Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Love Life

Love Life
By Rob Lowe
Simon and Schuster Audio, 2014. Biography.

Having Rob Lowe read his own stories is something like sitting with him in his home and hearing them in person. His second book takes a look at other stories in his life ranging from his childhood, his marriage, his sons, more acting of course, and a look at how he loves his life. Lowe takes a look at his alcoholism, his poor choices, as well as his great choices and discusses the lessons learned from each moment in his life.

This second book of his takes more time to talk about his wife and children and the reader gets a great perspective on how Lowe matured after living a wild life in the acting industry. This book has more character stories and small snippets than Stories I Only Tell My Friends did but it is still a worthwhile read- or listen!

EW

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Wake the Dawn

Wake the Dawn
by Lauraine Snelling
FaithWords, 2013. 350 pages. Romance.

Snelling follows the lives of two broken characters as they work together to maintain order through the worst storm their small town has ever seen. Doctor Esther Hanson is struggling to treat the hoards of patients that come streaming through the doors of her under-equipped clinic and keep the panic of her PTSD in check in dire circumstances. Border Patrol agent Ben James has to crawl out of the pit of alcoholism he has fallen into after the tragic death of his wife in order to care for an abandoned baby he finds out in the woods. Each of them soon find, however, that as they lean on each other the pain of the past becomes less overwhelming.

While the book has its flaws, the are generally overshadowed by what is really right in it. The characters are compelling, if sometimes a little overwrought at times, and I was really eager to see if they would be able to pull together in the end. The issues are very contemporary and important as well, and the author is really able to bring God and religion into normal situations without sounding preachy or patronizing, which I really appreciated. There was also a good combination of action, romance, and introspection which kept it from ever feeling stale. A thought-provoking light read.

JH


Thursday, April 17, 2014

In Sunlight and In Shadow

Cover image for In sunlight and in shadowIn Sunlight and In Shadow
By Mark Helprin
Mariner Books, 2012. 720 pgs. Fiction

'In Sunlight and In Shadow' is at once both an epic love story, and a deep contemplation of human mortality. The story begins when Harry Copeland, recently returned from a harrowing experience as a paratrooper pathfinder in WWII, chances to see Catharine Hale on the Staten Island Ferry and immediately falls deeply in love with her. She quickly falls for him, but the romance of this story goes far beyond a surface romance and becomes also a love story between the reader and New York, with humanity and with life itself; all the while contrasted with the frailty of our mortality and the shadow that stands in contrast to the sunlight.

The story weaves around themes of war, love, family, honor, duty and art as Catherine and Harry fight for their love, and Harry fights for his business which is being crushed by mob extortionists. Large chunks of the novel are memories of Harry's time in combat, as well as vivid portraits of a post war New York City. As always, Helprin's ('A Winter's Tale', 'A Soldier of the Great War') gorgeous poetic descriptions and philosophical meditations far compensate for any weakness in over all structure. I actually started reading this, but quickly shifted to the audiobook available on Overdrive, which is very well done.

ZB

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches
By Alan Bradley
Random House Audio, 2014. 8 hours. Mystery.

Precocious 11-year-old chemist Flavia de Luce is back in the sixth installation of Alan Bradley's charming series. As the narrative begins, Flavia's long-lost mother, Harriet, is restored to the family and a man is pushed under a train. But Flavia's digging may bring out more family secrets than she is prepared to unearth.

Alan Bradley has created an amazingly entertaining character in Flavia de Luce and this most recent installment in the series is no exception. Much more introspective than his previous efforts, the book nonetheless has a lightness to it that makes it enjoyable to read. Flavia is very engaging and the reader is eager to suspend reality enough to view the world from through the eyes of one very intelligent 11-year-old girl. The audio is particularly spectacular, with Jane Entwhistle doing a wonderful job with the narration. A great, light mystery series for anyone who loves great characterization.

JH


One or Two Things I Learned About Love

One or Two Things I Learned About Love
By Dyan Sheldon
Candlewick Press, 2013. 288 pages. Young adult.

Hildy has only been on two and one half dates...and the half date doesn't count. Watching all her other friends with their boyfriends, she knows that no one is ever going to ask her out and she'll die alone with cats. But then, out of the blue, the cute boy at the coffee bar ask for her number and Hildy knows that this will be a summer she'll never forget.

I picked up this book, thinking from the title and the cover description, that this was going to be a typical, cute, and slightly unrealistic teen romance. What I found as I started reading is that Sheldon really is taking the time to teach Hildy, a very inexperienced girl, over the course of the summer what really is and what it is not. Connor is jealous and territorial and Hildy, in all her naivete, just thinks that her constant guilt at upsetting Connor is just what love is supposed to be. All of Hildy's friends can see that the relationship is not healthy; the reader knows even more perfectly how dysfunctional the relationship is; but Hildy herself, while she sees things that bother her, is very good at blaming his actions on her own inexperience, without making the reader annoyed that she's not getting it. Sheldon creates great characters (Hildy herself has a hilarious personality) and explores an important topic for teen girls. This is a romance that falls completely in the realm of reality, somewhere between the extremes of chick lit and Lifetime original movies.

JH

Monday, April 14, 2014

Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away
by Rebecca Goldstein
Pantheon Books, 2014. 456 pgs. Non-fiction.

This is a fascinating examination of the continuing relevance of philosophy in our lives. The author alternates between discussions of Plato and his writings in the context of his times and interesting hypothetical scenarios wherein Plato is alive today and is on book tour, participating in an panel discussion, a guest on a cable news show and a volunteer in a neurological study. These scenarios nicely illustrate how the questions Plato struggled with continue to tantalize and demonstrate how scientific advances do not render philosophic questions obsolete but rather create new contexts within which these questions continue to be debated. I found the imagined discussions with a contemporary Plato to be a fun and engaging counterpoint to the more scholarly discussions of his ideas that precede them. This would be a good read for anyone interested in exploring classical philosophic ideas but find reading Plato's works directly a daunting task.

CHW

Friday, April 11, 2014

Love Illuminated

Love Illuminated: Exploring Life's Most Mystifying Subject (With the Help of 50,000 Strangers)
By Daniel Jones
William Morrow, 2014. 213 pages. Nonfiction.

Daniel Jones, the editor of the New York Times' popular column "Modern Love" explores the nature of love as exemplified by the stories shared by his readership. He touches on ten different aspects of love, including pursuit, destiny, loyalty, and wisdom.

What I found most interesting about this book was its analysis of stories of modern love. We become too used to love as exemplified by Hallmark or romance novels; Jones shows us the reality of love, the hardness of love and the beauty of love, that is found when real people allow love into their lives. And yet the book never sinks into the sappy. Jones examines the hard and the sad, such as infidelity and loss, with equal compassion and understanding as the beautiful and touching. It is a book to make the reader think about their own relationships.

JH

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Night Guest


The Night Guest
By Fiona McFarlane
Faber and Faber, Inc., 2013. 241 pgs. Fiction


Fiona McFarlane's debut novel is a captivating, meditative mystery that examines the process of aging, memory, and relationships through the eyes of Beth; an aging widow living alone, except for two cats and a tiger who she thinks she hears at night prowling through her house. Then Frida arrives, claiming to have been sent by the government, and whips Ruth's world into order, all the while worming her way deeper and deeper into Ruth's life. As Ruth's world begins to slip at the edges with the blur of dementia, it is difficult for the reader to discern reality and the truth until suddenly everything snaps into focus with a stunning and heart wrenching conclusion.

 However, the mystery is not what captures center stage in this book. Much of the text is a beautiful, meditative reverie of a woman in her twilight years slipping between the present day and her past; memories of her childhood in Fiji, past loves, her own children, and her present life all crowd her mind and cause the reader to slide into a similar hazy view. Having lived with my own grandmother as she slipped into dementia I found this book particularly poignant and very accurate in the depiction of the phase of life. It is a fairly quick and thought provoking read. 


ZB

Monday, April 7, 2014

This Dark Road to Mercy

This Dark Road to Mercy 
By Wiley Cash
William Morrow. 2014. 240 pgs.


This book is so well written that I finished it in one day. The storyline is told from multiple points of view and is equally upsetting as it is heartwarming. This book had themes of atonement, redemption, vengeance and blood shed. Set in North Carolina, Cash starts the story with two sisters that have recently lost their mother and never had a father as he gave away his rights when they were young. The father comes in to the story as he wants to start his relationship with his daughters and has come in to some money that could provide a new life for all three of them.

The problem is that Wade is being followed. Not only by the authorities, but by the girls' court appointed guardian and a violent, former baseball player that not only wants to find Wade as part of his paid job but also to take revenge on him and anyone related to him. At times scary and other times heart warming, this book shows there are two sides to stories and often that people are family no matter what may have happened before.

EW

Frozen

Frozen
By Melissa De La Cruz
Putnam Juvenile. 2013. 336 pgs. Young Adult

This new series from Melissa de la Cruz's new series starts off dystopian, goes into a seafaring adventure, and ends with a bit of fantastical dragon magic. It makes for a really entertaining read and I ended it not wanting to wait for the next one. It also helped that the frozen city it takes place in is New Vegas, and my hometown is old Vegas. The author does a great job of building a creative and dark world in this new Ice Age and forming a new government, a group of violent mercenaries, and a world of magic all in the same book.

Nat deals black jack in one of the New Vegas casinos and believes she can find a place where water is still clean, trash isn't piked everywhere, and there is sun. She hires a mercenary, Ryan Wesson to take her there. The characters that are introduced as part of his crew and later as additions to the group are memorable and bring their own clever story line to each encounter. The story is really one adventure to find the Blue and with some romance and  difficult choices to make, Nat is a likable main character that I can't wait to see more of.

EW

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book

Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book
By Diane Muldrow
Golden Books, 2013. unpaged. Non-Fiction

Open the cover and a smile spreads across your face.  Read the introduction and your thoughts meander back to your childhood.  This book is a delightful stroll down memory lane for anyone who has owned or read a Golden Book.  You will need to read this short book of wisdom at least twice.  The first time you won't be able to stop yourself from trying to identify the illustrations. (Luckily answers are in tiny print at the bottom of each page.)  The second read will let you absorb the one line gems of "Golden" advice.

This is the perfect book to hug and read whenever you need a 10 minute escape from the present.
mpb

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred

A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred
by George F. Will
Crown, 2014.  223 pgs.  Nonfiction.

     George Will is probably best known for his political columns in the late-lamented Newsweek  magazine and now for his participation on ABCs Sunday Morning news show. But he writes about baseball from time to time, too, and as one of millions of hapless Cubs fans, he has a lot to talk about. In this slim volume his topic is perfectly suited to the wry humor of his delivery, as he explains how Wrigley has made the Cubs what they are and have been, both for good and ill.  P.K. Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate who built Wrigley didn't care so much about winning and losing as he did about creating a place where the whole family could come and enjoy the day in "the friendly confines" and beautiful spaces of Wrigley - a picnic-like atmosphere, is how he expressed it. Apparently he foresaw what would not be happening on the field; i.e., winning, so he made the surroundings so pleasant that even now, after all these years of losing records, Wrigley's stands are generally sold out which makes the Cubs even less likely to win because there is no financial incentive to pay for a team that could win. Will incorporates American History, religion, philosophy, and architecture, among many others things, in his ruminations about one of the two most iconic ballparks in America and it is fine, fine reading, whether you like baseball or not.

LW

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Answer to the Riddle Is Me

The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia
by David MacLean
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 292 pages. Biography.

David MacLean wakes up one day on a train station platform in India. He doesn't know who he is or why he is in India - or even why he is at a train station. Plagued with hallucinations, paranoia, and severe depression, MacLean struggles to reconstruct his forgotten life after a serious reaction to a common anti-malarial drug causes severe amnesia.

I picked this up because the concept sounded intriguing - who doesn't want to read about amnesia? (Every author falls back on amnesia as a plot at some point, after all.) This is a heart-wrenching account of the realities of amnesia, told in startling detail. MacLean is very open about exactly how he felt during the first years of his new life, addressing his confusion and vulnerability fearlessly. But what I loved most about this book was the writing itself. MacLean is a novelist, and it shows even in a nonfiction work. The book reads very much like a novel - the prose is bright and vivid, and he uses common fiction tropes, like shortened chapters to lend a feeling of the episodic nature of his early awakening in amnesia, that make it a much less dense read than many nonfiction books. Beautifully written and eminently readable.

JH

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Play It Again

Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible
by Alan Rusbridger
Farrar, Straus and Girox, 2013. 403 pages. Biography.

When Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger went to his annual amateur piano camp and heard one of his fellow amateurs pull off playing Chopin's G minor Ballade, he is amazed. And inspired. This is one of Chopin's most challenging pieces - a song that even professional pianists sweat over playing. Thus begins his journey into learning the G minor Ballade for himself, over a period of 16 months, with 20 minutes of practice a day whittled out of one of the most hectic work schedules in the news industry - and in a news season that included the release of the Wikileaks documents and working with the volatile Julian Assange and the infamous World of the News phone tapping scandals, both of which were coordinated by Rusbridger. Rusbridger's success shows that a dedicated amateur can take on the impossible and do amazingly well in the end.

The premise to the book is interesting: can an amateur take on the job of a professional and do it even passably well? Rusbridger seeks the answer both through his own experience as well as through interviews and consultations with professionals, both musicians and scientists. While the cover description calls it a battle cry for all amateurs, not necessarily musicians, I found that the text itself was full of enough musical terminology as to make it difficult for non-musicians to read. Even as an avid amateur pianist myself, I soon started skimming through what seemed never-ending descriptions of changing his fingerings for passages and his quest to find the best antique piano to put in his new music room at his summer cottage. The most fascinating part was his behind-the-scenes description of some of the biggest headlines of the day (Julian Assange came off as considerably less neurotic in the standard press than he is in this book) and his discussions with behavioral scientists, neurosurgeons, and professional musicians about the possibilities of amateur musicians to tackle even the hardest pieces in the repertoire. Overall, great for a reader who is profoundly interested in how to make good music, even as an amateur.

JH

India Black

India Black
by Carol K. Carr
Berkeley Prime Crime, 2011. 296 pages. Mystery.

When a customer dies (of natural causes) in India Black's place of business, the formidable abbess of the Lotus House brothel has only one mission: to get rid of the evidence and protect her business from scandal. Little does she know that a chance encounter with one of the government's special service agents, known only as French, will lead her to a wild adventure involving kidnap and Russian spies.

I picked this series up on a whim and have not regretted a moment of it. India Black is a truly well-constructed character who has you rooting for her in spite of, or perhaps because of, her profession. She is sharp and resourceful and her interactions with French are ingenious. The mystery is a fun romp, but it is the characters who are the most enticing part of the story.

I hesitated as to whether I could categorize this as a clean read or not. In spite of everything, India is a madam and she is very frank when it comes to discussing her trade. No euphemisms for her! This is her life and trade and she has made her peace with it. However, while the first book does have the most content of the series (that I've read so far), it still is not the graphic content that I've seen in other books. Carr seems less concerned with describing graphic sexual encounters than with creating well-rounded characters.

JH

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Runner

Runner
by Patrick Lee
Minotaur Books, 2014.  328 pgs.  Mystery

     Weird but exciting, Runner tells the story of Sam Dryden, an ex-Special Forces soldier who is out jogging one night when he sees a young girl being chased by what appear to be some kind of commandos. She asks for his help and he hides her, the two hanging from the bottom of the boardwalk until the danger passes. Young Rachel apparently has skills perceived to be dangerous to either the government or some entity associated with it, and quite a lot of people, with access to the most sophisticated surveillance satellites ever developed, want her dead. Unfortunately, she can't remember any of her life before the past two weeks, though she has retained the startling ability to read minds which she uses to great effect to help the two make their escape. Things get exponentially stranger as the story progresses and as Rachel's true abilities begin to emerge, it gets harder and harder to know who are the good guys and who the bad. Runner is a fast and furious read, and Sam, who recently lost his wife and daughter to a car crash, is a deeply sympathetic character with a fabulous set of skills. Things got a bit too violent, and a lot too strange for me towards the end of the book, but it was a ripsnorter and no mistake.  I hope there is no sequel because one hate's to think of what Rachel could do as an angst-ridden teenager.

LW




Stone Cold

Stone Cold
by C. J. Box
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2014.  370 pgs. Mystery

     Joe Pickett, the best sort of game warden who has lately dealt as much with the deaths of people as the poaching of animals, finds himself in another sticky wicket as he is on secret assignment from the governor to investigate a wealthy benefactor of the people of  Medicine Wheel County. Wolfgang Templeton is rumored to have been a Wall Street tycoon who got fed up with the business and fled, but not without taking a pile of dough with him. Templeton is also rumored to be a financier of contract hits on some marks richly deserving of death. Joe is not welcomed with open arms when he arrives under cover of an assignment to relocate a flock of pheasants (which would be instantly poached) and to help the resident warden locate places to establish wildlife appreciation centers. Most of the county's population is beholden in some way to Templeton and the last investigator to the county died mysteriously in a motel fire. Joe's life is threatened as well, perhaps by a friend who may have gone to the dark side. A side-story in which Joe's daughter Sheridan is keeping her eye on a loner Goth with a gun obsession at her dorm at the University of Wyoming keeps that tension ratcheted right to the breaking point in another great mystery from the Mountain West.

LW

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Vampires In the Lemon Grove

http://provo.ent.sirsi.net/client/pl/search/results?qu=isbn%3D9780307957238Vampires in the Lemon Grove
By Karen Russell
Knopf. 2013. 256 pgs. Short Stories

I am a big fan of Karen Russell (St. Lucy's School for Girls Raised by Wolves, and Swamplandia!), and her third book  is another stunning collection of short stories that did not disappoint.

 Russell's style pulls from magical realism and southern gothic tones with fantastical elements that weave together to create shockingly believable worlds that strike at the very core of human experience. In these stories the theme of metamorphosis carries through as young girls in Japan morph into silk worms, a bullied epileptic boy transforms into a scarecrow, ancient Italians emerge as lemon sucking vampires, drought riddled cropland in Nebraska starts growing the bones of those who died for the land, and a traumatic memory of an Iraq War veteran transfers to his massage therapist. These are stories that will flood your imagination with both tender and haunting images that are hard to shake. ZB

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Burial Rites

Burial Rites
By Hannah Kent
Little, Brown and Company. 2013. 448 pgs.

This book not only grabbed my attention in story but the setting was incredible and so new that I did additional looking to see the homes that were talked about and the way people lived on these freezing farms. Based on a true story, Kent has taken the dark reality of Agnes Magnusdottir's execution (the last in Iceland) and has given a sad and thoughtful background to her crime and the result.

Agnes unravels her story bit by bit to a young priest in training and it is revealed that her crimes could be considered justifiable but also gives Agnes the personality of someone who is complex and led a hard life. The family Agnes is sent to stay with before her execution is drawn in to her story and even begins to care for this criminal as they learn her life leading up to her conviction. The writing is captivating as Agnes narrates her story and the priest grows to care about her.

EW

Friday, March 7, 2014

Finding the Dragon Lady

Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam's Madam Nhu
by Monique Brinson Demery
Public Affairs, 2013. 280 pgs. Biography

While I always enjoy books on history, biographies and the Vietnam War era is particularly fascinating, he thing that drew me to this book was the cover. Fabulous! In this book the author alternates between her quest for and on-and-off-again telephone conversations with the mysterious Madame Nhu and a brisk and lively account of Nhu's life in Vietnam. As the sister-in-law to the head of state of South Vietnam, Madam Nhu acted as de facto First Lady of her nation and courted controversy both at home and abroad. The author does a good job portraying the humanity of her subject while still being honest about the merits underpinning her notorious reputation. I would recommend this to anyone fascinated by history with a greater emphasis on individuals rather than broader conflicts or events.

CHW

Orfeo

Orfeo
by Richard Powers
W. W. Norton, 2014.  369 pages.  Fiction

     Richard Powers' profoundly literary novel is also, in its way, a thriller. Peter Els, a composer, retired music teacher, and former chemistry student, has set up a bioengineering lab in his kitchen which against all odds has drawn the attention of Homeland Security. Els googles around to see how much trouble he might be in, and then realizes he is tightening the noose around his own neck.  So he runs. Reflecting on his life as he crosses the country, he draws the reader into the world of avant-garde music, and then of other varieties of experimental music as he tries to discover and transcribe the very essence of music. And he can't let his quest go, even when it tears him away from what should be most dear to him and when, the strands of the creation's deepest nature and his need to make music intertwining, he finds himself in peril of his life. Orfeo is a work of extraordinary depth and range, a story of one life and of life its very self.

LW

    

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Mad, Wicked Folly

A Mad, Wicked Folly
By Sharon Biggs Waller
Viking Juvenile, 2014. 448 pages. Young Adult

When seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling is caught posing nude for fellow students in her life drawing class, she scandalizes both her family and 1909 London's proper society. Aghast, her parents rush her home from her French finishing school, where her mother launches an immediate campaign to try repair her daughter's damaged reputation. Part of Vicky's mother's reparations? A marriage to a suitable young man, who turns out to be handsome and charming, but not without his own secrets. But Vicky has other things on her mind: namely, her art. While her parents make every attempt to crush her artistic goals, plucky Vicky finds a way to thwart them. On the way, she gets involved with the suffragette movement, applies to London's Royal College of Art, and meets a kind young police constable who may just be her muse . . . or the love of her life.

As the door to her gilded cage begins to close, Vicky must decide how much she's willing to sacrifice to pursue her true calling -- and her happiness.

A Mad, Wicked Folly surprised me in more ways that one, the first being how much I responded to the novel's love story (romantic subplots not generally being something I enjoy). There were moments between Vicky and Will that had my heart in a fist, and Waller's light treatment of tender moments was a true delight. Vicky is a plucky, tenacious, and passionate character whom readers will easily connect with  and root for, especially as she takes up the suffragettes' cause. Fantastic historical fiction.

CA


Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Nazi Hunters

The Nazi Hunters:  How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi
by Neal Bascomb
Arthur A. Levine, 2013.  245 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Adolf Eichmann, architect of the Holocaust and responsible for the deaths of many millions of Jews during World War II, escaped from a prison work camp and managed to make his way to Argentina where he hid for many years under the name Ricardo Klement. Jews dedicated to finding and prosecuting Nazi war criminals could not find Eichmann until a teenage girl whose father was half Jewish started dating a boy named Nick Eichmann who boasted about his father's Nazi past. At first dismissed by Israeli intelligence (Mossad), Sylvia Hermann's story eventually led to the identification of Eichmann and  to an ultra-secret Israel operation to kidnap him and take him back to Israel for trial. Evidence suggests that young people are not much interested in history these days, but Bascomb's The Nazi Hunters . . . is just the kind of tense, even harrowing, adventure story that could change some minds.

LW

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse
By Marie Rutkoski
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014. 368 pages. Young Adult

As a member of the ruling Valorian class and the daughter of the famous General Trajan, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has a choice: enlist in the army and continue her father's legacy of warfare and bloodshed, or marry before she turns twenty. Kestrel doesn't want to do either, quite frankly, as her heart belongs to her music, not to the battlefield or to any man.

But when she impulsively purchases a nineteen-year-old Herrani slave at auction -- Arin, a young man her father's wars enslaved -- she inadvertently sets a Herrani rebellion in motion. Worse, the more often Kestrel's path crosses with Arin's, the more their relationship evolves into something beyond master and slave. As truths are exposed and Arin's true heritage comes to light, Kestrel begins to wonder where her loyalties should lie, and whether she should choose the morality of helping to free an oppressed people, or the honor of not betraying her own.

With an airtight plot and a cast of beautifully dynamic, yet flawed characters, Rutkoski has created a world full of intrigue, shifting alliances and sympathies, multiple double-crosses, and (don't let the cover fool you) action-packed battle scenes. Kestrel is a fully-fleshed heroine who, while strong and intellectually brilliant, knows her own faults and how to use her strengths to compensate for them. Arin is equally compelling, and the way Rutkoski balances, shifts, and exchanges power between the two throughout the novel's course is nothing short of riveting. Add Rutkoski's gorgeous prose and seamless fantasy world into the mix, and you have the recipe for a novel that will be topping many YA Best of 2014 lists. Nothing short of fantastic.

CA

Boxers and Saints

Boxers and Saints
By Gene Luen Yang
First Second, 2013. 325 and 170 pages. Graphic Novel

In Boxers, bands of Christian missionaries roam China's countryside, bullying peasants, dishonoring Chinese gods and traditions, and robbing. But once a beloved shrine to villager Little Bao's favorite god is destroyed, the young man decides he's had enough. Calling upon the powers of the ancient gods, protectors of China, Little Bao recruits and army of commoners trained in kung fu, men and women who will fight to free China from the "foreign devils" who may destroy everything they love about their country. Though Little Bao's army of "Boxers" is mighty, he soon realizes that the cause of protecting his homeland isn't as clear-cut as it seemed . . . especially once Little Bao and his army encounter a train full of "secondary devils," or Chinese converts to Christianity, and the lines between right and wrong become blurred.

In Saints, Four-Girl isn't even given a proper name until she converts to Catholicism and is baptized by they very priest who terrorized Little Bao's village. Four-Girl, now known as Vibiana (a Christian name she chooses for herself), begins to see visions of Joan of Arc, and is inspired to leave home and find fulfillment through service to the Church.

Little Bao's and Vibiana's paths collide with disastrous results, ones that will change them both -- and all of China -- forever.

Yang's spare, clean artistic style lends grace to a very violent period of China's history, and the juxtaposition of Little Bao's and Vibiana's respective stories and closely-held beliefs allows Yang to explore all the facets and intricacies of China's Boxer Rebellion. Both protagonists are sympathetic, dynamic, and so very human; they make mistakes, they love, and they lose. A compelling look at a difficult and little-known period in China's history.

CA

Thrice Told Tales

Thrice Told Tales
By Catherine Lewis
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013. 136 pages. Young Adult Nonfiction

Using the old story of the Three Blind Mice, writing professor Catherine Lewis teaches her readers all about the building blocks of literature, from bildungsromans to foreshadowing to leitmotifs and more. This cheeky little guide will help any writer fine-tune their work, and blends a little of Mother Goose with a bit of Edward Gorey to make all principles inside both easily understood and memorable.

I love this little book! It's perfect for anyone who wants a better understanding of literary elements, and would be a great resource for AP English students looking to master the terms before their exams. Witty, whimsical, and delightful.

CA

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Martian

The Martian
by Andy Weir
Crown, 2014. 369 pgs. Science Fiction

     When Mark Watney's crew leaves him behind on Mars because they think he is dead, he must figure out how to survive until the next Mars mission shows up four years' hence.  Chances of living that long and being rescued?  Slim to none. But he sets about it.  A botanist, he first figures out how to create arable soil in which to grow potatoes, and then has to figure out how to water his crop. Explosions, habitat breaches, and sandstorms, among many other things, keep Mark's life interesting--perhaps hardest to take is the relentless supply of 70s TV episodes stored on his commander's abandoned data stick.  Weir's narrative takes several surprising turns which I will keep to myself, but if you think you will tire of Watney's Robinson Crusoe life, keep going. There is much more to be had in this old-fashioned, deeply satisfying sci-fi thriller.

LW

Fallen Women

Fallen Women
By Sandra Dallas
St Martin's Press. 2013.

Sandra Dallas takes on the city of Denver in 1885 in this book about a sister looking for her sister's Killer. Beret Osmundsen had broken ties with her sister Lily after an incident in New York, and sends her away. Lillie ends up in Denver with her aunt and uncle, and Beret hears nothing, until she is notified of her sister's death. Even more shocking is that Lillie had become a prostitute and was pregnant. Beret takes on the task of bringing the murderer to justice and discovering why Lillie felt the need to work in a brothel. With the help of Detective Sergeant Michael "Mick"  MCCauley, she finds things out that she never wanted to know, as well as the back alley lives of people in Denver.

The setting of the book was wonderful and described 19th century Denver in a very accurate and exciting way. The characters were just as well written and the relationship of Beret and Mick drew my attention. The mystery holds up as there are so many small discoveries and lies that there really was no way of knowing who killed Lillie or why until the end.

Ignite Me

Ignite Me
By Tahereh Mafi
Harper Collins, 2014. 416 pgs. Young Adult.

I couldn't finish this fast enough and then I was so sad it was over. In the conclusion to the popular Shatter me series, the characters are face with difficult decisions, and relationships are strained. Juliette has no idea in the beginning if her friends, the rebels, or if anyone else is alive. She has to work with Warner, her one time enemy, but clearly something else, in order to find the rebels and finish what her friends started. Her ultimate goal is to take down The Restablishment.

Warner and Juliette have an incredible chemistry and their actions towards each other and away from each other hint at their feelings but also the confusion. Juliette wants to use her powers to save the world she wants and with her friends, they come up with plans, train to fight, and their will to survive grows. It has lots of action, romance, and hysterical quips from Kenji and makes it a very fast, enjoyable read. Fans of Hunger Games and Divergent will like the dystopian world and thrills that this series provides.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jump the Gun

Jump the Gun
By Zoe Burke
Poisoned Pen Press, 2013. 180 pages. Mystery.

When Annabelle Starkey leaves her Chicago book conference for a romantic getaway in Las Vegas with Michael, a stranger she meets in the bar, the weekend goes from romantic to terrifying when she and Michael are kidnapped at gunpoint, her room searched, and her friend (who is cat-sitting for her) is killed in Annabelle's apartment. But are the thugs after her? Michael? Or is Michael the one orchestrating the crime spree?

I picked up this book because, prominently displayed on the cover, is a glowing review from the Kirkus Review Journal. After reading a few pages, I discovered why relying exclusively on other people's opinions can be a dangerous thing. I spent most of this book confused. It was full of campy movie wit and the plot was very convoluted. And, then, I never quite understood why they did most of the things they did. Do women really fly across the country with strange men? was only the beginning. Too far-fetched, poorly written, frustrating. I'm disappointed, Kirkus.

JH