Friday, November 4, 2011

October Book Report

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Girls in White Dresses
By Jennifer Close
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 293 pgs. Fiction

These are the adventures of Isabella, Mary, Lauren and a cast of their friends as they navigate life after college. Some of these girls are getting married and starting families while others are stuck trying to survive the dating scene. Further frustrations are felt when careers fail to move forward as well. But with a great deal of honesty and a good dose of humor, readers are treated to entertaining glimpses into the lives of girls becoming women, wives, and mothers.

At first, I didn’t love this book. The girls all seemed a little too jaded for my taste. They were funny, but I thought their attitudes were darker than they should have been having just graduated from college. It takes a few more years than that to give up on finding true love and gain that level of cynicism. However, as the book progressed, I started to love it more and more. In the end I walked away loving the lessons learned and the overarching message, which I interpreted as being: Life isn’t easy for anyone and your ‘happily ever after’ is not likely to look like you thought it would. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean it still isn’t happy.

The Night Circus
By Erin Morgenstern

An orphaned young boy and a traumatized little girl are headed, eventually, to a mysterious magical competition. Their respective teachers spend years developing their skills and strength but keep them completely in the dark concerning the nature of their approaching contest. The venue constructed to both showcase and disguise their magical duel is a breathtaking circus that appears mysteriously and treats its visitors to experiences and wonders beyond their wildest fantasies.

But such a public and complicated setting unavoidably involves a great many people, and when the duelists’ forbidden passion for each other threatens the stability of the circus, it also threatens the lives and safety of all the people they have come to consider family.

“The Night Circus,” by Erin Morgenstern, is a dark and enchanting journey into a magical world described in such vivid detail that its colors and wonders simply come alive. Readers become visitors to the circus and explore the amazing tents, taste the delectable confections, and witness unbelievable feats of skill and daring.

This is a wonderful debut novel that has been described as “Harry Potter for adults.” It certainly presents an equally engaging and vibrant imagined world, with characters fighting against daunting powers. Positive buzz for this book was circulating long before its release and it seems to be living up to the hype. There’s a good chance “The Night Circus” will become one of this year’s most popular releases.

By Ally Condie

This is the second book in the Matched trilogy. Cassia leaves her comfortably controlled life with her family in the Society to search for Ky who has been sent to the Outer Provinces where he is unlikely to return. She finds clues to his escape into a distant slot canyon. I liked this book more than I liked the first. The narrative picks up a lot and I enjoyed the alternating viewpoints between Ky and Cassia. I'm excited for the third and final book to come out next year.

The Language of Flowers
By Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Victoria Jones has spent her entire life bouncing from one foster home to another. Having finally reached her eighteenth birthday, she is finally able to emancipate herself and head to live on her own terms. Her obsession with flowers and their meanings, as identified by a Victorian guidebook, becomes a great means of supporting herself when she gets a job arranging flowers with a local florist.

This is an interesting look at families, the families we build around ourselves as well as the ones we are born with. Victoria isn't the most endearing protagonist, but she provides a great look into the mind of a very damaged young woman fighting to build her life. It was good...not squeaky clean...but good.

By Emma Donoghue

Jack has never left the twelve foot by twelve foot room he was born in. On his fifth birthday his mother begins to tell him of the world outside The Room. But without a point of reference, everything his mother describes seems unbelievable. She tells him that they are being held captive by a man who kidnapped her from her family years ago and that they need to escape. And so Jack begins his journey into the world and his discovery of his place within it.

This book was good, but disturbing. Jack's five-year-old voice got a little grating...I had to read it because I had tried to listen to it but couldn't get mare than 30 seconds into it without wanting to tear my ears off because of the annoying 'child's voice' that was being used. That said, it is also a really interesting story. How terrifying would the world be when your whole life you had only known a single person and a single place? It ends on a positive note, but it's quite a rough journey to get there.

Friday, October 28, 2011

I don't know exactly how...but my life just changed...

Yesterday I was listening to a book on CD called "The Social Animal" (it's been very good, so far I highly recommend it). It's all about humans and our behaviors, etc. It is filled with many interesting little tidbits of information, which I obviously love. But yesterday I heard something that seriously challenged my whole understanding of my lack of a dating life.

Get this...they did this study where they had a bunch of men go on a hike and made them cross a rickety old bridge that was questionably safe. Right after they crossed, a young woman came to them and asked them some questions and then, on the pretext of them having additional questions about the survey, gave them her telephone number. They also had the young woman do the same thing to a group of men who had not just crossed a freaky bridge.

So, only about (I don't remember the exact number) 30% of men who hadn't crossed the bridge called the girl within a week of getting her number. 65% of the men who had crossed the bridge and were all high on adrenaline called her back.

Do you know what this means?? They found that the men's subconscious minds confused interest in the girl with the rush of adrenaline they felt after almost dying!!

I have always wanted to go sky diving and all of the sudden I have a really good reason to do it. I just need to make sure some desirable guy is there jumping with me....then I introduce myself and boom....he thinks I'm exciting! Then he can hopefully stay confused long enough to actually get to know me and see that I'm not the worst option out there!! It's a foolproof plan!! that may not work. But I am certainly going to look into more extreme sports or activities in which to participate. Obviously, this will require some more thought... And why didn't I know about this before I went on a trip to California and spent a whole day on roller coasters??!! I didn't hit on a single man while I was there!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Books I Didn't Review at Work

So I usually just steal my work book reviews and post them here....'cause I'm lazy. But sometimes I read something another librarian already reviewed and then I just don't get around to reviewing them here. But, here is a little make up. These will certainly be shorter than the others....I'm tired!

No Apology by Mitt Romney
I listened to this and actually liked it. It was interesting to hear what Romney's beliefs are. I'm not as politically minded as I should be, but listening to this let me feel a bit more informed.

Witches of East End by Melissa De la Cruz
This is a YA author who wrote this book for an adult audience. I believe it ties into her YA series, Blue Bloods which is about rich vampires in New York. The Witches of East End is about a mother and her two daughters, all witches, and all trying to live without using their magic. They fail miserably.

I'll be honest....I didn't love this book. I don't really recommend it.

Bloodmoney by David Ignatius
I've been on a 'spy n
ovel' binge for the past few months and I'll admit they are all getting a bit mixed up in my head. This one is about an undercover operation going horribly wrong and the subsequent investigation that puts even more lives in danger. The investigation is led by Sophie, a young agent with a few serious grudges. That's about all I remember about the plot, but I remember really lik
ing it. It's a little gritty and violent, but really well written and great if you are looking for a suspenseful read.

Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
Valentine is an apprentice shoe maker in her grandmother's wedding shoe boutique in New York City. In this chic lit/fashionista novel she searches for love and professional success. At first I really loved it...and then she just wouldn't shut up! Seriously....she goes on and on and on about her frustrations and family troubles and work issues...etc. etc. etc. Made me want to scream at her...

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Two sisters are reunited after one ran away from home soon after graduation. It's been years and she returns with a daughter in tow and an angry ex on her trail. She reluctantly returns home where her sister has a catering business which uses the family's enchanted garden to prepare food that alters the eaters feelings. Not bad. I liked her new book The Peach Keeper a lot better.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Walton (this is my review from
the Daily Herald)
Imagine waking each morning unable to remember the last 20 years of your life. You are lying next to a man claiming to be your husband and in the mirror you find wrinkles, scars and gray hairs you don’t remember acquiring. Sounds a bit like the movie “50 First Dates,” but “Before I Go to Sleep” by S. J. Watson is no comedy.

One morning, when Christine awakes and attempts to orient herself to her unfamiliar life, she discovers a journal she has been keeping. This journal chronicles discoveries she has made over the past few weeks about her history, the incident that caused her amnesia, and a terrifying list of the lies she is told anew each day.

I cannot help but compare this brilliant book to the classic thriller starring Audrey Hepburn , “Wait Until Dark.” The suspense creeps up on you, grips you by the throat, and drags you down a path you are sure cannot end well. The reader senses the danger and knows that the heroine is blind to what is lurking in the dark corners of her mind.

“Before I Go to Sleep” is a carefully crafted psychological thriller that is certain to linger in your mind long after that final page is turned.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
Very much like The Secret Life of Bees and Charms of the Easy Life. CeeCee has seen a lot of hardship in her 14 short years and it will take a whole cast of delightful southern women to help her heal. A sweet coming of age story with a good dose of Southern charm. Cute.

American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
A wealthy American heiress (surprise!!) marries a poor British earl. Navigating the British aristocracy is much more difficult than the young bride anticipates and accepting his wife's financial support strains the marriage almost immediately. This is really a great book and it's pretty clean, too. Great for anyone who loves historical novels with a little helping of romance.

Book Report

By Jeff Abbott
Grand Central Pub., 2011. 400 pgs. Fiction

Sam Capra’s life is almost perfect. He has a beautiful wife he loves, a new baby on the way, and an exciting job with the CIA. However, in the blink of an eye everything is gone, his wife and child are missing, his coworkers are all dead, and the government he has served faithfully believes he has betrayed them. Desperate to rescue his family and restore his professional reputation, Sam is willing to do almost anything. And while he makes some shocking discoveries about people he has trusted in the past, his greatest shock may be the discovery of his own capacity for violence when the ones he loves are at risk.

True to its name, Adrenaline is a fast-paced piece of espionage fiction. Sam is a great character and you can’t help but root for him. The action keeps coming and there are a number of surprises along the way. This is no doubt the first book in a series featuring Capra, since the ending is left wide open for continuations. Crime and spy novel readers will enjoy this new addition to the genre.

Thick as Thieves
By Peter Spiegelman
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 295 pgs. Mystery.

Carr was recruited from the CIA into a ring of thieves by an old man who quickly takes the haunted young man under his wing. At the end of a seemingly simple job, Carr’s mentor is gunned down, leaving the crew without a leader and Carr with a pile of questions. Despite their recent losses, the thieves decide to proceed with a job, monumental in its scope, but with the potential to provide them all with a generous retirement. As the danger becomes more and more real, tension between the players mount, and Carr finds himself questioning the people he must trust with his life.

Thick as Thieves is an utterly fantastic heist novel. It has action, intrigue, and suspense in just the right quantities. Just when you think you know who to trust, the other shoe drops and you are left reeling from new discoveries and eminent danger. Very fun and very exciting!

The Magicians
By Lev Grossman
Viking, 2009. 402 pgs. Fantasy.

Quentin has spent his entire life waiting for the ‘something more’ he instinctively knows is out there. Then suddenly, at the start of his senior year of high school, he is transported to a hidden school where he discovers a world of magic and possibility. The problem is that when anything is possible and troubles can be banished with a quick spell, life loses its wonder. After graduating, Quentin and his friends find they must travel beyond this world to find the adventure they crave.

This is Harry Potter for adults, complete with whiney teenagers and adults who are unnecessarily cryptic and secretive. While I didn’t love the book, I didn’t hate it either. Some of the characters are intriguing and the storyline had some merit. I think what bothered me most were how obviously the author was paying tribute to classic fantasy works like the Chronicles of Narnia and The Wizard of Oz. Everything seemed a little stolen which made me feel a bit like a guilty accomplice. But it was still crafted with skill and epic fantasy readers will probably enjoy this first book in the Magicians series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 13, 2011

July Book Report

The Mozart Conspiracy
By Scott Mariani
Simon & Schuster, 2011. 337 pgs. Fiction.

As a former British SAS officer, Ben Hope has a valuable skill set that he uses to help individuals in a variety of crisis situations. After rescuing a kidnapping victim, Ben’s hopes of several weeks of recuperation are destroyed by a call from a close friend’s sister, who also happens to be Ben’s ex. Leigh’s brother died months ago in an apparent accident, however recent events are making the circumstances surrounding his death look more and more suspect and Leigh’s own life has now been threatened. Here enters an intriguing and dangerous puzzle involving Mozart’s mysterious death and the Freemason movement of the late 18th Century.

This book has been described as “James Bond meets Jason Bourne meets The Da Vinci Code,” which is a tall order to fill. But Scott Mariani succeeds in this exciting adventure novel. The Mozart Conspiracy is the first American release for a British series that currently has six installments. I am anxiously looking forward to the next volume’s US release. Enthusiastically recommended!

A Young Wife
By Pam Lewis
Simon & Schuster, 2011. 289 pgs. Historical Fiction.

Based loosely on the life of the author’s grandmother, A Young Wife tells the story of Minke van Aisma. At the age of 15, Minke is sent to Amsterdam from her small fishing village to care for the dying wife of a wealthy businessman named Sander DeVries. After only a few months, the wife dies and Minke is caught completely off-guard when Sander proposes marriage and a plan to leave the Netherlands for opportunities in Argentina. Mistaking an exciting infatuation with lasting love, Minke agrees to the marriage and is soon saying farewell to her family and homeland. However, life in Argentina fails to live up to Sander’s promises and Minke is forced to face the consequences of her rash decision to marry a man she barely knew.

I thought the most interesting part of A Young Wife was the descriptions of turn of the century Netherlands, Argentina, and New York. Each stage of Minke’s journey illuminated the lives of immigrants who left the Old World searching for happiness in the New. I finished the book a bit curious as to what portions of the story were true and which portions were fictionalized. The plot’s conclusion seemed a bit too coincidental to be believable but sometimes truth can actually be stranger than fiction, so you never know.

Prophecy: An Historical Thriller
By S.J. Parris
Doubleday, 2011. 375 pgs. Mystery.

Giordano Bruno returns in this second installation of Parris’s new mystery series. This time, all of England is talking about the prophecies predicting Queen Elizabeth’s imminent death. Powerful astrological phenomena abound but when one of the Queen’s ladies is found violently murdered, Bruno is skeptical about the causes being supernatural and begins a hunt for conspirators and murderers.

Parris continues her series with vibrant historical settings and an intriguing mystery to unravel. Bruno is an entertaining and likable hero with virtues as well as faults providing a believable and multilayered character. This is a great choice for both mystery readers and those who enjoy historical fiction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 4, 2011

Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 13, 2011

Couple More...

The Peach Keeper
By Sarah Addison Allen
Bantam Books, 2011. 273 pgs.

This was a really great, quick summer read. Willa Jackson's life is upturned as her old family home is restored to its previous glory. The renovation stirs up old ghosts and better yet, old skeletons. Willa's attempts to distance herself from her family's past as well as her own is made impossible, especially when old high school friends turn up. She and an odd and somewhat unwilling group of high school classmates are thrown together and forced to face their pasts as well as their futures.

This isn't a squeekly clean read, but it was fun with a little romance, a little mystery, and a little invitation to join the book's characters in deciding if the years between your high school graduation and now were spent becoming more or less the true you.

Dead Reckoning
By Charlaine Harris
Ace Books, 2011. 325 pgs.

I'm really just posting this because I feel a need to have full disclosure. I'd hate to think I was lieing to anyone about the garbage I sometimes read. I swore I wouldn't continue with this series after the last one, which was just dumb! But, I totally caved and fortunatel, Dead Reckoning was actually better than #10, though nowhere near as good as the first 5 or 6. I'm afriad I can't recommend any of them since the poor plot development after book 7 or 8 just doesn't make up for how much fun those first few are. The series really doesn't have many, if any, redeaming qualities....except that I love Eric...darn it all!

Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School
By Alexandra Robbins
Hyperion, 2011. 436 pgs. Nonfiction

Alexandra Robbins new book focuses on her ‘Quirk Theory’ which states that the very characteristics that make some students outcasts during their middle school and high school years are the characteristics that may make them more successful adults once they enter the real world. To prove her point, she introduces readers to seven people representing the “lunchroom fringe”. We me meet the loner, the popular bitch, the nerd, the new girl, the gamer, the weird girl, and the band geek. Each of these characters is given a challenge to change other’s perceptions of them by stepping outside their comfort zone and engaging with others.

If you are reticent to return to the awkward moments we all had in high school, I’d veer clear of this book. However, if you are interested in the psychology of cliques and teen self esteem this is a great place to get an honest look at what it means to be a teen in today’s high schools. It is difficult not to start rooting for each of these characters as they try to make a difference and gain the confidence we wish all young adults had access to. Robbins ends the book with a list of things teens, parents, teachers and administrators can all do to improve the social aspects of our educational system. I believe the one overwhelming lesson to be taken from her narratives is that we need to encourage the celebration of diversity and individuality in ourselves and others, not only in high school, but far beyond.

By Karen Russell
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 315 pgs. Fiction

On a small island in the rural swamplands of Florida lives Ava Bigtree and her family. They run a tourist attraction headlining Ava’s mother, Hilola, who swims with and wrestles the alligator. Business was never booming but when Hilola dies of cancer the family is left with a gaping hole and no star performer for Swamplandia!. The family begins to crumble apart as Grandpa’s dementia requires he be sent to a home on the mainland; Ava’s brother’s resentment of their father’s desperate attempts to keep the park open eventually forces him to run away from home; her sister hides from her disappointing life by communing with the spirits which haunt the swamp; and Ava is left trying to hold the family together as she desperately clings to the only life she has ever known.

Florida’s Everglades is a great setting for an interesting coming of age story and family drama. However, I never felt a real connection to the characters or their stories. Ava’s older brother, Kiwi, was the most believable or at least the most accessible of the characters and his efforts to acclimate himself to life off the island were some of my favorite parts of the story. But I felt the ending was unexpectedly dark and a bit contrived leaving me somewhat unsettled.

The Dangerous Edge of Things
By Tina Whittle
Poisoned Pen Press, 2011. 281 pgs. Mystery

Tai’s life is already a bit complicated. Despite her brother Eric’s adamant disapproval, she has inherited her uncle’s gun shop and is in the midst of establishing a new life for herself in Atlanta. So when she finds a dead woman in a car parked outside Eric’s home she is quickly in over her head. To help her in his absence, Eric hires a security firm to protect her, a job that would be infinitely easier if she could overcome her uncontrollable curiosity. Trey Seaver, her protective service agent, has his work cut out for him as he tries to keep her safe while keeping her from discovering his own secrets.

This book has been compared to Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. It does share a fairly incompetent female protagonist placed is situations she is far from being equipped to handle and a cast of intriguing and entertaining supporting characters. However, Whittle’s new series doesn’t include the madcap hilarity, not to mention the language and sex, Stephanie Plum is famous for. Despite these differences, and possibly because of them, I found The Dangerous Edge of Things completely enjoyable and I look forward to reading more of Tai’s adventures in the future.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Best Library Conversation of the Year

This just happened and I HAD to share. A little girl just approached the desk and we had this little chat:

LG: Can I have a piece of paper?
ME: Sure. (I give her an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of scratch paper with a little printing on the back)
LG: I don't want this one. There's stuff on it.
ME: Yes, but it's free!
LG: I want one of those clean pieces.
ME: Those aren't free.
LG: They gave me one before.
ME: Well, they were being nice. I'm mean.
LG: Are you mean to your kids?
ME: I don't have any kids?
LG: You don't! Do you have a dad?
ME: I do.
LG: Do you have a husband?
ME: Nope.
LG: Why not?
ME: Probably because I'm mean.
LG: Well then why did Jesus make you?
ME: He probably wants me to be nice.
LG: My mom is mean.
ME: I seriously doubt that. I'm sure she is really nice.
LG: No. She's mean.
ME: Well, I'm sure we are both trying.
LG: I guess. (And off she skips with her piece of scratch paper.)

Absolutely made my day.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Book Reviews

Please Look After Mom
By Kyung-sook Shin
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 237 pgs. Fiction

On a train station platform in Seoul Korea, Park So-nyo disappears. Her husband and four children search for her without results for weeks. They run newspaper ads and walk the city’s streetshanding out flyers offering a reward for information leading to her recovery. The emotional journey this tragedyforces the family to take is told through the voice of a son, a daughter, a husband, and a mother. Each must deal with a lifetime of regrets built by daily taking those closest to us for granted.

This is a powerfully poignant book perfect for Mother’s Day. It aptly demonstrates the sacrifices so many mothers make as they struggle to raise children, support husbands, and fulfill the myriad of responsibilities and tasks required when keeping a home. Several of the sections of this book are written in 2nd person taking the reader on a strangely personal journey with the character. The last time I read something in that tense it was “Choose Your Own Adventure” story. This book was infinitely better and can easily be recommended to anyone. Perfect for book clubs.

Caleb’s Crossing
By Geraldine BrooksViking, 2011. 306 pgs. Fiction

Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk was born a Wopanaak chief’s son on the island of Noepe (Martha’s Vineyard) in 1646. Colonists from the mainland had just settled on part of the island and some felt they had a Christian responsibility to convert as many native islanders as possible. Bethia, the daughter of one such missionary and religious leader, tells Caleb’s story which leads him from the warrior traditions of his people to the halls of Harvard as the first Native American to graduate from that institution.

Pulitzer Prize Winner Geraldine Brooks has penned another amazing work of historical fiction. Little is actually know about Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk other than a bare sketch of his existence and achievements. But despite sparse
facts, Brooks has imagined an impressive representation of what he may have been like and the struggles he would have had to face. Brooks has a gift for depicting vivid characters and a true sense of time in her work, totally immersing the reader in a breathtaking journey to another era. Caleb’s Crossing is another great work by a spectacular author.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
By Laura Hillenbrand
Random House, 2010. 473 pgs. Biography

As World War II broke out, Louis Zamperini was an Olympic hopeful and a favorite to break the illusive four minute mile. The war would put all those dreams on hold and instead he found him self bombing the Japanese in the Pacific theater. After a run of successful bombing raids, Louis and his crew members are shot down and the survivors will have to live through weeks adrift on the unforgiving sea with inadequate supplies. When rescue finally comes it is in the form of the enemy and Louis's amazing tale of faith and perseverance begins in earnest.

This is a fantastic book. It keeps moving and paints a vivid picture of the strength shown by soldiers who survived the ultimate degradation. It always seems depressing to read of how evil men can be. But, this story is handled with such skill and respect that you can't help but be uplifted by the strength of the human spirit. I highly recommend this book especially to anyone interested in World War II history.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Vacation Book Review

The Informationist: A Thriller
By Taylor Stevens
Crown Publishers, 2011. 307 pgs. Fiction

Vanessa Munroe is an expert at finding information. Large corporations contract her to ferret out the stuff no one else can uncover in countries few others dare to travel. Her gifts with language and observation uniquely qualify her for this work along with her terrifyingly single-minded ability to protect herself both physically and emotionally. Her newest assignment is different from those she usually takes. This time she is going to Africa to find the daughter of a powerful oil executive who, four years ago, disappeared without a trace.

This is Stevens’ debut novel and I loved it. It does seem to be setting up for a new series of books featuring Munroe and her associates but there was still a great deal of closure. So, while I look forward to more thrillers from this exciting new author, I like that I don’t feel the conclusion left me hanging. There is some rough language and violence but nothing I felt was gratuitous.

By Tina Fey
Little, Brown and Co. 2011. 277 pgs. Biography.

Tina Fey is best known for her years writing and performing on Saturday Night Live, as the star and executive producer of 30 Rock, and her imitations of Sarah Palin during the past presidential election. In her memoir she tells of growing up as an outsider, finding her love for performance, and years of work in the comedy field, which is notoriously dominated by men.

I’m going to be honest, the jacket art is hideous. It is probably the biggest obstacle to enjoying this book. It’s just creepy. But, if you can get past the “man hands”, Fey offers an entertaining journey through portions of her life. Be prepared for a bit of rough language mixed in with a great deal of sarcasm and number of laugh-out-loud observations from a very funny lady.

Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool
By Taylor Clark
Little, Brown and Co., 2011. 310 pgs. Nonfiction.

Some of us tend to break out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of experiences and situations that others embrace and even seek with enthusiasm. In Nerve, Taylor Clark outlines new discoveries being made by neuroscientists about our natural reactions to environments that cause us stress and threaten us with harm, either physical or emotional. He provides excellent examples and perfectly balances instruction with entertainment. Best of all, he’s incredibly funny and personable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’m not one to pick up self-help titles and was actually surprised it was categorized as such since I had selected it while searching for a good science read. But Nerve brings to the table the best of both genres. It has great stories and insights that inform and inspire which makes this a perfect choice for people looking to understand human nature and also those looking to overcome their own fears.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why I Love My House

Well, a while ago I posted pictures of my new home. Soon after, I had my whole family over to celebrate my sister and nephew's birthdays. It was that weekend that I fell in love with my house. This is how it is supposed to be, full of people I love...I almost cried several times and other than a cold shower Dave ended up was pretty perfect.

Here are some pictures to illustrate...

My new couches are nice...but look how cute they are with dozers all snuggled in!

This is the volcano cake I made for totally didn't work right, but he still acted very excited about it. I was very excited that so many people could be in my kitchen and I didn't feel crowded by anyone!

Here are the musically gifted of the family singing around the piano. They were practicing a song they sang for my Grandfather's funeral a few weeks later. They sounded amazing while practicing and at the service.

The cake may not have erupted, but it did do a pretty good job of smoking.

We put all the kids in the basement to sleep. I had found enough stuffed animals that they could all sleep with a little friend. Finishing the basement is the next big goal, I'm sure the kids will appreciate that...

Here we have two of my nephews before bed....I know you thought maybe one was a niece..but no, my nephew Nathan loves to sleep in a little pink nightgown...I mean nightshirt...and I think it's the most adorable thing in the whole entire world. No joke...the WHOLE WORLD!!

And finally, the living room...just full of people I love.

Well, there you have it. The #1 reason I love my house: People I love fit in it!