Thursday, October 30, 2008


GRACELING; Kristin Cashore; NY: Harcourt, 2008; Young Adult: 471 p.

The citizens of the Seven Kingdoms are either regular folk or Graced--endowed with a particular skill or ability that sets them above and apart from their fellows. Katsa, niece of King Randa and princess of the realm, is graced with the ability to kill and maim. Her uncle trains her and then requires her to be his Enforcer--to bully and threaten his neighbors into giving him whatever he wants. Katsa tries to make up for what she has to do by doing what she wants to do--she forms a secret Council to try to redress the wrongs she is forced to commit and then finally defies the king and leaves the castle with a prince of the Lienids who is searching for his grandfather's kidnapper. Their adventures as they race to stop the man with the most terrible of all Graces are the stuff of this sparkling adventure/romance/fantasy, a ripsnorting read from first to last (with just a bit of a bog-down, adventure-wise, in the center section). Katsa and Po are a remarkable couple who, unfortunately, give short shrift to the sacrament of marriage, but who do love one another as soul mates should.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008



A brief read unfolding Sarah Palin’s personal and political highlights. Written by a decided Palin proponent, the author is confident that nothing should keep her out of a Republican White House. The book portrays Palin as tough, intelligent, family-centered and intolerant of corruption—always ready to take a stand when those in power have misused their influence. A nice overview to Palin's character and political experience, yet without supplying any defense against the complaints the opposition has lodged against her. A highlight for me was the picture of her at age 2 holding a giant crab. Now that's a woman who isn't afraid of taking on the bad guys.


Tomorrow, When the War Began

TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN: John Marsden: Young Adult: Houghton Mifflin: 286 pages

Seven Australian teenagers return from a camping trip in the bush to discover that their country has been invaded and everyone in their town imprisoned. They decide that surrendering is not an option and head back to the bush to plan what they are going to do- sit out the war until they are rescued or fight back.

This book is an edge of your seat reading. Never knowing who the enemy is invading makes the story timeless and more realistic. YALSA picked it as one of the best 100 books from 1950-2000.


Monday, October 27, 2008


SWEETHEARTS: Sara Zarr: Little, Brown: Young Adult: 217 pages

Jennifer and Cameron are elementary school outcasts and best friends. At age nine, Cameron disappears and Jennifer believes he’s dead. Eight years later, Jennifer has transformed herself into Jenna, beautiful and popular and full of self-doubt that begins to spiral out of control when Cameron suddenly reappears in her life, asking her to return to a scene of abuse from their childhood. This is an interesting character study that nicely examines school and family dynamics without necessarily providing a resolution that ties everything up with a definite ending and lesson learned. Instead, readers are given a thought-provoking snapshot of a teen life.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Importance of Being Married

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING MARRIED: Gemma Townley: Ballantine: Romance: 337 pages

Jessica Wild befriended Grace, an elderly woman who desperately wanted Jessica to find love, in her grandmother’s nursing home. In order to appease Grace, Jessica invented a romance with her boss, Anthony Milton, and the story grew until Grace believed Jessica and Anthony were married. Now Grace has died and left her four million pound estate to Jessica, but the will specifies that Jessica Milton inherits, meaning Jessica has just 50 days to seduce and marry her boss, if she wants to claim the inheritance.

The requisite struggles, misunderstandings, and mishaps found in all chick lit stories are fresh and fun as Jess works against time to win over Anthony while delaying meetings with the solicitor who believes she’s already married. While there is some strong language in the story, there’s no graphic sex, making this a good selection for readers who like gentler chick lit.


Monday, October 20, 2008

My Mother the Cheerleader

MY MOTHER THE CHEERLEADER: Robert Sharenow: Laura Geringer Books: Young Adult: 288 pages

Thirteen-year-old Louise Collins’s mother, Pauline, is a cheerleader, one of the angry women picketing the integration of schools in New Orleans and harassing Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to enroll in the local elementary school. When Morgan Miller arrives from the North and stays in the Collins’ boarding-house, his presence angers the Ku Klux Klan, challenges Louise’s worldview, and exposes Pauline’s greatest secret. Historical fiction readers will thoroughly enjoy the story and book clubs will find plenty to discuss in this well-written and important book.


The Forever War

THE FOREVER WAR; Dexter Filkins; New York: Knopf, 2008; 368p. Nonfiction.

The Forever War
is agonizingly beautiful, so deftly and compassionately written with
the authority of one who has risked and ruined his life in pursuit of sharing the truth about
the endless wars of the Middle East. Filkins, overseas correspondent for The New York Times,
writes tellingly and firsthand about Marine firefights, Iraqi doctors watching babies die for
lack of electricity to incubators, children running heedlessly through minefields to cadge a stick of gum, a widow drinking the blood of her husband's killer. Filkins pushes no agenda except the powerful wish for things to be different--American troops are portrayed with affection and deep regard. He does convey the lamentable fact that if the United States leaves Iraq and Afghanistan, all will be lost, and if we stay, all will be lost as well. One of the great war narratives of this or any age.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Washington's Crossing

WASHINGTON’S CROSSING: David Hackett Fischer: Oxford University Press: 2004: 564 pages: nonfiction

This is an excellent history of the hazardous crossings of the Delaware by the Continental Army and state militias under George Washington in late December of 1776. The author does an excellent job of combining the human stories of these eventful days with the tactical and strategic ramifications of the winter campaigns that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War through victories in Trenton and Princeton. The contrast between the leadership styles of the American, British and Hessian armies is highlighted as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each group. The book also gives very interesting insight into the problems Washington experienced trying to lead so many independent groups and how his leadership style developed. The war was an excellent training ground for a future first president of a new nation with a new kind of government.

I highly recommend this book to everyone, but especially to all of those who have forgotten what little they ever knew about the Revolutionary War. Fischer proves that in depth analysis is not incompatible with a readable book.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hattie Big Sky

HATTIE BIG SKY: Kirby Larson: Delacorte Press: Young Adult: 289 pages

Toward the end of WWII, orphan Hattie Brooks travels to Montana to farm the 320 acre claim her uncle left her. Fulfilling the requirements to keep the land proves difficult, though, and navigating the social and political effects of the war is even more difficult, as Hattie befriends a woman and her German husband.

This Newbery Honor book was inspired by the author’s great-grandmother and is based on extensive research. Touching portraits of friends and neighbors and Hattie’s own struggle to do right by others creates a warm story full of heart.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Hunger Games

THE HUNGER GAMES; Suzanne Collins; New York: Scholastic, 2008; 374p. Young Adult Fiction.

Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” is the first book in a series about a dystopian future where the governments of North America have disintegrated and then reformed into Panem, a constituency of 13 districts harshly controlled by a group of conquerors in the Capitol. Each year the Capitol mounts the Hunger Games, in a sort of “The Lottery” meets “The Most Dangerous Game,” and each District must “randomly” select a young man and a young woman to fight to the death with young people chosen from the other districts while the rulers of Panem watch. Katniss Everdeen has put her name into the lottery extra times to get food credits for her family, but when her little sister Prim is the selection, Katniss takes her place. What follows is an ingenious, terrifying, heartbreaking, vividly atmospheric exercise as Katniss must survive by wit and skill as she watches enemies and friends fall to each other and to the cruel ingenuities of the Capitol spectators, and, as she and the boy who cares for her move relentlessly towards a final confrontation. The bad news is that “The Hunger Games,” fizzles at the end, with a potential romantic dilemma only partially played out, and an implied threat from the Capitol-ists in the distant background. The good news is, there will be a sequel in which, we hope, this compelling premise plays out to a satisfying conclusion.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Hide & Seek


Wendy Aron had suffered from depression and low self-esteem for most of her life. In this memoir she recounts how she began to overcome these obstacles. The process seems to be kick-started when she discovers that her long time therapist may move away. Her resulting panic leads her to a series of self-help education classes and seminars which eventually empower her to move beyond her difficult childhood.

I had hoped this book would be a lot funnier than it was. Don’t get me wrong, there were humorous moments and the book is well written and quick to read, but I didn’t feel I was entertained like I had been anticipating. That, I believe, is the danger of including the word “hilarious” in your subtitle….it builds an expectation which is very difficult to fulfill.



IMPOSSIBLE: Nancy Werlin: Dial Books: Young Adult: 376 pages

The Scarborough women are cursed. At age 18, they give birth to a daughter and then go mad unless they can complete the three impossible tasks laid out in the song “Scarborough Fair.” None of the women have ever succeeded in completing the three tasks, but Lucinda, the latest Scarborough to find herself pregnant, resists her fate, relying on her foster parents and her childhood friend Zach to help break the curse.

Although the story set up felt awkward, the premise of this novel is clever and the blend of fantasy, romance, and suspense in a modern setting will appeal to a wide variety of readers.


Friday, October 3, 2008

City of Bones

CITY OF BONES: Cassandra Clare: M.K. McElderry Books: 2007: YA: 485 pgs.

City of Bones draws heavily on books liked Wicked Lovely, Blue Bloods, and Harry Potter. The story begins with a young girl who is living a relatively normal life with her mother. Suddenly her eyes are opened to the fantastical world of creatures that inhabit the city around her after she witnesses a demon murder. When her mother is kidnapped she is drawn into their world and fights as one of them. This was an enjoyable, quick read, but by no means original.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Antsy Does Time

ANTSY DOES TIME; Neal Shusterman; New York: Dutton's, 2008; 247p. Young Adult Fiction.

Great news! Antsy Bonano is back, with many of the same goofball friends (and longsuffering family) as we grew to know and love in "The Schwa was Here." In this story, Antsy makes a new friend--Gunnar Umlaut, a doleful Swede, who works with Antsy on a school project to recreate the Dust Bowl in Gunnar's back yard. Gunnar suffers from a terminal disease so Antsy heads up a drive to get fellow students and teachers to donate time from their own lives to lengthen Gunnar's. He also gets a chance to hone his water-pouring skills in his father's new French-Italian restaurant, Paris/Capische. As usual, Antsy's laugh out loud adventures have the serious undertone of a young man learning to get along in the world and to become his best and truest self.