Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Watergate

Watergate
by Thomas Mallon
Pantheon, 2012. 429 pgs. Fiction.

After all these years, Thomas Mallon's novel provides us with an artful and totally unexpected reason for the missing 18 1/2 minutes on the Oval Office tapes that would bring down the Nixon presidency. And even though he adds characters, makes up dialogue, and moves his characters about on a chessboard of his own making, the story rings true. Minor characters play major roles here or are played upon by the nation-changing circumstances that explode from the discovery of and subsequent cover-up of "a third-rate burglary." What happens in these pages takes place some distance from Senator Ervin's Hearing Room and tangential, totally fictional, and historically significant characters mingle in a rich mix of high drama, desperation, irony, sardonic laughs, sorrow, and tenderness. One of the best books of 2012 so far.

LW

The Dovekeepers

The Dovekeepers
By Alice Hoffman
Scribner, 2011. 504 pgs. Historical Fiction

Two thousand years ago, in the mountain fortress of Masada, 900 Jews tried to escape the Roman armies that eventually besieged them. The historian Josephus recorded that only two women and five children survived a mass suicide that appeared to be the group’s only avenue to avoiding slavery or worse at the hands of the Romans. This tragic story is the basis of Alice Hoffman’s beautifully crafted novel, “The Dovekeepers.” Four women tell their stories and those of their people. The stories these women share are filled with love, loss, and hope. Their fates are intricately connected to each other and their people.

“The Dovekeepers” is perfect for readers who enjoyed Anita Diamant’s “The RedTent.” Both the country and peoples of ancient Israel are described in amazing detail. And while this book does deviate form Hoffman’s usual magical reality, fans will still enjoy her strong female characters and dramatic storytelling.

CZ

Moby Dick

Moby Dick
By Herman Melville, Lance Stahlberg, Lalit Kumar Singh, Ajo Kurian, Bhavnath Chaudhary, & Vishal Sharma
Campfire, 2010. 84 pgs. Graphic Novel

This is a graphic novel adaptation to the classic tale of obsession and madness on the high seas. Ishmael dreams of wealth and adventure and plans to find it aboard a whaling ship. Fate soon finds him on the Pequod with Captain Ahab and a crew of hardened sailors. But Ishmael’s desire for wealth and adventure is too quickly replaced with the simple hope of survival, thanks to Ahab’s insane drive for vengeance on the great white beast that robbed him of his leg.

With fewer than one hundred pages this is a seriously abridged version of Melville’s masterpiece. The illustrations are dark and menacing, appropriate to the tale. Since I’m not a huge fan of graphic novels, it wasn’t my favorite book so far this year. But I think it could certainly be of interest to anyone who enjoys the format and wants to brush up on their classics.

CZ

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray
By Oscar Wilde
Modern Library, 1998. 254 pgs. Fiction

Dorian Gray, a handsome young man sits for his portrait to be painted by Basil Hallward. The portrait is beautiful and so is Dorian, a fact Basil is not shy telling him. Dorian becomes quite vain after his many interactions with both Basil and Basil’s friend Lord Henry Wotton. As a vain wish, Dorian wonders aloud why the portrait shouldn’t age while he stays young and handsome. Dorian’s wish comes true and even as he commits grievous mistakes and sins in his life, he remains young while the portrait becomes old and corrupt.

If you are looking for a short classic book, this one’s for you. However Wilde can often be long winded in his descriptions and I felt that the action was rather jerky. I’d be into the book for a while and then it would take several chapters for me to be interested in the characters and plot again. Recommended for those wanting to brush up on their classic novel reading.


AMM

Monday, February 27, 2012

Year of Wonders

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague
by Geraldine Brooks
Blackstone Audio, 2010. 308 pgs/10 hours. Historical Fiction

Anna Frith narrates the tumultuous events of the year 1666, when the plague arrived in her small village of Eyam in cloth sent from London. The local minister encourages the villagers to take the radical step of sealing themselves off from the rest of the world in order to prevent the disease from infecting others, an act that has both good and evil consequences for everyone.

I listened to an audio version of this book read by the author, and I really liked the narration. Her voice is just perfect as Anna’s, adding the right inflection and tone to the words. However, I found this to be a harder book to listen to than it was to read simply because the content is very difficult. Brooks has done meticulous research into the realities of country life in the 17th century and the horrific symptoms of plague (not to mention the horrible things that desperate people do to each other). This book is beautifully written but not for the faint of heart.

JC

Captive Heart

Captive Heart
by Michele Paige Holmes
Covenant, 2011. 255 pgs. Romance

Emma Madsen flees Boston for a teaching job out west in Colorado, but her life changes forever when bandits stop her train and one of them kidnaps her, saying he is looking for a teacher. As Emma travels with Thayne Kendrick to their mysterious destination across the prairie, she begins to wonder if there is more to this outlaw than she thought.

I know I can always count on Michele Holmes to pack as much action into her romances as she can. This book did not disappoint; there are many twists, turns, and surprises to keep you on your toes as you read. I enjoyed the way she switches back and forth between the two main characters so you get the story of their romance through both their points of view. This is a great read if you like a little action with your romance.

JC

The Closers

The Closers
By Michael Connelly
Little Brown, 2005. 579 pgs. Mystery

Harry Bosch, returning to the Los Angeles police force after a three year break, is assigned to the Open/Unsolved Unit. First day on the job with his old partner, Kiz Rider, they are handed a 17-year-old case; the murder of a teen girl that is being reinvestigated due to new DNA evidence. Bosch, trying to prove he is worthy to be back on the force, battles department politics and possible cover-ups, all the while trying to resolve a case that should have been closed years before.

An engaging story with rich characters that will leave the reader wanting to read the rest of the series.

KK

The Undertaker's Widow

The Undertaker’s Widow
By Phillip Margolin
Doubleday, 1998. 312 pgs. Fiction

After ruling on a high profile case, Judge Richard Quinn is selected to preside over a controversial case against Congresswoman candidate Ellen Crease, who may or may not be involved in the death of her husband.

Though a legal thriller, not much of the action takes place in the court room, much to my delight. One line of investigation leads to another, and soon, deceit, passion, money and power all come into play in this enthralling story.

KK

Artist of Disappearance: Three Novellas

The Artist of Disappearance: Three Novellas
By Anita Desai
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2011. 156 pgs. Fiction

The past is the original “artist of disappearance” in these three novellas. But other losses, other disappearances, permeate these stories, too. In each, the endeavor to preserve the past shadows the present. Who should save the museum in a remote village in India whose creators have vanished? Can an English translation of a work from a forgotten tongue hope to represent its original truth? Can the creation of beauty in the present redeem the losses of the past?

Anita Desai has constructed deceptively simple stories that evoke a pensive sorrow even as they subtly offer hope for the future. This short book is for the reader who is looking for fine writing and an opportunity for reflection.

SH

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Boo: The Life of the World's Cutest Dog

Boo: The Life of the World's Cutest Dog
By J.H. Lee
Chronicle Books, 2011. 1 vol. (unpaged). Young Adult Nonfiction

Boo, the adorable Pomeranian dog who has acquired Facebook fame, shares with readers what it's like to spend a day in his life, from sleeping to playing to wearing stylish outfits to hanging out with his best dog friend Buddy to sleeping some more.

This is a must-read for any dog-lover. Boo is super cute, and readers will get a chuckle out of all of his pictures--and will probably want to go out and buy a Boo of their own.

AE

The Survival Kit

The Survival Kit
By Donna Freitas
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011. 351 pgs. Young Adult

Rose Madison's entire life has changed since her mother's death. She doesn't want to listen to music, she quit cheerleading, and she can barely stand to have her boyfriend touch her. Then she finds one of her mother's trademark survival kits, a brown bag with items that are intended to help the receiver of the gift survive whatever struggle they're dealing with. At first, Rose can't even bring herself to open the bag, but once she does, she finds herself trying to deal with her emotions, and is surprised to discover that she's developing feelings for Will Doniger, who, having lost his father to cancer, seems to understand her better than anyone.

Rose's emotional journey, as well as her blossoming relationship with Will, were developed pretty close to perfectly. Freitas did a good job portraying a girl who is torn by the conflict of wanting to freeze time as she grieves for her mother while at the same time knowing that she's supposed to move forward with her life. Freitas got just the right tone on this one--not too heavy and depressing but not too light either. Highly recommend.

AE

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
By Rebecca Wells
HarperCollins, 1996. 356 pgs. Fiction

When Sidda reveals some less than ideal circumstances about her Southern upbringing in a New York Times interview, her mother, Vivi, disowns her. Vivi’s closest group of friends, the Ya-Ya’s, strive to bridge the gap between mother and daughter. They convince Vivi to send her precious scrapbook, the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, so that Sidda can better understand her mother’s life.

Though this is technically a sequel, it also works as a stand alone novel. I found the story interesting and enjoyed reading it. The chapters bounced between Sidda’s perspective and Vivi’s perspective/memories, but not in a confusing way. The dialogue is as spicy as the Tobasco sauce the Ya-Ya’s love, so if language bothers you think twice before picking this one up. I can see this being a good read for people who enjoy more serious fiction, self discovery stories, and stories with parent/child struggles.

ACS

Duped!: True Stories of the World's Best Swindlers

Duped!: True Stories of the World's Best Swindlers
By Andreas Schroeder
Annick Press, 2011. 157 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

This book covers eight stories of deception, from an alien invasion that set many parts of the U.S. into a panic to a man who first wrote and then pretended to discover two original works from Shakespeare, all in an attempt to impress his father.
Some of these stories were more interesting than others, and the book seemed to end a little abruptly, but overall, this is a good choice for reluctant readers. Its quick stories, along with comic-style illustrations, make it a fast and easy read, but it's also one that makes you feel a little smarter afterwards.

AE

The Day Before

The Day Before
By Lisa Schroeder
Simon Pulse, 2011. 307 pgs. Young Adult

Needing to escape, Amber decides to take her final day before her life changes completely by going to the beach. While she initially plans to spend the day in solitude, her plans quickly change when she meets Cade, a boy who appears to have the same haunting pressure on him. The two of them agree not ask any questions, but they set out together to have one happy day before returning to real life.

This novel in verse will appeal to many readers. The plot is carefully unfolded, giving tiny hints that will have readers holding their breath as they're waiting to find out just what Amber and Cade are facing. Both characters are realistic and likable, and their desire to have one terrific day will pull readers along as they long for a terrific day of their own. A little bit of language, but not enough to bother most readers as they enjoy this perfectly delightful book.

AE

A Plague Year

A Plague Year
by Edward Bloor
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 305 pgs. Young Adult

Tom Coleman starts a diary at the beginning of his ninth grade year in the fall of 2001 and chronicles the descent of the plague of methamphetamine onto his small, Pennsylvania town. It begins with unexplained thefts of cold medicine and cleaning supplies from the grocery store his father runs and ends up affecting his everyone in his family and his friends.

Edward Bloor has crammed a lot into this book: class issues, drug problems, the economics of small town life, family dysfunction, and the events of September 11th. Tom is an engaging narrator, though sometimes a bit unreliable and naïve, and I thought his telling of the story was quite compelling. Some elements of the plot and some of the characters less well-developed than others, but that could also be due to the fact that the story is told through Tom’s journal rather than a more omniscient narrator. If you have enjoyed Edward Bloor’s other books you will like this one as well.

JC

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
by Umberto Eco
Harcourt, 2005. 469 pages. Fiction

Yambo is a rare book dealer in Milan who has a stroke resulting in the loss of much of his memory. He can recall all the stories and comic books he's ever read, movies he's seen, and music he's heard; but he does not know his wife, his children, or anyone else, for that matter. Once he returns home his condition persists, despite various efforts to prompt recall. Eventually it is decided that he should return to the large country home in which he grew up to see if things there might be helpful in recovering his memories. There in the home of his childhood he pores over old books, magazines, comic books, newspapers, and even some diaries. He begins to re-construct his past but he still doesn't recall it.

Yambo has long been interested in the fog and has indeed amassed many quotes concerning the fog. Now he finds himself in a fog. As he pieces together his past, the fog comes to play an integral part in certain war-time events of his life. This is a sumptuous, tour-de-force novel concerned with human consciousness literally brimming with nostalgia. Entertaining and thought-provoking.

SML

Robert Redford: The Biography

Robert Redford: The Biography
by Michael Feeney Callan
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 468 pages. Biography.

Michael Feeney Callan has written an excellent and engaging biography of Robert Redford. Insightful and comprehensive, this work covers Redford's early life, his acting and producing career, and his activism to protect the environment in the Western United States, and to a lesser extent, his family. Depicted here is a relentless professional who maintained high artistic standards of himself and those around him.

Callan had access to the actor/producer/activist's personal documents, scripts, interviews, etc. There are passages where Redford is quoted and this sometimes gives the book the feel of an autobiography. Mark Deakins is the reader of the audio version of this biography and he does an excellent job of capturing Redford's voice. Highly recommended.

SML

All Cry Chaos

All Cry Chaos
by Leonard Rosen
Permanent Press, 2011. 332 pgs. Mystery

Bosnian genocide, chaos theory, the Indigenous Liberation Front, and a radical End Times Christian group all play a part in this heartbreaking, suspenseful story of the death by surgical explosive strike of a Harvard mathematician. Interpol agent Henri Poincare is assigned the case and persists in it even when a Serbian mass murderer whom he has arrested makes threats against his family. By the end of this stylish thriller, the superscriptions from the Book of Job make perfect sense. Science and spirituality, mathematics and mysticism flow into one another where minds and hearts are tried beyond telling. Plus, aside from a handful of swear words, the book is free from vulgarity and sexual situations. (What?!) The instantly inimitable Leonard Rosen works by day as a textbook writer and wouldn't that be terrific assigned reading? One hopes this fine book is the beginning of a many-volumed series.

LW

Friday, February 17, 2012

The List

The List
by Melanie Jacobson
Covenant, 2011. 289 pgs. Romance

Ashley watched her sisters struggle after marrying young, so she impulsively created The List of twenty-five things she must complete before she ties herself down with marriage and kids. She thinks a summer with her cousins in California would be a great way to cross a few things off her list before she goes to grad school, but when she chooses Matt as her surfing instructor and potential summer fling, she gets more than she bargained for.

This book is a light, funny read that is perfect for a rainy Saturday afternoon or a day at the beach. Ashley is a bit annoying at first, and since the book is from her point of view I also felt like we didn’t get to know Matt as much as I would have liked to, but it’s fun to watch Ashley change her mind about love. The ending is very satisfying and this book almost convinced me to go to California and try my luck with surfing lessons.

JC

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Instructions for a Broken Heart

Instructions for a Broken Heart
By Kim Culbertson
Sourcebooks Fire, 2011. 295 pgs. Young Adult

After catching her boyfriend Sean in a compromising situation with another girl, Jessa and some classmates (including, unfortunately, Sean and the other girl) go to Italy for a school trip. Jessa's best friend, Carissa, knowing that Jessa will be completely freaking out, sends along twenty envelopes, each with instructions for how Jessa can get over Sean and get on with her life. With her friend's instructions, as well as a good book and Italy itself to help her, Jessa not only deals with her broken heart but finds out that there's more to her than she realized.

Although there were moments when Jessa seemed a little overly dramatic and when the book started to drag a little bit, overall, readers who enjoy stories of surviving your first heartbreak will come away satisfied. A little bit of language but otherwise a clean read.

AE

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Ice Balloon: S. A. Andree and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration

The Ice Balloon: S. A. Andree and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration
by Alec Wilkinson
Knopf, 2011. 233 pgs. Non-fiction.

In 1897 S. A. Andree, Nils Strindberg, and Knut Fraenkel launched a hydrogen balloon which they were hoping would combine with lucky winds, a set of drag cables, and some sails, to carry them swiftly and directly over the North Pole and down the other side of the world to North America. They disappeared, never to be heard from again, until their bodies--and their journals and other writings--were discovered some 33 years later. Alec Wilkinson's meticulous account of Andree's bold attempt is interspersed with stories of other adventurers who either tried and died, or came back beaten by the cold, the dark, and the ever-moving ice. Alec Wilkinson is one of the finest prose stylists writing today, and his elegant, haunting account is both enlightening and mystifying.

The Story of Beautiful Girl

The Story of Beautiful Girl
by Rachel Simon
Grand Central Publishing, 2011. 346 pgs. Fiction

One stormy night in 1968, retired school teacher Martha Zimmer opens her door to find two mysterious strangers on her porch. Lynnie is developmentally disabled and Homan is deaf, and they have escaped from the nearby Pennsylvania State School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. A few hours later the authorities catch up to the pair; Homan escapes into the woods, Lynnie is taken back to the institution, and Martha is left with the newborn baby that the two hid in her attic. The book then chronicles the next forty years in the lives of the characters as they try to find their way back to each other while the world changes around them.

This book is beautifully written and it provides an insightful window into the inner lives of the disabled. I thought the author did a good job switching points of view between the various characters, although I wanted to read more about baby Julia and her life with Martha. I thought the ending was a bit too neat and some of the characters a bit too starkly bad or good, but generally I enjoyed this book.

JC

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thunder Dog

Thunder Dog
By Michael Hingson with Susy Flory
Thomas Nelson, 2011, 232 pgs. Nonfiction

1,463 steps and Michael Hingson will be free from the uncomfortably hot crowded stairwell. The thought that continuously crosses his mind...what will happen if the lights go out? The time is 8:46 a.m., the date, Sept. 11, 2001. Michael along with hundreds of others knows something is wrong, terribly wrong.

Thunder Dog is one man's unique perspective of what happened that harrowing day. Michael is half of an astonishing team, the other half, Roselle, his incredible guide dog. Michael Hingson is blind.

Michael describes with lucid clearness the elongated minutes as he and Roselle descend the stairs in the World Trade Center. Interspersed are Michael's recollections of memorable life events and choices. He believes life is about achieving goals often made more challenging by a sighted world. On this day however, it is about absolute trust in himself and Roselle working as a team.

Overlook rough patches where Thunder Dog doesn't quite flow smoothly. This is not just another dog book. I highly recommend to everyone this true story of trust between a man, his guide dog, their survival and motivating outlook on life.

mpb

There You'll Find Me

There You'll Find Me
By Jenny B. Jones
Thomas Nelson, 2011. 314 pgs. Young Adult

After her brother Will's death, Finley Sinclair fell apart, but now she's determined to put her life back together and find her faith again. She's following in her brother's footsteps, spending her senior year in Ireland in an exchange program. She's got her brother's travel journal and is trying to find all of the places in Ireland that touched her brother's heart and helped him see God all around. She also thinks that as she traces his steps, she'll be able to finally find an ending for the composition piece that she's hoping will get her into the New York Conservatory. So, she doesn't want anything to do with Beckett Rush, who is staying at her host family's bed and breakfast. A teenage vampire movie star, he's the hottest thing out there--and Finley is the one girl who isn't swooning over him. But when he offers her a position as his assistant in exchange for helping her find all of Will's landmarks, Finley finds she can't refuse.

I really liked this book until about three fourths of the way through, and then it just got a little too heavy. I loved seeing Finley's struggle to rediscover her relationship with God, and the dialogue between her and Beckett was funny. However, the author added in Finley spiraling into anorexia, and I think putting that in just made for one too many problems, and there wasn't really enough time to wrap everything up well enough and it somehow seemed to throw off the balance of the book. Finley had plenty going on without the beginnings of an eating disorder, and while I can see that being realistic in light of her grief over her brother's death (and even her feelings of inadequacy with other girls fawning over Beckett), but it made the book too heavy for me to fully feel the hope that I think the author intended. Still, I think readers will enjoy it for the most part--and will be wishing they could hop on a plane to Ireland.

AE

Bluefish

Bluefish
By Pat Schmatz
Candlewick Press, 2011. 226 pgs. Young Adult

Travis is just starting eighth grade at a new school, having been forced by his grandfather to move. With no parents, Travis's one comfort in life had been his dog Rosco, but when he turned up missing, Grandpa made Travis leave him behind. Travis, who struggles with school and his temper, isn't looking for friends, but Velveeta, a girl in some of his classes, won't leave him alone, constantly asking questions and trying to find out Travis's secrets, even while she's trying to hide a few of their own. Her quirky personality, combined with an insightful teacher, might be just what Travis needs to get his life back on track.

This is one of those books that is sad and sweet and funny all at the same time. I loved watching Travis's progress, and Velveeta and other characters really added to the story. A little language, but it was realistic and of the milder variety. A good choice for reluctant readers.

AE

All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky

All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky
By Joe R. Lansdale
Delacorte Press, 2011. 227 pgs. Young Adult

Jack Catcher's life has taken a turn for the worse--living in the Dust Bowl, when "all the earth is thrown to the sky" and money is tight because of the Depression, is bad enough, but when his mother dies and his father, unable to deal with his grief, kills himself shortly after, Jack is suddenly all alone. So when Jane Lewis and her brother Tony stumble onto his land, en route to "borrow" an automobile from a dead man and take off to Texas, that sounds like a decent enough plan to Jack. Once they set out, though, they manage to find themselves caught up in a little more adventure than they'd planned on, since they're waylaid by gangsters making a getaway after a bank robbery.

This book seemed slightly far-fetched to me--these kids have a knack for getting into trouble with big-name crooks right and left--but it was still a good read. Lansdale did a good job showing the adventure and fun stuff but balancing it out with the harsh reality of life, and the language was spot on. I really enjoyed Jack as a narrator. Great choice for anyone interested in historical fiction or just a good example of storytelling. A very little bit of language, but not enough to bother most readers.

AE

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Silas Marner

Silas Marner
By George Eliot
Dover Publications, 1996. 183 pgs. Fiction

Silas Marner, as a young man, was devoutly religious and was happily planning his wedding when an unjust accusation left him shaken in his faith and bereft of his fianceé. Bitter, Silas moves far away and loses himself in his work as a weaver, and, somewhat of an outcast in his new village, finds a bit of comfort in his money, which he hoards and counts nightly. However, when Silas is robbed, his thinks all is lost. And yet, shortly after the robbery, an orphaned child makes her way to his home, and Silas, acting as her adoptive father, is changed by the power of love.

I like the summary of this story better than the actual execution. The plot was good, but there were passages in the middle, particularly the dialogue among villagers, that made the story drag. Perhaps readers who have more interest in the social implications of the time period won't mind those detailed conversations, but many readers will wish there was less of that and more of the "good" parts of the story. Still, the plot is interesting, and if readers need a short classic read, this is good for that.

AE

Midnight in Austenland

Midnight in Austenland
By Shannon Hale
Bloomsbury, 2012. 277 pgs. Fiction

Charlotte Kinder is trying to move on with her life after a painful divorce from her husband a year earlier. While planning a vacation she learns about Pembrook Park, a Regency-themed resort of sorts where women come to play parlor games, take a turn about the gardens, learn country dances, and enjoy new associations with the attractive gentlemen housed at the estate. But Charlotte's vacation becomes something else altogether when she catches a glimpse of a corpse-like hand in a secret room.

Fans of the first book, Austenland, will enjoy this sequel loosely based on Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. If you're worried that this book will simply rework the plot from Austenland, you may be pleasantly surprised. This is a fun, quick read that will appeal to fans of Jane Austen and Shannon Hale.

BHG

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Magic Room

The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters
by Jeffrey Zaslow
Gotham Books, 2012. 285 pgs. Nonfiction

Becker’s Bridal has been in business since 1934 and brings thousands of brides each year to the small town of Fowler, Michigan. In this book, Zaslow tells the history of the store and the individual stories of some of the women who have bought their dresses there. He describes how the wedding industry and societal expectations have changed during the last seventy years, as well as the journeys that many women take before they find lasting love.

I had a great time reading this book; sometimes I laughed and sometimes I cried. The author writes a story that is sweet and optimistic without being overly sappy. He comments on the state of the world and on the difficulties women can face in their families and romantic relationships without being overly didactic. Keeping track of the stories of the different people profiled was a little difficult sometimes, but by the end of the book I felt like I knew them and wished I could read more about them. If you like feel-good, true-to-life love stories, this is the book for you.

JC

Sociopath Next Door

The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us
By Martha Stout
Broadway Books, 2005. 241 pgs. Nonfiction

With the author reporting that up to 4% of the American population is missing a conscience, there is little doubt that each of us has contact with at least one of them. In ‘The Sociopath Next Door’, Martha Stout tells of what it is like in the mind of a sociopath and how their actions can serve as warnings for those of us who must deal with them at work, within our families, or as their victims.

Terrifying and fascinating, ‘The Sociopath Next Door’ should be required reading for anyone trying to deal with a manipulator who may be preying on them. With sociopaths hiding in plain sight throughout society, we should probably all be aware of the facts, signs, and strategies outlined in these pages.

CZ

The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers
By Patrick DeWitt
Ecco, 2011. 328 pgs. Fiction

Eli and Charlie Sisters are hired guns in the Wild West of the 1850s. Eli has followed his brother Charlie for years, and in ‘The Sisters Brothers’ he tells of what he hopes to be their last big job for their sketchy employer known as the Commodore. What Eli dreams of is to settle down as a shopkeeper and maybe find a woman to marry and start a family. Their assignment is to kill Hermann Kermit and things seem to go terribly wrong at every turn. Their distress provides readers with a violent but entertaining journey from Oregon City to the goldmines of Sacramento.

“The Sisters Brothers” is a tribute to the classic Western. Patrick DeWitt has created an antihero you can’t help but love despite his choice of occupation and flawed moral compass. Guaranteed to be unlike anything else you have read in years, this shoot-’em-up novel of self-discovery and adventure is a riveting, unexpected, and gritty golden nugget just waiting to be mined.

CZ

Graveminder

Graveminder
By Melissa Marr
William Morrow, 2011. 324 pgs. Fantasy

Rebekkah and Byron have spent years trying to escape both the small town they grew up in and their own doomed romance. But escaping Claysville becomes impossible when Rebekkah returns to attend her grandmother’s funeral. Maylene’s death is the result of a brutal murder that the local police seem to be uninterested in investigating. Recently returned as well, Byron is now the town’s mortician, and he and Rebekkah begin an investigation into Maylene’s death, the history of the town, and the unimaginable and inescapable legacy Rebekkah has inherited.

This is the first book in a new adult series for Marr. It takes place in a reality where the dead walk and the living can venture into the underworld, though doing so changes you forever. “Graveminder” undoubtedly has a great premise and some real possibility. That said, Rebekkah, and sometimes Byron, drove me crazy! Their relationship issues read like a YA novel and detracted from the fun of discovering Marr’s fantastic new world.

CZ

The Watch That Ends the Night

The Watch That Ends the Night
By Allan Wolf
Candlewick Press, 2011. 466 pgs. Young Adult

As the Titanic prepares to make her maiden voyage, the owners, architects, crew, and passengers think they're embarking on a dream. With luxury surrounding them, and even third class passengers having better conditions than they're used to, and a mild spring, the trip is sure to be splendid. Except, little do the passengers know, but an iceberg is heading for them, ready to claim the lives of all it can, and they soon find that their dream trip has become a nightmare.

This verse novel gives voice to a range of characters, from the famous Molly Brown and John Jacob Astor; to the captain and crew members including the postmen and one of the telegraph men; to second and third class passengers, and even the ice itself. Even though readers undoubtedly know how things will turn out, they will be drawn into the story, waiting to see which people survive and which don't, and until the fateful moments arrive, they'll be delighted by the little details that make this voyage seem so real.

AE

Of Grace and Chocolate

Of Grace and Chocolate
By Krista Lynne Jensen
Covenant Communications, 2012. 194 pgs. Romance

Jill Parrish doesn't have the time or the inclination to waste any attention on Scott Gentry, who can't even seem to remember that they met years before and he blew her off. However, when her troubled sister Evie shows up on her doorstep with her baby and then disappears, leaving Jill with the child and her sister's drug-dealer ex after both Evie and Jill, Jill needs all the help she can get, even if it comes in the form of Scott Gentry himself. Scott, thinking he'd blown any chance with Jill, is happy to help, and as they work together to keep the baby safe and find Evie, love begins to blossom.

This book is satisfying but not spectacular. There wasn't necessarily anything specific I disliked, but it didn't have that special something to set it apart from other books, either.

AE

Just Your Average Princess

Just Your Average Princess
By Kristina Springer
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011. 197 pgs. Young Adult

Jamie has grown up on a pumpkin farm in Average, Illinois, and she loves it. The only things that could make life better would be if Danny, who Jamie has been crushing on for years, would finally ask her out, and if she gets selected as this year's Pumpkin Princess. But then her cousin Milan, the daughter of two Hollywood stars, comes to visit, and Jamie's life takes a turn for the worse. Milan is nothing but snotty to Jamie and soon she's taken over Jamie's beloved pumpkin patch, is running for Pumpkin Princess, and even seems to have her eye on Danny.

This light-hearted chick-lit novel is a good choice for those looking for clean reads and country settings. Jamie is the sort of character lots of readers will be able to relate to, and they'll enjoy hating Milan along with her.

AE

Saturday, February 4, 2012

My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store

My Korean Deli: Risking it All for a Convenience Store
by Ben Ryder Howe
Henry Holt, 2010. 304 pgs. Nonfiction.

Owning a deli turns out to be (to paraphrase Jules Feiffer) a ball of laughs and a vale of tears, especially when the owners are a senior Paris Review editor, his corporate lawyer wife, and his mother-in-law, "the Mike Tyson of Korean grandmothers." Howe's story of how he and his wife's family get into the bodega business is filled with humor, memorable anecdote, unforgettable people and the kinetic energy of having way too many things to do at once. "My Korean Deli" is not only funny but tender, as are all tales about very unlike people who come to care for one another--Puritan blue-blood New Englander and Korean immigrant grandmother in a neon orange Costa Rican tank top; giant black store clerk wearing Oshkosh overalls and packing heat and the diminutive HVAC repairman who rarely speaks but relentlessly sings. A sparkly gem of a book, and with George Plimpton, too.

LW

Friday, February 3, 2012

Carte Blanche 007

Carte Blanche 007
By Jeffrey Deaver
Simon & Schuster, 2011. 414 pgs. Fiction

British intelligence picks up chatter that there is going to be an attack against the British with casualties in the thousands. Bond is called in and given carte blanche to squelch the plan, all with the signature Bond formula that we have grown to love- exotic locations, beautiful intelligent women, a villain we want to see to be taken down and few gadgets thrown in to help save the day.

I enjoy Deaver’s fresh updated take on the Bond character that still stays true to the classic. The story is tight, and the action keeps the pages turning. This book is a great stepping stone for those older teens that enjoy Charles Higson’s young James Bond series and are ready to read adult spy thrillers.

Cinder

Cinder
By Marissa Meyer
Feiwel & Friends, 2012. 390 pgs. Young Adult

This is the story of Cinder, a part-human, part-machine teenage girl living in "New Beijing." Her technological components classify her as a "cyborg," basically a second-class citizen and an embarrassment to her legal-guardian mother. Cinder makes herself useful, however, by being one of the best mechanics in New Beijing, a reputation that attracts the attention of Prince Kai himself when he needs help with a special repair and doesn't know who to trust. But just when things are looking up, Cinder's world is shaken when her beloved little sister is struck with the plague - a mysterious illness that threatens the entire planet.

I was actually surprised at how much originality there was to this re-telling of the traditional Cinderella tale. There are androids, hover cars, strange people who live on the moon, and Cinder's own past is cast in shadow but it becomes clear that it is of vital importance. This is the first in a series of four books, each based on a different fairy tale (the next one will be called Scarlet, based on Little Red Riding Hood). This is a unique enough version of Cinderella that I couldn't guess at all what would happen, and it ends with a satisfying conclusion even though some things are left unresolved for future books. I would recommend this for fans of science fiction and fairy tale retellings.

BHG

Explosive Eighteen

Explosive Eighteen
By Janet Evanovich
Bantam Books, 2011. 305 pgs. Mystery

‘Smokin’ Seventeen’ left bail bondswoman Stephanie Plum holding two tickets to Hawaii and a small question concerning whom would join her on her vacation. ‘Explosive Eighteen’ picks up as she returns to the mainland with a mysterious tan line on her left hand ring finger and an obvious inclination to avoid answering questions about what occurred on the island. If her current problems only involved two obviously battered lovers, things would be fine. But at some point on her return journey she also attracted the attention of some shady characters, some with murderous intentions. Chaos, obviously, ensues.

I know some readers are getting a little weary of Stephanie’s inability to ‘pick a guy already’. But I feel that Evanovich somehow manages to keep the relationships from getting too stale. Besides, as ‘Moonlighting’ taught us, some plotlines die when the characters settle down into an actual relationship. I am certain this is one of those stories and I’d rather deal with eternal waffling than say goodbye to this guilty pleasure.

CZ

Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley
By P.D. James
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 291 pgs. Mystery

P.D. James’ new mystery takes us to Jane Austen’s Pemberley six years after Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett resolve their animosity and admit their undying love for each other. Life has settled into an almost idyllic routine with two Darcy heirs in the nursery, Jane and Bingley living nearby, and an upcoming ball honoring Darcy’s late mother. But, peace at Pemberley is shattered by an unexpected visit from a hysterical Lydia. A corpse is soon found on the estate’s grounds and old scandals which seemed safely laid to rest, threaten to destroy the happiness of these beloved Austen characters.

Written much like Jane Austen would have, were she to have written a murder mystery involving her most popular protagonists, ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ is both a great read for mystery lovers and an excellent addition to the growing number of Austen inspired novels.

CZ

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black
By Susan Hill
Vintage Books, 1983. 164 pgs. Fiction

Arthur Kipps travels away from his London home to settle the affairs of recently deceased Mrs. Alice Drablow. In the remote town of Crythin Gifford, Eel Marsh House stands alone amidst the fog and treacherous salt marshes. Arthur’s routine business trip takes a haunting turn when he witnesses unexplained sights, sounds, and gradually discovers the haunting tale that surrounds Mrs. Drablow’s house.

A chilling tale that had me reading with my back against a wall. It took a couple of chapters for me to really get into the book, but soon I was hooked. Multiple times throughout the story I began to relax, but then something would unnerve me. I definitely recommend this book for someone who wants a chill, but nothing gory or violent.

ACS

China in Ten Words

China in Ten Words
by Yu Hua, translated by Allan H. Barr
Pantheon, 2011. 225 pgs. Nonfiction.

Award-winning novelist Yu Hua provides in these essays a ground-level, historical and current view of the Chinese economic juggernaut and why, perhaps, things are not as good as they seem. In ten sections titled People, Leader, Reading, Writing, Lu Xun, Revolution, Disparity, Grassroots, Copycat, and Bamboozle, the author tells stories about his life during and after the Cultural Revolution, his "career" as a dentist, a job he was assigned and for which he had no particular skill, and the pattern of revolution and counterrevolution, denouncing and persecution which turned everyone against everyone else. "Copycat" deals with China's rampant piracy of copyrighted materials and knockoffs of patented items, and "Disparity" shows in painful detail how vast is the chasm between modern urban and rural Chinese. Yu Hua's eloquent but understated style makes these expressions of the troubles of his people and his own regrets the more poignant and painful.

LW

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

LIE

LIE
by Caroline Bock
St. Martin's Griffin, 2011. 211 pgs. Young Adult

“Everybody knows, nobody’s talking” is the mantra repeated by a number of the characters in this book. What no one is talking about is the fact that Jimmy and Sean have spent months harassing Hispanics in their Long Island town, and now they have been arrested and charged with murder after a man was beaten to death with a baseball bat. Will the people who know start talking, or will they keeping lying to themselves and to the police?

This book was generally a good read and I think the author was brave to handle the difficult subject of hate crimes. I think she did a particularly good job of portraying the mind set of those who see violence or racism and are afraid to speak up. The book is told from the viewpoints of a bunch of different characters, and while this did add to the story a bit, I mostly felt like it was distracting. I had a hard time keeping track of who people were and I felt like I never got to know anyone very well. I think a book about a difficult subject like this one should try to explore the reasons why people do the things they do, but in the end I felt just as confused about the characters’ motivations as I did in the beginning.

JC

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars
By John Green
Dutton Books, 2012. 318 pgs. Young Adult

Ever since being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, Hazel has been terminal. Sure, her tumors have shrunk over the years, but her prognosis isn’t very good. Hazel meets Augustus Waters at a (lame, according her) cancer support group held in a church and both of their lives are changed. Their friendship blossoms into a relationship that’s deeper than most teens, particularly because they both know they won’t be around much longer.

Although both main characters in the book have cancer, there are many light moments where I found myself smiling and laughing. This book doesn’t sugar coat living a life with disease and although there is some swearing, I didn’t feel that it was used in excess or inappropriately. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to someone looking for a great contemporary novel.

AMM