Friday, November 30, 2007
A lightweight outing for Grisham, who tells here a story of a failed NFL third-string quarterback who, run out of town after a disastrous loss, winds up playing for the Parma Panthers in Italy. If our hero, Rick Dockery, telegraphed his passes like Grisham telegraphs what will happen next, he would soon be out of the business altogether, but sometimes predictable is pleasant enough, and the charms of Italy along with the rise of an appealing underdog team make this a good afternoon read on a snowy day, if ever we should get one.
Elizabeth Wein's Welsh version of the Mordred-King Arthur story is breathtaking. The characterizations are rich and nuanced: Medraut, the older but illegitimate brother who must pledge fealty to a younger, less able half brother; Lleu, the heir, and his protective twin
sister Goewin who loves her brother but knows herself to be more capable than he, and more in love with the land and her people; Artos the King, and Morgause, evil but compelling. Medieval England comes brilliantly to life in Wein's beautiful telling.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Augusten Burroughs’ bestselling “Running with Scissors,” features stories of his brother John Elder, diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome after thinking himself a misfit and loser for most of his life. John's situation caused much more public comment than much of the rest of the book, and in “Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s” John tells his story. Although John escaped the household before his parents got as mental and as abusive as they would be with his little brother, he still suffered from his mother’s mania and his father’s drunkenness. In addition, John was almost universally tormented for his weirdness—refusing to look people in the eye; being unable to respond logically to ordinary forms of discourse; choosing different names for people because their real names didn’t make sense to him; inventing and executing bizarre and dangerous practical jokes. What is so interesting and enlightening about “Look Me in the Eye” is Robison’s remarkable ability to share what it is like to have Asperger’s from the inside out. As time went on he learned what to say in order to be considered normal, though his interior life still differed vastly from what was common to others. This well-written, funny, fascinating memoir is nearly impossible to put down, and what an education in why one ought not to condemn others for their differences or ourselves for our own.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
An Army at Dawn won the Pulitzer Prize for 2002 and rightly so. I have read many good non-fiction books this year, but this one is the best, second only to Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August among my favorite history books. Atkinson's subject is the entry of the United States into World War II, beginning with the campaign in Northern Africa designed to root out the Germans and Italians to clear the way for a strike across the Mediterranean into Italy and then northward to retake Europe.The writing is splendid, the detail of conversations, letters home from soldiers, what Eisenhower was wishing (to get in his bunk and read a Western), and what Roosevelt and Churchill were saying to each other is no less than extraordinary. This is a sad book, of course, as all books about wars must be, but so well done--enlightening, poignant, revealing.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Pride & Prejudice: the next generation. Coincidentally (or not) the married Darcys’ are the proud parents of five daughters--all with strong personality traits reminiscent of the original five sisters. The novel follows the girls as they leave Pemberly for
Readers will notice familiar characterizations and similar/identical plot development to the beloved classic favorite. Inventive enough to be entertaining; however, and only slightly more liberal than an Austen novel, Aston should ring fairly true to Austen fans. Perhaps not quite as witty. (And does anyone else find the similarity in the authors’ last names somewhat suspicious?)
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
This was a very engaging story of a young girl killed in a car accident at the age of 14. It begins with her death when she awakens on a ship bound for Elsewhere. It turns out that after you die you go to Elsewhere and live a relatively normal afterlife. The main difference being that inhabitants of Elsewhere age backwards. Upon reaching the age of -0- they will return to earth to begin a new life. Lizzie has to figure out how to live in Elsewhere and deal with all the complex emotions and issues that every teenager faces. Regret, romance, family strife are all part of this story and make for a great read.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Former secret service agents turned private investigators, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, are hired to check out a mysterious death being ruled as a possible suicide of a researcher named Monk Turing who works for an secretive laboratory in Virginia that happens to be located directly across the York river from Camp Peary, a super secret training ground for the CIA and the location where Monk Turing’s body was found.
Sean and Michelle begin searching for answers but find few people willing to tell them anything about the laboratory or Camp Peary. What begins as a search for the reason behind one man’s death leads to more murders, secret codes connected to World War II German POWs, hidden treasure, and much much more.
Overall I enjoyed this thriller even though the language, characters and plot were at times a little too cliché. I think this book would appeal more to people who enjoy a slowly unfolding mystery than some one looking for a good action thriller.
In this brief volume, Calvin Trillin, the well-known staff writer for The New Yorker, presents a touching tribute to his wife Alice, who died at age 63 in 2001. Appearing in Trillin’s previous humorous works, Alice was familiar to the author’s audiences, but in this latest work, Trillin writes in a more serious fashion, recalling Alice’s battle with lung cancer, her work as an educator, and her role as a wife and mother. Based on a 12-page essay, “Alice, Off the Page,” previously published in The New Yorker, this book is a sincere, but brief, memoir of love.
FRANNIE IN PIECES: Delia Ephron: HarperTeen: Young Adult: 374 pages
When fifteen-year-old Frannie’s father dies, she discovers a wooden box with the words Frances Anne 1000 carved on the outside and a handmade puzzle inside. As Frannie works on the puzzle, she is transported into a different time and place and finds her father as he existed at that time.
Frannie’s work with the puzzle is the inspiration for the title of this book and runs through the entire novel, but her time in the world of the puzzle is actually the least satisfying portion of the story. As Frannie works on the puzzle, she is also working as an arts and crafts camp counselor for children (she helps them create a collage about household poisons—mothballs, hairspray, markers), dealing with her best friend’s new romantic relationship, and struggling to see her mother and stepfather as something other than a burden. Frannie’s real life and the answers she finds there create a light, humorous story about overcoming trials, deftly handled by Ephron, the author of well-known screenplays, including The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and You’ve Got Mail.
During World War II’s Japanese occupation of China’s coastal lands, Ye Xian is suffering from an abusive family when her father throws her out of the house. She finds refuge with the secret Dragon Society of Wandering Knights where she begins to train in the art of kung fu and hopes to join her few new-found friends. Soon she and the rest of the society members are making plans to help rescue American heroes who have crashed after bombing Japan and bringing renewed hope to China.
While a couple of scenes have some interesting action, most of this book is poorly done. It is written more for a children’s audience. The storytelling aspect is terrible and often has a preachy feel to it. This was especially disappointing since the book was written by the author of the New York Times Best-seller Falling Leaves. Younger children might find the historical aspects, children protagonists, and Chinese elements, and fantasy action intriguing—but older audiences will likely not find much to enjoy about the book overall.
Friday, November 16, 2007
The story of Anna Anderson, who claimed to be the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia, is familiar to many. This novel takes a new spin on the old story adding in a vicious and clever serial killer and a Berlin being torn apart by a sinking economy and the political upheaval that took place during the years leading up to World War II. Esther Solomonova becomes Anna's caretaker as she prepares to present herself to the Russian Aristocracy. However, Anna's fragile mental state and a string of strange murders draw Esther into a far more dangerous plot than presenting a royal fraud to the world.
Anyone interested in historical fiction or the early years of serial murder investigations will find Franklin's book intriguing. I loved the plot's multiple twists and turns. Each time I thought I had it all figured out I was surprised yet again...clear up until the final pages. A fascinating thriller with very little sex or graphic violence.
This is the fourth book in Elizabeth Aston's series following the relations of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. In this installment, a cousin of Mr. Darcy's dies leaving behind his young bride, Mrs. Octavia Darcy. An unknown relation of Octavia's follows her husband to the grave and unlike her late husband, Mrs. Worthington leaves Octavia a very large fortune. With the fortune come suitors more interested in her yearly income than in her company. All is not lost, though, for Octavia finds her path crosses that of the intriguing confirmed bachelor, Sholto Rutherford.
Aston is an entertaining writer and I believe this to be one of the better "Pride & Prejudice" sequels to be published. The Second Mrs. Darcy wasn't my favorite of the series, I felt like too much of the book was dedicated to setting the story up and concerned too many "social" details. But still an enjoyable, light, clean read.
ICEBERG: Clive Cussler: Berkley Books: 2004: 340 pages
Admiral Dirk Pitt, Special Projects Director for the National Underwater and Marine Agency, is investigating a mysterious ship trapped in an iceberg. He’s not the only one interested in the ship, though, and his involvement throws him into the path of a dangerous international group with a ruthless assassination team.
Cussler’s popular character, Pitt, has been described as a cross between James Bond and Jacques Cousteau. Iceberg is full of Bond-like action—karate, crashing helicopters, underwater excavation, deception, murder, flirtation, and spies fill the storyline. The beginning seemed slow, but once the action began, it was a non-stop adventure.MBC
Growing up Jeanette Walls’ parents weren’t exactly Ma and Pa Cleaver. In fact, they were negligent at best. This book is largely about Walls’ nomadic parents who follow their free spirited whims to many parts of the country—with four children in tow.
While based on a mostly sad childhood, this book doesn’t have an ounce of self pity or really, bitterness. I felt angrier about Walls selfish parents at the end of the novel than she did. To some extent she champions her parents for making life seem like an adventure and teaching her about ‘truth’ as the dedication states. In addition to a memoir of an outrageous childhood, this novel explores the vices that make us human, but also the breaking of unhealthy cycles. A quirky, entertaining read…even if almost ruined by a “Family Christmas Letter” last chapter.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Maira Kalman is a well-known and beloved author and illustrator of children's books, but this grown-up story is a thought-provoking delight. Kalman tells the story of a year in her life with scribbled ruminations and pictures of great hats, old people crippling along, a dead man on the front page of the newspaper, eating honey cake with her aunt in Tel Aviv. "The people, the people!" she exclaims, and much of the treasure of this book is Kalman's overwhelming love for the people--family, friends, celebrities, strangers--who come into her life. The fact that all will die stops her in her tracks several times a day, but instead of allowing herself to be undone by the knowledge she "springs into action. [She finds] meaningful distraction." A sparkling gem of a book.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Sixteen-year-old Giovanna Petrizzo finds it hard enough to fit in. Three years since her family moved to Texas, she’s still the newcomer compared to everyone around her. It doesn’t help matters when her twin brother, Dante, takes on the mayor’s son by running for class president. The least she could expect, though, would be for her boyfriend, Jesse, to support their cause. But Jesse’s apparent defection triggers Giovanna’s rash emotional side, and before she knows it, she’s turned Jesse from the boy of her dreams to the ex-boyfriend she dreams of winning back.
This was a quick, enjoyable read. I laughed out loud at some of the predicaments Giovanna gets herself into. I would recommend to anyone looking for something light and humorous.
Monday, November 12, 2007
This is a harrowing tale of a young man who at the age of 12 was given a lobotomy with an ice pick in a doctor's office. This is the story of his life as he remembers it, often a difficult task as he is uncertain how the operation affected his brain and memory. He suffered at the hands of an abusive step-mother and a disconnected father who were convinced by an unscrupulous doctor that a lobotomy would be the best solution to his behavior problems. The author goes on to describe his life since the lobotomy, stints in different youth homes, drug-use, jail, and then his journey up from the bottom. That journey included a college degree, a successful marriage, and now this book. Although his experiences entitle him to bitterness, he has let that go and is able to look dispassionately at his history, and to forgive those who wronged him.
The cover of this book says it all, it shows Skulduggery-a gun toting skeleton in a snappy suit-and then states "and he's the good guy"
I listened to this book, something that I would highly recommend. The story is set in Ireland and the reader's slight Irish accent and low, silky voice is perfect. The story starts with 12 year old Stephanie attending the funeral of her beloved Uncle. When she meets a real live skeleton and bad things start happening to her, she quickly realizes her life is going to change. Stephanie is swept into a world most humans hope to never see. Vampires, magic, action, horror, this book has it all. The story is fast paced, and Skulduggery's sarcastic humor and dead-pan delivery will keep you highly entertained.
HOW THE HANGMAN LOST HIS HEART: K.M. Grant:
After her Uncle Frank is executed for treason and has his disembodied head displayed in public,
This is a quirky tale inspired by the author’s family history. Grant’s ancestor was drawn, quartered, and beheaded in the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. His head was recovered and passed down through the years until it could be buried with his body in 1950. Despite the fact that the story revolves around a severed head and there are plenty of executions in the story, this is a mild, romantic tale suited for middle school readers.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
MARTHA STEWART'S HOMEKEEPING HANDBOOK: Martha Stewart: Clarkson Potter Publishers(2006): Nonfiction: 744 pgs
Well, the subtitle gives it away, “The Essential Guide to Caring for Everything in Your Home”, because when Martha says “everything”, she’s not kidding. But it’s Martha, of course she’s going to be thorough…(or obsessive compulsive?)
What I loved best were the cleaning spreadsheets in the beginning. Martha offers a daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, AND Spring/Fall cleaning schedule. It’s fantastic to have a complete list of when to clean absolutely everything. Tips for the ‘caring of’ include all imaginable aspects of your home, both inside and out. Cleaning Remedies include the best of Grandma’s passed down secrets as well as the hottest new chemicals on the market.
A great recommendation for the new bride/groom—although, I’d stay away if you’re the mother-in-law, your kindness could be misconstrued.
DON OF THE DEAD: Casey Daniels:
If you’re looking for a new mystery series, this is a fun, quick, light read with a paranormal twist and an entertaining heroine.
I LIKE YOU: HOSPITALITY UNDER THE INFLUENCE: Amy Sedaris: Nonfiction: Warner Books(2006): 303 pgs
When Amy Sedaris says ‘under the influence’, she’s talking about the generally understood term. She’s bold, original, and not your average Provo Party Planner. This is a very special guide to entertaining in Style—capital S. And Amy’s style is an indefinite blend of the quirky-sophisticated, heavy on the quirky. I Like You is both personal memoir and a hospitality how-to for those searching for the unusual. Amy intersperses diary-like stories with her famous recipes, decorating ideas, and guest list practicalities.
The large, coffee-table book is a funky throwback to the 1970’s. All pictures and illustrations are dedicated to that groovy era. The book is filled with hilarious and only slightly shocking photos of the author in mostly modest stages of hospitable dress.
In addition to being a compendium of tips to throwing a rager of a dinner party, Amy also dispenses womanly wisdom on all topics of female interest. So if you’re feeling slightly edgy and desire to shock the socks off your neighborhood, call Amy--who truly does like you.
The Alchemyst starts off with a bang--a lot of bangs, actually, when Dr. John Dee, a sulfurous necromancer invades a bookshop with a gang of glassy-eyed Golems and steals the Book of Abraham the Mage from Nicholas Flamel, the 700-year old proprietor and alchemist. Accidentally caught up in the fracas are Josh and Sophie Newman, twins who work at the bookshop and a nearby coffee shop, respectively, and Nicholas' wife Perenelle, who is kidnapped along with the book. As Flamel frantically searches for the book and his missing wife, ancient forces come into play--the Morrigan, gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt, cats, crows, and the sword, Excalibur. The twins, caught up in the chase, find that they may not be accidentally involved as the narrative races to a cliffhanger conclusion, and an anxious wait for the next volume in this exciting new series . . . .
The unnamed narrator of Robert Harris' new thriller is a ghostwriter--a "ghost" in the parlance of the trade who is called upon to complete the "autobiography" of the recently resigned Prime Minister of Great Britain, Adam Lang, whose first ghostwriter died when he fell from a ferry off Cape Cod and drowned. One of our most engaging current novelists, Robert Harris generally writes character-rich but also plot-driven historical (or alternate-history) fiction ranging from “Fatherland” (what if the Nazis had won?) to a truly frightening story of the 79 A.D. eruption of Vesuvius (“Pompeii”). This book is current, "ripped from the headlines" as they say, and filled with transparently veiled references to living politicians. Employing neither gore nor breathtaking action sequences, Harris takes his protagonist through succeeding levels of understanding and fear to an ending which it would be just short of criminal for me to reveal. Adding to the sense of menace is Harris’ carefully drawn setting—the bitter winter season on Martha’s Vineyard. Puzzling inconsistencies and gaps in Lang’s narrative, as well as the increasingly suspicious circumstances of his predecessor’s death, lead his ghostwriter into deep water in more ways than one. Many ghosts fill this narrative: of dead people, of malevolent influences “behind the throne,” and of the abuse of power. “The Ghost” is chilling in setting, tone, and denouement—a book not soon to be forgotten.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Kate Stanley is a Shakespeare scholar that has just started her career as a theater director. Her big break is to direct Hamlet in the newly rebuilt Globe Theater in London. On opening day, Kate is visited by her former mentor, Rosalind Howard, who has come to ask for Kate’s help with a big discovery. Ros gives Kate a small present and they plan to meet up after the play to discuss what Ros has discovered, but disaster strikes when the Globe Theater is burned and Rosalind’s body is discovered inside. The only clue Kate has to go on is Rosalind’s gift, a Victorian mourning brooch and a cryptic message on an old library catalog card. Kate never expects she will end up on the trail to unearthing one of Shakespeare’s long lost plays, Cardenio.
I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable read. I had fun learning about Shakespeare and I loved the reference to Cedar City and the Pastry Pub (one of the best places to eat in town), though the general plot outline might be considered a little too similar to the Da Vinci Code.
During an assassination attempt, Wes, a young Presidential aide, is scarred for life and the President’s staffer, who is also the President’s closest friend, is killed. In the aftermath, the President of the United States loses his bid for re-election. Eight years later in Malaysia the once ambitious young aide, still working for the ex-president, is sure he has seen the man he long thought dead. The Book of Fate follows a tangled course as Wes, now being tracked by the escaped assassin, works feverishly to elude a powerful conspiracy and find out why and how the President’s best friend would fake his own death.
Meltzer’s other strong political thrillers won him an audience for this book. The plot contains some surprises but it is not one of the author’s best. The Christian and Masonic symbols the author attempts to weave into the plot are really not essential to the action and so that part of the plot seems contrived and very post Da Vinci code. If you want to say you’ve read all of Meltzer’s books, well, you’ll find a couple of likable characters, no graphic sex or bad language, and you’ll learn a bit about what it is like to be an ex-president of the USA.
From playing pirates on a deserted island to attending his own “funeral,” from exploring a bat-filled underground cave to digging for treasure in a haunted house, Tom Sawyer is a genius at getting himself and his friends into and out of sometimes dangerous adventures.
When he and his pal, Huck Finn, stumble on a midnight murder, Tom almost meets his match in evil Injun Joe. Joe has hidden a golden, ill-gotten treasure that Tom means to find…if Joe doesn’t get him first!
Being from Missouri I have no idea how I haven’t read this book before! I loved reading about Tom’s adventures and all of the predicaments he gets himself into. Since I have been to the Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal, MO I could clearly picture Tom and Becky’s exploration of the cave. This book was a fun read and I would recommend it to anyone.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Frank Balenger--young 30’s journalist--joins a group of “creepers”, a.k.a. urban archaeologists who explore historical (closed to the public) buildings. This group is headed by a university history professor who chooses
David Morrell is a true-life member of the Special Operations Association and the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. Winner of the Bram Stoker award, this novel is absolutely guaranteed to creep you out.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Actress and photographer Kris Carr thought she had a hangover, but a Jivamukti yoga class didn’t provide its usual cure. A visit to her doctor confirmed her “liver looked like Swiss cheese,” covered with cancerous tumors. She entered trench warfare (wearing cowboy boots into the MRI machine, no less), vowing, “Cancer needed a makeover and I was just the gal to do it!” She began writing and filming her journey, documenting her interactions with friends, doctors, alternative “quacks,” blind dates, and other women with cancer—sadly a growing group
After seeing a documentary on The Learning Channel about Kris Carr I was interested to learn more about her and her experiences with cancer. Although I do not have cancer, this was still an intriguing book. Kris mentions in her book the need for support and information for young adults that are diagnosed with cancer. There are resources for children and older adults with cancer, but not much for young adults, so she decided to share her cancer journey with the world through her documentary and her book. I would recommend this book to young adults (especially women) with cancer and their loved ones. Kris does a great job of sharing her experience and what she has learned since being diagnosed, be aware though that Kris doesn’t mince words and some may take offense at her language throughout the book.
RUN: Ann Patchett: HarperCollins: Fiction: 295 pages
While arguing in the street with his father outside a political meeting, 21-year-old Tip Doyle fails to notice an oncoming SUV but escapes with only a broken bone when a stranger pushes him out of the vehicle’s path. After the ambulance takes Tip’s rescuer, who is hit by the car, away to the hospital, Tip, his father, and his two brothers are left to care for
Saturday, November 3, 2007
CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY: Ally Carter: Hyperion: Young Adult: 236 pages
In the sequel to I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, Cammie Morgan is back in action at her secret spy school. After the arrival of mysterious guests at