Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Brief History of the Dead

THE BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEAD: Kevin Brockmeier: Vintage Publishing: Fiction: 272 pgs.

In the near future a virulent virus has spread around the world killing off the majority of the population. Laura Byrd, a scientist located in a remote base in Antarctica, slowly begins to realize that she may be the lone survivor. In the author's version of life after death spirits are sent to a parallel universe of living, much like the world they came from. The theory is, as long as someone is alive that remembers you, you will stay in this parallel universe. Multiple story lines run through the book, both of Laura and her struggle to survive, and all those who knew her trying to figure out this strange life after death. I enjoyed this book with it's non-traditional theory of what life after death could be. It didn't answer any questions but definitely brought up a few.


The Camel Bookmobile

THE CAMEL BOOKMOBILE: Masha Hamilton: Harper Collins: Fiction: 308 pages

Fiona Sweeney leaves her job as a librarian in New York City to participate in the camel bookmobile project in Kenya, delivering books to isolated tribes. When one member of a tribe refuses to return his books, the project is threatened and Fiona stays with the tribe to try to retrieve the books, becoming intimately connected to the group.

This is a very good book for several reasons. First, Masha Hamilton, an international journalist, has a very nice writing style. Second, the camel bookmobile is a real and interesting project. And, third, it’s a book about a librarian. Librarians make wonderful protagonists. This would also be a good book club discussion book, addressing topics like tradition, cultural conflict, education, and family obligations.


Anahita's Woven Riddle

ANAHITA’S WOVEN RIDDLE: Megan Nuttall Sayres: Amulet Books: Young Adult: 352 pages

Fifteen-year-old Anahita is a weaver in a nomadic tribe in 19th century Iran. When her father informs her that the khan plans to marry her, Anahita resists and devises a contest to find a husband. She weaves a riddle into her marriage rug and challenges her suitors to solve the puzzle, hoping to find a man with an intellect to match her own.

This was a great book, and I highly recommend it to teens and adults! You’ll want our copy of The Essential Rumi (891.55 JAL) close by while you read it, because the poet plays an important role in the story.


Thursday, May 24, 2007


CORBENIC; Catherine Fisher; Greenwillow; 2006; YA; 281pp.
As grail novels go, The Da Vinci Code stinks by comparison to Corbenic. Cal is leaving home to escape from his alcoholic, mentally-ill mother. On the way to his uncle's house he falls asleep on the train. Awakening with a start, he disembarks at the wrong station--an unsheltered platform near a deep wood. Looking for a phone, he goes through a gate marked "Corbenic," and soon finds himself in the mythical keep of the grail. Much of grail lore and legend fill this beautifully well-written tale: the Fisher King; the bleeding lance; Wagner's "Parsifal," Eliot's "Waste Land," and the knights of the Round Table in the guise of a reenactment Company. Cal's deep need to escape from his past and from his mother run counter to the life he will have to embrace in order to heal himself, the Fisher King, and the ruined land. A ripping yarn, told with great sensitivity and lyricism.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Never too Much

NEVER TOO MUCH: Lori Foster: Kennsington: 2003: Romance 384

Ben Badwin is continually chased by women, and while he doesn't mind these welcomed distractions he wants something different: he wants a challenge. Challenge comes to the steamy Ben Badwin in the form of Sierra Murphy. Sierra isn't just cagey, she's down right scared to get into any relationship after leaving her abusive husband and fighting fiercely for her independence. But Ben is determined to have her. Initially his interest is purely sexual, but they both soon realize that there is much more to their growing relationship.

O.K. I was really trying hard to come into this Romance read with an open mind...but it quickly confirmed most of the stereotypes I was (secretly) anticipating. The first line was something like "Ben needed a woman in his bed. And he needed her tonight." Please. It actually seemed like every time Foster got going with an acceptable, even interesting, chunk of plot she would ruin it with gratuitous love scenes, or silly comments. At times I was very engaged with Sierra's struggle to let Ben into her life, but I was ultimately put off by poor writing and cheesy dialog. If you want a good book about overcoming an abusive relationship with a little bit of love in it, Anna Quindlen's "Black and Blue" would be a better choice.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Leading Ladies

LEADING LADIES: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actresses of the Studio Era: Andrea Cornell Sarvady: Turner Classic Movies: Nonfiction: 231 pages.

Turner Classic Movies, the guru of classic films put together this entertaining book of women of classic Hollywood. You do not have to be a serious film history buff to enjoy this book; it is just fun to flip through. There are lots of pictures, short one page biographies, lists of the top five films you must see of each actress and fun random fact bits about each woman. I enjoyed learning that Claudette Colbert dreaded doing the film “It Happened One Night” and thought it was the worst film she ever done, though come to find out it not only won the Oscar for Best Picture but her only Oscar for Best Actress. My appreciation for Maureen O’Hara grew learning that when she was told by the Studio to get a nose job she refused by saying “My nose comes with me . . .if you don’t like it, I’ll go back where I came from.” I have read a lot of film history books, and I have to say this is one of my favorites, gets right to the facts of why these women were stars.


Monday, May 14, 2007

A Girl Named Zippy

A GIRL NAMED ZIPPY: Haven Kimmel: Broadway: 2002: Biography: 282

A Girl Named Zippy is a delightful collection of vignettes that detail Haven Kimmell's quirky, but always delightful, childhood in small town Indiana. Her childlike prose transports us back to a time when we were kids, and everything just reeked of honesty. This book touches on issues of religion, marriage and familial relationships, life in small towns, and the coming of age of one unusual small town girl.

This book was truly enjoyable to read. It was simple and lighthearted without being glib or overly sentimental. I especially enjoyed the chapter about the arts and crafts craze hitting Kimmel's small town . Just like my Grandma's house (who lived in a similar town in a similar time) everything quickly became crocheted, macramed, or otherwise contact papered from top to bottom. Awesome.


The Year of Magical Thinking

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING: Joan Didion: Vintage Publishing: Biography: 240 pgs.

This memoir was written by Joan Didion in the year after her husband of over 40 years abruptly died during dinner one evening. At the time, their only daughter was in the ICU in a coma. This story was engrossing and intense, but not maudlin. She takes the reader through her thought processes as she thinks and tries not to think about her husband, their marriage, and all of their memories together. She muses about life after John, and how difficult it will be. And yet, you do have hope at the end of the book that she will be able to go on with her life. She dwells in territory that none of us really want to think about until it happens to us - the death of someone we love dearly.


Women of Nauvoo

WOMEN OF NAUVOO: Richard Neitzel Holzapfel: Bookcraft Inc.: Nonfiction: 225 pages

Utilizing the invaluable Relief Society minutes from the period, as well as the letters, diaries, and recollections of the women who lived in the “City of Joseph,” the authors provide an illuminating account of the sinter Saints’ Nauvoo experience.

This well-researched and engaging book represents the authors’ effort to rediscover and recall the rich spiritual heritage left by the courageous and dedicated women of Nauvoo, whose story in many cases has been left untold.

I really enjoyed this book! I have had a fascination with Nauvoo for many years and really loved reading about the experiences of the women from that time period. The book skipped around a bit, but overall it was an excellent read. I really feel like I got to know the women of Nauvoo as real people as I read this book.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007


EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES: Lynne Truss: Gotham Books: Nonfiction: 209 pages

We all know the basics of punctuation. Or do we? A look at most neighborhood signage tells a different story. Through sloppy usage and low standards on the Internet, in e-mail, and now text messages, we have made proper punctuation an endangered species.

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.

As strange as this may sound this was a fascinating book. I really enjoyed getting a refresher course on punctuation. Truss addresses this subject in a humorous manner and it was fun to see the differences between British and American English. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a funny, quirky book!


Monday, May 7, 2007

Dressed for the Photographer

By Joan Severa
Kent State University Press, 1995. 592 pgs. Nonfiction

Often the photographs depicting historical fashions are of the elite displaying the high fashion of the day—this book poses a different subject for the viewer: ordinary Americans. Mostly the subjects in this volume are wearing their best dress (they were visiting a photographer, after all). There are a few photographs of persons in their daily or working attire.

There are over 250 photographs organized by decade from 1840 through 1900. Each decade is preceded by a discussion of the trends and clothing characteristics of that decade. Each photograph is accompanied by its own explanatory text. At the back of volume is a brief glossary of terms.
This is a marvelous resource for genealogists, historians, and those specifically interested in the fashion history.


The Temple of Jerusalem

By Simon Goldhill
Harvard University Press, 2005. 194 pgs. Nonfiction

This tiny book traces the development of the Temple at Jerusalem as well the idea of the Temple through the many centuries from Solomon’s time until the present day. The Jewish Temple, built and destroyed three times, is an interesting study in and of itself, but Goldhill has gone beyond a simple history, exploring cultural and religious developments brought about by the absence of the Temple. The author indicates that within Judaism, the ritual study of the Talmud largely replaced Temple worship. For Christians, the “body” was the Temple, this being a dual reference to Christ’s body and to the “body” of the Saints. For Islam it was the sacred rock now surrounded by the Qubbat al-Sakhra (the Dome of the Rock) which is important—both as the spot upon which Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac and as the spot from which Mohammed was taken up into heaven.

Included are various artists’ depictions of the Temple (unfortunately not in color) which reveal a wide-range of conceptions of the ancient Temple. Despite the complexity of the topic, this is a fairly quick read.


Madame Bovary, C'est Moi


This is a quick, fun read with interesting facts about literary characters that everyone should really venture into the 800s to read. Here are a few of the things I learned from Bernard’s anecdotes. Margaret Mitchell based Rhett Butler, her leading man in Gone with the Wind, on her ex-husband. The ex-husband recognized himself in the story and called up Mitchell to tell her that the book was proof she still loved him. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s character Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter was based on his Puritan relatives and E.B. White dreamed about a fully clothed mouse, which was the beginning of Stuart Little. Daphne Du Maurier wrote Rebecca because she was jealous of her husband’s first wife. She was charged with plagiarism and became very worried that the charge would land her in court, because she didn’t want to confess that the book was inspired by her own life. This is a charming book for anyone at all familiar with the classics.


Friday, May 4, 2007

What's So Funny?

WHAT'S SO FUNNY: Donald Westlake: Warner: 2007: Mystery/Humor: 359pp.

“What’s So Funny?” is the perfect name for Donald Westlake’s latest caper starring, who else, hapless criminal mastermind John Dortmunder, because practically every sentence in this book is a punch line. Westlake is one of the few writers I know whose powers have increased with age (he is 73). Not even Elmore Leonard does dialogue better than Westlake, and Westlake mostly leaves out the curse words. In “What’s So Funny?” Dortmunder is muscled into an impossible job by an ex-cop who has incriminating photos of him at the scene of a heist. Turns out the cop’s employer is the son of a First World War G.I. who helped lift (in more ways than one) a gold chess set from a port warehouse in Murmansk, the proceeds to be divided among all the soldiers in the unit when they got back to the States. But the guy who was supposed to do the cashing in took the set and disappeared. Mr. Hemlow wants Dortmunder to liberate the set from the underground vault of a bank building, as revenge for his father’s loss. Hilarity follows, as Dortmunder enlists the star-crossed gang from the OJ in his lost cause. Stir in Mr. Hemlow’s lawyer granddaughter, a documentary filmmaker who sets his glittering eyes on the prize, and Mrs. Livia Northwood Wheeler, imperious self-absorbed heir to the chess set fortune, and a secret devotee of low-life night-life and you have a story that will have you snorting milk before the first chapter is out. “What’s So Funny?” is a perfect beach book but don’t wait until summertime to read it.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Messenger

THE MESSENGER: Daniel Silva: G. P. Putnam’s Sons: Fiction: 338 pages

Gabriel Allon, an art restorer is called back into action as an Israeli intelligence officer when the Vatican is attacked. His mission is to infiltrate the entourage of the financial backer of the bombing- Zizi, an Islamic Saudi business man who believes all infidels should be destroyed. The only way in is through an American art expect, Sarah and an unknown Picasso painting.

Set in today’s news headlines, the story moves swiftly and realistically. I enjoyed how Gabriel’s character is well-developed and flawed, not a perfect spy that straightens his bowtie at the end of a fight. Minimal language and sexuality.


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Survival of the Sickest

SURVIVAL OF THE SICKEST: A MEDICAL MAVERICK DISCOVERS WHY WE NEED DISEASE: Dr. Sharon Moalem: William Morrow Publishing: Nonfiction: 264 pgs.

Dr. Moalem begins his fascinating medical treatise using unusual hereditary conditions to illustrate how these very conditions that can cause an early death actually helped our ancestors survive diseases like the Plague. From there it just gets more bizarre. He uses recent discoveries to explain to the novice how your Grandmother’s smoking could cause your children to be overweight, how sunglasses can cause you to get a sunburn, and how the wood frog’s ability to survive being frozen solid may help scientists cure diabetes.

At times random, the style and pace of this book make it fun and addictive. Definitely recommendable to anyone who, like me, loves little bizarre facts and random knowledge. Dr. Moalem’s true passion is in the asking of a question and to the end, encourages everyone to never lose the 3 year old in each of us. Never be afraid to ask why, and never be too busy to try to find an answer.