Friday, September 26, 2008

Soon I Will Be Invincible

SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE: Austin Grossman: Pantheon Books: Sci-Fi: 287 pgs.

This book is written from two different perspectives. First, Doctor Impossible - evil genius, diabolical scientist, wannabe world dominator - who waits in a federal detention facility. Even though he's under massive security, he's already planning his next move. He's already tried to take over the world in every way imaginable. But this time it's going to be different.

Fatale is a rookie superhero on her first day with the Champions, the world's most famous superteam. She's a cyborg: skin and chrome, a gleaming technological marvel built to be the next generation of warfare. Unfortunately it falls to her to fill the void of a fallen member of the Champions while coping with her own damaged past.

This novel is catnip for comic book lovers and fans of classic superhero stories: Batman, Superman, etc. It pokes a bit of fun at the genre while indulging in it a bit. I really loved Doctor Impossible's character, he's observant, keenly thoughtful and intelligent, but he won't hesitate to shout out, "You'll never stop me, fools!" A fun read.


Number the Stars

NUMBER THE STARS: Lois Lowry: Houghton Mifflin: Young Adult: 137 pages

In 1943, during the German occupation of Denmark, ten-year-old Annemarie learns how to be brave and courageous when she helps shelter her Jewish friend from the Nazis.

I remember reading this Newberry Award Winner when I was younger and enjoying it. Again I was engrossed in this story of the Holocaust and the bravery Annemarie and her family displayed.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Son of the Shadows

SON OF THE SHADOWS: Juliet Marillier: Tor: Sci-fi: 462 pages

Liadan of Sevenwaters is a healer, caring for her dying mother and considering a marriage proposal from Eamonn, a neighboring landowner with whom Liadan’s family needs to maintain strong ties for protection. When Liadan is abducted by the Painted Man’s mercenaries to save the life of an injured man, she falls in love with Bran, Eamonn and her family’s greatest enemy.

This is the second book in the Sevenwaters Trilogy, but I read it without being familiar with the first book and thoroughly enjoyed it. History, romance, and fantasy combine to make an addictive read.


Enslaved by Ducks

ENSLAVED BY DUCKS: Bob Tarte: Algonquin Books: Nonfiction: 308 pages

When Bob Tarte’s wife suggested they adopt a bunny, it seemed like a safe enough proposition, but the bunny was the beginning of a long line of strong-willed pets about to overrun the house. Bad-tempered birds, territorial ducks, and other quirky animals fill Tarte’s stories, and he shares his farm experiences with humor and warmth. A wonderful read that will especially delight fans of James Herriot and John Grogan.


Monday, September 22, 2008

The Haunting of Hill House

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE: Shirley Jackson: Penguin Books: Fiction: 246 pgs.

Four paranormal seekers plan to spend the summer at Hill House looking for evidence of a truly haunted house. Dr. Montague the scholar who gathered the group asked Eleanor a lonely woman who had a poltergeist experience as a child, Theodora a free spirited psychic, and Luke the future heir to Hill House. Together they get what they hope for but at what price?

One of those rare cases in which the 1963 film version The Haunting, starring Julie Harris and Claire Bloom is better and scarier than the book.


Friday, September 19, 2008

City of the Beasts

CITY OF THE BEASTS: Isabel Allende: HarperCollins: 2002:406 pages

City of the Beasts has all the elements of a horror novel – scary creatures, suspicious characters, steaming jungle with dark shadows and lost civilizations. But the book reads more like a lengthy plot description of a book than an actual book. There is little description or character development, characters have unexplained random powers that they discover just in time to solve a problem in the plot, etc. Only inexperienced readers will find much to engage or thrill in this novel. Maybe, if this is the first time you’ve ever encountered a story with jaguars and mysterious Indians and piranhas and 12-year olds solving mysteries that are too hard for the grownups, you would like this book. But only maybe.


The October Country

OCTOBER COUNTRY: Ray Bradbury: Ballantine Books: 1996: 306 p.

I am not generally a fan of horror, but I am definitely a fan of Ray Bradbury. October Country is a collection of dark, supernatural stories with a chilling mix of twisted fates and scares. These psychological tales offer horror in thought provoking doses. Some of the stories foreshadow more recent sci-fi or horror plots, i.e. The Scythe, which features a man who is heir to death’s job. If you prefer novels to stories and want to read a classic, read Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” but whatever you do, don’t miss reading something by this classic, gifted sci-fi/fantasy writer.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

WORLD WAR Z: AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE ZOMBIE WAR: Max Brooks: Three Rivers Press: 2006: SCI-FI: 342 pages

Set in the near future, this is the story of the world’s battle against the Zombie plague. The author never fully explains how the first human was infected and then reanimated as an undead Zombie except that it started in China, but once a Zombie is created it has only to inflict a wound to turn any human into another Zombie.

The story is told in a series of first-person accounts as the survivors are interviewed by the author 10 years after the war. These people are from all over the world and their stories are from different points in the war. A picture of the Zombie war slowly unfolds as you learn the mistakes made and how each country dealt with the threat.

I really enjoyed reading this novel. Since the story is told after the events occurred there are few gruesome descriptions. I liked that each survivor interviewed had a unique voice, but what I found most interesting were the parallels to what might happen in a real pandemic.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary's Baby
By Ira Levin
New American Library, c1967, 2003. 308 pgs. Fiction

This is a classic story and a fine piece of psychological horror. Rosemary and Guy move into their apartment in the Bramford, and are soon "adopted" by their elderly neighbors, Roman and Minnie Castavets. Soon Rosemary is expecting. During her pregnancy she becomes increasingly convinced that her neighbors and even her husband are involved in some kind of satanic rituals and she fears for the safety of her baby.


The Store

The Store
By Bentley Little
Signet, 1998. 431 pgs. Fiction

One day in the small town of Juniper, Arizona a sign goes up announcing "The Store is Coming." A large mega-store where you buy just about anything. The large selection, low prices, and the prospect of providing a number of jobs for local residents make The Store's arrival attractive to many residents. Local businesses take a hit and once The Store is established it expands and reaches out into every aspect of life in this small community. Horror story or reality? There are bizarre and demeaning requirements for those wanting employment at The Store. People disappear. The night managers look like zombies. Bill Davis stands essentially alone in his opposition to The Store and will pay a terrible price in his attempt to stop The Store. Cheap thrills. Something like the Goosebumps series for adults.


How Not to Be Popular

HOW NOT TO BE POPULAR: Jennifer Ziegler: Delacorte Press: Young Adult: 339 pages

Maggie has moved more times than she cares to remember. Her hippie parents, Rosie and Les, love moving and experiencing new things. Although Maggie enjoyed this when she was younger, she resents moving (and leaving behind a boyfriend and her popularity) as she begins her senior year in a new school in Austin. Hurt at this recent move she decides not to make any friends in Austin so that when she eventually leaves it won’t hurt again. She dresses in the craziest outfits, eats alone (although misfit Penny joins her each day) and avoids Jack, a young-Republican type, who seems to be interested in her. Pressured to strengthen her college application, Maggie joins the Helping Hands club and finds herself making friends. How she resolves this situation is both realistic, but hard to read. Maggie is a funny and realistic portrayal of a teen who wants a permanent home.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Home to Roost

HOME TO ROOST: A BACKYARD FARMER CHASES CHICKENS THROUGH THE AGES: Bob Sheasley: Thomas Dunne Books: Nonfiction: 290 pages

Sheasley, a journalist with The Philadelphia Inquirer, raises chickens on his farm and relates anecdotes from his own experiences as well as a wealth of researched information, including details about the mythology of chickens, current mass production practices on farms, and a number of fascinating tidbits (at Easter time, dye is injected into eggs so that chicks are born in lurid purples, greens, and pinks). Sheasley manages to discuss one of the most common animals in America and still fascinate his readers.


Night Road

NIGHT ROAD: A.M. Jenkins: HarperTeen: Young Adult: 362 pages

When Cole and Sandor are assigned to teach Gordo, a new vampire (“hemavore”), the practices of their parasitic life, they set out on a road trip that causes Cole to battle with his memories of a failed relationship and to constantly struggle to keep Gordo, and himself, safe.

This is a vampire tale that portrays vampires in a more traditional role than the Twilight series. The vampires burn in the sun and suck human blood to sustain life, but they also struggle to remain undetected, appearing as average American teenagers who frequent bars. The story is thoughtful, considering choices and consequences, but the plot moves slowly and the most interesting part of the story, an encounter with a stray vampire, plays a minor role that could have been expanded to pick up the pace of the novel.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ghost Story

GHOST STORY: Peter Straub: Pocket Books: Fiction: 567 pgs.

The four old members of the Chowder Society have lived very comfortable, prosperous lives in the little town of Milburn, NY. They meet regularly to tell ghost stories but soon the stories seem to take on a life of their own. Milburn is under seige from an evil force determined to take revenge, on the members of the Chowder Society and the town, for a crime that happened 50 years ago.

This book has many different characters and several different story lines so I found myself getting a little confused at the beginning but I was soon drawn into the story. There was one part that was pretty intense and I jumped out of my chair when something fell off the counter for no apparent reason.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ella Minnow Pea

ELLA MINNOW PEA: A NOVEL IN LETTERS: Mark Dunn: Anchor Books: Fiction: 208pgs.

Ella Minnow Pea is living happily on the fictional island of Nollop, named after the man who coined the phrase, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” In the center of town is a monument to Nollop, with tiles bearing the famous phrase. But when letters start to fall from the statue, citizens take it as a sign to stop using those letters completely, under strict punishment for infractions. As the letters progressively drop from the monument they also disappear from the novel. What results is the story of Ella's fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force.

This book is quirky and charming. Punnily subtitled "A novel in letters," it's written only in correspondence, which makes it a quick read. It will be especially enjoyable for those who appreciate language, vocabulary, and literary playfulness.


Monday, September 8, 2008

The Last Days of Old Beijing


Clearly Michael Meyer loves China and the people of China. Living in a “hutong” neighborhood characterized by old stone and tile buildings, communal bathrooms, small rooms and courtyards surrounded by narrow streets he came to know the everyday life of the Chinese as few westerners do. Michael, known as Little Plumblossom in his hutong neighborhood, acquaints us with neighborhood life and personalities even as he describes the destruction of these Chinese heritage architectural sites as Beijing is modernized by city planners. I highly recommend this book if you have an interest in China.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

By Mary Ann Shaffer
The Dial Press, 2008. 288 pages. Fiction.

This story is set in London at the end of World War II. A single woman journalist who wrote humorous columns during the war starts a correspondence with a farmer on the isle of Guernsey. Slowly she learns his story and that of many of his neighbors of what they suffered at the hands of the Germans. Beautiful friendships are formed. Don't let the strange title put you off, this book is on my top ten list for 2008. It would be a wonderful choice for a book club.


The Possibilities of Sainthood

THE POSSIBILITIES OF SAINTHOOD: Donna Freitas: Farrar, Straus & Giroux: Young Adult: 272 pages

Fifteen-year-old Antonia monthly petitions the Vatican to become the first living saint, proposing new saint posts she could occupy, such as a Patron Saint of Figs (to help her family preserve their trees) or the Patron Saint of First Kisses and Kissing (while she waits for her own first kiss). In the meantime, she regularly calls on the existing saints for help in gym class, for attention from handsome Andy, and for assistance in navigating her family relationships. This is a warm and funny look at an Italian American family, starring a far sweeter and quirkier teen than the characters populating most contemporary teen fiction.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Postcards from No Man's Land

Postcards from No Man's Land
By Aidan Chambers
Dutton Books, 2002. 312 pgs. Fiction

Jacob is a 17-year old young man from England in Amsterdam to visit a friend of his grandmother’s, Geertrui, who as a young woman helped nurse wounded British soldiers during WW II. One storyine follows Jacob in his adventures in and around Amsterdam during his stay in Holland. Another storyline, set during WWII, tells of Geertrui falling in love with a British soldier—Jacob’s grandfather. The two stories are artfully interwoven and told in intercut chapters which play counterpoint to one another. The two stories fold together very nicely toward the end of the book. The story is engaging and the dialog clever. Jacob is confronted with adultery, homosexuality, transvestitism, and euthanasia. In spite of these elements the main characters are all impressive for their forthrightness and their sensitivity. Underscored is the idea that regardless of experiences, geography, lifestyle, and language we all share something in common: our humanity.


Fishers of Men

Fishers of Men
By Gerald Lund
Shadow Mountain, 2000. 642 pgs. Fiction

This story focuses on the family of a Galilean merchant. The events in their lives occasionally intersect with the life of Christ, who some view with great admiration and others with anger. The father, David ben Joseph, is a merchant who has given much thought to the prophecies concerning the Messiah. His wife, Deborah, is the niece of Judas of Gamla who led the uprising against the Romans at Masada in 6 A.D. Deborah and her son, Simeon, side with the zealots who seek to vanquish Roman oppression. When Christ begins his ministry the family is divided into two groups: those that believe he teaches great truths for all mankind and those that believe him to be a blasphemer and traitor to the Jewish people.


I am Legend

I Am Legend
By Richard Matheson
ORB, 1995. 317 pgs. Fiction

This is the story of Robert Neville, apparently the last man on earth after a deadly plague kills most of the population. Most survivors were transformed them into vampires. Neville seems to be the only exception. He experiments with the several ideas concerning vampires, the effect of garlic and crucifixes, sleeping in the dirt, the idea of vampires casting no reflection in mirrors, etc. He starts to determine what is true and what is not. He also becomes curious about what actually caused these transformations—from a scientific point of view. These questions occupy him as he lives for years alone in his house. He reads books from the Public Library, obtains a microscope, studies blood samples. He eventually develops a theory about vampire legends. Then he sees another survivor—a young woman...


Every Dead Thing

Every Dead Thing
By John Connolly
Simon & Schuster, 1999. 395 pgs. Mystery

Charlie “Bird” Parker, an NYPD detective, whose wife and child were horribly tortured, mutilated, and murdered by an elusive serial killer known by some as “the Traveling man”. Within a year of this Parker emerges from alcoholism, guilt and despair to undertake work as a private investigator. This will pass the time and pay the bills while he continues to hope that he’ll someday get some further leads on “The Traveling Man”.

There are two plotlines here: The first involves the disappearance of Catherine Demeter, the Mafia, and a 30-year old mystery in a small Virginia involving tortured children. The other involves “The Traveling Man”, an obese psychic, and two families seeking to control the New Orleans underground.

“Bird” is a great character. Tough, smart, and a little lucky. A little humor mixed with a considerable amount of Gore.


American Gods

American Gods
By Neil Gaiman
W. Morrow, 2001. 465 pgs. Science Fiction

The main character, "Shadow", has just been paroled from prison and his heading home to a new job, when a "Mr. Wednesday" attempts to recruit him as a personal assistant/bodyguard. Shadow declines. When the job dematerializes and Wednesday pops up again, Shadow hires on and they set off on a bizarre road trip through the mid-western United States.

Shadow learns that "Mr. Wednesday" believes he is the Norse god Odin. Wednesday travels about warning "old" gods that there is a "storm" coming—a confrontation of the "old" gods with the "new" gods. As the storm is brewing and Wednesday tracks out "old" gods and recruits them, it becomes increasingly clear that Mr. Wednesday really is the Odin of Norse mythology and that Shadow will play some integral part in what is to come.


I, Claudius

I, Claudius
By Robert Graves
Vintage Books, 1961. 432 pgs. Fiction

Born with a leg that caused him to limp all of his life as well as a speech impediment whereby he stuttered most everything he spoke, Claudius was considered by most of his family and by the populace in general to be an idiot. This was not the case—he was actually very intelligent, received a fine education, and wrote a number of histories on various topics: the Etruscans, the Carthaginians, etc. Surrounding him were duplicitous and treacherous family members who had one another killed (poisoning was a common means of killing off rival family members). The story is told as if Claudius had left behind an autobiography detailing his life (which he did not). It is rich in details which give some idea of how Claudius might have lived.


The Egyptologist

The Egyptologist
By Arthur Phillips
Random House, 2004. 383 pgs. Fiction

This fascinating, convoluted tale is told in a fascinating, convoluted way. Much of this story is told through correspondence and diary entries, and it may take a little while to get a sense of what this story is really all about.

The main character, Philip Trillipush, is a British archaeologist who has discovered a fragment of a work written by a shadowy figure in ancient Egyptian history--the controversial “Atum-hadu”. The fragment Trillipush discovered is some of Atum-hadu’s erotic poetry. Trillipush wishes now to locate Atum-hadu’s tomb and his efforts to that end are detailed throughout the book. Some of this story is “told” through the letters of Harold Ferrell, a private investigator who attempted to track down Paul Caldwell, an Australian child who stood to inherit a small fortune. Ferrell’s investigation intersects closely with the career of Phillip Trillipush.

Part mystery, part historical fiction (1920’s mostly), part satire, and a smidgen of horror makes this a story for many but not for everyone.



By Laurie Halse Anderson
Puffin Books, 2001. 197 pgs. Young Adult

In this very readable sometimes funny, yet very serious story, Melinda Sordino begins her freshman year in High School. Her observations about school, teachers, parents, and the other kids at school are very funny and will resonate with many of the teens this book targets. Although the reader might be entertained by Melinda’s thoughts, her fellow students mostly treat her as an outcast. Her friends from Jr. High have all moved on into new groups and cliques leaving Melinda to face her freshman year mostly alone and isolated. She begins the year with a sore throat which worsens as the school year grinds on and she finds it increasingly difficult to speak—yet she has something important to say. You see, in her isolation and Melinda is dealing with the fact that she was raped by a boy at a party shortly before the beginning of the school year and she hasn’t told anyone.


Queen of the South

Queen of the South
By Arturo Perez-Reverte
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2004. 436 pgs. Fiction

Teresa Mendoza receives a call on a cell phone—a special cell given to her by her boyfriend with the instruction that “If this thing ever rings, it’s because I’m dead. So run. As far and as fast as you can, prietita…” Running drugs is a dangerous business. Teresa runs fast and far fleeing Mexico for Spain and winding up in Melilla—a city belonging to Spain but located in North Africa bordered by Morocco and the Mediterranean. After several months working in a bar Teresa finds that she is not content merely surviving and begins a long climb into the world of drug trafficking and through sheer determination, intelligence, and luck she establishes her operation as one of the largest in the Mediterranean.

The story is told in alternating segments: in third person narrative following Teresa Mendoza and a first person narrative of a reporter’s investigation into her life years down the road. Those familiar with Perez-Reverte’s earlier novels (The Dumas Club, The Fencing Master) will note that this new novel is considerably different than his earlier work. Part thriller, part mystery, and a little chic lit with a serious edge on it.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride


This book picks up just before Elizabeth's marriage to Mr. Darcy, and continues with her introduction to London's high society. This book not only continues Elizabeth's story, but also the stories of others in her circle like Kitty Bennett and Georgiana Darcy.

Halstead does an admirable job of using Austen-like language, which contributes a lot to the authentic feel of this book. I also enjoyed reading from the perspective of the other characters, which gives you an interesting glimpse of how they end up. Of course, it has to stand in the shadow of Austen, so it's not perfect. But if you're a P&P fan, you will enjoy this sequel.