Tuesday, January 30, 2007

New Moon

NEW MOON: Stephenie Meyer: Little, Brown Young Readers: Young Adult: 576 pages

This is the sequel to Twilight. After recovering from her near-fatal vampire attack at the end of Twilight Bella and Edward are spending more and more time with Edward's family. After an accident which spills Bella's blood Edward and his family decide that the only way to truly protect Bella is for the Cullens to leave. Once they leave Bella is devastated and spirals into a depression. She eventually comes out of it after renewing her friendship with Jacob and his family. She soon finds that they are not what they seem, and even though Edward is gone she is still dealing with supernatural beings. This was every bit as exciting as the first book, and the anticipation of wondering if she will see Edward again makes it a quick read. I was left eagerly awaiting the conclusion to the series. It was a clean read.


Monday, January 29, 2007

13 Steps Down

13 Steps Down: Ruth Rendell: Crown Publishers: Mystery: 340 pages

Mix Cellini, moves to the Notting Hill district in London just to be near where the infamous serial killer, Reggie Christie, use to live, with whom he is obsessed with. Mix seems to be a normal guy until one day at work he sees Nerissa Nash, a supermodel, and Mix knows that once they met that she will fall in love with him. So he thinks up of scenarios of how they can run into each other to make his dream a reality.

13 Steps Down was named one of the Top Ten Audio Mysteries of 2005 by Booklist, so I decided to give Ruth Rendell a try. I was not disappointed. If a writer can make you hope that the killer will not get caught, they are worth reading. A cozy it is not, but there was still a limited amount of language and sex mentioned for a psychological thriller.



TWILIGHT: Stephenie Meyer: Little, Brown and Company: Young Adult: 498 pgs.

Seventeen year old Bella Swan has decided to move from Phoenix to Forks, WA - a tiny, damp town in the Olympic Peninsula. She's not excited, but doesn't want to go to Florida with her mom and her new husband. Klutzy Bella just wants to blend in, but that becomes impossible when she meets Edward Cullen, a beautiful, unusual "junior" and his "adopted" brothers and sisters. Bella doesn't know what to make of Edward - his moods and attitude towards her change regularly. Gradually Bella discovers the truth about the Cullen family - they're vampires, but unusual ones. This coven only feeds on animals, not humans. The attraction between Edward and Bella is hard to resist, but the knowledge that it could be dangerous tempers it. When an outside danger to Bella arrives on the scene, emotions and feelings become more apparent, and she becomes an important part of the "family".

This has a bit of a slow start, but after the first 100 pages, it was hard to put down! The vampire background and the characters actions and reactions are believable - no "you've got to be kidding" moments. The ending left me anxious to read the sequel. Clean in language and romance.


Friday, January 26, 2007

The Fairy Godmother

THE FAIRY GODMOTHER: Mercedes Lackey: Luna: Fantasy: 417

In the Five Hundred Kingdoms, Elena becomes a fairy godmother when her own story (Cinderella) doesn't work out, because the prince is too young to save her from her life of drudgery. In her new role of godmother, Elena helps test three princes on a quest and ends up with more than she anticipated, as they all help change Tradition, the strongest force in the kingdoms.

This is a fun read that plays with a number of fairy tales. The romance gets pretty steamy in a couple of spots, so beware. Also, the author doesn't seem to understand the meaning of the word literal, although she uses it frequently. So, for example, Elena ends up with her heart literally in her mouth (ewww). It tripped up the story for me a couple of times, but overall I'd recommend the book as a good, light read.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Keturah and Lord Death

KETURAH AND LORD DEATH: Martine Leavitt: Front Street:Young Adult: 2006: 214
All Keturah ever wanted was to marry a kind peasant man, have a baby, and lead a simple peasant life. Instead, she becomes lost in the woods for days and upon encountering Lord death makes a deal with him for her life. Keturah is given one more day to find her true love and if she does Lord Death will not take her. On her quest Keturah learns many new skills and inspires the townsfolk to make their small town better than it was before. But will Keturah find her true love, or will Lord Death take her in the end? This Young Adult Fantasy/Romance was an enjoyable, light read. It was mostly fun fairy tale stuff, but some of the issues dealing with life and death, while interesting at times, got a little bit convoluted and hard to make sense of. All in all, a fun fairy tale and a surprisingly enjoyable romance.


Heartless Stone

HEARTLESS STONE: Tom Zoellner: St. Martin's Press: Nonfiction: 299 pages

Heartless Stone is a journey to fourteen countries to learn the human and environmental costs of mining diamonds. Diamonds have been marketed so brilliantly that we cherish them as symbols of love and commitment, never imagining the price in misery that someone has paid to dredge them from the earth. The book is fascinating, well-written and deeply dismaying. It is hardly fair to call the diamond a heartless stone. Readers of this book will more likely wonder if it isn't humans who have hearts of stone.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Mistborn: The Final Empire

MISTBORN: THE FINAL EMPIRE: Brandon Sanderson: Tor: Fantasy: 537

After one thousand years of oppression, the enslaved Skaa race finds a new hero in The Survivor, a man who escaped from the Lord Ruler’s death sentence. Before his capture he was a very successful thief named Kelsier and now that he is free again he will use his new found powers, powers that allowed him to escape from what would certainly have been his death, to return to his past occupation. As he assembles his team of specialists, he discovers a young girl with powers like his and trains her to become a powerful allomancer.

Brandon Sanderson is a local author and this is his second printed work and the first in a coming trilogy. Like a lot of fantasy, Mistborn is a little long, but the story moves and keeps you engaged. I particularly like his characters, they are always flawed and very human. An easy recommendation to anyone who likes fantasy.


Monday, January 22, 2007

River Secrets

RIVER SECRETS: Shannon Hale: Bloomsbury Publishing: Young Adult: 290 pages

Razo-short, funny, and not a great solider-is sure it’s out of pity that his captain asks him to join an elite mission escorting the ambassador into Tira, Bayern’s great enemy. But when the Bayern arrive in the strange southern counry, it’s Razo who discovers the first dead body. He’s the only Bayern able to befriend both the high and low born, the people who can provide information about the ever-increasing murders. And he’s the one who must embrace his own talents in order to get the Bayern soldiers home again, alive.

I really enjoyed the newest book by Shannon Hale! I think part of the reason I have liked it so much is that I have really gotten to know the characters as I have read “Goose Girl” and “Enna Burning”. I just thought that this book was fabulous and I was cheering Razo on the whole time!


The Book Thief

THE BOOK THIEF: Markus Zusak: Alfred A. Knopf: Fiction: 552 pgs.

Narrated by Death, this is the story of Liesel Meminger. Liesel witnesses the death of her younger brother while on a train with her mother. Liesel (and the brother) were being taken to live with a foster family outside of Munich during the Nazi regime. At the snowy cemetery, she steals her first book when the gravediggers apprentice drops his manual. The foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, are good working class people. He's a WWI vet who's a house-painter and plays the accordion. Rosa takes in laundry. Hans starts teaching Liesel to read from the gravediggers manual during the night when she wakes from nightmares. Hans buys her a couple more books, but she continues to steal them when the opportunity arises. At a Nazi book burning, she steals a few more and is seen by the mayor's wife who allows her to come to their house and read in their library. The war continues to impact their lives, especially after Max, the Jewish son of the soldier that taught Hans to play the accordion, comes to hide in their basement. The books play an important part in all of their lives and eventually save Liesel's life.

This is an interesting view ordinary life in Nazi Germany and how the power of the written word can lift people out of the mundane problems of their lives. Very thought provoking. I actually listened to this on CD - well read by Allan Corduner.


How to Be Popular

HOW TO BE POPULAR: Meg Cabot: Harper Tempest: Young Adult: 288 pgs.

Stephanie Landry would like to be popular, but 5 years earlier she'd spilled a cherry big gulp on the most popular girl's white skirt. Ever since, when someone does or says something stupid, it's a "Steph". This summer, she found a book on "How to be Popular" that belonged to her best friend's grandmother, and now she's determined to turn things around in the new school year. She succeeds, but figures out that she's not happy and that she needs her real friends not her "popular" friends to be happy. It also helps that her very hot childhood best friend, Jason, finally reveals that he'd like her to be his more that just her best friend. Done in a journal type format, the entire book takes place between August 26th and September 3rd. This isn't as offensive as some of Cabot's recent email format books have become. It's pretty clean and an interesting take on teen popularity.


Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones

MR. AND MRS. BO JO JONES: Ann Head: Signet: Young Adult: 202 pgs

Bo Jo Jones and July Greher are high school students who decide to get married after finding out that July is pregnant. Both teens quit school to work and prepare for the baby, while trying to adjust to a new social situation and to handle parents battling over the proper course of action for their children.

This book was published in the late 1960s (reissued in 2006), so some of the language is dated and the entire handling of an unexpected pregnancy is very different from contemporary teen pregnancy novels. It's a nice book, though. The characters are well-developed, and the story is realistic. A lot of the plot revolves around the reactions of secondary characters to the pregnancy and, by extension, the teens: July's grandmother, her best friend, Bo Jo's ex-girlfriend, another young wife July befriends in the grocery store, the couple's landlord.

I first read this book when I was about fourteen and I thought it was fantastic. I find it less fantastic now, but I do think it's a worthwhile look at teen pregnancy and relationships. An easy, enjoyable read.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Red Tent

THE RED TENT: Anita Diamant: Picador: 1998:Fiction: 336 pages

The Red Tent is historical fiction retelling the book of Genesis through the eyes of Dinah, Leah's only daughter. Though she is only mentioned in one verse of the bible, Diamont follows her story until she, like her brothers, is united with Joseph in Egypt and then eventually passes away. It was interesting for the bible characters of my flannel board story youth to have daily lives; but even more interesting to see her take on some of the Bible characters (if only for the sake of a good story). Joseph, for example, isn't the wise, kind, and forgiving prophet he is often portrayed as, but a "foreign born", arrogant, second best. There were a couple of weird scenes involving female maturation rituals of the culture, but I guess the book was largely about that. I wasn't ooed and awed by this book, but it was a fairly interesting read. It got a little boring at parts - but It was good enough to finish.


I, the Divine

I, THE DIVINE: Rabih Amenaddine: W.W. Norton & Co.: 2002:Fiction: 320 pgs

I picked this book up completely on a lark and well, it was a pretty big disappointment. The book is told completely in "first chapters" as the main character, Sarah Nour Al-din , attempts to begin writing her life story to make some sense of it. Sarah is the daughter of a wealthy Lebanese Bureaucrat and a now tempermental and emotionally absent American mother. Sarah keeps trying to start her life story including the divorce of her parents, a serial killer sister, two ex-husbands, her current devastating break-up, and a budding art career to no avail. While I was at first really entertained by the idea of a book in first chapters this book turned out to be unnecessarily fragmented, plotless, and actually quite shallow. I never grew to care about any of the characters, parts of it seemed a little too contrived, and there were sporadic graphic (sex/rape) scenes that were context-less and, I felt, tasteless. I'm a sucker for sad books, but this was sad/deppressing without...well, without a reason (or really a plot).


The Island of Seven Cities


Since my visit to China this year I can’t help but pick up anything with China in the title. I recently watched the DVD “1421” and was intrigued by Gavin Menzies theory about the Chinese discovering America. This author came by a far different route to the conclusion that some ruins located on Cape Breton Island had to have been left by the Chinese. He methodically examines the history of the island looking for possible builders of a stone lined road on Caper Breton Island, delving back into the history of the island as far as it was possible to go. He could find no mention of anyone building anything faintly resembling the ruins he had stumbled onto.

His fascinating assertion has yet to be examined thoroughly by archaeologists. In fact, the ones he tried to share his ideas with were singularly uninterested. Of course, Gavin Menzies was very, very interested but his approval doesn’t impress historians and archaeologists.

Much of the book was a bit tedious to me because I wasn’t all that interested in the history of Cape Breton Island. However, the author did manage to demonstrate that he had very thoroughly examined the history of the island. Who knows what he found? It is not at all unbelievable to me that the Chinese reached the shores of America. A lot of other people have, as well. It will be interesting to learn more as the scientific world follows up on his conclusions.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Alphabet of Dreams

ALPHABET OF DREAMS: Susan Fletcher: Atheneum (2006): Young Adult: 294 pages

Children of a Persian traitor at the time of the birth of Christ, Mitra and her brother Babak struggle to survive and stay hidden from the king’s men who seek to destroy them. But Babak has a gift that is impossible to keep secret. If he sleeps with someone’s possession he has prophetic dreams about them. Mitra thinks she can keep control of how the gift is used and yet somehow use it to save them. She is wrong and when others discover his gift, their present safety and their future fate hang in the balance.

I have usually liked Susan Fletcher’s books very much. Shadow Spinner is one of my great favorites. I was really looking forward to another Young Adult book set in the Middle East. Alphabet of Dreams places interesting characters in some very interesting situations. Mitra and her brother are present at one of the greatest events in history and Susan Fletcher had interesting ideas about how ordinary people at an extraordinary event might have helped change history. However, this book is overloaded with details and descriptions and really needed an editorial work over.


Monday, January 8, 2007

The Deception of the Emerald Ring

THE DECEPTION OF THE EMERALD RING; Lauren Willig: Dutton: Fiction: 387 pgs.

This is the third in a series of books following the escapades of the Pink Carnation, an English Spy and contemporary of the Scarlet Pimpernel. In this volume the League of the Pink Carnation are off to Ireland to stop a revolt and hopefully to capture their enemy the Black Tulip. Little Letty is swept up in the intrigue moments after her shotgun wedding to a man she barely knows and doesn't trust.

I know what you are thinking...a little melo-dramatic...well it is. I keep expecting the back of one of Willig's books to contain something along the lines of "Although the sight of his piercing eyes constantly enraged her temper, the thought of never seeing them drove her mad with dreading. How was she to know that this tall mysterious man she had been forced to marry, would be the one man she couldn't force from her mind...or her heart?" But the Pink Carnation books are written as literature, so the backs are not nearly as entertaining as it's near cousins in the Romance collection.

I would class this book as super fluff...but super fun. It's a little guilty pleasure I wouldn't recommend to my mother because it does include a little amorous adventure that I'm sure she wouldn't appreciate.


Just Listen

JUST LISTEN: Sarah Dessen: Viking: 2006: Young Adult: 371 pages

Starting a new school year, Annabelle is isolated from her former friends because of events at a party over the summer (similar feel to Speak? yes, very). While dealing with her new social situation and her sister's eating disorder, Annabelle meets Owen, notable for his complete honesty and love of music, who helps her face the difficult events in her life.

I love Sarah Dessen's books. This is the 3rd time I've read Just Listen since it was published in 2006. The characters in all of Dessen's books are so well-rounded and real; they never remind me of stupid teenage characters in sit-coms (a common problem in ya writing). I also really like This Lullaby and The Truth About Forever by Dessen. All of Dessen's books are written for older teens. This one has a few instances of brief, strong language and the incident at the party (sexual assault) is described.


Waiting for Snow in Havana

WAITING FOR SNOW IN HAVANA: CONFESSIONS OF A CUBAN BOY: Carlos Eire: Free Press (2003): Biography: 383 pages

This wonderful memoir won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2003. It has also been used as a community wide reading selection in several US cities. The author describes his boyhood in pre-Castro Cuba with flash-forwards to his difficult years in the US as one of 14,000 children airlifted out of Cuba to new lives. The events and characters in the book are described through the eyes of a child. I guess I would say that the book is magical realism because the child’s view is sometimes so fantastic and distorted. Yet a clarity about the fate of Cuba and its people also permeates the book through the author’s grief for his lost homeland, friends, parents and way of life.

I really enjoyed the book but it is not a book you read through in a night. A great one to add to my list of multicultural favorites.


If You Could See Me Now

IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW: Cecelia Ahern: Hyperion: Fiction: 306 pgs.

Elizabeth is a successful, uptight, stressed out, over caffeinated, woman who clearly has her priorities askew (just like many heroines of today’s chic lit). Her unexpected rescuer and romancer is Ivan a fun loving, spontaneous, mysterious imaginary friend. However (unlike that really bad made for TV movie I can’t remember the name of but the guy from the LDS Pride and Prejudice was in it), Elizabeth isn’t totally pathetic when being romanced by a fake guy. The imaginary friend is her nephew’s…but Elizabeth can see him too…most of the time.

This is a totally clean (except for a little language and a few innuendos), totally cheesy, extremely fast, and pretty fun book. I liked it enough to read it in one day (which isn’t saying much…I was way overdue for a late night reading session). I really liked Elizabeth and I liked Ivan most of the time…except that he kept saying everything was “his absolute favorite”….the definition of favorite is “one that is regarded as special” not everything that is regarded as special…personal issue. Anyway, an inventive and pretty well written book I can easily recommend to anyone wanting a little romance and imagination.


The Stolen Child

THE STOLEN CHILD: Keith Donohue: Nan A. Talese Publishing: Fantasy: 319 pgs.

The Stolen Child tells of a young boy kidnapped from his home by changelings, faerie like creatures who assume the identity of the children they kidnap. Henry Day is stolen from his family and is his place one the changelings lives his life. The story is told from the point of view of both the actual Henry Day who becomes a changeling himself and the creature who tries to become him.

I have to admit, it took me a while to really get into this book. It isn’t really a happy feel good holiday read. But, about half way through I started to enjoy it. Themes of identity, family, and achieving one’s potential were explored through the lives of these two people and their friends and family. Other than a little language, a clean read and I would actually recommend it to a book group and anyone who likes to read thinkers…not a lot of action…but not every book needs an explosion…there is a big fire in a library…so that is something I suppose. Good book.


Size 14 is Not Fat Either

SIZE 14 IS NOT FAT EITHER: Meg Cabot: Avon Books: 2006: Mystery: 344 pages

In the second Heather Wells mystery, former teen pop star (current residence hall employee) Heather Wells helps solve a murder when a cheerleader in her building turns up dead in the cafeteria. In addition to solving a mystery, Heather is kept busy spending time with her father who has just been released from jail and pining for her landlord, Cooper, the brother of her ex-fiance.

Meg Cabot is always good for some fluffy reading when you don't feel well and know you'll be sending all day on the couch. Her series tend to be repetitive, though, and her mysteries are disappointing if you actually want a mystery--the mystery is just a rickety structure to support traditional chick lit (20-something struggling in a career and romance). Chick lit fans will enjoy the story, but I think it's one of her weaker books. Also, not a clean read.


I am the Messenger

I AM THE MESSENGER: Markus Zusak: Knopf: Fiction: 368(Audio Book)

Ed Kennedy, shortly after becoming the unlikely hero of a bank robbery, starts getting face cards in the mail with the names of people he needs to help in some way. The cards don't explain how he is supposed to help these people, and the even the names of the people become increasingly difficult to figure out. Ed encounters both horrific and beautiful events along this mystery, but he has no idea who's sending the messages - what do they want with Ed Kennedy, and when will it end? I listened to this book every moment I could - I was so compelled by the messages, and by Ed Kennedy himself. He is a 19 year old cab driver with no self esteem and little ambition towards anything. However, his compassion for his friends and self-ironic wit are completely endearing. The characteriztions are almost more entertaining than witnessing the change that takes place is Ed throughout this experience. Though the end just about cheesed me into cardiac arrest, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. (I did listen to the book on tape and perhaps the "Lifetime" music over the last two lines of the book grossed me out.) Great book. Read it.



HEARTLAND: T. Davis Bunn: WestBow Press: Fiction: 391 pages

A cast without a leading man, a scriptwriter with writer's block, and mounting tension on the set mean top-rated television show Heartland is headed toward cancellation. Then a hero comes along-a reluctant new actor-to save the day. But no one knows where he really came from-least of all, him.

When ratings start to climb and the public raves over its favorite new star, Hollywood suddenly finds itself on an unexpected collision course with America's heartland audience. Hollywood needs a change-a revival of the soul. But can one struggling TV series with a brand new star be the catalyst-or is it already too late? One thing is certain-the outcome will forever redefine what it means to be a hero.

This book was such a fun read! It was really captivating and I learned so much about the inner workings of Hollywood along the way. I would recommend this book to someone that’s looking for a light, thought provoking book!


Daughter of Heaven

DAUGHTER OF HEAVEN: A MEMOIR WITH EARTHLY RECIPES: Leslie Li: Arcade Pub.: Biography: 274 pages

Leslie Li, granddaughter of Li Zongren (Chinese military commander in the Sino-Japanese War and Vice President of China in 1947), relates experiences as a Chinese-American in suburban New York.

I really enjoyed the first half of the memoir, which featured Li's grandmother and the Chinese recipes she made for the family. However, the second half of the book focused on Li's adult life, her difficult relationship with her father, and her son. The jump from childhood to adulthood seemed disjointed to me and several chapters were difficult to follow (too many characters and a somewhat self indulgent, rambling tone). Fans of Amy Tan, Jumpha Lahiri, and Monica Ali would probably enjoy this book (at least the first half).


Crossing the Wire

CROSSING THE WIRE: Will Hobbs: HarperCollins: Young Adult: 215 pages.

Will Hobbs’ new book Crossing the Wire is the story of a fifteen-year old boy, from a loving and close family, who chooses to illegally cross the border to the United States because of his love for his family. Will Hobbs has been visiting Arizona for some time and became interested in the hardships faced by illegals crossing the border. He apparently researched extensively for this book.

Victor Flores, the novel’s main character, has been struggling to support his mother and younger brother and sisters since the death of his father in the US in a construction accident. He finally makes the desperate choice to cross the border even though he has no money to pay a “coyote” to lead him across. He has almost too many adventures to believe, but in the process we glimpse the many routes and troubles that mark the path across the border.


The Tequila Worm

THE TEQUILA WORM: Viola Canales: Wendy Lamb Books: Young Adult: 199 pages.

I took a couple of books from the new cart at the Reference Desk last week and it turns out they were an interesting pair to read close together.

The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales is the Pura Belpre Award winner this year. The Pura Belpré Award is presented to a Latino/Latina writer or illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. It is co-sponsored by Reforma (National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking) to which I belong, and ALSC division of ALA The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian from the New York Public Library.

This book introduced me to some very interesting aspects of family life in Spanish speaking cultures at the same time that it portrayed the issues that face children in immigrant families as they try to live in two worlds. I learned things I’ve never known even though I lived in a Spanish speaking country and have been associating with Spanish speakers for the last ten years. I loved the warm, loving family portrayed in the book and enjoyed the growing up adventures of the main character, Sofia. (And here’s the scoop on tequila worms ( http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a990702b.html)


The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID: A MEMOIR: Bill Bryson: Broadway Books: 2006: Biography: 270 pages

I love Bill Bryson, he writes memoir/humor/travel/informational books. I just listened to his latest. He reads his own audiobooks and he's got a fun voice to listen to.

This book is a humorous look at what it was like growing up in the 50's in Des Moines Iowa. Very entertaining and a really fast listen or read, mostly clean although he does throw in the F word a couple times which is always a surprise.


A Three Dog Life

A THREE DOG LIFE: Abigail Thomas: Harcourt Press: 2006: Biography: 182 pages

Abigail Thomas has written a captivating memoir about the years she spent dealing with the aftermath of an accident that left her husband mentally disabled. One night he takes their dog out for a walk and is hit by a car as he runs to rescue the dog from traffic. After the accident Thomas gradually comes to realize that while her husband is recuperating physically, mentally he will never be well again. Her humor and three dogs help her to cope with her husband’s incoherent confusion and paranoia. What comes through is her desire to remember and honor their life before the accident. She continues to deal with the daily reality of who he currently is, and the realization that she is alone, and that they will never be together again. This book could have been a maudlin wallow but instead is an uplifting and darkly humorous look at the journey of a middle-aged woman learning to rely on herself again.


I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

I'D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU, BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU: Ally Carter: Hyperion: 2006: Young Adult: 284 pages

Cammie, a sophomore at a secret spy school, falls for a local boy in town while on a class mission. She begins dating him, telling him that she's homeschooled for religious reasons, while trying to keep him a secret from her school and protecting her true identity from him.

While the basic plot of this book is not so different from many, many, many contemporary YA books, this is one of my favorite YA books of the year. It's extremely readable, clean fluff. The narrator, Cammie, is likeable, the secret school and its covert operations are amusing, and there are nice subplots involving Cammie's parents and her friendships with other students. AND the title is great.


The Memory Keeper's Daughter

THE MEMORY KEEPER'S DAUGHTER: Kim Edwards: Viking: 2005: Fiction: 401 pages

A doctor in the 1950s delivers his own twin son and daughter. The daughter, Phoebe, suffers from Down's Syndrome, so the doctor gives her to the nurse to take to a group home and tells his wife that the baby died at birth. Instead of leaving the baby, the nurse takes Phoebe to another city and raises her as her own.

This story is beautifully well-written and has a lot of literary merit. It's also a clean read that could be recommended to just about anyone and would make for a great book discussion--lots of issues about families, decisions, etc. to talk about. I really loved the book at the beginning, but it did drag a little for me at the end. It's not fast moving at all, but it would be wonderful for fans of books like Gilead and The Kite Runner.


Shards of Honor

SHARDS OF HONOR by Lois McMaster Bujold: Baen Pub.: 1986: Sci-Fi: 313 pages

Cordelia Naismith is the Commander of a Betan Survey Ship exploring the flora and fauna of the planet when her base camp is attacked. When she returns to the destroyed camp, she’s also attacked. When she wakes up, there is a soldier guarding her – Captain Aral Vorkosigan, who was the captain of the Barrayaran Imperial War cruiser whose men attacked her camp, and him as part of a mutiny.

Forced to cooperate so they can find a cache of stores and a way for Vorkosigan to communicate with his ship, they traverse the sometimes hostile planet. The Barrayarans are known as a warlike and rather uncivilized planet compared to Cordelia's Betans and she knows that Vorkosigan has the nickname "The Butcher of Komarr" from the story that he killed all the prisoners of another planet, Komarr, after they surrendered. In their six day journey they come to understand something of each other, and the fact that they both have a sense of honor that, although different, is complementary. Cordelia is eventually rescued from her prisoner status on Vorkosigan's ship by some of her Betan colleagues, but the dividing line of "goodies" and "baddies" is no longer clear. Especially after Vorkosigan proposes marriage to her.

The story continues with them meeting again - in the middle of a war - and Cordelia's brush with the evil side of Barrayaran culture. Once again she is returned to Beta Colony, but now she no longer fits there, and in fact discovers the bad side of her planet that cannot understand the Barrayarans and cannot allow them redeeming features. Cordelia has to escape her own people to be reunited with Vorkosigan. The enemy has become her home.

Intelligent, complex, moral characters with reasonable explanations for their actions, acceptable romance, and interesting new worlds.


The Veiled Web

THE VEILED WEB: Catherine Asaro: Bantam Books: 1999: Sci-Fi: 355 pages

In July 2010, Web-surfing prima ballerina Lucia del Mar briefly meets Rashid al-Jazari, the Moroccan inventor of a cutting-edge artificial intelligence system after performing at the White House. In Italy in August for a ballet performance, they meet again and are kidnapped by international terrorists who covet Rashid’s invention. They manage to foil the abductors, but in order to keep Lucia safe when they land in Morocco, Rashid arranges a hasty marriage. Cloistered in Rashid's traditional Islamic home, Catholic Lucia overcomes her loneliness by befriending Zaki, the uncannily human computer program Rashid has designed. When the terrorists strike again, Rashid's AI system is destroyed, but the unlikely marriage survives with hopes for a more tolerant future. Although full of the technical aspects of AI (which you can pretty much skip over), the book's strengths are the sensuous and respectful evocation of Islamic culture and how Lucia adapts to the culture, and the creation of Zaki, the artificial intelligence who comes to life as the tale's most quirky and moving character. Mostly clean and quite interesting for a sci fi!


China Shakes the World

CHINA SHAKES THE WORLD: A TITAN’S RISE AND TROUBLED FUTURE: James Kynge: Houghton Mifflin: 2006: Biography: 270 pages
Since Marlise and I went to China we've been reading all the books we can about that country. I highly recommend China, Inc. by Ted C. Fishman along with this book. They are both quite readable and present startling information about the accelerating development of China. You can thank China for low cost the merchandise in our stores, from dollar stores to expensive brand name items, air pollution along the western coast of the US; you can also thank them for the high cost of gas (oil demand from China has increased global prices for oil) and many other things both positive and negative.

Here's a review from Booklist that I copied from Amazon:

A former bureau chief of the Financial Times in Beijing, Kynge demonstrates how China's thirst for jobs, raw materials, energy, and new markets--and its export of goods, workers, and investments--will dramatically reshape world trade and politics. China's appetite, though unpremeditated and inarticulate, has become a source of major change in the world. Napoleon said, "Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world." In the early days of the twenty-first century, China has started shaking the world with its prowess in manufacturing. Not all is rosy, however, because China has serious problems with its environmental resources, severe pollution, and institutionalized corruption within the government, the legal system, the police force, and the media. The question Kynge offers answers to is how the world will cope with China's extremes of both strength and weakness. Gail Whitcomb


The Thirteenth Tale

THE THIRTEENTH TALE: Diane Setterfield: Atria Books: Fiction: 406 pgs.

The Thirteenth Tale is tribute to beautiful storytelling. Diane Setterfield’s debut novel presents the biography of a famous yet mysterious author, Vida Winter. Her biographer quickly succumbs to Ms. Winter’s intense personality and intriguing story, struggling continually to find the truth her subject only partially discloses.

Easily recommended to anyone who loves a good story, The Thirteenth Tale is a quick and lively read. It is sure to keep its audience guessing to the end and thoroughly entertaining despite a touch of sentimentality. Perfect for a cold day and a comfy couch.

(In case someone is wondering about the “cleanliness” of this book. There is a little part in the beginning my Mother would not have appreciated…but it is really brief. What bothered me, personally, was the small part of the plot which involved a bit of incest…which is always a disturbing topic. There was very little language. I think book clubs would really like it…it might be a good option when it comes out in paperback.)


First They Killed My Father

FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER: Loung Ung: HarperCollins: Nonfiction: 272 pages

This memoir is a pain-filled reminder of the terrible time when the Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime ruled Cambodia. The author was five years old (1975) when her family fled Phnom Penh and attempted to hide their education and their father?s former work for the Cambodian government. Few in Cambodia had nothing to hide, millions suffered and died under this brutal regime, apparently just for the crime of being alive. Peasants worked the fields and starved surrounded by abundance as the Khmer Rouge sold the food to China to finance their war with Vietnam.

This wrenching account gives a vivid description of how desperate life was inside Cambodia. The book may be useful because "To Destroy You Is No Loss", a similar memoir published in 1987, seems to be out of print and I was shocked to discover we no longer have a copy in our collection.