Thursday, June 30, 2011

Code Talker

Code Talker
By Joseph Bruchac
Dial Books, 2005. 231 pgs. Young Adult

From the time he is sent to a boarding school run by whites and assigned a new name, Ned Begay is told that being Navajo is a bad thing. He's not allowed to speak his native language and is constantly told that only by leaving his heritage behind can he amount to anything. However, when Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, the Marine Corps suddenly has a need for Navajos who can speak both their native tongue and English. The first twenty-nine Navajos recruited devise a code to convey messages, based on their native tongue, and Ned, in the second wave of Navajo recruitments, becomes one of the code talkers vital to the success of the Marine Corps as they fight to retake American territories in the Pacific as well as establish a presence on Iwo Jima and Okinowa.

This is a fascinating piece of historical fiction, showing the contribution of the Navajos to the armed forces during WWII. I particularly enjoyed the details about how the code was developed and taught, as well as the incorporation of Navajo traditions into the story. Some of the military details bogged down the story for me, but I think others who are interested in war stories wouldn't mind that at all.

AE

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
By Barbara Demick
Spiegel & Grau, 2009. 314 pgs. Nonfiction

Barbara Demick describes the lives of six different people who have defected from North Korea to South Korea, and from their life histories describes what it is like to live in North Korea today. Her chilling impressions of a dreary, muffled, and depleted land are juxtaposed with a uniquely to-the-point history of how North Korea became an industrialized Communist nation supported by the Soviet Union and China and ruled by Kim il Sung, then collapsed catastrophically into poverty, darkness, and starvation under the dictator’s son, Kim Jong il. The blend of personal narratives and piercing journalism vividly and evocatively portrays courageous individuals and a tyrannized state within a saga of unfathomable suffering punctuated by faint glimmers of hope.

Although this book sounds rather gloomy, it ended up being a fascinating read that I couldn’t put down. First of all, I didn’t know anything about North Korea before reading it and I loved learning so much about one of the most secretive countries on earth. Second, and most importantly, the people interviewed in this book are amazing. They live in terrible circumstances and yet manage to maintain love, hope, and even a certain sense of optimism. This book taught me much more about the capacity of the human spirit than I expected from just reading the summary.

JC

Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai
By Margi Preus
Amulet Books, 2010. 301 pgs. Young Adult

In 1841, fourteen year old Manjiro, while out fishing with some companions, gets caught up in a storm and becomes shipwrecked on an island. Though they survive they can not return to their homeland of Japan because their custom states that once you leave you have been influenced by foreign ways and are forbidden to return. Just when they are about to give up hope of ever leaving the island, they are rescued by a whaling ship. At first, both sides mistrust each other, but Manjiro, always eager to learn, learns English and begins to help around the ship. The Captain, seeing the eagerness of the boy, begins to form a bond with Manjiro and when it comes time to return to America, invites Manjiro to join him.

This interesting piece of unknown history is told in an approachable way, with its short chapters and Manjiro’s own artwork sprinkled throughout the book.

Smokin' Seventeen

Smokin’ Seventeen
By Janet Evanovich
Bantam Books, 2011. 308 pgs. Mystery.

Stephanie Plum has a serious problem. She is in love with two men. One is Trenton police detective Joe Morelli. The other is mysterious security expert Ranger. Both men have undeniable attractions and both relationships contain possibly insurmountable obstacles. But Stephanie is determined to find out what her heart wants and she may possibly have time to make a decision if it weren’t for all the people who are trying to kill her, not to mention the dead bodies that keep appearing with gift tags addressed to her. Add to that an unfortunate curse placed on Stephanie by Morelli’s crazy grandmother and you are set for another fantastic mystery in this hilarious series.

This is one of those guilty pleasures I just can’t seem to resist. I love Stephanie. I love Lula. I love Grandma Mazer. I even love Mooner. However, the past few books have left me a little disenchanted with the love triangle. Stephanie just seems to waffle back and forth between the two men and it seemed to be getting a bit stale. Smokin’ Seventeen broke that trend and I felt that the plotline was able to progress without actually progressing …a difficult thing to manage as has been demonstrated by innumerable series both in print and on TV. I am, once again, looking forward to Evanovich’s next Plum mystery.

CZ

22 Britannia Road

22 Britannia Road
By Amanda Hodgkinson
Viking, 2011. 323 pgs. Historical Fiction.

World War II stories abound in recent literature, but 22 Britannia Road tells of the personal aftermath the conflict visited upon those who survived. Silvana and Janusz fell in love, married, and welcomed a beautiful baby boy into the world just as Germany took control of their Hungarian homeland and they were forced to part. Years later, they reunite in a small home on Britannia Road in England. But too much has happened during their separation to allow them to pick up where they left off. The scars and secrets they carry will eventually rise to the surface and the love they once had for each other may not be strong enough to keep their family from falling apart.

Despite my own struggle to relate to these characters, 22 Britannia Road is a great historical novel. It illuminates the heroic efforts required by that generation to live the lives they fought for so desperately. Living through war is only half the story. For those who remained, peace would require equal acts of bravery and resolve.

CZ

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Can I See Your I.D.?

Can I See Your I.D.?
By Chris Barton
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2011. 121 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Chris Barton shares ten stories of people who adopted false identifies for various reasons. There are stories of a girl pretending to be a boy in order to fight in the Civil War, a high school dropout who pretended to be a Navy surgeon, a white supremacist who tried to pass himself off as a Cherokee storyteller, and more.

This is an interesting collection of stories, ranging from silly to serious, told in the second person, as if you, the reader, are the imposter. Some stories were more intriguing than others, but all in all, it's a fun read.

AE

Matterhorn

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
By Karl Marlantes
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010. 600 pgs. Fiction.

The horrors of war are brought alive through the story of young Lieutenant Waino Mallas as he joins Bravo Company deep in the jungles of war torn Vietnam. Mallas joins the Marines hoping to distinguish himself and launch his hoped for political career. But the realities of the controversial conflict almost immediately make him question the wisdom of his enlistment. Wild jungle animals, disease, malnutrition, jungle rot, leaches, not to mention the opposing forces all endanger the lives of Bravo Company marines. However, the internal dangers of the conflict become nearly as deadly as Mallas faces misinformed and dangerously ambitious officers as well as violent racial aggression.

This is an extremely powerful novelization of a conflict that has not been portrayed often in fiction. It’s a stunning debut effort for Marlantes who spent ten years writing it using his own ex-marine experiences. He pulls no punches as he describes the violence and trauma faced by soldiers at war. Readers should expect a great deal of gritty language along with an amazing and eye opening story that won’t be forgotten soon.

CZ

The Good Daughter

The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother's Hidden Life
by Jasmin Darznik
Grand Central Publishing, 2011. 324 pgs. Biography

Raised in California, Darznik never imagined that her mother Lili lived another life completely in Iran before marrying Darznik’s German father. Lili was married off at 13 to Kazem, a man who would prove to be violent and abusive. Lili gave birth to a daughter, Sara, but when Kazem’s abuse escalated, Lili knew she had no choice but to flee his house and seek a divorce. The move cost her Sara, as Iranian law dictates children stay with their fathers. Lili never told Jasmin about her first marriage or Sara, but when Jasmin discovers a photograph of her as a child bride, her mother dictates her life history for her.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is the amount of detail the author includes. She carefully describes the types of food her family ate, their homes, their clothing, their grooming habits, and many other aspects of life in twentieth-century Iran. The story is also compelling and really kept me reading to find out what would happen next. My only complaint is that the author focuses primarily on the action of the story and does not spend much time on Lili’s feelings or motivations. I thought the strongest chapters were those at the end when Jasmin begins describing her own life with her mother; I would love to read a second book by her that describes her own childhood in more detail. I would still recommend this book to anyone who likes reading family histories or about life in other countries.

JC

Monday, June 27, 2011

Stormbreaker

Stormbreaker
By Anthony Horowitz
Philomel Books, 2001. 192 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

A "reader" can either make or break a book. Nathaniel Parker sucked me into the unabridged audio version of Anthony Horowitz's Stormbreaker (1st in the Alex Rider Adventure series) within the first five minutes. I was thoroughly entertained by this gizmo filled, action packed, clean, teen spy novel as I accompanied Alex Rider on his spy mission. Upon occasion I even found myself holding my breath as danger mounted.

Alex is a resourceful 14 year old, whose uncle (Alex's guardian) is killed in what Alex believes to be a suspicious "car accident". Recruited (under protest) by the British Intelligence (M16), Alex learns the truth about his "banker" uncle as he risks his life James Bond style, in an effort to unravel the hidden reason behind his death.

For those who complain about this book being unrealistic, remember, it is an adventure story meant to entertain. In my opinion, mission accomplished. I enthusiastically recommend the audio version to anyone, any age, who has secretly wished they could be a spy. mpb

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Lemon Tree

The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East
By Sandy Tolan
Bloomsbury, 2006. 362 Pgs. Nonfiction.

The title of this book refers to a tree in the backyard of a home in Ramla, Israel. The home is currently owned by Dalia, a Jewish woman whose family of Holocaust survivors emigrated from Bulgaria. But before Israel gained its independence in 1948, the house was owned by the Palestinian family of Bashir, who meets Dalia when he returns to see his family home after the Six-Day War of 1967. The author traces the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the parallel personal histories of Dalia and Bashir and their families. Dalia struggles with her Israeli identity, and Bashir struggles with decades in Israeli prisons for suspected terrorist activities. As they follow Dalia and Bashir's difficult friendship, readers will experience one of the world's most stubborn conflicts firsthand.

I really liked the fact that this book is structured around the story of two individuals, because the history of the Middle East is so complex that it is easy to get bogged down in the details and confused by the dates. Having two people to follow helps everything make more sense and kept me reading through to the end. The author stresses the fact that the book is based on hours of interviews and research, and includes extensive notes in the back to back this up; he also is striving to provide a balance between both points of view, Palestinian and Jewish, which meant it was much easier to get a sense of the whole picture rather than just part of it. I would recommend this book for anyone trying to understand the recent history of Israel.

JC

Bloody Times

Bloody Times
By James L. Swanson
Collins, 2011. 196 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Swanson describes the final days of the Civil War, with Jefferson David determined to keep the Confederacy fighting even after Robert E. Lee's surrender, and Lincoln's assassination shortly after Lee's surrender. Davis, not even knowing yet that Lincoln had been killed, retreated further into the South, trying to figure out how to continue the fight, while many in the North believed he was to blame for Lincoln's death. As Davis cut a path across the South, Lincoln's corpse was loaded on a train and toured many cities in the North before being laid to rest at home in Illinois.

An interesting contrast between what the living Davis and the deceased Lincoln were doing after the surrender of Robert E. Lee, this detailed account shows how Lincoln was revered by many people and his legacy began, while Davis clung to Southern ideals even as his country crumbled around him. The writing wasn't always very smooth; tangents disrupted the continuity of the book. Overall, though, it's a good choice for anyone who wants to learn more about the end of the Civil War.


AE

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Abraham Enigma

The Abraham Enigma
by Jack Lyon
Deseret Book, 2010, 191 pages, Fiction

FBI agent David Hunter's honeymoon with his new bride is interrupted by an important short term assignment to Cairo, Egypt. Fortunately, his boss says he can take his new wife with him all expenses paid. Once there they both become embroiled in a tense security situation at the U.S. Embassy. Somehow terrorist sympathizers have managed to infiltrate the embassy and are approving U.S visas for terrorists. As David comes closer to discovering who is responsible for what, he comes closer and closer to a terrorist plot that will endanger his own life and the life of the U.S. President.

While not a very complicated plot the setting is interesting and the references to hieroglyphic images and symbols woven into the plot will add extra interest for LDS readers. Readers who like clean LDS adventure and mystery novels will enjoy this fast moving read. Abraham Enigma is the sequel to The Moroni Code but it seemed to stand on its own quite well.

SH

Entwined

Entwined
By Heather Dixon
Greenwillow Books, 2011.

In a retelling of the old fairy tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, twelve royal sisters are heartbroken when their loving mother passes away. Their father, the King, is emotionally distant, and so they cling even closer together and use dancing as an escape. When their dancing is forbidden, the girls discover a magical passageway and attend enchanted balls every night. However, there is something strange about the Keeper of the magical courts, and the girls find themselves caught tightly in the pull of his spelled kingdom.

As there are many versions of the story The Twelve Dancing Princesses, I picked up Heather Dixon's without many expectations, despite the attractive cover. I was amazed to discover the most beautiful and captivating rendition of the fairy tale I have yet read. Dixon remains very true to the original tale but elaborates in the most unexpected and interesting ways. Excellent, elegant writing aside, the best aspect of the book is the strength of the character development--the characters are interesting, complex, and seem to live and breathe. Coming from a family with many sisters of my own, Dixon captured the closeness of family, and this is their story. 

CW

The Wise Man's Fear

The Wise Man’s Fear
By Patrick Rothfuss
DAW Books, 2011. 993 pgs. Fantasy

This is the spellbinding story of Kvothe, a young but brilliant orphaned boy of traveling gypsy-like musicians as he starts out on his path to becoming the stuff of legends. On the journey, he saves an aristocrat from a slow poisoning, destroys an entire band of ex-soldiers turned highwaymen, gets put on trial for learning some of the secrets of the Adem mercenaries, and meets Felurian, the faerie woman no man can resist, who he travels with into the realm of the Fae.

I enjoyed the first 500 or so pages much more than the last half. At that point things seemed to get a little long and drawn out. Not that the first part wasn’t lengthy, but I just really enjoyed it. Rothfuss is an excellent storyteller, but coming in at almost 1000 pages which is 300 more than book one, The Name of the Wind, I would give a warning to be prepared for a very long series ahead.

AJ

Uncommon Criminals

Uncommon Criminals
By Ally Carter
Disney/Hyperion Books, 2011. 295 pgs. Young Adult

Katarina Bishop has found a new calling in life: re-stealing art that has been taken from its rightful owners and returning it to them. So, when Constance Miller shows up and asks her to steal the Cleopatra diamond, which was stolen from her family years before--and has the backing of one of the sacred names in the thieving world--Kat pulls it off. Except, Constance Miller isn't exactly who she says she is, and this time, Kat finds herself on the wrong end of a con that she desperately wants to make right.

Kat's fun and spunky, Hale is still dreamy, and the latest heist will have readers on the edge of their seats, wondering if Kat can pull off the biggest con in history. Another fun book from Ally Carter, Uncommon Criminals will have fans reading through the night and then wishing there was another book to devour.

I can't wait for Ally Carter's visit to PCL on Friday!

AE

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
By Barack Obama
Three Rivers Press, 2004. 442 pgs. Nonfiction

This is Barack's story of his early life and actually of his learning about his heritage--both from his Kansas-born mother and his Kenyan-born father. He relates things he learns along the way from his mother, his step-father, his maternal grandparents, and others. The story he relates is told with candor and compassion and is both interesting and illuminating.

I listened to this as an audiobook. The book is narrated by Barack himself and he does a nice job on the various voices in the text.

SML

The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
By Isabel Wilkerson
Random House, 2010. 640 pages. Nonfiction.

Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career in Los Angeles. The author intersperses these personal stories with more general historical information, creating a richly detailed chronicle of twentieth-century America.

Even though this book is lengthy and detailed, I found myself unable to put it down. Wilkerson's writing style is very engaging and each of the three people she focuses on has a compelling story. I love nonfiction like this that teaches me about a time and place that I knew nothing about before reading the book. This book gave me a much greater understanding of American history and I recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about our recent past.

JC

Left Neglected

Left Neglected
By Lisa Genova
Gallery, 2011. 327 pages. Fiction

Sarah Nickerson is a 37-year-old overachieving multitasker with a Harvard MBA. Her life is stretched thin between parenting her three young children, working long hours at her demanding job at a prestigious Boston consulting firm, and worrying about her husband's future at a struggling tech company. Then there’s a car accident on a rainy November morning, and a traumatic brain injury leaves Sarah with “left neglect,” a lack of awareness of anything to her left, including the left side of her own body. After the accident Sarah struggles both to physically recover and to emotionally adapt to her 'new normal'.

The author has a PhD in neuroscience, so the details of Sarah's injury and recovery are poignant and vivid. However, the book manages not to read like a medical case study and is instead a very touching story. At first I had a hard time relating to Sarah because her life and her attitude were very different from mine, but as the book progressed and she changed I really started to empathize with and understand her. I also liked how her injury and recovery helped her reconnect with her mother and with her son.

JC

A Blue So Dark

A Blue So Dark
By Holly Schindler
Flux, 2010. 277 pages. Young Adult

Aura's mother is a highly talented artist, but she's also schizophrenic and is spiraling out of control. Aura, desperate to help her mother, yet unsure how to actually do that, watches as her mother slips further and further, to the point that she is endangering herself. Besides watching her mother's decline, Aura is also afraid for herself--because studies suggest that many schizophrenics are artists, and Aura, with both her artistic talent and her genes, is terrified she's going to wind up like her mother.

Schindler skillfully develops Aura's fears, frustrations, and desperation as she tries to deal with her mother's mental illness and the fact that she's all alone dealing with something much larger than she is. It's not an easy read--many readers will connect deeply with Aura's frustrations, fears, and a desire for any sort of solution--but at the same time, it's a realistic portrayal of a scary situation.

AE

Monday, June 20, 2011

In the Garden of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
By Erik Larson
Crown Trade, 2011. 448 pgs. Nonfiction

A humble man, William E. Dodd was a historian when he got a phone call from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR gave Dodd two hours to decide if he wanted to be the ambassador to Germany; the year was 1933 and five other men had already turned down the position. Dodd accepted the position and took his wife, adult son, and adult daughter Martha with him to Berlin and Hitler’s new Germany. By 1933 Hitler and his men were already persecuting the Jews and attacks on Americans had also occurred. Dodd was convinced for a time that the Nazis were not as bad as other diplomats warned him. His daughter Martha was also persuaded that the new Germany was glorious. But as their time in Germany passed, Dodd and Martha began to see the dark side of the Nazis.

This is a fascinating look at Germany and how Hitler and his men escalated their plan to overtake the government and eliminate the Jews. Larson centers his story around Dodd and Martha, detailing Dodd’s efforts to work with Hitler’s government and his eventual denunciation of them. Larson describes Martha’s numerous love affairs and how those affected her life and her father’s work, which struck me as very na├»ve on her part. I appreciated Larson’s little cliffhangers and the easy writing style of this intriguing history.

MN

The Book of Lies

The Book of Lies
by Brad Meltzer
Grand Central Pub., 2008. 336 pgs. Fiction

Cal Harper is a former federal who now spends his days rounding out homeless people and trying to keep them out of trouble. When his latest homeless victim turns out to be his father--whom Cal hasn't seen since he went to prison for killing Cal's mother--Cal's life turns upside down, especially when it turns out that Lloyd (his father), has a shipment containing a coffin that includes a corpse and an address: the house of Superman's creator. And when a phony cop with a tattoo from a secret sect that believes the mark given to Cain was actually a gift from God, not punishment, shows that he's willing to killing them to get the shipment, Cal has to figure out what they're even looking for, what Cain and Superman have to do with it, and how to stay alive.

This thriller jumps around from narrator to narrator, and it keeps you guessing as to who is a good guy and who isn't. It's interesting to see how the pieces come together. There's a little bit of language, but other than that it's clean.


AE

Where She Went

Where She Went
By Gayle Forman
Dutton, 2011. 264 pgs. Young Adult

Adam, now a rising rock star, and Mia, a successful cellist, reunite in New York and reconnect after the horrific events that tore them apart when Mia almost died in a car accident three years earlier.

This sequel to Forman’s 2009 If I Stay, is told from Adam’s perspective. I enjoyed seeing how Adam and Mia’s story continued. However, Adam is an up and coming rock star and this novel has quite a bit of swearing as he works through his grief and issues with his band. If you’ve read If I Stay, I think you will be interested in this follow up novel.

AMM

Saturday, June 18, 2011

God So Loved the World

God So Loved the World
By Eric D. Huntsman
Deseret Book, 2011. 148 pgs. Nonfiction.

Huntsman breaks down the last week of Christ's life, using New Testament scriptures, pictures of the Holy Land, and even music to provide an understanding of this crucial time. Designed to invite readers to celebrate Easter, this book is perhaps not an obvious choice for other times of the year, but really, anyone, anytime, who is interested in learning more about the Savior's final days will find valuable insights here.

AE

When the Wall Came Down

When the Wall Came Down
By Serge Schmemann
Kingfisher, 2006. 127 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Schmemann, who was a New York Times correspondent in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down, talks about how the Berlin Wall came to be, with WWII's conclusion quickly followed by the rise of the Cold War. With East Germans, eager to flee their now-Communist country fleeing in vast numerous to West Germany via Berlin, the Communist leaders built the wall and sought to solidify power throughout Eastern Europe. However, decades later, the people in East Germany began calling for change, and eventually, change did come and the wall, the most visible symbol of the Iron Curtain, no longer divided the country. With changes in travel restrictions came a call for reunification of the country, and shortly, Germany did reunite, and many Soviet countries and satellites similarly called for an end to communism.

This is a good overview of recent German history and provides readers with a beginner's understanding of the political climate during the Cold War. The writing style mixed in some first person observations into the text, which interrupted the flow somewhat (I think it would have been better as sidebars), but still, it's informative and accessible, making it a good choice for teen readers.

AE

Friday, June 17, 2011

Swept Off Her Feet

Swept Off Her Feet
By Hester Browne
Gallery Books, 2011. 330 pgs. Fiction.

Everybody has a weakness, Evie Nicholson’s is that she is in love with the past. Every time she goes to an auction for her antiques job, she finds it impossible to resist bringing back things like old teddy bears with missing eyes and arms and then daydreaming about who has loved them in the past. The problem is nobody understands her penchant for old things. Her sister thinks she’s crazy and it’s making her boss mad. To redeem herself, Evie is given a job to travel to Kettlesheer, an old Scottish estate and appraise its vast inventory of furniture and other antiques. In order to keep Keetlesheer in good repair, the family is hoping to find a valuable artifact.

Evie is thrilled at the chance to daydream her way through this ancient house, but when she arrives, Evie meets Robert McAndrew, the moody heir who doesn’t see the point in trying to keep Keetlesheer running. Can Evie find a priceless antique, convince Robert not to give up Keetlesheer, and maybe even find love along the way?

As with all Hester Browne works, this is a charming piece of British chick lit, with a lovable but hopelessly romantic heroine and a setting full of history and romance. Browne’s books tend to be more clean than most chick lit and Swept Off Her Feet is no exception.

AJ

Paranormalcy

Paranormalcy
By Kiersten White
HarperTeen, 2010. 335 pgs. Young Adult

Evie just wants a normal life. But since she's the only human alive who can see through the glamors paranormal creatures use to disguise themselves, she's an important member of the International Paranormal Containment Agency, where she tracks down paranormal creatures, which doesn't exactly leave time for normal. Add in the fact that there's a faerie trying to win her soul and a new capture, an undefined paranormal (who happens to be very cute), who seems to think there's more to Evie than she realizes, and Evie definitely isn't normal. And when a strange creature starts killing paranormals--and communicating with Evie--normal is pretty much out of the question.

It takes a pretty good book to get me to read anything paranormal these days--I'm pretty much over the paranormal trend. However, I really liked this one. With the introduction of some new paranormal creatures, a great protagonist in Evie, and a plot that goes beyond the over-done (and not even usually well done) romance, I found a lot to like about this book, even for readers who never want to read another vampire/werewolf/zombie book in their lives. This one's refreshing and cute, and I'm looking forward to author Kiersten White's visit to our Library in August.

AE

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Created for Greater Things

Created for Greater Things
By Jeffrey R. Holland
Deseret Book, 2011. 156 pgs. Nonfiction

This collection of quotations from LDS Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland invites readers to step it up in all facets of life--parenting, discipleship, and more. At the same time, the quotations remind readers of Jesus Christ's power and mercy and the help available to those who are striving to live a faith-filled life.

While the opening and closing quotations of the book are directed to women, there are lots of nuggets of truth and encouragement that could appeal to men as well. In Elder Holland's typical style, there are tender, humorous, and piercing quotations in the book. This is a nice book to browse or to read straight through.

AE

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Princess for Hire

Princess for Hire
By Lindsey Leavitt
Disney/Hyperion, 2010. 239 pgs. Young Adult

Desi Bascomb despairs of her life: she's somewhat of a social outcast at her school, her crush is dating her former best friend turned enemy, and her job requires her to dress up as a groundhog. So, after a particularly bad day, she makes a wish on magical fish and then sees a help wanted ad for a substitute princess. Turns out, Desi has a sensitivity to magic, and that particular talent at least partially qualifies her to stand in for royalty when they want a break. So, she's given a trial position to see if she has what it takes to be a substitute princess and soon finds out that royal life isn't quite as glamorous as she thought...but it can have plenty of excitement, although not all of it is good.

This is a funny, fluffy read and a great pick for younger teen girls. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.

AE

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition
By Karen Blumenthal
Flash Point/Roaring Brook Press, 2011. 154 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Prohibition supporters thought that prohibiting the sale of alcohol would change life in the United States: fewer domestic problems, less drunkenness and fewer alcohol-related health problems. What they didn't anticipate was the rampant disregard for the law, as moonshine and speakeasies became common place, and the rise in gangs and Prohibition-related murders. Here, Blumenthal explains the efforts of the "dry" side (those in favor of Prohibition), using propaganda, speeches, and, in the case of Carrie Nation, a hatchet, to push for prohibition. However, when the Eighteenth Amendment was passed, the unexpected consequences soon made people think again about whether Prohibition was successful or not. With gangsters like Al Capone running cities, corruption in all aspects of law enforcement, and even the involvement of children in producing illegal alcohol, even some of the dry movements most devoted supporters found themselves switching over to the wet side, and eventually, Prohibition was repealed, through the passing of the Twenty-first Amendment.

This book is jam-packed with information but it's also a highly readable book. The author does a great job showing how the political and social climate changed in the U.S., leading first to Prohibition and then to its repeal. There are lots of great details: President Roosevelt was in the swimming pool when the when the final state needed to pass the Twenty-first Amendment--Utah--voted for it, many of the early car racers and NASCAR founders made their start trafficking alcohol, and Midwestern states called speakeasies "blind pigs". An excellent choice for nonfiction fans.

AE

Simple Sewing for Baby

Simple Sewing for Baby
By Lotta Jansdotter
Chronicle Books, 2009. 144 pgs. Nonfiction

Jansdotter provides directions for twenty-four sewing projects for babies and toddlers, including clothes, toys, and handy things for parents, like a nursing pillow and changing pad. The bright pictures make the book appealing, but some of the instructions weren't crystalclear to me. More experienced sewers might not have any trouble, though. One other thing I didn't like is that some of the clothes didn't specify the child's size; for example, a dress said the finished size is 17 inches, but I don't know what that translates to in baby clothes sizes. Overall, though, I'm happy with the things that I did make based on the book and I think this is a great resource.

AE

Doc

Doc: A Novel
By Mary Doria Russell
Random House, 2011. 394 pgs. Fiction.

The need to fight for life began at birth for John Henry Holliday who immerged into this world with a cleft palate, which at that time was almost a death sentence for a newborn. His uncle, a gifted surgeon was able to repair much of the deformity, and his mother spent months feeding him with a dropper and years helping him to speak well enough that few knew he had ever struggled. While he was still young, his mother died of tuberculosis and left her only son with the same disease. His TB would eventually force him to move from his home to the dry, clean air of the Wild West. He would eventually become famous for his involvement in a brief shootout at the O.K. Corral and generations would know him by his nickname, Doc Holliday.

Doc is historical fiction at its finest. Russell paints a realistic and vibrant portrait of an educated man forced to live in a wild frontier. Doc Holliday is a great hero in his own story and while Russell doesn’t sensationalize the myths that are associated with his life and deeds, he is still clearly a larger-than-life character along with Wyatt and Morgan Earp, Miss Kate, and other key players who inhabited Dodge City. Readers will appreciate Russell’s humor and beautiful writing style along with Doc’s adventurous and courageous spirit.

CZ

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt

Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt
By Aida D. Donald
Basic Books, 2007. 287 pgs. Nonfiction

From cradle to grave Teddy Roosevelt was a remarkable individual with a tremendous capacity for learning, leading, and living. He seems to have excelled at most everything he undertook, rising quickly through the ranks.

Well known as President of the United States and was one of the "Rough Riders" in the charge up San Juan Hill, Roosevelt also was a member of the Civil Service Commission, was Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York and Vice President of the United States all prior to becoming the president of the U.S. at age 42.

He was widely admired and respected. He lived his life with gusto and style. His was an inspiring life and this biography covers it all with an easy, readable style.

SML

The Rogue Shop

The Rogue Shop
By Michael Knudsen
Bonneville Books, 2010. 282 pgs. Fiction

Chris Kerry leaves Texas for Salt Lake City promising his aunt that he'll never become a Mormon. He's come for an education at the University of Utah and finds a job in a formal wear rental shop. He makes friends in his apartment building and builds some relationships at the tuxedo shop. Some of the shop's employees have secrets and pain that go back decades. Chris's good nature and compassion help to bring about much good in this pain-filled place. Meanwhile, he also becomes close friends with two young Mormon girls in his apartment building, which leads to some real surprises in this story. This plot-driven story starts slow but eventually picks up to the point where I couldn't put it down.

SML

Playing Hurt

Playing Hurt
By Holly Schindler
Flux, 2011. 303 pgs. Fiction

High school basketball star Chelsea Keyes suffers a career-ending broken hip and can't seem to get on with life after the injury. When her family goes on summer vacation, her father, concerned about her tendency to mope and do nothing else, signs her up for a personal trainer. Clint, the personal trainer, has problems of his own: ever since his girlfriend died two years before, he's been distancing himself from people. He's given up his beloved sport (hockey) and absolutely doesn't date. However, he's undeniably attracted to Chelsea, and she (despite the fact that she has a boyfriend waiting back home and is actually planning to lose her virginity to him as soon as she gets home from vacation), feels the same connection with him. Soon, each of them are pushing the other to face their fears and get back in the game.

Female readers will definitely be drawn to sexy Clint; Chelsea, although sharing the narrator, wasn't quite as intriguing to me. While the book is supposed to be about dealing with heartbreak and loss, the physical nature of relationships is emphasized more than the emotional. Some readers may find themselves frustrated with Chelsea's indecisiveness, but others will enjoy the steamy (and detailed) romance.

AE

Jenna and Jonah's Fauxmance

Jenna and Jonah's Fauxmance
By Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin
Walker, 2011. 229 pgs. Young Adult

Charlie Tracker and Fielding Withers star in a TV show (Jenna and Jonah's How to Be a Rock Star), but much of their popularity and appeal stems from their off-screen romance...except their off-screen romance is a total farce and they can barely tolerate each other's presence. When a rumor about Fielding makes the world doubt their relationship and puts their careers in jeopardy, they hide out, trying to stay out of the public eye until the scandal blows over, and they finally have a chance to get each other to know each other--and realize that maybe their fauxmance has a chance at being a real romance after all.

This fun, light-hearted read is a good choice for a beach book. It does have some innuendo and a little language.

AE

I'll Be There

I’ll Be There
By Holly Goldberg Sloan
Little, Brown and Company, 2011. 392 pgs. Young Adult

Raised by an unstable father who keeps constantly on the move, Sam Border has long been the voice of his silent younger brother, Riddle, but everything changes when Sam meets Emily Bell and, welcomed by her family, the brothers are faced with normalcy for the first time.

This was an awesome coming of age, adventure story. Sam and Riddle have been surviving on their own for years even though they live with their father. By the end of the story though, the reader really sees how strong these boys really are. I really enjoyed this debut novel.

AMM

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lost in a Good Book

Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next #2)
by Jasper Fforde
Penguin Books, 2004 399 pgs. Science Fiction
In this, the second of the Tuesday Next series of novels, our hero is thrust into another series of troubles with Goliath, a nefarious multinational corporation, and the Chronoguard, who continue their hunt down of Tuesday’s time travelling father. Tuesday is blackmailed into releasing the villain of The Eyre Affair, who is trapped within the pages of Poe’s The Raven. In order to thwart her enemies and get her time eradicated husband back, Tuesday is apprenticed to Miss Havisham of Great Expectations fame. As with the Eyre Affair, this is a fun, fast paced adventure, chock full of humor and sprinkled throughout with delightful literary references. Fforde is the Douglas Adams for English majors everywhere.
CHW

Bloodmoney: a Novel of Espionage

Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage
by David Ignatius
W.W. Norton, 2011. 372 pgs. Thriller.

When Omar al-Waziri's family, home, and previous life are vaporized by the strike of a Predator drone in Pakistan, he vows the vengeance required of him by his culture and his own grief. But he waits. In California, a self-financed, off even the CIA's books espionage outlet begins to lose agents in the Middle East--one kidnapped and tortured, others gunned down in the streets. Where is the leak? Jeffrey Gertz, mastermind and director of "The Hit Parade" undercover squad asks Sophie Marx, a junior agent, to try to smoke out both leak and assassin. In spite of herself being a target (a bodyguard is killed defending her), Sophie does well--so well, in fact, that her investigation is co-opted by the CIA in the person of Cyril Hoffman, a legend in his field. But as Sophie and Cyril, Omar and Jeffrey perform the delicate dance that may destroy them all, it becomes more and more difficult to separate right from wrong, good from evil, truth from a potentially fatal falsehood. Ignatius, a columnist and reporter for the Washington Post covering the Middle East and the CIA, has written an elegant, desolate thriller about war, its cause and continuance, and the perfidy that militates forever and ever against its end.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly
By Julia Golding
Marshall Cavendish, 2009. 390 pgs. Young Adult

With Fergox Spearthrower threatening to take over the entire Known World, the kingdoms of Gerfal and the Blue Crescent Islands think an alliance between the two would be the only way to survive Fergox's threatening advances. To forge that alliance, it is decided that Prince Ramil of Gerfal and Princess Taoshira (Tashi) of the Blue Crescent Islands will wed. However, neither of them wants to wed the other. Their cultures are completely different--the Blue Crescent society is matriarchal, believes the supreme being is a Goddess, and emphasizes shielding emotion and exerting proper behavior at all times, while Gerfal is patriarchal, believes in a male God, and is much more open, and in Ramil's case, brash and even somewhat rude. Although Tashi accepts her mission and goes to Gerfal, it's not long before Ramil has insulted her to the point that she determines they cannot wed. Before she can return home, though, both she and Ramil are abducted and must rely on each other in order to escape.

Highly engaging, this book had me interested from the first pages and I couldn't wait to see how the story unfolded. With adventure in a carefully crafted fantasy world, two appealing lead characters, intrigue, romance, and more, this book pretty much has it all. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great book, and in particular, to fans of Graceling by Cashore or Bunce's Star Crossed.

AE

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Way He Lived

The Way He Lived
By Emily Wing Smith
Flux, 2008. 232 pgs. Young Adult

When Joel's Scout troop went on a camping trip and didn't bring enough water, Joel gave his water away and died before they reached a water source. Six of the people he left behind, including his two sisters, crush, and best friends, each get a chance to describe how life is for him or her after Joel's death and the emotions swirling inside them--frustration, anger, doubt, and more.

This is a thoroughly though-provoking book about life and death, grief and moving on. At the same time, it's the time of book that I think will make a lot of readers uncomfortable, particularly LDS readers. The characters are LDS but with varying degrees of adherence to LDS beliefs; there are those who hate seminary but like the scriptures, those who curse and those who are willing to ignore LDS teachings on chastity, and there's the issue of whether Joel's death was an accident or suicide, all things which I think will be upsetting to LDS readers. It's a discussion-worthy book, but at the same time, there are probably more readers in the Provo community that would be disturbed by it than would enjoy it.

AE

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Redbreast

The Redbreast
By Jo Nesbo
Harpercollins, 2006. 519 pgs. Mystery

The plot to this wonderfully complicated thriller/mystery begins at the German Eastern front with a group of Norwegian soldiers fighting the Russians for the Nazi regime. This historical story is told amid a modern story starring Harry Hole, an unlucky inspector for the Norwegian Security Service. The two narratives are expertly woven together and the plot takes a number of fantastic and unexpected turns.

Harry Hole is a terrific protagonist for this mystery series. Nesbo is a good writer and unfolds his story with a great deal of insight into the human psyche. It does have a dominant European feel and I would readily recommend The Redbreast to anyone who enjoyed Larsson’s popular series but would like to try something with a little less graphic violence and sex. I am eager to continue to read of Harry’s further adventures in the second book in the series, Nemesis!

CZ

Stories I Only Tell My Friends

Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography
By Rob Lowe
Henry Holt & Co., 2011. 308 pgs. Biography

Rob Lowe’s autobiography takes readers through his early mid-western childhood, his introduction to fame and the addictions that followed, and finally to his recovery and eventual professional and personal success. The narrative moves quickly as Lowe describes his journey through the obstacles of life in the limelight. He does, indeed, tell some great stories and he includes a star studded line-up of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues.

Lowe proves himself a good writer and I could easily list Stories I Only Tell My Friends among the best celebrity autobiographies I’ve read. You could almost accuse him of name dropping, except that he makes it so much fun. Celebrities pop up consistently and Lowe’s behind the scene stories make this a perfect book for fans of the Brat Pack and all things 80s. Warning: Readers should be prepared to feel a serious need to Netflix The Outliers, St. Elmo’s Fire, and the first four seasons of The West Wing.

CZ

Lost in Shangri-La

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II
By Mitchell Zuckoff
Harpercollins, 2011. 384 pgs. Nonfiction

High in the unexplored mountains of New Guinea, just as World War II was wrapping up, a plane full of servicemen and women crashed and was swallowed by the dense jungle terrain. They had set out on a sightseeing expedition to fly over a hidden valley frequently referred to as Shangri-La. Survivors of the fiery crash would need to find a way to signal search planes and then survive until a rescue mission could be attempted. After weeks of surviving in and exploring the exotic region, survivors and their rescuers were finally able to escape the hidden paradise and return to civilization.

What makes this book great are the amazing people involved in the rescue and the survivors themselves. Their stories are fascinating. Also, the natives of the valley add a great deal to the story as readers glimpse a community of people completely isolated from the outside world. What was a little disappointing was that the actual rescue operation took up only the last several pages and, while it was certainly daring and fraught with danger, it still left me a little underwhelmed. Despite that, this is a wonderful piece of nonfiction that can easily be recommended to World War II enthusiasts and armchair adventurers.

CZ

Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich
By Eric Metaxas
Thomas Nelson, 2010. 591 pgs. Biography

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born the son of a respected psychologist in Germany just after the turn of the century. Raised as an intellectual, Dietrich surprisingly decided to dedicate his career to the study of theology. As he began to study religion, he quickly became a sincere and prolific Christian at a time when devoted religious practices were far from popular. When the Third Reich gained control of German politics, Bonhoeffer’s beliefs placed him prominently against the Nazi Party. His tremendous patriotism and desire to truly live his religion ultimately required him to make the greatest sacrifice possible.

This was such a great book about a truly inspirational man. Many are familiar with the Valkyre plot to kill Hitler. However, the story behind the brave men who had been placing themselves in opposition to Hitler from the outbreak of war have had less notoriety. Bonhoeffer’s biography brings many of these heroes to light and his theology, deeply rooted faith, and very personal relationship with God make this a recommended read for many reasons.

CZ

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Hare in the Elephant's Trunk

A Hare in the Elephant's Trunk
By Jan L. Coates
Red Deer Press, 2010. 291 pgs. Young Adult

When the Sudanese civil war reached his home village, seven-year-old Jacob had to run for his life...and then walk, and walk, and walk, all the way to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. He spent several years in the camp, only to be forced out by the Ethiopians. Then he had to walk to a refugee camp in Kenya, and while there, he learned a lesson that his mother had tried to teach him years before: that education is the way to a better life. As he sets out to learn all that he can, he also holds onto another lesson from his mother: Wadeng, or look always to tomorrow because it will be better.

This is an inspiring look at a boy's will to survive, even as he is away from his family and forced to live in extremely humble conditions. At times, the writing can be somewhat dry, but still, it's an important story and an eye-opening one for readers who may not know about the Lost Boys of Sudan.

AE

Monday, June 6, 2011

Year Zero

Year Zero
By Jeff Long
Pocket Books, 2002. 406 pgs. Fiction

Nathan Lee Swift is an archaeologist who essentially loots the Golgotha site of the remains of many crucifixion victims. Then he's off into the Himalayas on another adventure which goes awry and he spends 17 months in a jail. When he emerges the world is dying. A plague is sweeping across the planet with devastating consequences.

In the United States all attempts to counter the plague have failed; however, a band of young scientists have gathered at the Los Alamos facility and are attempting radical solutions to stay the plague. The author creates several very interesting threads in this novel: the archaeology, cloning of humans from the first century, and the plague destroying virtually all humanity and civilization. These threads begin weaving nicely together, but then they unravel--the novel's conclusion is anti-climatic and disappointing.

SML

Between Here and Forever

Between Here and Forever
By Elizabeth Scott
Simon Pulse, 2011. 250 pgs. Young Adult

Abby's older sister, Tess, who is the golden girl that everyone has always loved, is in a coma, and Abby is determined that she's going to wake up, but not so much because she misses her sister but because she wants her life back. She's always lived in Tess's shadow, but since the accident, it's even worse, as she's constantly reminded of how she doesn't live up to Tess. So, she has to find a way to wake her sister up--and Eli seems to be the way to go. Handsome Eli, a guy that no girl could resist, even a girl in a coma. But as Abby convinces Eli to visit Tess, she finds it hard to get either of them to concentrate on Tess. And then she realizes that there's so much about her sister that she never knew, and in some ways, they aren't as different as they seem.

This is a pretty heavy book, with Abby dealing with her family trauma as well as her own lack of self-esteem. Even the romantic twist is weighty, as Abby has been burned in the past and Eli has issues of his own. Tess's secret is one that some readers will be uncomfortable with, so while I think the book is well-written, I also think conservative readers might want to go with something else.

AE

The King of Attolia

The King of Attolia
By Megan Whalen Turner
Greenwillow Books, 2006. 387 pgs. Young Adult

Eugenides, formerly the Thief of Eddis, has married the queen of Attolia and thus become the king. However, most of Attolia seems upset with that--his attendants and servants constantly play tricks on him, the captain of the guard can't stand him, and there are even assassins out to get him. When Costis, one of the queen's guard, goes so far as to actually strike the king, he expects to be killed for his crime. However, the king makes him a member of the guard instead, and slowly, Costis comes to realize that there is a whole lot more to Eugenides than meets the eye.

Like the other books in this series, there are unexpected twists and turns. I had a little bit harder time with the narration in this one, since we spent much less time inside Eugenides' head and more in Costis', but still, I thoroughly enjoy the series.

AE

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana
By Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
HarperCollins, 2011, 256 pgs.

Kamila Sidiqi was raised in a family that prized education. She graduated from a teaching institute in Kabul shortly before the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. Confined to home under Taliban laws, Kamila and her siblings were anxious and fearful as Kamila became the sole support of her family when her brother and father fled to Pakistan to avoid arrest. Defying Taliban rules she started a dressmaking enterprise that grew to support her family and others in her neighborhood.

Though the book is a biography, the style borders on fiction as the author alternates events and background with reconstructed conversations. This style creates a quick moving and readable story, but, as a result it often feels more like fiction than fact. I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoyed Three Cups of Tea or The Kabul Beauty School and works of fiction about Afghanistan such as Under the Persimmon Tree or The Swallows of Kabul. SH


Ruby Red

Ruby Red
By Kerstin Gier
Henry Holt, 2011. 330 pgs. Young Adult

Gwyneth has only had to deal with normal teenage issues and the fact that she can see and talk to ghosts during her sixteen years; her cousin Charlotte has the time-traveling gene in the family. So when Gwen travels back in time unexpectedly, twice in 24 hours, she realizes some mistake has been made. Quickly initiated into the Order, a secret society devoted to the twelve people who time-travel, Gwen is sent on a mission with Gideon, a fellow teen and time-traveler. Their goal is to find the rest of the time travelers whose blood is not in the Order’s special chronograph. When the mission is ambushed, Gwen begins to think that her mother’s forebodings and warnings about the Order might be correct.

This great, fast-paced read has it all—adventure, humor, secrets, mystery, and a little romance. Gwen is an appealing heroine, Gideon is a swoon-worthy love interest, and the twists are intriguing. The time-traveling aspect can be a bit confusing at times, but I have faith that it all works. I eagerly look forward to the next two in the series.

MN