Wednesday, February 29, 2012
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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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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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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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...
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 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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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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 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!
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.
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
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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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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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
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 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.
Monday, February 20, 2012
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
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
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 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.
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
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
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
Sunday, February 12, 2012
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
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 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
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 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
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
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.
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
Total: 60 books/16156 pages