Friday, December 28, 2007
This is not the Nancy Drew novel that I grew up reading. But it is a contemporary pocket-sized graphic novel rendition of my favorite girl detective series. While the characters, best friends Nancy, Bess and George, are familiar, their high tech tools are nothing like the old-fashioned magnifying glass used by author Carolyn Keene’s crime solvers. The sleuths utilize gadgets like cell phones and WIFI connected tablet PCs.
The manga-style illustrations will appeal to a new generation of young readers eager to watch the titian-haired Nancy outsmart a bear, solve the mystery of the missing film students and bring justice to an ethically-challenged business man.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
The movie Superman Returns picks up with Superman coming back to Earth after a five-year absence. These prequels give glimpses of the same five years in the lives of the three most important people in his life. In the first, Martha Kent reminisces about Clark's formative years. In the second, Lex Luthor bides his time in prison, nursing a grudge and vowing revenge for Superman's "theft" of five years of his life. The final episode shows Lois Lane, heart in turmoil, pressed to write another article about the Man of Steel. Frustrated and wanting to move on, she writes a story that earns her a Pulitzer, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman."
This is the first DC comic book that I have read. I surprisingly liked this book, even though I wasn’t really familiar with the timeline of the Superman series. I would recommend this book to any comic book enthusiast.
America’s favorite girl detective, Nancy Drew, is back to set the record straight. According to our titian-haired heroine, she was not in fact a fictional character, but an intrepid real-life sleuth who investigated some of the twentieth century’s biggest mysteries. And the famous series she starred in was not cooked up by a team of writers, but plagiarized from her exploits by her nosy college roommate Carolyn—who, not surprisingly, got a whole lot wrong.
I enjoyed this parody quite a lot. It was fun to see “the other side” of the Nancy Drew novels. I loved the descriptions of what Nancy considered ‘essentials’ when she left town to solve a mystery. I would recommend this to anyone familiar with the Nancy Drew novels who wants to be entertained.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
SLAM: Nick Hornby: G.P. Putnam’s Sons: Young Adult: 309 pages
Fifteen-year-old Sam Jones is a British teenager who loves Tony Hawk, talking to a poster of Tony when he needs advice. And Sam does need advice. He’s recently broken up with his girlfriend, Alicia, only to discover that she’s pregnant.
Nick Hornby has frequently been praised for his accurate portrayals of British men, and in this first teen novel, he gives a great, rare look at the male perspective on teen pregnancy. Both the subject matter and the language make this a book intended for an older teen or adult audience, but it is a well-written, insightful look at a choice and the many consequences and phases that follow it.
THE YEAR OF LIVING BIBLICALLY: A.J. Jacobs: Simon & Schuster: Nonfiction: 388 pages
What would happen if you attempted to literally interpret and live every admonition in the Bible? Jacobs undertakes this task for one year, first studying the Bible for several months and recording all the laws and commandments in the Old and New Testaments and then attaching tassels to the corners of his clothing, observing food restrictions, tithing, and attempting to do everything the Bible mandates. Additionally, Jacobs visits religious groups that interpret the Bible literally. He attends a meeting with snake handlers, invites a Jehovah’s Witness to his home for several hours, and goes to the
With a premise that could potentially be offensive, Jacobs does a very nice job of fairly and respectfully examining the Bible and its adherents. He does his research, reading multiple versions of the Bible and commentaries and gathering a board of religious advisors from several Jewish and Christian faiths. While there are absurd portions of the book (the author “stones” an adulterer with pebbles in a park) and Jacobs is, admittedly, agnostic, the work as a whole is both interesting and thought-provoking for believers and non-believers alike.
UNDERCOVER: Beth Kephart: HarperTeen: Young Adult: 278 pages
Very loosely drawing on the classic Cyrano story, Elisa uses her way with language to help the boys in her high school write love notes to the girls that interest them. Elisa becomes personally interested in one the boys she helps, and her ice skating serves as a way for them to become friends.
Language is very important in this story, perhaps more important than the story itself. The lyrical text slows the pace of the story and distances the reader from forming attachments to any of the characters or feeling emotionally involved in the story. Nicely written, but somewhat cold in tone.
Having graduated from the university in 1955, and taken up a job as a journalist, Ryszard Kapuscinski desires nothing more than to "cross a border"--any border. So his editor sends him to India, and from there to China, Africa, Indonesia. He takes as his companion a gift copy of Herodotus' Histories and learns from him the importance of encountering other cultures and other peoples firsthand, and of recording historical events as best as possible. Kapuscinski writes with elegance and warmth about the global village. Translated from the Polish by
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
MEMOIRS OF A TEENAGE AMNESIAC: Gabrielle Zevin: Young Adult: 271 pages
After falling down the school steps, Naomi awakes without any memory of the previous four years, including her parents divorce, the birth of her sister, or her relationship with her boyfriend.
The premise for this story is intriguing. As she attempts to make sense of her current situation, Naomi provides a fascinating, outsider perspective on her own life. This would be a good book club discussion book, because it explores decision-making and the evolution of individuals and relationships in such a unique way.
In this sequel to A Great and Terrible Beauty, Gemma and her friends, Ann and Felicity, have mastered the power to transport themselves to the mystical Realms and are now seeking the way to bind the powerful magic so that it will not fall into the hands of the evil Circe and her minions. Meanwhile, Gemma must also deal with problems in the real world such as her laudanum addicted father grieving for his wife and her attraction to affable Tom, the son of a viscount, and the mysterious Indian boy, Kartik.
As the author points out near the end of the book when referring to the new electrical underground railroad, the Victorian time period was on the cusp of the modern world. Gemma, Ann and Felicity are perfect examples of the changes taking place in this world. They are supposed to grow up to be well-mannered wives, but they long for more power in their lives. Libbra Bray does an excellent job of creating complex and fallible characters.
Growing up in British ruled India in the late 1800s, Gemma Doyle has longed to visit London. When her mother dies mysteriously, something that Gemma witnesses in a dark vision, she is finally sent to London where she is enrolled in a secluded girls’ finishing school. Gemma encounters trouble at the new school with the rich and popular girls and is frightened over her growing visions. She also discovers she has been followed from India by Kartik, a young Indian man who warns her to fight off her visions. Gemma has difficulty controlling them and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical realm.
Part Gothic mystery, part teen school drama and part other-worldly fantasy, this novel will delight a variety of readers and leave them wanting to know more about Gemma and her strange powers.
Elizabeth Samet, Harvard and Yale-educated professor of English, is beguiled into taking a teaching position at West Point when she reads the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. As she becomes acquainted with the plebes, yearlings, cows, and firsties of the Army Corps of cadets she learns much about soldiers in time of war, and uses literature (and film) to help them know themselves even better. Soldier's Heart is a tender and enlightening account of young men and women who become dear to the reader, and dearer because they may not survive the course of the war. Along the way we become acquainted with the literature of war and the uses in wartime of the literature of peace. Samet is a thoughtful, deeply intelligent writer whose prose and sensibilities linger in the mind long after the book is closed. Highly recommended.
Monday, December 17, 2007
For sassy young Marjane Satrapi, growing up in
Told through the eyes of a child, this graphic novel is stunning in its ability to capture the complexities of
Saturday, December 15, 2007
When Wallace takes over the running of a local soccer club, he uses all his inventive skills to set it on the road to glory. But all is not as it seems at Growther AFC, and soon Wallace and Gromit’s dreams of success are hobbled by foul play and outright sabotage!
I like Wallace and Gromit and this was a fun book, however I had a hard time with all of the British words, since I didn’t know what all of them meant. The story did have some interesting twists and turns.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Hinds sketches a new take on the oft told epic poem, Beowulf, in this gruesome graphic novel. Why wield away hours struggling through 3,183 lines of Old English when you can slog through a little text and blast past a cavern of dark, harsh and scary illustrations to pierce the tale. Essentially, Beowulf, hero of the Geats, encounters three antagonists: vicious monster Grendel, Grendel's vengeful mother and lastly a virulent dragon.
Hinds breaks the story into three books. He uses gory dark colors and pointed frightful creatures to paint the slaughters in books one and two. "Clang," "Sswackkhack," "Shlup." The colors transform into muted grays in the final book when the hero slays the dragon but is himself mortally wounded. Beowulf, now King of the Geats, is cremated and buried along with the dragon's treasure on a cliff overlooking the sea.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Ender Wiggins' Battle School is an odd setting for a Christmas story, but when Zeck, the son of a fundamentalist preacher, arrives at the school and refuses to wage even simulated war, the Holiday that Must not be Named (nor celebrated) becomes an issue. When Dink writes his fellow Dutchman a poem for St. Nicholas day, and cuts his pancakes into letters, Zeck complains that if others are celebrating a "Santa Claus holiday," he should be able to observe his religion openly. Soon students of other faiths get riled up, and the War of Gifts is joined. Zeck becomes a pariah among his classmates, and Dink and Ender must use wisdom and restraint to restore peace in the season thereof. Aside from the cookie cutter portrait of the abusive fundamentalist father, the characters in this book are richly realized, and the story is sweetly told. Home, country, tradition, fellow-feeling, and brotherly kindness find a place in Outer Space.
"Epic" is the name of a computer game that takes the place of representative government and societal ebb and flow in an unnamed country were actual violence has been outlawed and
people's lives and livelihoods are determined by their facility in playing the game. Outside the game, conditions are primitive and workers are assigned to their jobs, transferred to new tasks, or exiled completely depending on their facility at gaming. Erik is a young man who seems not to play well, because rather than slogging away with a faceless character for the slow accumulation of coppers, he challenges difficult opponents and often fails. His parents are afraid that he will be reallocated, but can't convince him to go conventional. Erik's team play becomes dangerous when he and his friends attract the attention of Central Allocations by doing things no one has been able to do before and the Council unleashes the "Executioner" into the game to protect their own power. The book reflects to some degree the current confusion of game life with real life--the Epic scenes in this story are often more vivid than reality, and it isn't always readily apparent whether Erik and his team are in or out of the game--sometimes it is startling when they unclip to go to bed or to eat supper. Kostick, himself a sometime game designer, argues in this well-wrought fantasy against confusing electronic victories with actual achievement. The freedom to grow, learn, and serve is balanced against freedom from violence in this gripping novel of parallel worlds.
Monday, December 10, 2007
On paper, Amelia Lockwood, 37, seems to have it all—a great career as a television producer and great friends in married Caroline, bitter Rachel, and flamboyant Jamie—except for a man. Determined to change this, she enrolls in a night course for women over 35 on how to find a husband. The instructor demands she and her fellow classmates revisit 10 past boyfriends past in order to figure out what they have been doing wrong. Amelia dutifully makes the calls, revisiting the louse who cheated on her, the vain control freak, and the snooty rich boy. The one ex she doesn't want to revisit, her most recent boyfriend, turns up on her doorstep to announce that he not only is engaged but also will be living, along with his bride-to-be, right down the street. Buoyed by a charming cast of characters, Carroll's novel will have readers rapidly turning the pages to find out if Amelia finds her man and lives happily ever after—with or without him.
A fun read! Set in Ireland, Amelia certainly has an interesting dating past and her ex-boyfriends continue to live colorful lives. I was a bit disappointed in the ending because I felt like we never had much resolution. The book isn’t squeaky clean. I did enjoy reading about Amelia’s adventures in tracking down her ex-boyfriends though!
With an eye-catching cover–Santa (aka Manga Claus) stands bare-chested wielding two samurai swords–and a ludicrous plot, this graphic novel is sure to attract manga lovers. 'Tis the night before the night before Christmas and all is well in the North Pole–until a disgruntled elf places an evil spell on a ninja nutcracker. He in turn infects a roomful of teddy bears, causing them to wreak havoc in Santa's factory, threatening to disrupt the holiday. Only Santa and his Blade of Kringle, a gift from a displaced samurai a century and a half earlier, can slice the stuffing out of these terrible teddies, saving the factory and Christmas Day. Black, white, and red illustrations are action-packed and full of comic fun, making this a satisfying choice for kids who've tired of sugarplums.
This is the first manga book that I have read. I can’t say that I loved this book, but it was a good introduction to the genre of graphic novels. I would recommend it to those that are looking for a holiday read manga style!
TALKING WITH MY MOUTH FULL: CRAB CAKES, BUNDT CAKES, AND OTHER KITCHEN STORIES: Bonny Wolf: Nonfiction: 2007
Wolf, NPR’s food commentator, shares a collection of food memoirs complete with recipes. Traditional family foodways, regional favorites, and special events featuring food are all discussed in a style very reminiscent of Laurie Colwin’s wonderful books, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. Antipasto, ice cream, latkes, and chili are all treated with warmth and surrounded with tales of family and friends.
LISTENING IS AN ACT OF LOVE: A CELEBRATION OF AMERICAN LIFE FROM THE STORYCORPS PROJECT: Penguin: Nonfiction: 2007
StoryCorps is a nonprofit organization that allows individuals to record the stories of their lives with the people they care about in small, sometimes traveling, studios. Listening is an Act of Love is a transcription of a number of interviews that have been recorded through the project. The stories are so diverse and so touching. A grandson interviews the grandmother who raised him. A 9/11 survivor describes his escape from one of the towers. A woman from
HOT LUNCH: Alex Bradley: Dutton: Young Adult: 2007
When Molly and Cassie cause the head of the school kitchen staff to quit, they are placed in charge of the kitchen and can only end their service there when the food they serve is better than their predecessor's. Some of the recipes that Molly, Cassie, and their dessert chef,
SHAKESPEARE: THE WORLD AS STAGE: Bill Bryson: HarperCollins: Nonfiction: 2007
A new addition to the Eminent Lives series, Bryson’s book creates a fascinating context for William Shakespeare’s plays. Bryson admits early in the book that there are few known facts about Shakespeare himself. In fact, there is still a debate over whether or not William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays credited to him. Despite the lack of information, Bryson manages to create a quick-paced, thoroughly enjoyable read that gives readers insight into Elizabethan and early Jacobean England—the laws, the people, the customs, and the plays—which shed light on Shakespeare’s work and time.
This is a wonderful, short introduction to Shakespeare. A good companion volume is Jennifer Lee Carrell’s new suspense novel, Interred with Their Bones, which incorporates a lot of the same information Bryson supplies in a contemporary, fictional story.
Friday, December 7, 2007
Through letters, journal entries and contemporary writings, author Maureen Adams offers a unique perspective into the lives of Emily Bronte, Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf. These women, plagued by loneliness, depression, poor health and bouts of creative frenzies, often had only one fragile link that kept them grounded in the real world, their DOG. Each self contained chapter explores the life of one of these women giving us insight into how their dogs affected their daily lives, influencing them creatively, mentally, and socially. Whether running through the moors or living vicariously through their dogs, these “women/dog” bonds were life sustaining. This book fascinated me. I learned about the struggles these women endured, about routine daily life and what was culturally & politically “correct” behavior during this era. (Dog napping was a profitable business, lap dogs were the only acceptable house dogs, women did NOT write novels.) Although this is not a riveting page turner, it is a worthwhile read for teens and above especially if you are a literature lover, dog lover (or liker) or if you want to understand how animals can influence a human life. The reader on the Books On Tape version, Polly Stone, is quite listenable.
This is a delightful young adult coming of age story about Milly, who until refugee Pablo and his family enter her life, was an ordinary teen. There is something about Milly that attracts Pablo to her. Then Pablo’s mother notices how unique Milly’s eye color is. So begins Milly’s struggle to sort out and her quest to understand exactly who she is and where she fits into both her adopted and birth world. Written by Julia Alvarez, author of the popular novel “In the Time of Butterflies”, the ending is a bit schmaltzy but I enjoyed this easy read immensely and would recommend it to anyone.
Contrary to the title, this book is mainly about Galileo. Much information for the book however, came from letters that Suor Maria Celeste (Galileo’s eldest daughter) wrote to her father while she lived in a convent. Devoted to her father and his beliefs, she was his true supporter. There is a lot to be learned about 17th century life from this book: how feared the bubonic plague was, the control the Pope had over literature and science, how many incredible inventions and discoveries made by Galileo we still use today. I listened to the Recorded Books audio version. George Guidall is a wonderful reader and kept my interest even through the extremely dry and slow parts. The insight on Galileo’s life and the times he lived in make this a worthwhile read to anyone who enjoys history. I strongly recommend the audio version.
LAST HEROES: W.E.B. Griffin: G.P. Putnam: 1997: Fiction: 342 pages
I love it when I can learn and be entertained by a book at the same time. Such is the case with
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Genie Michaels has been dating a smart, good looking British professor for four years and she has always assumed it was just a matter of time before Hugh got over his commitment issues and asked her to marry him. So when his sappy, Nicholas Sparks-style novel becomes a best seller and Hugh proposes on live TV, Genie is overjoyed. Her joy soon turns to shock and distress when she learns that Hugh has actually proposed to some one else and is leaving Genie to explain the mistake to all their friends and family. Her best friend, Patty, suggests that she stop sleeping through life, waiting for her prince to find her and start enjoying life by pretending to be engaged and the perks that come with it. Genie is nervous at first to deceive the people she knows, but when she sees how interested and friendly people act towards her she soon embraces the hoax fully.
At first glance this is a predictable if still enjoyable novel, but Strohmeyer delves a little deeper into some of the issues single young women face today. For example, Genie’s parents aren’t willing to help her with a down payment on a house until she gets (pretend) engaged because they don’t believe life starts for a woman until she’s married (even though Genie is in her thirties).
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
If you know the man, you know his voice: cultured, aristocratic, slightly British and completely beautiful. Sidney Poitier--first black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. His autobiography explores the poverty of his early years on
A book filled with wisdom, truth, and great stories. It really was a spiritual experience as I listened to the story of his life, and the experience was made all the richer as he told it personally in his melodic voice. The only un-impressive element was his occasional use of offensive language. An Oprah Book Club selection and beloved by many, perhaps the inappropriateness is outweighed by his greater good. You decide.
Monday, December 3, 2007
Oskar Shell is an unusual nine year old. He’s a brainy kid who spends his time inventing interesting tools as well as writing to famous scientists. When his father dies on 9/11 after leaving 5 voicemail messages, Oskar turns his focus to his father’s death. Oskar meets a number of interesting characters along the way and wrapped in is a subplot of his Grandmother and Grandfather’s relationship and survival from the Dresden firebombing in WWII. The author experimented with visual modifications to the text and included photos and other artwork. This is a very moving story about personal relationships gained and lost. The ending and accompanying pictures will stay with you long after you finish the book.
Young Adult fiction
Feed meets The Scarlet Pimpernel in this flawed but fascinating story of a young girl who is "taken" or kidnapped in a society where rich kids live in fortress-like compounds, only venturing out into the "real" (read: poor) world with Glock-toting guards. Thirteen year old Charity Meyers has written a report about the kidnapping industry, and has undergone what-to-do-if-you-get-taken training in her school, so she is somewhat prepared when she is abducted by a sham doctor in a bogus ambulance. Her thoughts while she is waiting for her ransom to be paid reveal much about the divide in this futuristic society: the rich employ servants who are contractually obligated to reveal nothing about their personal lives and even to work under false names; rich kids are taken out of their compounds only occasionally to give their cast-off clothes to the poor kids or copies of the Ramiro Fortunate series, books about a poor Hispanic boy who does the right thing even when he could make his life easier by stealing or dealing drugs. What happens to Charity during the course of the narrative should be left to the reader to discover. Is Taken a bit heavy-handed in its message? are some of the situations improbable? is the ending somewhat difficult to believe? Yes, but . . . . Taken is a gripping, thought-provoking story about a terrible but completely plausible future, a story where the whole is much more than the sum of its parts, and which teens and adults should find hard to put down and harder to forget.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
When Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren, her mistress, are shut in a tower for seven years for Saren’s refusal to marry a man she despises, the two prepare for a very long and dark imprisonment.
As food runs low and the days go from broiling hot to freezing cold, it is all Dashti can do to keep them fed and comfortable. But the arrival outside the tower of Saren’s two suitors—one welcome, and the other decidedly less so—brings both hope and great danger, and Dashti must make the desperate choices of a girl whose life is worth more than she knows.
I loved this book! I really enjoy the way Shannon Hale tells stories. This book is loosely based on the Grimm Fairy Tale “Maid Maleen” and was just delightful. I loved how the characters developed and how the adventure continued up to the very last page. I would recommend this book to anyone!
Finance Guru, Suze Orman, is THE woman to see regarding all matters money. You might have seen her recent appearance on Oprah or on her own CNN talk show. And now she dispenses financial advice specifically to the fairer sex. Suze takes women through the basics of CD’s, money markets, trusts, and living wills. What she says is essential information for all women to know. Her mantra: People First, Then Money, Then Things.
The plus...it's not all scary financial mumbo jumbo. The book is easy to understand and I finally realize the difference between a traditional and a roth IRA--I think. Now that's talent.