Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Best Game Ever

THE BEST GAME EVER: GIANTS VS. COLTS, 1958, AND THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN NFL; Mark Bowden; New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008; 239pgs. Nonfiction.

Most sports fans have favorite plays or games, but Mark Bowden argues convincingly for this pro football contest as number one in this fine volume of sports history. Bowden is a Colts fan and it is hard not to take his side in this book with its beguiling portraits of Raymond Berry, the guy with indifferent natural talent who studied his way into the record books, and Johnny Unitas and his nearly frightening ability to predict what would happen on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Even knowing how the game will turn out hardly lessens the suspense as the Colts, down three with scant minutes to go, drive towards field goal range and the first Sudden Death playoff in football history. But the greatest delight of this well-written book is in its stories and player profiles: Raymond Berry scouting the field before the game to find the wet and icy patches where his defenders might slip; NBC sending an employee onto the field in a fake drunken state when they lost their feed during the waning moments of the game and needed time to plug back in, and the Catholic novitiate where the nuns, forbidden to watch the game, draped a blanket over the TV and listened. In those days, pro football played a distant second fiddle to baseball in the hearts of American fans, and future Hall of Famers worked in steel mills and as insurance agents to supplement their skimpy football checks. The championship game of 1958 changed all that and Bowden tells the story oh so well.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Multiple Blessings

MULTIPLE BLESSINGS: Jon & Kate Gosselin: Zondervan: Non-Fiction: 201 pages

Infertility treatments, twins, more infertility treatments, followed by six beating hearts on an ultrasound screen. That sets up the Gosselins' memoir of the exhausting and joyous events surrounding the births of their now famous sextuplets. Those familiar with the TLC program Jon & Kate Plus 8 know how their household runs; now their story comes alive for readers as well. Kate admits, "I was a bit of a control freak," yet also quickly draws on and receives the "peace of God... like a security blanket" through her months in the hospital, Jon's job loss and the impending arrivals. Details such as how they chose names; the sextuplets' birth day of May 10, 2004; and the babies' weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit are fascinating, as are stories of running a household that was perpetually full of volunteers, looked like "baby base camp" and required carefully sequenced nightly bath time. The Gosselins' life is a whirlwind, with their book reflecting the fast-paced, faith-filled approach they take to raising their twins and their miracle sextuplets.

This was a quick, whirlwind read! I was impressed with the courage and faith of Jon and Kate as they have raised their children. I enjoy watching the show and seeing how they interact with each other and their children.


Final Warning

FINAL WARNING: James Patterson: Young Adult: Little Brown: 256 pages

The newest installment of the Maximum Ride series has Max and her flock of genetically engineered bird kids in Antarctica helping scientist do research on global warming. But being at the bottom of the world does not keep the flock from danger and once again a mad scientist wants to capture them to auction them off to the highest bidder to do evil.

Final Warning for me was a weak addition to a series that I really enjoy. I felt it was too much of a soapbox for the author about the environment than an adventure story.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bogus to Bubbly: An Insiders Guide to the World of Uglies

BOGUS TO BUBBLY: AN INSIDERS GUIDE TO THE WORLD OF UGLIES: Scott Westerfeld: Simon Pulse: Young Adult Nonfiction: 196 pages

A behind-the-scenes guide to the world of the Uglies series discusses its history, geography, technology, cliques, names, and slang.

Anyone who enjoyed the Uglies series will be interested in this exclusive guide to Tally’s world. Scott Westerfeld infuses this book with humor and deleted scenes. The book is fast paced and I enjoyed learning even more about the characters and environment of Uglies.


To Kill a Mockingbird

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: Harper Lee: Warner Books: Fiction: 296 pages

Between the ages of 6 and 9, Scout Finch has doubts about whether she wishes to grow up to be a lady. She much prefers the free, boyish life she enjoys with her older brother, Jem, and his friends. She also enjoys an open relationship with her widowed father, Atticus, a local attorney and perennial legislator. Though many of the family's adventures are told, Scout's life during these years centers on two events, her developing relationship with Boo Radley and her father's defense of Tom, a black wrongly accused of raping a white woman.

I first read this novel in high school and was excited to discover this story once again. I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed the novel a second time around. This classic is both humorous and thought provoking, serious and heartwarming.



NATION; Terry Pratchett; New York: HarperCollins, 2008. Young Adult.

One of the saddest bits of news I have heard in a long time is that the singular, peerless, irreplaceable Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. But if Nation becomes the last of his books to be published, it will be a powerful, fitting, and beautiful conclusion to a canon which has brought joy and laughter to many lives. In this story, Mau has left his island home to go to the Boys' Island where he must complete certain tasks before returning to his home island. As he goes back, a tidal wave sweeps under and over him, and then goes on to wash across the island drowning his family and friends as they wait to welcome him home as a man. At first Mau gives all the bodies to the sea, and is only saved from seeking the deep himself by the appearance on the island of a ghost girl, one of the trouser people whose ship has washed ashore with her the only survivor. Together Mau and Daphne reestablish a society, a culture, a village on the island, as other survivors find the place and need their care. A bare bones recounting of plot says nothing about the lovely pas de deux between science and religion that fills these pages, or the trademark Pratchett jokes and witticisms, or the deep understanding of human nature and the natural world with which the story is redolent. Nation is a powerful, unforgettable book with a bittersweet ending, in more ways than one.


Monday, November 17, 2008

The Whiskey Rebels

THE WHISKEY REBELS: David Liss: Random House: Fiction: 525 pgs.

Ethan Saunders was a spy for General Washington’s army until incriminating documents framed him as a traitor. In the ten years that followed he sunk into drunkenness and self-loathing, losing the love of his fiancé and the respect of almost everyone he knows. Joan Maycott and her husband have lost everything several times because of the greed and manipulation of speculators and government representatives. She blames Hamilton and his unfair whiskey task for the financial ruin she faces. These two characters find themselves embroiled in schemes and deceptions centered around the newly founded Bank of the United States and the countries emerging financial market.

There are two things I love about David Liss’s novels. I always fall a little in love with his heroes and their shady backgrounds, cavalier attitudes, and their snarky comments. I also find it fascinating how he can take current financial concerns and show them in the context of earlier times…demonstrating that history does, in fact, repeat itself.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Al Capone Does My Shirts

AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS: Gennifer Choldenko: Puffin: 2006: YA: 240 pgs

As a 12 year old boy, Moose Flanagan is not happy when he is told by his father that they will be moving to Alcatraz Island so that his father can be the island Electrician. Once there, Moose ends up having to care for his autistic sister who often causes problems with her unpredictable behavior. In addition, the warden’s daughter entices Moose to participate in a money making scheme that if caught, could cause his father to lose his job. Moose continually struggles with wanting to enjoy himself and his deep love for baseball, and needing to grow up and take care of his sister and family. There is wonderful character development here, and it would be a great recommendation for any boy who isn't necessarily into Historical Fiction.



NIGHT: Eli Wiesel: Hill and Wang: Biography: 120 pgs.

This memoir recounts Eli Wiesels experiences as a young teenage boy during the Holocaust. It includes his time in a small ghetto in Hungary, his transportation to Auschwitz, his days in the Buna labor camp and the forced march to Buchenwald before it was liberated in April of 1945.

This is a book I had been meaning to read for a very long time but I found it hard to actually pick it up because I knew the subject matter would be difficult to get through. There were many heart-breaking scenes that brought the true horrors of the Holocaust to life. This is an important book that everyone should read.


Well of Ascension

WELL OF ASCENSION: Brandon Sanderson: Tor: Fantasy: 590 pgs.

This is the second book of the "Mistborn" trilogy. It continues the story of the the Final Empire with the establishment of a new government. Although it was long, I read it quickly, or I should say, I put off a lot of other things in order to read the book.

The story had many twists and turns and the characters were great. It did drag just a little for me as it talked about the theories of government and there was a lot of fighting and carnage, but I still loved it. For a second book in a trilogy I felt it did a good job of developing the characters and moving the story along. There was not as much closure at the end of the book as there was in "Mistborn" so I'm glad the third book "Hero of Ages" is already published. A great recommendation for any fantasy reader and even some that aren't.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits


“A Christmas Carol,” through its thousands of retellings, adaptations, and productions, has become part of “the DNA of Western civilization.” (Man Who Invented Christmas, page 196) The centerpiece of this engaging book is certainly the story of the creation of “A Christmas Carol.” But the book is also an absorbing and readable biography of Charles Dickens and is filled with interesting facts about the history of Christmas, the history of publishing and of Dickens’s other novels. Who knew that the geese raising industry in England was sent to near ruin by “A Christmas Carol”?

Like Dickens “A Christmas Carol,” Les Standiford’s book about Charles Dickens’s most famous book was published just in the nick of time for Christmas, making it a great option for gift giving or for reading pleasure during the season.


Ruins of Gorlan

THE RUINS OF GORLAN: John Flanagan: Young Adult: Philomel Books: 249 pages

All his life, Will wanted to be a knight despite his size, but when he turned 15 years old and was rejected by battleschool, he becomes the reluctant apprentice to the mysterious Ranger Halt. Soon Will learns that becoming a ranger for the king is more difficult, dangerous, and worthwhile than he had imagined and that the skills of a ranger come naturally to him.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, as well as it sequels. I would recommend this series to teen guys and adults who want a quick adventure.


The Black Tulip

THE BLACK TULIP: Alexandre Dumas: Fiction: Oxford University Press: 236 pages

A tulip fancier in 17th Century Holland, seeking to grow the black tulip is unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to death having associated with an enemy of the State. When his live is spared, he finds new hope in the love of the jailers’ daughter Rosa who helps him fulfill his dream and plants the black tulip that he has cultivated.

It took a while for me to get into the story, but in the end I too wanted to know the fate of the Black Tulip. A short read as classics go, but I would not recommend it to a reluctant classic reader.



FOUNDLING: D. M. Cornish: Young Adult: Putman’s Sons: 434 pgs

Having grown up in a home for foundlings and possessing a girl's name, Rossamund gets assigned to his new job as Lamplighter- lighting the highways of Half-Continent to protect the citizens from evil. Rossamund wants to see adventure and fight the nickers and bogles so he too can bear the mark of the Monster Blood Tattoo but agrees to his appointment and sets on his way to training camp. But getting there becomes an adventure in of itself as he meets up with Miss Europa, a fulgar (one who can release immense charges of electricity), who battles the monsters.

In this first book of the Monster Blood Tattoo series, the author has done a wonderful job creating a new world in the style of J.R.R. Tolkien. In the back of the book there is the Explicarium- a massive glossary, maps, and illustrations to help the reader understand the world of Half-Continent. Even if you listen to the story, as I did, the author does a wonderful job describing the new world that you understand without the need of the Explicarium.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Adoration of Jenna Fox

THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX: Mary E. Pearson: Henry Holt & Company: Young Adult: 265 pages.

When she wakes up from a yearlong coma, 17-year-old Jenna Fox can remember nothing and must reconstruct her life and sense of self from what others tell her. But are they to be trusted? The people who claim to be her parents . . . well, ARE they? And what is the meaning of the strange, contradictory memories Jenna keeps having?

I was intrigued by the premise of this book. I enjoyed figuring out with Jenna what her life was like in the past and what it is to be in the future.


The Hero of Ages

THE HERO OF AGES: Brandon Sanderson: Tom Doherty Associates: Fantasy: 572 pgs.

‘The Hero of Ages’ is the third and final installment of Brandon Sanderson’s ‘Mistborn’ trilogy. It seems that many trilogies start off really strong, with the second book seeming to be just a tool to get from here to there, and finally the third book can either bring it all together or leave you disappointed. I totally did not feel that with this trilogy. Each of the three portions continue the story in an interesting and gripping way.

Sanderson has created an intriguing world filled with vibrant and relatable characters. I will admit that at times I skim sections of theoretical musing, but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed it and whole heartedly recommend the series to anyone who enjoys fantasy.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008


CHALICE: Robin McKinley: G. P. Putnam's Sons: Fantasy: 263 pgs.

Mirasol has a woodlot in her demesne, Willowlands, where she also raises bees. When the current Master and Chalice of the demesne die, Mirasol is chosen to be the new Chalice (the Chalice, who is second in the Circle, binds the Master and the demesne together). Confused, lost, and bewildered by this turn of events, Mirasol struggles to learn her new duties and to work with the new Master, a former Elemental priest of Fire, who was called back from his priestly life when his brother, the old Master, died. The new Master is not quite human and the people are frightened by him. Mirasol is not scared of him, but is determined to help him bind himself to the demesne and the people. She works her power with the help of and honey from her bees. Mirasol journeys the entire demesne to try to save it and the Master when the Overlord of the demesne challenges the Master’s fitfulness to serve.

This well-written book is so different from any other that I have read recently and is beautiful. I was drawn into it and didn’t want it to end.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Out Stealing Horses

OUT STEALING HORSES; Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Anne Born; New York: Picador, 2007(?): Fiction: 238pp.

“Out Stealing Horses,” Per Petterson’s lyrical, luminous novel of a Norwegian boyhood as viewed from older age was chosen by the “New York Times Book Review” as one of the ten best novels of 2007, and is richly deserving of the honor. Trond Sander retires in his late 60s to a broken-down country cottage, hoping for the solitude and contemplation he has long desired. But the beauty of the countryside and a chance meeting with a neighbor who figured prominently in his past bring vividly to mind a particular day in his youth when he and his friend Jon went out “stealing” horses, and all that followed from the tragic events of that day. Petterson’s prose has the depth and movement of a big, slow river, everything developing as it should, character and circumstance pooling, circling, and rippling in his profound revelation of nature, family, felt loss, and love, leading to a breathtaking final sentence. “Out Stealing Horses” in the original Norwegian must have been stunning; Anne Born’s English translation is beautiful.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers
By Alexander Dumas
Viking, 2006. 704 pgs. Fiction

This is an admirable adventure story with which most everyone is familiar; however, if you’ve never read the book, you’re not really familiar with the story. The plot is intricate with numerous twists and turns. Although Dumas spends time developing characters, it feels like the story never slows down.

Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan possessed more honor and morality than I had expected after seeing their depictions on the silver screen. There are several characters that never made it to the film versions, including the Musketeers’ servants. The four servants play critical roles in the success of the Musketeers. I recommend this recent edition with its highly readable translation.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Faberge's Eggs


Easter, beginning in 1885, the Russian Czar presented his wife with a fabulously jeweled egg. Elegant and simple in external design, inside was an elaborately crafted surprise. It was the first, but it began a rich tradition that ended only with the fall of the Romanov dynasty. And it was Carl Faberge—master jeweler—who created the treasure.

Faber describes the rise of the House of Faberge, each egg’s intricate detail, intimacies of Romanov family life, the historical turmoil of the late Romanov rule and it’s revolutionary aftermath. The book follows the story of each precious egg, from early inception to its present whereabouts in the world today. Nice readability of the world famous icons.

The only downfall is the luster-lacking photos. A book dedicated to describing these loveliest of object d’arts should have included photos in greater quantity, of better quality and in larger detail. An oversight hard to understand.


This I Believe


The 2nd installment from the nationwide essay project sponsored by NPR. American citizens of all ages and creeds were asked to write and submit a brief statement that focused on the single most important belief they hold. The project produced a mélange of essays that include a breadth of life experience. And the editors have compiled a choice selection, from middle school students to Yo-Yo Ma and Robert Fulghum--who believes in...Dancing!

The essay I found most poignant was that written by “Interrogator”—an unidentified female who worked as such at Guantànamo Bay, Cuba. Her essay focused on redemption and delivers an overwhelming message. Illuminating, inspirational, and thought-provoking—a book to restore your faith in Americans(who often become lost and misrepresented in a sea of pop culture). A true tribute to the good that still exists.

BONUS. In the back is a section that helps readers start their own ‘This I Believe’ project--with school, community or other entity. Watch out family, this year our family reunion is going to entail some writing.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Just Breathe

JUST BREATHE: Susan Wiggs: Mira: Romance: 470 pages

With Chicago --- and her marriage --- in the rearview mirror, cartoonist Sarah Moon flees to the small northern California coastal town where she grew up. As she comes to terms with her lost marriage, Sarah encounters a man she never expected to meet again: Will Bonner, the high school heartthrob she'd skewered mercilessly in her old comics. Now a local firefighter, he's been through some changes himself. But just as her heart is about to reawaken, Sarah discovers she is pregnant. With her ex's twins.

This book was a quick and compelling read for most of the book. I felt like the ending was tied up a little too neat, too quick, but other than that I enjoyed this story. The language in this book isn’t squeaky clean. Comic strips are scattered throughout the book which adds to the character of the book.