Wednesday, August 31, 2011

All that was Promised

All that was Promised
by Vickie Hall
Cedar Fort, 2011. 240 pgs. Fiction

Methodist minister Richard Kenyon has a comfortable life with his wife and congregation in early nineteenth-century Wales. But when Richard meets a Mormon missionary and listens to his message, his life is changed forever. He soon finds himself struggling to recognize the promised blessings of the gospel when violent persecution shakes the fledgling Church.

I enjoyed reading about a time period and place that I did not know a lot about before reading this book, and I particularly liked the author’s attention to detail. The characterization was really the strength of this book, as the action and language felt a little flat at times and the plot seemed to play out along very predictable lines. I also don’t particularly like books that end without a resolution as an obvious set-up for a sequel.

JC

Ready Player One

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
Crown, 2011. 372 pgs. Science Fiction

What a gas! Ready Player One is so much fun to read you'll wish you hadn't finished it so you could read it for the first time. As our story begins it is 2044 and the world has pretty much oozed down the drain. Fossil fuels are almost completely exhausted and the poor live in trailer parks where the units are stacked fifteen high. Most of the populace maintains sanity by avoiding "real life" and living virtually, in the OASIS universe, where one just has to log on to be anything or anyone, anywhere. Wade Watts, through his avatar Parzival, spends most every hour he is not in his online school trying to solve the riddle left by OASIS' creator when he died. Somewhere in his multiverse James Halliday has hidden three keys that open three gates. Whoever makes his or her way through the third gate first inherits Halliday's billions. After five years with no progress, many "gunters" have given up on the quest but Parzival's careful study of 80s pop culture finally pays off and he finds the Copper Key and goes through the first gate. A friend and an admired blogger follow him, but as the leaders' names are posted on the scoreboard, the Dark Empire of Innovative Online Industries lurches into action and soon real people in the real world are dying and Wade and his friends are on the run in and out of OASIS.

Some gaming chops and a working knowledge of 80s music, movies, and arcade games is helpful but not necessary in enjoying this crackerjack of a futuristic adventure with enough thought-provoking themes to make it not just fluff.

LW

Back When You Were Easier to Love

Back When You Were Easier to Love
By Emily Wing Smith
Dutton Books, 2011. 296 pgs. Young Adult

When Joy moved to Haven, Utah, she quickly started dating Zan, who was cooler than everyone else there: he was so "above" the silly Mormon culture, with the Sprite drinking and Disney-movie-watching-parties and "Modest is Hottest" t-shirts, and Mormons in general, since they aren't concerned about real issues and think they're better than everyone else. In Zan, Joy finally felt like she was somebody, but when he completed his GED and took off to California to go to college, Joy's world fell apart. Now she's desperate to get "closure" (which really means she's desperate to get Zan back), and she convinces Zan's friend Noah to drive her to California, even though she can't stand, since he's king of the Soccer Lovin' Kids--so cool and handsome he can even make being a Mormon okay.They confront Zan, and Joy has to realize what that maybe she hasn’t been seeing things clearly.

Joy's attitude can be really hard to take: she's so disdainful towards Haven (from the library, to the school, to the people) and toward Mormon culture (she likes the faith, just not the culture), and even toward her friends. While she does come to realize that she's not better than everyone else, I think it might be too little, too late. Particularly for LDS readers, this could be a hard one to swallow, since it does mock the culture and the people. Joy is so much "better" than everyone else, that it makes it really hard to like her and to care about what happens to her. On the other hand, readers who can get past the fact that Joy is pretty stuck up initially (and I think, still somewhat at the end), there are some light-hearted moments to enjoy---and Noah is a cutie. All in all, I'm not quite sure what to think.

AE

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Across the Universe

Across the Universe
By Beth Revis
Penguin, 2011. 398 pages. Science Fiction

Along with her parents, seventeen-year-old Amy is cryogenically frozen for a 300-year journey across space. During her long sleep, dramatic changes aboard the immense spaceship carrying the colonists threaten the entire mission to Alpha Centauri and result in Amy being unfrozen ahead of schedule. A single tyrannical leader, Eldest, controls life on the spaceship. Amy must protect her parents and all the other frozen colonists from being prematurely awakened or killed. She and her only peer on the ship, Elder, challenge the authority and vision of Eldest.

Gripping and with many plot twists and turns, Across the Universe portrays a claustrophobic dystopia hurtling across space. Some details about the behaviors of the inhabitants of the spaceship make this a choice for older teens and adults. SH

Science Fair Season . . .

Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch . . And What it Takes to Win
by Judy Dutton
Hyperion, 2011. 271 pgs. Non-fiction.

You would think that "what it takes to win" in the science fair world is a supportive and at least moderately well-off family, a better-than-decent education, a stable home life, and plenty of money for supplies. Some of the kids we meet in these pages had those things, but most do well in spite of their circumstances. Garrett Yazzie built a solar-heating unit from soda cans, an ancient car radiator, and a sheet of plexiglass so his younger sister wouldn't wheeze her life away in their drafty, coal-stove-heated trailer on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. Sarah Niitsuma, a Salt Lake teen, survived her parents' divorce, living and sleeping in her mother's office at a care center, and sexual abuse from her sister's boyfriend to reach science fair success with a team project about bacteria on changing tables in public restrooms. The only thing as remarkable as the stories of the brilliant and determined kids in these pages are the stories of mentors, teachers, and other caring adults who showed up at just the right moment to help these kids build their fusion reactors, develop soluble carbon nanotubes, and take on Colony Collapse Disorder in a pair of red stilettos. What a terrific and heartening book! Gives one great hope for the future of the Republic.

LW

Monday, August 29, 2011

Inés of My Soul

Inés of My Soul
By Isabel Allende
HarperCollins, 2006, 321 pages, Historical Fiction

This is the story of Doña Inés Suárez, the founding mother of Chile. Stretching from her humble beginnings as a wife and seamstress in Spain, to her subsequent journey to the new world to find her husband, to her long life and all the trials, tribulations, and victories she endured. Upon arriving in Peru, Inés discovers her faithless husband has died an ignoble death in battle, whereupon she determines to make a life by herself in the new world. Soon she meets and falls in love with a dashing conquistador, Don Pedro de Valdivia. Together they risk everything in their quest to conquer Chile in the name of Spain, convert the natives to Christianity, and establish a civilized society based on their Christian ideals. A sweeping and often brutal saga of two larger than life historical figures.

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits
by Ayelet Waldman
Anchor, 2007, 352 pages, Fiction

This story gives a realistic view of the immense pain that comes from losing a child to SIDS, as well as the difficulties of melding step-families and the minefields that often go with the territory. Emelia is a smart, young lawyer that falls for, and seduces her married boss. After finding out she is pregnant, he leaves his family and marries her. What at first seemed like a beautiful love story quickly goes south as Emelia tries to bond w/ her 5yr old stepson and deal with her husband’s angry ex-wife. The subsequent death of Emelia’s daughter Isabelle derails her perfect life, as well as further complicates her relationships with her parents, husband, step-son, and his mother. A funny, real, and painfully raw look at a family trying to cope with their modern day problems.

DEF


Anya’s Ghost

Anya’s Ghost
By Vera Brosgol
First Second, 2011. 221 pgs. Young Adult

Anya is a Russian immigrant who has worked hard to fit in in America. However, she still feels like an outsider and is pretty unhappy with her life. When she falls into a well one day, she doesn’t expect to find a friend there—but she does. Only problem is: the friend is a ghost who follows her home. Anya isn’t sure about this at first, but it comes in handy having a friend who can spy on people (like Anya’s crush) without being seen. However, Anya soon comes to realize that maybe there’s something more wrong with her friend than just being dead and that the popularity she’s dreamed of might not be all that it’s cracked up to be.

This graphic novel was decent but didn’t really blow me away. Anya’s struggle to fit in is realistic for a teenage girl, and the drawings were all right. For those who are looking for a stand-alone graphic novel rather than a series, this might be a good choice.

AE

Roadside Assistance

Roadside Assistance
By Amy Clipston
Zondervan, 2011. 278 pgs. Young Adult

Emily’s mother died from cancer and the medical bills ended up costing her and her father their home and his business. Left with little to their name, they move in with Emily’s aunt Darlene and her family, including her cousin who is everything Emily isn’t. Emily just wants to work on cars—her favorite hobby—but she feels pressured by her family to be something she’s not. While the boy next door, Zander, proves to be a good friend, Emily is frustrated by his deep faith; since her mother died, she hasn’t been able to pray or find any solace and she doesn’t want anyone to preach to her.

I enjoyed reading about Emily’s struggle to re-find her faith; I think her feelings are realistically portrayed. I also enjoyed watching her developing friendship with Zander. My only complaint was that sometimes the language didn’t seem fitting for a teenager; there were places where it was oddly formal. Overall, though, this is a good choice for those looking for Christian fiction.

AE

Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto

Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto
By Paul B. Janeczko
Candlewick Press, 2011. 102 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

This is a collection of brief poems that describes how the Nazis herded Jews into the Terezin ghetto before shipping them off to the death camps. The poems show the view point of the Jews, as well as the SS guards and the non-Jewish people who were removed from their homes in order to build the ghetto. It’s a slim collection of poems, but it’s definitely moving, showing lost love, broken lives, and more.

AE

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy
By Victoria Connelly
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2011. 345 pgs. Romance

At a weekend conference on Jane Austen, romance is in the air. Katherine Roberts is there to present one of the classes, and what she doesn’t know is that her favorite author and pen pal Lorna Warwick is there, too—except, Lorna is a pseudonym for Warwick Lawton, and he knows exactly who Katherine is and sets out to woo her, but the fact that he has hidden his identity for so long threatens their relationship. Meanwhile, Robyn Love just wanted to get away and indulge her love for all things Austen but her boyfriend (who she wants to break up with but feels obligated to continue dating) tags along, interrupting in the most embarrassing ways. And handsome Dan Harcourt’s apparent interest in Robyn only increases her desire to end things with her boyfriend.

The plot line was satisfactory, but it wasn’t spectacular. This is a pretty clean romance—while there is some sexual activity, it’s not described, so most readers probably wouldn’t be too uncomfortable with it.

AE

Friday, August 26, 2011

Still Missing

Still Missing
by Chevy Stevens
St. Martin's Press, 2010. 342 pgs. Mystery

Interwoven with the story of the year Annie spent as the captive of a psychopath in a remote mountain cabin, which unfolds through sessions with her psychiatrist, is a second narrative recounting events following her escape—her struggle to piece her shattered life back together and the ongoing police investigation into the identity of her captor.

I like psychological suspense and mysteries, but this book was almost a bit too much for me. The book is structured as a narrative by Annie with her doctor, and she is still angry and bitter about her experience (as she should be). Having an angry narrator makes it hard to really get into the book or sympathize with the protagonist, despite her graphic descriptions of her ordeal. I also thought the narrative format felt forced in some places and in others made the book veer too far towards telling rather than showing. This book has an interesting premise and compelling plot with some great twists, but it was not an easy or enjoyable read.

JC

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Shanghai Girls

Shanghai Girls
by Lisa See
Random House, 2009. 314 pgs. Fiction

May and Pearl, two sisters living in Shanghai in the mid-1930s, are beautiful, sophisticated, and live in a well-to-do family. Their world is shattered one day when their father announces that he has gambled away their money and paid his debts by arranging for his daughters to marry “Gold Mountain men” who have come from Los Angeles to find brides. After getting caught in the Japanese invasion of Shanghai and then being detained for months by discriminatory immigration officials in the United States, they finally reach Los Angeles only to find that life there is not anything like they imagined.

This book was beautifully written and the bond between the two sisters was very touching. The descriptions and attention to detail were all well-done and I had a hard time leaving the world the author had created when the book was over. Pearl and May go through some pretty horrific things during their lives, and yet manage to survive all of them while still remaining close to each other. My main quibble with the book was that the ending really left me hanging and now I have to read the sequel.

JC

Page by Paige

Page by Paige
By Laura Lee Gulledge
Amulet Books, 2011. 1 volume (unpaged). Young Adult

The unfortunately named Paige Turner has just moved to New York from Virginia. While her parents are excited about the move, Paige isn't. She has a lot of emotions, doubts, and worries swirling around in her. She decides to start putting those feelings and dilemmas down on paper, opening herself up in her sketchbook. She also starts to realize the value in opening up to other people. Fighting her insecurities is hard, but as she continues with her art and with building relationships, she finds a sense of empowerment and more inner peace.

This graphic novel is fantastic! I was blown away by the illustrations, which so fabulously illustrated Paige's inner turmoil. The prose was good, too, varying with Paige's varying emotions, from darker to buoyant. There's a tiny bit of innuendo but it's otherwise clean. I think this is my new favorite graphic novel, and I highly recommend it.

AE


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Daughter of Helaman

Daughter of Helaman
By Misty Moncur
Bonneville Books, 2011. 201 pgs. Young Adult

Although Keturah is of marrying age, she has no intention of getting married yet. Instead, she wants to join her brothers and the other young men of their people as they form a rag-tag army and prepare to battle their enemies, the Lamanites. Ezekiel, the boy who has been her friend all her life, wants Keturah to accept his offer of betrothal, and while she thinks she loves him, she can't help the rising feelings she has for Gideon, the only man who seems willing to accept her need to be a soldier.

This was an exciting adventure, the first book in a new series, and overall I enjoyed it and I think other readers will, too. It's fast-paced and Keturah is a spunky character. I was a little put off by the use of modern slang in a historical fiction novel. ("Duh", "awesome", etc. just don't strike me as being a big part of the vocab before Christ...granted, I don't know what would have been, but it was a bit jarring.) I also got a little frustrated with Keturah going so far as to tell Zeke she loves him (multiple times) but all the while obviously being attracted to Gideon. It honestly made me frustrated with her; I can be sympathetic to her being conflicted about her feelings, but if she KNOWS she's conflicted, then she shouldn't tell Zeke she loves him. Also, I didn't feel like her relationship with Zeke was developed enough to really make me take her feelings for him seriously; we see a lot of him being bossy or opposing her (and some good stuff, too), but mainly it felt like the author TOLD the reader that there were feelings there, rather than actually showing it. All in all, though, I was intrigued by the book and look forward to the rest of the series.

AE

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Out of Shadows

Out of Shadows
By Jason Wallace
Holiday House, 2011. 282 pgs. Young Adult

In 1983, Robert Jacklin and his parents have just moved to Zimbabwe, where the civil war has recently ended and Robert Mugabe's black government is in power. Sent to a boarding school for boys, Robert finds that many of the boys are unhappy with the new government and the idea of blacks being equal to whites, and they also resent the British for not fighting to keep Zimbabwe under the control of the whites. Robert, whose first friend at the school is black and who just relocated from England, is instantly an outsider, picked on and abused. When Ivan, one of the boys who was once his tormentor extends a hand of friendship, Robert begins to participate in the racist and violent acts of the group. Although he is uncomfortable with what his friends do, he also doesn't know how to stand up to them, but the day comes when he has to decide if he is content to do nothing.

This book is a horrifying look at the racism and violence in Zimbabwe and does much to explain the unrest in the country. For that reason, I find it a valuable book. However, I felt the ending, the author's note, and the historical note actually took away from that, focusing instead on Mugabe's failures as a leader. While that's certainly an important area to consider as well, it just seemed to gloss over how wrong these boys--including Robert--were. It's a harsh book, with language, cruelty, and violence, which could be disturbing to some readers.

AE

Possession

Possession
By Elana Johnson
Simon Pulse, 2011. 405 pgs. Young Adult

In a world where Thinkers control the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld must make a choice to control or be controlled after learning truths about her "dead" sister and "missing" father.

Vi has the ability to control people, although she hasn’t realized this skill for much of her life. After breaking the rules one too many times, she is incarcerated with Jag, a boy she has never met. Even though she has already been matched with Zenn, she feels a strong connection to Jag. This book ends on a cliffhanger that hopefully will be resolved in her next book Surrender that is slated to be published Summer 2012.

Although I found this dystopian novel a little hard to follow, I’m still excited to meet the author when she comes to the Provo City Library on October 11th!

AMM

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World

Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World
by Robin Wright
Simon and Schuster, 2011. 307 pgs. Non-Fiction.

Robin Wright aptly uses the title of the 1982 Clash hit to describe what is currently happening in the Arab countries of the Middle East and Africa. From Tunisia to Yemen, and Egypt to Bahrain, the long-put-upon jobless young and the endless ranks of the poor have given civil disobedience a bold new definition. Wright, a multiple award-winning correspondent for many first-rank newspapers, journals, and broadcast outlets, has given us a fascinating and thorough account of the shifting tides of the Islamic world. Many personal interviews yield a picture of a diverse people sick of being viewed as terrorists because of a few fanatics (think: Warren Jeffs as an exemplar of Mormonism). Many Muslims have chosen to challenge that image in interesting ways: the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, for instance, or the wearing of pink hijabs, and the writing and reciting of protest poetry. Wright also takes on the tepid response and confused foreign policy of the United States government. We should have known what was coming and we didn't.
Fascinating, enlightening, and disarming in all senses of the word, Rock the Casbah . . . is essential reading for our times.

LW

The Summer I Learned to Fly

The Summer I Learned to Fly
By Dana Reinhardt
Wendy Lamb Books, 2011. 216 pgs. Young Adult

Thirteen-year-old Drew is a bit different than her peers--she's kind of a loner, her mother has just opened a cheese shop, and she has a rat for a pet. Still, as summer begins, Drew thinks everything's going well--she's going to work at the cheese shop and learn from handsome Nick how to make delicious pasta. But Nick gets a girlfriend and Drew's mom says money is too tight to pay and has a secret boyfriend of her own. As Drew's world starts changing, she meet Emmett Crane, and their friendship changes the world for both of them.

This book was delightful to read; the characters and the emotion were spot-on. While it has a bit of a slower plot, it gives readers a lot to think about. It's set in the 1980s, but the experiences and emotions are definitely ones teens today could have. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

AE

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sister

Sister
By Rosamund Lupton
Random House, 2011. 336 pgs. Mystery.

Beatrice lives in New York, an ocean from her only sister Tess, a poor art student studying in London. But the distance doesn’t keep them from maintaining an intensely close relationship and when Tess goes missing, Beatrice immediately flies to England to help locate her. As the investigation proceeds, the police decide no foul play is involved, despite Beatrice’s assurances that her sister was being harassed and feared for her safety. Without official support, Beatrice tries to use what resources she has to investigate on her own and find her beloved sister.

Sister is a touching psychological thriller, if such a thing is possible. The relationship between the two women provides depth of character and motive which intensifies the impending danger and the reader’s engagement. Revelations are spaced throughout the narration providing various ‘ah-ha’ moments and a satisfying pace. This is a terrific debut effort from a promising new writer.

CZ

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rules of Civility

Rules of Civility
By Amor Towles
Viking, 2011. 334 pgs. Historical Fiction.

The year is 1938 and the city is New York. America is just finding its financial footing after surviving the Great Depression and young Americans are seeing that their dreams may not be as impossible as they may have seemed only a few years ago. On a dark New Year’s Eve, Katey, Eve, and Tinker meet up and begin the year with a promise to break out of their ruts and embrace unexpected opportunities. Within weeks, a tragic car accident will force those promised changes and start the three friends toward futures no one could have anticipated.

This story is fantastic and these characters are vibrantly depicted, but it’s the sense of place the author infuses in his writing that makes this one of the best books I’ve read this year. Katey, is by far, the star of the story. And, while the book is certainly more literary than those typically labeled ‘chick lit’, I can not seem to keep myself from placing her among my favorite heroines from that genre. She is certainly more self-assured and socially presentable than Bridget Jones, but she still inspires in this reader that same sense of loyalty and desire for her to come out on top. This is an easy recommendation to historical and literary fiction readers.

CZ

City of Veils

City of Veils
By Zoe Ferraris
Houghton Mifflin, 2011. 393 pgs. Mystery

In City of Veils, Nayir, a desert guide, and Katya, a medical examiner, once again team up to solve a murder in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. Three dimensional characters, an exotic location and gripping plot make this book hard to put down. Nayir cautiously follows his heart while aiding Katya’s search for the killer of a female independent filmmaker in a society that doesn’t necessarily value independent females. The paradoxical choices individuals face in a culture very much in transition from repressive tribalism to modernity are portrayed through the many characters, including expatriates living in the Kingdom. SH

33 Men

33 Men: Inside the Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue of the Chilean Miners
By Jonathan Franklin
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2011. 307 pgs. Nonfiction

On August 5, 2010, the San Jose copper mine in Chile collapsed with thirty-three men still inside. For the next seventeen days, Chilean government members, families, and rescue workers hoped against hope that they'd be able to reach the miners--at a depth of 2300 feet--and that when they did, someone might still be alive. Meanwhile, down in the mine, the men were struggling to survive on contaminated water and one bite of tuna fish or less every day. When a borehill was finally drilled and reached the trapped miners, everyone was elated that all the men were still alive, but they still had major work to do to get them out; it wasn't until day sixty-nine that the miners were finally rescued, and in the ensuing weeks of waiting, there were family problems (such as the wife and girlfriend of a single miner meeting and fighting), disputes over censorship (some of those in charge of the miner's mental health were in favor of restricting the letters family members and miners wrote to each other), and sheer boredom, as well many other problems, to combat.

The story of the Chilean miners captured the world's attention, and Franklin, a journalist who was on site for much of this experience, has produced an accessible account of events. There are a lot of personal details left out--we don't really get to know the men very much--but the details of the problems with devising and executing the rescue plan are fascinating.

AE

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Then Came You

Then Came You
By Jennifer Weiner
Atria Books, 2011. 352 pgs. Fiction

This is a story of four women. Each one is at a turning point in life and is struggling with her own set of challenges. India is attempting to becoming a mother before the opportunity has passed. Bettina, India’s step-daughter is desperately trying to keep her fractured family from further disintegration. As a college student, Jules has financial troubles which are complicated by her drug addict father. And finally, Annie who needs to help keep her family financially afloat while staying at home with her two young boys. These four women will be brought together and each one will play a vital role in the life of a baby being brought into the world.

This book was okay. The premise is intriguing and the issues interesting. Society’s definition of family is put under the microscope as the story raises the consequences of solutions science has found to help infertile couples have children. Egg donation and surrogacy are both necessary to bring India’s familial dreams to life but unanticipated events complicate the already convoluted situation. A decent addition to the world of women’s literature.

CZ

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Escape--Teens on the Run

Escape--Teens on the Run
By Linda Jacobs Altman
Enslow Publishers, 2010. 128 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Based on primary research, this is a collection of anecdotes about Jewish teenagers fleeing the Nazis before and during WWII. While the experiences vary, from those who acquired visas and travel papers and emigrated from Europe to those who were actually rounded up and escaped from trains headed for the death camps, they combine to show the frightening reality for teens who had to escape in order to survive.

While the experiences included in the book are certainly moving, the actual presentation was somewhat lacking. Sometimes the transitions from story to story didn't flow well, and there were a few times when a story wasn't completed satisfactorily (such as a girl who had a premonition to run away--did that premonition save her life? Did something happen after she left? The reader never finds out.) The format of the book is good, with photos and maps, and, as I said, the stories themselves are compelling, but I wish the book had been put through a more rigorous editing process.

AE

Your Happily Ever After

Your Happily Ever After
By Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Deseret Book, 2011. 57 pgs. Nonfiction

Sometimes we need a reminder that life was never all sunshine and roses for fairy-tale princesses. Before the true love's kisses and happily ever afters, there came once upon a times of poisoned apples, spindle pricks, and impossible tasks.

Speaking to the princesses of our Heavenly King, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf compares their challenges to those faced by famous fairy-tale heroines. Recounting Belle's captivity, Cinderella's servitude, and the sacrifices of the miller's daughter, President Uchtdorf emphasizes that each princess had to overcome adversity before she reached her happily ever after.

This book is aimed at young women and encourages them to work toward their own happily ever after, while realizing that opposition is part of daily life. A sweet reminder to look at the bigger picture and have faith in Heavenly Father’s plan for each of His children.

AMM

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba
By Margarita Engle
Henry Holt and Compay, 2010. 151 pgs. Young Adult

The Firefly Letters draws on little-known Cuban history to tell a stirring story in poetry. Based on the diaries and letters of Swedish suffragist Fredrika Bremer, who spent three months in Cuba in 1851, the story focuses on the privileged as well as the enslaved.

This historical novel told in verse follows three characters. Fredrika is anxious to explore Cuba, which she at first believes is paradise before she really gets to know the struggles Cubans have in their daily lives. Cecilia is an African slave who translates for Fredrika. She was sold into slavery by her father and is now married to another slave and pregnant with her first child. Elena is the daughter of the wealthy family that Fredrika is boarding with. She wants nothing more than the freedom to leave her home and explore the world.
This was a fast, yet poignant read!

AMM

Monday, August 15, 2011

Clara and Mr. Tiffany

Clara and Mr. Tiffany
By Susan Vreeland
Random House, 2011. 405 pgs. Historical Fiction

Clara Driscoll lived during an exciting and turbulent time; especially if you were a woman in the workforce. Following a brief marriage to an older man, the young widow returned to work at the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany, a respected artist and eventual heir of the famous Tiffany and Co. jewelry company. She managed his department of unmarried women building stained glass windows and eventually helped to invent and design the beautiful Tiffany lamps crafted from stained glass. Her story vividly portrays how hard women in the early 1900s fought to secure a place in both the arts and in the corporate world.

Vreeland brings art to life in her fiction. Her descriptions of the masterpieces created in glass cannot help but fascinate readers. As with much historical fiction, the best part is that it is based on actual facts. Clara’s unrecognized contributions to such a famous art form is a tragedy. And while in life she never received credit for her gifts or skills, this novelization of her efforts and courage is inspiring. A good choice for art and historical fiction fans.

CZ

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain
By Garth Stein
Harper, 2008. 321 pgs. Fiction

Enzo, a lab terrier mix, is adopted as a puppy by a race car driver named Denny. The two bond almost immediately and Enzo quickly realizes he is far more self-aware than other dogs. He watches as Denny meets and falls in love with Eve and learns how quickly things can change as a couple becomes a family. As he narrates the story, Enzo recognizes the strength and courage necessary to live a full life, loving people and striving to achieve fulfillment.

This has been a popular novel over the past couple of years. If the reader is a ‘dog person,’ I think it would be easy to enjoy the story and Enzo’s insights. However, since I’m not even an ‘animal person’ I found the canine narration annoying and self-righteous, but I believe I am severely biased and species-ist. I enjoyed Denny and Eve’s story and some of the parallels drawn between life and racing, but I was never able to really ‘buy in’ to the book’s premise. I good book for a different audience.

CZ

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Next to Love

Next to Love
By Ellen Feldman
Spiegel & Grau, 2011. 292 pgs. Fiction

Babe, Grace, and Millie are all young, deeply in love, and recently married--and their husbands are all headed off to fight in World War II, along with many other young men from the town. However, not all of these men will come home, and even those who do won't come home whole. The women all soon come to realize the devastating effects of war on relationships and every day life.

Being just before the men go off to war, this book then follows the lives of these three women and their families up through the 1960s, showing their struggles and heartaches. This isn't a good choice for those looking for happy endings, but it is a thought-provoking, realistic portrayal of how some people never recover from the trauma of war and heartbreak. It's also an interesting look at what it means to love, although it does somewhat emphasize the physical nature of love, so more conservative readers may want to skip this one.

AE

The Inheritance

The Inheritance
By Tamera Alexander
Thomas Nelson, 2009. 374 pgs. Romance

McKenna Ashford has lost everything--her home, the business her father left to her and her brother, and even her friends--due to her younger brother Robert's poor choices. With nowhere else to go, they head west to Copper Creek, Colorado, intending to live with their cousin and her family. However, their cousin dies the night of their arrival, and McKenna finds herself trying to deal with her unruly brother and her cousin's young daughter, who doesn't seem very fond of McKenna. To make matters worse, fiercely independent McKenna finds herself attracted to Wyatt Caradon, but she doesn't have time for a man in her life, especially, given Robert's previous brushes with the law, one who is a U.S. Marshal. But Marshal Caradon keeps coming around, and McKenna doesn't know how long she can fight her feelings.

This was my first experience with Tamera Alexander's writing, and I found it to be a satisfying offering. This book is a good choice for those who are looking for historical romances, particularly clean ones.

AE

Friday, August 12, 2011

In the Sea There are Crocodiles

In the Sea There are Crocodiles: Based on the True Story of Enaiatollah Akbari
by Fabio Geda, translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis
Doubleday, 2011. 213 pgs. Fiction.

Like Schindler's List, In The Sea There are Crocodiles is technically a novel but tells, with an exquisite grace, the true story of Enaiatollah Akbari, an Afghan refugee whose mother took him to Pakistan and left him when he was ten years old because he was getting to big to hide from the Taliban. Enaiat immediately shows extraordinary resilience and resourcefulness in making his own way from working for food and a place to sleep to earning enough money to pay traffickers to take him to Iran, then to Turkey, after which he made his own way to Greece and to Italy. Geda's italicized conversations with Enaiat are plain spoken and matter-of-fact, stunningly understated given the circumstances of his life. During the course of the narrative we come to quickly care very much for Enaiat and his companions, to grieve for those who are lost, and to feel profound gratitude for the strangers who show him kindness and help him along his way. In The Sea There are Crocodiles is a beautiful, memorable book which not only opens a door into another world, but into a remarkable life.

LW

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Pirate Captain's Daughter

The Pirate Captain's Daughter
By Eve Bunting
Sleeping Bear Press, 2011. 208 pgs. Young Adult

Catherine's father is a pirate, and when her father dies, Catherine insists that she wants to be a pirate, too. After she disguises herself as a boy, her father agrees, and Catherine joins the crew. However, piracy isn't at all what she imagined; the ship is filthy, there are two pirates who seem to have it in for her and her father, and the violence involved in being a pirate makes Catherine sick to her stomach. It's more difficult than she anticipated to hide the fact that she's a girl, and if she's discovered, both she and her father will be severely punished. At the same time, there is one bright spot: William, the cabin boy...except he thinks that Catherine is a boy.

I liked the idea of this book--a girl pirate, a bit of adventure and romance--but the actual execution of the book was less than satisfying. There was too much going on, too much crammed into 200 pages, and it left the plot lines completely underdeveloped. The romance happened too quickly and didn't have enough substance to make it believable, and Catherine's plan to conceal herself was woefully under-thought, to the point that she almost seemed stupid. Overall, I'm disappointed and didn't find much to recommend about this book.

AE

The Nightingale

The Nightingale
by Morgana Gallaway
Kensington Books, 2009. 344 pgs. Fiction

Leila al-Ghani grew up in one of the most privileged, progressive families in Mosul, Iraq. She just finished college in Egypt and plans to go to medical school, but after returning home she finds that her hometown is plagued by violence from the American occupation and her father has become increasingly involved with radical fundamentalists. Her father wants to arrange a marriage for her with her cousin, but Leila secretly takes a job as a translator and medical assistant at the US Army hospital. She finds herself torn between her new friends and colleagues on the base and her loyalty to her family and country.

I thought this book was a pretty good read, but not as great as it could be. I really liked the main character and the plot of this book has many twists and turns. There is both adventure and romance, and a lot of information about contemporary life in Iraq. However, some of the characters seemed to be just stereotypes and I wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending.

JC

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Last Song

The Last Song
By Nicholas Sparks
Grand Central, 2009. 390 pgs. Fiction

Seventeen year old Veronica "Ronnie" Miller's life was turned upside-down when her parents divorced and her father--a former concert pianist and teacher--moved from New York City to Wilmington, North Carolina. Three years later, she remains angry and alienated from her parents, especially her father...until her mother decides it would be in everyone's best interest if she spent the summer in Wilmington with him. This novel is an unforgettable story of love on many levels.

Ronnie changes and grows up throughout this book and falls in love for the first time. Her relationship with both of her parents and her brother grows and by the end of the book she starts thinking of others rather than just herself. Although the ending of this book is rather sad, I thought this was an excellent beach read.

AMM

Lifted

Lifted
By Wendy Toliver
Simon Pulse, 2010. 309 pgs. Young Adult

When 15-year-old Poppy Browne moves from Boulder, CO, to Pleasant Acres, TX, with her professor mother, she has to attend Calvary High even though she's not Baptist. She makes friends with the popular girls and gets caught in an ex-BFF rivalry between her friend Mary Jane and another schoolmate, Bridgette. Pretty soon Poppy starts shoplifting with Mary Jane and her friend Whitney. The first time, it's an accident. The second, it's induced by peer pressure. Subsequently, however, it's for the rush. Poppy, Mary Jane, and Whitney steal regularly, and Poppy doesn't know whether or not she can stop.

I thought this book was alright, but not spectacular. I was definitely curious to see if Poppy and her friends would be caught shoplifting. I was also interested to see how things would play out with Mary Jane and Bridgette. This isn’t a must read, but wasn’t horrible either, just sort of ok.

AMM

The Filter Bubble

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You
By Eli Pariser
Penguin Press, 2011. 294 pgs. Nonfiction

As Internet users we are, in general, oblivious to the amount of information our most trusted websites are collecting about us and our interests. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and many other sites use information gleaned from our past use to improve our experience the next time we log on. How this personalization is putting our society at risk is the topic of Eli Pariser’s new book. He shows that this new online environment, in the short term seems to be a great idea since we get relevant results quickly and do not need to spend as much time searching and sorting. But in the long run, we lose an accurate portrayal of what the world around us actually looks like.

Pariser's aim is clearly to frighten readers and he does a pretty good job. If you would prefer to continue your carefree enjoyment of the Internet and its amazing conveniences, certainly do not consider reading "The Filter Bubble." If, on the other hand, you are ready to have your eyes opened to the dangers presented when we mindlessly trust the websites we use daily, this is a troubling report sure to ignite important conversations.

CZ

The Greater Journey

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris
By David McCullough
Simon & Schuster, 2011. 558 pgs. Nonfiction

Paris during the 19th Century was considered the world's center for the arts and learning. This was one reason why a number of Americans including author James Fennimore Cooper, artist and inventor Samuel Morse, painter Mary Cassatt, and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, sacrificed much to live, for at least a while, the Parisian life. "The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris" is a history of these and other influential Americans and how their time in the City of Light shaped their accomplishments and helped prepare the United States for the coming century of achievement.

There is no question that David McCullough has earned his place as one of the greatest historical writers publishing today. He seems to be able to take almost any topic and bring it to life. "A Greater Journey" is no different and brings to light an amazing group of individuals whose experiences abroad inspired their work and achievements. Anyone who has, will, or desires to visit Paris should pick up this book. It will certainly augment the experience and bring added significance to the city's many attractions, historic sights, and timeless allure.

CZ

Robopocalypse

Robopocalypse
By Daniel H. Wilson
Doubleday, 2011. 347 pgs. Science Fiction.

In a future not far distant from our own, humankind has grown to depend heavily on machines and computers to assist them in their day-to-day lives. As researchers continue to increase the intelligence of their robotic creations, one scientist gives life to a murderous super computer who creates a networked army with the machines and androids present around the world. Now a great war is being waged and the people of Earth will have to work together to survive a nightmare of their own creation.

This is an apocalyptic story of mankind’s ability to adapt and survive. It is told as an oral history through transcripts, surveillance footage, and eyewitness accounts. It can certainly be classed as an exciting sci-fi thriller. However, on the final page I was surprised at how disappointed I felt that I had not been able to spend more time with the characters. Their development remained shallow and they never progressed beyond acquaintances keeping the reader at an unsatisfying distance. A good quick read if you are in the mood for adventure, but if you enjoy character development and more depth in your reading, you may want to pass. A movie is rumored to be in the works for release in 2013.

CZ

Friday, August 5, 2011

Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart

Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart
By Beth Pattillo
Guideposts, 2010. 268 pgs. Fiction

Claire Prescott arrives at Oxford to attend a conference on Pride and Prejudice in lieu of her sister, who is experiencing complications due to pregnancy. Claire, who is recently unemployed, in a relationship that doesn't seem to be going anywhere, and who has put her whole life on hold since the death of her parents years earlier in order to take care of her sister (even though she's now an adult), is at a crisis point in her life. When she meets the dashing James Beaumont, as well as an elderly lady who insists that she is in possession of the original draft of Pride and Prejudice, titled First Impression--which did not have Elizabeth Bennet end up with Mr. Darcy--Claire starts thinking about her life in a whole new way.

This is a satisfying Jane Austen-inspired story. It's not particularly remarkable, but Claire's process of coming to understand herself and love, as well as the snippets of the alternate Pride and Prejudice, are adequate. Fans of light romance or Jane Austen should like this one.

AE

Lost City Radio

Lost City Radio
by Daniel Alarcon
Harper Collins, 2007. 257 pgs. Fiction

For ten years, Norma has been the voice of consolation for a people broken by violence. She hosts Lost City Radio, the most popular program in their nameless South American country gripped by the aftermath of war. Every week, the Indians in the mountains and the poor from the barrios listen as she reads the names of those who have gone missing. Loved ones are reunited and the lost are found, but Norma is hiding her own personal loss: her husband disappeared at the end of the war. One day the life she has become accustomed to is forever changed when a young boy arrives from the jungle and provides a clue to the fate of her long-missing husband.

This was an interesting and challenging book to read. The country is never named and the author gives few concrete details about it, so the atmosphere of the book is somewhat confusing and chaotic. This reflects the reality of life under war and government oppression. I have seen this book compared to dystopian fiction like 1984 or The Hunger Games; it is similar in its themes and plot, but the writing is very different because the story is not told in a straightforward way. If you are looking for a book that is different from most, this is a great choice.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Belly Button Bliss

Belly Button Bliss: A Small Collection of Happy Birth Stories
Edited by Jennifer Derryberry Mann
Fairview Press, 2010. 104 pgs. Nonfiction

This is a short, sweet book meant to help soon-to-be mothers who may have been exposed to too many horror stories from the delivery room. The aim is to show the positive side of birth with stories from women who share their good experiences giving birth. I appreciated that many of these stories didn't hide the negative things that happened, but rather showed how the women pushed through them and ultimately triumphed. I was also touched by the descriptions of the moments that these mothers first hold their children and what they felt. "He gives a little cry and breathes his first breath of life while lying on my chest."

I think after reading this, women will be able to look on the delivery room experience with a little less foreboding and a lot more excitement. Highly recommended for first-time mothers.

BHG

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Divergent

Divergent
By Veronica Roth
Katherine Tegen Books, 2011. 487 pgs. Young Adult


Chicago is divided into five factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent). Each faction exemplifies the behaviors and attitudes that they think will most benefit the world and combat the problems of human nature. At sixteen, teens are given an aptitude test that tells them which attributes they have, followed by a ceremony where they choose which group to remain with for the rest of their lives. Most people have one dominant attribute, but Beatrice Prior, who has been raised by her Abnegation parents and community, isn't sure she's selfless enough to stay with that faction. When her aptitude tests reveals that she has multiple dominant attributes, meaning she is divergent (something she has never even heard of before), she must choose which faction to join--as well as hide the fact that she's divergent, as she's been warned that her life depends on no one finding out her secret. Tris makes her choice, changing her name along with her alliances, and trains for her new faction. She struggles to know who to trust and starts to fall in love but also realizes that everything could be ripped away but a group that is ready to overthrow their way of life.

Some books just hook you, and some don't. For me, this one definitely did. I think this has the potential to be the new Hunger Games--the trilogy that everyone has to read and can't stop thinking about. With an intriguing dystopian world, engaging characters, action, adventure, romance, and more, there's not much that this book doesn't have. I will say that I thought the end of the book, where we see the conflict really unfolding, as the rebel group begins rolling out their plans, went by too quickly for me and was actually too easily resolved. Obviously, there's going to be a lot more going on in the next books, but I would have liked to see a little more in this one, as it all plays out in a matter of a few hours. On the other hand, Tris's training and personal growth and conflicts were explored in much more detail and over time, so the juxtaposition just made the larger, societal conflict seem glossed over. Still, I'm hooked, and I can't wait to see what happens next! A great choice for anyone who liked The Hunger Games, dystopia, romance, action, or kick-butt characters. This is one of those ones that you don't want to bring back to the library...but you have to so the next person can enjoy it as much as you did!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Aurelia

Aurelia
By Anne Osterlund
Speak, 2008. 246 pgs. Young Adult

Aurelia, the crown princess of Tyralt, wants control over her own life. Robert, her former classmate, wants Aurelia. And someone wants her... dead. Robert, the son of the king's former royal spy, is allowed into the inner circle to secretly investigate and watch over Aurelia. But the princess will not heed the danger around her, and she does not need Robert to save her. Just as their friendship begins to grow into something more, the threat on Aurelia's life becomes paramount.

Part mystery, part romance, this was a fun, light read. Unfortunately, it was a bit predictable, but it was still enjoyable to watch events unfold. I think teens will really enjoy reading this and I will definitely read the next book in the series.

BHG

Monday, August 1, 2011

Stone's Fall

Stone’s Fall
By Iain Pears
Spiegel & Grau, 2009. 594 pgs. Mystery

This story begins in 1909 in London and moves successively back in time first to Paris in 1890 and finally to Venice in 1867. In 1909 John Stone falls from a window and his widow hires a newspaperman to seek out a hitherto unheard of heir. In Paris Henry Cort is recruited as a spy. In 1867 John Stone becomes involved in financing the development and manufacture of submarine torpedoes. The events of these three time periods fit together to form in an intricate and complex mystery involving business and finance, mediums and séances, love and deceit.

SML

Say You're One of Them

Say You’re One of Them
By Uwem Akpan
Little, Brown and Co., 2008. 358 pgs. Fiction

This collection of five stories brings home the plight of children growing up under terrible circumstances in Africa. A young girl witnesses horrific events in her family that are part of the Rwandan genocide. Another young girl learns that she can no longer see her best friend, due to differences in religious beliefs. Another tale tells of a very young girl working the streets as a prostitute in order to bring in a little money for her family. These stories of intolerance, hatred, and violence seen from a child’s perspective are heartbreaking and disturbing.

SML