Tuesday, March 31, 2009


WINTERGIRLS: Laurie Halse Anderson: Viking: Young Adult: 278 pgs.

Lia’s childhood friend Cassie died alone in a motel after calling Lia thirty-three times—calls Lia did not retrieve until after Cassie’s death. Now Lia’s parents fear that the death will trigger Lia’s anorexia, a well-founded fear as Lia is sabotaging her parents’ attempts to monitor her weight and holding conversations with Cassie that illuminate Lia’s emotional illness.

This is Anderson’s best work since she published her wonderful novel, Speak. Lia’s narrative is a heart-breaking chronicle of anorexia and the physical and emotional destruction it wreaks. Like Speak, the strength of Wintergirls is the accurate portrait and dead-on voice of the troubled teenage protagonist.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

THE LOST CITY OF Z: A TALE OF DEADLY OBSESSION IN THE AMAZON: David Grann: Doubleday: Nonfiction: 339 pages.
In this true and bestselling adventure story, David Grann takes his out-of-shape, comfort-loving body into the Amazon jungle to see whether he (after 100 others had died trying, no exaggeration) could find out what happened to Percy Harrison Fawcett, an early 20th century explorer who disappeared while looking for an El Dorado-like city in South America. But before he goes (not until the latter chapters of the book), he shares Fawcett's remarkable story. The last of the great Victorian British explorers, Fawcett spent years mapping and exploring the Amazonian rain forest, his iron constitution and steely will carrying him through extremes of climate, danger, and disease that quickly felled lesser men, and everyone was lesser. Also fascinating is the paper and person trail Gramm follows to get a true bead on Fawcett's likely path, as Fawcett threw out red herrings galore in his public pronouncements so no one would beat him to the punch. What Gramm finally discovers through the expert offices of Michael Heckenberger, a University of Florida researcher, is evidence of what anthropologists have long thought not possible: a large civilization with moated, byrmed cities laid out on north-south/east-west quadrants with plazas, roads, bridges, causeways and sophisticated art. A staffer for the New Yorker, Grann is a fine writer, creating atmosphere and conveying information in a readable, unobtrusive style.


Friday, March 27, 2009


WAITING:Ha Jin: Pantheon: Fiction: 308 pgs.

Ha Jin was born in Northern China in 1956. At age 14 he joined the People’s Liberation Army, a background that perfectly suits him to understand the dilemmas and the sufferings of the Chinese people. Waiting is a quiet novel that portrays Lin Kong, an army medical doctor in China during the Cultural Revolution, who is trapped in multiple dilemmas. As an army officer he must abide by the regulations of the army and party leaders, yet he surreptitiously maintains a private library of forbidden books. Trapped in a loveless arranged marriage with a woman from his home village, he finds a measure of freedom in his life at an army medical facility. There he meets a nurse and falls in love, but such relationships are strictly forbidden by Communist Party rules and by ancient ties of tradition. Year after year he returns to his home village to obtain a divorce and year after year his wife agrees and then changes her mind once they are before the village judge. For 18 years, Lin’s love is kept waiting.

The final chapters are full of irony, does what men wait for ever truly satisfy? This is a powerful work of fiction that won the National Book Award in 1999. Since an unhappy marriage and a frustrated love relationship are the main plot elements, the reader should expect that there will be sexual content.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Home of the Brave

HOME OF THE BRAVE: Katherine Applegate: Feiwel & Friends: Young Adult: 249 pgs.

Fifth-grader Kek, a Sudanese refugee, has just joined his aunt and cousin in Minnesota, while he waits for news of the mother he left behind in a camp. Lonely and bewildered by things such as snow and washing machines, Kek finds solace in caring for a cow that reminds him of home and the friendship of a neighbor girl.

Written in free verse, this is a touching book with a sweet narrator who makes the crisis in Sudan accessible and human.


Handle With Care

HANDLE WITH CARE: Jodi Picoult: Atria: Fiction: 477 pgs.

Sean and Charlotte O’Keefe’s daughter, Willow, suffers from a brittle bone disease, a condition that has left her susceptible to painful breaks since before her birth, demands more time and money than her parents can afford, and leads her teenage half-sister to desperate attempts for attention. When an attorney suggests that the O’Keefes sue the doctor who provided Charlotte’s prenatal care, Charlotte agrees, although the doctor is her best friend and the case is a “wrongful birth” suit predicated on the idea that if the O’Keefes had been informed of Willow’s condition earlier, they would have terminated the pregnancy.

Jodi Picoult once again examines the tricky gray areas of medicine, law, and family life. As always, her characters are well-developed and multi-faceted, grappling with complicated ethical issues that are not presented as straight-forward right and wrong choices. This title has a plot and feeling similar to the author’s earlier book, My Sister’s Keeper.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mr. White's Confession

Mr. White's Confession
By Robert Clark
Picador, 1998. 341 pgs. Mystery

Murder mysteries can be disturbing due to the murder in the story. This murder mystery is disturbing because of the travesty of justice subsequent to the murder. The story is set in 1939 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Mr. White is an innocuous man in his 30s who has a hobby of taking pictures of pretty dance hall girls. When one and then two of these dance hall girls are murdered circumstantial evidence leads to Mr. White's arrest, confession, conviction, and imprisonment. Now Mr. White suffers from a mental condition where he cannot remember anything except the most recent events and the one's most distant in his past. To compensate for this he keeps a meticulous record of his daily activities and scrapbooks of newspaper clippings of important world events. Mr. White's "confession" is, of course, coerced.

A second story line follows Wesley Horner, the arresting officer, who comes to realize and regret that a mistake has been made. An interesting and unusual exploration of the relationships between past and memory.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Among the Mad

AMONG THE MAD: Jacqueline Winspear: Henry Holt & Co.: Mystery: 306 pgs.

Maisie Dobbs, psychological private investigator, finds herself questioned by Scotland Yard after an anonymous letter they receive mentions her. The writer also threatens the life of Londoners if the government doesn’t comply with his demands for weary and shell-shocked WWI veterans in early 1930s England. After clearing her of any involvement with the writer, the Yard asks for Maisie’s help in their investigation. This leads Maisie to mental institutions and a top-secret government chemical lab in her search of the man who begins poisoning animals and then a junior minister in his quest to help the soldiers. Maisie must also focus her attentions on her assistant’s mentally fragile wife and her good friend, Priscilla, who drowns her worries about the future in alcohol.

I have enjoyed this series (this is the sixth) from the beginning, but am becoming tired of practically perfect Maisie and her somewhat bland personality. I am also weary of the constant preaching Winspear, through Maisie’s voice, does regarding the treatment of returning soldiers after the war. I understand they should have been better treated, but am tired of reading about it on every page (a slight exaggeration, but only just).


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Lost Duke of Wyndham

THE LOST DUKE OF WYNDHAM: Julia Quinn: Avon Books: Romance: 371 pgs.

Grace Eversleigh has a comfortable life serving as the companion to the dowager Duchess of Wyndham. This position provides Grace with stability and a place to live, but it is lonely and the dowager is a crotchety old woman. Grace doesn’t have any reason to doubt her circumstances will change when the dowager’s carriage is stopped by a highwayman. Grace falls for Jack Audley, the handsome highwayman, the moment he holds her at gunpoint. Recognizing the highwayman as her long lost grandson, the dowager later kidnaps him, with Grace’s unwilling assistance, and brings him back to Wyndham. Jack also finds himself increasingly attracted to Grace the more time he spends with her.

Complications arise though when they all realize that if proven legitimate, Jack would be the rightful Duke of Wyndham. Grace tries to stop her growing attraction to Jack, as she would not be a suitable match for him if he became the duke. Jack wants Grace just as much, but worries about the impending trip to Ireland to prove his parents’ marriage was valid and the unwelcome idea of being the real duke.

I put off reading this for a long time, but found myself mildly entertained by it. The story wasn’t too bad and some descriptions (all the footmen in the dowager’s employ had to be 5 foot 11 inches) and conversations made me laugh. All in all, this was a relatively enjoyable (and not too graphic) entry into the romance world for me.


Plum Spooky

PLUM SPOOKY: Janet Evanovich: St. Martin’s Press: Mystery: 309 pgs.

This is a “Between the Numbers” Stephanie Plum mystery for those of us Evanovich fans that do not like to wait a whole year before installments. Bounty hunter Stephanie is after a little twerp of a guy and find herself partnering with Diesel, a mysterious man who pops in and out of her life and who is always accompanied by strange occurances and an unexplainable abundance of green traffic lights. This adventure also includes the usual mix of endearing characters plus a bunch of monkeys.

Usually these unofficial Stephanie Plum installments are really short and a little disappointing, but not this one! I felt it held up really well against her regular, numbered books and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you didn’t pick it up because Plum Lucky was such a dud…rethink that decision.


Mr. Darcy's Dream

MR. DARCY’S DREAM: Elizabeth Aston: Simon & Schuster: Fiction: 284 pgs.

Two nieces of Mr.& Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy are sent to Pemberley to escape the London season. Phoebe (daughter of the former Georgiana Darcy) has recently experienced a heartbreaking romantic disappointment and Louisa (daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Bingley) is tired of the constant pressure to find a husband among men who do little to arouse her interest. However, proving a point I have long held (that you can find love anywhere, even in the British countryside), both girls find themselves faced with the exact thing they were looking to escape.

I think Aston does a good job in mimicking Jane Austen’s style, even when it may not serve her well. I love Austen as much as the next girl, but sometimes I would like a little more intrigue and a little less boring sitting room chat concerning hats and ribbons. I was disappointed that the romance in the story takes place before the first chapter. Part of the appeal of a romantic story is the development of the relationship and I felt this book seriously lacked any of that. I would still recommend most of Elizabeth Aston’s Pride and Prejudice spin-offs, but I think this was my least favorite of the six published to date.


Gods of Newport

THE GODS OF NEWPORT: John Jakes: Dutton: Fiction: 383 pgs.

Sam Driver is a railroad mogul who has earned his enormous wealth through years of shady dealings and morally questionable financial scheming. Now in his later years, he is determined to place his daughter Jenny in the highest strata of social elitism. He chooses Newport as his avenue to the respectable society he aspires to join. His years of living an ethically deficient lifestyle makes this journey a hard one in a place where an abundance of money is only the first obstacle to acceptance.

I consider myself a fan of the historical novel, but I admit to not loving this book. I decided I like my historical facts and description to be seamlessly sewn into the story, but found that Jakes’ writing style seemed to add these descriptive details for their own sakes, without a clear link to the story line or characters. A decent read, but not one I would highly recommend.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Warrior Princess

WARRIOR PRINCESS; Frewin Jones; NY: Eos, 2009; Young Adult: 346 p.

A tale of battles, adventure, and coming of age, Warrior Princess introduces Princess Branwen in her fifteenth year of life. Tragically, her beloved brother is also murdered before her eyes that very year by dreaded Saxons. This incident fuels a series of events beginning with Branwen being sent away to a nearby stronghold where her life is forever changed.

This book was interesting enough for me to finish it, but I didn't find it particularly enthralling or at all original. Jones didn't freshen up the weary story of royal warriors enough for this tale to truly stand out from the crowd and his heroine wasn't very engaging. However, it was very readable with uncomplicated language and may be a good choice for readers who love all things medieval or adventurous. As a warning, there is a fair amount of violence and gore in this story, so those who are squeamish may want to avoid this particular book.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Apothecary's Daughter

THE APOTHECARY'S DAUGHTER: Julie Klassen: Bethany House Publications: Romance: 416 pgs.

I cringe at the thought of having to read a romance novel BUT if you are looking for a squeaky clean romance by all means read “The Apothecary’s Daughter. Delightfully set in Regency England when society’s rules allowed women little advancement of the mind or spirit, Lilly Haswell tries to balance two worlds. Lilly is a sensible, strong willed young woman who has had much responsibility set on her shoulders watching over her mentally challenged little brother and assisting her father run his apothecary after her mother walked out of their lives. Her wealthy aunt and uncle offer her “a dream come true” when they invite her to come live with them in London for a season or two in hopes she will find a “suitable” husband. Her life there is grand but still not quite what she envisioned, society demanding that she keep her place while her sensible self pushes the limits. She is suddenly called home when she receives word her father is very ill. She arrives to find her home, family and soon her life in array. Julie Klassen’s attention to detail describing the life and customs of the time and the apothecary’s world, along with the strong characters and great plot, make this an easy worthwhile read for anyone enjoying historical fiction or historical romance. There are even questions in the back of the book for a discussion. Wondering about the ROMANCE? No clues from me… READ and be surprised!!!!


Monday, March 9, 2009

Playing James

PLAYING JAMES: Sarah Mason: Ballantine Books: Romance: 319 pgs.

Holly Colshannon is an accident prone journalist looking for her big break. Detective James Sabine is a no-nonsense police officer with an intense dislike for the media. When her editor and his chief concoct a plan to improve the department’s public relations while providing a local paper with the inside scoop on local law enforcement, these two opposites are forced to work together despite their constant clashing.

With the cover stating “You have the right to remain sexy…”, I expected more of a romance than a mystery, but I found it was mostly mystery. The real romance only includes the final couple of chapters. Holly and James completely ignore their growing friendship (and attraction) and then they suddenly recognize it and fall madly in love. The story was cute and the characters likable, but their relationship just falling into place on the last page was disappointing.


The Mental Floss History of the World


In just 400 pages, Sass and Wiegand gallop through 62,007 years of global history, highlighting major inventions, political shifts and wars, important figures, and bizarre facts. The sheer volume of information presented can be overwhelming, but the book is full of interesting information in a very digestible and well-organized format. The title is correct—it is often an irreverent romp through history, but also a highly entertaining way to get your facts straight.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Knight in Shining Armor

A KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR: Jude Deveraux: Pocket Books: Romance: 388 pgs.

Douglass Montgomery feels that she can never do anything right compared to her perfect family. She is excited when she finally finds a man she feels proud to take home to her parents but on their dream vacation to Europe he abandons her with no money and no passport to get back home. She is brokenhearted and all alone in an old English church when Nicholas Stafford, Earl of Thornwyck, appears. She had wanted a knight in shining armor to come save her but she didn't bargain for one that insisted he was from the sixteenth-century.

I really enjoyed this time travel romance. The characters were great. Douglass and Nicholas have a love stronger than time but it takes them a while to discover that. Be warned that there were some adult situations and because Nicholas had such a womanizing reputation, many references to what a scoundrel he was, but you still had to love him.


Friday, March 6, 2009

Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life

ANGELS AND AGES: A SHORT BOOK ABOUT DARWIN, LINCOLN, AND MODERN LIFE; Adam Gopnik; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009; 204 pgs. Nonfiction.

Adam Gopnik celebrates the 200th birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin in a glittering new volume, “Angels and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern
Life.” Taking his title from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton’s lament at Lincoln’s passing,
variously reported as “Now he belongs to the ages” and “Now he belongs to the angels,” Gopnik uses Lincoln and Darwin’s thought and expression to show the shift in worldview from a vertical sensibility (man looking upward to God/angels) to a horizontal one (man discovering his genesis in ancient ages past, and looking forward toward an unknown future). Along the way Gopnik shows us these twin titans in unusual ways: Lincoln’s exquisite, passionate rhetoric expressing in every circumstance, his trust in the safety of the law (“Let every American . . . swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others”). Darwin’s endless curiosity and tireless observations leading to new knowledge of the relationships among living things (“He looks as hard as he can . . . and this act of looking and organizing is for him the probity of intelligence”). There is great tenderness in these portraits as well. We see Lincoln, inconsolable over the death of his son Willie, and carrying simultaneously the burden of the deaths of thousands of young men whom he had sent into battle. Darwin delayed publication of “On the Origin of Species” because he wished not to offend his passionately religious wife Emma. Darwin also lost a child, his favorite Annie, who died of tuberculosis at age 10, leaving her father nearly overwhelmed with grief. “Angels and Ages . . . “ is one of the best books I have ever read, even though I completely disagree with Gopnik’s conclusion that evolutionary biology proves that life on earth came into being by accident and advanced by chance. “Angels and Ages . . . “ is a model of respectful discourse and, oddly enough, tends to affirm one’s own belief in the face of the extremely well-wrought expression of another’s disbelief. Although Adam Gopnik doesn't believe in angels,
he certainly writes like one.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Defiance: The Bielski Partisans

DEFIANCE : Nachema Tec: Oxford University Press: Nonfiction: 374 pgs.

This is the inspiring story of the largest rescue operation for Jews by Jews. Led by Tuvia Bielski, an uneducated man from a farming community in Poland, this group of nearly 1,200 Jewish partisans survived for years while living in forest communities during World War II. Most partisan groups in Poland would only admit armed individuals able to fight, but Bielski’s group accepted anyone they found in need. They placed more importance on saving lives than avenging themselves against their German oppressors.

I picked up this book because of its movie tie-in starring Daniel Craig. The story fascinated me and I was anxious to learn the truth behind the legend portrayed in the trailer. I was not disappointed. I did find Tec’s writing to be a bit repetitive, but the book is so full of fascinating direct quotes from Bielski survivors that any style deficiency is made up for by intriguing content.