Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Last Dragon Slayer

The Last Dragon Slayer
by Jasper Fforde
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.  287 pgs. Young Adult

Jasper Fforde's usual literary snortfest, but this time for teens and older elementary school kids.  Jennifer Strange runs an employment agency and boarding house (Zambini Towers) for magicians whose power is fading, which would be pretty much all remaining magicians because all magical power is disappearing in the Ununited Kingdoms.  Those few magicians who are left have to make their living rewiring houses and replacing plumbing (no plastic, thank you very much) without actually having to tear anything out or up. But suddenly magical power flares up again, and various practitioners begin to have dreams and visions of the death of the last dragon at the hands of the Last Dragonslayer.  At noon.  On Sunday. And most surprising of all, Jennifer turns out to be that dragonslayer. Even better than Fforde's sparky plot are his mind-boggling array of characters:  The Sisters Karamazov (Deidre and Deidre); the Quarkbeast; the Transient Moose; and Mysterious X.  If you don't laugh out loud at least once while reading this book, Fie upon you! Ye dinna have a humorous ( humerus, maybe) bone in your body.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Diviners

The Diviners
By Libba Bray
Little, Brown Publishers for Young Readers, 2012, 592 pgs. Young Adult

Libba Bray has combined the currently popular themes of the roaring twenties and paranormal teens in this large novel. Fans of her Gemma Doyle series (like me) will get some of the mysterious magic that was so entertaining, but this one seemed to have a much more grim twist. The murderous character, Naughty John, was extremely dark and creepy. However, she did have a strong heroine in Evie O’Neill. Knowing that this is going to be a series, I felt the other characters lacked depth and were introduced only to be given more story in future books. There were a lot of things happening for Evie all at once, and this led to some slower moments as Evie dealt with her feelings, powers, and friends. The supernatural plot was enticing since many characters will obviously have a purpose later, but for almost 600 pages, there wasn’t a whole lot to the “Diviners”.  I know I will eagerly wait for the other books in order for it to all come together.

Even though it wasn’t my favorite Libba Bray novel, I know teens and adults will enjoy the mystery of the mystical origins of Naughty John’s cult and will look forward to seeing if Evie and her companions can save the world. As a 1920s setting, it did add to the fun presented in Evie and her rebellious ways. The first book may have been overdone in plot and dialog at times, but I hope it means the second will just start with the action!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Against the Tide

Against the Tide
By Elizabeth Camden
Bethany House, 2012. 368 pgs. Romance

Lydia Pallas has a stable life working as a translator for the U.S. Navy, but her aptitude for language takes her on journeys she never expected when Alexander “Bane” Banebridge, a powerful man working to end the opium trade in the United States, asks her to do some translating work for him. Not only does the work pull her into more dangerous tasks than she is used to, but she also quickly falls in love with Bane, even though he has vowed never to marry as it would put his wife in too dangerous of a situation.

Fans of historical romance with a bit of mystery will enjoy Camden’s latest book. It has a little bit darker tone than a lot of inspirational novels do, simply because of the opium element, but it still offers the hope and romance that fans of the genre will need to be satisfied.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

How Children Succeed:  Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
By Paul Tough
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. 231 pgs. Nonfiction

One would have to have his/her head buried in a Sahara full of sand not to know that educational opportunities in the United States are sharply split along the lines of poverty versus plenty. And what has been most discouraging in recent years is that even the most determined, compassionate, and well-financed efforts to address those differences often don't make enough of a difference.  Recent research shows that often poor children are unable to overcome their disadvantages because of the way a young child's body responds to stress; in this case, to the relentless stress of not enough to eat, gunfire and sudden death in the neighborhood or in one's family, little access to health care. Actual changes in brain chemistry and an amped-up bodily stress management system do damage at a very young age to children raised in a relentlessly crisis-ridden environment. Research suggests that interventions to give children intellectual and character education--helping them to learn to be resourceful, self-calming, optimistic, conscientious, curious, and gritty--make a world of difference to kids in difficult circumstances as do loving nurturing parents or other adults. "How Children Succeed . . ." is an essential book in better understanding how to close the achievement gap and give our children--all our children--the opportunity for a good and happy life.


The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life

The God Who Weeps:  How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life
By Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens
Ensign Peak, 2012.  148 pgs. Nonfiction

Terryl and Fiona Givens illuminate LDS theology in this rich consideration of what Mormons believe as compared with other faiths and philosophies. The title references Enoch's vision as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price of God weeping over his wayward and suffering children, and the God the Givens describe "has made us His central concern, and as long as humans live--He will share in all our sorrows . . . in all our triumphs and joys.  For He has set His heart upon us." In this book, Mormonism's core beliefs are highlighted by considering them in light of alternate philosophies and beliefs, and by sharing the reflection of LDS belief from other sources. For example, even as the Givens repudiate  Jonathan Edwards' fearful descriptions of "sinners in the hands of an angry God," of a father who "abhors" his unforgivable children, they share the quieter vision of Edwards' wife Sarah who, feeling "a strong desire to be alone with God" withdraws to her chamber where "God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, seemed as distinct persons, both manifesting their inconceivable loveliness and mildness, and gentleness, and their great immutable love to me. . . ."  The Givens have drawn from an apparently encyclopedic knowledge of history, belief, literature, and philosophy to outline LDS belief  in the richest possible terms, both for members and other interested readers.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Black Count

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
By Tom Reiss
Crown Trade, 2012.  414 pgs. Biography.

Any time I am asked for my all-time favorite book, I easily answer The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. So, when I learned that parts of Edmond Dantes's story was based on the life and travails of the author's father, I knew that was a biography I had to read. I was not disappointed. In The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo author Tom Reiss describes General Alexander Dumas as a legendary soldier of mixed race that fought for his beloved French Republic and was eventually promoted to leading 50,000 men. The father's adventures and courage proved to inspire his son's most remembered literary scenes such as D'Artagnan's three-duel day and Edmond's unjustifiable prison sentence.

Much like Dumas's work, Reiss includes a great deal of historical detail and context as he presents General Dumas to his readers, but again like Dumas, the depth is rewarding. Any fan or student of the beloved author will want to learn more of his father, an inspiring man whom history has almost forgotten.


Sandcastle Girls

The Sandcastle Girls
By Chris Bohjalian
Doubleday, 2012. 299 pgs. Historical Fiction

In 1915, Elizabeth Endicott decided to leave her home in Boston and travel with her father to Aleppo, Syria. Their mission was to aid the refugees fleeing from the Armenian genocide. What they found was a nightmare of death and torment far beyond anything they could have imagined. But amid the despair and violence, Elizabeth also found friendship and love. Friendship with an Armenian woman Elizabeth rescues from the camps, and love with an Armenian engineer whose wife and child have disappeared somewhere in the desert.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian is a beautiful historical novel set during a period of history that few Americans are familiar with. Bohjalian's lovely prose and heart-wrenching story of loss is captivating. Elizabeth's story is narrated by her granddaughter, which gives it a very personal touch. Novels of World War II and the Holocaust abound in recent literature, but here is a chance for readers to learn more about another equally tragic period of world history.


The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans
By M.L. Stedman
Scribner, 2012. 345 pgs. Fiction

The Light Between Oceans, the debut novel of M.L. Steadman, tells of Tom Sherbourne, a young man returning to Australia from the bloody battlefields of World War I. With no ties to family, he seems extremely well suited for his new job on a solitary island manning a lighthouse. His post requires that he survive months without seeing another person, which suits his weary, war-ravaged soul. On a shore leave, he meets and falls in love with Isabel and after a year of exchanging letters they marry and set up house on the island. Isabel manages the solitude, but when she experiences repeated miscarriages her longing for a child drives her to the edge of sanity. While in this desperate state, Isabel comes across a small beached boat with the corpse of a man and a small crying newborn. The series of events that follow cannot fail to break your heart again and again.

The story told is one of the love of a mother, the meaning of family, and the difficulty in distinguishing right from wrong in a world filled with so many shades of gray. The Light Between Oceans is easily among the best books to be published this year and an easy recommendation.


Life Itself

Life Itself: a Memoir
By Roger Ebert
Grand Central Pub., 2011. 436 pgs. Biography

After decades in front of the camera telling America what movies to watch and what movies to skip, Roger Ebert lost his ability to speak due to a cancer that required his lower jaw be removed. However, thanks to modern technology, he once again found his voice through blogging. This memoir, "Life Itself," grew from that blog. He begins with his childhood and then early career, his path to prominence as a film reviewer, as well as his marriage and prolonged battles with cancer.

"Life Itself" is a particularly great memoir for people who know a lot about the movie industry. I, unfortunately, am not one of those people and I believe a great deal of this book was lost on me because I didn't know the people or films referred to. But even with that handicap, I still enjoyed many of the essays, especially those describing the golden age of journalism and film. By far the best chapters are those about some of the famous people Ebert had the pleasure of interviewing, like Robert Mitchum and John Wayne. Those two chapters alone made the whole book well worth the read.


The Boy in the Suitcase

The Boy in the Suitcase
By Lene Kaaberbol
Soho Crime, 2011. 313 pgs. Mystery

Responding to a plea for help from an old friend, Nina Borg is sent to a terminal locker where she discovers a large suitcase. It’s heft feels odd in her hand and she doesn’t even get it to her car before she feels compelled to look inside. Not knowing what to expect when she unlatches the case, she could in no way prepare herself for the shock of finding a small, drugged, naked child. Unable to trust the police, Nina pursues all other avenues available to her to identify the child and return him home.

This is a satisfying and exciting mystery from another Scandinavian author making her way to an American audience. A second installment in the Nina Borg series, Invisible Murder was recently released in the U.S.


Hello Goodbye Hello

Hello Goodbye Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings
By Craig Brown
Simon & Schuster, 2012. 356 pgs. Nonfiction

Hello Goodbye Hello could be considered the literary equivalent of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Brown begins by telling of the afternoon when John Scott-Ellis, a British peer, ran his car into Adolf Hitler, followed by John Scott-Ellis’s childhood walks with Rudyard Kipling, and on to Kipling’s meeting with his hero, Mark Twain. And so these little vignettes go, one meeting leading to another. Familiar names include Marilyn Monroe, Richard Nixon, Elvis Presley, Harpo Marx, Mick Jaggar, Queen Elizabeth, and Walt Disney.

I think the most fascinating aspect of this odd book is how real the people represented seem. They have prejudices, grudges, and insecurities that show in strange ways as they interact with one another. Originally published in Britain, some names will be unfamiliar to an American audience, but even without the celebrity these brief interactions display a fascinating view of how peoples’ lives cross and collide.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Song of My Heart

Song of My Heart
By Kim Vogel Sawyer
Bethany House, 2012. 348 pgs. Romance

When Sadie Wagner's cousin writes to tell her he has found jobs for her working at a mercantile and singing at the opera house in Goldtree, Kansas, she's excited to be able to help out her family by earning money while her father is injured and can't work and even more excited to be able to fulfill her dream to sing. When she arrives in Goldtree, she finds the extra perk of handsome sheriff Thad McKane, who has recently been brought to town to track down a bootlegger. However, just as their relationship is blossoming, Sadie finds that her job at the opera house isn't quite what she expected, but she doesn't know how to give it up and still help her family. She's in over her head, and to make matters worse, Thad realizes that something is amiss and that somehow his sweet Sadie may be involved with the bootlegger he's trying to catch.

This is a satisfying story, a good choice for fans of western settings, outlaws, and inspirational romance.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mrs. Bridge

Mrs. Bridge
by Evan S. Connell
Knopf, 1969. 369 pgs. Literature

Mrs. Bridge is a beautifully written, often overlooked, classic by one of America’s best mid-century writers. It is an intense character study that shows the personality of the lovely India Bridge over the course of her life. Told in a series of exquisite vignettes, Mrs. Bridge marries Mr. Bridge, raises two children, suffers being an empty-nester, and then lives alone for the remainder of her life. The reader gets a privileged insight into India’s daydreams, her reasons for conformity, and her staunch loyalty to her family and husband. It is not always a happy book, but each sentence is a worthwhile read.

 If you are a lover of the classics, if you like character-focused works and superb language, you cannot miss this book. Fans of Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway or Jane Austen will be especially pleased to find another author that satisfies their desire for perfect, well-plotted language. In my estimation, this is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read, and I can’t help but run to the bookshelf to grab it if anyone ever mentions a love of quiet, slow works. Most have not had the pleasure of reading it, and are grateful for the nudge. Follow it up with the equally charming Mr. Bridge; you’ll find the same story, shaped from a different perspective.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Red Ink

Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget
By David Wessel
Crown Business, 2012. 204 pgs. Nonfiction

In an attempt to be a conscientious and informed voter in the upcoming presidential election, I decided to read David Wessel's slim new book discussing our federal budget. In five concise chapters I learned shocking fiscal facts, how the U.S. achieved our federal indebtedness, where our tax money goes, where the money actually comes from, and why something must be done to save us from our spendthrift ways.

I think what I most appreciated about "Red Ink" is the attempt Wessel makes to be as fair and balanced as possible, steering clear of political polemicizing (and also avoiding overmuch financial jargon). The result is a comprehensible and somewhat terrifying portrait of the dangerous sword of indebtedness that could skewer us all at any moment. The good news is that this big mess is still fixable, but it will require sacrifice and compromise. "Red Ink" is the perfect primer for understanding the ongoing debate about the federal budget and debt.


Taste What You're Missing

Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good
By Barb Stuckey
Free Press, 2012. 407 pgs. Nonfiction

Author Barb Stuckey is a professional food developer who has spent years tasting and testing the products that fill grocery stores. In her book Taste What You’re Missing, she imparts her expansive knowledge on why things taste good, why things taste bad, and how to make each bite count. What’s really fun about this book is that she doesn’t just tell you about the food you’re eating, but each chapter includes experiments and exercises you can do at home to learn more about the concepts she introduces. And who can complain about homework that involves eating?

You wouldn’t think there could possibly be 400 pages worth of stuff to say about taste, but there really is. I particularly enjoyed the scientific information given concerning things like how the diet of a pregnant or nursing mother can affect her child’s likes and dislikes later in life. This is a great book for foodies, future foodies, or even just the curious.


Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins
By Jess Walter
Harper, 2012, 337 pgs. Fiction

Pasquale Tursi is determined to turn his newly inherited hotel, the only hotel in his tiny Italian coastal village, into a destination spot for wealthy Americans. All he needs is a little bit of beach and a tennis court to make the Hotel Adequate View start making a profit. One morning, as he’s waist deep off the shoreline creating a breaker for his proposed beach, a beautiful American actress arrives and he is suddenly questioning both his past and his desired future. Decades later, a jaded movie producer, a screenwriter desperate for his first break, a disillusioned production assistant, and a has-been rock star will each play a role in the conclusion of Pasquale’s search for a love that was never given a chance.

This is another addition to a growing number of books which tell their stories by skipping around in time, providing a piece of the puzzle here, and a piece of the puzzle there. For this story the technique works very well and the author has crafted a beautiful novel of greed and selfishness along with love, forgiveness, and the beauty that can blossom from broken hearts and shattered dreams.


The Mark of Athena

The Mark of Athena
By Rick Riordan
Disney/Hyperion Books, 2012. 586 pgs. Young Adult

As the third book in the Heroes of Olympus series opens, Annabeth, Jason, Piper, and Leo are flying aboard the Argo II into enemy territory--the camp for the Roman half-bloods. Although they manage to successfully find Percy Jackson, along with two new friends of his, Hazel and Frank, they also inadvertently attack the Roman camp, which leads to the Roman half-bloods setting out to destroy the Greek half-blood camp, which fits in nicely with Gaea's plan to cause chaos and war among the demigods. Added to this complication is the prophecy of seven, and Annabeth's disturbing conversation with her mother, Athena, who has sent her on a quest to avenge her. The seven demigods must figure out what Athena even wants from Annabeth, save Nico di Angelo, who is being held captive by two of Gaea's minions, and try to figure out how to stop Gaea's return.

Another exciting novel from Riordan. Told from the viewpoints of four of the seven demigods, readers get a chance not only to follow along with the action but also to experience the characters' fears and insecurities. Per Riordan's usual style, there's enough humor, adventure, and interesting twists to keep readers going through nearly 600 pages of reading...and longing for the next book in the series.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Burning Blue

Burning Blue
By Paul Griffin
Dial Books, 2012. 293 pgs. Young Adult

Nicole Castro is beauty pageant beautiful--until someone sprays acid in her face and destroys one side of her face. Jay Nazzaro, an accomplished hacker, has been an outcast ever since a seizure left him with wet pants in front of the entire school a couple years before. Jay, rather than staring at and gossiping about Nicole like everyone else does, decides to use his hacking skills to try to figure out who it was that attacked Nicole. As he does, he gets to know Nicole and realizes that she isn't the snob he thought she'd be--and he also realizes that the mystery behind who attacked her is more complicated than he anticipated.

I liked the hacker mystery aspect, seeing how Jay uses his skills to figure out pieces of the story. However, what really made me like the book was Jay. His character is so well written, from his insecurities over his seizures to his sensitivity toward Nicole and her situation, both of which will endear him to readers. The characterization is deep and the plot moves quickly. Overall, this is very, very well done.


Guitar Notes

Guitar Notes
By Mary Amato
Egmont USA, 2012. 296 pgs. Young Adult

Lyla Marks is one of those practically perfect girls--straight A student and an amazing cellist. Tripp Broody is a guitarist who is failing his classes. When the two are assigned to share a music practice room, Lyla on even days and Tripp on odd days, they initially irritate each other. However, as they leave notes for each other in the room, at first expressing that irritation but then genuinely getting to know each other, they find that they manage to bring out the best in each other--and in one another's music.

 This is a fun and satisfying read for those looking for a contemporary realistic fiction book. Tripp and Lyla are both characters that readers will be able to relate to, and the format, with lots of short chapters and the notes the two write to each other, makes it a quick read as well.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America's First Military Victory

The Battle of New Orleans:  Andrew Jackson and America's First Military Victory
By Robert V. Remini
Viking, 1999.  226 pgs. Nonfiction

Baby-boomers may remember Johnny Horton's rendition of "The Battle of New Orleans" topping the charts in the late fifties, a perky little stick-in-your brain number, but the whole truth of that pivotal battle in the history of our country is laid out with precision and immediacy in this fine book. Andrew Jackson's regulars, and his sharpshooting Tennessee volunteers made hash of the regimented, battle-tested Wellington brigades of British thrown against them and proved to the larger community of nation's that the United States was capable of defending itself as a sovereign nation. Remini lays out in convincing detail the role weather played in the battle, the shortsightedness of British arrogance, the joining of all the separate "societies" of New Orleans in support of the troops, and the terrible losses of the battle itself. Remini's book is a remarkable work of history, the victory he describes attended by two sharp ironies:  slaves were used to dig the moats and build the breastworks in this battle for freedom, and an end to the war had already been negotiated in Ghent some days before the battle began. A book well worth reading on the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Crucible of Gold

Crucible of Gold
By Naomi Novik
Del Rey, 2012. 323 pgs. Fantasy

In this seventh installment of the fantastically entertaining Temeraire series, Former Captain Will Laurence finds himself reinstated as Aviator Captain to the dragon Temeraire in the British Aerial Corps. Laurence and Temeraire have been tasked to travel to Brazil to persuade their ruler to joins sides with the British against Napoleon.

En route, they encounter one disaster after another until they find themselves in Incan Territory only to discover that the Incas have allied with Napoleon.

As usual Temeraire and the other dragons don’t quite understand human reasoning and happily go about doing what they think best causing all kinds of hilarious havoc.

If you're looking for great characters and a fun, adventurous story, I highly recommend this fantasy / historical fiction mash-up.


Tigers in Red Weather

Tigers in Red Weather
By Liza Klaussmann
Little, Brown and Co., 2012. 356 pgs. Fiction

Tiger House, a family estate on Martha’s Vineyard was a wonderful place for Nick and her cousin, Helena to grow up. Now at the end of World War II, they both feel the excitement of starting new lives. But what seems so promising quickly turns to bitter disappointment. Nick’s husband, Hughes, has been cold and distant ever since the war. Helena, who lost her first love in the war has remarried but to a man who has an obsession.

Fast forward a dozen years. Nick and Helena each have a young teenage child, Daisy and Ed. Every summer the cousins return to Tiger House in hope of recapturing what they have lost. But the summer Daisy and Ed discover a brutal murder victim quickly sends their fragile existences spinning.

Told from five points of view (Nick, Helena, Hughes, Daisy and Ed), Tigers in Red Weather is not what it first appears to be. This is a much darker look at the lives of the wealthy, New England summer set. One that both intrigued and repelled me.


A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar

A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar
By Suzanne Joinson
Bloomsbury, 2012. 374 pgs. Fiction

In 1923 Eva English, her beautiful sister Lizzie, and Lizzie’s friend Mildred travel as missionaries to distant Kashgar (I had to look it up. Kashgar is in modern day Western China). Though Kashgar is not their final destination they stop to help a young girl give birth. When the girl dies, the local villagers accuse them of witch craft and they are forced to stay in Kashgar until the proper bribes can be arranged.

Since no one is willing to care for the newborn baby, Mildred, in her usual controlling way, demands that Eva take care of the child. As their stay in Kashgar lengthens, Mildred begins to turn the town against them with her fanatic Christian zealotry.

In present day, Frieda Blakeman, finds a Muslim man sleeping on her door step. Taking pity on him, she gives him a pillow and blanket. The man, Tayeb, an illegal immigrant from Yemen and Frieda begin a friendship when she offers to let him stay in an apartment she has just inherited from a woman she has never heard of before.

The book gradually weaves the two stories together to finally reveal their connection. In this debut novel, Suzanne Joinson, attempts to create a provocative look at cultures colliding both historically and in current day. However, I was a bit disappointed with the result. I loved the book cover. I loved the title, but not the book.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Double Cross

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies
By Ben MacIntyre
Crown, 2012. 399 pgs. Nonfiction

During World War II, German leaders believed they had an entire network of reliable spies working in England, sending regular reports concerning what the British were up to. In reality, half that network was comprised of completely fictitious informants and the rest were indeed spies -- but they were double-crossing the Germans, actually working for the Allies. This network of double agents played a key role in the success of the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day. They spent months spinning an intricate web of half-truths and daring lies misleading the Nazis concerning when and where the imminent attack would be made. "Double Cross" is the story of these brave spies and the British agents who ran them.

Ben Macintyre is a completely entertaining author whose focus on World War II British spies has now yielded three captivating books including "Double Cross," "Agent Zigzag" and "Operation Mincemeat." Each of these books will please any World War II enthusiast and, really, anyone who loves a good spy novel. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction, and the unlikely success of this network of double agents is a perfect example.


The First 20 Minutes

The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, and Live Longer
By Gretchen Reynolds
Hudson Street Press, 2012. 266 pgs. Nonfiction

How, in this day and age, can our bodies continue to be such a mystery to us? Just keeping abreast of current nutrition and fitness findings can seem like a full time job. And that’s not even including the time it takes to actually cook right and exercise regularly. In The First 20 Minutes, Gretchen Reynolds gives us 250 pages of concise and fascinating information on how to best remain fit and healthy. She has waded through the research for us and shares the best and most effective practices for good health, hopefully saving us from that chore so that maybe we can actually find the time to get out and get active.

This isn’t a weight loss guide, but it is a fitness guide and may provide readers a little jolt of motivation. I felt that Reynolds’ dominant theme was that it takes just a little effort to greatly improve our longevity and quality of life, which is something many Americans fail to understand. Her audience could easily range from someone just beginning an exercise regimen to marathon runners looking to improve training practices.


Monday, November 5, 2012

An Unlikely Match

An Unlikely Match
By Sarah M. Eden
Covenant Communications, 2012. 171 pgs. Romance

Nickolas Pritchard has just found out that a distant relative passed away, leaving him as the heir of his estate in Wales. The formerly penniless Nickolas is thrilled to have a fortune at his disposal, as it will allow him to court Miss Castleton. He invites her and her family, along with some other friends, to visit his new estate, against the advice of his housekeeper and the neighborhood vicar, who warn him that the ghost who haunts his estate, Gwen, doesn't like unauthorized visitors. Nickolas, not believing that the ghostly Gwen even exists, moves ahead with his plans...only to find, when Gwen begins causing disturbances and makes appearances, that she does indeed exist. And not only does she exist, but she's beautiful and kind and funny, and his growing feelings for her are undeniable, but it's also impossible that they can ever amount to anything.

I was a little skeptical of a ghost story-romance, but I was quickly pulled into the the banter between Nickolas and Gwen and to the mystery of Gwen's death. The ending came a little too quickly for me; I thought the way things were resolved was interesting but then the epilogue at the end wrapping everything up wasn't entirely satisfactory. Overall, it's my least favorite of Sarah Eden's books, but it's still a fun Regency romance.


Beyond Courage

Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
By Doreen Rappaport
Candlewick Press, 2012. 228 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Rappaport shares stories of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, from well-known stories like the Warsaw ghetto to never-before-published accounts of resistance. She tells of sabotage against the German forces, smuggling children out of Nazi-occupied countries, and many other stories of resistance. While in many cases, those resisters lost their lives, their bravery saved the lives of many others and disrupted or delayed the Nazi's work.

This book does a good job showing various type of resistance during the Holocaust and is a valuable addition to the Holocaust genre. The book is broken up into 21 different stories, so readers can read through all of it or just browse a few.


The Prisoner of Heaven

The Prisoner of Heaven
By Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Harper, 2012. 278 pgs. Fiction

Prisoner of Heaven returns readers to the mysterious and almost magical world first introduced in The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. This latest visit to Barcelona occurs in 1957, but the story requires our heroes to revisit the past to learn why a dark man has come to the Sempere bookshop to threaten the future happiness of Fermin Romero de Torres. With his friend Daniel Sempere, Fermin will need delve into his painful past to uncover dangerous secrets that could destroy them all.

Zafon’s Barcelona is a setting I will happily visit any time. Its dark alleys and mysterious Cemetery of Forgotten Books provide plenty of mystery and intrigue, but its really the reappearing characters that draw you in and entice you to return.


15 Seconds

15 Seconds
By Andrew Gross
HarperCollins Publishers, 2012. 324 pgs. Fiction

It only takes moments for our lives to be completely derailed. This is demonstrated tragically in the first few pages of 15 Seconds when a self-medicated young woman kills a mother and her newborn. Months later, in a different state, a seemingly unconnected plastic surgeon is on his way to a tee time with a friend when he is pulled over for running a stop light. This small event triggers a series of situations that force Dr. Henry Steadman to run for his life. Unable to turn to the police for help, Henry must figure out why he is being targeted and how to prove his own innocence.

15 Seconds is a fast paced thriller with enough twists and turns to keep readers riveted from start to finish. Gross does manage to include a few deeper issues into the story. Questions of cause and effect, ultimate accountability, and who the real victims are in a society of blame and permissiveness.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
by Robin Spencer
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.  288 pgs. Fiction.

Clay Jannon is not much of a paper pusher.  In fact, he is so connected electronically that before he gets a job as the night clerk at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore he rarely has any reason to touch paper. All that changes when he loses his job as a web designer for NewBagel and is hired on by Mr. Penumbra, mostly to scale the very tall sliding ladder that reaches the tops of the shelves in the back of the bookstore and retrieve books for the late-night clients. Penumbra's clients are not really customers. They rarely buy a book, but check them out instead on special card issued to members of what Clay later discovers is a secret society seeking the secrets of immortality. Three unusual characteristics set this book apart:  print and paper types and computer geeks work hand-in-glove to solve the mystery; there is no swearing in this book (and, yes, it was published in the 21st century); and finally, the cover of the book glows in the dark. What's not to like?