Monday, October 31, 2011

Alphabet Juice

Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics, and Essences; With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory
By Roy Blount Jr.
Sarah Crichton Books, 2008. 364 pgs. Nonfiction

Roy Blount is a wordmeister. And Alphabet Juice is a tall glass of words. Blount explores several hundred words as to their usage, their origins, their feel, taste, and smell, all mixed with good portion of humor. Included in Blount's selection of words are entries pertaining to writing (adjective, adverb, colon, comma, metaphor, simile), language phenomena (baseballese, Berraisms, menu-ese), people (Joseph Addison, Mel Blanc, Garrison Keillor), and numerous categories such as "marriage, impact of word choice upon" and "names, famous, whose correct pronunciation is so narrowly known that if you use it, you'll seem wrong."

Alphabet Juice is a romp through the world of words frought with trivia, anecdotes, jokes, and poems. Read it cover to cover or just dive in anywhere and skip about.

Seriously....I'm Kidding

Seriously…I’m Kidding
By Ellen Degeneres
Grand Central Pub., 2011. 241 pgs. Biography

Ellen’s got a new book, and it’s pretty funny. In her most recent memoir/collection of humorous essays she discusses her life and opinions over the last few years. She talks about her popular talk show, her season on American Idol, and her marriage to Portia de Rossi. She writes with her trademark happy humor giving advice on beauty (she is a CoverGirl spokesperson), finding true happiness, being nice, saving our planet, and she even includes a few coloring sheets for the kids.

Ellen is just fun. This book is not terribly deep or insightful, but it is completely enjoyable and can be read really in a day or two. Her fans will certainly want to pick this one up.

CZ

Heat Rises

Heat Rises
By Richard Castle
Hyperion, 2011. 320 pgs. Mystery

Police investigator Nikki Heat’s career is on the rise. She is up for a big promotion and interested parties are coming out of the woodwork trying to take advantage of her imminent rise to power. Life isn’t quite perfect though since her new boyfriend, reporter Jameson Rook, has failed to keep in touch as he roams the globe researching his next big article. A new case is also giving her trouble and as the investigation deepens and the stakes go up, she may have to gamble everything she has earned to discover the truth.

This is the third installment of the Nikki Heat series which is written by the fictitious author Richard Castle from ABC’s hit drama ‘Castle’. Truly the best parts of these mysteries are the references made to the television series. This volume even refers to actor Nathan Fillion’s portrayal of Captain Malcolm Reynolds in the cult favorite TV show ‘Firefly’. If you are fan of ‘Castle’, I highly recommend reading the Nikki Heat series. If you don’t watch the show, they aren’t quite good enough to stand on their own.

CZ

Saturday, October 29, 2011

52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust

52 Loaves:One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust
By William Alexander
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 2010. 339 pgs. Nonfiction

William Alexander has an unrealistic dream. Make a perfect loaf of bread from wheat he has grown on his own property. A year seems barely long enough for the author who also indulges his passion to know everything he possibly can about yeast, baking equipment, flour and ovens. And it isn’t enough just to know – he has to experience firsthand the bread of fine bread makers in places as far away as Morocco and Paris. His final baking “trial” takes place at a monastery in France where he has audaciously promised to help the monks make perfect bread.

For some this book may prove to be more than you ever wanted to know about making bread. And it is surely not a recipe book, in fact it will take you weeks to make bread by the recipe he provides. But if you’ve ever felt the same urge to bake a perfect loaf of bread you may find this a humorous and informative romp through the frustrations and joys of bread making. SH

The Art of Fielding

The Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach
Little, Brown, 2011. 512 pgs. Fiction.

Chad Harbach's novel is so accomplished and so well-knit, it seems impossible that it should be his first, and yet . . . . Henry Skrimshander is a shortstop among men--baseball men. He is rescued from the obscurity of Lankton, South Dakota, by Mike Schwartz, captain of the Westish College Harpooners baseball squad because Mike has wished his whole life for a transcendent, observable gift which, not finding in himself, he sees in Henry. At Westish, on the shores of Lake Michigan, Henry blossoms under Mike's coaching and becomes the compass point around which swing Mike, Guert Affenlight, president of the college, Pella Affenlight, his daughter just come home from a bad marriage, and Henry's roommate, Owen. And when Henry's string of errorless innings ends in a spectacular, frightening bullet into the dugout, everyone's life spins out of control and great courage, compassion, and patience are required to return to even keel. The Art of Fielding is filled with Americana and sails on the wings of Moby-Dick, an inland reflection of and homage to the passionate "landlessness" and need to know that informed the doomed voyage of the Pequod. Harbach's novel is filled with memorable characters and a muscular, atmospheric prose. Fair warning: graphic sexual scenes

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Girl Is Murder

The Girl Is Murder
By Kathryn Miller Haines
Roaring Book Press, 2011. 342 pgs. Young Adult

It's the fall of 1942 in New York City, and Iris is dying to help out at her father's detective agency, especially when she discovers that one of her Pop's cases involves a boy at her new public school. But when Pop adamantly refuses her help, Iris quickly realizes that it's much easier to lie than to ask permission. Suddenly, this once-obedient former private-school girl is sneaking out of the house, misleading her friends and family, and dancing at the Savoy till the early-morning hours. There's certainly never a dull moment in the private-eye business.

Kathryn Miller Haines is the author of my favorite mystery series The Rosie Winter Mysteries, and this book is the beginning of a new series that is similar but meant for teens. This book has all of Haines's dependable strengths: great plot that you can't predict, the sights and sounds of New York during World War II brought to life, but her real strength is Iris's character. She has created an entirely readable, sympathetic, understandable, likeable character. True, Iris resorts to shady things like lying, but you feel justified along with her, wanting her to help her Pop out, feeling all of her worry about the war, her family, her situation in life, and you hope just as she does that in the end it will be worth it. This is a great pick for teens who enjoy historical fiction and are looking for a good mystery.

BHG

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared
By Alice Ozma
Grand Central Publishing, 2011. 279 pgs. Nonfiction

Alice Ozma’s father, an elementary school librarian, liked to read to his daughter. After the one hundredth consecutive night, Alice and her father celebrated with pancakes. It soon became apparent that neither of them wanted to end what they had dubbed “The Streak”. 3,218 nights later and on Alice’s first day of college they finally ended what had become a life changing event.

Told through a series of vignettes about Alice’s life with her single, quirky father and what she learned along the way, this is a funny, sweet, and warmly felt account of the benefits of reading to a child.

AJ

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Girls Don't Fly

Girls Don't Fly
By Kristen Chandler
Viking, 2011. 300 pgs. Young Adult

High school senior Myra--after getting dumped by her perfect boyfriend and having her super smart older sister living back home after she got pregnant out of wedlock and enduring a lifetime of doing everything for her family--decides to try to win a scholarship to study in the Galapagos Islands over the summer. However, her ex-boyfriend is also competing and is messing with her head, and family obligations threaten to ruin everything. And yet, now that she's started learning about the birds on the Galapagos, and with some encouragement from the grad student helping them prepare for the scholarship competition, Myra just might learn to fly herself.

I have mixed feelings about this one. I really liked seeing Myra's progress and how she decides to give herself a future. At the same time, I had a really hard time enjoying the romance angle: she's seventeen and in high school; he's working on a PhD, and that just was a little too much for me to handle, even though it's a sweet romance. I just couldn't get past that enough to fully enjoy the book.

AE

The Death Cure

The Death Cure
By James Dashner
Delacorte Press, 2011. 325 pgs. Young Adult

Thomas knows that WICKED can't be trusted, but they say the time for lies is over, that they've collected all they can from the Trials and now must rely on the Gladers, with full memories restored, to help them with their ultimate mission. Is trusting WICKED worth the costs Thomas has paid?

This is the highly anticipated final book in the Maze Runner trilogy. I was a bit disappointed because this seemed a little aimless and didn't really have one motivating element pushing the book along and pulling the story together. It was sort of like a series of separate events occur until it's finally time for the climax. I found the ending more meaningful than I was expecting, though. For readers who love this series, you'll definitely want to see what happens in the end, but maybe lower your expectations a bit.

BHG

Maphead

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks
by Ken Jennings
Scribner, 2011. 276 pgs. Nonfiction

This is a book all about the world of maps and the people who love them. Its chapters cover a variety of topics related to geography, including antique map collecting, imaginary places, the National Geography Bee, geocaching, extreme traveling, history, and politics.

I love geography and trivia and so I was a natural fit for this book. It doesn’t sound like one that would keep up reading later than you intend to, but I admit that I stayed up way past my bedtime reading it. The writing is fun and sometimes irreverent while still delivering all kinds of interesting facts about our world. You can tell that Jennings is really fascinated by geography and he makes it easy to be enthusiastic about it too. Even if you think you don’t like maps, you might change your mind after reading this book.

JC

Dreams of Joy

Dreams of Joy
by Lisa See
Random House, 2011. 354 pgs. Fiction

Dreams of Joy picks up the story of sisters Pearl and May where Shanghai Girls left off: on the night in 1957 when Pearl's daughter, Joy, discovers family secrets that her mother and her aunt have been keeping from her. Blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy runs away to China to find her true father and throws herself into the New Society, heedless of the dangers present in the communist regime. Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl follows her to China determined to find her, no matter the cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.

After finishing Shanghai Girls I was frustrated by the abrupt ending, so I was happy to discover that there was a sequel that completes the story. This book is hard to put down as it moves from one problem to another, following Pearl and Joy as they discover that everything in Mao’s China is not as it seems. Some of the book takes place during the horrific famine that followed the Great Leap Forward and the descriptions are truly heartbreaking. I did like the fact that the book not only has an action-packed plot, but that the internal changes in both women were compelling enough to keep me reading as well.

JC

Monday, October 24, 2011

America's Hidden History

America’s Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation
By Kenneth C. Davis
Harper Collins, 2008. 272 pgs. Nonfiction

This book chronicles early American history from the arrival of the Spanish America to George Washington’s inauguration in 1789. With interesting and wry narrative, Kenneth Davis uncovers episodes overlooked in most history books but which had a profound effect on our nation’s character.

If you love American history or even if you don’t but want to know a little more about the early beginnings of this nation, you won’t regret reading this short yet fascinating book.

AJ

Variant

Variant
By Robison Wells
Harper Teen, 2011. 376 pgs. Young Adult

After years in foster homes, seventeen-year-old Benson Fisher applies to New Mexico's Maxfield Academy in hopes of securing a brighter future, but instead he finds that the school is a prison and no one is what he or she seems.

Wow, this was a hard book to put down! I felt like the characters were well developed and the twist nicely executed. I’m anxious to read the second book in this series. I’m also looking forward to meeting Robison Wells on November 12th at the Teen Book Fest!

AMM

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Leftovers

The Leftovers
By Tom Perrotta
St. Martin’s Press, 2011. 355 pgs. Fiction

The premise of The Leftovers is absolutely brilliant. What would happen if millions of people just suddenly disappeared? No explanation. No warning. Was it ‘The Rapture’? Why were some taken and others left behind? How would society, families, and individuals react and cope? Perrotta’s story centers on Kevin Garvey, the mayor of a small town, and his wife, son, and daughter. Kevin attempts to keep his family together as they deal with the ‘event’s’ aftermath. But despite Kevin’s efforts, his son leaves college to follow a self-professed savior, his wife joins an organization giving up all earthly ties and takes a vow of silence, and his teenage daughter, once an ‘A’ student, struggles to keep from failing out of school completely. As they each deal with their own experiences and their own losses, they strain to find themselves and their individual futures.

The execution of this story was not quite as brilliant as the premise. While mankind is not a stranger to tragedy and loss, the idea of this type of sudden, mass heartbreak without definable cause or even an entity to blame demonstrates a fascinating theory of what we can survive and how we make sense of our world. What I struggled with was the way Perrotta’s characters all seemed to turn away from family and focus so wholly on themselves. Perhaps this reaction is possible, maybe probable, but I would like to think that in times of such personal turmoil people would turn to those they love and strengthen those bonds as opposed to breaking them. A very interesting read providing a great deal to think about.

CZ

The Twelfth Enchantment

The Twelfth Enchantment
By David Liss
Random House, 2011. 398 pgs. Fiction

Lucy Derrick is the charming heroine of David Liss’s new book which I’m surprised to describe as a Victorian supernatural romance. The recent death of Lucy’s father not only left her bereaved but also penniless. Forced to live with an unkind, distant relation, Lucy decides that her best means of escape will be an advantageous, though loveless marriage to up and coming factory owner, Mr. Olsen. But strange events warn her away from the engagement and even stranger events throw her into the middle of a desperate struggle for the future of England between a number of supernatural factions.

The Twelfth Enchantement provides an interesting story and a few intriguing characters. While I wasn’t captivated on every page, I certainly kept reading and, in the end, I was glad I did. Liss is an interesting author who continues to offer novels of differing types of writing for a variety of time periods and in a number of styles. I admire him for his efforts but would personally be completely satisfied if he stuck with 17th century financial thrillers starring one of my all-time biggest literary crushes, Benjamin Weaver.

CZ

The Lady of Bolton Hill

The Lady of Bolton Hill
By Elizabeth Camden
Bethany House, 2011. 334 pgs. Fiction

As teenagers, Daniel Tremain and Clara Endicott's love of music helped them form a friendship that transcended class boundaries. Then Clara, the daughter of an educated, influential minister, is shipped off to England to live with an aunt, and Daniel, whose father has recently died in an industrial accident, is left to pull himself and his family out of their impoverished circumstances. Years later, Daniel has become an industry tycoon and one of the most influential men in his field; Clara, now a journalist who champions the working poor, returns to Baltimore, and their attraction to one another flares up immediately. However, the devoutly Christian Clara is troubled by Daniel's animosity toward God and his need for vengeance against the man he blames for his father's death and his mother's suicide. With their opposing beliefs, a marriage seems impossible.

This is an excellent pick for fans of inspirational romance. Clara and Daniel are both sympathetic characters, and Daniel's struggle with wanting vengeance is something most readers will be able to relate to. The historical details were interesting, showing life in Baltimore in 1879, but didn't take over the story or bog down the writing. The conclusion, and how Daniel sorts out his feelings, is one that seemed a bit rushed and I would have liked to see it developed a little bit more, but overall, I think readers will be satisfied with the plot and the characters.

AE

Monday, October 17, 2011

When the Elephants Dance

When the Elephants Dance
By Tess Uriza Holthe
Crown, 2002. 368 pgs. Fiction

Set in the Philippines during WWII, this is the story of one group of Filipinos trying to survive while the Americans and Japanese battle for control of the country. The three main characters, Alejandro, his older sister Isabelle and Domingo, a guerrilla fighter, take turns narrating this story as the Karangalan family hide in their cellar with 11 other neighbors. To pass the time and to take their minds off their hunger and worry, some of the older members share stories from their childhood that teach lessons or morals for what the narrator is experiencing at the moment.

I really enjoyed the story telling parts of this novel but the descriptions of torture and death during the war were unsettling. I think I was even more sensitive to the suffering because I lived in the Philippines for awhile and I could visualize many of the places and situations in the book. I enjoyed the Tagalog phrases and the descriptions of the food and the people. For those looking for a different perspective of events during WWII, this would be a good recommendation, but be warned that some parts are really heartbreaking to read.

AL

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World
by Michael Lewis
Norton, 2011. 213 pgs. Nonfiction.

It is hard to find the International Debt Crisis amusing, but Michael Lewis does bring his considerable wit to bear on the current European (and Californian) monetary crisis. According to Lewis (and his onsite interviews and investigations), Iceland went bust because the fishermen quit fishing and took up banking. Now a country with fewer inhabitants than greater Peoria, Illinois, is in the hole to the tune of $100 billion. Ireland's booming economy collapsed when the Irish created an enormous housing bubble by buying Irish real estate and then trying to sell it back to themselves. Greece pays enormous sums in wages and retirement benefits to its public-sector workers, but pretty much everyone in Greece cheats on his/her taxes and there is no enforceable penalty against doing so. The National Transportation system, for instance, shells out 7 times as much in salaries, pensions, and upkeep than it takes in: one observer wryly--and correctly--points out that everyone in Greece could be be sent hither and yon by taxi more cheaply than by public transit. And how did we all get to this point? Greed and Stupidity. Pretty much everyone knows that by now, but Michael Lewis' explanation and prose explains it all to you in the most engaging fashion.

LW

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Happy like Jesus

Happy like Jesus
By D. Kelly Ogden
Deseret Book, 2011. 134 pgs. Nonfiction

In eighteen brief chapters, Ogden provides simple lessons about how to live the life that Jesus wants you to live and develop Christ-like characteristics. Each chapter references scriptures about the Savior's life and discusses how, as we develop these characteristics, we can live a better life.

This is a short book, but it's jam-packed with good stuff. I really like the writing style, as well as the stories and advice. I didn't feel like it necessarily presented any earth-shattering ideas, but the way that the ideas were organized and presented made me think about things in a different way. I highly enjoyed it.

AE

Made from Scratch

Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life
By Jenna Woginrich
Storey Publishing, 2009. 184 pgs. Nonfiction

Woginrich describes how she decided to get involved with homesteading and learning skills that our ancestors used to possess in abundance but that have fallen by the wayside with modernization. She recounts her experiences--both successes and failures--with raising chickens and rabbits, beekeeping, cooking, making her own clothes, and more. She also includes tips and advice for those who might want to try those skills as well.

While the book include some topics I'd never really thought about in regards to self-sufficiency (like sled dogs and fiddle playing), I think the wide variety of topics could make it appeal to a broader audience. I liked the fact that we didn't just hear about how great she was at learning all these new skills; it was definitely a process of trial and error for her, and readers who have had their own failures when trying to learn these new skills will be comforted by the fact that they aren't alone.

AE

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Turn of Mind

Turn of Mind
by Alice LaPlante
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011. 307 pgs. Mystery

Is the perfect murder the one you can't forget or the one you can't remember? Dr. Jennifer White, a brilliant former surgeon in the early grips of Alzheimer's, is suspected of murdering her best friend, Amanda. Amanda's body was found brutally disfigured — with four of her fingers cut off in a precise, surgical manner. As the police pursue their investigation and Jennifer searches her own mind for fractured clues to Amanda's death, a portrait emerges of an uncompromising, unsentimental woman, who is struggling to understand the world around her as her mind deteriorates more every day.

Although this book was well-written and quite engrossing, it’s a lot of work to get through the haze of Dr. White’s deteriorating mind to figure out who she is, who her family and friends are, and what her life has been like. Even when you feel like you do understand her, she’s not a sympathetic character or one whose motives are clear. The author knows how to write not only a good mystery, but also an interesting study of what it would be like to be inside the head of a person suffering from dementia. The mystery plotline is only second to the experience of immersing yourself in the mind of a person whose life is rapidly falling apart.

JC

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Snobs

Snobs
By Julian Fellowes
BBC Audiobooks America, 2005. 9 CDs. Fiction

Edith Lavery is the daughter of a moderately successful English accountant and his social-climbing wife. While visiting a stately home as a paying guest, Edith meets Charles, Earl of Broughton and heir to the Marquess of Uckfield. After dating for a few months, Charles proposes and Edith accepts. But is she really in love with Charles? Or with his title, his position, and all that goes with it? Charles's mother, the shrewd Lady Uckfield, suspects that Edith is more interested in becoming a countess than in being a good wife to her son. And when a television company, complete with a gorgeous leading man, descends on Broughton Hall to film a period drama, her worst fears seem fully justified.

Julian Fellowes also wrote the screenplay for Gosford Park, Vanity Fair, and The Young Victoria (to name a few) and is the creator of the hugely popular television series Downton Abbey. While it seems like he specializes in period dramas, this book is set in present-day England, and it kind of blew my mind. I had no idea that these kind of attitudes still existed in the English aristocracy, but of course now I feel a bit foolish for not realizing it sooner. The story is ultimately about Edith, but I think it's largely a commentary on the social nuances of the upper class (it definitely makes you take a harder look at the Cinderella fantasy). True to everything else I've seen from Julian Fellowes, his characters are completely real: not entirely bad, and not entirely good either. Just flawed humans with unique personalities thrown into situations like wind-up toys that knock about and end up where they will. While I found most of the book fascinating, I was a bit annoyed with the foolishness of some of the characters, even though their motives and choices are fully explained by Fellowes. Despite understanding them, I still inwardly cringed for them.

We currently only have this on audiobook, but I thought the narrator had it spot-on, pitch perfect. His accent was just a bit pretentious and he didn't once stumble on any of the French pronunciations. Quelle joie!

BHG

The Wilder Life

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie
by Wendy McClure
Riverhead Books, 2011. 336 pgs. Nonfiction

Obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books, McClure attempts to recapture her childhood vision of "Laura World." Her wacky quest includes hand-grinding wheat for bread, buying an authentic butter churn, and traveling to sites where the Ingalls family attempted to wrest a living from the prairie. Along the way she comes to understand how Wilder's life and work have shaped our ideas about girlhood and the American West.

The Little House books were a major part of my childhood and so I really enjoyed this book. It’s an interesting combination of travelogue, memoir, and history, and it almost made me want to go on my own quest to the Midwest to visit some of the sights of “Laura World.” If you were a rabid Laura Ingalls Wilder fan as a kid, or you just like to read light-hearted memoirs about reading obsessions, you will love this book.

JC

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star
By Heather Lynn Rigaud
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2011. 424 pgs. Romance

The major plot points will surprise no one. Our proud and affluent hero meets our poor yet witty heroine and they both immediately dislike each other. Misconceptions and misunderstandings follow until ultimately they realize they are perfect for each other and live happily ever after. That is not to say that readers will not find a few surprises in this reinvention of Pride and Prejudice. With Darcy, Bingley, and Fitzwilliam rock stars and Elizabeth, Jane, and Charlotte members of a struggling girl band given the opportunity to open for Darcy’s group, expect a lot more sex, drugs, and rock and roll than the original story included.

CZ

In the Time of the Butterflies

In the Time of the Butterflies
By Julia Alvarez
Algonquin Press, 1994. 325 pgs. Fiction

In 1960, three sisters were found dead near the crash site of their Jeep. The official report claimed that their deaths were accidental but few people actually believed the story. In the Time of the Butterflies tells of how these beautiful young women ended up as legends and martyrs to their cause. Each of them, plus their surviving sister Dede, narrate the tale as they become active in fighting the despotic regime of General Rafael Leonidas Truijillo.

I listened to this book on CD and while I enjoyed the story itself, I did not enjoy the production. The readers were definetly not my favorite and the editing left something seriously wanting. I think if I had simply read the book, I would have walked away with a much more positive impression of the book. The sisters’ journeys were inspiring and I learned a great deal about the culture and politics of the Dominican Republic.

CZ

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Night Circus

The Night Circus
By Erin Morgenstern
Doubleday, 2011. 387 pgs. Fiction

“When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.”

Erin Morgenstern has created “magic” in her own novel. Full of wonderfully fantastic descriptions, Le Cirque des Reves, the Circus of Dreams, arrives without warning, its black and white stripped tents simply appearing when yesterday they were not there. Unbeknownst to the people who visit the circus and all but a few of the circus performers, the Night Circus is actually an arena for a competition between two young magicians, Celia and Marco. A rivalry imposed upon them by their masters and one they do not fully understand. After a while, Celia and Marco fall in love and begin collaborating on the wonderful shows they create for the circus, but the game cannot end until a victor is chosen.

Morgenstern’s debut novel is set in the early 19th century which is the perfect time period for this marvelously crafted circus (more cirque du soleil that Barnum and Bailey). The circus is so stunningly imagined by Morgenstern, it is almost a character itself. I look forward to the author’s next creation and highly recommend you take your own trip to the Night Circus.

AJ

The False Princess

The False Princess
By Eilis O'Neal
Egemont USA, 2011. 319 pgs. Young Adult

The narrator of this book has been raised in luxury--after all, she's a princess. However, one day, she is called in before the king and queen and informed that she is not the princess. The true princess was hidden away at birth after a prophecy that she might be murdered before her sixteenth birthday. So, both the true princess and the false were placed under spells and they were switched. Now that the unfulfilled danger has passed, it's time for them to be switched back. So Sinda, armed with a new name and not much else, is removed from the castle and sent to a remote village to live with an aunt who doesn't want her. While there, though, she finds that she has magic of her own, and as she sets out to find her place in the world, she stumbles upon a secret that could destroy the entire kingdom.

This book, part fantasy, part adventure, with a touch of romance thrown in for good measure, is a good choice for fans of Shannon Hale or Kristin Cashore. Sinda isn't quite as strong a character as those authors' heroines--it maybe takes her a little longer to find herself--but that coming-of-age is woven into a story that will appeal to many readers.

AE

Texas Gothic

Texas Gothic
By Rosemary Clement-Moore
Delacorte Press, 2011. 406 pgs. Young Adult

Amy Goodnight has been the self-appointed defender of the Goodnight family and their magical abilities. Not possessing any special talents of her own, Amy makes sure that her family is not ridiculed for their talents. That all changes though when Amy and her sister Phin agree to housesit for Aunt Hyacinth’s farmhouse and ranch and a seemingly malevolent ghost visits Amy one night. Convinced the ghost has something to do with the ranch next door (run by a very cute and cranky young cowboy named Ben) and the excavation dig happening on the ranch, Amy investigates the mystery of the ghost with the help of her sister, the dig crew, and a reluctant Ben.

Chilling and creepy in all the right places, this is a quick and entertaining read, even though I felt a little underwhelmed by it. Clement-Moore tones down her usual snark in this title, but that might work to its advantage. Amy’s struggles with her family’s weirdness and her own place in it feel more realistic without excessive biting banter. Ben is a strong foil and romantic lead for Amy and the supporting characters are fun.

MN

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

The Girl of Fire and Thorns
By Rae Carson
Green Willow Books, 2011. 424 pgs. Young Adult

Elisa, the second-born princess of Orovalle, is, on her sixteenth birthday, married off to the King Alejandro of Joya d'Arena. As she heads off to a new country, with a husband she doesn't know and only her nurse and a lady-in-waiting for company, Elisa must hide the secret that all of her countrymen know: she is the chosen one. Once every hundred years, God chooses a special servant by placing a gemstone in his or her navel; Elisa possesses that special stone and knows she is called of God, but has no idea what God would actually have her do or how she can be of any use to anyone. Soon, though, she must find a way to help her new countrymen stave off the take over of their country by the Invierne, powerful enemies whose sorcery and strength could easily overpower the people of Joya d'Arena. Still unsure of what exactly God would have her do, Elisa must rely on her faith and new friends to complete a mission that could very well get her killed.

I really enjoyed this new fantasy book, from the characters to the plot to the discussions of faith. Elisa's maturation process from an insecure, overprotected princess to a fiercely faithful woman is satisfying. The book reads really quickly--I was actually surprised to see (after I'd finished it) that it was over 400 pages long, since it seemed to go by so quickly. A good choice for fans of high fantasy.

AE

Pirate King

Pirate King
By Laurie R. King
Bantam Books, 2011. 304 pgs. Mystery

Not wanting to encounter Mycroft after their last, distasteful meeting in The God of the Hive, Russell takes an opportunity presented to her by Holmes and Chief Inspector Lestrade in this newest Mary Russell book. Her mission? Become an assistant to the producer of Fflytte Films, which is filming a production of Pirate King, a story within a story about a production of The Pirates of Penzance. Sent to investigate any possible criminal activity emanating from the production, Russell discovers she is not investigating, but babysitting thirteen young actresses, finding pirates, and unearthing relationships amongst the crew and cast. More lighthearted and adventurous than the previous books, this is a fun and different offering from King.

MN

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Saffron Kitchen

The Saffron Kitchen
By Yasmin Crowther
Viking, 2006. 257 pgs. Fiction

Maryam was born in Iran but has lived in London for the past 30 years and raised her daughter, Sara, there. When a tragic event occurs, a grief-stricken Maryam goes back to Iran to both escape her present and revisit her past. Sara decides to follow her and learns the price that her mother had to pay for her freedom and all that she left behind.

This is a touching, beautifully written story. Crowther brings the sights and sounds of Iran to life, although it's really more like the Iran of 40 years ago that is portrayed. My only real complaint is that this book moved a bit slow for me, but that is probably because I read lots of action/adventure books.

BHG

Every Thing On It

Every Thing On It
By Shel Silverstein
Harper, 2011. 194 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

A collection of poems and drawings features an assortment of characters, including Stick-A-Tongue-Out Sid and Transparent Tim.

In classic Shel Silverstein fashion comes this posthumous collection. With his classic poems and illustrations, you can’t help but smile as your read this book!

AMM

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Lola and the Boy Next Door
By Stephanie Perkins
Dutton Books, 2011. 338 pgs. Young Adult

Budding costume designer Lola lives an extraordinary life with her two dads, beloved dog, and dating a punk rocker. However, when the Bell twins return to the house next door Lola recalls both the friendship-ending fight with Calliope, a figure skater, and the childhood crush she had on Cricket.

In this companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss we meet quirky Lola who loves costumes and living in San Francisco. She works at the local movie theater with Anna and St. Clair, however her story is all her own. Through the novel she matures, works towards making peace with her mother, and discovers that falling for the boy next door isn’t so bad after all.

This was a fun read, but it isn’t squeaky clean.

AMM

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
by David Mitchell
Random House. New York. 2010. 479 pgs. Historical fiction.

This story is set in Nagasaki in the year 1799. Jacob de Zoet is a young, ambitious and punctilious clerk for the Dutch East India Company. He is determined to make his fortune so that he may marry well back home. Soon after arriving, he meets and is fascinated by a disfigured Japanese woman, the daughter of a doctor. Jacob must navigate the treacherous waters of a corrupt company and the confusing collision of two cultures and conflicting interests. The story shifts back and forth between Jacob and his mysterious Japanese woman, Orito Aibagawa, as they must face new challenges and threats to their lives and livelihood.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Juliet Immortal

Juliet Immortal
By Stacey Jay
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2011. 320 pgs. Young Adult Fiction.

Is Romeo and Juliet the ultimate love story? Stacey Jay, takes a bit of a different perspective in her continuation story of the classic Shakespeare play.

Romeo is offered the chance to become immortal if he will kill his true love, Juliet. After sacrificing her, Juliet is also offered a chance at eternity if she will work for the Ambassadors of Light fighting against Romeo and his kind. Juliet must work to save true lovers from encountering a similar fate as hers. Now with more than 700 years of fighting, Juliet is a bit jaded until the day she meets a young man that she can’t help falling in love with even though she’s been forbidden to do so.

I was somewhat disappointed with this book. I thought the concept so interesting, and I loved the idea of the tie in to the play. There just wasn’t enough stand-out material to keep it from being lumped with the rest of the supernatural romances that are so popular right now.

AJ

Viola in the Spotlight

Viola in the Spotlight
By Adriana Trigiani
HarperTeen, 2011. 283 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Viola is finally back in Brooklyn where she longed to be after spending a year in Indiana at the Prefect Academy. Viola misses her four roommates, but she’s glad to be back with her friends, Andrew and Caitlin, and has planned a whole summer of hanging out with them. That is until Viola learns that Andrew is going to summer camp and Caitlin has a job. In the first book, Viola in Reel Life, Viola learned with difficulty to accept change in her life. Now she must figure out if she has really grown as much as she claims.

Trigiani can always be depended on for interesting and complex characters. It’s also quite refreshing to read a book where the parents are actually present and are not made out to be villains. I think I enjoyed this sequel more than the first book.

AJ

Monday, October 3, 2011

Clark Howard's Living Large in Lean Times

Clark Howard's Living Large in Lean Times
By Clark Howard
Avery, 2011. 258 pgs. Nonfiction

Clark Howard, popular host of The Clark Howard Show on radio, compiles a list of 250 ways “to buy smarter, spend smarter, and save money.” These tips range from saving on cars, health and health care, insurance, travel, and such. Many of the tips presented can be found in numerous other personal finance books, but I discovered a good number of tips I had not read before. For example, not only can a person get a credit report on their finances, but health credit reports are also available to check. Readers looking for ways to save more or be savvier about their personal information available to others will find this book a good resource to start.

MN

Jane and the Canterbury Tale

Jane and the Canterbury Tale
By Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books, 2011. 307 pgs. Mystery

While visiting her older brother, Jane Austen attends the wedding of Adelaide Fiske to her second husband and the next morning discovers Adelaide’s first husband dead. Long presumed dead, Curzon Fiske’s appearance (although dead) causes serious problems for Adelaide and other members of her family. Jane's brother Edward, as the local magistrate, investigates the mystery, with canny Jane providing much assistance through her own sleuthing. The last book in this series disappointed me, but this latest addition is a welcome return to Barron’s great form. If you have never read these before and love Jane Austen and mysteries, this is the series for you.

MN

The Sweetest Thing

The Sweetest Thing
By Christina Mandelski
Egmont USA, 2011. 330 pgs. Young Adult

When Sheridan Wells's father, a local chef, gets an offer for a TV show, the town couldn't be more excited. But Sheridan isn't happy about it at all, especially since this show could mean they have to relocate to NYC, something Sheridan absolutely doesn't want to do. Sheridan's mother left when she was a kid, but she said she'd come back, and Sheridan is waiting for her to keep that promise. Additionally, she has a good job decorating cakes, something she loves doing, and Ethan, pretty much the hottest guy at school, has finally noticed her, and even though that has pretty much killed her friendship with her lifetime best friend Jack, Sheridan just wants to push ahead with things the way that they are.

I really like food fiction, and this one was pretty fun, except for some points where Sheridan seemed excessively whiny. (Realistic,yes, but not necessarily enjoyable to read.) Her process of coming to understand what she really wants and what is best for her is one that many teens will relate to. Overall, it's better than average but not spectacular.

AE