Friday, December 26, 2008

Nothing with Strings: NPR's Beloved Holiday Stories

NOTHING WITH STRINGS; Bailey White; New York: Scribner's, 2008; 193pgs. Fiction

I have laughed myself sick over some of Bailey White's early stories and essays in her books "Mama Makes up Her Mind," and "Sleeping at the Starlite Motel," but her new collection, "Nothing with Strings," is more sober, with stories of Alzheimer's, unkind and oblivious family members, and missed opportunities for happiness, given and received. White, a Southerner, has a fine ear for dialect and good eye for the lay and beauty of the land--one of the finest prose
stylists of our generation. "Nothing with Strings" is memorable and cautionary--don't not see what is there--don't not do what you can.


Monday, December 22, 2008

The Graveyard Book

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK: Neil Gaiman: HarperCollins: Young Adult:312 pages

After his family is killed by a man named Jack, Nobody Owens wanders into a cemetery and is adopted and raised by the ghosts who live there. Years later, Jack discovers Nobody in the cemetery and Nobody must use all the skills he’s learned in the graveyard to survive. This is a terribly fun story with an imaginative premise that remains light-hearted despite the fact that it revolves around the murder of a family.


Shakespeare Wrote for Money

SHAKESPEARE WROTE FOR MONEY: Nick Hornby: Believer Books: Nonfiction: 131 pages

In this compilation of novelist Nick Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” columns from Believer Magazine, Hornby lists the books he’s read each month and reviews them in an informal, conversational style, taking the occasional detour into a review of the British football (soccer) season. This is the third and final collection of “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column, following The Polysyllabic Spree and Housekeeping vs. the Dirt, and in each Hornby is a delightful companion with a wide range of interests that are reflected in his book selections. This last collection is especially nice, since Hornby finally discovered YA literature (with the publication of his own YA novel, Slam) and includes a number of contemporary YA classics in his last columns.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Finding Nouf

FINDING NOUF: Zoe Ferraris: Houghton Mifflin: Mystery: 305 pages

Finding Nouf tells of the mysterious disappearance of the daughter of a well-to-do Saudi family in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. Nayir al-Sharqi, a Palestinian desert guide and friend of the family tries to help locate the missing girl. He is aided in his search for the truth about Nouf’s disappearance by Katya Hijazi, who works in the state medical examiner’s office and is the fiancé of Nouf’s brother.

The author, who lived in Arabia for a year, has a very interesting idea: write a mystery set in an exotic and little known place, create a male/female investigative team and develop a relationship between them (and then, possibly, write more books featuring these two characters). Ferraris writes well, her descriptions of the Saudi landscape are wonderful and she gets many, many things right but too many impossible and unbelievable things happen in this book that, really, believe me, couldn’t have happened in Arabia (I lived in Arabia for nine years). Reading the book you’ll believe that you are gaining insight into the way people really live in Arabia and you are – but unless you’ve lived there it will be impossible for you to know when you are glimpsing life as it really is and when you are not. If you like mysteries set in exotic places you’ll want to read this one but …. remember, it is fiction.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Into the Dark

INTO THE DARK: Peter Abrahams: Young Adult: Laura Geringer Books: 300 pages

Ingrid is on the case again, but this time she has to prove that her Grandfather did not murder the local conservation agent who was found dead on his property. To prove his innocence, she has to dig into her grandfathers past and family secrets have to be revealed before it is too late.

Not as strong as the first book in the series, Down the Rabbit Hole, but if you are looking for a quick, easy mystery, Abrahams stories are a treat.


Monday, December 8, 2008

The Loser's Guide to Life and Love

THE LOSER’S GUIDE TO LIFE AND LOVE: A.E. Cannon: HarperTeen: YA Fiction: 256 pages

Ed works at a video store in Salt Lake and wears the nametag of a former employee, Sergio. In an attempt to impress Ellie, a beautiful girl who visits the store, Ed pretends his name actually is Sergio and that he’s from Brazil. Meanwhile, Ed’s best friend Quark falls for Ed’s other best friend Scout, who may have feelings for Ed but doesn’t want to hurt Ellie, who’s warmed up to “Sergio.” In a plot very loosely based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the four characters navigate their way through their complicated relationships in a quick but sometimes stale story. The references to Salt Lake are fun, but readers may enjoy the author’s earlier works more than this one.


Saturday, December 6, 2008


OUTLANDER: Diana Gabaldon: Delacorte Press: Romance: 627 pgs.

WWII nurse Claire Randall is suddenly hurled back 200 years when she visits an ancient circle of stones in Scotland. Her chief goal is to return to her own time, but she becomes entangled in local distrust between the Scots and the ruling English. The only way for her to escape being arrested and held by the English is for her to claim rights as a Scot – by marrying one. Claire is torn between surviving long enough to make it back to the circle of stones and her husband in 1945, and her growing attraction for the husband of her marriage of convenience in 1743.

Adventure and romance captivate in this series hailed for its outstanding characters and the relationships between them. Be aware that this book contains sexual situations, though you could skip to the next section of the chapter once you see them coming.


Anybody Out There?

ANYBODY OUT THERE?: Marian Keyes: William Morrow: 2006: Fiction: 456 pages

I went into this story expecting a chic-lit romance. It surprised me by being much deeper and emotional than expected. The story begins with Claire recuperating on her parents couch in Dublin. She is incapacitated with massive injuries, the reason for is not explained until well into the first half of the book. When the cause of her injuries are revealed it's a shock, and you as the reader feel something of the emotion she is dealing with.

Marian Keyes has an excellent way with character development and even the side characters are charming and well fleshed out. Along with the serious theme there is quite a bit of humor to balance the sadness.


Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table: A Collection of Essays from the New York Times

EAT, MEMORY: GREAT WRITERS AT THE TABLE; ed. Amanda Hesser; New York: W. W.
Norton and Company, 2008; 204pp. Nonfiction.

“Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table,” edited by Amanda Hesser, riffs on Nabokov’s
“Speak, Memory” to bring the reader stories by prominent writers about memorable food experiences. As Hesser suggests, “Food is the royal road to the unconscious” and “the most familiar and universal medium of our lives.” Some of these essays are sad, many are funny,
none is “sentimental,” as that was against the rules—in fact, it was the only rule. Julia
Child finds a prominent place here in “The Sauce and the Fury,” where she describes flunking her written exam at the Cordon Bleu because she skipped over the beginner’s pamphlet and went immediately to work on the high-end stuff (“Zut alors, and flûte!”). Ice cream lovers may
be undone by Colson Whitehead’s “I Scream,” where he tells the sad story of losing all interest
in that chilly dessert after three summers of making waffle cones and scooping “the nuclear green sludge of mint chocolate chip” at Big Olaf’s on Long Island. Although the texture and tone of each essay is different from the others, all are surpassingly well written. A tasty treat in more ways than one.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Keeper of the Grail

KEEPER OF THE GRAIL: Michael P. Spradlin: Young Adult: Putman’s Sons: 248 pages

When a troop of Templar Knights board at a monastery on their way to fight in the Third Crusade, Sir Thomas asks Tristan, a boy who was raised by the monks, to join them and be his squire. While in battle in the Holy Land, knowing they will soon be defeated, Sir Thomas tells Tristan to escape with the Holy Grail and bring it safely to Scotland, reminding him no one can be trusted, not even a fellow Templar.

This new series, The Youngest Templar, is a great read alike for those who enjoy John Flanagan’s Rangers Apprentice series.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Truth and Beauty: A Friendship

TRUTH AND BEAUTY: A FRIENDSHIP: Ann Patchett: HarperCollins: Nonfiction: 257 pages

Ann Patchett, author of the award-winning novel Bel Canto, and Lucy Grealy, author of Autobiography of a Face, roomed together as graduate students in Iowa and became fast friends, seeing one another through relationships, career changes, and Lucy’s neverending medical procedures. Patchett’s devotion to Lucy is evident as she recounts memories of her lively friend, even as Lucy’s behavior becomes self-destructive and she spirals out of control, abusing drugs and contemplating suicide. Reading about Lucy’s last year is difficult but Ann Patchett, as always, beautifully tells her tale and delivers a memoir overflowing with affection.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Best Game Ever

THE BEST GAME EVER: GIANTS VS. COLTS, 1958, AND THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN NFL; Mark Bowden; New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008; 239pgs. Nonfiction.

Most sports fans have favorite plays or games, but Mark Bowden argues convincingly for this pro football contest as number one in this fine volume of sports history. Bowden is a Colts fan and it is hard not to take his side in this book with its beguiling portraits of Raymond Berry, the guy with indifferent natural talent who studied his way into the record books, and Johnny Unitas and his nearly frightening ability to predict what would happen on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Even knowing how the game will turn out hardly lessens the suspense as the Colts, down three with scant minutes to go, drive towards field goal range and the first Sudden Death playoff in football history. But the greatest delight of this well-written book is in its stories and player profiles: Raymond Berry scouting the field before the game to find the wet and icy patches where his defenders might slip; NBC sending an employee onto the field in a fake drunken state when they lost their feed during the waning moments of the game and needed time to plug back in, and the Catholic novitiate where the nuns, forbidden to watch the game, draped a blanket over the TV and listened. In those days, pro football played a distant second fiddle to baseball in the hearts of American fans, and future Hall of Famers worked in steel mills and as insurance agents to supplement their skimpy football checks. The championship game of 1958 changed all that and Bowden tells the story oh so well.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Multiple Blessings

MULTIPLE BLESSINGS: Jon & Kate Gosselin: Zondervan: Non-Fiction: 201 pages

Infertility treatments, twins, more infertility treatments, followed by six beating hearts on an ultrasound screen. That sets up the Gosselins' memoir of the exhausting and joyous events surrounding the births of their now famous sextuplets. Those familiar with the TLC program Jon & Kate Plus 8 know how their household runs; now their story comes alive for readers as well. Kate admits, "I was a bit of a control freak," yet also quickly draws on and receives the "peace of God... like a security blanket" through her months in the hospital, Jon's job loss and the impending arrivals. Details such as how they chose names; the sextuplets' birth day of May 10, 2004; and the babies' weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit are fascinating, as are stories of running a household that was perpetually full of volunteers, looked like "baby base camp" and required carefully sequenced nightly bath time. The Gosselins' life is a whirlwind, with their book reflecting the fast-paced, faith-filled approach they take to raising their twins and their miracle sextuplets.

This was a quick, whirlwind read! I was impressed with the courage and faith of Jon and Kate as they have raised their children. I enjoy watching the show and seeing how they interact with each other and their children.


Final Warning

FINAL WARNING: James Patterson: Young Adult: Little Brown: 256 pages

The newest installment of the Maximum Ride series has Max and her flock of genetically engineered bird kids in Antarctica helping scientist do research on global warming. But being at the bottom of the world does not keep the flock from danger and once again a mad scientist wants to capture them to auction them off to the highest bidder to do evil.

Final Warning for me was a weak addition to a series that I really enjoy. I felt it was too much of a soapbox for the author about the environment than an adventure story.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bogus to Bubbly: An Insiders Guide to the World of Uglies

BOGUS TO BUBBLY: AN INSIDERS GUIDE TO THE WORLD OF UGLIES: Scott Westerfeld: Simon Pulse: Young Adult Nonfiction: 196 pages

A behind-the-scenes guide to the world of the Uglies series discusses its history, geography, technology, cliques, names, and slang.

Anyone who enjoyed the Uglies series will be interested in this exclusive guide to Tally’s world. Scott Westerfeld infuses this book with humor and deleted scenes. The book is fast paced and I enjoyed learning even more about the characters and environment of Uglies.


To Kill a Mockingbird

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: Harper Lee: Warner Books: Fiction: 296 pages

Between the ages of 6 and 9, Scout Finch has doubts about whether she wishes to grow up to be a lady. She much prefers the free, boyish life she enjoys with her older brother, Jem, and his friends. She also enjoys an open relationship with her widowed father, Atticus, a local attorney and perennial legislator. Though many of the family's adventures are told, Scout's life during these years centers on two events, her developing relationship with Boo Radley and her father's defense of Tom, a black wrongly accused of raping a white woman.

I first read this novel in high school and was excited to discover this story once again. I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed the novel a second time around. This classic is both humorous and thought provoking, serious and heartwarming.



NATION; Terry Pratchett; New York: HarperCollins, 2008. Young Adult.

One of the saddest bits of news I have heard in a long time is that the singular, peerless, irreplaceable Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. But if Nation becomes the last of his books to be published, it will be a powerful, fitting, and beautiful conclusion to a canon which has brought joy and laughter to many lives. In this story, Mau has left his island home to go to the Boys' Island where he must complete certain tasks before returning to his home island. As he goes back, a tidal wave sweeps under and over him, and then goes on to wash across the island drowning his family and friends as they wait to welcome him home as a man. At first Mau gives all the bodies to the sea, and is only saved from seeking the deep himself by the appearance on the island of a ghost girl, one of the trouser people whose ship has washed ashore with her the only survivor. Together Mau and Daphne reestablish a society, a culture, a village on the island, as other survivors find the place and need their care. A bare bones recounting of plot says nothing about the lovely pas de deux between science and religion that fills these pages, or the trademark Pratchett jokes and witticisms, or the deep understanding of human nature and the natural world with which the story is redolent. Nation is a powerful, unforgettable book with a bittersweet ending, in more ways than one.


Monday, November 17, 2008

The Whiskey Rebels

THE WHISKEY REBELS: David Liss: Random House: Fiction: 525 pgs.

Ethan Saunders was a spy for General Washington’s army until incriminating documents framed him as a traitor. In the ten years that followed he sunk into drunkenness and self-loathing, losing the love of his fiancé and the respect of almost everyone he knows. Joan Maycott and her husband have lost everything several times because of the greed and manipulation of speculators and government representatives. She blames Hamilton and his unfair whiskey task for the financial ruin she faces. These two characters find themselves embroiled in schemes and deceptions centered around the newly founded Bank of the United States and the countries emerging financial market.

There are two things I love about David Liss’s novels. I always fall a little in love with his heroes and their shady backgrounds, cavalier attitudes, and their snarky comments. I also find it fascinating how he can take current financial concerns and show them in the context of earlier times…demonstrating that history does, in fact, repeat itself.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Al Capone Does My Shirts

AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS: Gennifer Choldenko: Puffin: 2006: YA: 240 pgs

As a 12 year old boy, Moose Flanagan is not happy when he is told by his father that they will be moving to Alcatraz Island so that his father can be the island Electrician. Once there, Moose ends up having to care for his autistic sister who often causes problems with her unpredictable behavior. In addition, the warden’s daughter entices Moose to participate in a money making scheme that if caught, could cause his father to lose his job. Moose continually struggles with wanting to enjoy himself and his deep love for baseball, and needing to grow up and take care of his sister and family. There is wonderful character development here, and it would be a great recommendation for any boy who isn't necessarily into Historical Fiction.



NIGHT: Eli Wiesel: Hill and Wang: Biography: 120 pgs.

This memoir recounts Eli Wiesels experiences as a young teenage boy during the Holocaust. It includes his time in a small ghetto in Hungary, his transportation to Auschwitz, his days in the Buna labor camp and the forced march to Buchenwald before it was liberated in April of 1945.

This is a book I had been meaning to read for a very long time but I found it hard to actually pick it up because I knew the subject matter would be difficult to get through. There were many heart-breaking scenes that brought the true horrors of the Holocaust to life. This is an important book that everyone should read.


Well of Ascension

WELL OF ASCENSION: Brandon Sanderson: Tor: Fantasy: 590 pgs.

This is the second book of the "Mistborn" trilogy. It continues the story of the the Final Empire with the establishment of a new government. Although it was long, I read it quickly, or I should say, I put off a lot of other things in order to read the book.

The story had many twists and turns and the characters were great. It did drag just a little for me as it talked about the theories of government and there was a lot of fighting and carnage, but I still loved it. For a second book in a trilogy I felt it did a good job of developing the characters and moving the story along. There was not as much closure at the end of the book as there was in "Mistborn" so I'm glad the third book "Hero of Ages" is already published. A great recommendation for any fantasy reader and even some that aren't.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits


“A Christmas Carol,” through its thousands of retellings, adaptations, and productions, has become part of “the DNA of Western civilization.” (Man Who Invented Christmas, page 196) The centerpiece of this engaging book is certainly the story of the creation of “A Christmas Carol.” But the book is also an absorbing and readable biography of Charles Dickens and is filled with interesting facts about the history of Christmas, the history of publishing and of Dickens’s other novels. Who knew that the geese raising industry in England was sent to near ruin by “A Christmas Carol”?

Like Dickens “A Christmas Carol,” Les Standiford’s book about Charles Dickens’s most famous book was published just in the nick of time for Christmas, making it a great option for gift giving or for reading pleasure during the season.


Ruins of Gorlan

THE RUINS OF GORLAN: John Flanagan: Young Adult: Philomel Books: 249 pages

All his life, Will wanted to be a knight despite his size, but when he turned 15 years old and was rejected by battleschool, he becomes the reluctant apprentice to the mysterious Ranger Halt. Soon Will learns that becoming a ranger for the king is more difficult, dangerous, and worthwhile than he had imagined and that the skills of a ranger come naturally to him.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, as well as it sequels. I would recommend this series to teen guys and adults who want a quick adventure.


The Black Tulip

THE BLACK TULIP: Alexandre Dumas: Fiction: Oxford University Press: 236 pages

A tulip fancier in 17th Century Holland, seeking to grow the black tulip is unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to death having associated with an enemy of the State. When his live is spared, he finds new hope in the love of the jailers’ daughter Rosa who helps him fulfill his dream and plants the black tulip that he has cultivated.

It took a while for me to get into the story, but in the end I too wanted to know the fate of the Black Tulip. A short read as classics go, but I would not recommend it to a reluctant classic reader.



FOUNDLING: D. M. Cornish: Young Adult: Putman’s Sons: 434 pgs

Having grown up in a home for foundlings and possessing a girl's name, Rossamund gets assigned to his new job as Lamplighter- lighting the highways of Half-Continent to protect the citizens from evil. Rossamund wants to see adventure and fight the nickers and bogles so he too can bear the mark of the Monster Blood Tattoo but agrees to his appointment and sets on his way to training camp. But getting there becomes an adventure in of itself as he meets up with Miss Europa, a fulgar (one who can release immense charges of electricity), who battles the monsters.

In this first book of the Monster Blood Tattoo series, the author has done a wonderful job creating a new world in the style of J.R.R. Tolkien. In the back of the book there is the Explicarium- a massive glossary, maps, and illustrations to help the reader understand the world of Half-Continent. Even if you listen to the story, as I did, the author does a wonderful job describing the new world that you understand without the need of the Explicarium.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Adoration of Jenna Fox

THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX: Mary E. Pearson: Henry Holt & Company: Young Adult: 265 pages.

When she wakes up from a yearlong coma, 17-year-old Jenna Fox can remember nothing and must reconstruct her life and sense of self from what others tell her. But are they to be trusted? The people who claim to be her parents . . . well, ARE they? And what is the meaning of the strange, contradictory memories Jenna keeps having?

I was intrigued by the premise of this book. I enjoyed figuring out with Jenna what her life was like in the past and what it is to be in the future.


The Hero of Ages

THE HERO OF AGES: Brandon Sanderson: Tom Doherty Associates: Fantasy: 572 pgs.

‘The Hero of Ages’ is the third and final installment of Brandon Sanderson’s ‘Mistborn’ trilogy. It seems that many trilogies start off really strong, with the second book seeming to be just a tool to get from here to there, and finally the third book can either bring it all together or leave you disappointed. I totally did not feel that with this trilogy. Each of the three portions continue the story in an interesting and gripping way.

Sanderson has created an intriguing world filled with vibrant and relatable characters. I will admit that at times I skim sections of theoretical musing, but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed it and whole heartedly recommend the series to anyone who enjoys fantasy.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008


CHALICE: Robin McKinley: G. P. Putnam's Sons: Fantasy: 263 pgs.

Mirasol has a woodlot in her demesne, Willowlands, where she also raises bees. When the current Master and Chalice of the demesne die, Mirasol is chosen to be the new Chalice (the Chalice, who is second in the Circle, binds the Master and the demesne together). Confused, lost, and bewildered by this turn of events, Mirasol struggles to learn her new duties and to work with the new Master, a former Elemental priest of Fire, who was called back from his priestly life when his brother, the old Master, died. The new Master is not quite human and the people are frightened by him. Mirasol is not scared of him, but is determined to help him bind himself to the demesne and the people. She works her power with the help of and honey from her bees. Mirasol journeys the entire demesne to try to save it and the Master when the Overlord of the demesne challenges the Master’s fitfulness to serve.

This well-written book is so different from any other that I have read recently and is beautiful. I was drawn into it and didn’t want it to end.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Out Stealing Horses

OUT STEALING HORSES; Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Anne Born; New York: Picador, 2007(?): Fiction: 238pp.

“Out Stealing Horses,” Per Petterson’s lyrical, luminous novel of a Norwegian boyhood as viewed from older age was chosen by the “New York Times Book Review” as one of the ten best novels of 2007, and is richly deserving of the honor. Trond Sander retires in his late 60s to a broken-down country cottage, hoping for the solitude and contemplation he has long desired. But the beauty of the countryside and a chance meeting with a neighbor who figured prominently in his past bring vividly to mind a particular day in his youth when he and his friend Jon went out “stealing” horses, and all that followed from the tragic events of that day. Petterson’s prose has the depth and movement of a big, slow river, everything developing as it should, character and circumstance pooling, circling, and rippling in his profound revelation of nature, family, felt loss, and love, leading to a breathtaking final sentence. “Out Stealing Horses” in the original Norwegian must have been stunning; Anne Born’s English translation is beautiful.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers
By Alexander Dumas
Viking, 2006. 704 pgs. Fiction

This is an admirable adventure story with which most everyone is familiar; however, if you’ve never read the book, you’re not really familiar with the story. The plot is intricate with numerous twists and turns. Although Dumas spends time developing characters, it feels like the story never slows down.

Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan possessed more honor and morality than I had expected after seeing their depictions on the silver screen. There are several characters that never made it to the film versions, including the Musketeers’ servants. The four servants play critical roles in the success of the Musketeers. I recommend this recent edition with its highly readable translation.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Faberge's Eggs


Easter, beginning in 1885, the Russian Czar presented his wife with a fabulously jeweled egg. Elegant and simple in external design, inside was an elaborately crafted surprise. It was the first, but it began a rich tradition that ended only with the fall of the Romanov dynasty. And it was Carl Faberge—master jeweler—who created the treasure.

Faber describes the rise of the House of Faberge, each egg’s intricate detail, intimacies of Romanov family life, the historical turmoil of the late Romanov rule and it’s revolutionary aftermath. The book follows the story of each precious egg, from early inception to its present whereabouts in the world today. Nice readability of the world famous icons.

The only downfall is the luster-lacking photos. A book dedicated to describing these loveliest of object d’arts should have included photos in greater quantity, of better quality and in larger detail. An oversight hard to understand.


This I Believe


The 2nd installment from the nationwide essay project sponsored by NPR. American citizens of all ages and creeds were asked to write and submit a brief statement that focused on the single most important belief they hold. The project produced a mélange of essays that include a breadth of life experience. And the editors have compiled a choice selection, from middle school students to Yo-Yo Ma and Robert Fulghum--who believes in...Dancing!

The essay I found most poignant was that written by “Interrogator”—an unidentified female who worked as such at Guantànamo Bay, Cuba. Her essay focused on redemption and delivers an overwhelming message. Illuminating, inspirational, and thought-provoking—a book to restore your faith in Americans(who often become lost and misrepresented in a sea of pop culture). A true tribute to the good that still exists.

BONUS. In the back is a section that helps readers start their own ‘This I Believe’ project--with school, community or other entity. Watch out family, this year our family reunion is going to entail some writing.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Just Breathe

JUST BREATHE: Susan Wiggs: Mira: Romance: 470 pages

With Chicago --- and her marriage --- in the rearview mirror, cartoonist Sarah Moon flees to the small northern California coastal town where she grew up. As she comes to terms with her lost marriage, Sarah encounters a man she never expected to meet again: Will Bonner, the high school heartthrob she'd skewered mercilessly in her old comics. Now a local firefighter, he's been through some changes himself. But just as her heart is about to reawaken, Sarah discovers she is pregnant. With her ex's twins.

This book was a quick and compelling read for most of the book. I felt like the ending was tied up a little too neat, too quick, but other than that I enjoyed this story. The language in this book isn’t squeaky clean. Comic strips are scattered throughout the book which adds to the character of the book.


Thursday, October 30, 2008


GRACELING; Kristin Cashore; NY: Harcourt, 2008; Young Adult: 471 p.

The citizens of the Seven Kingdoms are either regular folk or Graced--endowed with a particular skill or ability that sets them above and apart from their fellows. Katsa, niece of King Randa and princess of the realm, is graced with the ability to kill and maim. Her uncle trains her and then requires her to be his Enforcer--to bully and threaten his neighbors into giving him whatever he wants. Katsa tries to make up for what she has to do by doing what she wants to do--she forms a secret Council to try to redress the wrongs she is forced to commit and then finally defies the king and leaves the castle with a prince of the Lienids who is searching for his grandfather's kidnapper. Their adventures as they race to stop the man with the most terrible of all Graces are the stuff of this sparkling adventure/romance/fantasy, a ripsnorting read from first to last (with just a bit of a bog-down, adventure-wise, in the center section). Katsa and Po are a remarkable couple who, unfortunately, give short shrift to the sacrament of marriage, but who do love one another as soul mates should.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008



A brief read unfolding Sarah Palin’s personal and political highlights. Written by a decided Palin proponent, the author is confident that nothing should keep her out of a Republican White House. The book portrays Palin as tough, intelligent, family-centered and intolerant of corruption—always ready to take a stand when those in power have misused their influence. A nice overview to Palin's character and political experience, yet without supplying any defense against the complaints the opposition has lodged against her. A highlight for me was the picture of her at age 2 holding a giant crab. Now that's a woman who isn't afraid of taking on the bad guys.


Tomorrow, When the War Began

TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN: John Marsden: Young Adult: Houghton Mifflin: 286 pages

Seven Australian teenagers return from a camping trip in the bush to discover that their country has been invaded and everyone in their town imprisoned. They decide that surrendering is not an option and head back to the bush to plan what they are going to do- sit out the war until they are rescued or fight back.

This book is an edge of your seat reading. Never knowing who the enemy is invading makes the story timeless and more realistic. YALSA picked it as one of the best 100 books from 1950-2000.


Monday, October 27, 2008


SWEETHEARTS: Sara Zarr: Little, Brown: Young Adult: 217 pages

Jennifer and Cameron are elementary school outcasts and best friends. At age nine, Cameron disappears and Jennifer believes he’s dead. Eight years later, Jennifer has transformed herself into Jenna, beautiful and popular and full of self-doubt that begins to spiral out of control when Cameron suddenly reappears in her life, asking her to return to a scene of abuse from their childhood. This is an interesting character study that nicely examines school and family dynamics without necessarily providing a resolution that ties everything up with a definite ending and lesson learned. Instead, readers are given a thought-provoking snapshot of a teen life.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Importance of Being Married

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING MARRIED: Gemma Townley: Ballantine: Romance: 337 pages

Jessica Wild befriended Grace, an elderly woman who desperately wanted Jessica to find love, in her grandmother’s nursing home. In order to appease Grace, Jessica invented a romance with her boss, Anthony Milton, and the story grew until Grace believed Jessica and Anthony were married. Now Grace has died and left her four million pound estate to Jessica, but the will specifies that Jessica Milton inherits, meaning Jessica has just 50 days to seduce and marry her boss, if she wants to claim the inheritance.

The requisite struggles, misunderstandings, and mishaps found in all chick lit stories are fresh and fun as Jess works against time to win over Anthony while delaying meetings with the solicitor who believes she’s already married. While there is some strong language in the story, there’s no graphic sex, making this a good selection for readers who like gentler chick lit.


Monday, October 20, 2008

My Mother the Cheerleader

MY MOTHER THE CHEERLEADER: Robert Sharenow: Laura Geringer Books: Young Adult: 288 pages

Thirteen-year-old Louise Collins’s mother, Pauline, is a cheerleader, one of the angry women picketing the integration of schools in New Orleans and harassing Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to enroll in the local elementary school. When Morgan Miller arrives from the North and stays in the Collins’ boarding-house, his presence angers the Ku Klux Klan, challenges Louise’s worldview, and exposes Pauline’s greatest secret. Historical fiction readers will thoroughly enjoy the story and book clubs will find plenty to discuss in this well-written and important book.


The Forever War

THE FOREVER WAR; Dexter Filkins; New York: Knopf, 2008; 368p. Nonfiction.

The Forever War
is agonizingly beautiful, so deftly and compassionately written with
the authority of one who has risked and ruined his life in pursuit of sharing the truth about
the endless wars of the Middle East. Filkins, overseas correspondent for The New York Times,
writes tellingly and firsthand about Marine firefights, Iraqi doctors watching babies die for
lack of electricity to incubators, children running heedlessly through minefields to cadge a stick of gum, a widow drinking the blood of her husband's killer. Filkins pushes no agenda except the powerful wish for things to be different--American troops are portrayed with affection and deep regard. He does convey the lamentable fact that if the United States leaves Iraq and Afghanistan, all will be lost, and if we stay, all will be lost as well. One of the great war narratives of this or any age.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Washington's Crossing

WASHINGTON’S CROSSING: David Hackett Fischer: Oxford University Press: 2004: 564 pages: nonfiction

This is an excellent history of the hazardous crossings of the Delaware by the Continental Army and state militias under George Washington in late December of 1776. The author does an excellent job of combining the human stories of these eventful days with the tactical and strategic ramifications of the winter campaigns that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War through victories in Trenton and Princeton. The contrast between the leadership styles of the American, British and Hessian armies is highlighted as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each group. The book also gives very interesting insight into the problems Washington experienced trying to lead so many independent groups and how his leadership style developed. The war was an excellent training ground for a future first president of a new nation with a new kind of government.

I highly recommend this book to everyone, but especially to all of those who have forgotten what little they ever knew about the Revolutionary War. Fischer proves that in depth analysis is not incompatible with a readable book.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hattie Big Sky

HATTIE BIG SKY: Kirby Larson: Delacorte Press: Young Adult: 289 pages

Toward the end of WWII, orphan Hattie Brooks travels to Montana to farm the 320 acre claim her uncle left her. Fulfilling the requirements to keep the land proves difficult, though, and navigating the social and political effects of the war is even more difficult, as Hattie befriends a woman and her German husband.

This Newbery Honor book was inspired by the author’s great-grandmother and is based on extensive research. Touching portraits of friends and neighbors and Hattie’s own struggle to do right by others creates a warm story full of heart.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Hunger Games

THE HUNGER GAMES; Suzanne Collins; New York: Scholastic, 2008; 374p. Young Adult Fiction.

Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” is the first book in a series about a dystopian future where the governments of North America have disintegrated and then reformed into Panem, a constituency of 13 districts harshly controlled by a group of conquerors in the Capitol. Each year the Capitol mounts the Hunger Games, in a sort of “The Lottery” meets “The Most Dangerous Game,” and each District must “randomly” select a young man and a young woman to fight to the death with young people chosen from the other districts while the rulers of Panem watch. Katniss Everdeen has put her name into the lottery extra times to get food credits for her family, but when her little sister Prim is the selection, Katniss takes her place. What follows is an ingenious, terrifying, heartbreaking, vividly atmospheric exercise as Katniss must survive by wit and skill as she watches enemies and friends fall to each other and to the cruel ingenuities of the Capitol spectators, and, as she and the boy who cares for her move relentlessly towards a final confrontation. The bad news is that “The Hunger Games,” fizzles at the end, with a potential romantic dilemma only partially played out, and an implied threat from the Capitol-ists in the distant background. The good news is, there will be a sequel in which, we hope, this compelling premise plays out to a satisfying conclusion.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Hide & Seek


Wendy Aron had suffered from depression and low self-esteem for most of her life. In this memoir she recounts how she began to overcome these obstacles. The process seems to be kick-started when she discovers that her long time therapist may move away. Her resulting panic leads her to a series of self-help education classes and seminars which eventually empower her to move beyond her difficult childhood.

I had hoped this book would be a lot funnier than it was. Don’t get me wrong, there were humorous moments and the book is well written and quick to read, but I didn’t feel I was entertained like I had been anticipating. That, I believe, is the danger of including the word “hilarious” in your subtitle….it builds an expectation which is very difficult to fulfill.



IMPOSSIBLE: Nancy Werlin: Dial Books: Young Adult: 376 pages

The Scarborough women are cursed. At age 18, they give birth to a daughter and then go mad unless they can complete the three impossible tasks laid out in the song “Scarborough Fair.” None of the women have ever succeeded in completing the three tasks, but Lucinda, the latest Scarborough to find herself pregnant, resists her fate, relying on her foster parents and her childhood friend Zach to help break the curse.

Although the story set up felt awkward, the premise of this novel is clever and the blend of fantasy, romance, and suspense in a modern setting will appeal to a wide variety of readers.


Friday, October 3, 2008

City of Bones

CITY OF BONES: Cassandra Clare: M.K. McElderry Books: 2007: YA: 485 pgs.

City of Bones draws heavily on books liked Wicked Lovely, Blue Bloods, and Harry Potter. The story begins with a young girl who is living a relatively normal life with her mother. Suddenly her eyes are opened to the fantastical world of creatures that inhabit the city around her after she witnesses a demon murder. When her mother is kidnapped she is drawn into their world and fights as one of them. This was an enjoyable, quick read, but by no means original.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Antsy Does Time

ANTSY DOES TIME; Neal Shusterman; New York: Dutton's, 2008; 247p. Young Adult Fiction.

Great news! Antsy Bonano is back, with many of the same goofball friends (and longsuffering family) as we grew to know and love in "The Schwa was Here." In this story, Antsy makes a new friend--Gunnar Umlaut, a doleful Swede, who works with Antsy on a school project to recreate the Dust Bowl in Gunnar's back yard. Gunnar suffers from a terminal disease so Antsy heads up a drive to get fellow students and teachers to donate time from their own lives to lengthen Gunnar's. He also gets a chance to hone his water-pouring skills in his father's new French-Italian restaurant, Paris/Capische. As usual, Antsy's laugh out loud adventures have the serious undertone of a young man learning to get along in the world and to become his best and truest self.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Soon I Will Be Invincible

SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE: Austin Grossman: Pantheon Books: Sci-Fi: 287 pgs.

This book is written from two different perspectives. First, Doctor Impossible - evil genius, diabolical scientist, wannabe world dominator - who waits in a federal detention facility. Even though he's under massive security, he's already planning his next move. He's already tried to take over the world in every way imaginable. But this time it's going to be different.

Fatale is a rookie superhero on her first day with the Champions, the world's most famous superteam. She's a cyborg: skin and chrome, a gleaming technological marvel built to be the next generation of warfare. Unfortunately it falls to her to fill the void of a fallen member of the Champions while coping with her own damaged past.

This novel is catnip for comic book lovers and fans of classic superhero stories: Batman, Superman, etc. It pokes a bit of fun at the genre while indulging in it a bit. I really loved Doctor Impossible's character, he's observant, keenly thoughtful and intelligent, but he won't hesitate to shout out, "You'll never stop me, fools!" A fun read.


Number the Stars

NUMBER THE STARS: Lois Lowry: Houghton Mifflin: Young Adult: 137 pages

In 1943, during the German occupation of Denmark, ten-year-old Annemarie learns how to be brave and courageous when she helps shelter her Jewish friend from the Nazis.

I remember reading this Newberry Award Winner when I was younger and enjoying it. Again I was engrossed in this story of the Holocaust and the bravery Annemarie and her family displayed.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Son of the Shadows

SON OF THE SHADOWS: Juliet Marillier: Tor: Sci-fi: 462 pages

Liadan of Sevenwaters is a healer, caring for her dying mother and considering a marriage proposal from Eamonn, a neighboring landowner with whom Liadan’s family needs to maintain strong ties for protection. When Liadan is abducted by the Painted Man’s mercenaries to save the life of an injured man, she falls in love with Bran, Eamonn and her family’s greatest enemy.

This is the second book in the Sevenwaters Trilogy, but I read it without being familiar with the first book and thoroughly enjoyed it. History, romance, and fantasy combine to make an addictive read.