Tuesday, January 31, 2012

This Dark Endeavor

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein
By Kenneth Oppel
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011. 298 pgs. Young Adult

Twin brothers Victor and Konrad Frankenstein are inseparable. When Konrad falls gravely ill, Victor decides to venture into the family’s forbidden Dark Library to find the recipe for the Elixir of Life to cure Konrad. With the help of his friends, Elizabeth and Henry, they seek help from an infamous apothecary that can aid them in deciphering the recipe. The bonds of brotherhood and friendship are tested as they encounter various obstacles to get the needed supplies.

Once again, Oppel, with his great writing style, sweeps you away into an adventure that lets you glimpse into the reason why as an adult Frankenstein would create his monster.


Daniel X: Alien Hunter

Daniel X: Alien Hunter
By James Patterson and Leopoldo Gout
Little, Brown & Co, 2008. 127 pgs. Graphic Novel

Daniel, an alien with the power to create things from his imagination, protects the universe from invading alien forces. This time around, Daniel is protecting Tokyo from Alien Number 7, who is on his alien watch list. Things get complicated when Daniel befriends Number 7’s son Kildare, a lone alien who just wants to find peace, and reminds Daniel a lot of himself.

James Patterson’s snarky character Daniel works well in the graphic novel format. I had to laugh when I saw that Daniel’s imaginary father looks little like Clint Eastwood. But then again, if you needed someone to train you in ways of fighting, Dirty Harry would be one to turn to. A great read for teen boys.


Black Gold

Black Gold: The Story of Oil in Our Lives
By Albert Marrin
Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. 181 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Albert Marrin's timely book starts out explaining what oil is and where is comes from, then moves into its impact on the world, particularly how it relates to warfare, both in the sense that more oil reserves make for a better army and in the sense that countries are willing to go to war to get more. The book also discusses the problems with oil--such as natural disasters and the dwindling supply and concludes by discussing some possible alternatives to relying on oil and the pros and cons of each.

The book starts out slowly--the explanation of how we get oil is a little dry--but then it picks up considerably. Readers who push through will be rewarded with an enlightening look at how oil impacts us--and will likely be worried that the dwindling oil supply will run out any minute. Despite striking fear into the heart of the reader (or maybe because of it), this is the type of book that really makes readers think about the world we live in. Another excellent piece of nonfiction from Marrin.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Rapunzel's Revenge

Rapunzel's Revenge
By Shannon & Dean Hale, Illustrated by Nathan Hale
Bloomsbury Pub., 2008. 144 pgs. Graphic Novel

This graphic novel of Rapunzel takes a little different spin on the classic fairytale. After being thrown in a tall tree prison for discovering what is on the other side of the tall wall that surrounds her home, Rapunzel decides to take matters into her own hands and escapes using her unusually long hair. She passes up the arrogant prince on his way to save her and teams up with Jack (think Jack in the beanstalk) to try to survive in a Wild West setting. Rapunzel's hair is used as rope and weapon as they try to save those around them from wild animals, outlaws and the evil Gothel.

Some outrageous things happen in this book, but somehow it all works. I was surprised that I actually enjoyed this book because I don't usually read graphic novels. My biggest problem was that my children kept stealing it from me. I loved how strong Rapunzel was. She showed that you don't have to wait for someone to come save you. By taking matters into your own hands, you just might discover that you are stronger than you think.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
By Susanna Clarke
Bloomsbury, 2004. 782 pgs. Fantasy

Practicing English magicians have all but disappeared as the nineteenth century begins to unfold. Taking their place is an aristocratic breed of theoretical magicians who dedicate their lives to studying magic, but when never dream of sullying their family names by actually participating in a spell. But one lone magician, Mr. Norrell, has decided to serve his country by bringing magic back to England. He is soon joined by Jonathan Strange, a young man who seems to have a natural magical gift. Together, these two magicians set events in motion that could spell doom to the entire British Empire.

This is a hefty work of fantasy. At almost 800 pages, ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell’ takes some courage to begin and a little stamina to get into. Filled with footnotes and details beyond what most readers are used to, readers may at times feel they are reading a history text. But if you stick with it, you will be rewarded with an epic work transporting readers to a magical world deepened by the author’s description of a brilliant, magical version of England steeped in folklore and legend.


The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger’s Wife
By Tea Obreht
Random House, 2011. 337 pgs. Fiction

Set in the war torn Balkans, ‘The Tigers Wife’ tells of a young doctor’s attempts to come to grips with her grandfather’s recent death. Natalia travels to an orphanage to provide medical assistance, during her journey she remembers his extraordinary life and the stories he shared with her. Her reminiscing leads Natalia to investigate the last few weeks of his life and eventually to the discovery that he never shared what may have been his most amazing story of all.

Obreht writes amazingly beautiful prose. ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ is the type of book you savor. The words, the story, the meaning all require delicious, deliberate, attention. So, if you have the time to spend, this is a great read, just don’t expect to be able to breeze through it.


The Wise Man Returns

The Wise Man Returns
by Kenny Kemp
Cedar Fort, 2011. 357 pgs. Fiction

Melchior of Alexandria has just been promoted to a powerful position as chief priest in the temple of Serapis and thinks he has everything he could ever want in life. However, things change when he casts a unique astrological chart that indicates that a new King of the Jews has been born. Melchior travels to Judea and meets the young Jeshua and his parents, and his interactions with them will shape the rest of his life. Three decades after his first trip, Melchior finds himself drawn back to Judea to find out the fate of Jeshua and to determine for himself whether he is the promised Messiah or not.

Despite what you might think, this is not really a Christmas book and it is most certainly not lightweight. The author has clearly done an amazing amount of research into the world of the Roman Empire and brings it to life convincingly without being dry or boring. What I enjoyed most about the book were the characters. Melchior is a complex man who spends his life wrestling with questions of belief and loyalty, and the reader journeys with him as he searches to understand the world and his place in it. While the book is generally uplifting and clean, life in the ancient world could be brutal and there a few scenes that may disturb more sensitive souls.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood

The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood
By James Gleick
Pantheon Books. 2011. 526 Pages. Nonfiction
James Gleick begins his story of the encoding and transmission of information with African drums which communicate complex messages based on the tones and inflections of language. Language itself is a code which can then be encoded again in written characters, signals, drum rhythms, electrical pulses. The Information presents a selection of people, inventions, philosophy and science that have led to modern modes of information transmission and processing.
The book is as fascinating as it is profound. But with more than 500 pages, it is definitely for the dedicated nonfiction reader. I particularly enjoyed the chapters about the impact of the telegraph (A Nervous System for the Earth) and the telephone because these were the “social networking” technologies of their day. Several of the later chapters are dense with mathematics and physics but still offer interesting insights to the non-scientific reader.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London

Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London
By Andrea Warren
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011. 156 pg. Young Adult Nonfiction

While most of English society thought poor people deserved their lot in life and simply ignored those who were "beneath" them, Charles Dickens had a different opinion. As a youth, his father's debts made it so Charles was denied the education he so desperately wanted and instead was forced to do menial labor. As he did so, he saw how society, with its laws and regulations (such as sending people to debtor's prison until they could pay their debt but not allowing them to work in order to earn money) and lack of support from the government kept people in poverty, allowing them no way to escape. He was especially touched by the experience of England's impoverished children, many of whom were homeless, lacking in education, and working in horrible conditions in order to help earn even meager bits of money for their families. Dickens, having never forgotten his own experiences, and never quite being able to shake the fear of being impoverished again, deliberately drew the public's attention to the conditions of their country. With his novels, essays, and newspaper articles, he gave the poor a voice and showed the rich that it wasn't simply their lot in life to be "better" than others but that they should help those around them. Through his work as an author and a social reformer, Dickens brought about changes desperately needed in his society.

Very well done. This is a highly interesting, highly readable piece of nonfiction. The author does a great job of showing what life was like in Victorian England for the lower classes, and it's fascinating to see the impact that one man could have at opening the eyes of those around him. Highly recommended.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Friends & Foes

Friends & Foes
By Sarah M. Eden
Covenant Communications, 2012. 269 pgs. Romance

Philip Jonquil, Earl of Lampton, has sent five years pretending to be the dandiest of dandies as a cover for his role tracking spies for the Foreign Office, in hopes of bringing an end to the war with France. Although he actually hates being a dandy, he plays his part magnificently, and, at a traveler's inn, manages to offend Sorrel Kendrick, a young lady, when he insists that it's not fashionable for her to use a cane. Sorrel makes her opinion of him clear and his over-the-top fashion and manners abundantly clear, only to find that the two of them, along with their families, are spending the holiday season in the home of mutual friends. When Philip manages to insult her yet again, war ensues between the two, but soon, each comes to find that the other might not be quite as he or she seems.

I really enjoy Sarah Eden's Regency romances, and this one is no exception. The bantering is funny and the characters likeable. Another fine piece of work from Eden.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Letters in the Jade Dragon Box

Letters in the Jade Dragon Box
by Gale Sears
Deseret Book, 2011. 296 pgs. Historical Fiction

Wen-Shan has been living with her great uncle Zhao in Hong Kong for ten years, but remembers nothing of her first five years living inside communist China. Zhao refuses to discuss the past with Wen-Shan, including the mother she can’t remember. One day shortly after Chairman Mao’s death in 1975, Wen-Shan and her uncle receive a priceless gift from Chin: a box containing letters and other family heirlooms. The items in the jade dragon box help Wen-Shan and her uncle connect with each other and their past.

I thought this was a well-written, absorbing read about relatively recent Chinese history. I loved seeing how the letters helped Wen-Shan open up and connect with those around her and I thought the characters and setting were all vividly described. However, after recently reading several other books about communist China, I felt like this one was a little lightweight. It’s a good book, but definitely not epic historical fiction. This is written by an LDS author and she incorporates some elements of LDS history in Hong Kong, but they are presented in a way that feels natural within the context of the story.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Touch of Power

Touch of Power
By Maria V. Snyder
Mira Books, 2011. 390 pgs. Fantasy

How could a person with the ability to magically heal someone ever be hunted down and killed for that very skill? Healers like Avry of Kazan were accused of spreading a devastating plague and then refusing to heal anyone with it. What the people don’t know is that a healer will die if they try to heal a plague victim.

Now two years later, Avry is exhausted from being on the run. When she is finally caught and sentenced to death, her salvation comes in the form of a band of men who help her escape only to demand that she heal their prince from the plague. Avry must decide if healing this prince is worth giving up her own life.

Maria Snyder’s first book in a new series has all the same elements her other books contain; a strong female lead that makes decisions for herself, a group of fellow adventurers who keep the story light, and a kingdom in trouble. In my opinion the similarities actually ruined some of my enjoyment of the book. I prefer to read something new, not just the same story with slightly different characters in a new setting.


Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
By Roy F. Baumeister
Penguin Press, 2011. 291 pgs. Nonfiction

What is willpower? Can it be depleted? Can it be strengthened and how? Roy F. Baumeister, a pioneering research psychologist answers all of these questions while citing numerous scientific studies. The results of these experiments reveal that there is indeed a finite source of the mental energy known as willpower that covers not only self-control but decision making as well. When people resist the temptation to eat the goodies right in front of them, keep themselves from browsing Facebook instead of working, or spend the day deciding what to buy on a shopping trip, they are less able to resist other temptations later.

The good news is that this book explains specific techniques you can use to increase your pool of willpower, strengthen the willpower you already have, and trick yourself into conserving your willpower for when you really need it.

I found this to be a fascinating read. The writing and scientific descriptions are interesting and easy to understand. I had several “Ah-ha” moments where I felt like I really learned something about why I do things the way I do. I highly recommend reading this book for yourself and to better understand the human psyche in general.


The Influencing Machine

The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media
by Brooke Gladstone and Josh Neufeld
W.W. Norton, 2011. 170 pgs. Nonfiction.

Brooke Gladstone is the host of On the Media, a weekly program on NPR that analyzes current issues and trends in the media. In this book, she teams up with artist Josh Neufeld to describe the history of news, and why the things we complain about now are really nothing new (apparently even the ancient Romans had a problem with newspapers publishing fluffy stories about the rich and famous). Her central thesis is that the media is not an external “influencing machine”, but is instead a reflection of the society that creates it.

This book was both fun to read and quite informative. Although you might look at the pictures and assume that it is a quick, light book, it really is neither of those things. At times the graphic format was a bit distracting simply because there were so many things to look at on the page, but generally I found the information easier to understand because of the way it was presented. There is also section of references at the back so you can find more information about the topics presented by Gladstone. This is a great overview and introduction to the issues surrounding how we get information from the media (be warned that a few of the pictures are a bit graphic, especially in the section about the media during times of war).


Monday, January 9, 2012

The Cat's Table

The Cat’s Table
By Michael Ondaatje
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 269 pgs. Historical Fiction

The Cat’s Table takes place in a mere three weeks in 1954 aboard an ocean liner departing Colombo, Sri Lanka for England, but in those short weeks, a lifetime occurs for 11-year-old Michael. Michael, nick-named Mynah is traveling alone to meet his mother who is already in England. He finds himself seated at the Cat’s Table, the least prestigious dinner table as it is farthest from the Captain’s table, along with two other boys his age and an odd assortment of adults. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, and into the Mediterranean, the boys tumble from one adventure to another, stealing food from first-class, tossing deck chairs into the pool, and very late at night spying on a heavily guarded prisoner who is allowed to walk in the fresh air. They also interact in varying ways with the adults aboard the ship and especially at their table; a tailor who doesn’t speak, a pianist who plays aboard the ship, a woman who is perhaps more than she seems.

The Cat’s Table is told from the perspective of Michael as a grown man through a series of vignettes that go back and forth through time and in this way reveals how even the smallest experiences can have lasting effects on a life.

Michael Ondaatje has a rare gift for language and his latest book does not disappoint. I simply wanted to savor each page in this book. I also found the connections to the author’s own childhood fascinating. Though Ondaatje clearly states at the end of the book that this is a work of fiction, I found it interesting that he named the main character after himself and he too took a voyage from Sri Lanka to England to meet his mother when he was a young boy.


Falling Together

Falling Together
By Marisa de los Santos
William Morrow, 2011. 360 pgs. Fiction

Meeting on the first day of college, Cat, Will, and Pen (Penelope) form an intense bond that they mistakenly believe will last the rest of their lives, but when Cat wants to get married and move away, their friendship abruptly ends. Idealist Pen, a good girl with pristine, straight hair takes the fallout the hardest. Six years later, she is a single mother living with her brother and dealing with their father’s sudden death a few years before. Pen keenly feels the hole in her life from the loss of her two best friends. So when Pen receives an email from Cat asking her to meet her at their upcoming college reunion, (though she blames Cat for abandoning her) Pen still jumps at the chance to make things right again.

With witty, lush, and elegant prose, Marisa de los Santos tells an uplifting story of friendship, loss, love, and living each day in the moment for its beauty. The book pulls you in emotionally and quickly gets you invested in these characters lives. I would highly recommend reading this book. However, be warned there is one minor character with a very foul mouth.


We3: the deluxe edition

We3: the deluxe edition
By Grant Morrison
Vertigo Publishing, 2011, 144 pgs, Graphic Novel

In an updated and graphic version of previous tales like the Incredible Journey and Homeward Bound, three animals are on a journey home. In this more violent version they have been engineered by humans to become lethal cyborg killing machines. They started life as pets, but were taken and used as government prototypes, to be disposed of when the project is decommissioned by the military. Rather than see them die, their trainer allows them to escape, and the innocent and simple animals have only one goal, to go home. Terror and death ensue when the animals use the lethal hardware they've been equipped with to protect themselves and each other.

This is a disturbing and thought provoking novel. One that will leave you with much to consider about our society and the morality behind how we view animals as pets, food, or expendable objects to further our scientific and military objectives.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

The House of Silk

The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel
by Anthony Horowitz
Muholland, 2011. 294 pgs. Mystery.

When Holmes and Watson begin investigating the case of an art dealer threatened by a vengeful twin, they use the Baker Street Irregulars to shadow the man they think responsible. One of the boys, young Ross, seems to know more than he is telling. When the boy is tortured and murdered, his body left with a thin ribbon of silk tied around the wrist, Holmes feels responsible and makes the solving of the case a personal crusade. But why did Ross run away from a seemingly well-run school and orphanage? And why does Mycroft warn his brother that he can only help him to a certain point and then he is on his own? After Holmes finds himself in jail and then almost miraculously back out again, does he confront one of the most perverse criminal enterprises in his storied career. While only the original Holmes is the real and eternal deal, Horowitz, with the blessing of the Conan Doyle estate, has written a better than creditable Baker Street adventure where the reader will scarcely be able to pick up one end of the book without picking up the other.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Not My Type

Not My Type
By Melanie Jacobson
Covenant Communications, 2011. 255 pgs. Romance

Pepper Spicer's life is less than ideal. Since her fiancé called off their wedding (for the second time) seven months before in order to pursue his career as a musician, she's stuck with thousands of dollars of credit card debt (from the wedding that never happened), which has in turn forced her move back in with her family (and share a room with her seven-year-old sister) and work in the fast food industry. When her therapist father pushes her to get beyond her self-pity, start expressing gratitude, and actually make something of her life, Pepper gives it a half-hearted attempt...and then realizes maybe that push is exactly what she needed. She applies for jobs in her chosen field--journalism--only to find that the only job she can get is for an online magazine as their undercover online dater, writing snarky articles about her experiences. While she's excited to get a chance to write, she's not sure about this particular assignment, particularly when she starts to fall for someone who she knows won't approve of her job.

I didn't always like Pepper (sometimes she was a little too snarky), but I really liked the story; I liked how Pepper had to figure out who she is, what she wants, and how to get it. Dealing with her past heartbreak in order to move forward is something many readers will relate to.


The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending
By Julian Barnes
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 163 pgs. Fiction

Tony Webster’s life is mostly behind him. It’s been a good life with moderate success in his professional endeavors, a failed marriage that produced both a beautiful daughter and an amicable relationship with his ex-wife, and a content sense of peace as he enters his retirement. An unexpected bequeath from a college girlfriend’s mother, a woman he only met once, stirs up memories and mysteries from his past. Events from his youth begin to monopolize his thoughts and, as he investigates unanswered questions, he discovers that his own memories may be the biggest lies of all.

‘The Sense of an Ending’ is a self-reflective novel and if it were any longer, its narration could have begun to drag. However, Barnes’ writing flows admirably and he kept his story short and focused. The reader travels with Tony through his recollections and his current discoveries as he uncovers the truth to a childhood friend’s suicide. This is a beautifully written novel about perspective and perception; about the history we create for ourselves and the history which actually occurred.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Love Life and See Good Days

Love Life and See Good Days
By Emily Freeman
Deseret Book, 2011. 138 pgs. Nonfiction

A very common term in our language is to "Have a good day," but it is not always that easy. Emily Freeman uses scriptures to point out twelve different things we can do to help us "see good days". It is nice to be reminded sometimes that having a good day is actually a choice we can make.

I really liked the personal stories that added to the concepts and helped me fell more connected to the author. This is a short book that was uplifting and easy to read and has changed the way I face each day.



By Tommy Kovac
Disney Press, 2008. 159 pgs. Graphic Novel

Although Alice is gone, there's still plenty of action in Wonderland in this graphic novel. Told from the view point of Mary Ann, the white rabbit's maid, we follow the wake of the "Alice monster" and revisit all the classic characters. I actually enjoyed Mary Ann's character the most as she tried to keep things clean and tidy in the mad world of Wonderland. Vibrantly illustrated, this is a treat for the eyes that begs the reader to sample, but don't worry: you won't become a giant if you take a taste.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Attack the Lusitania!

Attack the Lusitania!
by Jerry Borrowman
Covenant Communications, 2011. 221 pgs. Historical Fiction

In April 1915 the sinking of the Lusitania, a passenger liner with nearly two thousand civilians aboard, by a German U-Boat, created an international outcry against Germany. This novel retells the story of the sinking of the Lusitania from the points of view of several fictional characters: the German submariners, an American businessman, and two English boys who work on the ship.

This book is really well-written historical fiction for anyone who loves reading detailed accounts of historic events. The author is LDS and one of the characters shares his religious beliefs with others, but these elements of the story are handled lightly and do not detract from the rest of the book. Sometimes it felt like there was too much description and not as much action, and some of the dialogue is stilted and unnatural, but generally this was a good read. I liked the characters and I feel like I learned a lot more about World War One.



Excalibur: The Legend of King Arthur
By Tony Lee & illustrated by Sam Hart
Candlewick Press, 2011. Young Adult

Arthur holds a long-standing grudge against Merlin for taking him from his family and leaving him on the doorstep of another family. So when the time comes for Arthur to pull the sword Caliburn from the stone, Arthur is dubious about the whole operation. But, as the legend goes, Arthur does pull the sword and becomes king of Albion. At first a peaceful kingdom, Arthur must finally contend with his queen, his chivalrous champion, and traitorous half-sister. This graphic novel tells the whole story of Arthur, including his time in Avalon and his love for the Lady of the Lake. Shown mostly in subdued yellows, reds, and oranges with sections colored in deep purples, this rendering of the King Arthur legend is a treat to read, especially for those who are unfamiliar with the legend and who will appreciate the slightly more modern tone of the story.