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

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Across Many Mountains by Yangsom Brauen

"Across Many Mountains"by Yangsom Brauen, is a very interesting and enlightening story about Tibet and it's people. You'll learn about the Buddhist religion and the stree it is undergoing with it's people scattered all over the world. This is a very timely story since the Dalai Lama just recently visited with the president of the United States.

You'll learn that the tight-knit Tibetan family ties are the only thing that helps them weather all the struggles brought about by the Chinese occupation of their lands.

I enjoyed the book very much and would highly recomment it to all my friends.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Paris Correspondent

This is an engaging book from beginning to end. I have always admired a good journalist and this book shows some at their best. A good story about journalism and journalists with their own stories.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I Married You For Happiness by Lily Tuck

Nina sits at the bedside of her husband Philip, who has just passed away from a sudden cardiac arrest. Over the course of one night, she holds vigil over his body while remembering some of the key moments of their relationship. This novel, the fifth by Lily Tuck, is a collection of those remembrances, conveyed in short and - in my opinion - disjointed vignettes. Tuck documents everything from Nina and Philip's first meeting in Paris to their final conversation (a throwaway as she prepares his dinner and he goes upstairs for a nap); however, these moments in time are not recorded chronologically but, rather, as they happen to cross Nina's mind during the long night she spends at his side. This jumping around in time, coupled with the sparseness of the language, made the book almost incomprehensible to me. I felt no real connection to the characters or their lives, and without that framework of investment to grab on to it was difficult to care about (or follow) all of their random conversations from over the years. If you are a reader who likes to be gripped by a good story, I wouldn't recommend this book. I could see it being an interesting choice, though, for someone looking for a more experimental format.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dancing on Glass by Pamela Binnings Ewen

From the beginning chapter something is wrong, Amalise is injured badly, Phillip her husband is missing. The story is interspersed with a Mother's worry and feeling of something wrong with the man her daughter is seeing.

The author uses the glass metaphor throughout. The last name of Sharp and the use of carving and paint knives to build our sense of uneasiness. This story is gripping and suspense filled as we know damage has been done, but, how has it been done.

Amalise talks to her God, Abba, all her life and believes she is led by him to help the people she loves. She thinks she can change people with her strength of faith and her absorption of their hurts. She is manipulated through mental and finally physical abuse.

I enjoyed this story and would look for other stories by this same author.

Mary Edwards
Galesburg, IL

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone

Disclaimer: I am a doll collector, a Barbie fan, and president of a doll club. The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us traces a bit of Barbie's history but is mostly about her existence as a cultural icon. It is not stridently anti-Barbie, so if that's what you are looking for this is not the book for you. It presents Barbie in both a positive and a negative light.

I've read a number of books on Barbie, and there wasn't really anything new in this one, but I found it interesting all the same. If you are looking for a short (107 page) book that touches on the Barbie doll in culture, this is a good selection.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

(A Different Take on) Plugged by Eoin Colfer

(Dear Reader, I would have posted this simply as a comment on Norm's post, but Blogger doesn't allow for formatting on comments.)

Reading Eoin Colfer always makes me feel like I've stumbled into Boy World. As the mother of three girls, I can't rightly claim to know a lot about what Boy World looks like, but I'm fairly sure there would be fighting, swearing, gizmos and fart jokes. In the techno/fantasy Artemis Fowl series, for example, one character has the ability to burrow through the earth by virtue of his unhingeable, super-strong jaw. Of course, all that pulverized stone has to go somewhere and in Boy World, that need is too irresistible not to address. And yet, Colfer's playful ease with language hooks me like those neighborhood boys who used to revel in telling us girls dirty jokes. Repellingly intriguing, repellingly funny.

In Plugged, Daniel McEvoy, Irish ex-army, ex-pat with a psychological need to pro-tect, finds himself embroiled in a noir-ish* nightmare, trying to solve the murder of his could-be girlfriend, hostess at the seedy casino for which he serves as a bouncer. Accompanying Dan on his self-appointed mission is the subconscious voice of his presumed-dead friend, who practiced plastic surgery without the benefit of a license, morals and probably sobriety. Like Artemis, McEvoy also strikes an uneasy partnership with an extremely confident (see definition 7) female cop, unlike Artemis, McEvoy is fully adult. The Adult Situations never stray beyond the PG-13 range, although the Action and Language would likely encourage those MPAA folk to dial up the rating. Which brings up a pet peeve: Colfer's writing does sometimes seem like a novel in search of a screenplay. On the other hand, the quippy dialogue would probably play well and this is Boy World without the gross adolescent humor so prevalent in current “comedies.”

This one's not going to win the Pulitzer, but I found it enjoyable for a light read.

*If noir-ish means battling an existential crisis simultaneously battling dudes from the seething underbelly. But in a funny way.

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke

I have loved Dick Van Dyke since I was a kid. Mary Poppins was the first movie I paid to see more than once in the movie theater (and it was 30 years before I did that again), and the Dick Van Dyke show is my all time favorite tv show. In junior high we had to write a report on a contemporary hero (someone living we admired), and I picked Carl Reiner while everyone else in the class was picking Dorothy Hamill and Barry Manilow.

All that said, I was bound to find this book interesting and I did. Carl Reiner's books about the show are better, but that's not surprising since he is the writer and Dick Van Dyke is the actor. For an actor's memoir, this is an enjoyable read.

A More Perfect Heaven by Dava Sobel

Author Dava Sobel, known for her best selling books Longitude, Galileo's Daughter and The Planets, has written a book about Copernicus. This book chronicles the times and publication of Nicolaus Copernicus' theories regarding the motions of our planets and their relationship to our sun. Sobel describes the life Copernicus led until meeting Georg Joachim Rheticus, a young mathematician who urged the reluctant Copernicus to publish his work. The social, political and religious climate of the time is described. Then Sobel inserts a second part in the form of a short play which imaginatively deals with Copernicus and Rheticus, their first encounter and some of their subsequent work together. The third section of the book picks up where the play ends, telling about the publication and contoversial reception of Copernicus' heliocentric theory. Sobel's book is coming out in the fall, accompanied by an ambitious marketing campaign worthy of such an established author. It will be interesting to see if the book reaches the same popularity of her earlier books. It's been awhile since I've read Longitude and Galileo's Daughter. My memory may have faded. However, I don't believe I found them to be as dry, lacking in energy and momentum as this upcoming release. Copernicus doesn't come alive except in the somewhat awkwardly placed, Shakespearean-feeling play section. Perhaps some of the lack of the more dynamic elements found in Sobel's previous books is due to the fact that Copernicus was a rarther withdrawn person, quietly working alone for years on his studies while conscientiously performing his church and medical duties. Copernicus died just as his work On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres was published, withdrawing him from the active stage of the controversies which followed, embroiling Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler and Galileo in the ridicule and censure Copernicus feared for himself.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Plugged by Eoin Colfer

This is by the author of the middle-grade Artemis Fowl fantasy series, but it is adult, with an overload of violence and one graphic sex scene. It features an Irish Army vet named Daniel McEvoy now living in New Jersey and working as a bouncer at a casino. It's noir and comic, with nice touches like several characters, including the protagonist, concerned with hair plugs (one source of the title), and two main mysteries: who murdered the hostess Daniel had had a relationship with, and where is the friend Daniel thinks is probably dead--and who he carries on a continual conversation with inside his own head. There are tough cops, a gang boss, and other assorted weird and violent types, just as there should be.

The violence is everywhere, and so are the wisecracks. Some of this is good, and some is just plain overdone. When you make almost every line a wisecrack, you strain both quality control and your reader, and comic or not, some of our hero's physical feats make it hard to suspend disbelief. There is a sense here that the author tries too hard. I went back and forth between enjoying and being distracted by things that were too much or just didn't seem right. Some readers will land more on one side of this split reaction, some on the other.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Witch and Wizard by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

As an adult reader who loves well-written young adult fantasy novels, I found Witch and Wizard devoid of any original thought. It is trite and uninteresting, filled with cookie-cutter characters and tired clich├ęs. I literally rolled my eyes at the first mention of “The Prophecy,” and heard myself scoff aloud a number of times (for example, when the phrase “tricks are for kids” was shortly followed by “gone with the wind” and then by “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”). It’s repetitive and contains a lot of action that doesn’t seem to move the story forward. The repressive government and colorless bad guys have no standout characteristic to make them the least bit interesting. Unfortunately, neither do the good guys. The attempts at humor are lame and uninspired.

I listened to the audio version, and while the voice actors (Elijah Wood and Spencer Locke) were excellent, I found myself longing for the book to end. The book opens with a cliffhanger but ends well before the moment of the cliff. I will not be carrying forward to book two to find out what happens. There is clearly an audience for this series, but I am not it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Wade Watts lives in a dismal, dying future America. Cities are crumbling, swallowed up by poverty and crime, and the only escape for humanity is a vast online utopia called the Oasis, an all-encompassing version of today's Second Life where people (via avatars) can go to school, work, and play on thousands of virtual planets. When the founder of the Oasis -- a gaming-obsessed recluse named James Halliday -- dies, he hides a series of elaborate puzzles deep inside the game, promising his multi-billion dollar fortune to the lucky person who can solve them. The ultimate scavenger hunt ensues. Millions of Oasis users spend years struggling to decode Halliday's clues, most of which are based around obscure references to 1980's pop culture (Halliday's favorite). Creative, funny, and endlessly energetic, this book was a pleasure to read. The characters felt like old friends by the time I finished. As an admitted Facebook addict, I could relate to the tricky lure of a virtual world's easy fixes -- and I always enjoy a nice "geek makes good" story. The pop culture references were a lot of fun to unravel; while they didn't all resonate with me personally, it made me happy to imagine that somewhere, some reader was recognizing a favorite piece of nostalgia and, say, raising a Vulcan hand salute in appreciation.

Ready Player One will be published on August 16, 2011.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Ranger's Apprentice: The Emperor of Nihon-Ja by John Flanagan

The Ranger's Apprentice series is a solid fantasy series with interesting characters (particularly Ranger Halt) and good writing. The fantasy world is fantastical without being so complicated it is impossible to keep the geography and language straight.

Although not genius or good-v.-evil epic, each book is an enjoyable read, and unlike many series, I think they got better as the series went along. The Emperor of Nihon-Ja is the 10th and final book in the series and it wraps everything up in a satisfactory manner. Although this series is considered a children's book, I am an adult and I recommend it for all ages

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Beekeeper's Lament by Hannah Nordhaus

Confession: I have spent an inordinate amount of time in my adult life nursing pastoral fantasies. With all the urban farming manuals and memoirs out nowadays, there are plenty of opportunities to indulge my wannabe Laura Ingalls Wilder, without actually, you know, having to commit to caring for livestock. My latest love is The Beekeeper’s Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America. The book tracks commercial beekeeper John Miller on his gypsy nomad/businessman tour of American beekeeping. Miller is a true delight with his quirky turns of phrase, old school ethics, and cheeky attitude. Read this book, and you’ll never look at those plastic bears in your cabinets the same way again.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Around 1900, a circus mysteriously appears in new locations, stays for an undetermined amount of time, and disappears just as mysteriously. Although it all seems like a great illusion to normal circus-goers, the circus is actually fueled by magic and two young magicians who have been placed against their wills in a duel they cannot control or get out of. Their attraction toward each other seems inevitable to all but their masters.

Are you a circus fan? I am not and in fact find them a bit creepy. No doubt that contributed to my feeling that this is a creepy book, although the child abuse could be a factor as well. (The person who sets up one of the two magicians in the contest is her father, and he sees no problem in injuring her to force her to heal herself and improve her magic.)

I found the jumps in time very hard to follow, and there are so many characters that at the end I still felt that I could not keep them straight. However, the plot feels original and fresh, and I think this novel will be wildly popular with the right reader. Anyone who loves magic, fantasy, and a little darkness in the books they read should definitely give it a try.