Monday, October 29, 2007

Fire in the Blood

FIRE IN THE BLOOD: Irene Nemirovksy: Knopf: 2007: General Fiction: 160

Although a likable narrator, cousin Silvio is entirely emotionally removed from the lives of those around him; specifically his cousin, Helene, and her family. A scandal involving his niece forces Silvio to revisit his own past and question whether it’s not the “fire in the blood” we have as impetuous youth that makes us most truly ourselves after all.

In her own words, Nemirovsky’s novel is about “The Young and the Old. Austerity, purity of parents who were guilty when they were young. The impossibility of understanding that 'fire in the blood' (as you grow older)." Set in rural France before WWI this simple, almost allegorical, piece of fiction was published posthumously. It reads conceptually more than rich in detail and character development; nonetheless an interesting exercise in one’s shifting identity over time.

Contemporary Mormonism: Latter-day Saints in Modern America

CONTEMPORARY MORMONISM: LATTER-DAY SAINTS IN MODERN AMERICA: Claudia L. Bushman: Praeger Publishers: Nonfiction: 241 pgs.

American voters curious about Mitt Romney's religion would do well to read Columbia University Professor Bushman's latest title. It would save the candidate from having to respond to ill-informed questioners by suggesting they look for the answer on the LDS web site. And if you are not a member of the faith, don't worry. The well-documented book's purpose is not to convert souls despite the author being a third-generation Mormon. It will inform you with no hidden agenda.

You won't learn scintillating secrets, but you also won't find controversies buried. Emotion-laden subjects ripe for outrage, such as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the First Presidency speaking against the proposed Equal Rights Amendment or the seemingly overdue (1978) announcement that made worthy men of all races eligible for priesthood, are not glossed over. Those unfamiliar with the 177-year old religious institution could lay to rest some societal misconceptions about the modern Mormon community.


Hidden Kitchens

HIDDEN KITCHENS: STORIES, RECIPES, AND MORE FROM NPR’S THE KITCHEN SISTERS: Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva: Rodale: Nonfiction: 278 pages

Inspired by the Kitchen Sisters’ Morning Edition series on NPR, Hidden Kitchens is a collection of fascinating food stories, featuring unexpected, off-the-path “kitchens” and their chefs, including burgoo fundraisers, homeless communities cooking with George Foreman grills, traveling NASCAR cooks feeding crews, and Chili Queens celebrating their culture.

These beautifully drawn portraits of cooking communities are an inspiring read and a notable chronicle of America’s food life. Full of photographs, history, recipes, and lore, Hidden Kitchens entertains and informs readers from start to finish.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

So Yesterday

SO YESTERDAY: Scott Westerfeld: Razorbill: Young Adult: 225 pages

Scott Westerfeld's intriguing novel is a thriller that involves teenagers who aspire to be the first to discover a new, cool fashion trend. Seventeen-year-old Hunter Braque, a native New Yorker, aspires to be one of the trendsetters, and when he accidentally stumbles on a cache of pristine, vintage sneakers in an abandoned Chinatown building, Hunter's life takes a number of twists and turns.

I really enjoyed the first half of this book. It was exciting and full of adventure, however I felt like the ending sort of fizzled out. I enjoy Scott Westerfeld’s books, but this one wasn’t my favorite. I would recommend this book to those who like his other novels.


Friday, October 26, 2007

The Almost Moon

THE ALMOST MOON: Alice Sebold: Little, Brown and Company: Fiction: 291 pgs.

There is a line people do not cross. Helen Knightly, middle-aged divorced mother of two and caretaker of her chronically mentally-ill elderly mother, Clair, crosses it more than once in this unnerving and haunting twenty-four hour narrative. In effort to clean away the acrid scent of her mother soiling herself, Helen wraps Clair in blankets, sickly thinking, "Super Giant Mother Burrito," takes her out on the porch and instead smothers her with a towel.

Alice Sebold, author of reader-acclaimed novel, The Lovely Bones, writes another unforgettable book, despite how much one wishes to forget the latest. The story darkly weaves back and forth in time detailing their awful family life. Narcissistic and agoraphobic, Clair behaved cruelly to her husband and only child. Helen's father, mentally and physically exhausted, committed suicide several years earlier, and she is left alone to deal with her aging, demented and difficult mother. A less self-focused narrator might have elicited sympathy and suspended harsh judgment. I eagerly awaited the release of Sebold's latest novel since I enjoyed her first. But she fails to give any reason to like or feel compassion for Helen and offers no clear story's end beyond the crime scene line.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Used World

THE USED WORLD: Haven Kimmel: Free Press: Fiction: 308 pages

Hazel Hunnicut, an older woman running the Used World Emporium, an antique and junk shop, helps direct the lives of her two employees—lonely Claudia who is coping with her mother’s death and pregnant Rebekah, still reeling from her boyfriend’s abandonment and her strict religious upbringing.

Haven Kimmel, author of the delightful memoir A Girl Named Zippy, writes beautifully. Like Anne Tyler, she creates familiar, multi-layered characters whose lives are ripped open and displayed for readers. Unlike Tyler, though, Kimmel joins her characters as they are sinking into despair and maneuvers them into relationships that reveal individuals’ significance to one another, creating more hopeful stories. The Used World begins slowly and moves back and forth through history in a way that requires close reading to follow, but after the initial slow start, the story flies along. Although it is a stand-alone title, readers who enjoyed Kimmel’s earlier fiction will be pleased to see Amos Townsend reappear in this eloquent, thoughtful tale.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Live and Let Shop

LIVE AND LET SHOP: Michael P. Spradlin: Avon Books: Young Adult: 271 pgs.

Beverly Hills teenager Rachel Buchanan gets in trouble with the law and winds up at mysterious Blackthorn Academy in Pennsylvania, where she uncovers secrets about the school and becomes entangled in a case of international espionage.

This was a fun, quick read. It was sort of like an episode of Alias geared towards teens. There was lots of action with some deeper mythology thrown in. This would be good to suggest to fans of the Spy High series, Alex Rider series, H.I.V.E. by Mark Walden, or Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks.


The Spell Book of Listen Taylor

THE SPELL BOOK OF LISTEN TAYLOR: Jaclyn Moriarty: A.A. Levine: Young Adult: 479 pages

When seventh-grader Listen Taylor and her father move in with Marbie Zing, Listen discovers a book with instructions to cast unusual spells, including a spell to Make Someone Call a Taxi and a spell to Make Two People Have a Fight about Absolutely Nothing. Listen’s spells have unexpected results and lead her and her family into new activities that eventually reveal the Zing Family Secret.

I usually love Jaclyn Moriarty’s books, but this one does not have a clear audience. The writing style and tone are appropriate for a teen audience, but Listen, the 12-year-old title character, is only one member of an ensemble cast. Most of the characters are adults, many of whom are struggling with relationships and affairs. The storyline is interesting—despite spells being cast, the book is realistic fiction, not fantasy—and weaves together stories from each character in the past and present to solve the mystery of the Zing Family Secret. Adult fans of Moriarty’s books will probably enjoy this selection, but it’s unlikely to appeal to teens.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Nickel and Dimed

NICKEL AND DIMED: ON (NOT) GETTING BY IN AMERICA: Barbara Ehrenreich: Metropolitan Books: Nonfiction: 221 pgs.

With some 12 million women being pushed into the labor market by welfare reform, she decided to do some good old-fashioned journalism and find out just how they were going to survive on the wages of the unskilled--at $6 to $7 an hour, only half of what is considered a living wage. So she did what millions of Americans do, she looked for a job and a place to live, worked that job, and tried to make ends meet. She worked as a waitress in Key West, Fla., as a cleaning woman and a nursing home aide in Portland, Maine, and in a WalMart in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Delivering a fast read that's both sobering and sassy, she gives readers pause about those caught in the economy's undertow, even in good times, and how hard work can fail to live up to its reputation as the ticket out of poverty.


The Mediterranean Caper

THE MEDITERRANEAN CAPER: Clive Cussler: Simon & Schuster: Fiction: 220 pgs.

On an isolated Greek island, a World War I fighter plane attacks a modern U.S. Air Force base, a mysterious saboteur preys on an American scientific expedition, and Dirk Pitt plays a deadly game of hunter and hunted with the elusive head of an international smuggling ring. This fast-paced read was author Clive Cussler’s first published book.

Originally written in 1973, it’s a bit creaky with age-- definitely not PC in relation to different ethnicities and women. But it’s got danger, action, and a plot that moves right along. It’s also got sex, language, and violence, so it’s not for everybody. But if you’re looking for an interesting, light read, you might also want to check out his other books.


Fast Food Nation

FAST FOOD NATION: Eric Schlosser: Houghton Mifflin: Nonfiction: 356 pgs.

After watching the documentary Supersize Me and wanting to learn more about the fast food industry, I ended up listening to the audio version of this book. Now I understand why even six years after its publication, this book remains one of the most highly circulating nonfiction books at the library.

After reading this book, I will never think of the food I consume in the same way ever again. This book has made me more aware of the process of how food gets from the field to my mouth. Not only does the author describe what goes on at fast food restaurants, he also describes how the industry was born, grew, and developed. A very thought-provoking book, plus read by a reader who kept it interesting.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Star is Found: Our Adventures Casting Some of Hollywood’s Biggest Movies

A STAR IS FOUND: OUR ADVENTURES CASTING SOME OF HOLLYWOOD’S BIGGEST MOVIES: Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins: Harcourt: Nonfiction: 307 pgs.

The authors, both casting directors and founders of the Casting Company, one of Los Angeles' top casting agencies, relate experiences from their three-decades-long careers in the industry. During that time, they’ve worked with a lot of people, such as Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Francis Ford Coppola, and Wolfgang Petersen, and they've been instrumental in casting quite a few famous actors, such as Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, John Cusack, and Robin Wright Penn, in their career-making roles.

Reading the book was like sitting down and having a conversation with friends. The writers didn’t dish any dirt but provided behind-the-scenes insight into the casting side of making movies. If you’re interested in movies, you’ll enjoy the glimpses offered into what goes on in finding the perfect person for each film role, whether great or small.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Isolation Ward

ISOLATION WARD: Joshua Spanogle: Dell: Fiction: 516 pages

Dr. Nathaniel McCormick had never seen anything like it before: three female patients, all residents of Baltimore’s group homes for the mentally impaired, their bodies racked by a baffling and unstoppable virus. As a young investigator from the Centers for Disease Control, Nate’s job is to peer into the lives and habits of the victims…and what he finds chills him to the very bone. Teaming up with an old colleague and former lover, Nate follows a twisting trail of clues to an unimaginable discovery. And as a circle of treachery tightens around him, he is about to confront the most chilling revelation of all-- a past he himself has been desperately trying to escape.

This was an interesting, fast-paced medical thriller. Dr. McCormick had no problem throwing the rule book out and searching for clues until he had the mystery solved. I liked the book; however, it does have quite a bit of language.


Love, Stargirl

LOVE, STARGIRL: Jerry Spinelli: Alfred A. Knopf: Young Adult: 274 pages

After moving to Pennsylvania, Stargirl still pines for Leo, her old boyfriend from Mica High who jilted her. She writes him “the world’s longest letter,” telling him about her new life with her five-year-old best friend Dootsie, an aging neighbor who refuses to leave the house, and an attractive boy who sleeps on his roof. This sweet sequel to Stargirl sets up readers for another book in the series.



EXTRAS: Scott Westerfeld: Simon Pulse: Young Adult: 417 pages

Several years after Tally and the Cutters bring down their dystopian society, Aya Fuse is a “kicker,” posting feeds in an attempt to make her “face rank” rise, in a new society that values fame and recognition more than anything. When she kicks a story that propels her out of anonymity, Aya finds herself in the middle of a secret that has her running for her life.

Scott Westerfeld continues the Uglies series in this fourth book, featuring a new set of teenagers living in a futuristic Japan. Scott Westerfeld is an extremely talented writer and the series needed another book after Specials, but the arc of this story is disappointing. Extras sets up an interesting new society and a dangerous mystery, but the ending abruptly changes direction and wraps up the story too neatly. Fans of the Uglies series will enjoy Extras but the book does have flaws.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Throat

By Peter Straub
Signet, 1993. 697 pgs. Fiction

This engrossing crime-horror-thriller is set in the town of Millhaven, Illinois. Tim Underhill, a former resident, and now a successful writer, has published an account of the “Blue Rose” murders which gripped the town 40 years earlier. Now another “Blue Rose” murder has occurred and the victim’s husband calls Underhill back to Millhaven hoping he can help determine who killed his wife.

This intense psychological thriller is a thoroughly engaging story supported by vivid characterizations and details of small town life.

The Throat is actually the third of a very loose trilogy, the first two being Koko and Mystery. While there’s no need to read these prior to The Throat you may wish to read them afterward. There are additional glimpses into Millhaven in Straub’s collection of short stories, Magic Terror.


The Kitchen God's Wife

The Kitchen God's Wife
By Amy Tan
Ivy Books, 1991. 532 pgs. Fiction

Although this begins and ends among the Chinese Americans in California, the bulk of this story is set in mid-twentieth century China. Winnie tells her life story to her grown daughter—a story of a lonely childhood followed by an arranged marriage to a self-centered, second-rate businessman who lacks integrity and any other value you care to name.

By her own wits and sense of values, her friendships, and more than a bit of luck, Winnie not only survives her marriage and the Japanese bomb raids, but goes on to marry an American soldier, immigrate to the United States and settle in California.

Offering insights into Chinese history and culture this is an inspiring, triumphant story of one woman’s courage.


Monday, October 8, 2007

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World

THE MYSTERIOUS EDGE OF THE HEROIC WORLD; E. L. Konigsburg; Young Adult fiction;
256 pages.

Ms. Konigsburg is grinding so many axes in this new novel for young adults you would think sparks would fly, but it is actually a relatively low-key but many-layered narrative. Art, loyalty, eccentricity, friendship, and intolerance are Ms. Konigsburg's familiar subjects in this narrative where Amadeo constructs an unlikely friendship with William and they help Mrs. Zender clean out her house in preparation for her move to a "home." Through a series of desperately improbable coincidences, Amadeo's grandmother butts heads with the quirky Mrs. Zender over a long-ago and terrible injustice. Ms. Konigsburg's prose is, as always, densely textured and finely-tuned, her characters carefully well-wrought and engaging, but I can't imagine very many teens who will be willing to claw their way through the briar patch of personalities and coincidences to reach the point where we learn that it is wicked to judge and persecute people because they are fat or Jewish, or gay, or Southern, or in any other way not exactly like you and me, a good point made with a heavy hand.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Girls of Riyadh

GIRLS OF RIYADH: Rajaa Alsanea: Penguin (2007): Fiction: 286 pages.

Pick up this novel and join the email list of a young woman living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Each posting discloses events in the lives of her friends as they reach marriageable age in a society where men and women are kept strictly apart. Like young women everywhere they dream of true love and romance, but the strict Islamic standards of their society and the traditions of arranged marriage create almost unimaginable barriers to happiness for each of them. Banned in Saudi Arabia, the book gives outsiders an astonishingly intimate look at the lives of rich young Saudi women. You may envy their wealth but you’d never dream of changing places with them.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant


In this delightful collection, authors share their experiences cooking and eating alone. The title comes from Laurie Colwin’s essay, which also appears in her food memoir, Home Cooking, an excellent book for readers who enjoy food writing. Steve Almond, the author of Candyfreak, shares a shrimp recipe; Phoebe Nobles describes how to be an asparagus superhero; and Jeremy Jackson convinced me that I should start eating black beans everyday. Other notable essays and authors include Ann Patchett, Rosa Jurjevics, and Nora Ephron. I didn’t love every essay in the collection, but several essays were so enjoyable that I highly recommend the entire book.


Monday, October 1, 2007

The Remarkable Millard Fillmore: The Unbelievable Life of a Forgotten President


I love to read biographies but when I saw this was waiting for me on the hold shelf, even I said to myself, "Why in the world did I put this on hold?"

I'm glad I did, because this is one hilarious book. The author takes the most boring and basic of facts that he unearthed about Fillmore and builds up an unbelievable and hilarious portrait of one of our lesser known presidents. While this is classified as a biography, I wouldn't use it as a basis for a research paper. A very funny read.