Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Dave Store Massacre by Ron Ebest

The Dave Store Massacre by Ron Ebest--219 pages.
I liked this new novel from U-City resident Ebest, concerning a big-box store in a small town in Missouri. The Dave Store, a fictional big-box, low-price behemoth, drove the main employer in Jackson, Missouri out of business several years back, and that led to an awful, tragic event. When those most affected by that tragedy join with fellow townsfolk to call a strike at the local Dave Store over hideously low wages, they seem on a collision course with a corporate culture that loves low prices, but hates organized labor. With workers sand management threatening violence, it is up to the pot-smoking sheriff, the disillusioned mayor, and the alcoholic city attorney to try and keep the whole situation from destroying their small town. A great book by a local author.

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Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 by Max Hastings

Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 by Max Hastings--729 pages.

Hastings is a very engaging writer. His accounts of familiar stories about the war offer an even-handedness that is informative and refreshing. I had never read any detail before concerning the huge number of civilian casualties among Indian nationals fleeing Burma after the Japanese invasion, or the deaths and injuries on all sides of the battles around Budapest as the Soviets and their Partisans fought the Germans, the Hungarians, and the Black Arrow. Civilians caught hell here, as well. Never preachy or biased, Hastings has harsh (but fair) assessments of soldiers and statesmen on all sides of the conflict.

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Who is Jake Ellis?

Who is Jake Ellis by nathan Edmondson & Tonci Zonjic 136 pgs.

Jon Moore is a man on the run who seems to find his way out of every situation.  A dark shadowy Jake Ellis is his protector who gives him the edge telling him how make his way out of danger.  Jake is the unseen "adviser" who no one else can see.  But then Jake starts to have some of his own ideas about where Jon should go.  At the end, we see Jake Ellis the man who isn't in very good shape.  Jon rescues him and takes what he has learned from Jake to make his escape yet again.  I'm guessing there will be another volume.

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Anna Dressed in Blood/Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake; young adult, horror; 320 pages

I can't say enough good things about this book. It's got everything you could want in a classic scary story: a haunted house, the ghost in the blood-stained prom dress, the hitchhiking ghost, and even a touch of voodoo. The text is even printed in a reddish/sepia-colored ink (like dried blood???). But what really sold me on this book was the story: at first I thought it was just a knock-off of two of my favorite shows, Buffy and Supernatural. The more I read, however, the more I felt like Blake was just as big a fan as I was--this wasn't a knock-off; it's an homage.

Cas (no, not that Cas) travels around the country, tracking down ghosts and other Big Bads, and sending them to the great beyond. His father was killed by something really scary when he was kid, so Cas has taken it upon himself to track down the demon that killed him, and make it pay. Of course, Cas is also 16, so he also travels with his mom, but that didn't stop me from imagining a teenaged Jensen Ackles playing his role, especially in the opening scene, where Cas is cruising in a classic muscle car. For this book, Cas tackles a local legend: Anna Dressed in Blood, who was killed on the way to prom back in the 1950's, and has haunted her small Canadian town ever since. Of course, once Cas actually meets Anna, he has to rethink whether he will be able to kill the strongest spirit he's ever encountered.

I had a ton of fun with this story, and am psyched for the sequel, due out later this year. I could have done without the romance, really, but it wasn't the central theme of the book, so it was easy to overlook. The core characters were very scooby-ish: Cas takes direction from his British mentor Gilbert; he has two best friends to help him out, and one of them is a witch; and his love interest is both dead, and the thing he's meant to slay. Sound familiar, anyone? I kept thinking that maybe this series would introduce a new generation of teens to the wonders of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but that might be wishful thinking on my part. Overall, this was fun, scary, and well-written. I think this is going on my best of 2012 list...

The Green River Killer/Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case; true crime; 240 pages

Beginning in the early 1980s, an unknown killer stalked the Green River area of King County, WA. He targeted primarily prostitutes, and was known for strangling the women and leaving the bodies on roadsides, or submerged in the river for which he was named. The hunt for the killer took almost twenty years, and Jeff Jensen's father was the lead detective that whole time. The story follows Jensen's father, flashing back and forth between the 1980s, when the kills were fresh, and 2003, when the killer brokered a controversial plea bargain to avoid the death penalty.

This wasn't a story I was familiar with, so I really didn't know how it would end. Jensen does a good job of casting doubt on the killer (who has apparently committed so many murders that he can no longer remember specific details), as he attempts to prove he's the killer and validate his confession. Ultimately, 48 bodies are found, though the killer claims there were more victims that remain undiscovered. A grisly, chilling read, but gripping; I finished it in a single sitting.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Will Grayson, WIll Grayson

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan 310 pgs.

This book keeps popping up on many of the MO Book Challenge Blogs (see blogroll for our competition) and Karen and Jeff both recommended it.  Glad I finally got the hint and read this book about two teens with the shared name of Will Grayson.  The two Wills accidentally meet and share common love of Tiny Cooper.  One Will Grayson is his best friend, the other his boyfriend.  A cool story of relating, relationships, acceptance, and growing...not necessarily growing up.  Although these characters are teens, there is a lot to be learned here.

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If You Ask Me (and of Course You Won't)/Betty White

If You Ask Me (and of Course You Won't) by Betty White; essays; 272 pages (about 2.5 hours on audio)

This was a quick audiobook that I initially picked up purely for page count. I enjoy White's work (I grew up watching the Golden Girls with my grandmother), but I don't know much about her beyond that, and her occasional cameo on a commercial or TV show. So I enjoyed this look inside her head, where she shares her thoughts on acting, comedy, pets, and, yes, growing older. Strangely, White never identifies herself as a celebrity (in fact, there's a chapter on how awkward celebrities make her feel). At 89 years old, she's done just about everything, and it fun to hear her stories. The audiobook is narrated by White, so that was an added bonus!

Forever Rumpole

Forever Rumpole: the Best of the Rumpole Stories by John Mortimer  502 pp.

The only thing new here is the fragment of a story Mortimer was working on when he died in 2009. The rest of the collection is made up of the seven stories Mortimer most enjoyed writing and seven selected by others. I'd read all these stories (except the fragment) at least once before but that didn't stop me from enjoying them again. My favorites usually involve Rumple dealing with fellow barrister, Claude Erskine-Brown, or outsmarting Sam Ballard, the head of chambers. And of course, the courtroom scenes and Rumpole's wife Hilda ("she who must be obeyed") are delightful. Anyone familiar with Rumpole from the PBS shows can't help but picture Rumpole in the way he was played by Leo McKern when reading these stories. Reading this almost made me long for a glass of "Chateau Thames Embankment."

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Redeemer / Jo Nesbo 456 p.

Another Harry Hole mystery/thriller set in Oslo. What I especially enjoy about Nesbo's books is that I always learn a slice of history or experience I was unfamiliar with before. In this story, we get an up-close look at the Salvation Army in Norway, which, it seems, occupies a far more prominent role in that society than in the U.S. Harry is on the trail of a hitman who has inexplicably murdered a top Salvation Army officer during the annual Christmas concert. His investigations take him into the world of Oslo's heroin addicts, and eventually, to its Croatian refugee population. A Nesbo novel isn't complete without at least one truly spectacular (and innovative!), murder, and this one is no exception.

Prague Cemetery / Umberto Eco 444 p.

A gigantic question mark hangs over the middle of the 20th century: why did such incredibly awful things happen? And how? Eco attempts to answer the how in this complex work. Specifically, he creates a single 19th-century conspiracy mastermind, Captain Simonini. This urbane, Italian gourmand relocates to Paris and takes up a career as a master forger. False wills and real estate documents are harmless enough, I guess, but he quickly graduates to producing documentation to support any and all conspiracies: pro and anti-Garibaldi, pro and anti-Jesuit, and entirely anti-Semitic.

The reader gets no relief while reading. Eco presents no sane or humane contrasting point of view, so for 444 pages we have only the loathsome Simonini for company. Reading The Prague Cemetery (which, in Simonini's imagination, is the location for the meeting of rabbis which launched the Protocols of the Elders of Zion) made me feel dirty and sick to my stomach, and I can't even pretend to have understood all of it. To compound the nausea, the glutton Simonini includes recipes in his diary! Just like your favorite gentle read! Only not gentle! But you should still read it.

Pack of Cards / Penelope Lively 323 p.

A collection of short stories from the 1980s by one of my all-around favorite authors. Set in and around London, mostly, they show us 'ourselves' in surprising, humorous, and moving ways. Often, the action is almost nonexistent, but Lively's sharp eye shows us to see all the interesting things happening below the surface. Some stories I especially liked featured a comfortable judge forced to peruse a stack of porn literature as part of a trafficking case, and an elderly woman who drifts into a rock concert while on her daily walk through Hyde Park.

Translation of the Bones / Francesca Kay 227 p.

While cleaning a statue of Jesus in a London church, Mary-Margaret has an accident. Her head is bleeding, or is the blood coming from another source? The upheaval caused by this dubious miracle has strange and terrible consequences for the pastor and parishoners of this urban parish.

Kay's writing is fluid and persuasive, and this novel reads quickly. I was especially impressed by her portrait of Mary-Margaret's mother, desperately obese and homebound, flawed and deeply human. Still, the ultimate point of the story seems to be to answer the fundamental question: how are we to believe in a God that allows terrible things to happen? As one of her characters points out, humans have been asking this question for millenia and still haven't come up with an answer. Kay doesn't either, but her character's efforts to understand are moving.

The Buddha in the Attic

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka  129 pp.

This tiny book tells the story of Japanese "Picture Brides" who came to the U.S. in the early 20th century to begin new lives with men they had never met. The author uses almost a stream of consciousness style to encompass all the different events in the lives of these women from their arrival by boat to their forced move into the internment camps in World War II. This is a 'one sitting' book that will suck you in and make you read it to the end.

You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When it Monsoons

You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When it Monsoons by Mo Willems  396 pp.

Before Mo Willems became famous with his children's books, he spent the year after his college graduation (1990-91) backpacking around the world. Instead of keeping a travel journal, he made a sketch of one memorable event each day of his trip. Many years later he went back to these sketches and added commentary to each one. The result was published in this book. Many comments are humorous while others are thought provoking views of the social situations at the time. It's an entertaining book but not suitable for use as a travel guide.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Open City

Open City by Teju Cole 259 pgs.

Julian is doing is residency in NYC and this book recounts his thoughts and activities for about a year following a breakup.  He is philosophical and busy, visiting friends, taking a trip, going to galleries and shows.  We think we have a pretty good idea of this guy and are saddened when he is injured during a mugging.  Later, a quiet revelation makes us rethink the character and what we know.  Interesting book that I don't want to write too much about for fear of giving something away.  This book goes up against The art of fielding in the upcoming tournament of books.

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures

Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers, 688 pages

Wow, am I glad to be done with this book! This tells the story of Rumo, a doglike Wolperting that manages to become the biggest hero in all of Zamonia. Filled with imaginative characters (and by that I mean nothing even remotely human), Rumo takes about 350 pages before there's a clear path forward for the story. Before that, it just meanders about, giving ridiculously detailed backstories of everyone and everything that's mentioned by any character. It gets a bit tedious. But if you make it as far as the 350-page mark, the remaining story's worth it.

The Martian Chronicles

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, 268 pages

What a fantastic series of haunting vignettes about the colonization of Mars! It was high time I read this classic, and I'm glad I did. There will definitely be more Bradbury-reading in my future!

Equal Rites

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett, 213 pages

When a dying wizard accidentally passes on his powers to a baby girl instead of the boy he was expecting, the girl must come to terms with society’s expectations, as well as harness the great powers bestowed upon her, in this witty novel.

I'd been looking for an inroad to Pratchett's Discworld, and this book — which I believe starts the Witches storyline — was an excellent starting place. I thoroughly enjoyed Pratchett's humor (as I assumed I would) and I definitely plan on jumping back into Discworld as soon as I get a chance. Oh, and yay for quick-reading fantasy!

Murder on a Hot Tin Roof

Murder on a Hot Tin Roof by Amanda Matetsky, 277 pages

And here's another lighthearted mystery I read. Yet this one wasn't so fantastic. Set in 1950s New York during a scorching summer, tabloid crime reporter Paige Turner (yes, that's actually the main character's name; I should have known then that the book would stink) and her best friend Abby snoop around to solve the murder of Abby's friend, a rising star actor who was killed the morning after his Broadway debut in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Filled with '50s slang, references, and stereotypes about the gay community (the scene in which Paige dressed up as a lesbian to infiltrate a gay party had me cringing), the book is simultaneously too cutesy and too disturbing. I also hated the fact that the first-person narrative kept breaking the fourth wall to point out her own exaggerations and justifications. Oh, and the mystery has maybe one clue. The rest of the "detecting" is all based on hunches and stereotypes. Bleh.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke, 312 pages

In this lighthearted mystery, baker and amateur detective Hannah Swenson pokes around her hometown to discover who shot the milkman in the alley behind her bakery (while he was eating her prized chocolate chip crunch cookies, no less!), while dodging blind date set-ups from her overbearing mother. I'd never read one of the baking mysteries before, but
it's a cute book; light, fun and just what I needed at the time. I can definitely see myself picking up more in the Hannah Swenson series when I need a breather from life.

Oh, and I did copy down one of the recipes in the book before I returned it. One of these days I'll make it and, yes, bring in samples. But my kids may be in college before I get the spare time to make the cookies, so don't anyone hold your breath on them.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The spy who jumped off the screen

The spy who jumped off the screen/Thomas Caplan 386 pg.

I really wanted to like this book...really I did.  Alas, I could not.  Aside from having only 1 woman character (aside from the hooker here and there) the men were obnoxious enough to want to slap.  I know we are supposed to just LOVE the soldier turned movie star turned spy, Ty Hunter.  I know this because he is a wonderful actor, a fine physical specimen and he has a previous serious girlfriend who is dead now.  He is so respectful and polite, we have to be reminded of it several times in the book.  He is also uber smart, knows several languages but is also a great actor so he ACTS like he doesn't understand what people are saying.  The bad guy here is such a creep he spends time with prostitutes then throws their money on the floor and makes them pick it up to show them who is in charge.  Our one woman character is beautiful and accomplished in her work but is in love with the creepy guy who is also the business associate of her god father, the smartest and richest businessman in the world who cares more about her than anything but doesn't notice that her boyfriend is a complete creep and, I guess, never thinks to have him checked out or followed or tracked in any way. 

Ok, so the characters aren't the strong suit here, maybe the plot is better?  Actually it is better but still there are problems and holes.  It is hard to get past the dislike of the people here and the improbabilities of the screen king following through and putting himself at risk over and over again after breaking this case open.  I guess the first world governments still need a James Bond type.  Skip this one and try Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or something by Olen Stienhaeur

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Bake Sale

Bake Sale/Sara Varon 157 pgs.

Cupcake owns a successful bakery, has hobbies and a best friend, Eggplant.  His dream is to meet the world famous pastry chef Turkish Delight.  When a previously  unknown connection makes this a possibility, Cupcake works hard to earn the money to make the trip.  Of course nothing is ever as easy as it seems and Cupcake has to make a choice.  Cute story, cute illustrations and tempting recipes included.

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Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger  406 pp.

This one had been on my "to read" list since it came out a few years ago. I was underwhelmed. The book is well written but loses it's way in the end. It is a ghost story of sorts but that is only a part of the story. Chicago twins Julia and Valentina inherit a flat in London and a considerable amount of money by the aunt they never met--their mother's twin sister Elspeth. The catch is they must live in it for a year and their parents must never visit the flat. In the flat below, is Robert, Elspeth's former lover. Above lives Martin, a crossword puzzle setter with an extreme case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder whose wife has left him. And then there is the ghost of Elspeth who is trapped in the apartment. None of the characters are particularly likable. The twins are dysfunctional without each other, Robert has made a career of researching death, and Martin is trapped in his flat by his mental illness. Late in the book the story takes some strange turns which. I probably could have left this off my "to read" list and never missed it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Washington: a life

Washington: a life by Ron Chernow 904 pgs.

Another great book about our first president.  This book discloses his personality warts and all.  He was not above taking the best when it was available.  He was ambitious but also very careful to avoid becoming a monarch and voluntarily gave up power after the Revolutionary War and following his second term as president.  His public service was done at the expense of his personal fortune as he was often away from his home for years at a time.  He loved the company of the ladies but there is no evidence that he ever cheated on his wife.  And, for those who dislike the tone of modern politics, we have nothing on the founding fathers who wrote anonymous pamphlets about each other and extensive editorials ripping on each other.  Actually Washington never publicly ripped on his enemies but they certainly did not show him the same courtesy.

I've read several Washington books over the last year or so and I'm still struck about how many decisions got made by the first president that carry over into how we do things today.  He was confident that the country would last awhile and conscious that he was blazing a trail.  Still seems pretty amazing to me when I think of it in the historical context.

Don't be put off by the length of this book.  It is split into 6 sections that you can read almost as individual volumes and then come back to later.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Fire Rose/Mercedes Lackey

The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey (Elemental Masters series); historical fantasy, romance, fairy tale; 448 pages

Okay, I know what you're thinking. You're looking at the cover, and struggling to confine the snickers of amusement at the art. What can I say? It was printed in the '90's, so you have to cut it some slack.

This is another reread for me, of a book that's long held a place of honor on my shelves. I'm not saying that it's the best book ever--even the second edition is riddled with typos and anachronisms--but I think my love for it comes from the fact that this was one of the first fantasy novels I ever read, and I bonded with it. (I was 13, and had just finished reading Lord of the Rings--my first fantasy novel!--for the first time. I spent hours in the library trying to find just the right next book; my mom grew tired of waiting, walked up to the shelf, pulled two books off at random, and told me to read them and see if I liked them. This was one of them. Thanks, Mom! Though I think if you knew about some of the creepier parts in this story, you would have thought twice about handing it to a 13-year-old.)

The story is a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" set in 1905 San Francisco. Rose Hawkins has lost everything with the death of her father, and finds herself forced to take up a position as a governess. But when she arrives, she finds that there are no children in the household--just a reclusive employer to asks her to translates obscure texts on magic and sorcery, mostly concerning legends of the werewolf. Of course, you can guess where it goes from there. Lackey later continued this world into a series: all retellings of fairy tales, set in the 19th or early 20th centuries. This book is often left out of the series because it was printed long before the others, and by another publisher. Nevertheless, it remains my favorite of Lackey's works, for purely sentimental reasons.

Blood Red Road by Moira Young 459 pages

Young's first novel is epic in scope. Saba's twin brother, Lugh is kidnapped and her father murdered by four mysterious cloaked horsemen. Their life far from civilization and other people had been rather barren. Lugh had cross words with their father and had threatened to leave the homestead just before the sandstorm bringing the strangers had arrived. Saba is left with the responsibility of a younger sister. She plans to leave her with a friend of here dead mother and ride off to rescue her brother. Emmi leaves that safe haven to follow Saba. They are captured and Saba is forced to fight for her life in a Coliseum like competition. Saba is a good fighter and quick thinker and devises a plan to escape with her life. She makes friends with the other fighters. She also finds herself attracted to the charming Jack and saves his life not once but twice. Fighting, romance and humor will keep readers entranced.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Worldly Philosophers

The worldly philosophers:  the lives, times, and ideas of the great economic thinkers/Robert Heilbroner 365 pgs.

This is an update of a classic book that I read years ago as an undergrad.  Heilbroner has a perfect way of mixing biographical information with the more technical and philosophical ideas of each of these great economic minds.  I had forgotten how much fun it is reading about the oddities of Thorstein Veblen and David Ricardo not to mention J. M. Keynes whose ideas were very well represented in my economics education many years ago.  It is great that Heilbroner did such a good job of updating this book and I wonder now that he has died if updates will continue.  Interesting in the final chapter when he states that economics does not lend itself to the huge philosophical undertakings of the past greats anymore.  Perhaps since so many of these theories exist, there isn't really room for it anymore but most often, modern economists focus on smaller issues and specialize. Still a good book for those interested in the subject.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Kayak Morning, reflections on love, grief and small boats, by Roger Rosenblatt

This brief series of essays continues the story of how the author came to terms with the grief of losing his daughter in the prime of her life. In Making toast, this loss was new and raw. His daughter, a 38-year-old doctor, died suddenly of an undetected heart defect leaving behind a devastated young family. The author and his wife move in with their son-in-law and three small grandchildren. Somehow the rhythm of life, as exemplified in the making of toast for the children each morning, will continue. In the new book, set over two years later, the author spends much his time alone in a kayak, floating on an estuary near their home in Quogue on Long Island and reflecting on love and loss as he continues the grieving process. 146 pp.

Death comes to Pemberley, by P. D. James

It was with great anticipation that I checked this out. The reviews were glowing, saying that James had really nailed Jane Austen’s voice and this mystery set at Pemberley some six years or so after Elizabeth and Darcy marry and set up a household, was a worthy successor of Pride and prejudice. I will say that the opening chapters capture her style beautifully and retold the story up to this point very well so that those not familiar with Austen’s masterpiece, or for whom the details were somewhat fuzzy, could easily follow the main characters into this story. However, I found the rest of the book much less engaging and in the end suggest returning to the original. Not as off-the-wall as Pride and Prejudice and zombies perhaps, which I haven’t any interest in reading, but not that fabulous either. 291 pp.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Last Brother

The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah 164 pgs.

In 1944, nine-year-old Raj is unaware of events outside of his village as he is being kept busy with his two brothers trying to keep up with chores and avoid beatings by his father.  His brothers die tragically in a flash flood and he feels very alone.  A particularly brutal beating at the hands of his father lands Raj in the hospital of a prison camp.  Here he meets David, a boy his own age who is a refugee, one of a group of Jewish exiles now indefinitely detained in Mauritius (the island where the book takes place.). Raj is determined to help David escape and manages to hide him for awhile at home but then they have to go on the lam together.  This book is part of the Morning News Tournament of books and I have the fantasy that I can read the rest of these by the time the tournament starts (I've read several already).  This book is well written but heartbreaking.  

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Friday, February 17, 2012


Crossed by Ally Condie, 367 pages

Crossed is the second book in Condie's Matched trilogy. Matched kicked off the dystopian series with the story of a mistake made in Cassia's match to Xander... or Ky, an aberration who is not allowed to marry. The first book was a good setup for this universe and showed some promise for the rest of the series. Condie dropped the ball with Crossed, however. This second novel is written from the points of view of both Cassia and Ky, who narrate alternate chapters. This could work — it's certainly worked for other authors in other books — but Condie makes no difference in the voices, making it REALLY hard to figure out who's speaking. It's a shame, because I could otherwise have been persuaded to read more of this series; it's not likely now though.

The Hunger Games trilogy

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, 374 pages
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, 391 pages
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, 390 pages

This was a reread for me. The first time I read Collins' tale of tough-as-nails Katniss as she fights for her life in an annual battle royale and the political quagmire afterward, I was immediately taken in by the quick pace and nuanced characters. Well, it was no fluke. (And I still like the ending, no matter what anybody else says.) Same thing happened this time around for me. It was definitely worth the reread though, especially with the first movie coming out soon. Here's hoping it's worthy of the books.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Between shades of gray by Ruta Sepytys 344 pages

This is a chapter of history rarely mentioned in children's literature: Joseph Stalin's reign of terror. On June 14th, 1941, 15-year-old Lina, her younger brother and her mother are arrested by Soviet soldiers and sent via boxcar from her Lithuanian homeland to Siberia. Her father had been arrested previously, but Lina hopes that they will be reunited. Her mother seems ludicrously optimistic despite their horrible conditions. Like Anne Frank Lina is driven to draw pictures illustrating their plight even though she knows that if her drawings are discovered there could be horrible consequences. This is an important book but it is so overwhelming bleak. I listened to the audio version and it was almost difficult to return to this tale knowing that the ending was likely to be brutal. The author researched this story and uses flashbacks to lighten the tale a bit with happy past memories. Her brave mother creates a larger family with their fellow prisoners, even though many are selfish and negative. Lina meets a fellow traveler, Andrus for whom she reluctantly develops deep feelings. Lovely writing, but oh, so tragic.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver 441 pages

Yes, another dystopian novel beginning with the letter D. In ninety-five days Lena will turn 18 and will undergo "The Cure". The Cure is an advanced form of a lobotomy which dramatically alters the personality of each young adult. They are forever saved from "forbidden love" and enter into a marriage arranged by the government. Of course, some might require repeat operations. Lena's mother committed suicide after her third "operation". Lena's memories of a mother who sang and danced and loved. All activities are forbidden now. Lena's best and only friend Hana seems destined for a finer life; but even she seems a bit rebellious. She encourages Lena to break curfew to attend a clandestine music concert. Lena fears anything that could cause her trouble. Afterall she already has a bad reputation because of her mother's history. Then Lena meets and falls in love with Alex. She begins to question everything she has been taught and wonders if life is possible in the wilds beyond the electrified wall. Pretty good stuff, but still not quite as fine as Divergent.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han 149 pages

Clara Lee is a true believer of the importance of good luck. And luckily, she has a grandpa who is gifted at interpreting dreams. He tells her that her bad nightmare actually means that she will have good luck. She has a fabulous day at school until her luck changes and she finds herself in everyone's bad graces. Her dream is to win the Little Miss Apple Pie pageant. Her classmate tells her that she is unlikely to win because she is hardly all-American. This book will appeal to fans of Judy Moody and Clementine. Clara is a sweet heart.

Guys Read: Thriller edited by Jons Scieszka 272 pages

Popular, award winning author and former teacher, Jon Scieszka has made boys literacy his mission. He created a web site ten years ago with recommendations of titles to spark an interest in boys. He also started compiling genre collections. This is his second collection of original short stories by top authors: M T Anderson, James Patterson, Walter Dean Myers, Margaret Peterson Haddix and Anthony Horowitz. The theme is horror sometimes spiked with a dash of humor. Probably my favorite was by Patrick Carman, Ghost Vision Glasses. Kyle is a big fan of weird stuff. He sends away for a bunch of stuff advertised in a vintage Archie comic book. The only response to his 27 requests is a pair of special glasses guaranteed to let the wearer see ghosts. Not only do they work, but they help solve his problem with the neighborhood bully, Scotty Vincent.

City of Orphans by Avi 350 pages

Newbery winner Avi, has crafted another gripping historical fiction novel. Young readers are probably not very familiar with life in 1898 New York City. Maks is not an orphan. He has a warm family trying to keep their heads above water. 13 year old Maks is employed as a newsboy. He meets Willa, an orphan living in an alley and brings her home. There is a lot of tension building. Bruno, leader of the Plug Ugly street gang, is after Maks. His older sister who works in the swank Waldorf Hotel has been thrown in jail on a trumped up robbery charge. Maks contacts an eccentric lawyer to free his sister. Donck, the lawyer inserts Maks into the Waldorf as an apprentice detective. Readers will learn about life as new immigrants and the perils of life on the streets for homeless waifs.

The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable:by Dan Gutman 285 pages

Dan Gutman has written a number of kid pleasing series: Baseball Card Adventures, Million Dollar sports series, My Weird School. This is the first of a new series that promises lots of adventures for middle school readers. Twins Coke and Pepsi, their parents have a snarky sense of humor in an anti-establishment way, turn out to be members of a secret government project called The Genius Files. Unfortunately, they learn this just as they told that they are marked for assassination by weird assassins. (The villains are mock humorous like the bad guy in Unfortunate Events). Their clueless parents take them on a cross country vacation. While they had been dreading the trip, they agree that it might keep them alive. Offbeat and funny.

Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff 235 pages

Annie is having difficulty recovering from her brother's accidental death. Her reaction is to become overly cautious worrying about anything that could cause her to become ill or hurt. She steals a medical book from a neighbor with the hope of learning about all diseases which she fears she may contract. Her parents are having their own problems coping and she tries to shut out her best friend and the guy who kind of has a crush on her. It takes a new neighbor who is trying to handle her own grief from her husband's death. Yeah, while this all sounds like a downer, it is rather uplifting. Annie is well worth meeting.

A Wrinkle in Time/Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle; young adult, science fiction; 280 pages (about 5 1/2 hours on audio)

I revisited this classic because 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of its publication. I first read this in second grade, and made it a regular reread throughout my childhood, but I hadn't picked it up again in about 10 years. Thankfully, the story holds up well, and I found myself enjoying it every bit as much as I used to. I listened to the audio book, which is read by the author; on the one hand, L'Engle adds some inflections to the dialogue that I had never considered, which I liked; on the other hand, her strong New England accent could sometimes get distracting. If you haven't read this in a while, now is a good time to pick it back up!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bloody Horowitz by Anthony Horowitz 330 pages

Successful author of the Alex Rider series and the Diamond Brothers mysteries, crafts twisted horror stories. They are a bit tongue-in-cheek (especially the story of the murder of rival teen author Darren Shan). Some humor, some gore perhaps a step up from Goosebumps, R.L. Stine. I did enjoy the last "note from the President of Penguin Young Readers Group" about his distaste for the manuscript. It actually sounded to be like Alfred Hitchcock rising from the grave to give his wrap up at the end of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Mordant chuckles.

Prisoners of the Palace by Michaela MacColl 367

Intriguing historical fiction set in London about a recently orphaned young lady who finds herself suddenly the lady's maid of the future Queen Victoria. The author paints a bleak picture of the lives of the working class during this time. In a blink of the eye or rather the sudden horse cart accident killing both parents, Liza's formerly carefree life changes. She was about to be presented to society, instead she is trying to avoid debtor's prison. Victoria's early life also seems rather sad. Her widowed mother and probably lover are scheming to win control of the throne. The princess is kept a virtual prisoner of the house with only a faithful Duchess in her corner. Even her future husband, Albert seems less than interested in her. This is like a richly textured palace wall hanging. The book's subtitle: A Novel of Intrigue and Romance says it all.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins 372

Anna's newly wealthy father, the successful author of sob story novels, decides that she needs to spend her senior year abroad at a posh American school in Paris. She immediately clicks with a group of friends and reluctantly falls in love with handsome Etienne St Claire. Unfortunately, Etienne has a girl friend who is attending another school. Anna doesn't know if she should stay faithful to a guy she kissed once back at home or pursue the popular St Claire. This is unabashedly fluff, but hey, a little bit of fluff never seriously hurts a reader.

The NIGHTMARYS by Dan Poblocki 325 pages

You can tell be the title that the author hopes to scare the pants off of you. Two seventh graders, Timothy and Abigail unite to try to break an ancient family curse involving a powerful stolen, jawbone and an old children's mystery book. When they take a class field trip to a museum strange stuff happens. Both Timothy and Abigail are haunted by their greatest fears. Luckily, Abigail's grandmother is a big help at fighting their foes. I didn't find this to be a quick read -- rather mildly suspenseful.

Divergent by Veronica Roth 487 pages

Alert to fans of Hunger Games: This first novel by Veronica Roth is pretty impressive. Set in a futuristic Chicago (!!), society is divided into five factions that embody a virtue: honesty, selflessness, peaceful, intelligence and bravery. The year one reaches 16, he or she chooses which faction to pledge to. Beatrice, reluctantly turns her back on her parent's factionAbnegation (selflessness), and chooses Dauntless (brave) when she learns that she is Divergent (a rare breed that has strengths in more than one faction. Her brother surprises her and their parents by choosing Erudite (intelligence). She must survive a rigorous training / testing phase to be accepted. She survives a lot of hits during training and afterwards. She is attracted to one of the two trainers, Four. My intro does not do this book justice. It has the quick dramatic action, tests of courage and strong characters as The Hunger Game. I sure hope that a sequel is in the works.

Back of Beyond by C J Box 9780312385745

Cody Hoyt is a recovering alcoholic and a good detective. When his mentor and AA sponsor, Hank is killed Cody refuses to accept the accidental death verdict. Especially since it would mean that Hank had fallen off the wagon and died drunk. As he digs further, he suspects that the murderer has joined a back to nature horseback riding vacation group. A group that includes his estranged son and his ex-wife's fiancee. There are several likely suspects in the group. Even the camp leader seems highly suspicious. There are several "hits" in this book and a likable young heroine. I have not read many Western mysteries, but this is one I'm buying for my Western lovin' dad. I listened to the audio version, read by Holter Graham and it was mighty entertaining. 4 spur rating

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Just my type

Just my type: a book about fonts / Simon Garfield 356 pgs.

Simon Garfield has a way with words...and with fonts...and with type faces.  This is a great bit of history, gossip and stories about fonts, their origins and their uses.  The bibliography also includes YouTube favorites that should not be missed.  Another book that is very quotable and many parts got read out loud.  Who would have thought that a book about fonts could be so fun?  (no that is not a typo). 

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Friday, February 10, 2012

The Art of Fielding

The Art of Fielding / Chad Harbach 512 pgs.

This is one great book with interesting characters and a lot of baseball action.  I recently read Moneyball that talked about analyzing player stats to come up with a better team based on facts, not gut feel and here is a book where a main character molds team mates by using facts instead of gut feel.  But really, this is Henry's story.  He is a small town guy who is a decent player who gets "discovered" by Mike Schwartz, his future team mate at a small college in WI.  Mike takes Henry under his wing and works him into a star.  Then a tragedy makes Henry doubt his ability and he starts messing up enough to push him from his pedestal.  Also enter the college president, his daughter, Henry's room mate, and a cast of other minor characters and players.  This is the first book by the author and I'm already looking forward to the next.

Great to pair with Moneyball / Michael Lewis but with the literary feel and great character development, I would also recommend it if you enjoy authors like Pete Dexter or Stephen McCauley

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Buried Dreams

Buried Dreams by Tim Cahill 353 pp.

The full title of this book is Buried Dreams: Inside The Mind of a Serial Killer. Tim Cahill effectively writes from the point of view of John Wayne Gacy, in his own way. The book is written from a third-person perspective, but is often interjected with Gacy's own thoughts and comments about whatever is being discussed, due to Cahill drawing on interviews with the Killer Clown to write the book. Cahill walks the reader through every step of Gacy's life and each one of his 29 killings in detail, which is often gruesome and occasionally hard to get through without a few winces. Probably the hardest thing about the novel is reading about Gacy's life when he wasn't actively killing, instead blending in with society with ease. Cahill shows the love Gacy had for his community, and vice-versa, which can make the book a bit hard to get through and will probably put you on edge for a while. The book is scary, though not in a Stephen King or Dean Koontz way. The book is scary in the sense that Gacy, a monster in every sense of the word, was able to so easily conceal his killings and hide his evil habits from society. The book is not light reading, and I definitely do not recommend reading it at night, but for anyone interested in true crime, this book should not be missed. The amazing use of Gacy's own thoughts really give you the idea that you are speaking to the man himself, instead of reading a book about him. Overall, I enjoyed the book, though it drags for a stretch in the middle when nothing is happening in Gacy's life other than killing and Cahill jumps from murder to murder without touching on anything else. The first and last thirds of the book are excellent, though, and even the middle section can be pushed through in a few days with some perseverance. Four stars out of five.

Additional reading: Defending A Monster by Sam L. Amirante 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rules of Civility

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles  335 pp.

I think I've found the first book to go on my "best of 2012" list. Most of the action takes place in a flashback to Manhattan in 1938, the tail end of the Great Depression. Katey Content (accent on the second syllable) and her boarding house roommate, Evie Ross meet the handsome young banker, Theodore "Tinker" Grey at club on New Year's Eve. That fortuitous meeting changes the lives of all three, for the good and the bad. When Tinker and Eve leave for Europe, Katey leaves her secretarial pool job for one at a small publishing house where she meets and socializes with more of the wealthy New York set. Eventually she lands a position with a new magazine at Condé Nast, she learns the truth about Tinker, and Evie disappears. This book is well written, has interesting characters, and enough twists in the plot to keep the reader involved. The book is appended with George Washington's "Rules of Civility" from which the novel gets its title.

Queen of the Darkness/Anne Bishop

Queen of the Darkness by Anne Bishop (Black Jewels Trilogy book 3); dark fantasy, horror, romance; 448 pages

Finishing my reread of this series is always a little bittersweet. The ending is an emotional roller coaster worthy of any great soap opera, and it always leaves me wanting more. Unfortunately, the spin-off books set in this same world never pack quite the same punch. Read this with a box of tissues close at hand.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The cartoon introduction to economics

The cartoon introduction to economics: volume two: macroeconomics  by Grady Klein and Yoram Bauman 240 pgs.

Wonderful second edition that focuses on macroeconomics instead of microeconomics (macro was always my favorite).  Less math in this volume so it should be more attractive to the masses.  If you can't remember much from your college econ class, this is a good refresher.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

War Horse

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo  176 pp.

This short book is the basis for Broadway play and the movie nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. The story is told from the point of view of a half-Thoroughbred horse named Joey. It begins with the horse being sold at auction to a farmer and then befriended by the farmer's son, Albert. Eventually he is sold to a captain in the British cavalry for service in World War I. His war experiences include making and losing friends--both horse and human, surviving battles, and eventually pulling wagons and weapons for both sides of the conflict. Joey learns about the pointlessness of war and wonders if he will ever see his friend, Albert, again. Now I can go see the movie. 

The White Giraffe

The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John  180 pp.

On her eleventh birthday, Martine becomes an orphan when her parents die in a house fire. She is sent to live on a wildlife preserve in South Africa with a grandmother she has never met. Once there, a local "magic woman" tells her she has the gift but Martine doesn't know what that means. Eventually she discovers that the mythical white giraffe is real and poachers are trying to steal it. This is a lovely story that incorporates magical realism, adventure, the reality of the political and social problems in South Africa, and the problems of saving animals from extinction. This is the first book in the "Legends of the Animal Healer" series.

Friday, February 3, 2012

January Totals

Here are the totals for January.  We're lagging behind where we were last year, and I know I'm as much to blame as anything.  So here's my deal:  I'll do better, if other people start blogging!  You all need to keep me motivated!


Christa:  14/3717
Karen:  14/3050
Marilyn:  15/4433
Annie:  2/752
Kathleen:  7/2128
Stephanie:  3/808
Kara:  1/128
Linda:  4/1140

Total:  60 books/16156 pages

Thursday, February 2, 2012

kWonderstruck by Brian Sellznick 634 pages

There is a lot to wonder about while experiencing this title. Selznick, the unconventional winner of the Caldecott medal for The Invention of Hugo Cabret (on which the current Oscar nominee, Hugo was based) has created a book that is half novel/ half graphic novel with a dual time line. No wonder it took him 634 pages to complete his vision. The wordless graphic novel follows a young deaf girl searching for the actress mother who had abandoned her. The other half - all text and no illustrations - is about an orphaned boy's search for the father his mother refused to talk about. The two stories connect in a surprising way. A true tour-de-force. If you read this don't skip the Acknowledgments which help explain his inspiration and tells the lover of literature about hidden shout-outs to some of his favorite works!!