking to understand human nature and also those looking to overcome their own fears.

CZ

The Trinity Six

The Trinity Six
by Charles Cumming
St. Martin's, 2011. 356 pgs. Fiction

Sam Gaddis is a professor of Russian and well-regarded author of books Russian history and biography, but he is also broke. Then a journalist friend promises to share a blockbuster story with him; namely, the discovery of a sixth member of the notorious Cambridge Five World War II spy ring. Seeing his chance to pay off his bills, Sam agrees to work with her but before they can get a proper start, she has a heart attack and dies--at least, that's what Sam thinks happened, but the reader knows she was poisoned by a Russian agent. Charlotte's husband gives Sam permission to continue with the investigation and he meets with a man who knows a man who confirms the story. Trouble is, almost everyone who talks to Sam winds up dead. Soon MI5 is involved and Sam can't tell whether he is being chased by the Russians or his own countrymen. The Trinity Six is an excellent, convoluted spy story, though one might like Sam a bit better if he weren't so naive in his expectations of outwitting the professionals and if he weren't so concerned with saving his own skin that he doesn't seem to mind how many other people he puts in the crosshairs. Still his smarts who up big at the end of the story when he contrives an elegant solution to his and others' problems, although it may be that the sixth man is not quite done with his mischief . . . .

Living on the Lord's Side of the Line

Living on the Lord's Side of the Line
By Sheri Dew
Deseret Book, 2001. 1 CD. Nonfiction sound recording

Sheri Dew relates an experience she had visit the demilitarized zone in Korea (after a warning from her father not to go anywhere she shouldn't) to staying on the Lord's side of the line. Drawing on her scriptures as well, she talks about ways to stay firmly on the Lord's side. A bonus talk, If We Build It, They Will Come, is an address from BYU Women's Conference that encourages women to expand their view of and involvement in Relief Society.

This is at least the fourth time I've listened to these talks, and every time, I'm inspired by Sheri Dew's talks. Her pragmatic style is one I've always appreciated, and I think most people could find something in these talks that would make them want to live better.

AE

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

God Wants a Powerful People

God Wants a Powerful People
By Sheri Dew
Deseret Book, 2004. 1 CD. Nonfiction sound recording

Sheri Dew argues that God intends for His people to be powerful in standing fast in this world and discusses sources of power (such as temple attendance and the Atonement) and ways to tap into that power. This 50-minute talk, recorded in front of a live audience, is packed with Dew's signature humor and forthrightness, and is a must-listen for anyone who is looking for inspiration and motivation to step it up in their spirituality.

AE

No Doubt about It

No Doubt about It
By Sheri Dew
Deseret Book/Bookcraft, 2001. 4 CDs. Nonfiction sound recording

In her characteristic style, Sheri Dew both wittily and directly shares her life experiences and her beliefs about Jesus Christ, encouraging listeners to make changes in their own lives. From lessons learned as a Kansas farm girl to those learned while serving in the Relief Society General Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dew gets you laughing but at the same time, gets you to want to do better. This abridged version her book by the same title is read by Sheri Dew herself, and I loved every second of it.

AE

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Ruby in the Smoke

The Ruby in the Smoke
By Philip Pullman
Random House/Listening Library, 2006. 6 CDs (65 mins. each). Young Adult

Sally Lockhart's father has died at sea,and after receiving a cryptic message, Sally sets out to discover more about the circumstance surrounding his death. She doesn't know much, but when she questions one of her father's business associates about the "Seven Blessings," the man drops dead from fright. Soon, Sally finds herself being hunted by evil Mrs. Holland, trying to find a ruby, and caught up in the opium trade. Sally must rely on her wits and good friends to solve the mystery and keep herself alive.

The first in a series, this Victorian-era mystery introduces readers to a darker side of London. Sally's friends are a likable crew, and I appreciated the narrator's good job on their accents and speech patterns. The mixture of mystery, adventure, and historical fiction will make it appeal to a large range of readers.

AE

The Continuous Atonement

The Continuous Atonement
By Brad Wilcox
Deseret Book, 2009. 211 pgs. Nonfiction

Wilcox presents a new look at Christ's atonement and grace and how we can use them throughout our lives. He asserts that rather than doing all that we can do and then having Christ's grace kick in, His grace helps us to do all that we can do. Sharing personal experiences, including stories from when he served as a mission president, Wilcox invites readers to think differently about the atonement and our relationship with God.

Wilcox provides readers with hope, along with some interesting thoughts to ponder, and those looking to understand the Atonement better will likely find something to appreciate in this book.

AE

Washington at Valley Forge

Washington at Valley Forge
By Russell Freedman
Holiday House, 2008. 100 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

During the winter of 1777-78 George Washington decided to winter the troops at Valley Forge about twenty miles northwest of Philadelphia where the British were stationed. His men were tired, sick, malnourished, and practically naked as they faced the winter. Washington pleaded with Congress for needed supplies, but they did not believe there was really a need; Washington had spread rumors about the strength of his army in order to scare the British and had the unexpected side effect of confusing his own government. When representatives from Congress finally arrived they noticed the need and with Washington's help, transformed the supply system. With the troops receiving amble supplies and military training provided by General Friedrich von Steuben, when the troops left Valley Forge in the late spring, they were ready to take on the British. Though more than 2,000 men perished due to lack of supplies during their encampment, what the men learned and the brotherhood formed there gave them the spirit to carry on and win the war.

Once again Russell Freedman has done an excellent job giving life to history. This book is a great companion to his other work Lafayette and the American Revolution.

KK

Nothing

Nothing
By Janne Teller
Atheneum, 2010. 227 pgs. Young Adult

When thirteen-year-old Pierre Anthon leaves school to sit in a plum tree and train for becoming part of nothing, his seventh grade classmates set out on a desperate quest for the meaning of life.

Although this novel was a Michael L. Printz Honor award winner, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Other reviews have compared it to “Lord of the Flies” which I have not read, but the book is definitely a heavy read. Not recommended for the faint of heart or someone looking for a gentle read.

AMM

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dark Life

Dark Life
By Kat Falls
Scholastic Press, 2010. 297 pgs. Young Adult

Ty has spent his whole life living under the sea, and he loves it there. However, problems threaten to change his way of life: a group of bandits, called Seablite, attack ships coming in from the government, and the government threatens to cut off all supply shipments if settlers don't form a posse and track them down. At the same time, Ty meets a Topsider, Gemma, who has come underwater to look for her brother, and Ty, who hasn't ever had any other teenagers to hang out with, quickly becomes involved in her search--and in trying to keep her, and others, from discovering that he has a dark secret. This underwater western-style book mixes in adventure, dystopia, and a hint of romance (albeit a little rushed). The ending is resolved a little bit too quickly, with not quite enough attention and detail given to Gemma's brother or her future. All in all, though, readers looking for an adventure will like this one. AE

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Brilliant: the Evolution of Artificial Light

Brilliant: the Evolution of Artificial Light
By Jane Brox
Houghton Mifflin, 2010, 360 p., nonfiction

Jane Brox has written a very “enlightening” and readable history of artificial light. Concerned with both the technology and the impact of artificial light on society and culture, she traces light sources from simple lanterns used by early man to modern day electric lights and the power grids required to support them. She describes the way artificial light has transformed human work and leisure as well as animal and human habits and health. The readability of the book is enhanced by her stories about the inventions and inventors of lighting devices. The book closes with chapters discussing light pollution and the need for artificial light in third world countries.

I highly recommend this book to nonfiction lovers.

SH

Sisters Red

Sisters Red
By Jackson Pearce
Little, Brown, 2010. 328 pgs. Young Adult

When she was eleven, Scarlett protected her younger sister from the attack of a Fenris (werewolf). Horrifically scarred but enlightened to the fact that Fenris exist, Scarlett has trained herself to be a Fenris hunter and kills any Fenris she encounters. Her sister, Rosie, has also trained to hunt, but Scarlett is scared to let her hunt alone, and Rosie comes to realize, as she finds herself falling for Silas, their neighbor and hunting partner, that her heart isn't as invested in hunting as Scarlett's is.

Rosie and Scarlett tell the story in alternating chapters, allowing each sister a chance to share her perspective: Scarlett as she's desperate to continue fighting and Rosie as she comes to realize there are other things she cares about more than fighting and that she's falling in love with Silas. I sometimes had trouble believing the descriptions of the fighting. Additionally, some of the descriptions of fighting are a bit gory and may turn stomachs, but the action, romance, and family issues in this book are well-developed.

AE

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid
By Rick Riordan
Disney/Hyperion Books, 2010. 516 pgs. Young Adult

Carter Kane has spent his life being dragged around the world by his father, Dr. Julius Kane, a famous Egyptologist. Meanwhile, his younger sister, Sadie, has lived with their grandparents in England. However, when Carter and his dad go to visit Sadie at Christmas, their lives change completely. Their father takes them to a museum where he tries to summon an Egyptian god. However, he releases five trapped gods, including Set, who sets out to wreak havoc on the world and traps Julius inside Osiris' coffin. Carter and Sadie learn that they are actually powerful descendants of ancient pharoahs, and it becomes their responsibility to restore order to the world--and rescue their dad.

The first book in the Kane Chronicles, this book was a somewhat darker tone than the author's Percy Jackson series, and many readers will likely be less familiar with the Egyptian mythology of this series than the Greek mythology of the Percy Jackson series. However, the action and adventure are still well-written; the book is fast-paced, and both spunky Sadie and somewhat more reserved Carter are interesting characters and I look forward to watching their development in the upcoming books.

AE

Gideon's Sword

Gideon's Sword
by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Grand Central, 2011. 342 pgs. Fiction.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's thrillers have become so successful that Preston & Child has become the cover imprint and it's off to the races! Gideon's Sword introduces Gideon Cross, a man sworn to avenge his father who was framed and gunned down in a federal raid. You would think the quest for vengeance would take up the whole book. You would be wrong. Crew finishes that project up quickly and is then recruited by a dark ops outfit to do a job for the government--extract the plans for a new "weapon" from a Chinese scientist and turn them over to Effective Engineering Solutions, Inc. Easier said than done, as these things usually are--much mayhem ensues as Dr. Wu is killed and no one, bad guys or good, can find the plans. Gideon is soon being chased by a truly frightening assassin, Nodding Crane, who lays waste to everyone in his path without even breaking a sweat. Gideon and Nodding Crane's confrontation at the pauper's cemetery is incendiary, in more ways than one. Breezy and bloody, Gideon's Sword introduces a made-for-the-movies new action hero the more appealing because he has absolutely nothing to lose.

LW

Orchards

Orchards
By Holly Thompson
Delacorte Press, 2011. 327 pgs. Young Adult

Kana Goldberg, who is half-Japanese, half-Jewish, gets sent to Japan for the summer to stay with relatives after one of her eighth grade classmates commits suicide. While there, Kana reflects on Ruth's death, and on her involvement; Kana and the other girls in the class excluded and picked on Ruth, never realizing how their comments hurt her. Kana must come to terms with that and figure out how to face the future.

This novel-in-verse is a moving look at life, death, guilt, and the human spirit. Much of the story is told as Kana speaks silently to Ruth, and it is a poignant look at a girl trying to make peace with her own guilt and with her deceased classmate. Beautifully written and addressing an important topic, this is a wonderful contribution to young adult literature.

AE

Monday, April 11, 2011

Standing Small: a Celebration of 30 Years of the LEGO Minifigure

Standing Small: a Celebration of 30 Years of the LEGO Minifigure
By Nevin Martell
Dorling Kindersley, 2009, 96 p., Young Adult Nonfiction

This delightful book is full of interesting facts about LEGO figures: LEGO figures (without a hat) are exactly four LEGO bricks tall; there are four billion minifigures in existence; the first minifigures were sold in 1978! The book is not encyclopedic so it won’t serve as a complete collector’s guide. But with pictures of hundreds of minifigures the book is great fun for browsers. The book closes with a two page spread on “fan figures,” customized minifigures made from official LEGO parts. Search Google for “customized LEGO minifigure” to view thousands more!

By the way, the name LEGO comes from a Danish phrase (Leg Godt) that means play well.

SH

How They Croaked

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous
By Georgia Bragg
Walker & Co., 2011. 184 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

This gruesome book details the deaths of famous people from King Tut to George Washington to Einstein. Filled with gross details of diseases and primitive medical practices, this book is definitely not for the weak-stomached. Each famous person has a few pages describing his or her demise, followed by a two-page spread of tangential information, such as facts about the guillotine or bloodletting. It's informative, disgusting, and highly entertaining--a great choice for reluctant readers and teen guys.

AE

The Cinderella Society

The Cinderella Society
By Kay Cassidy
Egmont, USA, 2010. 322 pgs. Young Adult

Jess Parker is looking forward to summer; her debut as the new kid at her school has been less than wonderful, as she has managed to infuriate popular, powerful bully Lexy, and humiliate herself numerous times in front of Ryan, her crush (and Lexy's adored older brother). However, summer turns out to be way different from what Jess expected, as she is invited to join the Cinderella Society (TCS). TCS is a group all about empowering girls, and the Cindys show Jess how she needs to learn to stand up to the Wickeds, another group of girls (led by Lexy) who enjoy putting others down. Soon, Jess finds she has to decide if she wants to do things the same way the Cindys want, figure out how to stop Lexy, and determine why it is that Ryan sometimes seems interested and other times seems embarrassed of her.

This book start out great; it was interesting to see this secret society wielding its power for good and Jess and Ryan's developing romance and subsequent turbulence will appeal to many readers. However, toward the end of the book, with details about the vast empire of the Cinderella Society, slowed down the plot, and with no real resolution, readers will have to wait for the next book to get answers. I love the premise of the book; I just wish it wrapped things up a little neater.

AE

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Back Stage Pass

Backstage Pass
By Gaby Triana
HarperCollins, 2004. 218 pgs. Young Adult

Desert McGraw is the daughter of a rock star, and that makes life difficult for her, since "friends" always want to meet her dad and score back stage passes to his concerts. So when the band decides to relocate to Florida and Desert starts at a new school, she is desperate to keep her dad's identity a secret in order to forge some semblance of a normal life. Things start off okay; Desert makes friends with Becca pretty quickly and Liam Blanco seems to be returning her interest, but pretty soon, the whole school knows who she is, and Desert is pretty miserable.

A fun book about taking a fresh look at life, it has some romance mixed with friendship, mixed with family troubles, so most teens will find something to connect to.

AE

Good Enough

Good Enough
By Paula Yoo
HarperTeen, 2008. 322 pgs. Young Adult

Patti is supposed to be the Perfect Korean Daughter: her parents expect her to graduate at the top of her class, ace her SATs and be accepted to all the Ivy League schools. In addition, she has to be a perfect violinist--until she graduates, at which point music will be frivolous and not something that will guarantee her a successful career. Patti has always wanted to the same thing, but as senior year progresses, she realizes that maybe she doesn't want to give up her music, and that she's good enough even if she isn't perfect.

The Asian American parents with high expectations is a pretty typical stereotype, but I really enjoyed the way Yoo handled it in this book. Patti's parents do have pretty rigid ideas of what's best for Patti, but they also clearly love her. The book also has a lot of humor in it, with Patti's comments about Korean church and how to make Korean parents happy, and Korean recipes all involving SPAM. An entertaining coming of age story.

AE

Prom & Prejudice

Prom & Prejudice
By Elizabeth Eulberg
Point. 2011. 231 pgs. Young Adult

Lizzie Bennet is a scholarship student at Longborn, a prestigious private school for that isn't known for welcoming outsiders. Their male counterparts at Pemberly aren't any better. Although Lizzie's roommate Jane and her crush, Charles Bingley, are nice, Charles' friend Will Darcy joins the many people who look down on Lizzie for not having money. As the rest of the girls at Longborn are busy planning for prom, Lizzie is trying to steer clear of Darcy, practice her piano piece for the upcoming school concert, and help Jane get her guy.

This is a fun modernized adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It's a light, clean read that readers can breeze through in one sitting. Great choice for teen chick-lit lovers.

AE

Riding the Universe

Riding the Universe
By Gaby Triana
HarperTeen, 2009. 266 pgs. Young Adult

Chloé Rodriguez is failing chemistry, and in order to prevent her parents from taking away her motorcycle, which was her recently-deceased uncle's gift to her, she goes to peer tutoring sessions and quickly finds herself falling for her tutor, slightly geeky Gordon. Gordon is super-focused on school, but Chloé seems to be able to get him to lighten up a little. However, her chemistry scores aren't getting any better and her best friend Rock, who she's always viewed as being a player, tells her she's the one for him, and she has to figure out how to keep her friendship with him and date Gordon.

Tough girl Chloé , who has a softer side than most people expect, is a the type of character many readers will relate to--still dealing with her beloved uncle's death, she's adopted and started to wonder about her birth parents, and she's experiencing her first love.

AE

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lost Gate

The Lost Gate
By Orson Scott Card
Tor, 2011. 384 pgs. Fantasy.

Danny is something of an outcast among his cousins growing up in a remote family compound where magical abilities are valued above all else. His parents are both powerful and respected mages who are frequently away and seem to care little for their only child. Danny’s lack of magical talents is nuisance, but when he discovers he may be far more powerful than any mage in ages, his life is in serious danger.

Card has built an intriguing new world of magic. Danny’s magical ability allows him to build gates that immediately transport him to another place. But beyond a transit device, gates also possess healing powers and can strengthen a mages powers when the gate is used to travel between worlds. However, I could not help but feel that the whole book was about the magic at the expense of story and characters. I also couldn’t shake the feeling that the entire book was a buildup for novels yet to come, an aspect of fantasy fiction that I struggle to embrace. This could be the good start to a new popular series, though I doubt I’ll be motivated to dive in any further.

CZ

Unfamiliar Fishes

Unfamiliar Fishes
By Sarah Vowell
Riverhead Books, 2011. 238 pgs. Nonfiction

Sarah Vowell’s new book provides a look at the events surrounding the annexation and eventual statehood of Hawaii. Following Captain Cook’s discovery of the islands, Hawaii became a popular stop for sailors traversing the Atlantic. And, as could be expected, missionaries soon followed. The overwhelming influence of these visitors on the paradise they came to ‘save’ quickly consumed aspects of the native culture. The Hawaiians who lived through the infestation of European and American germs had little chance of escaping the invasion of capitalism and Christianity.

Colonization always has a dark and tragic side despite the well-meaning intentions of some participants. Sarah Vowell writes with a superb combination of humor and honesty as she tells this part of Hawaii’s history. She has an impressive ability to point out the ironic and ridiculous while maintaining a respectful tone. I would highly recommend this book to anyone visiting the islands or anyone looking for a good excuse to visit the islands (as if anyone actually needed more motivation).

CZ

Moonwalking with Einstein

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
By Joshua Foer
Penguin Press, 2011. 307 pgs. Nonfiction

Each day we forget things we intend to remember. Things like our keys, our PayPal password, to pick up a gallon of milk, or why we opened the utensil drawer. And yet, there are individuals who can memorize whole books, thousands of digits of pi, and every name and face they have yet encountered. How? How do they do it? Joshua Foer decided he wanted to discover the secrets of the great mnemonists. So, he joined their ranks and spent a year training for the U.S. Memory Championship.

Foer’s immersive research for this book gives it a personal dimension that takes is far beyond simply science writing on memory. Of course, he includes some fascinating chapters on the science of the brain and theories of memory improvement, but what makes his narrative stand out is his journey toward a potential we all may have inside us. A completely memorable book.

CZ

Discovery of Witches

Discovery of Witches
By Deborah Harkness
Viking, 2011. 579 pgs. Fiction

Dr. Diana Bishop has carefully suppressed her magical abilities despite coming from a long and respected line of witches. Instead, she has focused on her career which has taken her to Oxford to spend her days in the library perusing ancient documents. Diana’s self-imposed exile from the magical word becomes impossible to maintain when a mysterious folio finds its way into her hands. She is suddenly attracting a great deal of supernatural attention including that of a vampire with piercing eyes and questionable intentions.

This is the first book in a new series that seems to be a cross between Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and Charlaine Harris’s Dead Until Dark. Readers can’t help but notice that the story is a buildup to further adventures is subsequent volumes. Few would consider this a good stand-alone since there is little closure at the end of the book’s almost 600 pages. However, enough plot advancement and character development occur to provide an entertaining read.

CZ

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Little Princes

Little Princes
By Conor Grennan
William Morrow & Co., 2010. 294 pgs. Nonfiction

When Conor Grennan originally went to Nepal, it was to spend a few weeks there volunteering before continuing on a trip around the world. However, as he went to work the Little Princes orphanage, he found himself touched by the orphans and their situation, and happy to help; he even found seven additional children and made arrangements for shelter for them. However, back in the U.S., he found out that those seven children had been taken by a child trafficker. Torn up by guilt, he started a non-profit organization, Next Generation Nepal, and went back to find those seven children. His mission expanded when he realized that many of the "orphans" were not actually orphans; their parents had paid men to take them to safety in the midst of Nepal's civil war. These men were actually child traffickers who had threatened and harmed the children if they spoke about their families. Soon, Conor began traveling to the remote villages of Nepal to find these families and bring them news of their children.

This was a fascinating story, and one that makes you want to go to Nepal and save the children. It's told in a simple, conversational style, with Conor relating his experiences with the children, which isn't the most sophisticated style but which is effective for this type of book. It's sad and sweet and has a bit of adventure and even some romance thrown in. Although it was published for the general adult market, it is appropriate for and would be interesting to teen readers as well.

AE

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of Sarajevo
By Steven Galloway
Riverhead Books, 2008. 235 pages. Fiction

While a cellist plays at the site of a mortar attack to commemorate the deaths of twenty-two friends and neighbors, a woman sniper secretly protects the life of the cellist as her army becomes increasingly threatening.

The novel follows four characters, including the cellist and the sniper, over a brief time during the Siege of Sarajevo. The characters react to life in a war zone and try to maintain their humanity in the midst of sniper shootings and shellings. This is a moving, well-written novel that is particularly thought-provoking considering recent political upheaval and violence.

LF

The Left-Handed Dollar

The Left-Handed Dollar
by Loren Estleman
Forge, 2010. 286 pgs. Fiction

Everyone in Estleman's latest Amos Walker mystery talks hard-boiled. Smart remarks abound--in fact, there are no non-smart remarks to speak of, which is the main pleasure of this book. Working the mean streets of Detroit (which has nice streets, too), Amos is on the case for Lucille ("Lefty Lucy") Lettermore trying to reverse the conviction of Joseph Ballista, a mobster, for attempting to murder Amos's best (only) friend Barry Stackpole. Barry's not happy, but Amos truly believes Joey to be innocent of this particular crime, though of very little else. As Amos gets closer to the truth, more people die, adding even more suspects to an already long list. A somewhat confusing list, as it turns out. The identity of the killer is surprising and the puzzle itself is not the best reason for reading this book, which is really the tough talk and the sense of place.

LW

The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas

The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas
By Lauren Willig
Dutton, 2010. 339 pgs. Historical Fiction

By fan request, Lauren Willig has taken one of her beloved minor characters, bumbling “Turnip” Fitzhugh, and written a romantic adventure of his own. Turnip who has often been mistaken for the elusive British spy, the Pink Carnation, fumbles onto a French plot while visiting his sister at her boarding school. When young, pretty Arabella Dempsey, a new teacher, is threatened after accidentally witnessing a break-in at the school, it is it up to Turnip to save Arabella and uncover what the dastardly French are trying to do.

This is one of many books in the Pink Carnation series, but can be read as a stand-alone novel. While there is a tie-in to Christmas, it is not overly saturated in the season and could therefore be enjoyed at any time of year.

AJ

The Peach Keeper

The Peach Keeper
By Sarah Addison Allen
Bantam Books, 2011. 273 pgs. Fiction

A dash of magic, strong Southern women, peaches, and secrets are just some of what you will find in Sarah Addison Allen’s latest novel. Set in Walls of Water, North Carolina, this is the story of two very opposite women. Paxton Osgood has spent her life trying to be the woman that everyone expects her to be especially her socialite mother who can’t bear the thought of Paxton moving out on her own. Willa Jackson has never been the person people thought her to be, but after her father dies, she decides it was finally time return to Walls of Water to live up to her potential. These two women, who have never been friends, are bound together by family secrets from the past and their hopes for the future.

This is a book about friendship and the unshakable bonds that can form among women. Allen’s books tend to have a darker underbelly covered in honey sweet Southern charm which makes for a very rewarding mix.

AJ

Monday, April 4, 2011

Boneshaker

Boneshaker
By Cheri Priest
Tor. 2009. 416 pgs. Science Fiction

Almost sixteen years after the initial devastation, downtown Seattle has been sealed off with 200 foot high walls to keep the heavy Blight gas from spreading and the rotters (zombies) from attacking. Briar and her sixteen-year-old son, Ezekiel, live a bleak existence outside the walled off area in what is now called the Outskirts. Their lives are made worse by the fact that Briar’s husband, Dr. Leviticus Blue, is blamed for what happened in Seattle when his incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine (designed to dig through the hard ice of the Klondike to find gold) goes out-of-control on a test run, digs a path of destruction underneath the bank district, and releases a deadly gas that turns people into zombies.

Zeke wants to clear his father’s name and thinks he can find evidence left inside the walled city. With nothing but a gas mask, a map, and a small amount of food, he sets off on his mission. When Briar learns of her son’s plan, she hitches a ride on an airship and will stop at nothing to get him back.

This is an great adventure story of an alternate 1880s Seattle when it was not yet part of the United States and a very wild place to live. With cool, steam punk inventions, crazy scientists, and hordes of zombies, this book is bound to appeal to any sci-fi/adventure lover.

AJ

Suspect

Suspect
By Kristin Wolden Nitz
Peachtree, 2010. 199 pgs. Young Adult

Jen's mother disappeared when she was just a child, and while she's considered many possibilities for the disappearance, murder was never one of them. But when she gets sent to her grandmother's bed and breakfast for the summer, she finds out that her grandmother, who hosts murder mystery games for her guests, has begun to suspect just that and has designed her latest murder mystery game around the details of Jen's mother's life and disappearance in hopes of uncovering the truth.

The murder mystery aspect of this book was intriguing, but some other aspects fell flat. The side story of a romance was rushed and underdeveloped, the domineering grandmother was irritating more than endearing, and the twist ending resolved a little too easily. It's not necessarily a bad choice for those looking for a teen mystery, but it's not a spectacular book by any means.

AE

Miles from Ordinary

Miles from Ordinary
By Carol Lynch Williams
St. Martin's Press, 2011. 197 pgs. Young Adult

Fourteen-year-old Lacey lives with her mother, who's mental illness alienates them from everyone else. When Lacey helps her mother find a job, she hopes things will turn around for them. However, when her mother turns up missing, Lacey is frantic to find her before something horrible happens, not realizing that finding her could bring about the worst situation of all.

Carol Lynch Williams' readers will not be disappointed with her latest offering. Once again, she gets us inside her character's head, and we can feel Lacey's fear and panic, and even her love for her mother, who is haunted by ghosts. The story is creepy, suspenseful, and in true Williams fashion, ultimately hopeful.

AE