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 clich├ęd 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.