Saturday, December 31, 2011

Above Suspicion

Above Suspicion
By Betsy Brannon Green
Covenant Communications, 2003. 266 pgs. Mystery

Mary Grace O'Malley runs a bed & breakfast in Bethany Beach, Florida. A reporter, John Wright, is working on a story about unsolved murders and comes to stay at the inn while investigating a 25-year old murder right there in Bethany Beach. Turns out Mary Grace and John knew each other in college and are now given the chance to renew their friendship. When one of the guests never arrives at breakfast, it's discovered that he's been murdered.

Above Suspicion is an enjoyable light murder mystery with a little romance and some good plot twists near the end of the story.

SML

Welcome to the Jungle

Welcome to the Jungle
By Jim Butcher
Ballantine Books, 2008. [160] p. Graphic Novel

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files has been a popular series of urban fantasy/mystery novels and later a television series. With Welcome to the Jungle the series enters the domain of graphic novels. Harry Dresden is wizard and he combats all sorts of supernatural villains--demons, witches, vampires, etc. Dresden assists the Chicago Police Department with crimes involving the pararnormal. In this graphic novel a man is murdered at night in the Lincoln Park Zoo. Some want to pin it on the gorilla and close the case, but of course it's never that simple.

Although the plot is run-of-the-mill, the occasionally witty writing and the quality artwork make this a fairly engaging graphic novel. Originally issued as a series of comic books, the cover art from the series is included after the story as well as several pages of "concept art" with some notes that provide a little background on Harry Dresden, Lt. Karrin Murphy and Sgt. Ron Carmichael, both with the Chicago PD.

SML

Friday, December 30, 2011

Cat Burglar Black

Cat Burglar Black
By Richard Sala
First Second, 2009. 128 pgs. Graphic Novel

Cat Burglar may not be the "normal" occupation for a teenage girl, but that is the trade K. Westree learned in the orphanage where she grew up. Unbeknownst to her, it is these very skills that bring her an unexpected invitation to attend the Bellsong Academy For Girls. Upon arrival, K. realizes things are not exactly what she expected. Secrets abound, people go missing, the head mistress tells her the school motto is "You desire, we obtain", and wants K to do WHAT??

In this colorfully illustrated, clean, easy read graphic novel, K Westree is portrayed as an intelligent, strong female protagonist. The violence is skillfully left up to your own imagination. I am not a graphic novel fan but I will make an exception for this one.

mpb

Thursday, December 29, 2011

5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth

5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (and Other Useful Guides)
By Matthew Inman
Andrews McMeel Pub, 2011. Nonfiction

The creator of theoatmeal.com has come out with a hilarious book of humorous comics on interesting facts, awkward situations, oddities, and nonsense. Included are subjects like 8 ways to tell if your loved ones plan to eat you, 14 things worth knowing about cheese, How to use a semicolon, and A polar bear's guide to making friends ("Give big, warm hugs. If your new friend stops moving, you may have hugged too hard. Find another one and try again"). Be warned that this is definitely adult humor.

BHG

Under the Mesquite

Under the Mesquite
By Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Lee & Low Books, 2011. 224 pgs. Young Adult

Lupita’s mother, Mami, is the heart of their close-knit Mexican-American family. Extremely loving, she always has time for her eight children and her beloved rose garden. When the doctors discover her mother’s cancer, Lupita worries about what will happen to the family. She takes refuge in her poetry, her newfound passion of drama, and the pesky mesquite tree growing in Mami’s garden and finds the necessary strength to pull through this hard time. Another sad, but well-written look at love and loss. Fans of free verse fiction will want to read this one.

MN

You Are My Only

You Are My Only
By Beth Kephart
Egmont USA, 2011. 240 pgs. Young Adult

Haunting, heartbreaking, and lyrical, this book really should not be read by those who are pregnant, sick, or both. Emmy steps away briefly from her baby to grab a blanket; when she returns from the twenty-six steps she has taken, Baby is gone, with only a single yellow sock telling she had been there. Sophie is tired of running from the No Good that follows her and her mother. She also tires of the extreme rules that come from fleeing the No Good. So when she steps outside to say hello to the boy playing catch with his dog, Sophie breaks most of the rules and learns of a world filled with love and beauty when she becomes close to the boy and his two aunts. How Sophie and Emmy are related may not be a surprise to readers, but it is a lovely, descriptive journey to discovery.

MN

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Silence of Murder

The Silence of Murder
By Dandi Daley Mackall
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 327 pgs. Young Adult

Jeremy Long has always been odd. He collects empty jars and hasn't spoken in nearly a decade. But his sister Hope knows that even if some of his actions seem odd, Jeremy isn't crazy. And he certainly isn't a murderer. And yet, he's on trial for murder, and Hope is the only one who believes he's innocent. Determined to prove his innocence, Hope frantically searches for other possible suspects, even as someone is trying to keep her from investigation. As her world is crumbling, Hope finds friendship where she least expected it--with the handsome, popular Chase Wells, son of the local sheriff.

I highly enjoyed this book; I liked the mystery aspect of it, particularly the twist at the end, but the way the characters and relationships were developed is what made it shine. Hope's voice is pitch perfect; her love for her brother is beautifully portrayed without becoming sappy. This is an excellent choice for anyone who is looking for a realistic fiction title.

AE

Hypothermia: An Icelandic Thriller

Hypothermia: An Icelandic Thriller
by Arnaldur Indridason
Minotaur Books, 2011. 314 pgs. Mystery

Maria's friend Karen is glad for a chance to relax and recoup at Maria's lakeside cottage but never expects what she finds there--Maria's body hanging from a roof beam. Since Maria had been distraught for some time over her mother's death from cancer, her death is ruled a suicide, but after Inspector Erlendur receives a tape of a seance from another of Maria's friends, in which Maria is seemingly contacted and warned of imminent danger by her dead father. As he unofficially follows up, interested in some inconsistencies in the case and by Maria's fascination with an afterlife, Erlendur continues to push, probe, and question until a very different story from the official explanation emerges, one he is unlikely ever to be able to prove. An elegant, eerie puzzle of a mystery, Hypothermia also reveals much about Erlendur's personal demons having somewhat to do with the disappearance of his brother and his own near-death in a blizzard, and his need to solve the disappearance of another young man before the boy's father dies without any resolution. Yet another in the hopefully unending stream of remarkable mysteries from Scandinavia.

LW

The Buddha in the Attic

The Buddha in the Attic
By Julie Otsuka
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 129 pgs. Fiction

This short novel is the combined stories of a boatload of Japanese ‘picture brides’ who travel to San Francisco from Japan to marry the men whose pictures they hold but have never met. Many leave behind their families and the poverty that they could never escape in Japan. They hope to find large homes, wealthy husbands, and a new American life. What they find instead is often more poverty, men who misrepresented themselves in the prenuptial communications, and a country that is less than welcoming.

Otsaka’s writing is succinct and powerful. In 129 pages she portrays an expansive story that is sadly more fact than fiction. Her heroines cry out for the recognition they rarely receive in our American history books and readers will find it difficult to forget their voices long after the last word is read.

CZ

SpyCatcher

SpyCatcher
By Matthew Dunn
William Morrow, 2011. 418 pgs. Fiction

Will Cochrane, codename Spartan, is a super-secret MI6 agent. He has been trained to be the most deadly man alive. Traumas experienced early in his life make his ability to lock down his emotions a necessity for survival. But, with his most recent case involving a beautiful and damaged woman, Will becomes dangerously close to opening himself up to either unimaginable pain or the happiness in life he has only dreamt of.

This is an excellent freshman effort. Matthew Dunn’s military experience is evident in his detailed descriptions of military procedure. Will is a great spy, think Jason Bourne without the amnesia, and I look forward to more of his adventures in what is sure to be a popular new series of spy thrillers.

CZ

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tankborn

Tankborn
By Karen Sandler
Tu Books, 2011. 373 pgs. Young Adult

Kayla is a GEN, a genetically-engineered non-human, which puts her in the slave class in her world. When she turns fifteen, she is given her work assignment: to help care for an elderly trueborn, Zul Mandel, who holds the highest status in their land. He also happens to have a handsome grandson, Devak, who is absolutely off-limits for Kayla, but she can't help but be attracted to him. Her friend Mishalla has been given a work assignment as well and spends her time caring for several young children in a creche. Something seems strange with the comings and goings of the children, and soon she and Kayla find that there are other strange things going on--things that mean danger, about also hope, for the GENs.

Kudos to the author for writing a science fiction book with a non-white protagonist and for exploring an interesting caste system. The divisions within the society are a great discussion point. However, there are too many flaws in this book to make it a great book. I didn't really ever connect to the characters, which likely results from switching from Kayla's to Mishalla's to Devak's point of view. There were also plot points that seemed like they were just thrown in the story to make it interesting but weren't developed enough. The climax came a little late and the denouement was rushed. It's an okay book, but there are some things that could have been done better.

AE

Unforgettable

Unforgettable
By Loretta Ellsworth
Walker Books for Young Reader, 2011. 256 pgs. Young Adult

After suffering a head injury as a child, Baxter developed a perfect memory; he never forgets anything, even though he'd like to be able to. For example, he'd like to be able to forget that his mother's criminal boyfriend, Dink, used his memory to acquire account numbers and rip people off, and that later Baxter testified against him, and now, Dink is out of prison and wants revenge. In order to get away from Dink, Baxter and his mother move to Minnesota, to the town where Baxter's best friend from kindergarten moved years before. Baxter has never forgotten her, but she doesn't seem to remember him--which is good because she doesn't remember his freakish memory but bad because he finds himself trying to create a new identity and be who she wants him to be.

I think I was expecting more from this book than it actually delivered. While there were things that readers will like--the bit of romance, Baxter facing up to his fear of Dink, etc.--the overall effect isn't very memorable. It's not a bad book; it just doesn't distinguish itself from any other young adult contemporary realistic fiction. Some language, but it's mostly a clean read.

AE

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Resistance. Book 1

Resistance. Book 1
By Carla Jablonski & Leland Purvis
First Second, 2010, 121 pgs. Graphic Novel

In Resistance, Book 1, two children in a small French village occupied by Germans during World War II become involved in hiding a Jewish friend, Henri. As the Germans roundup the local Jews, Paul and Marie and their families and friends must choose sides. While helping Henri, the children become involved in the French Resistance which is also helping Jews to hide. The two children help their friend even as they worry about their own missing father, who is thought to be a prisoner of war.

Paul carries his sketchbook with him everywhere. His sketches, embedded in the graphic novel as part of the illustrations, help us see the action of the novel through Paul’s eyes. These same sketches also play a part in the plot as they are used to carry messages for the Resistance.

The story happens in France, but wherever the Germans conquered, the same dangers existed, the same difficult choices and secrets had to be made and kept. For young people who don’t know much about World War II this graphic novel is an accessible introduction to the persecution of the Jews. SH

Monday, December 19, 2011

Level Up

Level Up
By Gene Yang and Thien Pham
First Second/Roaring Brook Press, 2011. 160 pgs. Graphic Novel

All Dennis Ouyang wants to do with his life is play video games; his parents, however, want much more from him. When his father passes away, Dennis goes on a video game binge, to the point that he's kicked out of college. Soon, though, he starts seeing his father's face everywhere and these strange angel-type creatures appear to him and inform him that his destiny is to go medical school and specialize in gastroenterology. They push him to study hard, which he does. However, as he begins to study medicine, he wonders if this is what he really wants to do with his life and sets out to find his own path.

This graphic novel was all right but not amazing. Dennis's experience in learning how to balance family expectations and his own interests is one that many teens will relate to. A little bit of language, but otherwise it's a clean read.

AE

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Christmas of '45

The Christmas of '45
By Mills Crenshaw
Bonneville Books, 2010. 167 pgs. Fiction

On Christmas Eve in 1945, David, who will turn six the following day, is missing his recently deceased mother and doesn't understand why she can't come back to him. Since he's been told that she's gone to be with Jesus, he sets out in search of Jesus in order to ask for his own Christmas miracle. As he wanders off in a storm, trying to find to Jesus, his father and other townspeople are trying to find him before it's too late.

This book is filled with flat, stereotypical characters and the writing tends to be overly flowery, and yet, those who are in the mood for a heartwarming Christmas story will be reaching for the tissue box as David tries to find Jesus. It's cheesy, but it's also a feel-good story for those in need of a little Christmas cheer.

AE

Finding Hope

Finding Hope: Where to Look for God's Help
By S. Michael Wilcox
Deseret Book, 2011. 58 pgs. Nonfiction

In this brief book, Wilcox points out various ways to find hope in our lives, whether it's through looking at past experiences to see how we've been prepared for current obstacles, looking besides us to see the Savior's presence in our lives, or looking to those around us to see the ways they can provide hope. Simple but profound, this is a good choice for those who are looking for a pick-me-up at this time.

AE

Blizzard of Glass

Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917
By Sally M. Walker
Henry Holt, 2011. 145 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

December 6, 1917 started out as a normal day for the people of Halifax, Nova Scotia, as they headed off to work and school. Little did they know that disaster was looming in the Halifax Harbour, as a ship loaded with explosives was on course to collide with another ship. When the two boats collided, the largest man-made explosion until the dropping of the atomic bomb nearly thirty years later was the result. Felt and heard for miles, the explosion was devastating to the people of Halifax as neighborhoods were destroyed and nearly 2000 people were killed.

Walker's presentation of this important part of history is phenomenal. She follows the stories of several families living in Halifax at the time and shows how they were affected by this disaster; this personal aspect, along with numerous photographs from the event, really brings the tragedy to life for readers. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an interesting look at history.

AE

All These Things I've Done

All These Things I've Done
by Gabrielle Zevin
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011. 354 pgs. Young Adult

Anya’s just trying to hold her small family together, hoping her extremely frail grandmother (and legal guardian) dies when Anya is old enough to resume legal guardianship of her younger sister Natty. Anya’s parents are dead from hits by other crime families; ever since her mob boss father has died, she has kept her distance from the rest of the family. But when her ex-boyfriend falls extremely ill from eating her family’s illegal chocolate, Anya becomes the number one suspect. That suspicion, along with dating the district attorney’s son, thrusts Anya’s relatively private life into the public and it becomes fraught with possible dangers from many sides, including her mob family.

Set in the future where chocolate is illegal and the water supply is quickly dwindling, this doesn’t feel like a science fiction novel, but I see how the author might be setting this up for future books where these matters are more of an issue. I have been a fan of Zevin’s previous young adult books and this was just as good, but different. The characters are well thought out, including the supporting ones and the romance is realistic and not over the top. The whole idea of Anya’s proper birthright in the mob family, but wanting to shield her family makes this feel more real, and not some clich├ęd mob story. Hopefully there will be more stories featuring Anya and this slightly different world.

MN

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Into the Mist

Into the Mist: The Story of the Empress of Ireland
By Anne Renaud
Dundurn Press, 2010. 106 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

After the completion of the cross-Canadian railroad, and with the Canadian Pacific Railway had established themselves in delivering the mail across the continent and built up a small fleet for getting mail across the Pacific Ocean, they turned their attention to the Atlantic mail trade. The Empress of Ireland was one of the ships built to meet that need. After eight years of successfully crossing the ocean, the Empress was struck by another ship and sunk within hours, killing over one thousand people.

This book is pretty short but it's jam-packed with interesting information. There weren't as many details about the actual sinking of the ship as I'd expected, but it did have snippets about passengers and lots of photographs that really helped readers get a feel for the time period and the interior of the ship. I would have liked to see a little more about the ship's sinking and the ways lives were affected, but other than that, I really enjoyed the book.

AE

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Virtuosity

Virtuosity
By Jessica Martinez
Simon Pulse, 2011. 294 pgs. Young Adult

Carmen Bianchi's whole life has been leading up to a prestigious violin contest. She has practiced and performed and recorded CDs, but none of it matters if she doesn't win the competition. However, her main competition, Jeremy King, might just be good enough to beat her. And to make matters worse, he also might be the only one who understands the pressure that she's under--enough pressure that she's become addicted to an anti-anxiety drug that keeps her from throwing up before each performance. Carmen's mother, who cares about this competition as much or even more than Carmen, says that Jeremy is only expressing interest in her to fluster her before her performance, but Carmen wants to believe it's more. She also wants to start living her own life and soon finds herself rediscovering what it means to be Carmen.

This is an excellent choice for fans of realistic teen fiction. It draws readers in from the first page, and even people who don't know anything about violins will be able to relate to Carmen's passion and the pressure she's under. Highly enjoyable.

AE

The Call

The Call
by Yannick Murphy
Harper Perennial, 2011. 220 pgs. Fiction

The daily rhythm of a veterinarian’s family in rural New England is shaken when a hunting accident leaves their eldest son in a coma. With the lives of his loved ones unhinged, the veterinarian struggles to maintain stability while searching for the man responsible. But in the midst of their great trial an unexpected visitor arrives, requesting a favor that will have profound consequences—testing a loving father’s patience, humor, and resolve and forcing husband and wife to come to terms with what “family” truly means.

The writing style of this book is very unique. I wasn’t expecting it and so it took a while to get used to it and to enjoy the book. However, I am glad that I persevered because I ended up loving this book and still cannot stop thinking about it a week after I finished reading it. If you are a looking for a quirky and rewarding read, this is the book for you.

JC

American Widow

American Widow
by Alissa Torres and Sungyoon Choi
Villard, 2008. 209 pgs. Biography

Torres's husband, Eddie, started work at Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center on September 10, 2001. The next day, Alissa became one of the terrorist widows of 9/11. This book chronicles Alissa's first year without Eddie—including the birth of their child, two months after his death. It also traces their courtship, marriage and the last few days of Eddie's life.

I have read a number of graphic memoirs, and a number of memoirs about grief, and I think this book combines the best qualities of both. The illustrations and the gaps in the story give it more power than words alone would; sometimes a picture really is the best way to convey powerful emotions. The choice of colors was also interesting; most of the book uses only three colors in the illustrations, except for a few pages that really stand out because of their difference. I thought this was an excellent book, both as a memoir about a personal tragedy and a commentary on a major event in our country’s history.

JC

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Justice

Justice
by Jim Krueger and Alex Ross
D.C Comics, 2011, 375 pages. Graphic Novel

In this new one volume compilation, the Justice League of America is threatened by a nefarious cabal of super villains plotting to take over the world in order to save it from itself. Sound familiar? Just like every other graphic novel ever written? Well, yes. However! The devilish plot is in the details. As a result of a recurrent dream wherein the world is annihilated in an all out exchange of nuclear missiles, Lex Luthor and Brainiac hatch a plot to neutralize the JLA and present themselves as the Earth's true saviors. Will the Justice League rise to this new and ever more deadly occasion? Only you can tell, for I cannot reveal the stunning conclusion.

I enjoyed this graphic novel quite a bit and I am a confirmed Marvel fan. I particularly like the trend in graphic novel writing that incorporates a bit of angst in the lives of the superheroes, something that was rare or non-existent back the The Day when I was reading comics regularly. Saving the world? Great. Saving the world while having some sort of existential crisis as well? Yes, please!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Legend

Legend
By Marie Lu
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2011. 305 pgs. Young Adult

Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem. From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death.

This was a great book! It's one of my favorite dystopian books to come out of the last few years. The story was engrossing and easily kept me reading late into the night. I wish there had been a little more depth in the story, but on the other hand it kept the plot moving quickly. This appears to be the beginning of a series as there are quite a few things left open at the end, and I am eagerly looking forward to the next installment. You won't find much here that is new to the growing dystopian genre, but this book is among the top in that group.

BHG

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Beginning of After

The Beginning of After
By Jennifer Castle
HarperTeen, 2011. 425 pgs. Young Adult

In a single moment, Laurel's entire life changes. Her father, mother, and brother are killed in a car accident, along with their neighbor, Mrs. Kaufman, and the driver of the vehicle, Mr. Kaufman, is in a coma. As Laurel is trying to deal with losing her whole family and trying to establish normalcy (or decide if it's even okay to try to have a normal life), she keeps crossing paths with the Kaufmans' son, David, who infuriates her but also understand her pain better than anyone else does.

This book was really well done. Laurel is a sympathetic and likable narrator, and her grief and process of healing is realistically portrayed. This is a great choice for fans of contemporary realistic fiction.

AE

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A History of the World in 100 Objects

A History of the World in 100 Objects
By Neil MacGregor
Viking, 2011. 707 pgs. Nonfiction

Neil MacGregor is the Director of the British Museum. He and his colleagues identified 100 artifacts from their collection that represent the history of civilizations throughout the world. From simple carving tools to elaborate funeral relics, from the famous Rosetta Stone to a common credit card, each item is given a five to six page essay with lovely color photographs and details.

With over 700 pages, this is a hefty tome. But the pages fly by quickly because of the short chapters and illustrations. Since MacGregor is British and is writing for a British audience, it is interesting to read of world history from their perspective instead of from the more familiar American perspective. A great book for armchair archeologists!

CZ

The Social Animal

The Social Animal:The Hidden Source of Love, Character, and Achievement
By David Brooks
Random House, 2011. 424 pgs. Nonfiction

The author’s goal in The Social Animal is to illustrate the path to success for humans in our current society. This is done by telling the stories of an American couple. Readers are given a glimpse into each stage of life from being a mere twinkle in their parents’ eyes to saying a final farewell to loved ones. Their stories are interspersed with fascinating studies and scientific findings that shed further light on how each of us function, learn, grow, and achieve.

The Social Animal was extremely readable. Writing about the science of our mental development and achievement in a biographical style makes it very approachable. However, at the end, I did not feel that the author had accomplished his proposed goal. I was entertained and I learned some really fascinating tidbits (like how men can confuse an adrenaline rush with a romantic attraction…great stuff!!), but couching the information in a story resulted in more conjecture than I had expected.

CZ

The Art Detective

The Art Detective: Fakes, Frauds, and Finds and the Search for Lost Treasures
by Philip Mould
Viking, 2010. 261 pgs. Nonfiction

Philip Mould, one of the world's foremost authorities on British portraiture and an irreverent and delightful expert for the original Antiques Roadshow, serves up his secrets and his best stories, blending the technical details of art detection and restoration with juicy tales peopled by a range of eccentric collectors, scholars, forgers, and opportunists.

The premise of this book is really exciting, and some of the stories are too. The author is certainly an expert in his field and I learned a lot more about the world of art, including how paintings are priced and how they are restored. However, I had a hard time getting through it due to the rather dense and sometimes patronizing writing style. This is a good read if you are already interested in the subject of art and if you have the patience to make it through the writing.

JC

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Prized

Prized
By Caragh O’Brien
Roaring Book Press, 2011. 356 pgs. Young Adult

Sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone is in the wasteland with nothing but her baby sister, a handful of supplies, and a rumor to guide her when she is captured by the people of Sylum, a dystopian society where she must follow a strict social code or never see her sister again.

Prized is the sequel to Birthmarked which was published last year. Gaia’s fight for survival continues in Sylum where there is a shortage of women and the women are in charge. I really enjoyed this book, but had forgotten lots of what happened in the first book. I’d recommend this to people looking for another great YA dystopian novel, but would suggest reading the novels back to back in order to best follow the authors story.

AMM