Tuesday, May 31, 2011

...Then I Met My Sister

...Then I Met My Sister
By Christine Hurley Deriso
Flux, 2011. 269 pgs. Young Adult

Summer's sister, Shannon, died before Summer was even born, and although she never got the chance to know her, she's certainly had the chance to resent her. Shannon, seemingly perfect in every way, is the standard their mother expects Summer to live up to, but Summer doesn't even try. Then Summer's aunt gives her Shannon's diary, and Summer learns there was a lot more to her sister--and their parents--than she knew. With the help of her best friend/crush Gibs, Summer sets out to learn about the sister she never met and to figure out what to do about her family now.

I think my favorite part of this book was actually the budding romance with Gibs, which is awkward and adorable, but readers will enjoy seeing Summer's growth and empathize with her difficulties understanding and communicating with her parents.

AE

How to Ruin a Summer Vacation

How to Ruin a Summer Vacation
By Simon Elkeles
Flux, 2006. 234 pgs. Young Adult

Amy Nelson's father, who she refers to as Sperm Donor, since he hasn't exactly been a big part of her life, drags her to Israel for the summer because her grandmother--whom she's never met and who doesn't even know Amy exists--is ill. Amy doesn't want to go, and when she gets there, she and her cousin Osnat (Snotty) don't exactly hit it off, and one of Snotty's friends, sexy Avi, thinks Amy's a spoiled American. Amy sets out to prove Avi wrong.

On the one hand, there were some funny aspects of this book. On the other hand, I think Amy is a spoiled American, and there were definitely times that it was hard for me to care about her. I thought there were some interesting insights into life in Israel, but there were also some topics that were completely glossed over and probably should have been left out of the story if they weren't going to be more developed. I don't think I'll bother with the rest of the series.

AE

The Boy Who Dared

The Boy Who Dared
By Susan Campbell Baroletti
Scholastic Press, 2008. 202 pgs. Young Adult

In Nazi Germany, some people recognized Nazi propaganda and violence for what it was--a violation of civil rights and a bunch of lies to cover the truth. Helmuth Hubener, a teenager, was one of those people. Troubled by the Nazis and their beliefs and adhering to his own beliefs (he was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints) he only reluctantly participated in the Hitler Youth (a requirement for all German youth), and, after listening to illegal BBC broadcasts about the war, began writing and distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets. Caught, he was sentenced to death but was at peace with his decision to tell the truth.

Based on the true story of Helmuth Hubener (whose last name actually wasn't Hubener for much of his life), this book is an intriguing look at how those who didn't support the Nazis might struggle with their own conscience--on the one hand, they wanted to protect themselves and their families, but on the other, how could they stand by as the Nazi madness spread? This is an inspiring story, and while occasionally, the writing felt a little simplistic to me, the message is powerful.

Spiral

Spiral
by Paul McEuen
Dial, 2011. 310 pgs. Mystery

Microcrawlers and a death-dealing fungus combine in this thriller that begins just after World War II when the Navy bombs its own sailors to destroy a biological weapon designed by the Japanese to exact a terrible revenge on the allies. Liam Connor was on a ship at the scene along with Hitoshi Katano, one of seven men sent to disperse the fungus. Six are accounted for. Connor finds the last cylinder slotted into one of Katano's finger bones. He pretends to throw it into the ocean but he really keeps it. Years later Connor is a distinguished professor at Cornell University and the leading expert in the world on fungi. When his body is found at the bottom of one of Cornell's famous gorges, suicide is the verdict, but security footage of a mysterious woman on the bridge with Dr. Connor suggests otherwise. Maggie, Liam's granddaughter, Dylan, his great-grandson, and Professor Jake Sterling are instantly and almost irretrievably endangered as they are stalked by a frightening Chinese assassin and psychopath named Orchid. McEuen's debut novel is breathtaking in every sense of the word. A terrific and deeply unsettling thriller to begin the summer reading season.

LW

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Tourist

The Tourist
By Olen Steinhauer
Minotaur Books, 2009. 408 pgs.

Milo Weaver has a desk job with the CIA. Milo interrogates a man being held believed to be an assassin--"the Tiger." Soon "the Tiger" is dead in his cell. When Angela Yates, a colleague from Milo's days in black ops, is under suspicion of trading secrets, Milo pays her a visit. Soon Angela is dead in her apartment. Milo returns home to vacation with his family in Disneyland when his superior call him with a "go" code and Milo sets off on the run. Milo has to figure out what's going on while Homeland security and and the CIA itself are trying to bring him in.

This is a fine espionage thriller. Fast paced and a quick read. If the description above sounds nothing like the movie you might have seen, that's because this book is nothing like the movie you might have seen.

SML

Cold Wind

Cold Wind
by C. J. Box
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2011. 388 pgs. Mystery.

What if you were called upon to defend your mother-in-law against murder charges and you hated your mother-in-law? This is the dilemma facing Joe Pickett, Wyoming game warden, husband, father, and fed-up son-in-law. Joe, in fact, discovered the body of Missy's fifth husband, lashed to the vane of a windmill on his own newly-constructed wind farm. Many signs point to Missy's involvement--the murder weapon was found in her Hummer, and she had allegedly made many phone calls to husband number four trying to talk him into killing number five. But how could the small-boned Missy have lugged Earl up the windmill's shaft and lashed him to a whirling blade? Seems unlikely, so Joe sets out to try to clear Missy's name for his wife's sake. Turns out there are no shortage of people who wanted Earl dead or who would like to see Missy go down for murder and Joe's trail leads him from resentful neighbors to a mafia-connected bank in Chicago. Although Box lays plenty of groundwork for the book's ending, it is still startling. Joe Pickett is no surprise, however. He remains a steady, persistent, honorable family man, just like in his previous ten novels which you may want to go back and read if you enjoy this one.

LW

Friday, May 27, 2011

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship that Changed the World

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship that Changed the World
By Penny Coleman
Henry Holt and Company, 2011. 256 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

From the time that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, two of the pioneering forces in the fight for women's rights, met, they were fierce friends, despite their difference. Stanton, a married woman who went on to have seven children, was more radical in some of her beliefs (such as challenging the clergy and even publishing a women's Bible), while Anthony was a single schoolteacher whose first interest was the temperance movement but who soon pushed women's rights beyond . Anthony thrived on organizing conventions; Stanton would rather not attend but enjoyed writing fiery speeches which she often had Anthony present at the conferences for her. Despite their disagreements, they did agree that women needed to be equal citizens and worked tirelessly to achieve that, and many advance were made during their lifetimes, although women's suffrage, one of their biggest goals, was only achieved in a few states before their deaths.

Before reading this book, I was of course aware of Stanton and Anthony, but I didn't realize how much controversy there was within the women's right movement or how long and how hard they worked for their cause. This was highly informative not just about these two women but about the women's right movement and the political climate in 19th century America. Well worth reading.

AE

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language

Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language
By Douglas R. Hofstadter
Basic Books, 1997. 632 pgs. Nonfiction


This is one of the most unique and interesting books I've ever read. It is a playful and intelligent look at the vagaries, difficulties, and joys of translating even the simplest literary work from one language to another. Hofstadter takes up Clement Marot's "A une Damoyselle malade"--a French poem of 28 3-syllable lines--and attempts to translate it into English. There are over 80 (very) different translations of this poem in this book, each displaying different qualities of the original, but none capturing all the qualities of the original.

Several translations of the poem with accompanying discussion appear in every other chapter of the tome. The alternating chapters are filled with autobiographical anecdotes and a variety personal tidbits on literature, linguistics, computer science, music, and creativity. Hofstadter's education is in mathematics and physics and he's a professor of cognitive science. Although I know virtually no French whatsoever (you don't need to at all)--this book was thoroughly engaging and entertaining.

SML

Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men's Journey to Bethlehem

Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men's Journey to Bethlehem
Translated by Brent Landau, with introduction, conclusion, and notes
HarperCollins, 2011. 149 pgs. Nonfiction.

We don't know much about the wise men beyond what is recorded in Matthew 2:1-12. We don't even really know that there were only three of them; three gifts doesn't necessarily mean three people as it turns out. In fact, there were probably many more wise men and we learn more about them from Landau's translation of an ancient Syriac text written as a first-person account of the magi from the land of Shir, by the ocean. According to this text, the wise men are called "magi" not because they are wizards or magicians, but because they pray silently. The star of Bethlehem is a manifestation of the Christ Child himself. The "star" appears to the magi as "a pillar of light" from which the child materializes and speaks to them. They are also conveyed quickly, almost effortlessly to and from Bethlehem by supernatural means. An apparent addenda to the Revelation, written in third person, tells of the apostle Thomas' journey to Shir to enjoin the wise men to spread the gospel. The slim text is supplemented by a wealth of notes which would be more helpful at footnotes but which are well worth reading as endnotes. Of particular local interest is the fact that the Revelation of the Magi places the wise men in Bethlehem in the time of flowers, i.e., April.

LW

Blue Blood

Blue Blood
by Edward Conlon
Riverside, 2004. 562 pgs. Biography.

Edward Conlon is a Harvard-educated policeman who likes being a cop, rather than a policeman who signed up so he could write about his experiences. Intermingled with his stories of narcotics busts, rooftop surveillance, good partners, and bad bosses, are narratives of his own history. His father was an FBI agent, his grandfather a crooked cop who "carried the bag" between the mob and the precinct. His uncle policed the waterfront, and all were NYPD through and through. Much of Conlon's book describes the daily life of a policeman, in his case, the life of a policeman who always likes his job but wants to try something harder. From a beat policeman in the Projects to a gold-shield detective, Conlon tells his story with vigor, good humor, apt analogies, and a prose style that draws the reader effortlessly through a long book.

LW

What Happened to Goodbye

What Happened to Goodbye
By Sarah Dessen
Viking Childrens Books, 2011. 402 pgs. Young Adult

Since her parents' divorce, Mclean Sweet has followed her father around on his job as a restaurant consultant. That means she's lived in four towns in two years--and in each place, she has created a new identify for herself, complete with a new name (she's been Beth, Eliza, and Lizbet) and new hobbies and interests, molding her personality into whatever works best for her current location. She doesn't get attached, and she doesn't say goodbye. However, in the fourth town, before she has a chance to role out her new persona (Liz), she's forced back into being Mclean--except she doesn't really know what that means anymore. As she's trying to deal with her family troubles--she's basically avoided her mother ever since the divorce--and making new friends, she has to figure out how to be herself again.

I always enjoy Sarah Dessen's books and this one is no exception (although I will say it's not my favorite of hers). There's a little bit of romance (although some readers might wish there was a little more, since it doesn't garner many pages of coverage), and a lot of realistically-developed family and identity issues. Dessen is great at portraying deep characters and getting inside the head of teen girls. I thought the ending wrapped up a little too quickly, but overall, another teen book with some substance to recommend to teens and adults alike.

AE

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife
By Paula McLain
Ballantine Books, 2011. 320 pgs. Fiction

In The Paris Wife, Paula McLain opens a window for us into the private lives of a young Ernest Hemingway, his first wife, Hadley Richardson, and their expatriate writer and artist friends living in 1920s Paris, France. Though Hemingway and Hadley’s relationship was ultimately doomed, this novel takes a look at how this unlikely couple (Hadley was 28 when she met a 20-year-old Hemingway) met, fell in love, and stayed together through many problems such as destructive friendships, poverty, and drunkenness.

The hardest thing about reading this novel is that, as a character, Ernest is not an easy man to like. He is selfish, chauvinistic, bull-headed, judgmental, and rude. On the plus side, this is an interesting testament to the woman behind the man, and even more, is a very well written book. I just had a hard time getting past Ernest.

AJ

Small Acts of Amazing Courage

Small Acts of Amazing Courage
By Gloria Whelan
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011. 217 pages. Young Adult

Rosy is very happy in India. She is free to roam the bazaars with her friend Isha, even though it is not proper for a young British woman. When her father returns from fighting in the Great War, he forbids her from her unwholesome activities. But Rosy is beginning to think for herself and sees opportunities to help in India, especially with the unrest towards the British and Gandhi’s rise. When she is sent to England for her education, Rosy continues to help others, including her aunt. This quick read is a lighthearted book about familiar struggles. Rosy is a fun, mischievous girl and it’s nice to see a young adult novel describe India and its fight towards independence.

MN

Candy Bomber

Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot"
By Michael O. Tunnell
Charlesbridge, 2010. 110 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Following WWII and the division of Germany between the Allied powers, the Soviet Union blockaded Berlin, hoping to be able to gain control of West Berlin as well as East Berlin. However, the British and American forces found a solution: they began airlifting supplies into West Berlin. Gail Halvorsen, an American pilot, was touched by the German children, and came up with the idea to drop mini-parachutes with candy and gum to them as he flew overhead. His small act became something much bigger, as soldiers and civilians alike caught wind of what he was doing, donating time, parachutes, and candy to help with the cause. As candy and gum rained down, the Germans sent letters of gratitude and even instructions of where to drop candy.

This is an endearing story of a man who found a small way to make a big difference. With photographs and letters (some humorous, some touching) and drawings from the Germans to Halvorsen, this book helps readers really get into the story.

AE

The Throne of Fire

The Throne of Fire
By Rick Riordan
Disney/Hyperion Books, 2011. 452 pgs. Young Adult

In book 2 of the Kane Chronicles, Sadie and Carter Kane have 5 days to save the world. Apophis, the god of Chaos, who has been bound for many years, is struggling to get free and even has magicians working to help him. Sadie and Carter have to locate the pieces of the scroll of Ra, the sun god, and use the spells contained in them to locate and revive him in order to balance out Apophis. At the same time, Carter is determined to find Zia, who was hidden somewhere by the world's most powerful magician before he died, and Sadie is dealing with her feelings for Anubis, an Egyptian god, and Walt, one of the Kanes' magical trainees, who seems to be hiding something from them.

This is another rip-roaring adventure with the Kanes and the Egyptian gods who they fight with and against. I have a harder time following this series than Riordan's other series, but that's probably because I'm not as familiar with the Egyptian gods as the Greek ones. It follows the same pattern as his other books, which for some readers can get a little old, but others will enjoy the familiarity as well as sarcastic Sadie and more serious Carter.

AE

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School
By Alexandra Robbins
Hyperion, 2011. 436 pgs. Nonfiction

Alexandra Robbins new book focuses on her ‘Quirk Theory’ which states that the very characteristics that make some students outcasts during their middle school and high school years are the characteristics that may make them more successful adults once they enter the real world. To prove her point, she introduces readers to seven people representing the “lunchroom fringe”. We me meet the loner, the popular bitch, the nerd, the new girl, the gamer, the weird girl, and the band geek. Each of these characters is given a challenge to change other’s perceptions of them by stepping outside their comfort zone and engaging with others.

If you are reticent to return to the awkward moments we all had in high school, I’d veer clear of this book. However, if you are interested in the psychology of cliques and teen self esteem this is a great place to get an honest look at what it means to be a teen in today’s high schools. It is difficult not to start rooting for each of these characters as they try to make a difference and gain the confidence we wish all young adults had access to. Robbins ends the book with a list of things teens, parents, teachers and administrators can all do to improve the social aspects of our educational system. I believe the one overwhelming lesson to be taken from her narratives is that we need to encourage the celebration of diversity and individuality in ourselves and others, not only in high school, but far beyond.

CZ

Swamplandia!

Swamplandia!
By Karen Russell
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 315 pgs. Fiction

On a small island in the rural swamplands of Florida lives Ava Bigtree and her family. They run a tourist attraction headlining Ava’s mother, Hilola, who swims with and wrestles the alligator. Business was never booming but when Hilola dies of cancer the family is left with a gaping hole and no star performer for Swamplandia!. The family begins to crumble apart as Grandpa’s dementia requires he be sent to a home on the mainland; Ava’s brother’s resentment of their father’s desperate attempts to keep the park open eventually forces him to run away from home; her sister hides from her disappointing life by communing with the spirits which haunt the swamp; and Ava is left trying to hold the family together as she desperately clings to the only life she has ever known.

Florida’s Everglades is a great setting for an interesting coming of age story and family drama. However, I never felt a real connection to the characters or their stories. Ava’s older brother, Kiwi, was the most believable or at least the most accessible of the characters and his efforts to acclimate himself to life off the island were some of my favorite parts of the story. But I felt the ending was unexpectedly dark and a bit contrived leaving me somewhat unsettled.

CZ

Illusions

Illusions
By Aprilynne Pike
Harper, 2011. 375 pgs. Young Adult

As her senior year of high school starts, Laurel is just beginning to adjust to Tamani's absence when he suddenly reappears, telling her he must guard her against the returning threat of the trolls that pose a danger both to her and to Avalon.

We are introduced to a new character, Yuki, in this book which adds a twist to the story. However, I felt like much of this book was again simply looking at the love triangle of Laurel, Tamani, and David. The book leaves you hanging, but hopefully all will be resolved in the fourth and final book.

AMM

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality


The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality
By Richard Panek
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. 297 pgs. Nonfiction

We live in a surprising universe--only 4% of which we can see. Astrophysicists made startling discoveries in the 1990s and Panek reports these discoveries as well as several decades of astronomy leading up to the "discovery" of dark matter and then "dark energy."

Panek is focused on story of the science here and ventures seldom into anecdotes about the people involved. His style and approach reminded me a lot of Dennis Overbye's The Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, which chronicled the developments in physical and theoretical astronomy up through the 1980s. The 4 Percent Universe nicely extends this history into the most recent developments.

SML

The Queen of Attolia

The Queen of Attolia
By Megan Whalen Turner
Greenwillow Books, 2000. 368 pgs. Young Adult

Eugenides, the thief of Eddis, gets caught in Attolia, and the Attolian queen gets her revenge by cutting off his hand and sending him, feverish and maimed, back to Eddis, where his cousin, the queen, declares war on Attolia while Eugenides wallows in his misery. As Attolia prepares for war, Sounis, the nation on the other side of Eddis, watches, eager to attack Eddis if Attolia's attack goes well. Meanwhile, the Mede ambassador to Attolia is trying to embed himself in the queen's good graces, and all three countries will be at risk if the Medes advance to their land. Despite his handicap, the queen of Eddis needs Eugenides' help more than ever, and it will take all his cunning to keep Sounis at bay, rid the land of the Medes, and bring the queens of Eddis and Attolia together in peace.

Readers will enjoy this second book in the Queen's Thief series, with its dashing protagonist and its many layers of stories. It's as full of twists and turns and stories within stories as the first book, and while I didn't like it quite as much, I'm eager to continue with the series. A great choice for fans of adventure, fantasy, or well-written books.

AE

The Ruby Notebook

The Ruby Notebook
By Laura Resau
Delacorte Press, 2010. 373 pgs. Young Adult

Sixteen-year-old Zeeta is living in France, the 16th country she and her flighty mother have lived in, which is something Zeeta deals with but also can't help resenting sometimes, as she's forced to leave behind friends, and she feels, even pieces of herself . This time should be different, though, because Zeeta's boyfriend Wendell is supposed to come to study art for two months, and Zeeta can't wait to be with him. However, before he gets there, she meets Jean-Claude, who sparks her interest even though she doesn't want him to, someone from her past begins slipping notes and gifts into her bag, and an elderly couple wants her to find a fountain of youth they believe is hidden in their town. Soon, Zeeta is on a quest not to find the water and the mysterious gift-giver but also to find herself.

This book started out a little slow for me, but once it got going, I really enjoyed Zeeta's quest, as well as her relationship struggles, and the symbolism woven into the book. It's more literary than a lot of teen literature but also still very accessible to readers. It's partially an introduction to a foreign culture, partially an invitation to be moved by characters and their journey, and completely lovely.

AE

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest

Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest
By Stephen E. Ambrose
Simon & Schuster, 2001. 333 pgs. Nonfiction

This is the story of one company in WWII. "Easy" company. Their basic training at Camp Toccoa in Georgia was grueling. They then literally jumped into the war at Normandy on D-day. Ambrose takes you right along with the company as they struggle to overcome the enemy while enduring extreme weather conditions, lack of food and supplies, and some difficult changes in command. Easy company participated not only at Normandy but also during operation Market Garden, the Battle of Bastogne, and the capturing of Hitler's "Eagle's Nest."

I am not at all enamored with war stories or military history, yet this was a completely engrossing story. Action is frequent. The soldiers are brought to life through Ambrose's powerful storytelling. This is one of those nonfiction page-turners.

SML

Buddha

Buddha
By Karen Armstrong
Viking, 2001. 205 pgs. Nonfiction

It seems that no one would argue that the Buddha was a remarkable and dedicated individual. Siddhatta Gotama  was born to privilege, was married and a father when he renounced the conventional way of life. Initially he sought someone who could teach him the path to enlightenment and although he learned various approaches to meditation and living he ultimately created a new method of his own which transformed his life completely and evolved into one of the world's great religions.

This short biography is a good introduction to the Buddha--it presents all the relevant aspects of his life and provides some historical and philosophical context. In the introduction Armstrong discusses her sources and her approach. There is a helpful glossary at the back of the book for those that continue get their Dhamma and Dhārāna confused.

SML

The Dangerous Edge of Things

The Dangerous Edge of Things
By Tina Whittle
Poisoned Pen Press, 2011. 281 pgs. Mystery

Tai’s life is already a bit complicated. Despite her brother Eric’s adamant disapproval, she has inherited her uncle’s gun shop and is in the midst of establishing a new life for herself in Atlanta. So when she finds a dead woman in a car parked outside Eric’s home she is quickly in over her head. To help her in his absence, Eric hires a security firm to protect her, a job that would be infinitely easier if she could overcome her uncontrollable curiosity. Trey Seaver, her protective service agent, has his work cut out for him as he tries to keep her safe while keeping her from discovering his own secrets.

This book has been compared to Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. It does share a fairly incompetent female protagonist placed is situations she is far from being equipped to handle and a cast of intriguing and entertaining supporting characters. However, Whittle’s new series doesn’t include the madcap hilarity, not to mention the language and sex, Stephanie Plum is famous for. Despite these differences, and possibly because of them, I found The Dangerous Edge of Things completely enjoyable and I look forward to reading more of Tai’s adventures in the future.

CZ

Bitter End

Bitter End
By Jennifer Brown
Little, Brown and Company, 2011. 359 pgs. Young Adult

Alex and her two best friends, Zack and Bethany, are planning a trip to Colorado after graduation--a trip they've been planning for years because Alex's mother died in a car accident en route to Colorado, and Alex, desperate to figure out what her mother was going toward, thinks if she goes to Colorado, she'll finally understand her past. However, Alex starts dating Cole, a new boy, who initially seems wonderful, and with his own messed up family life, he understands Alex's inner demons in a way Zack and Bethany don't. However, he doesn't like Zack, and although he tells Alex he loves her, she soon finds that he is physically abusive, and while she knows that's not okay, she also doesn't know how to leave him.

I had mixed feelings about this book; on the one hand, I didn't quite feel like Alex and Cole's relationship was built up enough to justify her not just leaving him the first time he's abusive. On the other hand, I also felt like maybe that's because I'm an adult, and a teen reader might find it to be realistic. Overall, I enjoyed it, even if I didn't wholeheartedly believe Alex's need to stay with him.

AE

Monday, May 16, 2011

Main Street

Main Street
By Sinclair Lewis
Signet Classic, 1998

Originally published in 1920, this satirical novel depicts life in a small rural town during the 1910s. Carol Milford is a liberal woman from St. Paul, Minnesota. She marries Will Kennicott, who takes her to his home in Gopher Prairie. The story is about Carol's perception of the town's lack of culture and her unsuccessful attempts to bring more culture and civilization to this prairie town. My favorite line comes from early in the novel when Carol is still single and working as a Librarian in St. Paul: "She [Carol] almost gave up library work to become one of the young women who dance in cheese-cloth in the moonlight."

SML

I Still Have It, I Just Can't Remember Where I Put It: Confessions of a Fiftysomething

I Still Have It, I Just Can't Remember Where I Put It: Confessions of a Fiftysomething
By Rita Rudner
Harmony Books, 2008. 251 pgs. Nonfiction

Few books make me smile and fewer still make me laugh. This had me busting up. Rita Rudner is a comedienne, actress, and a writer who has crafted a collection of humorous episodes that depict the darker side of turning 50. One of the things I liked about this is that it was mature humor but without the profane and vulgar language of many of today's stand up comedians. While I did feel that there was some unevenness in the quality, this is a truly funny book. I found many passages where I just wanted to turn to someone and ask "you wanna hear something hilarious?"

SML

Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz

Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz
By Beverly Gherman
Chronicle Books, 2010. 125 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Charles Schulz, also known as Sparky, was the creator of the beloved Peanuts cartoon and this short biography tells how he got started drawing and the events that helped him become a very successful cartoonist. Children, young adults and even adults will be drawn to this book because of the colorful pages and cartoons.

This biography was very basic which sometimes made it feel a little disjointed but I really enjoyed discovering how Sparky created the idea of the Peanuts cartoon and how different parts of his personality show up in each of the characters. I would recommend this biography to any budding artist, a student reluctant to read a biography or anyone looking for a fun, interesting read.

AL

This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession
By Daniel J. Levitin
Dutton, 2006. 314 pgs. Nonfiction

This is book focuses on the intersection of music, psychology, and physics. Levitin's experience as a musician and education as a neurobiologist equip him well for this fine exploration into what music is, how it works, and how it affects us biologically, cognitively, and emotionally. The author begins by introducing the reader to the building blocks of music and providing the reader with a vocabulary for discussing the topic. He covers pitch, rhythm, tempo, contour, timbre, loudness, reverberation, meter, key, melody, and harmony. Levitin brings science to bear on music,  weaving the results of scientific studies with anecdotes of rock stars.  A fun and informative read.


SML

Poop Happened!

Poop Happened!: a history of the world from the bottom up
Sarah Albee
Walker & Company, 2010.170 pgs. Nonfiction

I admit this is not your normal "read in public" book. In fact, my adult son was totally embarrassed and treated me like a Gongfermor (a specific medieval occupation) when he saw me reading it. But I LOVED this disgustingly fascinating, young adult, "clean", easy read book. Filled with piles of info about the direct correlation between poop and the history of human civilization, it will answer questions you have wondered about all your life. Just how did those noble women with 8 ft. wide skirts or a knight in his suit of armor "go"? Photos and cartoon drawings abound on each page reinforcing the information about stinky pollution, sewers, sanitation (or lack of), cholera and other pestilence from ancient Greeks to today's astronauts.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has the urge to read a captivating gross book.
mpb

We'll Always Have Summer

We'll Always Have Summer
By Jenny Han
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2011. 291 pgs. Young Adult

Belly has only ever loved two boys: Conrad and Jeremiah, who happen to be brothers. After her relationship with Conrad crashed and burned, she and Jeremiah started dating, and after two years together, Belly is sure she's over Conrad and totally into Jeremiah...pretty sure anyway. When Jeremiah proposes, Belly says yes, much to the chagrin of her parents, and they begin planning their wedding. However, Belly stays at the boys' beach house--with Conrad, who has never gotten over Belly--and starts to doubt her feelings. Once and for all, Belly has to decide which brother she wants to love forever.

I really liked the first book in this trilogy, didn't like the second so much, and just couldn't get into the third. I just never really saw Belly and Jeremiah's relationship being that great...and maybe that's the point--maybe Belly is supposed to be an unreliable narrator--but it was hard for me to get into the conflict, since I didn't find it believable in the first place. I can see a lot of teen girls still liking it, though; however, readers who didn't like the second one won't find the same enjoyment they find in the first book here, either.

AE

Faithful

Faithful
By Janet Fox
Speak, 2010. 325 pgs. Young Adult

Maggie Bennet should be spending her summer preparing for her debut into society and snagging a husband. However, her mother has disappeared and is presumed dead, but Maggie's father says he has a lead and drags Maggie to Yellowstone. Maggie is reluctant to go, but almost immediately meets Tom, the son of a geologist working in the park, and is immediately drawn to him, and she soon realizes that while her father wasn't exactly honest about why he brought her to Yellowstone, there is much she can learn about her mother--and herself--while she is there.

Part mystery, part historical fiction, and part romance, this book could appeal to a lot of readers. Unfortunately, I wasn't one of them. I wanted to like this book, but I just didn't make a connection with it. Still, I think other readers, particularly those interested in western setting and a historical romance (and who can overlook the fact that Tom isn't exactly nice sometimes), will enjoy it quite a bit.

AE

The Trouble with May Amelia

The Trouble with May Amelia
By Jennifer Holm
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011. 204 pgs. Young Adult

May Amelia is back, and she's as spunky as ever. Life on the Nasel river is just as hard as ever, with May Amelia trying to keep her wonderful teacher from getting married and getting attacked by a bull when she's using the outhouse. Things are especially bad, though, when financial troubles arise and May Amelia gets the blame.

I hope there are many, many more books about May Amelia, who is one of the most delightful narrators I've met in a long time. Once again, there's humor alongside truly heart-wrenching scenes that demonstrate the difficult of being frontier life and of being a girl in a patriarchal society. Three cheers for May Amelia.

AE

Our Only May Amelia

Our Only May Amelia
By Jennifer Holm
HarperCollinsPublishers, 1999. 253 pgs. Young Adult

May Amelia is the youngest child in her family, the only girl with seven older brothers, so she is desperately hoping that her mother's new baby will be a girl. Her father, though, would prefer a boy, since it seems May Amelia will never learn to be a Proper Young Lady and seems to get in more trouble than all of her brothers. But it's hard being a Proper Young Lady when there are so many other things to worry about, like helping on the family farm, finding murderers, and dealing with brothers who like to tease.

With some scenes that will have readers laughing, others that will have them near tears, and a pitch-perfect voice for May Amelia, this is an excellent book, great for fans of historical fiction, spunky narrators, and a roaring good time.

AE

The Thief

The Thief
By Megan Whalen Turner
Recorded Books, 1997. 7 CDs. Young Adult

Gen, a thief, is stuck in the king of Sounis's prison, until the magus, the king's scholar, gets him out. The magus, although scornful of Gen's attitude, criminal behavior, and general person, needs a thief, and Gen is rumored to be the best. They, along with a couple other companions, set out on a nearly impossible quest: to find a stone, a gift of the gods, that when stolen and given to a monarch gives that monarch the indisputable right to rule.

With a fascinating plot, unexpected twists and turns, and an excellent narrator, this book on CD has it all. It's book one in series, but it wraps up nicely rather than having a cliffhanger ending. A great choice for fans of adventure, fantasy, or just really good books.

AE

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
By Lish McBride
Henry Holt, 2010. 342 pgs. Young Adult

Sam’s life seems to be on the path to nowhere; he’s a college dropout and can’t afford the rent on his tiny apartment with his fast-food wages. But one night Sam encounters Douglas Montgomery, a powerful necromancer and the only necromancer in Seattle (who wants it to stay that way). When Douglas recognizes Sam as a fellow necromancer, Sam’s life becomes violent and unrecognizable. Thrust into a world of witches, werewolves, harbingers, and such, Sam struggles to use his power to defeat Douglas and keep his friends and family safe. Hilarious, fast-paced, and with a touch of fun romance this book will satisfy readers who like paranormal stories without the unending drama of love triangles and poor writing.

MN

Saturday, May 14, 2011

American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation

American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation
By Jon Meacham
Random House, 2006. 399 pgs. Nonfiction

American Gospel seeks to illuminate the relationship between religion and politics in American history through solid information, inspiring quotations, and interesting anecdotes.  Beginning with the religious views of the founding fathers and their desires to balance public religion with government, this book actual continues beyond the founding exploring related events during the civil war, the reconstruction period, the great depression,  WWII and the cold war, the civil rights movement, and continuing up through the Reagan administration.


Very interesting and informative, I listened to this book on CD and found it interesting later to peruse the actual book and visit the several illustrations which are scattered throughout the text.


SML

Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History

Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History
By Simon Winder
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. 466 pgs. Nonfiction

Wayward is right. This is a meandering, rambling blend of history, trivia, and a touch of travelogue. This book is not for obtaining an overview of German history; On the other hand it's much more interesting than reading a more typical history of Germany. Perhaps a few of the section headings to illustrate this point: "Pious, Bald or Fat," "A Surprise visit from an Asteroid," "Drinking Chocolate with Ostriches," and "Girls in Turrets."

Well written, sometimes funny, and packed with the kind of material you'd expect to see in magazine articles on German history (and the attendant sidebar articles), Winder's Germania is good for a cover-to-cover read or just to dip into and see what you find.

SML

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Brothers of Baker Street

The Brothers of Baker Street
by Michael Robertson
St. Martin's, 2011. 274 pgs. Fiction

Reggie Heath has law offices at 221B Baker Street and is required by the terms of his lease to respond to any correspondence directed to Sherlock Holmes at that address. Luckily he can fob that responsibility off on his somewhat estranged brother Nigel who lives in Los Angeles. As our story begins, a shapely solicitor enter Reggie's offices to ask him to defend a client, a Black Cab driver accused of murdering an American tourist couple. Reggie doesn't take criminal cases since he accidentally freed a wife-killer who went straight home and murdered his mother-in-law, but makes an exception after he meets the driver who has worked so hard for The Knowledge required in his profession, and who seems unlikely to have done the deed. An anonymous letter tips him off to security cameras that vindicate his client who is freed and then killed. Things get even more interesting at this point, as the threatening letters continue, Reggie goes to jail, Nigel comes home to try to bail him out, and Reggie's former girlfriend (who just may be coming back) gets into the really scary soup trying to help. The Brothers of Baker Street is funny, atmospheric, and smart but one should be aware, as I was not, that it is the second book in a series which begins with The Baker Street Letters.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Factotum

Factotum
By D. M. Cornish
G. P. Putman’s Sons, 2010. 648 pgs. Young Adult

Rossamund, now knowing the true meaning of his name and the life threatening secret it reveals, leaves the Lamplighter service to become Lady Europe’s Factotum, the person who mixes her brew to give her powers. Even under the fierce monster hunter’s care Rossamunds life is still at risk, so his two old school masters, Fransitart and Craumpalin, join Lady Europe’s service to help keep an eye on him. A battle is brewing against man and monster and Rossamund is in the middle of it.

This concluding book in the Monster Blood Tattoo series is filled with battles, monsters, and contemplations about whether it matters what our names says we are.

KK

Dead Reckoning

Dead Reckoning
By Laurie Lawlor
Simon & Schuster, 2005. 259 pgs. Young Adult

Emmet, an orphan with no options but be turned out into the street, is rescued by his distant cousin, the famous Captain Francis Drake, who hires him on as a cabin boy on his ship, The Pelican. What at first Emmet thought was salvation might become his death as they battle the sea, starvation, weather, greed, pirates and mutiny as they try to reach Cape Horn.

Not quite as good as Ian Lawrence’s The Wreckers, but still an enjoyable pirate adventure that showed what life was like on a ship and the dangers it entails.

KK

Resolution

Resolution
By Robert B. Parker
Putman’s Sons, 2008. 292 pgs. Fiction

Everett Hitch, a gun for hire, moves on to a new town, Resolution, and takes a job as bouncer at the Blackfoot Salon. Hitch, who always tries to do what is right, learns that Amos Wolfson, the owner of the Blackfoot Salon, might be on the wrong side of a town conflict. Just when he needs advice from his old friend Virgil Cole, Cole comes into town with a problem of his own.

This second pairing of Hitch and Cole with their sense of duty and honor in a town where there is no law; is just as enjoyable as Appaloosa.

KK

Wither

Wither
By Lauren DeStefano
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011. 358 pgs. Young Adult

In the future, scientists have perfected diseases and flaws, but perfection comes at a cost. The newer generations of young men and women die early—men die at 25 and women at 20 of a horrible virus no one can seem to cure. Wealthier people hire Gatherers to kidnap young women who will be wives to young men in the last few years of their lives and hopefully repopulate. Rhine, an orphan, is kidnapped from Manhattan and taken to Florida, to be one of three sister wives to Linden, whose devious father Vaughn is intent on a cure. Rhine refuses to adapt to her new position and constantly looks for ways to escape and return to her twin brother.

An older teen read, I found this more engaging and original than Matched, but not as compelling as The Hunger Games or Birthmarked. But fans of dystopian novels should enjoy this one and will look forward to the next installment.

MN

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Karma Club

The Karma Club
By Jessica Brody
Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2010. 258 pgs. Young Adult

When Maddy's boyfriend cheats on her with super popular Heather Campbell, Maddy's mother drags her to a yoga retreat to help her recover. While there, Maddy is struck by the idea of karma--or, more precisely, taking it into her own hands. So, she and her two best friends form the Karma Club, where they help their jerky exes (and Heather Campbell), get a taste of their own medicine. Soon, though, they realize that things aren't working out as well as they anticipated.

The crazy capers that these girls come up with (like replacing Heather's zit cream with Crisco) will make readers laugh--and possibly dream up revenge schemes for ways that they've been wronged. Luckily, though, the overall message is that you don't want to mess with karma, so revenge plots should be nipped in the bud. A fun chick-lit novel, this would be a great beach read.

AE

Bamboo People

Bamboo People
By Mitali Perkins
Charlesbridge, 2010. 272 pgs. Young Adult

In present day Burma, fifteen-year-old Chiko's father has been put in prison for opposing the government. Chiko has been trying to lay low and not attract attention, but when there's an ad in the newspaper for teachers, he decides to go. However, it turns out to be a trap and Chiko is forced into the Burmese army where he trains and then is sent off on a mission that makes him cross paths with Tu Reh, a Karenni refuge whose people have been oppressed and victimized by the Burmese. Tu Reh is bent on getting revenge for his people, and his meeting with Chiko forces him to rethink what it means to be a Karenni man.

This book is an interesting insight into Burma and also into human nature, as Chiko and Tu Reh are both pushed toward violence and hatred but have to decide for themselves if they will choose that path for themselves. It's well-written and gives readers a lot to think about.

AE

Dead Reckoning

Dead Reckoning
By Charlaine Harris
Ace Books, 2011. 325 pgs. Paranormal

In this eleventh installment of the Southern Vampire series, Sookie Stackhouse, telepath, girlfriend of the 1000-year-old vampire, Eric Northman, friend to the Shreveport, L.A. werewolf pack, and relative of the Fae folk has a way of always getting in harm’s way. Early in the book, Sookie survives a fire bombing at the bar she works at, and things get worse from there. Eric Northman and his second-in-command, Pam, are trying to figure out a way to kill off the new Vampire regent, Victor, who is making their lives miserable. Sookie is torn between her desire for a normal, human life and the need to help those she cares about who just happen to be almost all supernatural.

This has been an enjoyable paranormal series. However, like many long series, it is starting to lose its momentum. Also, the entertaining characters (which drew me into the series) have lost some of their charm in the last few books. Readers should also be warned that there are very descriptive sex scenes and some strong language.

AJ

One of Our Thursdays is Missing

One of Our Thursdays is Missing
By Jasper Fforde
Viking, 2011. 362 pgs. Fantasy

Alternative history, intriguing detective mysteries, time travel, and vast amounts of literary satire are just a few of the genre elements found in Jasper Fforde’s enjoyable Thursday Next series. Book six is set almost entirely in the Book World, a dimension where all the fictional characters ever written exist and wait to be read by someone in the real world so they can act out their scenes from the book. Thursday Next, who travels between the real and book worlds solving literary crimes in both dimensions has gone missing just before she was set to lead the peace talks over a border dispute between Racy Novel and Women’s Literature. Thursday, the one “written” for the formerly popular Thursday Next novels, must step into the “real” Thursday’s role to keep the peace talks going. But “written” Thursday isn’t so sure she can live up to the “real” Thursday’s reputation.

I have thoroughly enjoyed every Fforde book I have read. However, Fforde is the king of the tangent. Some readers may be overwhelmed by the number of entertaining but non-essential subplots. Fforde’s playfulness with language and literature make these some of the most entertaining books I have read. I highly recommend these books for anyone who loves literature or is looking for something different.

AJ

Monday, May 9, 2011

Iliad

The Iliad
By Homer
Hackett Publishing, 1997. 516 pgs. Nonfiction

So most everyone's heard of the Iliad--it's a classic--and most everyone has never read it. This is the story of the Greeks' 10 year war with the Trojans. Menelaus' wife, Helen, runs off with Paris of Troy and he rounds up his family & friends to go and get her back. 1,000 ships make the trek to Troy and the Greeks spill out, set up camp, and prepare for war. There are numerous battles and many characters in this dense story. Most of the story is occupied with Achilles' anger and withdrawal from the battle. He sulks in his tent because someone else took the girl he took as a prize. He refuses to re-enter the battle. Then is best friend dons Achilles' armour and enters the fray. The Greeks believing Achilles fights with them again press forward again in battle. Alas, Patroclus is killed by Hector and Achilles then goes after Patroclus to avenge the death of his friend.

Everyone knows the story of the Trojan horse. You won't find that story here. The Iliad stops short of telling of the downfall of Troy--for that story you'll need to read the Odyssey which recounts the story during one of Odysseus's adventures. I listened to this on CD and would recommend this translation and reading to anyone.

SML

Rococo

Rococo
By Adriana Trigiani
Random House, 2005. 272 pgs. Fiction

Between the covers of this book a host of colorful characters surround Bartolomeo di Crespi. He's an interior decorator and his business is the "House of B." B has spent most of his life interior decorating and he's done virtually everyone's home throughout the community. This community revolves around their Church, Our Lady of Fatima which B dreams of renovating and decorating. He is absolutely beside himself when Father Porporino hires someone else for the job. Nevertheless, things do work out and B does achieve his dream.

The way these New Jersey Italians interact--their behavior and dialog is thoroughly entertaining. And the descriptions of architecture, furniture, and fabrics is a bit of an education. If that's not enough there are several mouth-watering recipes tucked into the text.

SML

The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future

The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future
By Robert Darnton
PublicAffairs, 2009. 218 pgs. Nonfiction

This book is a compilation of essays and articles written by Darnton through the years all relating to books and reading. Several articles discuss the advent and repercussions of Google Books. Darnton likes Google Books, but fears the monopolistic tendencies of this information Goliath. My favorite essay was "The Importance of Being Bibliographical," which argues for the importance of detailed bibliographic description and comparison useful in certain endeavors in the history of literature. For example, William Shakespeare left no manuscripts and his works appear first in print in the early 17th century. When questions regarding the author's intent arise they must be settled by examining multiple copies of the first editions of the works to try and determine what was original and was intentionally or unintentionally altered as the works came off the hand presses sheet by sheet.

SML