Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Knife of Never Letting Go

THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO; Patrick Ness; Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2008;
Young Adult Fiction.

First you should know that this first book in the Chaos Walking series is a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers, equally as distressing as the movie serials I watched as a kid that left Batman at the bottom of the elevator shaft, or Pearl White clinging to a root on a sheer drop in The Perils of Pauline. Book 2 doesn't come out until September, so if you can't stand the heat until then, stay out of the kitchen. But I digress. When Todd Hewitt is a month away from turning 13 and becoming a man, in Prentisstown, on the planet New World, he discovers something unheard of (you will appreciate the irony directly). In New World, thoughts can be heard out loud; that is to say, men's thoughts can be heard out loud, women's cannot, and people can hear animals' thoughts and communicate with them telepathically. So when Todd and his dog ("The first things you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say.") go into the swamp looking for apples, they are astounded to find a pocket of silence--a place without Noise. From that moment, the action becomes breakneck and terrifying, as Todd's guardians (all the women in Prentisstown have mysteriously died) hustle him out the back door as soon as he comes home, giving him a little food and telling him to run as far and fast as he can.
Todd has only his mother's journal as a guide, and Ben's admonition to "warn them," but Todd can't read and he doesn't know whom to warn about what. With the wicked Mayor's minions and a crazy preacher in pursuit, Todd and Manchee run for their lives with death and destruction following, on the way meeting a girl who has survived the wreck of her scout ship, precursor to shiploads of new settlers. With the action, there is philosophy: how does one operate in a society where women's thoughts are secret and men's are not; where animals are known to be sentient beings. It is unclear why a people knowledgeable enough to build and operate spaceships start talking like hillbillies as soon as they reach a new world, or why living a simpler, cleaner life requires one to eschew formal education. These quibbles aside, this is a powerful, totally gripping read, the sequel very anxiously to be awaited.


Friday, February 27, 2009


EVERNIGHT: Claudia Gray: HarperTeen: 2008: Young Adult Fiction: 327 pages

Bianca has grudgingly moved with her teacher parents to the Gothic style Evernight Academy boarding school. There she is accepted but doesn’t feel like she fits in with the sleek, privileged rich kids. However, new to the school this year are a few scholarship students including handsome Lucas. Bianca is drawn to Lucas even though he doesn’t seem to want to make friends with anyone. Their friendship continues to develop, but is interrupted by dark secrets that forces Bianca to question everything she’s ever been taught.

If you’re looking for something similar to the Twilight books, then I would recommend reading this book. However, I found the story a little boring and the characters not all that likable.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Throne of Jade

THRONE OF JADE: Naomi Novik: Del Rey: 2006: Fantasy: 398 pages

In book one of the Temeraire series, His Majesty’s Dragon, Will Laurence, a British Naval Captain and his crew took over a French frigate returning from China with a rare Celestial dragon egg meant as a gift for Napoleon. The little dragon that hatched and bonded with Laurence is now fully grown and completely ensconced in the war effort against Napoleon. In book two, Throne of Jade, the Chinese empire has discovered their dragon egg did not make it to Napoleon and have sent an emissary to take Temeraire back to China. The only problem is that Temeraire refuses to go without Laurence.

Laurence, not wanting to part with Temeraire either, agrees to travel with him by transport ship to China. After an adventurous voyage, they arrive at the Chinese court where Laurence and his men see how the Chinese revere their dragons rather than treating them as beasts of burden as in England. Celestial dragons, the rarest of all, are companions to only the royal family and treated as princes themselves.

While trying to figure out how Laurence can remain a companion to Termeraire while lacking the proper royal bloodline, they get embroiled in a conspiracy that could harm the war efforts at home.

I would highly recommend reading this book. The characters are perfect. I find myself smiling every time Temeraire speaks. I also really enjoy the historical setting with just a touch of fantasy.



NEVERWHERE: Neil Gaiman: Avon Books: 1997: Fantasy: 337 pages

Richard Mayhew is just a regular guy with a corporate job and a bossy fiancé until one day while on his way to dinner with Jess or Jessica as his fiancé prefers to called, he notices a vagabond young girl laying on the street covered in blood. Richard can’t just leave her there so he takes her back to his apartment. There, the Lady Door recovers quickly and soon leaves Richard. What Richard doesn’t know is that by helping Door, he has plunged himself into her world, the world of London Below. Now Richard no longer exists in London Above.

Richard manages to track down Lady Door to try to find out how to get his life back but soon finds himself enmeshed in helping Door discover who murdered her family and is trying to kill her. Along the way they enlist the help of the Marquis de Carabas, a trickster who agrees to help people in exchange for a favor at a later date, and Hunter, a mysterious lady who hunts very lethal game.

As with everything I have read by Neil Gaiman, I am reminded what an excellent story teller he is. This book has great characters and the world of London Below is so imaginative, like when you learn why they really tell you to “mind the gap” on the subway.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

This Full House

THIS FULL HOUSE: Virginia Euwer Wolff: Bowen Press: Young Adult: 476 pgs.

In this highly anticipated (for me, anyway) conclusion to the Make Lemonade Trilogy, LaVaughn is in her senior year of high school. After informing her guidance counselor that she wants to apply to and attend the local university, he tells her about the WIMS (Women in Medical Science) program, an in-depth after-school class that teaches young women about the medical sciences. LaVaughn applies and is accepted into the program, adding to her already full days of working at the children’s hospital folding laundry, attending school, and babysitting Jilly and Jeremy, the children of teenage Jolly. After attending WIMS for some time, LaVaughn is struck by the similarities in characteristics and mannerisms of Dr. Moore, the program director, and Jolly. LaVaughn decides, while understanding it’s unethical, to do a DNA test to see if the two are related.

I have this tendency to be embarrassed for characters in books and movies and I cringed as I read about LaVaughn’s decision to perform the DNA test. I could see the far-reaching effects her actions might have and worried how they might hurt her. While LaVaughn does have to deal with the consequences of her actions, the book concluded on a hopeful note, bringing this well-written portrayal of a girl trying to escape the inner-city to an end.


The Bracelet

THE BRACELET: Jennie Hansen: Covenant Communications: 2005: Romance: 296 p.

The Bracelet is the first volume of The Bracelet series. Set in England in the mid-1800’s, the book is a fast-paced read featuring a villain, a beautiful orphan, a dashing seaman, and many harrowing escapes from danger. Early in the book, some of the glass stones in a tawdry bracelet are secretly replaced by precious gems. The unexpected fate of the bracelet sets the stage for the sequels – Emerald, Ruby and Topaz. Jennie Hansen has been writing LDS fiction since about 1993. LDS romance readers looking for clean books can completely trust Jennie Hansen and also find an inspirational boost.


Monday, February 23, 2009

A Girl to Love

A GIRL TO LOVE: Betty Neels: Harlequin Publishing: Romance: 217 pages.

British author Neels wrote this romance twenty-seven years ago. Perhaps because of that her leading lady is a throwback to "old fashioned" values. Neels is known for penning chaste romances. Although Sadie is twenty-something she's had little life experience outside her English village and even less experience with men. She proves just the antidote to the distrustful Oliver Trenthem, a television screen writer looking for quiet in the country. Gentle Sadie can not continue to occupy her small but beloved home when her grandmother dies. She has no secretarial or trade skills and no way to make a living. Oliver purchases her house as a writer's retreat and serendipitously hires on Sadie as housekeeper. Sadie soon gets to know the Oliver's domestic eccentricities and pampers him accordingly. Oliver begins to spend more time than he planned in the country and eventually reveals he has two small daughters. Sadie enthusiastically takes over the care of the daughters (after their incompetent nanny is written out of the story). Oliver, Sadie and the daughters revel in the domestic contentment provided by Sadie's excellent housekeeping and mothering talents.

I enjoyed this amiable romance even though plot and characterization are somewhat thin. Sadie is a surprisingly likable character. I found her a nice departure from the bumbling yet sassy material girls that take up so much space in today's chic lit and romance. That said I did wonder what Oliver and Sadie's eventual attachment would end up like. Sadie didn't bring much more to the relationship than her ability to make Oliver comfortable and provide him with a hot meal. My inner feminist bridled that Oliver didn't love Sadie for her sparking intellect and personality. But my inner pragmatist acknowledged that an older man like Oliver would appreciate such a girl as Sadie - calm, competent, and in charge of the domestic routine. My advice would be to not analyze too much and enjoy.


Girl, Hero

GIRL, HERO: Carrie Jones: Flux: Young Adult: 305 pages

Liliana looking for a real hero in her life to help her deal with starting high school, her mothers alcoholic live in boyfriend, a father who may be gay, and her sisters’ abusive husband turns to John Wayne for help. “Sure, he’s a dead movie cowboy, but at least the Duke knew about doing the right thing, about being a hero.”

This coming of age tale about a girl trying to find the hero in herself is written in conversational letter format to Mr. Wayne. For the subject matters it deals with, the language is pretty tame. I really enjoyed the authors writing style and using John Wayne as an imaginary mentor.


Housekeeping vs. the Dirt

HOUSEKEEPING VS. THE DIRT: Nick Hornby: McSweeney’s: Nonfiction: 153 pages

In this second collection of “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” columns from The Believer magazine, novelist Nick Hornby reviews the books he’s read each month in the same conversational and witty style familiar to readers of Hornby’s nonfiction. Of the three “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” compilations, this may be my favorite, although they are each enjoyable, easy reads with reading recommendations from an entertaining and interesting narrator.


Olive Kitteridge

OLIVE KITTERIDGE: Elizabeth Strout: Random House: Fiction: 270 pages

Loosely connected stories of the inhabitants of a small Maine town collectively present a narrative of Olive Kitteridge and her family. The extraordinary accomplishment in this novel is the author’s ability to portray Olive as an incredibly complicated character through her interactions with her family and neighbors, although she is sometimes only briefly mentioned in a particular story. At her son’s wedding, Olive steals one loafer from her daughter-in-law’s closet out of spite, she often speaks sharply to her husband and demonstrates her explosive temper, but she also weeps for a young, anorexic girl, offers support to the students in her classes, and daily visits her husband in a nursing home after a stroke leaves him disabled and unresponsive. Most of the stories are heartbreaking—a bride is left at the altar, a husband cheats on his wife—but somehow the affection between characters and their continued attempts to find happiness ultimately inspire hope.


Little Bee

LITTLE BEE; Chris Cleave; New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009; 266 pgs. Fiction

One of's Best New Books/February, Chris Cleave's Little Bee is a beautiful,
horrific story of a refugee Nigerian girl trying to find sanctuary and peace in England. Caught as a stowaway on a cargo ship, she is held in detention for two years and our story begins on the day she will be released, without documentation, to fend for herself. Most of the girls leaving detention have no place to go, but Little Bee has a contact--a husband and wife she met on the
beach in Nigeria. Succeeding chapters alternate between Little Bee's voice and the voice of
Sarah O'Rourke, the woman of the beach encounter. Little Bee arrives just in time for the husband's funeral, and becomes a surpisingly welcome but occasionally uneasy part of the household until events accelerate in an unexpected direction. The flyleaf at the beginning of the
book warns readers who wish to share the book not to tell what happens, and I won't, but Little Bee is a memorable character, the horrors of her experiences hinted at by the fact that in any new situation she immediately identifies ways to kill herself "in case the men come." With her beautiful voice and her wretched circumstances, Little Bee stands proxy in this book for the thousands of women whose lives are made bitter beyond belief by the coming of the men, lawless and inhuman.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Your Scandalous Ways

YOUR SCANDALOUS WAYS: Loretta Chase: Avon: 2008: Romance: 384 pages

James Cordier, a younger son of a British gentleman has spent a decade on the continent as a spy for King and Country. James is tired and just wants to return to England to marry a sweet, innocent young maiden. Before he can go home he must complete one last assignment. James must retrieve valuable letters that prove Lord Elphick, a candidate for Prime Minister, betrayed England. The problem is these letters are in the possession of Lord Elphick’s former wife, Francesca Bonnard who is now Europe’s most expensive and talented courtesan.

James tracks Francesca to Venice where after she is attacked in her gondola, he realizes that others are looking for the letters as well. Can James protect Francesca without revealing who he really is and convince her to hand the letters over to him?

Following the typical Romance formula James and Francesca want to hate each other, but they can’t help falling in love, and then once they finally admit to themselves that they are in love, the truth comes out.

I enjoyed this book well enough. There are a few detailed love scenes. If you are looking for a light read in the Romance genre then this book fits the bill.



CHAINS: Laurie Halse Anderson: Simon and Schuster: Young Adult: 320 pgs.

Set during the American Revolution, this is the story of two sisters that have grown up as slaves on a farm, and treated kindly. On the death of their owner they were supposed to be freed, but the will was hidden and they were sold to a rich couple from New York. The couple are loyalists and have no sympathy or kindness for their slaves and servants. After a devastating incident, the older sister decides to spy for the patriots. This is a wonderful, character driven story. Highly recommended.


The Dewey Decimal System of Love

THE DEWEY DECIMAL SYSTEM OF LOVE: Josephine Carr: New American Library: Romance: 272 pgs.

An uptight, celibate, cat lover librarian goes throughout her day working at the reference desk, and overseeing the staff of a large library. Long ago she decided that she liked being alone, and prefers life without a man. After a chance encounter with a charismatic orchestra conductor, she slowly realizes that her libido is not dead. In order to get closer to the conductor, she begins volunteering in the orchestra records room and runs across some expensive, first edition manuscrips. Various twists and turns and evil doings, and the story becomes a mystery that she must solve. It's wrapped up a bit too perfectly, but overall, this was a fun read.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lark and Termite

LARK AND TERMITE: Jayne Anne Phillips: Knopf: Fiction: 272 pgs.

This lyrical novel is the story of two siblings growing up in a small town in the 1950's. Lark and Termite are 1/2 sister and brother, with the same mother, but different fathers. Lark is in secretarial school and is taking care of Termite who is severely disabled. You gradually learn that their mother passed away and gave the children to her sister to take care of when they were very young. The story unfolds around the members of the small town circle that cares for and supports Lark and Termite, while alternating chapters follow the last hours of Termite's father's life as he dies in a conflict in the Korean War. This is an intense and poetic story that builds towards an exciting and unexpected ending.


Without Reproach

WITHOUT REPROACH: Janet Woods: Severn House Publishers, 2008: Romance, 219 p

Lauren closes the door on what had been her life—marriage to a charming, but philandering husband. Now that he’s dead she finds her marriage was even more of a sham than she’d realized. Scandal upon scandal reveals itself as she finds out that she was not his only wife, he has a child with the other woman and his “business” dealings ranged from the illegal to the utterly despicable. But the romantic suspense rises as Lauren and the Inspector investigating Charlie’s past life begin a fledgling love affair of their own.

The redeeming beauty in the story is the relationship that evolves between the leftover women in Charlie’s life: Lauren, his crotchety mother Betty, and Katie, his formerly unknown pregnant daughter from his first wife. As this odd family secrete themselves from the world in small cottage a relationship of necessity slowly grows into the loving bonds a family should share.

Although set in present day England the novel did not have a particularly British feel. A departure from her usual gentle historical fiction, perhaps Woods would have done well to stay with a more familiar genre.


The Lazarus Project

THE LAZARUS PROJECT; Aleksandar Hemon; New York: Penguin, 2008. 292pgs. Fiction

Like Joseph Conrad, Aleksandar Hemon came late to the English language, but writes like a fury anyway, with total command of metaphor and vernacular. Though it is beautifully written, The Lazarus Project is not easy reading. Brik, the narrator, is a Bosnian, exiled to Chicago by accident when fighting flared in his country. Married to a surgeon, he cannot seem to settle down to life; he loses a teaching job, contributes to the family income by writing an occasional column on immigrant affairs, and is unsettled and wishy-washy in the way that makes Hamlet the Prince of Denmark such a crazymaker. Tired of being a deadbeat, he applies for and receives a grant to write a book about the historical case of Lazarus Averbuch, an immigrant who arrived bearing a letter at the home of Chief of Police George Shippy on the morning of March 2, 1908, and was almost immediately shot to death as a presumed anarchist. From there on, what the flyleaf promises the book does not deliver; namely, a straightforward back and forth of Brik's search for information about Lazarus alternating with the writer's view of Lazarus' own story. Instead, we get the horror and injustice of Lazarus' story, and Brik wandering hither and yon through the Old Country with his friend Rora, photographer and storyteller. The Lazarus Project is brilliantly conceived and written, funny, heartbreaking, deeply annoying, profane--blasphemous, even, and once you get it in your head, you won't get it out.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pigs Don't Fly

PIGS DON'T FLY: Mary Brown: Baen Pub. Enterprises: Fantasy: 370 pgs.

When her mother suddenly dies, Summer is put out of her home without anywhere to go. With only a few coins for her dowry and a ring left to her by the father she never met, she decides to leave her village in search of a husband. After setting out, she finds that the ring enables her to speak with animals, and she begins to collect a rag-tag group of strays and injured animals, as well as one stunningly handsome but unfortunately blind knight who has amnesia. Summer decides to help her charges find their homes, but along the way she discovers that things are not always as they first appear...

This book was definitely entertaining. It has a lot of classic elements of fantasy, but at the same time isn't quite as serious - it has more fun than epic drama. It was definitely enjoyable, though I didn't realize there was a sequel and I was a bit disappointed when I finished and there were still a couple of loose ends. But I don't think it will be hard to find motivation to read the sequel.


Secrets of a Summer Night

SECRETS OF A SUMMER NIGHT: Lisa Kleypas: Avon Books: Romance: 375 pgs.

Four young ladies enter London society and decide to band together and use their feminine wit and wiles to find a husband for each of them - starting with Annabelle.
Annabelle Peyton, determined to save her family from financial disaster, is looking for a wealthy nobleman to tempt into making an offer of marriage. But Annabelle's most persistent admirer is the wealthy (though lower-class) Simon Hunt, who has made it clear that while he longs to make her his mistress, he will not offer marriage. Annabelle is determined to resist his unthinkable proposition, but she is also running out of options. Her friends, looking to help, conspire to entice a more suitable gentleman to offer for Annabelle, for only then will she be safe from Simon—and her own temptation.

This book is the first in a popular series known as the Wallflowers. It was a light, enjoyable romance. I thought I would never warm up to Simon when he had such tawdry intentions, but he redeemed himself to the point where I ended up liking him after all. This book has a few love-making scenes that you can skip over if you’d rather avoid them.


Warrior Rising

WARRIOR RISING: P.C. Cast: Berkley Sensation: Romance: 340 pgs.

The Goddesses Hera, Venus, and Athena have had it with the Trojan War, so they decide to get involved and bring the war to an end. Their main tactic: distract the legendary Achilles away from combat. Enter Kat, a modern girl from Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Goddesses pull Kat and her best friend from their time and deposit them in the bodies of a Trojan princess and her handmaid. The godesses have no doubt that Kat will capture Achilles's attention, but it's not going to be easy for her. Achilles struggles to control a powerful rage, and is fated to die at the end of the war. But not if Kat has anything to say about it...

This definitely isn't mythology. Rather, it's a boisterous fling with lots of sass and a couple of meaningful moments thrown in for good measure. Kat and her friend, Jackie, are both irreverently funny, especially as Jackie was black in her modern-day body, but her Trojan-war substitute is white - which she is not happy about. This book is #6 in the Goddess Summoning series, but I haven't read any of the others and didn't have a problem. Readers should know this book contains adult situations (and jokes, oh so many adult jokes).


Artichoke's Heart

ARTICHOKE’S HEART: Suzanne Supplee: Dutton Books: Young Adult: 276 pages

When she is almost sixteen years old, Rosemary decides she is sick of being overweight, mocked at school and at Heavenly Hair (her mother's beauty salon) and feeling out of control. She earns the unfortunate nickname “Artichoke” when she wears a green puffy coat to school. As Rosemary slowly loses weight, she realizes that she is able to cope with her mother's cancer, date her first boyfriend, and discover that other people's lives are not as perfect as they seem from the outside.

This was a great book about self discovery. Rosemary’s character really develops and changes throughout the course of this book. I enjoyed the way the book portrayed Rosemary’s self-esteem as the book progressed. I would recommend this book to girls struggling with weight issues or not. It was a great read.


Separate Beds

SEPARATE BEDS: LaVyrle Spencer: Jove Books: Romance: 392 pages

A blind date with Clay Forrester two months earlier has resulted in pregnancy for Catherine Anderson, a young college student whose alcoholic father sees the unwanted situation as a chance to make some money off the wealthy Forrester family. Catherine, however, wants nothing to do with Clay and must be persuaded to accept his offer of marriage, an offer extended only to save Clay’s reputation as he finishes law school and passes his bar exam and to provide financial assistance for Catherine and the baby. The Forresters whole-heartedly support the plan and arrange for a lavish wedding, unaware that Clay and Catherine plan to divorce soon after the baby is born.

Although this romance falls into some of the expected clichés, LaVyrle Spencer is an engaging author who writes emotionally well-developed characters and grounds her romance in a situation that examines familial relationships and friendships as well as the romance between Catherine and Clay. Readers who enjoy Separate Beds may also enjoy the teen novel Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, also about an unexpected pregnancy.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Big Book of Irony

The Big Book of Irony
By Jon Winokur
St. Martin's Press, 2007. 174 pgs. Nonfiction

With this fun, quick, and witty book, Jon Winokur has added a new volume to the annals of irony. The book is overflowing with clever quotes, jokes, and anecdotes all of which are examples of irony. This is the kind of book that can be enjoyed reading cover to cover, or just as random snippets. There's a lot of great stuff here, including a Catholic Cardinal surnamed Sin, the "Marlboro Man" who died of lung cancer, the B-36 Peacemaker nuclear bomber, and censorship of Ray Bradbury's book Fahrenheit 451. Under the heading of "Irony Deficiency," the author indicates that "Utah will never, ever be ironic."

Although thoroughly entertaining, I'd hoped to come away with a better grasp on irony, but even after all the examples & explanations, comparisons & contrasts, irony remains every so slippery of a concept. Maybe it's because I live in Utah.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Moonlight Becomes You

MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU: Mary Higgins Clark: Mystery: Simon & Schuster: 332 pages

Maggie awakens in a dark and unfamiliar place. She tries to move when she realizes that she is confined in a satin enclosure. Then it hits her, she is in a coffin and has been buried alive.

After this gripping first chapter, you won’t want to put it down. The story traces the steps to what would lead Maggie, a New York photographer visiting her step mother in Rhode Island, to end up in a coffin. The end wraps up a little too neat, which is characteristic of a Mary Higgins Clark book, but mystery fans will not be disappointed.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

What I Saw and How I Lied

WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED: Judy Blundell: Scholastic: Young Adult Fiction: 284 pages

Following WWII and her stepfather’s return from the war, 15-year-old Evie and her parents travel to Florida, where Evie falls for a young ex-GI, pulling her into a grown-up world of deceit that culminates in a boating trip that lands Evie on the witness stand for a murder trial.

This dark mystery and coming of age story won the National Book Award in young adult literature in 2008. It’s notable for its sense of time and place but it feels more like an adult novel than a teen story, not least because the circumstances around the murder remain a mystery and Evie’s world is almost entirely populated by adults whose actions force her to face adult ethical issues at a young age. Well-written but unsettling, this novel will likely most appeal to adult readers, although there’s no content that would be inappropriate for high school students.


The Secret of the Great Pyramid


Nine years ago, Houdin, a French architect, became obsessed with the mystery of how the Great Pyramid of Giza was built. For the first time, an architect, not an archaeologist, using a computer to create 3-D graphics of the interior of the pyramid, applied practical engineering concepts to imagine how it might have been built. The result was a stunning new idea about its construction. Houdin proposes that the Great Pyramid was built from the inside through the use of an interior ramp which corkscrewed up the pyramid. When the pyramid was finished the ramp was filled in.

This is a very fascinating book and is enhanced by photos and diagrams that help you understand the details of the construction of the pyramid. Some of the concepts are a little technical so I am looking forward to seeing the recent National Geographic special, Unlocking the Great Pyramid, which also presents Houdin’s theories.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Utah Curiosities


This unusual travel guide brought to you by the Insider’s Guide travel book series is definitely worth the read if you want to know about some of the stranger things you can find in Utah such as a giant cow hairball (who knew they had hairballs?) in the Hyrum Museum or want to learn about fascinating residents of Utah such as Kristin Murdock who makes clocks from shalacked cowpies.

This book also covers landmarks unique to Utah such as “Spiral Jetty” a curved stone jetty on the north end of the Great Salt Lake that extends 1500 feet into the lake. Spiral Jetty is encrusted with salt after being submersed in the lake for many years and is even visible from space.

In my quest to learn about all the fun things to do in Utah, I picked up this book and was thoroughly entertained. I even kept a whole group of strangers amused as I read sections out loud to my nieces one day as we waited in line for a movie.


The Temptation of the Night Jasmine

THE TEMPTATION OF THE NIGHT JASMINE: Lauren Willig: Dutton: 2009: Historical Fiction: 400 pages.

As with all of Willig’s historical spy novels, it begins with Eloise Kelly’s story, a modern day Harvard graduate researching flower named spies from the early 19th century. This time, Eloise has her own mystery or unearth, but as usual, her story is so brief, that the author can’t really give much plot detail.

The historical adventure unfolds as Eloise does her research. This time, it is Charlotte Lansdowne’s story. She is the best friend of Henrietta from The Masque of the Black Tulip who is also the sister of Richard Selwick, known as the Purple Gentian.

Book lover Charlotte has always longed for a knight in shining armor. When her very distant cousin, Robert, the Duke of Dovedale returns from India after a decade long absence, Charlotte thinks her dreams have come true. But after only a few passionate kisses, Robert abandons Charlotte to chase after Arthur Wrothan, a spy who always wears a sprig of Jasmine and who murdered Robert’s mentor in India. In typical Willig fashion, the women uncover their own conspiracy, a plot to kidnap the king, and get their own slice of the action.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this romantic historical adventure. My complaints are more about the series as a whole. I wish, Eloise’s story would evolve a little more quickly and I wish that Willig would focus more on past characters and stop introducing entirely new ones. It’s too confusing trying to keep up with every flower named spy.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

City of Thieves

CITY OF THIEVES; David Benioff; New York: Viking, 2008; 258pp. Fiction.

One suspects David Benioff's story of Lev Beniov in the Siege of Leningrad has a biographical component, especially since the story takes the form of a journalist interviewing his grandfather.
Lev's story begins presciently: "You have never been so hungry. You have never been so cold."
At seventeen, Lev refuses to leave Leningrad (of "Piter" from the pre-Communist St. Petersburg days) when his mother and sister flee because he thinks it is a man's duty to stand
and fight, and he is the commandant of the neighborhood fire brigade. When he and two friends break curfew to check out the body of a frozen German airman who has parachuted into their
neighborhood, Lev is arrested and would have been shot except that he and another young soldier are promised their freedom (and a ration card) if they can find a dozen eggs for the NKVD general's daughter within five days. Lev and Kolya's search inside and outside Leningrad is the basis for an extraordinary tale of courage, a growing friendship, the brutal vulgarity and preoccupations of a soldier's life; the horrors of starvation and of cannibalism; the humanity and kindness of the desperate and desolate. A good deal of gallows humor and a bittersweet ending add to the pleasure of this memorable, deeply touching narrative.


In Pursuit of the Gene: from Darwin to DNA

Harvard University Press, 2008; 370 pp. Nonfiction.

Schwartz's book presupposes a fair amount of knowledge of genetics, and will be a bit of a slog to the degree that one's brain has misplaced the principles of Heredity 101. However, there is still much enlightenment here, as Schwartz takes us way back past Watson and Crick to when Darwin and his cousin Francis Galton hoped to prove that genetic traits were transmitted through the blood, to the discovery of Gregor Mendel's published works and the battle royal over Mendelism vs. all other possibilities. One of the most interesting aspects of this book is its portrayal of scientific enquiry not as a united search for truth but as a kind of "I'm the King of Bunker's Hill" mentality which hopes to promote one's own views by pushing everyone else's off a cliff. In Pursuit of the Gene requires a paced and deliberate reading, but it is worth it.



KATHERINE: Anya Seton: Chicago Review Press: Fiction: 500 pages

In 1396 Katherine Swynford married John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, but the couple shared a long history together before their marriage. Katherine married a knight in John’s service at the age of 16 and shortly after the knight’s death, she became John’s mistress, bearing him four illegitimate children and working as a governess for his household.

This fictionalized account of John and Katherine’s well-documented love story spans decades, beginning with Katherine’s entrance into court life as a teenager, making for a long and sometimes slow-moving tale, but the events of Katherine’s life are fascinating and the book is steeped in the historical detail Anya Seton is known for.


The Poe Shadow

THE POE SHADOW: Matthew Pearl: Random House: Mystery: 367 pg.

A young idealistic lawyer, Quentin Clark, finds himself compelled to uncover the mysterious circumstances surrounding the recent death of Edgar Allan Poe. His inquiries quickly begin to interfere with his personal and professional life eventually placing his career, his fortune, and his entire future in peril.

Pearl has a beautiful writing style that easy draws the reader into the 19th century world where his story takes place. He relies heavily on historical facts and creates an intriguing story with a protagonist that is relatable and endearing. While I felt the narrative drag at times, the story as a whole kept me entertained and I felt the conclusion satisfied but didn't wrap things up too neatly (a personal pet peeve of many mysteries). I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or mysteries.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Lost on Planet China

LOST ON PLANET CHINA: J. Maarten Troost: Broadway Books: Nonfiction: 382 pages

Lost on Planet China has two revealing subtitles: the strange and true story of one man’s attempt to understand the world’s most mystifying nation OR how he became comfortable eating live squid. Troost is known for his hilarious adventures in far flung places and goes where most of us would never dare. Troost’s exploration of China from Shanghai to Tibet is an entertaining and readable introduction to almost everything Chinese. This is not a book of travel tips but there is plenty of “fair warning” here about the difficulties of travel in China. The telling is often earthy, but then so is China.


Oops...We're Married?

OOPS…WE’RE MARRIED?: Susan Lute: Silhouette: Romance: 184 pages

You may kiss the bride…Once she'd dreamed of those words, but Eleanor Silks Rose had grown up and kicked her crush on Dillon Stone like a bad habit. So why had she blushed as the widowed single dad touched his lips to hers during the mock ceremony? And when their charity dating-game wedding turned out to be real, why did she start dreaming she'd be Mrs. Dillon Stone forever?

Dillon was on a quest for the perfect wife, yet he'd never expected to be wed to an irresistible Eleanor! But, he didn't need passion; he needed a mother for his son. Could his accidental bride be the woman he'd been searching for to bring love and sizzle to his life?

This book was a really quick read. Although Dillon and Eleanor didn’t plan on actually getting married, they find themselves attracted to one another. This is a fairly clean romance that was the Reviewers’ Choice Nominee for Best Silhouette Romance in 2003. This is Susan Lute’s first and only novel to date.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Remember the Sweet Things


Ellen Greene married Marsh Greene late in her 30s after one failed marriage and another bad relationship that took a toll on her and her two children. With a somewhat pessimistic view toward love, Ellen began her relationship with Marsh planning to keep a list of his faults—a kind of good riddance list—to help her get through the break-up that she assumed would eventually part them, but she couldn’t find anything to put on the list. Marsh was kind and considerate, and Ellen changed her tactic, creating a “sweet things” list instead, noting down Marsh’s thoughtful actions and humorous quips, a list that she shared with him each year and that became the basis of her memoir of their life together. Ending each chapter with examples from the sweet things list, Ellen recounts the couple’s courtship, marriage, adventures living abroad, and family life in a moving and sweet, but not saccharine, tribute to her husband.


Monday, February 2, 2009

The Seduction of the Crimson Rose

THE SEDUCTION OF THE CRIMSON ROSE: Lauren Willig: Dutton: 2008: Historical Fiction: 385 pages

In current day England, Eloise Kelly continues her graduate research on early 19th-century spies in this continuation of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation series. Book four is the story of Mary Alsworthy who in book three (The Deception of the Emerald Ring) was jilted by Lord Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe when he accidentally eloped with Mary’s younger sister, Letty. Mary is understandably upset, but soon has a better offer to consider. Lord Vaughn, who may possibly by the nefarious French Spy, The Black Tulip, has asked her to spy for England in hopes of uncovering the real Black Tulip. Mary isn’t sure whether she is being played by Lord Vaughn or if he really is on the side of England, but either way she finds herself attracted to the enigmatic man.

This is by far my least favorite book in the series. Nothing much happens in the story and Mary and Lord Vaughn are both unlikable characters. I’ve still enjoyed the series as a whole, but I’m hoping book five will be better.