Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

Iyengar is a professor at Columbia University who studies human patterns of choice. She uses her training in social psychology as a base for examining choice in a variety of religions and societies. In The Art of Choosing she explains various studies, including her own, that address the topics of choice and freedom. Her in-depth insight on the multiple factors that influence human decision making are unveiled in this eye-opening and fascinating look into human psychology.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Lost Saints of Tennessee by Amy Franklin-Willis

There is much to like about The Lost Saints of Tennessee by Amy Franklin-Willis. The main character is a 42-year-old man contemplating suicide, still grieving over the mysterious death of his twin brother ten years before and now an unhappily divorced father. Ezekiel Cooper is a flawed protagonist but an eloquent one.

Ezekiel has three sisters in addition to his dead twin, Carter, who suffered brain damage as a toddler and died as an adult under mysterious circumstances. Ezekiel is the child his mother, Lillian, expected to make something of himself and get out of Clayton, the small Tennessee town she has always felt stuck in. When Ezekiel left for college in 1960 and went to live in Virginia with his mother’s cousin, his mother made decisions that changed lives and that still form a barrier between Ezekiel and Lillian 25 years later.

Ezekiel’s flight from Clayton in 1985 to fulfill his vaguely formed suicide plan ends instead at that same Virginia farm of his college days. His brother’s ancient dog, Tucker, keeps him company on the trip. His troubled relationship with his mother is reflected in his awkward parenting of his own two teenaged daughters.

As seems to be a requirement of novels these days, the book jumps around in time, from the 1980s to the 1940s and various dates in between. The book is broken into three parts. The first and third are told by Ezekiel; the middle is told by his mother. (Oddly, her section does not have the date headlines that Ezekiel’s sections do.) Fortunately, the timeline jumps are pretty straightforward and I did not find them confusing.

Despite the title, the quotes from the Bible that appear before each part, and the biblical name of the main character, The Lost Saints of Tennessee is not an overly religious novel. The religious themes are not wielded like a club to make points throughout the story, which I found refreshing.

The author often turns a nice phrase. For example, when the mother is trying to justify an affair with her brother-in-law, she says, “I needed to believe someone still saw a spark in me, something that didn’t have to do with [my husband] or the children. Maybe that’s why most married people have affairs. Because the affair is separate from the family; it’s just about you. Of course, in the end, it winds up right back with the family.”

However, the book is not without its flaws. I found a romance between two of the characters unbelievable, unnecessary and indeed a drag on the plot; the book would have been better if the events could have played out without the romance. I also found the “big reveal” of the mysterious secret from the past to be very anticlimactic.

Still, The Lost Saints of Tennessee is well written, and it kept my interest to the end. If you enjoy novels that are more about character development than plot, I recommend The Lost Saints of Tennessee. It is scheduled to be released in February 2012.

Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh

Well, first off this book ought to come with a warning. It should be stated that anyone with a tender heart, who literally gets sick to their stomach when hearing or reading about child abuse in every form imaginable, they need to know that when they get to the end of the book, they will be inspired. The most difficult read for me to date, I found this book heart-wrenching, disturbing (on many levels) and quite sickening. Having said that, I also found this book to be inspiring in a way I have never seen before, and that is because it is a true story, written by the man who survived. And survive he did.

This is a story about Mikey Walsh (not his real name) and he tells the tale of his life growing up in a Romany Gypsy camp. His writing style is matter-of-fact, which is perfect for this kind of a story. He is literally surrounded by people who, at one time or another, do him harm. His mother is really the only one in the family who shows him any love whatsover, and even she can't keep him safe from her abusive husband. Mikey also mentions a teacher who really tried to help him, and I am hoping that she gets a chance to read this book so she will know how much she meant to him. This gypsy culture is so different from anything I have ever known, and I found myself wondering why those living in the camp would knowingly allow these things to happen. It was quite sad.

But again, after all the disappointments in his life, and the struggles he faced in trying to live up to what his father wanted, and the total isolation he must have felt living with this family, Mikey came out on top. He endured so much in his young life and it didn't scar his heart.

This was a tough book to get through. I admire Mikey for his strength, his character and his courage to write these things down on paper so that the whole world can know what his life was truly like.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

Well I really enjoyed this book. Set in England in the 1980's, this story is written in a parallel-style and is about a Private Investigator (Ray Lovell), who is quite likeable by the way, and a young gypsy boy named JJ. Our fearless investigator has some personal issues, what with a divorce in the making and his stalking of the ex wife, plus he might have a bit of a drinking problem, but other than that he seems quite competent. He is also half-gypsy, which is why he got this job in the first place, looking for a missing gypsy woman named Rose who just disappeared, literally, without a trace. I have never read anything at all about the gypsy way of life, so it was quite interesting to read this book and learn a few things.

I love the parallel writing style, seeing the story from two different points of view. I loved all of the characters and the writing was expressive and well done. Stef Penney is a fabulous writer and she has another book called The Tenderness of Wolves which I am going to run right out and get.

If you like a well-written mystery, books about unusual subject matter or books that you might not be able to put down, then this book is for you.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Big Year by Mark Obmascik

I really wanted to like the Big Year. It follows three men as they participate in a "Big Year" - a year in which they try to see as many bird species in North America as can be seen. I am a birder and thought it would be very interesting. It was not. The author is not a birder himself, and in some ways it feels like a book written by a nonbirder for nonbirders. In addition, I didn't much like one of the main participants, and I don't really admire someone who spends thousands and thousands of dollars to put a tickmark next to a bird species. Most of the birders involved didn't particularly seem to care about the birds themselves. I'm not really sure who the intended audience is for this book, or who I'd recommend it to. I've yet to see the movie, which comes out on DVD at the end of January. I hope it is better than the book!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

Set in 1912 and starting off in Cherbourg, France, this book is about one particular girl and her desire to quit being a servant and start being a seamstress. She decides to run away from her horrible job, and packs the few belongings she has in a canvas sack and then heads out to the dock where she has heard that a huge ship is supposed to be sailing to New York. The name of the ship? The Titanic.

So the story unfolds, and we follow our young gal Tess through all of her adventures. The first thing we notice is that she has some kind of nerve, practically sassing the woman who is literally her only chance of getting on the ship. I liked her immediately.

The Titanic was an amazing ship, and Alcott describes it incredibly well, and it is quite lovely to be seen through the eyes of Tess. You practically feel like you are there, and then of course when the ship sinks you are thankful you are not. It was horrifying, and you will learn things, and think about things that you had not thought about before. This book really opened my eyes.

This book is well written and quite historic. A lot of the testimony in the book came from transcripts of the U.S. Senate hearings. Some of the passengers Alcott included were people that were actually on the ship. I found it fascinating and had trouble putting it down.

For anyone who enjoys historical novels, romance novels or just a well-written novel that will transport you to another time, this is the book for you.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud

Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star is yet another modern day retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Darcy is the lead singer for the popular rock band Slurry. Band members include his good friend Charles Bingley and his cousin Richard Fitzwilliam. In need of an opening act, they book the girl band Long Borne Suffering, with musicians Elizabeth Bennett, her sister Jane, and their friend Charlotte Lucas.

The book started out very well. The author found ways to bring in many familiar characters and situations from Pride and Prejudice, but the story is also original and funny. However, the novelty wore off after a couple hundred pages. The book is over 400 pages long and would have been much better if it had been closer to 300. Still, overall I enjoyed reading it.

If you like revisiting the characters of Jane Austen and are looking for something to read, I recommend Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star. However, be warned that although this romance is inspired by the works of Jane Austen, it is not written in the style of Jane Austen. There is plenty of sex and liberal use of the F word.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

One of the great books of American literature, The Catcher in the Rye defies classification. You'll have to read it for yourself if you haven't already. Published 60 years ago, it is still among the most challenged books in schools and libraries.

I just read it again, for the library's adult book club discussions. At the first discussion last night, it was interesting to see how everyone referred to the book's narrator as if he was a real person. Holden Caulfield gets inside your head. I highly recommend The Catcher in the Rye.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), by Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling cries when she listens to Paul Simon's "Graceland," is perpetually baffled by men's collective inability to efficiently tie their shoes, and recognizes Christopher Moltisanti's intervention scene on The Sopranos to be one of the funniest television moments of all time. These 3 things confirm what I, and many women my age, firmly believe to be true: Mindy Kaling is meant to be my BFF.

This collection of memoir-esque essays by Kaling, a writer, producer, and actor on NBC's "The Office," is everything I wanted it to be: offbeat, hilarious, sweet, and honest. Kaling opens up about her childhood (her parents were immigrants), her early experiences with comedy at Dartmouth and off-Broadway, and how she came to write for television. The chapters are short and topical, making this an easy and very enjoyable read. If you like the style of humor featured on "the Office" or are interested in female comedians in general, give this book a try.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Affair by Lee Child

Posted for reader Annette Q:

If you are a Jack Reacher fan, you will love this book. If you are NOT a Jack Reacher fan (which just means that you haven't had the opportunity to read any of these novels) then you should start right now. Seriously, go down to the library and check out any one of his books and start reading. The first book I read was Bad Luck and Trouble, which falls somewhere in the middle of the series, and I have since read every single novel Lee Child has written about Jack Reacher.

I think if I had to do it all over again I would read the books in order, and then read The Affair, which is a prequel, coming after Worth Dying For, which I believe is the last book before The Affair. But there is no reason in the world why you couldn't read this book first, and then the rest of the series later. This is the first I have heard of an author writing a novel that takes place in time before an established series, but it really did answer a lot of questions I had thought about while reading this series. I think it was a brilliant idea and Lee Child did an amazing job of showing us how Reacher became the man he is today. You can sum up Reacher by this one paragraph in The Affair:

he was walking down a dark road, deciding what to do when a stranger in a car drove up and blocked his way, the stranger rolling down the window and sticking his elbow outside so Reacher couldn't pass:
Three choices.
First, stop and chat.
Second, step into the weeds between the pavement and the ditch, and pass by him.
Third, break his arm.

I actually laughed out loud on that one. Lee Child is a great writer, and I love his sense of humor. He brings Reacher to life, showing us a man who is strong, smart, handsome (I imagine he is handsome) but who is also human, and who makes mistakes. Not many mistakes, but when he does he admits it and moves on.

If you like mysteries, action, humor and a little bit of romance, you will love this book. It is perfectly fine to read this as your first Jack Reacher novel, and then you can start at the top of the list and work your way down. You will not be disappointed!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum is a nonfiction book as thrilling in many ways as a novel. Each chapter focuses on a different poison, with true but terrible stories from a hundred years ago about both murder and accidental poisoning and how scientists determined which was which.

The title (The Poisoner’s Handbook) and subtitle (Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York) are a little misleading. The book does not serve as a handbook, with explicit instructions on how to poison someone, and the focus is not entirely on murder. But it does cover many fascinating, little known facts about the early days of forensic detection.

The coroner in New York in the early 1900s was a political appointee who often showed up for work drunk. In 1917, Mayor John F. Hylan was pressured to replace him with a qualified doctor. Out of spite, the mayor, who wanted to keep the political crony in office, appointed Dr. Charles Norris, the man who had come in second in the coroner examination results. In doing so, he unwittingly appointed a man who revolutionized the office of chief medical examiner.

Norris and the forensic chemist that he hired, Alexander Gettler, advanced the discipline of forensics with tireless and creative detective work. Chapters include “Chloroform,” which covers the killing spree at a nursing home by mass murder Frederic Mors; “Wood Alcohol,” which details the tremendous number of deaths by poisonous alcohol during Prohibition; “Arsenic,” which includes the unsolved crime of 60 people poisoned by huckleberry pie purchased at a neighborhood bakery; and “Radium,” which tells the tragic story of watch dial painters with crumbling bones from shaping the tips of their radium-soaked brushes with their lips. The book also includes an enlightening chapter on death by regular old alcohol.

Many of the issues discussed in The Poisoner’s Handbook still resonate with our society today. Substances touted for their health benefits turn out to be dangerous; people accused of murder are exonerated or proven guilty by the hard work of scientists. If you are a fan of programs like CSI, you will probably find The Poisoner’s Handbook very interesting.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen by Geraldine McCaughrean

I listened to the Playaway audio version of The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a madcap adventure with a large and varied cast of characters on a paddleboat cruising the Mississippi in the 1800s. I had a long drive after a 28-hour travel day that included three plane rides and was kept awake and engaged by the humor and solid storytelling. Although it is intended for older children/teens, don't let that put you off if you are an adult who enjoys a good story celebrating an America gone by.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer

I love Georgette Heyer's books and was disappointed in The Black Moth at first, as it lacks her usual sparkle. However, before I finished it I found out it is the first book she wrote, when she was only 15, which is a different matter altogether. There are too many main characters, and the plot takes a long time to really get going, but there are glimpses of the fine author she would become.

If you like Georgette Heyer and would find it interesting to examine her first book, I recommend it. Otherwise, I recommend you pick up one of her other regency romances.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison

This is the first novel by Corban Addison. He is a lawyer specializing in corporate law and litigation, much like the main character of this book, Washington, D.C. attorney Thomas Clarke. Addison has taken his interest in international human rights, including the abolition of modern slavery, and translated it into this story involving two teenage girls orphaned by the 2004 South Asia tsunami and kidnapped into the sex trade. The story follows the girls' dark journey into this horrible demension of human behavior and the involvement of Thomas Clarke, and an NGO that prosecutes human traffickers, in rescuing the girls. Addison has translated real information into a fictional venue which has the grim ring of truth combined with tension as well as elements of the higher values of family love, loyalty, perseverance and hope. The story brings the reader a greater awareness of this ruthless side of today's world, present not only in nations far away, but also in our own country. The book reads a bit like a John Grisham novel. In fact, Grisham, who usually declines to endorse upcoming authors, made an exception in Addison's case, strongly praising the story and its message. Addison handles the sex and violence in a manner which tells the action without excessive detail. The book is dedicated to "the uncountable number of souls held captive in the sex trade and the heroic men and women across the globe working tirelessly to win their freedom." I'm glad I read the book and have had my awareness level raised by the experience. It is forecast to be out in January 2012.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

Anne Enright, author of the Man Booker Prize-winning The Gathering, returns with a tale of love, lust, and the everyday price of adultery. Gina Moynihan is a successful Dubliner living in the height of the Irish economic boom of the 2000s. She is married and has a successful career. All of this comforting stability changes upon meeting Sean Valley, her sister’s neighbor. Sean and Gina’s seduction and resulting affair catapult Gina into a world of painful desire and effortless deception. The longer the book goes on it seems Gina is not in love with Sean but, more accurately, trying to convince herself she is. The Forgotten Waltz is a quiet, unnerving book. Those looking for a steamy bodice ripper, look elsewhere. This is a tale of everyday life, told with haunting poetic force.

Monday, October 31, 2011

In Bed with a Highlander by Maya Banks

An engrossing tale of the Highlands of S cotland in the days of Lairds and Ladies with a sexy, romantic love story. This first of three tales of the McCabe brothers gives us warriors fighting evil, battles for posession of land, revenge and first love's effect on men hardened by all these.

The story makes you hungry for more of the same. I loved it!!

Mary E

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Consider Lia Habel’s Dearly, Departed to be the anti-Twilight. Like Bella’s Edward, Nora’s Bram is undead. Unlike the sparkly Edward Cullen, however, Abraham Griswold is a rotting corpse infected with the Laz – a disease that reanimates a dead body and turns the person into a zombie. And, unlike Bella Swan, Nora Dearly has spunk and a mind of her own.

Dearly, Departed is set in 2195. Disasters have reduced the Earth’s population to various settlements in Central and South America. One settlement, a wealthy one, has chosen the Victorian era as the perfect time period in the past, and the inhabitants follow Victorian protocols. The Victorians are in a running war with a poorer group of people called Punks. Into this mix comes the Laz, and undead Punks and Victorians who have managed to keep their minds unite to battle it out with the mindless undead.

Beauty Nora Dearly’s father was an important Victorian researcher trying to find a vaccine for the Laz. Handsome Abraham Griswold was a Punk soldier before he died and got the Laz. Cue the star-crossed teen-aged lovers!

At one point, one of the zombies is reading some books from the past. In what is clearly a poke at Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, he says, “In all of these books the girls are throwing themselves at the romantic heroes – romantic heroes who are dead, who drink human blood.…Vampires are just zombies with good PR! That could be us in a few years!”

Dearly, Departed (the first book in a trilogy) is almost 500 pages long. I would have enjoyed it more if it was 100 pages shorter. It definitely dragged for me toward the end, once the novelty of the situations had worn off. Also, I did have a little trouble getting over the ick factor of making out with a zombie. Still, Dearly, Departed is a light amusing read. If you like paranormal romance with a touch of steampunk and lolita, I recommend it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

The narrative of The Lantern is told by two alternating voices, Eve and Bénédicte. Both stories take place at Les Genévriers (The Junipers), a decaying farmhouse in France.

American Eve and her English boyfriend Dominic met on the shores of Lake Geneva, quickly fell in love, and moved to the moldering but romantic Les Genévriers. Dom has made a fortune through a computer company that he sold just before the economic downturn. Eve is a writer trying to make a living as a translator. Once they move in together, their old lives – families, friends, jobs, countries – recede into the past and they are completely absorbed in each other.

Elderly Bénédicte is the last member of the family that owned and farmed Les Genévriers for generations. Her tale is set decades in the past, as she recounts her childhood, her troubled relationship with her brother, the remarkable life of her blind sister, and her time spent working in the lavender fields during the war.

At first, the lives of the two women don’t seem to have much in common, aside from living at Les Genévriers. However, as the book goes on, connections start to be made. Eve hears noises that cannot be explained. She encounters strong scents that seem to have no source. She sees shadowy figures and strange lights. Meanwhile, in the past, Bénédicte is visited by ghosts – her brother, her sister, and the spirits of strangers she does not recognize.

Hanging over Eve’s life is the shadow of her boyfriend’s ex-wife Rachel, whom Dom refuses to discuss. An acquaintance hints that Dom is not what he appears, and wonders where Rachel is. Eve begins to question her “perfect” relationship with Dom. It took a few chapters for the book to draw me in, but once it did I had a hard time putting it down. The characters were not especially memorable, but the language was lovely and the plot had enough original elements to keep me interested. I foresaw some of the twists at the end, but others surprised me.

The Lantern is spooky with a sinister undertone. There is some implied violence and one scene of animal abuse. Overall, however, it is a romance in the tradition of gothic fiction. The Lantern owes much to the classic novels Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, but it also reminded me of The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. If you like a romantic mystery, check out The Lantern.

Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a big fan of chick-lit. More power to the ladies (and gentlemen) out there who laughed along with Something Borrowed or shed a tear over Eat, Pray, Love. I went there, I tried it, but in the end I just couldn’t hang. I’m a chick, and I hate chick-lit. So needless to say, I was very surprised by myself when I read a review of Girls in White Dresses and wanted to read it. I attribute my motivation to pick up Girls to the fact that Close seemed to have pegged the clichéd versions of me and my two best friends: the nerdy one, the crazy one with a heart of gold, and the funny girl. I gave the book a try, and I was pleasantly surprised when I could hardly put it down. Girls in White Dresses is what I always dreamed chick-lit could be-- fluffy and trivial, while still maintaining a refreshing honesty. Chapters alternate between various female characters who are all centrally connected to the book’s three main protagonists: Mary, Lauren, and Isabelle. I would highly recommend this book to all chick-lit lovers, and maybe a few haters too.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Frontier Magic series by Patricia C. Wrede

Patricia C. Wrede's Frontier Magic series is set in the past in a sort of alternate United States with magic. The first book in the series is Thirteenth Child. The main character is a twin. Her brother is the seventh son of a seventh son and therefore expected to be an incredibly powerful magician. Although Eff is the seventh daughter of a seventh son, all anyone can focus on with her is that she is a thirteenth child and therefore terrible bad luck. One relative even thinks she should be disposed of, and many feel she should be kept away from her twin brother. Thirteenth Child has a strong female character confronted by people who don't want her to succeed. She and her journey towards adulthood are compelling, and the steampunky alternate world has some original characteristics. I did not find Thirteenth Child just another magical coming of age story.

The second book in the series is Across the Great Barrier. Although I enjoyed it, it was a letdown after Thirteenth Child. It did not feel as original and the tension around Eff being a bad luck "thirteenth" was pretty much gone. (This is similar to how I felt with Wrede's Enchanted Forest series - I loved Dealing with Dragons but felt more let down by each subsequent book.) However, Across the Great Barrier kept me interested and I had no trouble finishing it. I definitely recommend the series if you enjoy magical alternate worlds, strong female heroines, and coming-of-age stories.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Moneyball by Michael Lewis is a baseball book. It's filled with baseball stats and insights into them, and it is populated with baseball personalities. Reading the book made me want to run out to a baseball game but alas it's a little late in the season for that.

My movie club was going to see the movie so I read the book. I didn't have time to finish the book before the movie, so I finished it after. If you aren't a baseball fan, I can strongly recommend the movie anyway. Although it's a baseball movie, the focus is on the people, not the baseball, and Brad Pitt and the others in the movie are excellent. There is no sex or violence and almost no swearing. I went with a group that included two nonbaseball fans and they both loved it.

On the other hand, if you aren't a baseball fan, I can't recommend the book. I am a baseball fan and I loved the book. It's a fascinating look behind the scenes of baseball. Michael Lewis is an entertaining writer who can turn a great phrase. Referring to Billy Beane's inability to watch his team play, he says, "He was like some tragic figure in Greek mythology whose offenses against the gods had caused them to design for him this exquisite torture: you must desperately need to see what you cannot bear to see." Describing infield coach Ron Washington's despair at the terrible fielders Beane put on the field, he notes, "There were times that Wash thought the players Billy sent him shouldn't even bother to bring their gloves; they should just take their bats with them into the field, and hit the ball back to the pitcher." About Jamie Moyer's pitching style, he says, "I've seen less arc on ceremonial first pitches."

I was thoroughly entertained and educated by Moneyball. If you are a baseball fan, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso

Tiger, Tiger is a deeply disturbing and frank memoir about a young woman’s relationship with a pedophile from the age of seven to the age of twenty-two (when he committed suicide at the age of sixty-six).

Once I began Tiger, Tiger, part of me wanted to stop reading it and part of me couldn’t put it down. The author’s story at the beginning is not entirely believable, because she includes conversations that she could not possibly remember word for word. However, the further I got into the book the more real her feelings came across; even if the dialog could not be completely accurate, the sense of what she was trying to convey rang true.

The author is clearly very conflicted. She had a troubled home life and turned toward her molester for affection and attention. Although now, as an adult, she acknowledges that he was a pedophile, she still loves him and remembers his love for her. She recognizes that he needed help and should have been stopped (she was not the only child he molested), but she can’t deny how important he was to her. She writes, “spending time with a pedophile can be like a drug high” and “I was Peter’s religion.”

Tiger, Tiger provides insight into a relationship most of us can’t (and would not want to) imagine. If the psychology of the complicated relationship between an abuser and his long-time victim interests you, you may find it a compelling read.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

me,you by erri de luca

A finely descriptive look at a corner of life in Italy in the years after World War II seen through the eyes of an Italian boy and the insight he gets through the memories of a Yugoslav Jewish girl. The fishing locale story interweaves with the losses of the girl and an intriguing connection between the boy and the girl's deceased father.

The story is one which keeps your attention and keeps you reading.

Mary E

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

The Emerald Atlas is the first book in what is presumably going to be a fantasy trilogy. It's not particularly original - three orphans who fulfill an ancient prophecy team up with a wizard, dwarves, and others to battle an evil sorceress working for an even more evil master - but I enjoyed it quite a bit. I will definitely read the next book in the series, whenever it comes out.

I listened to the audiobook read by Jim Dale, which didn't help the book when it came to me judging its originality. The book ended up reminding me quite a bit of Harry Potter since I kept thinking, as new characters spoke, "that's Hermione's voice! that's Ginny's voice! that's Peeves's voice!" The comparison would probably not have been quite as strong if I'd been reading the book instead of listening to Jim Dale read it.

However, if you like Harry Potter and other fantasy novels about children growing up while battling magical evil, I recommend The Emerald Atlas.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland

Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland is subtitled "47 remarkable stories from the Animal Kingdom." The cover shows a white dove being hugged by a tiny monkey. This is definitely a book you can judge by its cover. The most relevant word in this review is going to be "awww."

The book contains cute and touching stories about odd relationships between animals like an iguana and a house cat, a lioness and an oryx, and a tortoise and a hippo. The stories are accompanied by photos that will make you say "awww." Some of the relationships are not much more than a single encounter; others last the lifetime of one of the animals. The author does not present the stories as episodes out of real-life Disneyland, but acknowledges in many cases the reasons that might have prompted the animal pairs and the benefits each animal gained. However, she also points out that we underestimate animals, their intelligence, and their emotions, and I agree with that. This book is a quick and uplifting read (although there are sad aspects to some of the stories). If you like to view cute animal photos and stories on the internet, you will enjoy Unlikely Friendships.

(Unlikely Friendships can be found at the Galesburg Public Library in the New nonfiction area at 591.56/HOL.)

Travels with My Chicken by Martin Gurdon

Martin Gurdon wrote a book called Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance, which I have not read. To publicize that book, he travelled about with one of his chickens (not always the same chicken), and he wrote Travels with My Chicken about those travels. This book won't change your life, but it's quirky and amusing. If you like travel, England, travel in England, and chickens, you'll enjoy Travels with My Chicken.

(Travels with My Chicken can be found at the Galesburg Public Library at 914.1048 GUR in the nonfiction section.)

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

The Leftovers is another fast, quirky walk through disaffected suburbia from author Tom Perrotta. In this book, the world is thrown into chaos when -- suddenly, and with no explanation -- millions of people vanish into thin air. One minute Nora's family of four is sitting down to dinner, and the next she is left sitting along at the table, her husband and two children gone. The event is dubbed "The Sudden Departure" and is compared to the Rapture -- however, many Christians are shaken by the fact that this particular Rapture was not the one they had predicted. Muslims, Jews, Unitarians, and even good old-fashioned heathens are among those taken, leaving those "left behind" feeling lost and confused about how to manipulate what remains of their lives.

As with his previous novels, Perrotta gives us a handful of interrelated storylines and lets us watch as the characters stumble their way in and out of one another's lives. I really enjoyed this book; I thought the concept was creative and the curveballs thrown in at the end kept me on my toes. I would recommend The Leftovers to fans of contemporary literary fiction.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Among Others by Jo Walton

I loved Among Others. I did not want it to end. I loved it so much I am considering starting a new Science Fiction/Fantasy book discussion group at the Galesburg Public Library. If you are a teen or an adult who might be interested in participating in such a group, please contact me at

The book opens in 1975. Two young twins, Morganna and Morwenna, attempt a bit of fairy magic to close down a chemical plant in their home in Wales. When nothing happens, they think they’ve failed; however, the next day they read in the paper that the plant is closing. If you believe the narrator in Among Others, fairies are real, magic is real, and both are just a part of our world. Mori, the narrator, is very matter-of-fact about that.

Four years later, in 1979, Mori has just been sent to boarding school by the father she hasn’t seen since she was a baby. The previous year, she and her twin fought a sensational battle with their mother, a witch, to keep her from controlling the fairies and taking over the world. As a result of the battle, Mori is crippled and her twin is dead. After running away to escape her mother, Mori was sent to live with her father and his three sisters (yes, his three sisters, which as anyone who loves fantasy knows is a significant number).

In many fantasy novels, the battle with the mother would be the climax. Not in this book. It’s a starting point, something that sets up the rest of the plot, but not the focus. The book is a refreshing, down-to-earth, original story about how Mori picks up the pieces and finds a place for herself after her world is torn apart. Mori is a very interesting character with a lot of depth who makes astute observations about her fellow students at school and what’s left of her family. I liked her, and I enjoyed watching her relationship with her father and his father change and grow.

What keeps Mori sane is her love of reading, especially science fiction and fantasy. She forms cordial relationships with her school librarian and the librarian at the town library. (An aside: how could any librarian not think kindly toward a book that opens with the dedication “This is for all the libraries in the world, and the librarians who sit there day after day lending books to people.”) Mori understands the power of great books and stories to heal and change. Mori has nothing in common with her fellow students, and her life is dramatically changed when the town librarian asks her to join a Science Fiction book club. Finally she finds a place she fits, where she can talk with people she likes and who like her. There are many references to great sci fi throughout Among Others, not only through the book club scenes but in Mori’s day-to-day life. I feel like I need to reread the book, make a list of all the titles I have not read, and start reading them.

Although Among Others is considered adult fiction, it could certainly be read and enjoyed by teens as well. There is not actually much magic in it, if someone who does not usually read fantasy wants to give it a try, but its true audience is those like Mori who love science fiction and fantasy. I have one quibble with a “surprise” plot point, but aside from that I have no real criticisms.

Are you a fan of science fiction and fantasy? If you are, I recommend you get your hands on a copy of Among Others by Jo Walton.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I loved Ready Player One. It is one of the best and most original books I've read this year.

Set in 2044, the United States is a mess. Almost everyone prefers to live inside the OASIS, a virtual world, rather than in the terrible real world. When he dies, one of the two creators of the OASIS (kind of like I imagine Bill Gates might have turned out if he'd never married) leaves his fortune to the person who solves the puzzles he has left hidden inside the OASIS. Everyone with an avatar in the OASIS dreams of solving the puzzles. So does a big corporation, which wants to start charging for access to the OASIS, among other changes.

The narrator, an orphaned teen-ager who lives in his aunt's trailer along with 15 other people and who attends high school in the OASIS, manages to find the first clue, and the race to win the fortune is on. As his avatar Parzival, he meets virtual friends inside the OASIS in hopes that one of them can save the OASIS for everyone from the sinister corporation.

Ready Player One is filled with pop culture references from the 80s and from classic science fiction and fantasy. Although I didn't get all of the references, I got plenty, and certainly enough to make the book enjoyable. The main character is interesting, and so are his friends. Although the future world is a mess, unlike so much distopian fiction, the book is not gloomy, despairing and depressing. It's a wild ride that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The Betrayal of Trust by Susan Hill

The Betrayal of Trust arrived at the library with some other Advanced Reader Copies. Since I enjoy British police procedurals, I pulled it out to read even though I have not read any other books in the Simon Serrailler series by Susan Hill.

If I had read previous books in the series, I might have like the book more. As it was, characters and situations were introduced that I did not know anything about despite the assumption that I did.

The main character, Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler, is not especially compelling, but the story jumps around a lot and is told from the point of view of other characters, so that was not a huge drawback. The author seemed to be making a political statement about the movement to legalize assisted suicide, but at the end I'm not clear on what the statement was. There was a complicated love-at-first-sight romance subplot that I absolutely hated and that added nothing to the story - I sped through those chapters to get back to the mystery.

On the whole, however, I enjoyed the book as a diverting read. I liked it enough that I will check out the first book in the series and give it a shot.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster by Amirante/Broderick

I don't usually read true crime, although I have read In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter. However, I was in high school in the Chicago suburbs when the John Wayne Gacy story broke, and I had to read John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster by Sam L. Amirante and Danny Broderick.

I found the book totally engrossing, but I think that is partly due to the the timing and location of the trial when I was a teen-ager. I haven't read any other books about Gacy, so I learned a lot about the crimes, the man, and the trial.

Defending a Monster is not destined to become a classic. It is not as good as In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter. It's also not really a true crime book. It's more the story of the lawyer whose first client in private practice was an acquaintance who turned out to be one of the most notorious mass murderers of all time. It's also a passionate plea from that lawyer to uphold the Sixth Amendment and provide everyone, no matter the crime, to a fair trial and a serious defense.

If you enjoy reading true crime nonfiction, or have an interest in the Gacy case, you will probably find this book interesting.

Marzi, a memoir by Marzena Sowa

I haven’t read many graphic novels, but I found myself intrigued by Marzi, a Memoir tucked in with the other preview books. The cover certainly didn’t sell me, with its grayscale Manga-esque small girl holding a rabbit surrounded by men in military fatigues holding batons. Even the author photo on the back unnerved me, as she’s holding a line drawing half-portrait of the same bug-eyed girl over her unsmiling face. I was caught by the text above that portrait that proclaimed, “I am Marzi, born in 1979, ten years before the end of communism in Poland.”

Marzena Sowa wrote about her childhood at the urging of her partner Sylvain Savoia, who illustrated the novel. Her story is nothing new, just the tale of a little girl growing up: the things she likes and doesn’t, the things she fears, the friends she has/makes/loses and how and where they play, the relationship she has with her mother and father… The beauty of Marzi as narrator is she tells of her life as if it is so normal, because to her it is. To Marzi it is normal to wait in line for hours for groceries, and normal to discover the shelves are empty and the clerks will only rudely answer “Nie ma!” to any request one has. Likewise it is normal (if humiliating) to wear a toilet paper roll necklace home from the store, because one had better stock up when an item is available. It is normal to march smilingly in a Labor Day parade if your parents want to keep their jobs. It is normal to put your name on a waiting list for a television and then wait in front of the store every week to see if it is your turn to buy one.

What is not normal in Marzi’s life is being rushed home from summer vacation to a hospital to drink a medicine to counter the effects of Chernobyl. It is unusual, but important, to turn off television sets and lights at night as a sign of silent protest against the government. It is extraordinary, but vital, for workers to strike by refusing to leave a factory, taking it over, to force discussion about making a country where what is “normal” is what the citizens choose, not what a government answerable to another country decides is “normal.”

I remember not fully understanding Solidarność when the evening broadcasts were filled with news about it. I can’t say I fully understand it now, but I tremendously appreciate the perspective of a little girl who lived history. Marzi is a translation, so the English is a bit off sometimes, but very readable. I understand from some research that the original, in French, had color panels as well, so perhaps the finished product will not be in black and white. Marzi is set to be released October 25th.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Killer’s Essence by Dave Zeltserman

Of all the literary land genres, I feel the most uncomfortable when reviewing crime novels. I say this not because I do not enjoy a good slasher fest now and again, but because I am quite the weak and uninformed fan when compared to the throngs of hardcore mystery readers out in the blogoshere. Now, with my disclaimer out of the way, I feel more comfortable sharing why I found Zeltserman’s novel impressive. I was not overly enthralled with the plot of this book, and the background of the main character Stan Green is fairly clichéd. I’ve encountered more than one workaholic, divorced, NYC detective in my channel surfin’ and novel readin’. However, Zeltserman still managed to rope me in with Green. In fact, Stan Green and supporting character Zachary Lynch are what make this novel a rewarding read. Green shines as the flawed, hardworking detective who continues to fight both personally and professionally when nothing seems to be going right. The perfect foil to Green's red-hot temper is the star witness, Zachary Lynch. Although Lynch is severely psychologically damaged, he possesses the unique gift of seeing the physical manifestation of a person’s soul. While I am not an experienced crime reader, I found the depth and believability of the characters to be the true energy behind A Killer's Essence. My pages turned not because I really needed to know who the killer was, but because I needed to know what happened to Stan and Zachary.

I would recommend this title to all adults interested in gritty detective mysteries.

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

The Borrower is about an "accidental" children's librarian who "accidentally" kidnaps her favorite patron, at 10-year-old boy with a mother who censors his reading and who sends him to a Christian camp to try to keep him from being gay. She takes him on a long drive across the country, starting in Hannibal, Missouri. There are things I liked about this book and things I did not.

I like Ian, the boy. He is a delightful child, one I would enjoy meeting in real life. There is a plot twist toward the end involving a man who has been tailing them that amused me. The conversations between Lucy, the librarian, and Ian are often interesting and creative. I enjoyed the many literary references that are scattered throughout the book.

However, the book also contains many negative librarian stereotypes. Aside from Lucy, the "accidental" librarian, the other "real" librarians are happy to help censor reading material and have no problem violating patron confidentiality. Lucy notes that the two other women in the children's department "seemed to see the library as some kind of volunteer work, like a soup kitchen." The library director is a drunk. Lucy refers to herself as " a simple maiden lady librarian." I have to assume either the author has never met a real librarian or has met just one whom she did not like.

I recommend the later chapters, set outside the library. I do not recommend the early chapters, set inside the library. I had considered choosing this book for my book club, but I won't be.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mice by Gordon Reece

I was attracted to this thriller because of its beginning--a timid mother and daughter trying to find the perfect house in the English countryside. Some unknown horrific occurrence in their past has made it necessary for them to hide.
Before long, the reader is made privy to that past, and the book begins to unfold its theme: How our personalities and characters change in response to the actions we take or choose not to take. In realistic fashion, everything is not black or white, and the reader's reaction to the characters' choices can be complex. By the end of the book, we are facing two extremely dangerous women.
The author does a good job of creating suspense; you keep reading to find out what happens next, in the best thriller tradition, so it was a fast read. There is some violence, and the ending was a little flatter than I felt it could have been, but on the whole this was a good weekend read.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Sisters by Nancy Jensen

I really wanted to like The Sisters. The advance praise for the debut novel claims that it is an “epic” journey through eight decades of a family history, a story of two sisters and the position of women in American society. The author's note at the beginning tells of learning of a piece of her family's history and, not knowing all the details, deciding she needed to write the book herself. I have a sister; we've had our ups and downs. I was primed to like this book and yet...

The estrangement between the first pair of sisters in the book comes from a misstep in communication and a subsequent refusal to hear the true story, to entertain any idea of another explanation. The separate lives led from that point on seem to have more downs than ups, especially for the sister who did the rejecting. From their stories, and the stories of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren I have considered again the position of women in American society in the twentieth century into the twenty-first. From what I've gathered, women have a pretty lousy position because:

1. They have been/are(?) subjugated by men.

2. They have been inadequately educated, for one reason and another, therefore

3. They have made poor choices.

4. They become bitter, thus influencing future generations to make poor choices.

I feel like there should be one of those “always/sometimes/never” quizzes at the end of each chapter.

The story is told in a sort of picture album fashion, with each chapter from the point-of-view of a different woman and a jump ahead in time as if the pages have been flipped, sometimes decades ahead. I don’t usually mind multiple characters and points-of-view, but I found it difficult to keep these characters straight, even with the helpful family tree in the front of the book. Complicating each relationship is an inability to communicate with family and oftentimes others.

The trouble with judging this book is that I don’t know if much of the story is real, with an imagined reason for the initial division, or whether it is completely a work of fiction. If it is the biography of a family, it is difficult to read because there is much avoidable hardship and not enough explanation of “where they are now,” except for glimpses through the stories of the other women, to make the reader care about their arduous lives. If it is purely fiction, then I find it frustrating for much the same reason, but also because the stories are so depressing. It’s as if Jensen is a Fairy Anti-Oprah: “Your life sucks, and your life sucks and your life sucks!” Even worse is the end, with its flashback to the details of the crisis that initiated the divide. I suppose it is meant to be uplifting, as one sister recasts the history in the way she had hoped it would turn out. I just found it sad.

The Sisters is on sale November 2011.

A Simple Winter by Rosalind Lauer

A woman with wealth but no family love or good health in her life meets a man who has to return to a family life he has run away from. The attraction to him causes her to step into his world and she finds an affectionate family as well as an end to her health problems. This is a story you can't put down and a look into the Plain Life of the Amish people. The deaths of the main male character's parents adds a tingle of the mystery to this compelling story.

M Edwards

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Captain Wentworth's Diary by Amanda Grange

I enjoyed Captain Wentworth's Diary a great deal. It is a retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion from Captain Wentworth's point of view. The language and the plot developments matched Jane Austen's style perfectly. Real passages from Persuasion were inserted appropriately. I will definitely be reading some of the author's other Diary books written from the viewpoint of Austen heroes.

If you are a fan of Jane Austen and are on the lookout for similar books, I recommend Captain Wentworth's Diary.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet

In the tradition of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple comes G.M. Malliet's Max Tudor. Max is a former MI5 agent turned Anglican priest, now living in the quaint English village of Nether Monkslip. Wicked Autumn is the first book in a new series by G.M. Malliet. It's a quiet cozy, full of typical quirky individuals in the village, a village fair, and the murder of the most hated woman in town. The actual mystery is nothing special, but the book is well written and a fun read. I like Max as the main character - a former agent now living a quiet life, and yet managing to keep his hand in by helping law enforcement solve a murder. I'm sure it won't be the last murder in or around Nether Monkslip. I look forward to Max's next appearance.

(Wicked Autumn will be released on September 13.)

Falling Man by Don DeLillo

Falling Man is set in New York and takes place in the days, weeks, months, and years following 9/11. It is considered by many to be the best of the 9/11 novels written so far. I picked it for the library's book clubs to read as we mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11/2001.

I can't say it was a book that I enjoyed. However, I did find it helpful in reflecting on where I was and how I felt 10 years ago. The book contained passages and observations that resonated with me. For example (p. 135):

He said, "It still looks like an accident, the first one. Even from this distance, way outside the thing, how many days later, I'm standing here thinking it's an accident."
"Because it has to be."
"It has to be," he said.
"The way the camera sort of shows surprise."
"But only the first one."
"Only the first," she said.
"The second plane, by the time the second plane appears," he said, "we're all a little older and wiser."

There is not a lot of action in Falling Man. It captures the confusion and disbelief, the chaos and lack of comprehension of the events of 10 years ago. It's not profound, but it is a deeply thoughtful and reflective book about an event Americans share. If you are in the mood to think back on 9/11, I recommend it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Distopian novels are the hottest thing going right now. Divergent is not as good as The Hunger Games, but I liked it better than Delirium. It is set in a damaged but recognizable Chicago, a city I’m very familiar with, which helped me like it. In a future United States beset with problems, people are divided into five factions representing five traits. Teenagers are allowed to switch factions when they turn 16, basically turning their backs on their families, and our protagonist does just that. Most of the novel covers the training she must survive in the new faction, where only half the 16-year-olds are allowed to stay. The rest are kicked out and become “factionless,” homeless and without resources.

Divergent is narrated by the main character, which means there is no need to worry that anything serious might happen to her. She is not terribly likeable, but she’s a pretty realistic teenager. There are echoes of today’s society in the way the factions are described – the erudite want more wealth, while the selfless want to help the factionless. There’s a love interest, of course. And there are hints of the next two books in the series – if the guards are there to protect the city from whatever is outside the borders, why are the locks on the outside instead of the inside? There’s a big battle towards the end, and a lot of characters we’ve been introduced to die, so I expect lots of new characters in the next book.

I found Divergent well written but a bit long and draggy for a first book in a trilogy. Still it kept my interest and eventually picked up speed. There were scenes I liked a lot, and themes in the book made me think about our own society.

If you like distopian novels, definitely give Divergent a try. I look forward to the next book in the series.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Most Human Human by Brian Christian

A competition called the Turing test takes place each year. Judges at computer terminals interact with unseen correspondents. Each judge has two correspondents, one a human being and one a computer program, and the judge tries to tell which is which after a five minute online conversation with each. The program that receives the most votes and highest judge confidence score is named the Most Human Computer. This title is highly coveted by programmers. A side result of the voting, however, is that the human who receives the most votes and highest judge confidence score is named the Most Human Human.

It is from this side of the Turing test that author Brian Christian writes his book The Most Human Human. He sets out to participate in the test as a correspondent and to win the Most Human Human title. Along the way, he philosophizes about what it means to be human and how our interaction with computers is affecting that. He notes, “We once thought humans were unique for having a language with syntactical rules, but this isn’t so; we once thought humans were unique for using tools, but this isn’t so; we once thought humans were unique for being able to do mathematics, and now we can barely imagine being able to do what our calculators can.”

The author makes the point that cell phones, texting, and programs that finish our words for us are making us less creative. It is easier to use the word the phone suggests than to fight the phone and type the word we meant to use. He writes, “I was detachedly roaming the Internet, but there was nothing interesting happening in the news, nothing interesting happening on Facebook…I grew despondent, depressed – the world used to seem so interesting…But all of a sudden it dawned on me, as if the thought had just occurred to me, that much of what is interesting and amazing about this world did not happen in the past twenty-four hours. How had this fact slipped away from me? …. Somehow I think the Internet is making this very critical point lost on an entire demographic.”

Christian is an interesting guy. He has a dual bachelor’s degree in computer science and philosophy and a master of fine arts in poetry. He understands the scientific angle of the Turing test but also the human side of what it means for a human to challenge a computer. There is a wonderful scene during the Turing test when he spies on a fellow human correspondent’s chat with a judge and realizes they are chatting in shorthand about Canadian hockey teams, virtually assuring that the judge knows he is talking to a human. This causes Christian a moment of panic and despair when he fears that he will lose the Most Human Human title.

Christian’s views on how we interact with the world are refreshing. He says, “I think the reason novels are regarded to have so much more ‘information’ than films is that they outsource the scenic design and cinematography to the reader. … This, for me, is a powerful argument for the value and potency of literature specifically.” I felt somewhat lost toward the end of the book when it got a bit scientific, but the science was not too overwhelming, and I wouldn’t let that put you off as a potential reader. I enjoyed this book tremendously, and it really made me think.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Emory's Gift by W. Bruce Cameron

Children and animals -- always a winning combination! In this book, a charming story of love and hope after sadness, a boy who has lost his mother is feeling detached from his father who suffers from the loss and from his classmates in the Junior High School. A grizzly bear becomes an unusual companion to him in this engrossing story. You can't put it down.

Mary E.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a fictional explanation for a set of vintage found photographs that are scattered throughout the book. I loved the idea of those photographs forming the story, and the author was quite creative in what he came up with, but I think the idea itself was better than the book that resulted.

In the book, a teenager watches his beloved grandfather die. His grandfather had always told him fanciful tales, and Jacob begins to wonder if they were just fanciful. In response to his grandfather's dying words, Jacob sets off for Wales with his father to uncover his grandfather's secrets. I did enjoy the book, but I did not find it to be a can't-put-it-down read. The teenaged narrator did not have a strong, well-formed personality, and I never like to reach the end of "a novel" only to discover that it is the first in a series. Still, it kept my attention and I do want to know what happens next, so I will read the next book when it is published.

Some libraries classify this as a young adult book, while others put it in adult fiction. It can be enjoyed by both teenagers and adults. If you like a quirky read, this is definitely worth a look.

Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaer

This is a beautiful tale about a baker whose business is from her own kitchen, a lawyer caught up in the building craze of Miami, their wayward daughter and confused son. Every modern parent should read this story. Teenagers can learn from the rebelious daughter's attempts to avoid life and all the problems facing young people today and from the son, Stan's attempts to follow his own dream not that of his parents. An excellent description of steamy, touristy, and pulsating Miami. All in all a well told tale.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Burning by Jane Casey

The Burning by Jane Casey is a British police procedural available in the US for the first time. The main character is a young, female, Irish cop. I was a little surprised at the prejudice she faces because she is Irish. It seems so clichéd in this kind of book, but maybe that’s really still the way it is in the English police force.

Most of the chapters are told by Maeve, the police officer, or Louise, the best friend of the victim of the murder Maeve is trying to solve. The two characters are quite different, and both points of view are interesting. There is some romance for Maeve – pretty typical for a police procedural – as well as insights into her relationship with the Chief Superintendent. An assortment of other officers on the force get introduced. There is nothing spectacular about the crime or the plot – I guessed who the killer was almost from the beginning, and I am hardly ever right about that – but that did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. It held my interest and was a quick, diverting, fun read.

All in all, The Burning is a fine example of its type. If you’ve read and enjoyed Jill McGown’s Inspector Lloyd and Judy Hill series or Jo Bannister’s Castlemere series, for example, you are likely to enjoy this book as well. I look forward to the next book in the series.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sybil Exposed, by Debbie Nathan

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the Sally Fields made-for-tv movie "Sybil," an adaptation of the 1973 book by the same name. The book and the film were based on the true (or what was touted as true) story of a woman who endured horrific childhood abuse at the hands of her mother and, as a result, developed multiple personalities. As a kid, I wore out my paperback copy of the book and pored over my family's "TV Guide" for airings of the movie, which I would then sneak-watch on our basement television. I thought it was all too dramatic and scandalous to be true.

Turns out that maybe it was, according to Debbie Nathan's Sybil Exposed. Nathan's research into the three women behind the "Sybil" empire -- a psychiatric patient, her therapist, and the journalist who wrote up their story for publication -- reveals that much of what the original book purported to be true was actually embellished or, in many cases, completely made up. Sybil Exposed presents Dr. Wilbur, the therapist credited with "curing" Sybil's multiple personality disorder, as a bully and a pill-pusher who overmedicated her patient, asked leading questions, and pushed the boundaries of an appropriate doctor/patient relationship. Did the real Sybil, a docile Minnesotan artist named Shirley Mason, ever really have multiple personality disorder, or was she the victim of a new pop psychology craze? How much of her painful past was real, and how much was invented by an opportunistic author looking to sell a book?

I found Sybil Exposed to be an interesting, quick read. Nathan's research is thorough and well-documented, and the questions she uncovers behind the famous Sybil story are shocking. I think that even people not familiar with the original book and film (if such people exist!) will enjoy this read.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

I loved this book. Although it is labeled YA, it can certainly be enjoyed by adults (and I'm sure by tweens as well). I initially picked it up because it is marginally about the discovery of a woodpecker long thought extinct - not the real ivory-billed woodpecker but the fictional Lazarus woodpecker. I am a bird lover so the premise intrigued me.

The author's characters are dead on. The book is mostly narrated by a 17-year-old boy, and he, his best friend, his best friend's girlfriend, and his brother all seemed so real to me. Aside from the big main plot points driving the story, all the day-to-day interactions and the description of small-town life also seemed very real. There were a number of times as I was reading when I thought "that is so true!" The characters and the story really resonated with me.

I am normally reading several books at once, and I know a book is really good when I set the others aside to focus on one. That happened with Where Things Come Back. It's a quick and thoughtful read - I recommend it!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I finally got around to reading The Help, after years of people telling me I needed to. I run a library Movie Club and we went to see the movie version of The Help last night. I finished the book before the movie.

I thought The Help was slow starting - it took awhile for me to get into it. However, I liked the characters a lot, and the author's use of an easy-to-read dialect. I found the plot mostly believable. The book was both funny and moving. It made me think and reflect. I was also very pleased that all the plot points were not neatly wrapped up at the end. That's more like life than books where everything ends happily and perfectly. The Help is not the next coming of To Kill a Mockingbird, but it would make a great book club discussion book.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Signing Their Rights Away by Denise Kiernan & Joseph D'Agnese

Having always been a fan of American History and auto-biographies and biographies this book caught my attention. Once I started reading, it was hard to put down. The beauty is that it is written is short chapter form about 39 men who met in 1787 (summer) and put their names on the U.S. Constitution.
This book shows that many of the men were as odd and flawed as our elected officials are today. Hugh Williamson believed in aliens; Nicholas Gilman known as the most handsome signer took abuse from other signers because he was blond and blue-eyed with perfect skin in an age when many had rotten teeth, small-pox scars and so on; George Read who sign both the Declaration of Independence and the U S Constitution (one of 6 men who did).
I am going to buy this for my own library at home and buy Signing Their Lives Away, a book written by the same authors, about the 56 statesmen who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Miss Peg (GPL)

The Affair by Lee Child

This is the first Lee Child title I’ve read, but I re-shelve them nearly every day, so I know they’re popular. The Affair is a prequel in Child’s Reacher series, a fairly brilliant move since fans will have backstory on their favorite character and newbies can be drawn in without feeling the need to read sixteen books first.

And drawn in they may very well be! We join Major Jack Reacher as he narrates his apparently dangerous journey into the Pentagon on a mysterious mission in a pre-9/11 world. His referencing this recent past keeps the story in proper context and reminds us that the entire narrative is a memory, albeit a very timely one as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches. In proper cliffhanger fashion, just as we think we will learn Reacher’s purpose for visiting a certain office, the story jumps back to another visit to a different office five days earlier. There Reacher is directed to go to a small town in Mississippi near a Ranger training base to try to covertly discover whether one of the Army’s own is responsible for a grisly murder. Reacher is more than adequate for the job: smart, strong, quick and loyal to the Army, but not blindly so. I found myself liking him even though I was annoyed that he was that good—as, for example, when he narrated the proper way to dispatch six assailants before doing just that. Child manages to keep him from being perfect, but barely.

Since the entire mystery is presented and solved within five days, the action clips along quite quickly and includes movie-sized doses of fights, exposition, corpses, red herrings and sex. I got confused in some of the fight descriptions, and I'm just now realizing I finally learned the who but I'm still a little shaky on the how, but overall I enjoyed the book and will likely read others in the series.

An excerpt of the first three chapters of The Affair can be found on Child’s website. Also on the website is the news that another Reacher novel, One Shot, is due to begin filming on September 27, the same day The Affair is due in stores. Tom Cruise is signed to star. Child is said to be thrilled because he doesn’t want a literal translation. He is certain to get his wish since Reacher is supposed to be a 6’5” dirty blond!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Do you dare to dream of impossibilities? Or the what ifs and wishes of life that seem just out of reach in your imagination? If so, then come to the night circus where impossibilities can become real. Let your senses become overwhelmed in all that there is and will be at Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams).

The Night Circus weaves together the lives of two young magicians as they compete in a competition.  Marco and Celia challenge each other to grander ideas and feats than are imaginable (hence the arena being a circus). As the book progresses love interests develop and the fates of the cast members of the circus may not rest in their own hands any more.

This book was a delight to read in my opinion. Granted it did take a little bit for the text to hold my attention, but once I reached that spot, I couldn't put it down. It was artfully written full of descriptions of the Night Circus and the tents that comprise it. When I closed my eyes, I could picture the various places and people. It tactfully entwines the lives of Marco and Celia as they go about their lives creating tents for this circus and compete in the game. By looking at the characters within this book, we see how our decisions and actions can affect those around us. I think this is a great book to read for adults. I wish this place was real and I could be a reveurs ( a fan of the circus).

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

I just finished "The Dovekeepers" by Alice Hoffman. The very wordy story was set in Isreal shortly after the time of Jesus. I liked the main characters and how the author wound their very diverse lives into the story, but the book was entirely too long. The author repeated the same description of the times, the land, and the characters too many times. I would have liked the book if it could be shortened.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Ideal Man by Julie Garwood

(Posted by GPL staff Jane for patron Liz M)

The Ideal Man is a contemporary witty romance with two delightful lead characters—Dr. Ellie Sullivan, a brilliant surgeon, and Max Daniels, an FBI agent. The two meet when Ellie is witness to a crime in progress and Max is assigned to protect her from the criminals trying to prevent her from testifying. It doesn’t take long for a serious attraction to develop. However, they both realize that before they consider the future they must deal with the present—not only a hit man, but also a psychotic stalker from Ellie’s past. This is a nice, light, enjoyable read.

The Ideal Man is a contemporary love story with two delightful lead characters, a tantalizing romance, and enough humor and adventure to satisfy the most prudent reader. If you like Jayne Ann Krentz, you’ll enjoy this gem.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

I had very high expectations for the awesomeness of Where Things Come Back as soon as I laid eyes on the cover. (Yes, I judge books by their covers.) The retro font face and indie, folk arty vibe of the cover art immediately won me over. Thankfully, Whaley’s unique voice did the illustration justice. Even though I am well past my teenage years, I easily related to the star character of the book. Cullen Witter is an apathetic, bored teen growing up in the nowhere town of Lily, Arkansas. Seems like a pretty tame story until a Steve Irwin wannabe shows up in Lily advertising his rediscovery of the extinct Larazus Woodpecker. And the quirkiness doesn’t end there, folks! There is a religious zealot, a missing brother, a blossoming romance with a divorcee--this book has subplot in spades. Yet somehow, much to my utter astonishment, Whaley made his totally off-the-wall storyline not only suspenseful, but believable.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is a delightful first mystery. Set at a fading mansion in 1950s England, it features and 11-year-old aspiring chemist (with a profound interest in poisons) as its protagonist. Flavia de Luce is precocious but believable.

This was my second reading - it's this month's Book Club book at the Galesburg Public Library - and I enjoyed it just as much as the first time through. While quite different in style from many "cozy" mysteries, it does not contain graphic violence, sex, or bad language. It's entertaining but refreshingly wholesome (although Flavia and her sisters do play some wicked tricks on each other). There are some plot twists that are not particularly believable, but they do not detract greatly from the story.

The fourth Flavia mystery is due out this fall and I am very much looking forward to it.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cloaked by Alex Flinn

Cloaked is an excellent example of its type of story - a fractured fairy tale set in modern times. While the plot was very predictable and the hero quite dense at times, the hero had an interesting voice and I enjoyed the way the tale was told. Even though I saw where the story was going, it was still fun going there, and things happened that I did not expect. I listened to the audiobook on a long car ride and it kept me thoroughly entertained.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I Married you for happiness by Lily Tuck

I didn't finish this book completely - only about half of it. The idea of keeping her dead husband overnight in her bed wihtout reporting the death, disgusted me. I am a widow of a man who died at home unexpectedly. The disjointed reliving of the life of Nina and Philip doesn't give a story that is interesting to follow and the interspersed French phrases which are not translated do nothing to help me become interested. Perhaps if I understood French and was not so put off by the mental picture of Philip lying dead beside her, I might have been more willing to finish the book.

Mary Edwards

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

David Lamb is a middle-aged man who has been asked to take a little time off from his job after an affair with a much younger woman at the office. His wife has finally left him, and his father has just died. One day he is approached in the street by a provocatively dressed young girl who asks him for a cigarette. It turns out she has been put up to this on a dare from her “friends,” two attractive bullies who enjoy pushing her around. Tommie is a freckled, ordinary, lonely and neglected eleven-year-old. To give her a scare and prevent her from agreeing to such dares in the future, Lamb pushes her in his car, drives her home, and gives her a lecture.

Although he succeeds in frightening Tommie, nonetheless the next time they see each other they begin a relationship. They begin to seek each other out. Tommie is loved but neglected by her mother and her mother’s new boyfriend. Lamb feels compelled to pay her some attention, feed her, buy her a new coat to keep her warm. Slowly, their relationship builds until Lamb begins to spin out a fantasy for Tommie in which they run away and take a vacation together in the west. Eventually, the fantasy turns into reality and the pair take off in Lamb’s car after a carefully planned exit.

Lamb is the debut novel by Bonnie Nadzam. It tells the story of the car trip Tommie and David take and details their growing intimacy. Lamb is a creepy psychological study in which very little happens, and yet I still had trouble putting it down. There is no graphic sex or violence, but the increasing dread of what is going to happen next propels the story forward. David Lamb takes few steps to prevent others from seeing him with the girl and doesn’t even bother to keep their story straight. Sometimes she is his niece, while other times his daughter. Because of the main character’s incautious behavior, I became very fearful about where the story line was going.

At every step, Lamb reassures himself (but not the reader) that he isn’t doing anything wrong. Everything is being done to help Tommie, to make her a stronger and more confident girl, to give her experiences she’ll never have back home in Chicago. As I was reading Lamb, I actually reached a point where part of me really didn’t want to keep reading. However, if I put the book aside I picked it up again almost immediately.

I found Lamb a very compelling read, and now that I’ve finished the book I can’t help thinking about the characters. There are aspects of the plot that are a little thin – for example, it’s hard to believe once Tommie goes missing that someone would not have seen and reported Lamb and the girl, especially since the author even mentions the presence of security cameras – but they do not significantly undermine the believability of the book. The characters of David and Tommie feel both real and true. Lamb will get you thinking about age, love, life, and experience.

Lamb will be published on September 13, 2011.

Monday, August 1, 2011

In Bed with a Highlander

My name is Beth and I like romance novels. Before you dismiss me consider this: According to the Romance Writers of America website, “In 2009, romance was the second top-performing category on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly best-seller lists, beat only by the movie tie-in category.” Also, in 2008 more than 74 million people read at least one romance novel. So out of 311 million Americans (and that’s a 2011 estimate), I would be among 23%. I prefer historical romances, and even more particularly Regency romances—I love to let out my inner Jane Austen. But regardless of a romance’s subgenre, RWA explains that there are two basic components of every romance novel: “a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying optimistic [emphasis added] ending.”

So In Bed with a Highlander firmly fits in the romance category. As a bonus, because of its medieval setting, it has a brawny alpha-male hero (seriously misrepresented on the cover), and because of its decidedly modern author it has a plucky heroine (whose cover version seems to be wearing lingerie from Target). Sadly, neither is enough to make me recommend this book. The main characters—Scottish versions of John and Mary (seriously, look it up if you don’t believe me) – aren’t original or compelling enough to care about their story. The story itself seems merely to be an excuse to order up One Dominating Hero, please, Extra-buff, but with a protective bent (as becomes a clan leader) and an unexpectedly gentle heart. Throw in a motherless son and you’ve got a great opportunity for Miss Plucky to rescue and be rescued, while giving the keep a makeover… of spirit.

Romance novels are supposed to have an optimistic ending, which is part of their appeal. According to The Romance Readers’ Advisory by Ann Bouricius, “Romances are about overcoming serious obstacles and coming out on the other side stronger for the struggle. Romances are about women winning.” Unfortunately, the plot seemed to include the kitchen sink of challenges for MP and her Highlander and I found myself wanting to tap my foot impatiently waiting for the last challenge to be presented and met with predictable measures.

In Bed with a Highlander, due out August 30th, might be interesting for a reader new to romance. As a bonus, sequels featuring the hero’s brothers will be coming out in successive months.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Crossing by Serita Jakes

The whisperings in the mind of a dying woman interspersed in the investigation taking place ten years after the incident of a shooting on a school bus give us a chilling story.

Claudia and Casio who spent the entire time on the floor of the bus with the dying teacher, B J, are victims too. The time of bleeding is only as long as it takes for a train to clear a crossing but the emotional damage and anxiety that devils the minds of both survivors won't let the two move past the nightmares and anxiety attacks. This is a gripping story which gives little hints in the new evidence found by Claudia's DA husband and Casio, a cop with a vicious streak. The answers are held away from us until the end when a confession and suicide bring us the answers.

A religious theme through the story shows a light of forgiveness and mercy for those willing to reach out for it. A good page turner.

Mary Edwards
Galesburg, IL