Monday, February 28, 2011

Population: 485 / Michael Perry

Population: 485 : meeting your neighbors one siren at a time by Michael Perry. 234 p.

I had never heard of Michael Perry before Christa blogged about this book, but I thought it would be interesting to read about the life of a volunteer firefighter in a small town. (Even though I personally would never be able to stand living in a small town.) And his anecdotes are all really interesting. What's so striking about these essays, though, is his sense of connection to the place--this small town is his hometown as well, so every bit of it has a memory connected to it. I would find it claustrophobic, but clearly he's grounded by it. I may have to hunt down his other books as well.

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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson 563 pages

I listened to all of the Millenium Trilogy by downloading the audiobooks through our library. I savored each episode, saving it for a vacation listen. A couple of times I lost my place (a common pitfall for me), but I did not mind backtracking a bit. Narrator Simon Vance does a commendable job reading this book conveying atmosphere, and various characters through his voice. If you read or listened to books 1 and 2 chances are you have already read this installment. In short, despite being hospitalized, Lisbeth Salander through the help of a network of computer pals, her journalist friend, Mikael and other assorted friends, fights for her freedom and good name. Sure the tale is rather far-fetched, but it is a great roller coaster ride; I don't know whether to hope for a possible fourth or be content with the published trilogy.

Northward to the Moon by Polly Horvath 244 pages

This humorous sequel to My One Hundred Adventures (A National Book Award winner) is about the road trip taken by a family from Canada to Nevada when the step-father loses his teaching job. Along the way they find a stash of cash that father Ned is not quite sure what to do with. So, they end up at his mother's desert ranch. This book is full of unconventional characters. The narrator Jane is trying to figure out which is her true father; each of her siblings have a different mystery father. She believes that she shares many of Ned's outlaw characteristics, but ultimately feels betrayed by him. By the end of this tale, the reader learns about a different kind of family drawn together by love more than genes.

Claim to Fame by Margaret Peterson Haddix 256 pages

Lindsay has two claims to fame. She was the young start of a hit TV show until her other talent kicked in. She began to hear voices talking about her. In fact she could hear all the voices around the world of people talking about her. Her mother had disappeared when she was quite young. Her father whisks her away from the industry and takes her to his home town in Illinois. There Lindsay seems imprisoned in her house until her father dies unexpectedly. Two teenagers attempt kidnapping her to free her from her "prison" and find that their conclusions about her were quite wrong. Fortunately, she discovers that she is not alone; there are others in this small town that share her "power". Peterson has written several young adult novels The Shadow Children, about other kids hidden away in a future society. She paces her novels well and draws believable characters in rather unbelievable situations. Compelling reading.

Rachael Ray's Look + Cook: 100 Can't-MIss Main Courses in PIctures / Rachael Ray 320 p.

I wanted to see whether Ms. Ray was as 'yum-o' a cook as her fans say she is. And just because nobody in my house liked the one recipe I tried from this book (Chicken & Dumplings, Spanish style) isn't a reason to condemn her or her writing. But still. The recipes are hard to read, written in paragraph format rather than bullet-style, and the photos are mostly pretty rather than enlightening.

Healing Spices: How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost and Beat Disease / Bharat B. Aggarwal 322 p.

OK, I didn't really read all of this, but I did enjoy this nicely photographed compilation of the benefits of some common and not-so-common spices. Do I believe the science? For me the jury's still out, but I'll never argue with an author who tells me to eat lots of chocolate, cinnamon and almonds. Includes lots of recipes for spice mixes such as Ethiopian berbere.

Dead to the world

Dead tot he world/Charlaine Harris 293 pgs.

I decided not to read too far ahead in this series so I could compare the books to the action on "True Blood". This book is one of my favorites so far. Who knew that all it took to have a sexy, hot, honest, love affair was to have the object of your affection suffer from amnesia that makes him forget who he is. Hey, if that is what it takes...who am I to argue? Aside from the lust and sex parts, there is a bit about supernatural beings, a big war with witches and a kidnapped brother. But really, why look beyond the sexy parts? - Christa

All Facts Considered

All Facts Considered: the essential library of inessential knowledge by Kee Malesky 277 pgs.

Kee Malesky is the one of the librarians at NPR and this book is a collection of facts and information that she has researched in the course of her work. Broken into three sections and twelve chapters, there is something literally on every page that I found interesting. For example, the cost of wars in 2008 dollars and the total battle deaths in each war. Very interesting stuff...fewer die in battle but the cost in dollars is amazing and rising. The "curse to the book stealer" made me laugh. Kee's favorite curse "If anyone take away this book, let him dies the death; let him be fried in a pan; let the falling sickness and fever seize him; let him be broken on the wheel, and hanged." No pussy footing around there. So much information in one little volume, there is really something for everyone. - Christa

The Year Money Grew on Trees written and illustrated by Aaron Hawkins 293 pages

Jackson Jones is challenged by a cantakerous neighbor to take care of her orchard of 300 apple trees. If he is able to make a profit of $8,000, he will prove himself a worthy steward of the orchard and she will turn a deed of the orchard over to him. Jackson is 13 years old and has never had any farming or gardening experience. His father has threatened to force him to spend his summer working at a local junk yard. With dreams of easy money for the picking, Jackson agrees to take the challenge. His last experience doing chores for his neighbor taught him the value of getting her offer validated by a lawyer. He quickly learns that this can not be a one boy operation and enlists the help of his cousins and sisters. This is Hawkins first book for kids but he writes from personal experience. He tended his family's orchard in New Mexico as a child. This is a heartwarming and educational story about a boy who bites off a job too big without consulting his parents and reluctant to quit. He learns what he needs to know by finding a helpful book in the school library (despite the "mean" librarian) and persistently asking a deacon at his church who also has an orchard. It is hard to believe that this is set in the 1980's -- especially since he is able to get so much help from his young relatives. One can't help but looking differently at an apple before biting into it after reading all the months of hard work it took Jackson to harvest his crop.

In the kitchen with a good appetite: 150 stories and recipes about the food you love, by Melissa Clark

I'm counting this "cookbook," because it is much more a collection of columns the author has written for the New York Times than a book of recipes. But the recipes all sound scrumptious! Each short essay meditates on one or another aspects of a dish, an ingredient, a tradition, or a memory. Always engaging and opinionated, a wonderful book to dip into over the course of several evenings. 444 pp.

The Cardturner: A Novel about a King, a Wueen, and a Joker by Louis Sachar 336 pages

Louis Sachar is the prolific author of many humorous books for kids. Holes won The Newbery Award. Marvin Redpost is the "male equivalent" of Junie B Jones (Park). The Wayside School series are classic read alouds for teachers and students alike. The Cardturner is unlike any of those. Sachar wrote this with an agenda. He fears that bridge is becoming a lost game played only by "old people". Despite a lack of enthusiasm for the topic by his wife and agent, he was determined to write this book. Alton Richards has a great-uncle Lester who is a world class bridge player, and has a great personal fortune. In declining health, he has lost his sight but not his fabled memory and needs a cardturner to play for him. Alton's parents insist that he take this job with the hope of persuading his uncle to leave their family his fortune. Alton begins this job clueless about the game, but over time becomes interested in the game, his uncle and a cousin he barely knew. He discovers the truth about his tangled family history. Throughout the story Sachar takes time out to explain the rules and strategy of the game. I must say that I followed the plot more closely than the card info. This could be a great intro to the world of bridge.

The Iron Duke/Meljane Brook

The Iron Duke by Meljane Brook; romance, steampunk; 384 pages

If there is one thing I learned for this book, it's that I need to stop reading romances. I love a good genre book (fantasy or scifi, please) with strong romantic elements, so I thought I'd also enjoy a romance with strong genre elements. This one was advertised as a steampunk romance, so I figured I would love it. Oh, how wrong I was.

To be fair, I liked the world of this novel, and its premise: hundreds of years ago, Genghis Khan's Horde conquered all of Europe and Asia. They developed advanced nanotechnology, which they used to control the population, and to create half-metal half-biological beasts to keep them in line. And zombies, of course, which now roam the continent unchecked. Nine years ago, a rogue pirate ship lead the attack which drove the Horde out of England, and freed its populace. The captain of that ship was rewarded with a dukedom--and the title the Iron Duke. Now, in the late 19th century, a murder on the duke's estate sends Detective Inspector Wilhelmina Wentworth to investigate, and she and the duke soon find themselves tracking down a conspiracy that threatens all of England. Sounds great, right?

I could write you a small novel detailing why I didn't like this book: the choppy writing; the sketchy plotting; the abrupt conclusions to too many subplots; or the almost total lack of British-isms from the supposedly English (and Welsh) main characters. But the real bone of contention was the "courtship" between Mina and the duke. At first I thought it was just that the duke was too "alpha male" for me--but when the duke sexually assaults the inspector, with no repercussions, I lost it. I finished this book, but only barely.

Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses, by Claire Dederer

This well-written and engaging memoir recounts what one conflicted wife and mother found out about herself and her family during her thirties and early forties, and the hook she hangs her memories on is of varied experiences with yoga. Born and raised in one of the most liberal areas of liberal Seattle, the expectations for living your life and raising children are actually anything but. One is expected to marry rather late, breast feed a minimum of a year, make one's own baby food from organic products, and adhere to any number of other unwritten rules. Toe the party line, or risk exclusion. But life isn't that neat. Her own upbringing was very unconventional -- her mother and father separated when she and her brother are very young, but never divorced. Her mother lives with her much younger boyfriend, while Dad pursues his life on a houseboat. The children, bewildered, shuttle between them. One of the more interesting aspects of the book for me was the author's insightful contrasting of what conventions her own mother was expected to live up to (and how the awakening feminist movement in that generation threw these all into a cocked hat), and the different, but still rigid and codified, conventions her generation embraces yet fights against. The more things change, the more they stay the same. She begins yoga when all that breastfeeding causes her back to go out, and she approaches it warily. Is it a cult, an exercise routine, or something more? Is she a "poser," or a "poseur?" Over the course of a ten year's journey with various forms of yoga, for her it leads to some answers. 332 pp.

Being polite to Hitler, by Robb Forman Dew

I hadn't read much of this acclaimed author, and probably this wasn't the best choice. I learned after I read it, with a little puzzlement, that it was the last novel of a trilogy. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I was acquainted with the characters as old friends. The complex clan, with overlapping names, some used as a first name, others as the last name, was a little hard to follow. Set in the 1950's and going forward about twenty years, it centers on Agnes Scofield, who at fifty-four is thoroughly bored with her life. What happens to her in late mid-life surprises both her and her extended family. In the end, "It was about reclaiming and slaking her own desires after the long years of their being defined by the people to and for whom she felt responsible. She was neither glad nor sorry to discover that a curious detachment had insinuated itself into her expectations of what remained possible during the rest of her life." I kinda get that..... 297 pp.

Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips 387 pages

“Call Me Irresistible” is another example of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ ability to intertwine humor, romance and a little bit of mystery. Meg Koranda is the best friend of and bridesmaid for Lucy Jorik. Unfortunately, Meg’s wealthy and famous parents have chosen the weeks before Lucy’s wedding to Ted (favorite son of a small Texas town) to force her to become responsible and productive. Meg determines that Ted is not for Lucy. Lucy knows in her heart that Meg is right and at the last minute, calls off the wedding leaving the groom standing at the altar. The town blames Meg. Meg runs out of money and cannot pay her hotel bill and events begin to unfold. Phillips has a talent for creating characters that are strong and vulnerable. There is always at least one “laugh out loud” scene in her books and this one didn’t fail to deliver. The ending seems to be inevitable from the very first page but the paths taken, intersected and crossed make the book a quick, delightful read.

Best Friends Forever: A World War II Scrapbook

Best Friends Forever: A World War II Scrapbook by Beverly Patt 92 pgs.

This is a juvenile fiction book which is also historical fiction. A very good book especially for girls to read. It is a quick read, but very enjoyable. The book centers around two middle school aged girls (Louise - American and Dottie - Japanese American) who vow to protect and keep their friendship despite the cruel ways of the world when the War breaks out. To cope with losing her best friend to a relocation camp, Louise keeps a scrapbook of the different things that happen in her life after Dottie is sent away. This book really sends home a message about true friendship.

The Help

The Help by Katheryn Stockett 444 pgs.

This is an awesome read and a real page turner. I listened to the audiobook last year which is really a delight, but I finally got the chance to read the book. The book is based in Jackson, Mississippi during the civil rights movement. It centers around the maids (the help) and the families they work for. The maids become brave and join together to start their own movement by reporting their stories of what it is like to be a maid in Jackson and what goes on in each of their employers homes. The book is real touching, and the maids decision of "coming out" with their stories forever changes the ways of Jackson, Mississippi and the way women view each other as far as black vs. white. This book is a book you wouldn't want to miss out on reading.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Walking Dead: Book Six/ Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead: Book Six by Robert Kirkman. graphic literature, zombies, adventure, survival horror 304 pages.

Wow...I never realized how effective Robert Kirkman's end-of-book cliffhangers were until I reached the end of the last current book in his epic graphic novel zombie adventure "The Walking Dead". I find myself praying that book 7 will come out soon, but I realize that now I have to wait just like everyone else...sad.

I really enjoyed this volume, and it definitely surprised me with its content. When I saw Carl on the cover, I assumed that this would be the volume where Carl's father Rick dies or the two of them get separated and the series begins to chronicle both of their adventures simultaneously (mark my words, even though it didn't happen in this book, it's only a matter of time). The first half of the book dealt with the issue of a true loss of humanity. Whether it's needless killing or cannibalism, the remaining survivors began to realize just what they are willing to do to survive. This is one of my favorite aspects of the zombie genre, so it was definitely fun to read (and I kinda figured the subject of cannibalism would come up, I'm surprised it took this long).

The second half of the book was perfectly juxtaposed with the first. After making the reader very aware that the survivors have become "monsters" in their own way, we see just how different they are from people who otherwise seem normal. This is most obvious when we get to the next settlement on Kirkman's road, an almost-too-peaceful community know simply as "the community". The survivors are divided on whether or not they feel secure in this all-too-perfect environment, and I have to admit, it was really entertaining to see the characters (especially some of the more rough-around-the-edges ones like Abraham, Andrea, and Michonne) dressed up like normal people. I'm with the cautious survivors, however...something's gotta be wrong with this community, because 1. the story would get boring if they stayed there forever and 2. there's a freaking ZOMBIE outbreak going on outside the community's walls...they are hiding SOMETHING, we just haven't figured out what yet.

As I said before, my only issue with this book is that the next in the series hasn't come out yet, so now I have to wait like a normal person. I think it'll be good to separate myself from the series for a while though, because that'll make book seven even more fun to come back to.

Treachery in Death / J.D. Robb

Treachery in Death by J.D. Robb (#33 in the In Death series). 375 p.

I tend to categorize the books in this series as either "plot" books or "relationship" books, depending on the focus. There's always some plot, of course, given that the main character, Lt. Eve Dallas, is a homicide cop, so there's always at least one case that she's working on. Some of the books, though, focus more on Eve's relationships with her husband and friends, or some of the supporting cast's romantic relationships. This book is almost pure plot, although surprisingly it doesn't involve a serial killer, as many of the titles do--it involves crooked cops and finding a way to ferret them out and take them down. It made for a nice change of pace; sometimes we spend a little too much time inside the heads of crazed killers to suit my taste.

Although none of the characters' interpersonal relationships evolve noticeably in this installment, barring the addition of a romance for a minor recurring character, there are some relationship discussions--mostly about what leaders and followers owe each other.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

If I Stay

If I Stay by Gayle Forman  259 pp.

This story is told from the point of view of Mia, a seventeen year old girl who is in a coma from a car accident that killed her parents and brother and left her seriously injured. Mia is a gifted cellist who has auditioned for acceptance to Juilliard. She is an oddity in a family with a father who is a former Punk Rock musician. Her boyfriend is also a rock musician in a band called "Shooting Star."  (I'm not sure if the author realized there actually was a band in the 70s-80s by the same name.) When the accident occurs, Mia is suddenly able to navigate out of her body where she sees her dead parents but cannot locate her little brother and believes he must have been taken to another hospital. This ability allows her to spend time watching her grandparents and friends as they deal with the tragedy. Much of Mia's narrations are reminiscences about her life before the accident. She had a very close relationship with her parents. Mia adores her little brother and was even present at his birth. When she finds out that he is dead and not just at a different hospital, Mia struggles with the decision to continue living or to just let it all go and die. I'm not going to spoil the ending for anyone. You'll have to read it yourself to find out what happens in the end.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Instructions/ Adam Levin

The Instructions by Adam Levin. Youth in revolt, messianic myths, adventure 1030 pages. (I know, right?)

Well, the hardest part of this review is already done, which is the part where i'm supposed to list a few categories the book I read fits into in italics. Even though I got a few down, I don't think anything truly applies because Adam Levin's "The Instructions" is truly in a league of its own.

This massive piece of literature, which looks like a cinderblock is the fictional "scripture" of Gurion Ben-Judah Maccabee, 10 year old gifted scholar, revolutionary, and possible potential messiah. Gurion is a brilliant Jewish youth who has been expelled from three schools, diagnosed with every behavioral disorder in the book and placed in the CAGE program of his newest school Aptakisic Junior High, a BD program where the students are literally condemned to silently sit in a cage all day while ruled by their abusive dictator of a monitor Botha (Botha is a true villain complete with a claw-hand and a creepy Australian accent). Gurion's life completely changes when, after a chance meeting in the office, he falls in love with Eliza June Watermark, the girl of his dreams. While this "first love" may not seem like much to us normal people, for Gurion, this event sets off a chain reaction that leads to a series of misadventures during the next four days leading up to a full-scale revolt complete with armed takeovers, murder, betrayal, and maybe even a miracle.

One of the most exciting things about the world Levin creates for us is the mythology surrounding Gurion. Although most of the story is told as if being recorded by Gurion at some unnamed point in time after the events of the book, there are other included documents that really flesh out Gurion and the characters around him including psychiatric reports, e-mails, and essays written by Gurion in detention. This really gives the reader the feeling that they are not just reading a story, but experiencing it.

By far Levin's greatest strength is his ability to create quirky and interesting characters. Obviously, Gurion is the most detailed, and manages to be a protagonist with both likable and unpleasant traits who you still can't help but love. A few of my other favorites are Gurion's best friends: short-tempered sociopath Benji Nakamook, blunt, foul-mouthed Vincie Portite, and enigmatic mute Leevon Ray. Although these characters along with June, Gurion's love interest, round out the main characters, Levin's supporting cast of minor characters still feel extremely real too (such as perfectly named basketball star Bam Slokum and obnoxious pop sensation Boystar, who I picture looking a lot like Justin Bieber). These characters and more populate Levin's scriptural epic and make you want to soldier through the thousand page epic to learn as much as you can about them.

The few criticisms I have for this otherwise stellar book are very specific to my own tastes. I am not Jewish and am therefore unfamiliar with a lot of the more in-depth Torah and Talmudic references that Gurion, as ten year old religious scholar makes. This doesn't necessarily take away from the story, it just makes small portions of the book where Gurion discusses religion in depth either with his teachers, his parents, or himself, a little harder to swallow. My only other issue lies with the format Levin chooses to put his included e-mails in. The e-mails featured in "The Instructions" are all long multi-input replies and forwards, yet Levin chooses to start all of his e-mails with the final reply and work backwards. This can be frustrating because you have to read the whole e-mail conversation in reverse, so I suggest skipping ahead to where the e-mail section ends in the book, and reading the e-mails backwards (if i'm not explaining this well, just read 100 or so pages in, you'll understand).

All in all, this has been one of the most rewarding things I've read this year. Despite its length, Levin's excellent novel takes you on a thrillride that will have you laughing, crying, thinking, and maybe even praying by the time it's over. Definitely a must-read that I would recommend to anyone.

A visit from the goon squad

A visit from the goon squad by Jennifer Egan 273 pg.

This is a great book about Sasha and her boss Bennie Salazar. It is great because it goes back and forth in time where we meet many people who cross paths with Sasha and/or Bennie and in the process learn a lot about both of them but never really why this book is about them as opposed to any of the other characters. All of this back and forth is well done and it is easy to follow even though it seems like it shouldn't be. This book made it onto the "best" lists of several librarians and I can see why. - Christa

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Prince of Fire

Prince of Fire by Daniel Silva  369 pp.

This is the fourth book in the series about master art restorer, spy, and assassin, Gabriel Allon (and the 6th that I've read). In this novel Allon must abandon restoration of a Bellini masterpiece in Vienna after the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Rome. He is charged with finding and killing the mastermind of the attack, a member of a family with a long history of deadly attacks against Israeli citizens and the government of Israel. Allon himself is being hunted after his true identity and that of his lover, Chiara, is compromised. Silva has created memorable characters in Allon, his aged, curmudgeonly boss, Ari Shamron, and others who make recurring appearances in the series. The amount of research done by the author into the difficult relationship between the Israel and the Palestinians shows in the craftsmanship of his storytelling. 

The Radleys by Matt Haig 369 pages

Teen Rowan is constantly picked on by the school bully and his younger sister Clara has just become a vegan. When she is attacked by a classmate, Clara has a violent reaction -- she transforms into a vampire and slays him. Her parents had tried to deny their existence by following the guidelines written in The Abstainer's Handbook. This act causes many repercussions. Mother, Helen sends a telepathic message out to her brother-in-law (and father of Rowan), Will. Will is happy to return -- after hundreds of other conquests he has decided that Helen is the one for him. Unfortunately, Peter his brother is in the way and the vampire police is hot on his trail because of his flagrant killings. Before you know it the cat is out of the bag when the kids learn their true identity and the power of consumed blood. This is hardly a typical teen vampire story -- it is marketed for adults. There is a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor and it has been optioned to become translated into film.

Damage by John Lescroat 394 pages

Abe Glitsky is once again involved in trying to solve a series of heinous murders. The son of an unscrupulous and influential San Francisco family is released on appeal through the California Supreme Court. The district attorney’s office is required to retry Ro for the murder and rape of a former family servant. A few days after Ro’s release, the main witness against him is found murdered and burned beyond recognition. Abe, the DA and the ADA who originally tried Ro are convinced that Ro is responsible but cannot find a judge to issue an arrest warrant. In the meantime, there are more murders and Abe is convinced that Ro is also guilty of these crimes. “Damage” twists through unusual paths widening the focus of the hunt for evidence. As usual, John Lescroat drops hints leading to the final discovery of evidence. Along the way are a few unexpected surprises and insightful peeks at the suffering experienced by the victims or family members left to mourn.

Just Kids by Patti Smith 279 pages

I have never listened to a Patti Smith album. I believe that I saw her perform on Saturday Night Live many, many years ago. I recognized the name Robert Mapplethorpe primarily as causing a firestorm with conservatives appalled that either he received funding or an institution that exhibited his works received funding from the National Endowment of the Arts. I did not know that there was a relationship between Patti and Robert. So, I had no preconceived notions as to what this book was about. My interest was piqued because I read that this was a runner-up for the National Book Award. I was surprised that a "former rocker" could write "literature". This is not your usual self-promoting star autobiography (probably written by a ghost writer). It is an introspective look at a relationship evolving during a unique time (late sixties /early seventies) and place (New York City). Patti is a multi-talented artist with words and images. She also was partner to the artist, Mapplethorpe and saw his talents and creativity emerge. They both found fame, but at a cost. Their lifestyle, living in poverty while partying with the rich and famous is depicted quite clearly. They lost many friends and loved ones to drugs and AIDs. I guess I will go find a Patti Smith album to listen to.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Eona/Alison Goodman

Eona, by Alison Goodman; young adult, fantasy; 656 pages

Patrick is my new best friend, for bringing an advance copy of this back from ALA. The first book left us with something of a cliffhanger, so I was pleased not to have to wait for the conclusion.

Following the coup in the first book, Eona and her allies retreat into the wilderness to regroup with the displaced emperor, and find a way to overthrow the new government. Eona's secret is out now, and she has to deal with the effects of her secret-keeping on her relationships. More importantly, she still doesn't know how to control her dragon, forcing her to turn to Lord Ido, the only other remaining Dragoneye, for training--if they can rescue him from the imperial dungeons.

I enjoyed this book, but I had a lot less patience with Eona here than in the previous volume. When she was masquerading as a 12-year-old boy, I was willing to allow a little more naivete, but as a 16-year-old girl trained as a warrior, I expected her to catch on to things a little faster. Also, much of the story revolved around trust: Eona has to rebuild other characters' trust in her, while being torn between who to trust in the political games that are playing out. Of course, to the reader, who to trust is really obvious, so that sort of added to my frustration. Then again, I may have just been in a cranky mood when I read this. I did love the romance that takes a larger role in this book, and with the constant twists and action scenes, it's a fast read, despite it's length.

This is a great book for fans of writers like Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, and Sherwood Smith.

The Postmistress

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake  326 pp.

Being the daughter of a letter carrier, how could I not read this book which begins with the question "What would happen if the postmistress refused to deliver a letter?" The story takes place in the early days of World War II, before the U.S. enters the conflict. It is essentially the story of three women:  Iris James-the postmistress of the small Cape Cod town of Franklin, Emma Fitch-the new wife of the town doctor, and Frankie Bard-an American radio war correspondent. After a tragedy, Dr. Fitch leaves Franklin to offer medical help to Blitzkrieg ravaged London. Emma is fragile and lost without him and the postmistress takes it upon herself to watch over her. After a chance meeting in London with Dr. Fitch, Frankie tours Europe to gather stories about the displaced refugees and finds it impossible to report in a detached manner. She quits her job and heads to Franklin to deliver a letter Dr. Fitch wrote to Emma. Frankie ends up entwined in the lives of the townspeople and an Austrian refugee named Otto who is looked upon with suspicion by the townspeople. Essentially, this is a story of how war changes the lives of those who are indirectly touched by it.

I listened to the audio-book of this and found the errors of the narrator to be annoying. At the beginning she mispronounces the name of famed reporter, Edward R. Murrow as muh-ROH. Evidently she was corrected because in later parts she pronounced it correctly but evidently no attempt was made to correct the earlier error. Other mispronunciations occur which are then correctly pronounced later in the book. However, she completely butchered "Messerscmitt" which only appeared once. This wasn't the worst audio version I've listened to but it was far from the best.

Lovers' Knot / Donald L. Hardy

Lovers' Knot: an m/m romance by Donald L. Hardy. 364 p.

Male/male romance has become a popular (and controversial) subgenre in the last few years. It's particularly popular in e-book form, but I don't have an e-reader, so I jumped at the chance to read one in print. This one is set in 1906. Thirty-year-old Jonathan has just inherited a farm in Cornwall. He only ever spent one summer there, when he was 16 (in 1892), so he takes his best friend Alayne with him and goes to visit his new property. Jonathan is in love with Alayne but has never spoken of it, being unwilling to lose their friendship. Of course, Alayne is secretly in love with Jonathan but has never spoken of it for the same reason.

I'm fond of this plotline in a romance--longtime friends who come to realize they love each other. However, I was somewhat disappointed in this book, because most of the romance that we actually see, in flashback form, is between 16-year-old Jonathan and a farmhand named Nat. The main story concerns repercussions in 1906 of what happened in 1892, but we spend far too much time with Nat and Jonathan to suit me. It's not a bad book; it just wasn't what I wanted.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less / Sarah Glidden

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden. 308 p.

In 2007 Sarah, a 26-year-old living in New York, takes her Birthright Israel tour with her friend Melissa. She's prepared for the tour to try to "brainwash" her, so she did a lot of reading about The Situation, as she calls it, before taking the trip. Of course, she discovers that actually being there leads to things looking less clear-cut.

I particularly liked the part where the group goes on a sunrise hike up to Masada. Sarah brings along her copy of Josephus, the only extant historical description of what happened in Masada, and compares the text to the speech that their guide gives. She points out to her friend the way the changes to the story, the hike at sunrise, etc. are all designed to cause a particular emotional reaction in the group. And then she goes to the gift shop.

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The Walking Dead: Book Five/ Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead: Book Five by Robert Kirkman graphic literature, survival horror, zombies, adventure 304 pages

I think the biggest thing I needed to adjust to when reading Kirkman's "The Walking Dead" is that it is a running series. When I popped my graphic lit cherry reading Bryan Lee O'Malley's "Scott Pilgrim" saga, I knew the series had already reached its end, and I knew exactly how many books I had to read. The Walking Dead is still going strong, and that is something I realized about halfway through the book. Why is this important, you might ask? Well, being the visual media nerd that I am, i'll put it into terms that I hope everyone can understand. The plot of Scott Pilgrim was more like a movie plot (which makes sense, because they made it into a movie). There was one major arc with a series of small arcs, and the whole series would end with the conclusion of that major arc. The Walking Dead is much more like a TV series with consecutive major arcs. When a major arc reaches a conclusion, a new one will follow. This was the case with The Walking Dead Book 5.

I was a little bit worried at the conclusion of the 4th volume that the loss of many beloved characters would ruin the series, but Kirkman really managed to revitalize the series with this loss. The old characters weren't necessarily forgotten, but they did become more of a backstory for the brand new story arc: the trip to Washington DC with the newest members of Team Survivors- Abraham, Eugene and Rosita. I am pretty satisfied with how this story arc began, because Kirkman really did manage to resurrect the energy of the first story arc while upping the ante and providing a much more horrifying scale of danger (two words: zombie herd).

In terms of character development, the only person that I was really impressed with was Rick's son, Carl. It's clear he is growing up and becoming his own person instead of just an extension of Rick. Does this mean that Kirkman will either kill of Rick or separate the two of them? If I were a betting man, I'd say yes...but The Walking Dead never fails to surprise. Maybe I'm just over thinking things.

I was a little disappointed with the explanation of Michonne's talking to herself. Kirkman's been building that up for the past couple volumes and I thought that Michonne hallucinating speaking to her dead boyfriend was TOTALLY WEAK. I guess it was good that Rick isn't the only one going crazy, but still, give me something a little better than that.

I just picked up the sixth book today, and i'm definitely looking forward to just how far this trip to DC will go. Will our survivors get all the way there? Or will their hundreds of miles lead them off in some entirely new direction? Only time will tell...

Clara and Mr. Tiffany, by Susan Vreeland

Vreeland has once again taken a real-life artist and other historical figures and written an engrossing fictional account of their lives. Set in New York the fin-de-siecle era when the Victorian sensibility was giving way to Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement, the novel primarily focuses on Clara Driscoll, a glass artist working in Louis Comfort Tiffany's studios from the 1890's until the end of the first decade of the new century. Clara is in many ways a "new woman." Her husband's untimely death, which leaves her unexpectedly with no resources when it turns out he has a grown daughter she knew nothing about, leads her to go to work in the "Woman's" division of the Tiffany studios. Ultimately she becomes its manager. She develops a complex relationship with Tiffany, both as a collaborative artist and a man, as well as several other men in her rather racy boardinghouse. Tiffany's rule against employing married women often pits her desire for a settled married life against her almost compulsive need to create artistic beauty. Touching on such ideas as woman's right to work (and for equal pay), the plight of the immigrant, and the often unsung contributions of women artists, Vreeland attempts a broad canvas and is usually successful. The city of New York is, in a real sense, also a character in the novel. Clara probably did design many of the famous Tiffany lamps and lampshades and was the subject of what sounds like a fascinating exhibit the New York Historical Society entitled A new light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany girls. 405 pp.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Walking Dead: Book Four/ Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead: Book Four by Robert Kirkman. graphic literature, zombies, survival horror, adventure. 304 pages

I have to say that although I have loved the series thus far, I had mixed feelings about book four of Kirkman's epic zombie graphic novel series. There were certain things about it that I really loved and certain things that i despised. I'm gonna try my best not to ruin anything for those that haven't read the books yet, but there are certain things that i'm gonna have to piss and moan about. I'll do my best to warn you when these are coming up.

The best way to explain the split in my opinion of book four is to simply split it into halves. The first half, I liked. The second half, I didn't.

My biggest problem with the first half is that considering it was about 150 pages, only one huge event happened. The birth of Rick and Lori's (or possibly Lori and Shane's...guess we'll never know) baby was inevitable and we've seen it coming since book one, so with that being the major point of action in the first half of the book, I was a little disappointed. I understand that Kirkman wanted to build tension while preparing his characters for the inevitable invasion of the survivors from Woodbury but still...give us a little something more to work with, please.

Now I'm gonna get into some spoiler stuff about the first half so skip the rest of this paragraph if you haven't read the book yet...................................alright, so now that all the losers who have yet to read the book are gone I can bitch about my two major problems with the first half. First of all...Carol killing herself by letting the pet zombie bite her? Weak...We get it, Carol is a very damaged person and she's been rejected by a majority of the remaining survivors, but you've got a KID, lady...Zombie apocalypse or no, practice some responsible parenting. There are already some orphans, why add to that list? I think Kirkman could have come up with a more creative way to kill of Carol if she had to go. Second of all, Dale losing his leg? I get it, Kirkman wanted somebody to survive a zombie bite, and yes, I was totally thrown for a loop because I thought Dale was dead, but the fact that they cut off his leg just seemed to steal Rick's armless thunder. One gimp is understandable, but two gimps is just pushing it.

Alright, so now this section is for everyone again and it includes my thoughts on the second half of the book. I can't say much about the content of the 2nd half without ruining the plot, so all i'll say is that it was extremely exciting yet truly heartbreaking at the same time. I got to see the return of one of the most well-developed characters in the series as well as mourned the losses of a few key characters. The second half of the book is extremely exciting, but if you've grown attached to Kirkman's characters like I have, it could get extremely tragic.

While this has probably been my least favorite book as a whole, it did also feature some of the best moments of the saga thus far, so obviously it's a must-read, because nobodys gonna skip over such a crucial chapter of the saga, but just prepare for a little frustration.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Walking Dead: Book Three/ Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead: Book Three by Robert Kirkman. zombies, survival horror, graphic literature, adventure, thriller 304 pages.

I was warned by a fellow staff member today that if I was going to keep reading the Walking Dead, I would need to prepare myself for some intense content. I assumed that he was talking about incidents of murder, suicide, and graphic violence similar to those featured in the first two volumes. Tonight, I learned exactly how wrong I was...

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVED this book, but HOLY CRAP!!! Things really do get a lot more intense and simple incidents of murder and violence are replaced with brutal mutilation and aggressive rape. It is clear that the zombies that infest Kirkman's world aren't the only monsters anymore...I would have to say, however, that the startling content fits perfectly with the focus of the third book, which splits the survivors into two groups with the majority remaining at the prison to pimp out their fortified sanctuary while a small band (protagonist Rick, the mysterious swordswoman Michonne, and stealthy bumbling pizza boy Glenn) set out to investigate a helicopter that they witnessed crashing into a nearby forest.

This book also introduces us to the colony of Woodbury. I have to applaud Kirkman on doing such an excellent job in creating the perfect anti-survivor camp. While the prison fortress of our heroes looks scary from the outside but is actually quite wholesome on the inside, Woodbury is the opposite, looking like a fortified small town from the outside but holding some deadly and disturbing secrets on the inside. Also, Kirkman totally nails his creation of a real villain with the introduction of the Governor. So far, we've seen minor villains who have caused hiccups for our favorite survivors, but the Governor is the first real scumbag that they have encountered. What makes him an extremely real character, too, is that his backstory makes him seem very similar to Rick in a lot of ways and shows us what Rick could become as a leader if he fails to redeem himself and quench his bloodlust in the name of survival. Although the Governor gets worked over by Michonne near the end of the book, I can't help but feel that I haven't seen the last of him.

As you can tell, this was my favorite of the series thus far, and if Kirkman continues to work his magic in book four, it can only go uphill from here. This just goes to prove that even with a kick ass first installment, a writer's best work still won't come until he really gets immersed in what he is writing and I believe Kirkman really brought himself into his own world in this edition.

The Walking Dead: Book Two/ Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead: Book Two by Robert Kirkman. zombies, survival horror, graphic literature, adventure. 304 pages

I am writing this blog post just minutes after I finished the second Walking Dead book, and I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised with the direction that Kirkman took his zombie epic in the volumes contained within book two. I said in my post yesterday that I thought book one had placed the characters in just about every zombie genre situation imaginable and that I was worried the story would run out of steam. I can sense that this was probably an issue for Kirkman as well, because instead of the nomadic existence that the characters had in book one, almost all of book two takes place in the same place-- a high security prison that the survivors are attempting to turn into a sanctuary. The sanctuary features multiple fences that would keep the zombies out, and although there are some pretty good zombie showdowns as the characters clean out the infested prison, I would venture to say that the zombies aren't the real enemies in book two.

Book two features a real breakdown of humanity. Kirkman's second book deals less with the human vs. zombie interactions and more of the human vs. human stuff. When the survivors are all locked safely in the prison, they might be safe from the zombies, but in such contained quarters, personalities are bound to collide...and they do. Some major themes of book two are guilt, betrayal, murder, and helplessness. While no zombie story can be called "happy", I think that book one looks like sunshine and daisies compared to the dark nature of book two.

Another thing I need to comment on is that seeing death in book two was a lot harder than book one. By this point, I've started to really know the characters, and any loss is a sad loss. I'm starting to wonder if anyone is safe (even the story's protagonist, Rick Grimes, is starting to get a little too big for his britches...would Kirkman be ballsy enough to off his main character for the sake of the story?). I realize that it's a zombie story and character deaths are ALWAYS going to be present, which is something that is actually a credit to the series. In most other stories, you can pick a select few characters that you think are death proof, but I find that any character in the Walking Dead, regardless of their roles in the survivor camp or their surviving family members, has the potential to die, and this keeps the reader on their toes.

I already said that I'm a big fan of the Walking Dead's characters, and I was eager to meet some new ones in book two, but this was the only area where the book fell short. Only five new characters were introduced, and by the end of the story, only two of these characters remained (and all of the new characters with one exception, which I will praise in a second, were pretty flat...I mean, really? prison inmates? The whole story with them was SOOOO predictable). The one character that shows any promise is the mysterious, sword-toting Michonne, who not only kicks ass, but also opens up some brand new story options that Kirkman experimented with in book two. I just wish there would've been more of a debate about Michonne keeping her pet zombies!!! They didn't have any arms and were on leashes!!! I realize that Kirkman's zombies have no potential for domestication, but excuse me for dreaming that the survivors might adopt a lovable pet zombie.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Walking Dead: Book One/ Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead: Book One by Robert Kirkman. graphic literature, zombies, survival horror, adventure 304 pages.

I realize that by submitting this blog post, I have officially broken the oath that I made in front of a few fellow staff members to read the most pages this month without any more graphic novels. While I am ashamed that I am going back on my oath, it must be known that we are in the midst of an INTERLIBRARY competition, ladies and gentlemen, a competition that, as of last month's result submissions, we were NOT winning. So I ask myself, is it dishonorable to read the occasional graphic novel to keep my numbers high (and transitively, keep our library's numbers high) by reading the occasional graphic novel? Absolutely not! Let's be honest, people. We might say that this book challenge is about creatively sharing our opinions on what we've read, or getting to know the people we work with better, or some other cliche rationalization from happyland, but the truth is that it's about good ole' fashioned WINNING and proving we're better than everyone else. I refuse to lose and I hope this post serves as a rallying cry to every other UCPL staff member out there who's not sure if they have time to read that one extra book and blog about it. Hunger subsides, you can sleep when you're dead, and families are for losers...but GLORY lasts forever.

Oh yeah...I had a book to post about.

I have always been intrigued by Robert Kirkman's "The Walking Dead" franchise. Zombie movies have always been an interest of mine, not just because I like watching reanimated corpses tear people limb-from-limb, but also because I believe that this genre, better than any other, paints a vivid picture of human nature. When the rest of the world has gone to hell and only a rag-tag group of survivors remains, how will they handle the crumbling world around them? How will a diverse group of survivors that are only loosely united against a common enemy react to each other? How will these people act when they realize what they are capable of when their survival is on the line? The first hardcover volume of Kirkman's zombie adventure, which features the saga's first twelve issues, answers these questions and more.

The story manages to capture all the familiarity of the zombie franchise while still remaining totally original. The characters are deep with unique motivations and personalities and by the time the first book is finished, you'll find yourself picking out a few favorites that you REALLY hope don't die (my personal favorite is Tyrese, professional football player-turned-bouncer-turned-zombie-killer). There are quite a few characters, so it might be a good idea to occasionally look back and make sure you've got everyone straight, but i'm sure as I read more, keeping track of everyone will only get easier. My one criticism is that I'm worried that Kirkman is going to run out of steam. SO MUCH happens in the first book that I honestly find myself wondering if he's going to have enough action, adventure, and drama to keep the story interesting for the 5 more 300+ page books that are currently out. Obviously, it's a successful franchise, so I can't wait for book two to prove me wrong.

One more thing that I feel I must mention is the artwork. In the other graphic novels that I've read, the art was childish and simple (Scott Pilgrim) or rough and unpolished (Hellcity). The Walking Dead is EXTREMELY well drawn, and I find myself overwhelmed by aspects of the art such as shading and detail. The shading, especially, must be applauded, because nothing adds to the ambiance of a zombie attack like an overabundance of shadows.

If for some reason you haven't picked up the Walking Dead yet, then I insist you start right away, whether you're a fan of zombie stories or not. This epic adventure is just too good to NOT pick up.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Journey / Tony Blair

A Journey: my political life by Tony Blair. 700 p.

I'm not sure what compelled me to read this. I don't read many memoirs, and I've never read one by a politician. I do tend to follow British news, though--the BBC is my go-to website for world events--and Blair was recent enough that the events he was covering would be ones I remembered. So I gave it a shot.

This book ate my brain for almost 3 weeks--I felt like I wasn't making any headway, but I couldn't seem to read anything else, either. It's not that it was boring (though I'll admit my eyes glazed over in some sections, especially when discussion involved large numbers of people that I'd never heard of), but it was certainly dense. I found the chapter on Northern Ireland particularly fascinating, as he described negotiating with people who are utterly contrary to any compromise whatsoever: In the end I would say, "What about..." and then pause, just to hear [Breandan MacCionnaith] start to say "No" before I'd even explained the proposition. If I tell you [he] didn't stand out dramatically for his unreasonableness (though he did ultimately clinch gold medal), you might understand how unreasonable all parties were.

I also enjoyed this bit about his struggles with the media (in this specific example the Scottish media): Once I gave an interview on why the Parliament should have tax-raising powers, in which I said, 'If even a parish council can, why shouldn't the Scottish Parliament?'--which led to the headline 'BLAIR COMPARES PARLIAMENT TO PARISH COUNCIL,' which even by their standards was quite some misinterpretation.

Overall I was left with a desire to read a lot more about how Britain's political system works--when Blair was elected Prime Minister, it was considered his first job in "government" even though he'd been a working politician for some years; apparently "government" is a very specific term for people in specific positions in the ruling party, so MPs and the like are not "government." I'm also pretty curious about their educational system, because he talked a lot about how he wanted to reform it but I wasn't able to follow a lot of the details due to lack of knowledge. I wonder how this compares to other political autobiographies, but I'm not curious enough to try another one for some time.

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The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, 530 p.
What a treat! Pilcher is such a gifted storyteller and word crafter: the cottages are never cozier, fires never as bright and warm, the vegetation so lush, the food so delicious, the bevvies so seasonal and perfectly timed (if sometimes a bit early in the day).
This is the story of Penelope Keeling, her greedy grown children (well at least two of three are greedy), her artist father (The Shell Seekers is a painting given to Penelope by her artist father upon her marriage) and his legacy, about life and loss during WWII in England, about family--both the family we're born to and the family we choose.
Such a satisfying read.

The Knife of Never Letting Go/Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking series, book 1); young adult, science fiction, survival; 479 pages (about 12 hours on CD)

In one month, Todd Hewitt will be 13 years old, and a man. Todd was the last child born in Prentisstown before the Noise germ took hold, killing all the women, and cursing the men (and animals) to broadcast their thoughts loud and clear to anyone within range. There is no silence in Prentisstown, and no secrets. But one day Todd encounters a bubble of silence in the swamp outside town--and at its center is a girl. Faced with a lifetime of lies and the mounting dangers at home, Todd, his dog, and the girl have to flee, but none of them knows what waits for them beyond the boundaries of the town.

I've heard a lot of mixed reviews about this book: everyone who's finished it seems to love it, but I've also run into a lot of people who put it down because the main character's dialect was too difficult to read. That's not a problem in the audio book, however, so if you've tried this before and given up, give it another shot. The narrator is excellent, and manages to capture the unique accents perfectly.

As for the plot, this book was amazing. Most of the story is the characters on the run, but they still manage to work in the mysteries of Todd's hometown, as well as the looming threat of things to come. I expected Manchee (Todd's dog, who can communicate with Todd through the Noise) to be annoying, but he was actually spot on (Ness clearly has dogs of his own; he gets their logic just right). Of course, this violated my cardinal rule of reading: never read books with pets in them. That's how I wound up crying in my car at a stoplight, and drawing strange looks from other drivers. The setting is technically science fiction, but the limited technology gives the book more of an historical fiction feeling than true sci-fi.

Despite the characters' young age, I would recommend this to older YA's: the plot is surprisingly dark and bloody, right through to the cliffhanger ending. I'm really glad I had the second volume ready to go when I finished this (also on CD), so I could just keep going with the story.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wish I could be there: Notes from a phobic life, by Allen Shawn

Allen Shawn's new book, Twin, looked interesting -- which led me back to reading his earlier memoir, Wish I could be there, which I hadn't read when it first came out. His story, written in his sixth decade, is about his life-long problems with phobias. The son of well-known editor of The New Yorker, William Shawn, Allen has struggled, as did his father, his entire life with phobias -- primarily agoraphobia and claustrophobia. This memoir is his attempt to understand and come to terms with his disease; to explore its genetic and environmental links; and to discuss the various theories and treatments. It is also the story of his complex family -- his famous father, who had a decades long "second" family, acknowledged by his mother but unknown to his son until he was 30; his twin sister, Mary, who was institutionalized as autistic and retarded at age eight; and the rarefied literary world the family inhabited. An accomplished composer and musician, he has often missed important events in his own and his family's lives because of his inability to "be there" because of his fears, no matter how much he longed to be. At times a little dry, at times very moving, this is a book that will speak to many, particularly those of us who spend our lives being sure we can sit on the aisle. I look forward to reading his new book on his sister Mary. 260 pp.

Liar's Poker

Liar's Poker/Michael Lewis 249 pg.

I'm a big fan of Michael Lewis and decided I need to go back and read anything of his that I missed. Liar's Poker was his first book and it amazes me how he really had his "voice" from the beginning. Aside from the writing, it is always good for me to read about things like financial markets and/or economic meltdowns and realize all the "in the know" people didn't know what they were doing either. Makes me feel a little less incompetent! This is a story of Wall Street, specifically Solomon Brother's in the 1980's. Seems like a poorly managed behemoth just like so many other big corporations who are run by people who are just working to consolidate their own power and maximize their income instead of making decisions based on what is best for the organization. The money changing hands was insane (even back then) and now we know it has grown exponentially since. Reading about how this stuff works, it makes me wonder why we can't fix some of it...oh yea, there are a lot of people out there who don't think it's broken. - Christa

Tell All

Tell All / Chuck Palahniuk 192 pg.

This name-dropping send up of the Hollywood "celebrity" lifestyle is slightly entertaining for awhile but it seems like an idea that just doesn't work because it doesn't go anywhere. Palahniuk used to write great stuff like "Fight Club" that seemed so daring and wasn't completely predictable. Well, maybe he has lost his way a bit. There were some funny parts here but I can't in good faith recommend this book because it just doesn't offer enough of the good. - Christa

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Worldwar Series, The Colonization Series & Homeward Bound

The Worldwar Series, The Colonization Series & Homeward Bound by Harry Turtledove, 8 books, 3512 pages.

At first glance Harry Turtledove's series seems like a typical alien invasion scenario, a staple of the sci-fi genre. The Worldwar Series, however, presents interesting twists on the concept. First, the aliens, who call themselves "the Race," invade in Spring of 1942, simultaneously assaulting every inhabited continent. Second, the Race are not your typical slavering hordes of monsters. They are alien in outlook, arrogant, ethnocentric and imperialistic, but are not "evil." They have come to conquer the Earth out of sense of manifest destiny, but still possess all the moral complexity of human beings. Turtledove consistently communicates the differences in outlook, sometimes vast or subtle, of the various human and alien characters, which come from all walks of life.

The two series, plus the follow up novel, span from World War II to the turn of the century, and display the slow-motion collision of the Earth's diverse cultures with that of the Race. Turtledove doesn't handle action and suspense very well, so he mostly skips over it. The books are engaging and entertaining none the less. I would especially recommend it for young people who have yet to travel abroad as the novels can show one the diversity of human perspectives.

Castle Waiting

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley  457 pp.

Originally published as the first 12 issues of a comic book series. This graphic novel begins with a twisted version of the Sleeping Beauty tale which is the basis for the bramble covered castle where most of the action takes place. The story centers on a young pregnant woman named Jain, who escapes her abusive husband and is given refuge in the hobgoblin infested castle among a curious mix of human and animal/human characters taken from various fairy tales. The castle is an outpost for the unloved, unwanted, and those just needing to hide from the world and the perfect place for Jain to give birth to her not-quite-human baby. As the story progresses there are flashbacks and stories within stories that add depth to the tales. The idea of a group of bearded ladies creating an order of nuns devoted to showing the idiocies of men is just one of the story lines in this well-done collection. I look forward to reading the second volume.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hellcity: The Whole Damned Thing/ Macon Blair and Joe Flood

Hellcity: The Whole Damned Thing by Macon Blair and Joe Flood. graphic novel, mystery, noir, action, celestial setting 328 pages

Considering that my first little expedition into the world of graphic novels was the Scott Pilgrim series, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that I would be intrigued enough by this genre to try again. Naturally, I could keep within my comfort zone and pick up another big-eyed, bright-and-bubbly graphic novel series similar to Scott Pilgrim, but a friend of mine told me that these types of graphic novels make up only about HALF of the genre. Before I could truly judge graphic literature as a whole, I needed to read something of the other GL variety--- something gritty, something violent, something with graphic violence that only a graphic novel could provide. Something like one of Frank Miller's Sin City books. However, if I really wanted to initiate myself as a graphic novel reader, I would need to stray away from the mainstream and read something that HADN'T been made into a movie. That's when Hellcity: The Whole Damned thing crossed the circulation desk.

Being a fan of classic literature like John Milton's "Paradise Lost" and Dante Alighieri's "Inferno", it shouldn't be too surprising that stories set in the afterlife would be interesting to me. Hellcity combines classic mythology of Heaven and Hell with elements of the noir mystery genre to form an extremely entertaining mystery of celestial proportions. The book follows the adventures of Bill Tankersly, a private investigator-turned-damned soul condemned to the hellish urban sprawl of Hellcity for taking his own life after a serial killer murders his wife. Hellcity is a lot like any traditional fictional noir urban setting except along with the cliches of overwhelming crime and pollution as well as political corruption, there is a population of demons running the city as well as incessantly torturing the human inhabitants of Hellcity. The narrative opens with another cliche, the leggy and mysterious woman showing up at Tankersly's door with an offer too good to refuse--- a transfer to a less hellish area of hell in exchange for his services. Tankersly is assigned to shadow the Devil himself who is acting extremely strange (he's reading poetry and dressing like Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) in a time where Hellcity is on the verge of being overthrown by anarchist groups composed of the damned.

While I don't want to reveal any more of the story than this, I will tell you that Tankersly's quest for redemption is extremely addictive. As someone who prides himself in being able to predict events of stories, there were quite a few points where even I was thrown for a loop. Hellcity's inhabitants are also extremely entertaining and the memorable cast of characters only adds to the already involved story. If you've got a few hours to kill, I'd definitely pick this one up. I'll be damned if it's not totally worth your time...

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn/Alison Goodman

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman; young adult, fantasy; 531 pages

I've been meaning to read this for a long while, but I was waiting for the second half of the story to come out so I could read it all at once. Fortunately, Patrick brought an arc of the sequel back from ALA Midwinter, so I finally dove in (the sequel will official be out in April, so if you've been holding off like I was, rest assured your wait is almost over).

In the strict Empire of the Twelve Celestial Dragons, Dragoneyes (skilled men who can communicate with and control the spiritual dragons) are second only to the emperor himself. Eon has been training most of his life to be a Dragoneye, and his chance is swiftly approaching as the book opens. There's only one problem: "Eon" is actually "Eona," a sixteen-year-old girl who hopes to bring her family honor through the power of a dragon. And she does bond with a dragon--the Mirror Dragon, thought to be lost for over 500 years. But with no one to train her and her secret to keep, she struggles to find her place among the Dragoneyes, and learn to manipulate her own dragon's power for the good of the empire.

I tore through this book in a matter of days. While I had a few moments when I thought Eon was being particularly dim, for the most part I felt like she was doing the best she could in an increasingly dangerous situation. There's lots of action, and even the beginning sparks of a romance (though with all the swashbuckling and political maneuvering in this volume, it's no wonder that part got shuffled to the back of the story). The setting is loosely based on ancient China, which was a refreshing change from the more Euro-centric fantasy I've been reading lately. I can't wait to start the sequel!

The Gunslinger/ Stephen King

The Gunslinger By Stephen King. Post-apocalyptic, adventure, western, cryptic, horror 231 pages.

This was the first Stephen King book I have ever read. From what I had heard about him, I thought he only wrote scary books that would eventually become scary movies and the horror genre never appealed to me too much. Then, I read Patton Oswalt's "Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland", and although Oswalt ended up being a horrible writer with nothing too important to say himself, he did repeatedly provide evidence that we had similar taste in books, so when he wrote that Stephen King's Dark Tower series, of which the Gunslinger is the first volume, was one of the best series he's ever read, I had to give it a try.

Initially it seemed right up my alley. Post-apocalyptic wasteland America filled with desperate survivors, vicious and disgusting mutants, and terrifying supernatural occurrences? Sign me up!!! I was even intrigued by the frequent peppering of religious references that King threw into the story for good measure. One would assume that I would have nothing to say but good things about the book.

Unfortunately, I do have to tear the narrative to shreds for one particular reason-- King tries WAAAAAAAAAAY too hard to be cryptic and mysterious. I understand that if you give the reader everything they need to know right from the start, you will lose their interest. Cliffhangers are necessary, and for the most part enjoyable, because they spur discussion between readers. I do think, however, that some regulations need to made on presenting unanswered questions for the reader. I have always believed that in a cryptic narrative such as this, the writer needs to give the reader one answer for every three questions they pose. This still allows the author to keep the reader guessing, but at the same time provides incremental incentive to keep reading instead of just giving up and saying "that's it, I am officially more confused than Sarah Palin and George W. Bush during an episode of Lost". King's question-to-answer ratio is somewhere around 10:1 which gets EXTREMELY annoying about halfway through the book because curiosity turns into aggravation.

That being said, I am certainly going to try to read the second volume in the series, but if this trend of unnecessary mysteriousness continues, then I can't promise that i'll keep going after that one.

Ragged Dick or Street Life in New York/ Horatio Alger

Ragged Dick or Street Life in New York By Horatio Alger. rags-to-riches stories, growing up, historical accounts of New York. 198 pages

The first thing I want to get out of the way is that while reading this book, I already came up with just about every possible pun one could make with the title Ragged Dick. Yes, it sounds like a slang-name for the most painful STD ever. Yes, people will look at you differently when you walk the streets with your Ragged Dick in hand. They are all hilarious, and as much as I'd like to spend this whole blog entry making jokes about the book's title, I have a book to tell you about, so get over it.

I wasn't familiar with Alger's work before reading this story, but apparently he has written many similar stories about young boys who come from nothing working their way into respectable society. We've all heard the story before and since some say Alger is the first to tell the rags-to-riches story, then I won't hold it too much against him that the plot doesn't stray to far from the literary cliches that we're used to. I would definitely recommend this book to parents who want to give their teenagers something to read that is both entertaining and informative. Alger's style of writing manages to be both gripping and frank.

Dick, the protagonist of the story is extremely likable, so it doesn't come as much of a surprise that you'll be rooting for him on his journey of upward mobility. My only problem with the story is that it was almost TOO optimistic. Everything seemed to work out perfectly for ole' Dick, and while I understand that this is partially due to the book being written in a much more simple time, I would have liked a little more conflict for Dick, a perfectly capable character, to overcome. Definitely worth a read, and at 198 pages, it's not gonna take up much of your time. Kirkwood's got the only two copies of the book in the whole consortium's circulation, so make sure to get your hands on Ragged Dick before someone else does (Okay...I had to do one...sorry).

Monday, February 14, 2011

An Unforgettable Lady by J. R. Ward writing as Jessica Bird 462 pages

J. R. Ward writing about vampires, shape shifters and ghost walkers is a favorite author. Before venturing into the other worldly subjects of her later books, she wrote four novels. “An Unforgettable Lady” is one of these novels. The setting is the upper class neighborhoods of New York City and the characters are plucked from the highest of high society. A killer has targeted six of the most influential society ladies of the city. These are young to middle aged women from wealthy and influential families who are actively engaged in charitable foundations. The killer finds these women alone in their homes and cuts their throats leaving them bleeding and dying in their own foyers. One of these women is encouraged by friends to hire the Black Watch security firm. John Smith is the founder of Black Watch and takes over the security for Grace Hall. The threads of the story wind around and through the histories of each of the characters and an immediate attraction between John and Grace. There is no evidence and leads are limited because these women interact on many levels daily. Each new murder is cause for added stress for the remaining women on the ‘hit’ list.

True Confections by Katharine Weber

True Confections by Katharine Weber, 274 p.

When I read reviews of Katharine Weber's novels, I often put them on my "to read" list. They are usually reviewed so favorably and the concepts, so clever. Let's just say that waaayyyy more books make that list than the "books I've read" list. This time, when Weber's novel showed up on at least one, if not more, of the Best of 2010 lists and it happened to be on the shelf when I read the list, I got my second chance. I'm so glad I did. The novel is a first person account, actually a signed affadavit of how Alice Ziplinsky wanders into, marries into, and otherwise in unlikely ways ends up as controlling shareholder in Zip's Candies, a family-owned and operated chocolate company. What's to love? For one thing there's chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate, as well as lots of information about how it is made and marketed, not only by this fictional company but by the candy industry in general (lots of candy superstar namedropping). What else? It's a story of how an almost-lost teenager girl finds a family. It's the multigenerational saga of that family from its Hungarian immigrant beginnings to the present. It's a story about race (the company's candy lines are named for/inspired by a stolen library copy of Little Black Sambo from which the company's founder taught himself English). And finally it's a story about how Alice finds and loses love, weathers betrayal, and ultimately savors self-reliance and staisfaction. A very clever story.

Princess Posey and the first grade parade by Stephanie Greene 79 pages

This would be a great read aloud at school or at home. Posey is poised to start first grade. Some older kids make up scary stories to frighten her. She especially fears walking into school by herself without her mother. Luckily she meets up with her new teacher off campus. Miss Lee is an excellent teacher gifted with the ability of truly listening to her students. She picks up on a wish by Posey to create a "teachable moment" and agrees to start a new tradition -- a parade in which first graders can wear their favorite clothes (pajamas, tutus, etc.). This is the first of a charming new series by the creator of the delightful Owen Foote series. Both are great for new chapter book readers.

Ratfink by Marcia Thornton; Jones 216 pages

Fifth grade Logan just can't seem to keep out of trouble at school. He starts off the school year with great intentions, but by the end of the first time he stirs up trouble with the new girl, Emily Scott. He is distracted because his grandfather has just moved into his home and his grandfather is showing signs of early Alzheimer's Disease. He wants to keep his grandfather a secret to avoid embarrassment at school. His parents make a deal with him that if he can stay out of trouble at school they will buy him a pet. This captures the early middle school angst. The ending is a bit sticky sweet -- but it is great to see him make that connection, finally, with his grandfather.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare 476 pages

This prequel to the "Mortal Instruments" series is set one hundred years earlier in Victorian London. Orphaned 16 year old Tessa Gray left America to join her older brother, Nathaniel in London. Before their reunion, she is kidnapped by the evil Dark Sisters. Vampires, warlocks, demons and Nephilim are colorful characters. The title refers to inhuman "clockwork" creatures (add this to the new "Steampunk" genre) out to destroy humans. Tessa discovers that she is no ordinary human, but is unsure what she is and who she should align herself with. She definitely wants to avoid a forced marriage to the evil Magister and fortunately she is rescued by a group of Shadowhunters. She is drawn to the volatile Will, but is determined to find and rescue Nathaniel. Only some of the questions are resolved since this is just book one in a new series: The Infernal Devices. It took me a very long time to finish this book, I loved Clare's City of Bones and did not find this quite as mesmerizing, but I just could not give up. I look forward to book 2.

Friday, February 11, 2011

In Too Deep by Jayne Ann Krentz 324 pages

"In Too Deep" provides the reader a part in another adventure with the Arcane Society and J&J Investigations. Isabella finds herself in the midst of a conspiracy that has roots going back over 20 years. She is the granddaughter of a long time conspiracy nut who has provided her a string of false identities used all of her life. Isabella was told by her grandmother that if anything happened she was to contact Fallon Jones of J&J Investigations for help and for her safety. Isabella finds herself being tracked by people with paranormal talents and has to disappear. She and Fallon are set on a course to find long lost paraphysical artifacts, the answers to old and not so old mysteries and a link to Nightshade. Nightshade is an offshoot paranormal society trying to develop a way to chemically enhance paranormal talents using the most dastardly means available. “In Too Deep” weaves a tale of mystery and suspense while allowing a romance to develop. The reader will recognize characters from past Arcane Society adventures as they provide support and vital information to help solve the case.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Secret Servant

The Secret Servant by Daniel Silva  385 pp.

Another in the Gabriel Allon series, this time involving the kidnapping of Dr. Elizabeth Halton, daughter of the American Ambassador to the Court of St. James, by Egyptian terrorists. Allon is sent to Amsterdam to purge the files of a murdered terror analyst. In the process he uncovers a plot involving an Egyptian terrorist group called The Sword of Allah. Synchronized bombings take place at various European locales. Allon is just seconds too late to stop the kidnapping but manages to kill or seriously wound some of the terrorists. The combined forces of the Israelis, Americans, and British and a former member of the terrorist cell join in the desperate search to save the woman.The final result leaves Allon questioning his trade and may leave him dead.

Silva is a master storyteller and researches his subjects in great detail. Even though it is fiction, many details about the Mubarek regime in Egypt and the instability there are based on fact. I have to admit, it made me very nervous about the current situation there.

The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer 449 pages

The Inner Circle begins with an old high school crush contacting Beecher White who is an archivist at the National Archives. Clementine is trying to find the father she never knew. She only knows that he was in the Army and all U. S. Government records are filed somewhere in the National Archives. The first meeting of Beecher and Clementine finds them embroiled in the death of one of Beecher's friends and co-workers. They also find themselves in the middle of secrets being passed between the President of the United States and a secret spy organization that has served the Presidency since George Washington formed the spy network. Mix in a second secret spy network, Clementine's father who has been institutionalized since he attempted to kill a president and succeeded in killing that president’s first lady. All participants work at the same time to confuse and to enlist Beecher into each side’s agenda which causes danger, death and distrust. As with all of Meltzer’s books there is no direct path to the answer. The book is riddled with little known historical facts and some twisting of well known historical events. The end of the book answers many questions but leads the reader to believe that there is more to the story that will be told in a future release.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Children's Book / A.S. Byatt 675 p.

Definitely not a novel which lends itself to pithy summaries, The Children's Book tells the stories of many loosely interlocked characters in late Victorian and Edwardian England. The pivot family in this saga-like work are the Wellwoods: comfortable, educated, artistic, liberal residents of Todefright, a charming pastoral compound which is superficially delightful. Olive, the matriarch, writes fairy tales full of enchantment which largely pay the family's bills. And in Todefright, as in most fairy tales, there are dark nasty crawling things under the rocks of even the prettiest woods.

A.S. Byatt commands a staggering amount of knowledge of, well, many things, a lot of which she shares with the reader. They include, in no particular order, Fabians, suffragists, anarchists, pottery, puppetry, the eccentricities of Kaiser Wilhelm, labour unrest in the early 20th century, German myth, the causes of the 1st World War, et al. Most prominently, the reader learns that ideas of free love in an era before birth control were a real disaster. Like you wouldn't believe.

I don't want to sound sarcastic here. Byatt has so much to say about women of the era which resonates deeply today, in particular the tension between work and family. Her erudition is almost terrifying. And I loved her earlier works Possession and Angels & Insects. As a narrative, though, this just didn't work for me. It felt out of focus, as we move from character to character with, often, poor or non-existent transitions. There is far too much (for me) exposition on the above-mentioned topics with too little 'meat' holding the plot together. To the very end, it's hardly clear who Byatt regards as her central characters in a cast of many.

Scott Pilgrim Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour/ Bryan Lee O'Malley

Scott Pilgrim Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley. graphic literature, comic violence, relationships, adventure? 248 pages

Well...I can chalk "finish a graphic novel series" off of my bucket list now, because I just completed Bryan Lee O'Malley's final Scott Pilgrim adventure- Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour. I'm gonna go right ahead and say that even though this is a review of the final book, it's hard for me not to reflect on the series as a whole...and honestly, my opinion differs between the two.

Let's start with the plot. After the extremely depressing events of the 5th book, we find Scott freeloading off of his parents and living a sedentary lifestyle filled with video games and snacks. I kind of wanted O'Malley to go all 80's action film and have Scott training silently in a Buddhist temple on a mountain somewhere until he gets called in for one last battle, but that's just me. Needless to say, it is up to Scott's brilliant supporting cast (who have, as a whole been absolutely hilarious for the whole series) to get him out of his funk and back in the mental state to take down evil ex #7, the big kahuna himself, Gideon Graves (you can tell that O'Malley draws a lot of his inspiration for Graves from Jason Schwarzmann's portrayal of him in the movie). Without revealing too much else, this book does feature a lot of full page action sequences that look great and provide for interesting battles, but stray a little bit from the awesome narrative style and dialogue that made the last few books so great.

It's hard to explain my beef with the ending without revealing anything important, but let me just say that my biggest problem with the ending was that a lot of stuff was happening too fast and without proper buildup. You didn't have time to catch your breath and actually experience what was going on because by the time you wrapped your mind around some aspect of the epic-scale final battle, something new and completely different was already going on. I understand that it is always hard to end a series and leave every fan happy, because different fans want to see how different things fold out, but I found that the emotional ending that O'Malley seemed flat to me and I would have liked a little more going on after the final battle.

All opinions of the final book aside, I have definitely enjoyed reading Scott Pilgrim. It seems strange that less than two weeks ago, I hadn't even picked one of these books up. O'Malley really does draw you in to a world that seems both familiar and totally out-of-this-world at the same time. I have learned not to judge a book by its cover (or genre as the case may be) and I think that Scott Pilgrim was an excellent gateway into the world of graphic literature. A whole new broad range of adventures have become open to me and I plan on enjoying each and everyone of them in time.

Monday, February 7, 2011

I remember nothing

I remember nothing by Nora Ephron 137 pg.

I don't want to get into an argument with Nora about who remembers less but I remembered this book enough to enjoy it all the way to the end. I read with some relief that a large inheritance almost prevented us from experiencing When Harry Met Sally...thank goodness for her (relatively) poor relatives! I also enjoyed the food related stories and the rule about butter. - Christa

The Night Bookmobile

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger 40 pp.

I really enjoyed this brief but thought-provoking graphic novel. It made me hope for an afterlife in a library of books I haven't read yet.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson, 497 p.

What an amazing lot of information!! No wonder the subtitle in my mind, until I checked, was "A Short History of Practically Everything." The connecting structure for the book is literally a structure: Bryson's 19th century, former rectory and current home. Each chapter is named for a room or aspect of the house that lends itself to exposition about some corresponding social aspect and its history. For instance, the bathroom yields information regarding the history of human hygiene, the dining room--how and why it came to be in the first place (the advent of upholstered furniture necessitated the need for a special unupholstered area for eating, in order to preserve the expensive upholstery fabrics), the nursery lends itself to tidbits on infant mortality, etc. etc. etc. All fascinating, or at least mostly. It was a good thing to be following simultaneously with the PBS series, Downton Abbey. I would at times realize that I had a special understanding of some detail or obscurity b/c of just coming across it in At Home!