Saturday, March 31, 2007

Among the Hidden

AMONG THE HIDDEN: Margaret Peterson Haddix: 1996: YA: 160

The first installment in Haddix's 7 part series introduces us to Luke, a hidden third child and The Shadow Children series' main protagonist. After a terrible famine and totalitarian political shift the Country Luke lives in enacts a law that no family can have more than two children. Luke is a hidden third child forced to stay indoors at all times and hide his existence. He is not even allowed to eat dinner at the table with his family out of fear that someone might see him. When Luke discovers another "hidden child" in the house next door his perception of hidden children changes drastically. Unlike Luke, Jen feels very strongly about the injustices hidden children endure and wants to change their invisible status at any cost.

While this book is primarily for young readers (very short and easy to read) the ideas are pretty complex and make for a very interesting read. I think this would be a great pick for reluctant readers, and boy especially. Among the Hidden is just the beginning of Luke's story and the cliffhanger at the end will make you want to read them all.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Don't Think Twice

DON'T THINK TWICE: Ruth Pennebaker: H. Holt: Young Adult: 262 pages

In the summer of 1967, seventeen-year-old Anne Harper enters a home for unwed pregnant teens. She resists thinking about her pregnancy and current situation, but eventually she's drawn into the lives of the other residents and develops a new self-awareness.

Pennebaker does a great job of giving a snapshot of an unusual grouping of teens without commenting on the scene she's created. The lives of the characters are revealed through their interactions and conversations with one another, as narrated by sarcastic and humorous Anne. There are no pat answers or real conclusions, just a picture of several months in the lives of very different girls, so the ending is a little unsettling. Because of the subject matter and some language, the book is best suited for older teens.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Mormon in the White House?

Hugh Hewitt: 2007: NonFiction: 311pgs.

Many of you will remember Hugh Hewitt’s PBS series on “Searching for God in America,” which included an interview with Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Now Hewitt has written a hagiography in support of Mitt Romney’s presidential bid. “A Mormon in the White House? 10 Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney” is a book-length tract designed to convince Evangelicals that Romney is their best bet to represent their values in the White House. In a well-written text, Hewitt takes readers through Romney’s political heritage, his business achievements, the 2002 Olympics, his family life, and beliefs. His presumption of an already deeply conservative audience is clear from the fact that the book is published by Regnery, and by his derisive tone towards other presidential players such as John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Rudolph Giuliani (which seems unhappily hypocritical when one is writing from a Christian perspective). Although Hewitt does an excellent job of painting the attractive possibilities of a Romney presidency, his occasionally contemptuous tone will likely limit the book’s appeal to moderates or independents.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Detox Your Finances


Though Middleton could be a little obnoxious at times (the dis on Lord of the Rings was almost too much for me to continue reading) this book was practical and helpful. The book is organized into "52 brilliant ideas" about getting control of and managing your finances. Some were a little bit obvious (don't spend money you don't have...) but most of the ideas were real "I never would have thought of that , but that makes so much sense!" kinds of tips. Fast, practical read.


Love is a Mix Tape

LOVE IS A MIX TAPE: LIFE AND LOSS, ONE SONG AT A TIME: Rob Sheffield: 2007: Biography: 219

This delightful book is as much a biography of 90's music culture as it is of one young widow's attempt to deal with loss. Rob Sheffield is a music critic for Rolling Stone Magazine and this biography of his marriage and the untimely death of his eccentric wife reads like the quirky vignettes you'd find in the pop culture magazine. Each chapter is prefaced with a mix tape play list that sets the tone for the particular sound byte to follow - and it truly feels like you can hear this book. (In fact, I downloaded a couple of songs from the play lists and that made it that much more enjoyable) There is an entire chapter dedicated to the death of Kurt Cobain and another to Sheffield's ultimate fantasy of being in a synth pop duo with the woman he loves. This book was at once heartbreaking and hilarious. It was endearingly sentimental without evoking any kind of pity. A very satisfying read. I'd recommend this book to anyone who loves pop culture and music especially.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Book of Names

The Book of Names
By Jill Gregory and Karen Tintori
St. Martin’s Press, 2007. 304 pgs. Mystery

This is a fast-paced thriller involving a Kabalistic interpretation of the Book of Names. This ancient document, ostensibly written by Adam, contains an encoded text listing the names of 36 individuals of each generation whose righteousness preserves the earth and its inhabitants.

David Shepherd, a poli-sci professor at Georgetown U, has been prompted with names out of the blue since he was about 15 years old and he has been recording them in a notebook. He has no idea that the names he’s recorded are identical to those being deciphered from this Book of Names. There is an ancient, evil, organization, known as Gnoseos, working to identify and kill each of the 36 “hidden ones” in this generation. They have now nearly achieved their goal. When David Shepherd realizes that the names he has recorded over the years are all of dead people he begins to investigate—and not a moment too soon.



CANDYFREAK: Steve Almond: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill: Nonfiction: 266 pages

The appropriately named Almond goes beyond candy obsession to enter the realm of "freakdom." Right up front, he divulges that he has eaten a piece of candy "every single day of his entire life," "thinks about candy at least once an hour" and "has between three and seven pounds of candy in his house at all times." Indeed, Almond's fascination is no mere hobby—it's taken over his life. And what's a Boston College creative writing teacher to do when he can't get M&Ms, Clark Bars and Bottle Caps off his mind? Write a book on candy, of course. Almond isn't interested in "The Big Three" (Nestle, Hershey's and Mars). Instead, he checks out "the little guys."

This was a fascinating book about the candy industry. I craved chocolate the entire time I was reading it! I really enjoyed reading about the vintage candy bars, some of which are no longer being made and many of these candy bars were only made in certain regions of the country. Some of Almond’s anecdotes are not squeaky clean because of language and content, but overall I enjoyed this book!


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

London Calling

LONDON CALLING: Edward Bloor: Alfred A. Knopf: 2006: Young Adult: 289 pages.

Edward Bloor's London Calling is a young adult time travel adventure that emphasizes, without being heavy-handed, how important it is for all of us to have a good knowledge of history, and to use our time wisely because according to Bloor the big question we will be asked come Judgment Day is "What did you do to help?" Martin Conway is a teenage boy who is bummed out by having to attend a snooty academy where he is treated like the hired help because his mother is the hired help, which is the only reason he is there. After an "incident" on campus where one of his friends is expelled, he retreats to his bedroom where he spends all his time sleeping, playing videos games, or text messaging his friends. When he meets a young man from World War II London by means of an old radio set bequeathed to him by his grandmother, he has to study hard to discover what he is supposed to do to help Jimmy. He also enters the frightening and fascinating world of London during the blitz. Rich reading on every level. A tad bit of swearing.


The Collaborator of Bethlehem

THE COLLABORATOR OF BETHLEHEM: Matt Rees: Soho Crime: 2007: Mystery: 264 pages.

Matt Rees, former Time bureau chief in Jerusalem, has written a remarkable murder mystery and social commentary redolent of the tensions and graces of life in Israel. Omar Yussef is a Palestinian who teaches for the United Nations school in Bethlehem. While Yussef is trying to teach his students critical thinking in a world filled with rumor, propaganda, and hatred, he meets his friend George, a Christian and former student whose rooftop is being used by Palestinian militants to launch rockets at the Israelis, so that when the Israelis return fire they won't destroy Palestinian targets. Omar commiserates but does not know how to help; George drives the militants from his rooftop, only to be framed and arrested as a collaborator and a murderer. Omar determines to help George, though his family is against it and he himself wavers, knowing his aid will not really help George and will bring trouble on himself and his loved ones. The power of this story lies not in the mystery itself, but in the richness of its characters, the fear generated by thugs who use a fake political agenda to advance their personal aims, and the undifferentiating response of the Israelis. First in a series of Omar Yussef mysteries, The Collaborator of Bethlehem, is a treasure.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Little Lady, Big Apple

LITTLE LADY, BIG APPLE: by Hester Browne: Pocket Books: 2007: Fiction: 360 pages.

In this sequel to The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne, Melissa Romney-Jones travels from London to New York to spend time with her new American boyfriend, Jonathan Riley, who has moved back temporarily for work. Jonathan wants Melissa to relax and treat the time as a vacation, but Melissa is reluctant to leave her up-and-coming Little Lady Agency in the hands of her tactless friend and sister. The Little Lady Agency, which offers helpless bachelors “every girlfriend service a man could need, except sex and laundry,” requires a woman who can be polite but firm.

Melissa secretly keeps working from New York, but she soon finds herself at odds with Jonathan over whether she should continue to run the agency at all.

This book doesn’t offer anything more than typical Chick-lit faire, but it is definitely one I would recommend over many of the books like it out there. Melissa is a very likable character. She’s sweet, innocent and nice to everyone. A fun, light read.


Sammy's Hill

SAMMY’S HILL: Kristin Gore: Miramax Books: Romance: 387 pages

Chick lit goes to Washington in this fun read from Al Gore’s daughter. Sammy Joyce is a health care advisor for Senator Robert Gary. She becomes involved with the speechwriter for another (somewhat evil) senator and hijinks ensue.

Sammy Joyce is a fun character. She worries about suddenly losing the use of her limbs, she can’t keep her pet fish alive, and, as is required of all chick lit heroines, she is always finding herself in embarrassing situations—falling off stages, arriving at work on rollerblades, and sending out unfortunate mass emails. Because of the setting, this book has more depth than similar stories. There’s a lot of time spent discussing health care and government, but the story is always engaging and amusing.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Does Anything Eat Wasps?


Anyone who likes trivia would really enjoy this book. It's filled with science related questions that are then answered by several different people in 1-2 page essays culled from a column in the New Scientist magazine. Anything from "Why do people have eyebrows?" to "How quickly could I turn into a fossil?" are addressed here. The answers are humorous in many cases and also informative. The great thing was that even if one particular questions was not interesting to you you could skip to the next question. I found it to be a very entertaining and quick read.


Artemis Fowl

ARTEMIS FOWL: Eoin Colfer: Hyperion: Fantasy: 277pgs.

Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is the most ingenious criminal mastermind in history. With two trusty sidekicks in tow, he hatches a cunning plot to divest the fairies of their pot of gold.

Artemis Fowl is an immensely popular series here at the Provo Library, and I’ve been meaning to read at least one from the series for a long time. I finally ended up listening to the first book in the series. I liked the reader, Nathaniel Parker, quite a lot. He did the different voices and accents well without being annoying.

For those who like a fast-paced story, the action moves along at a fast clip. Because of its fast pace and non-stop action, I would recommend this series to fans of the Stormbreaker series by Anthony Horowitz.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Nineteen Minutes

NINETEEN MINUTES: Jodi Picoult: Atria Books: Fiction: 455 pages

Seventeen-year-old Peter Houghton walks into Sterling High one March morning and, in 19 minutes, kills 10 people and wounds many more. Alex Cormier, the judge on the case, struggles to remain objective, although her daughter, Josie, was injured in the incident when she passed out next to her murdered boyfriend. Chapters alternate between the present and the past, where Josie and Peter were childhood friends, to examine the crime and its causes from the perspectives of the shooter and the victims.

This is a remarkable book. Jodi Picoult has a wonderful writing style and always creates very well-constructed, thought-provoking plots. Nineteen Minutes powerfully considers both the brutality of a shooting spree and the brutality inflicted on Peter his entire school career from the privileged popular crowd. Chris Bohjalian’s Before You Know Kindness and Walter Dean Myers’s ya novel Shooter would be great companion books to this one.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture


Juliet Schor explores how today's increasingly consumer crazed culture affects young children and teens, and in short - it isn't pretty. Schor takes a good, if cynical, look at the increase in ads marketed to young children and what this reflects about our culture. Even worse, Schor claims, is how this "getting people to buy stuff" is turning young children into over sexualized, over stimulated, unhealthy consumers often with a distorted sense of self esteem.

This book was truly fascinating. For anyone concerned about the disturbing trend of turning children into excessive consumers, this book is a must. I was especially insenced at the chapter about the commercializion of public education. Though I learned a TON from this book, it wasn't meant to be purely informational; there is no doubt where Schor's feelings on this issue lie. She spends the last chapter suggesting ways that parents can and have negated this trend in their own homes with their families. Truly and eye opening read.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

This Year I Will...


In any given new year, fast forward a few months (or a few weeks) and most peoples' resolutions have been either forgotten or abandoned. Author and life coach M.J. Ryan outlines a concrete and practical strategy for following through on a resolution while dealing with life's other ups and downs. The encouraging, easy-to-read chapters tackle the obstacles that keep readers from their goals and provide helpful tools and language to stop negative, self-defeating thoughts. This Year I will… proves welcome for anyone seeking gentle but solid help in achieving personal change.

I picked up this book shortly after the New Year. I had ordered the book for the library a few months previous and the concept sounded interesting. Ryan’s approach is straight forward and her suggestions make a lot of sense. I don’t think that she had any earth shattering ideas that have not been presented in other similar books, but this was a good read. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for an outline of how to make some changes in their life.


Monday, March 12, 2007

The One True Platonic Heaven: A Scientific Fiction on the Limits of Knowledge

By John L. Casti
Joseph Henry Press, 2003. 160 pgs. Nonfiction

The “One True Platonic Heaven” referred to here is the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey. The Institute was founded in 1930, some 16 years prior to the setting of this story. The “story” consists of the debate surrounding the proposed building of a computer at the Institute. Why the debate? Some Institute faculty consider thought to be their undertaking—not the building or designing of anything—that would be “engineering”; and engineering's place was elsewhere: in academia, industry, or in government.

There are a number of scientific and mathematical developments of the early 20th century touched upon in this sequence of speculative conversations. Time travel, quantum physics, and the computer are all topics of conversation with an underlying theme of the nature of scientific knowledge. The conversations depicted are simply a vehicle to explore the ideas of these men and the dynamics between them. Sprinkled with insights into the character (and a few idiosyncrasies) of these intellectual giants, this slim volume is a pleasurable read for anyone with a little interest in quantum theory, relativity, or pure mathematics.


Time's Magpie: A Walk in Prague

TIME’S MAGPIE: A WALK IN PRAGUE: Myla Goldberg: Crown: 2004: Nonfiction: 144 pages.

Myla Goldberg, author of Bee Season, is an excellent tour guide through the interesting and sometimes bizarre parts of Prague few tourists take the time to visit. From Franz Kafka’s grave to the cabinets of curiosity in the Strahov Monastery, Goldberg’s insightful and quirky comments reveal that Prague’s complex past, from its various kings and rulers, to the Protestant Hussite movement, through the Nazi invasion during World War II and finally nearly 50 years of Communist rule combine to make the city, like a magpie bird, a “collector, hoarding beautiful eclectic bits.”

This book will be enjoyed by anyone who has visited Prague or plans to in the future. Having traveled to Prague recently, it was fun to re-live some of my own experiences like when Goldberg describes subway ticket checks by plain-clothes policemen, but I also enjoyed learning about some of the sights I missed.


Baker Towers

BAKER TOWERS: Jennifer Haigh: William Morrow: Fiction: 334 pages

In 1944 in the mining town of Bakerton, PA, a Polish miner dies suddenly, leaving behind his Italian wife and five children. The story follows the lives of each of the children over the next 25 years as they leave and return to Bakerton, struggle with love and marriage, and develop relationships with one another.

Haigh realistically and lovingly portrays a town and a family dominated by the mines. Baker Towers has a very similar feel to Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—both enjoyable coming of age stories that chronicle the hardships of working families.


Friday, March 9, 2007

Last Shot: a Final Four Mystery

LAST SHOT: A FINAL FOUR MYSTERY: John Feinstein: Knopf: Young Adult: 251 pages

Stevie and Susan Carol won a chance of a lifetime to be teen reporters for the Final Four, after winning a newspaper sports writing contest. Stevie, an anti-Duke fan, and Susan Carol, an avid Duke fan, have to put aside their differences to find out who is blackmailing one of the star players to throw the big game and stop it before time runs out.

Great book to get you in the mood for the NCAA Playoffs filled with college basketball lingo and Sports Center. Fast moving, enjoyable read even though you know that some of the incidents wouldn’t really work out the way they did in real life.


Monday, March 5, 2007

The Club Dumas

THE CLUB DUMAS: Arturo Perez-Reverte: Harvest Books: 2006: Fiction: 368
For book lovers interested in both stories and the actual making of books, this novel is a treat. The stoic main character, Corso, is a book mercenary for many rich (and eccentric) book collectors. He has most recently been charged to discern the authenticity of a new/missing chapter from "The Three Musketeers". He has also been given a more difficult task regarding a book that is said to be used to summon the devil. Along the way Corso meets many interesting characters, but perhaps the most interesting character he meets is the mysterious young girl who follows him around without revealing any personal information.
This international best seller will have your head spinning; Is the Dumas Manuscript Authentic? Who is the man following Corso with the strange scar? Can "The book of the nine shadows" really summon the devil? How are his two tasks connected? And who (or what) is this girl who insists on following Corso around? A fun, and sometimes spooky read, The Club Dumas is a rewarding read for any book lover.


Friday, March 2, 2007

Raisin Rodriguez and the Big Time Smooch

RAISIN RODRIGUEZ AND THE BIG TIME SMOOCH: Judy Goldschmidt: Razorbill: Young Adult: 208 pages

In this sequel to The Secret Blog of Raisin Rodriguez (2005), seventh-grader Raisin continues her blog with two California girlfriends. Her current preoccupation is classmate CJ Mullen (who works as a cartoonist with Raisin on a zine, CoolerThanYou) and getting him to kiss her. Predictably, Raisin is a lot more naive than she seems at first: she doesn't recognize Spin the Bottle when she encounters it at a party; she misses clues that her best friends, Lynn and Jeremy, have become a couple; and she passes up an opportunity for a practice kiss with a boy she doesn't care about.

I enjoyed reading about Raisin’s adventures trying to woo CJ. This was another quick read and an enjoyable book. Judy Goldschmidt had me guessing the whole time…would Raisin ever get to kiss her true love CJ? I would recommend this book to those that enjoyed The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.


Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Last Week

By Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan
HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. 220 pgs. Nonfiction

This book recounts the events of the last week of Christ’s life and provides a very readable and remarkable analysis of the words and deeds of Christ. Each day is studied in detail from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday. Each day is supplied with discussion and analysis of Jesus’ words and deeds that shows their economic, political, social, and theological importance at the time.

Although many are familiar with many of the events of this final week, surely most readers will find that Borg & Crossan’s text presents news ideas and raises issues and questions that reverberate even now 2,000 years along the way. What did it really mean when Christ drove out those who were buying and selling in the temple? How are we to understand the familiar passage where Jesus says to render to Caesar those things that are Caesar’s and to God those things that are God’s? You may be surprised and intrigued by the authors' conclusions.


The Jesus Dynasty

THE JESUS DYNASTY: James D. Tabor: Simon & Schuster: nonfiction: 363 pages

This highly interesting account of the beginning of Christianity (before Paul and way before the Roman Catholic Church) offers some genuinely fascinating and important information. This is served up with enough speculation and conjecture that Tabor’s work is bound to be controversial and marginalized by mainstream Christians.

According to Tabor, Mary was born and raised in Sepphoris, the dominant city in Galilee at the time of Christ. In 4 B.C. an uprising in Sepphoris resulted in three Roman legions quelling the rebellion, burning the city to the ground, enslaving many inhabitants, and crucifying two thousand men. Mary is about 14 years old, betrothed to Joseph, and must move to Nazareth in the wake of this destruction. Pointing to passages from the Old Testament and other ancient sources, the author argues that Jesus and John the Baptist saw themselves as a pair of Messiahs: a “Kingly” Messiah (Jesus) and a “Priestly” Messiah (John). After the crucifixion and resurrection it is James who continues the "dynasty" until his execution in A.D. 62. The dynasty then continues with James' descendants for a generation or so after him.



SAYONARAVILLE: Curt Colbert: UglyTown: fiction: 287 pages

Curt Colbert is back with his second “Jake Rossiter & Miss Jenkins mystery” novel: Sayonaraville (Rat City was his first, published in 2001). Set in post-WWII Seattle, this short, fast-reading story involves the mysterious death of an insurance salesman (decapitated by a Samurai sword) and a Japanese family fighting an insurance company over the arson and loss of their business.

Jake Rossiter is a smart, tough, hard-boiled detective whose secretary/partner, Miss Jenkins, aspires to become a private detective herself. Having fought the Japanese in the Pacific during WWII Jake has no particular inclination to take the case of the Hashimoto family but allows his partner to investigate. When Miss Jenkins life is threatened, Jake takes over the case.

An enjoyable yarn with a little grit, this should appeal to those with a penchant for private-eye detective stories.


Under the Persimmon Tree

UNDER THE PERSIMMON TREE: Suzanne Fisher Staples: Farrer Straus and Giroux (2005): Young Adult: 275 pages

Suzanne Fisher Staples tells two parallel stories in this novel. Najmah, a young Afghan girl, is alone after losing her mother, father, and brother because of the Taliban. Nusrat is an American woman, converted to Islam and married to an Afghan doctor who trained in the United States. She is running a school in Peshawar, Pakistan for children who have been displaced by the conflict with the Taliban. Nusrat and Najmah’s stories converge when Najmah, disguised as a boy, goes to Pakistan to find the lost members of her family.

The author includes a lot of local customs and history in the novel as well as information about Islam and the Taliban’s repression of women. The stories of both characters are interesting and we need books that bring the realities of this part of the world to our attention. Nusrat’s story is tenderly told and her love and affection for her adopted culture and country are affecting. I was disappointed that the novel doesn’t tie up the stories in the end. I’ve waited years for Staples to take up the unsettled ending of Haveli and finish the story. I’m afraid we might have another long wait to see what happens to Najmah and Nusrat.