Thursday, May 31, 2012

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I loved Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. There is nothing original about the book’s basic description: a coming-of-age novel about a teenaged girl with a dark secret, who feels like a monster, who IS a monster, who meets a man she is attracted to but can’t have, who lives in a world where two different types of beings, humans and dragons, share an uneasy truce.

All the same, Seraphina feels fresh and original. The character development, the relationships between the characters, and the plot all took turns that I did not expect. The author does an excellent job of world building and getting inside the head of main character Seraphina.

In Seraphina’s world, dragons can take human form. The dragons in this book reminded me of Star Trek’s Vulcans. Dragons aren’t supposed to have emotions. When they take human form, however, they experience human emotions, and they find those emotions are hard to ignore. Seraphina is half human and half dragon, and beings like her aren’t supposed to exist. Seraphina’s dragon mother, now dead, married Seraphina’s father without revealing her true draconic nature.

Although there is a romance for Seraphina in the book, the most touching relationship is between Seraphina and her uncle Orma, a dragon who lives as a human scholar most of the time. Because she must hide her dragon parentage, they cannot be open about their relationship. He is not supposed to care if she lives or dies, but he does.

Seraphina is one of those rare books that I did not want to end. I’m still thinking about the characters and the world. The end clearly hints at a sequel. I’m already on the lookout for it. I read an advance reader copy of Seraphina, but I will definitely buy my own copy once it is available in July. (The cover art looks awesome.)

If you like fantasy, I highly recommend Seraphina. I know some fantasy readers aren’t wild about dragons, but I urge you not to let the dragons in this book put you off. They may surprise you.

Harry Lipkin, Private Eye by Barry Fantoni

Harry Lipkin is an 87-year-old Jewish detective living in Warmheart, Florida. He gets a visit from a Mrs. Norma Weinberger. Mrs. Weinberger is a wealthy widow with a large staff. Small items have been disappearing from her home, and she knows it must be one of her staff. She hires Harry to investigate.

Harry Lipkin, Private Eye by Barry Fantoni is narrated by Harry, and he sounds like a real 87-year-old Jewish detective living in Florida. He describes his days as he goes about investigating the staff. He has a wry sense of humor. He calls on old buddies to get information to further his case. He describes the concessions he makes due to his age.

Towards the end, Harry orchestrates a classic confrontation right out of Agatha Christie. He gathers together the chauffeur, the butler, the gardener, the chef and the maid for the big reveal. This was mildly amusing. In fact, overall I found Harry Lipkin, Private Eye pleasant and mildly amusing, despite figuring out ‘who done it” long before the end. It is not a bad book, but it didn’t grab me. However, I don’t think I am this book’s prime audience. Someone closer to Harry’s life circumstances might really enjoy this book. It is a short 208 pages, very quick and easy to read. I read an advanced copy; it is scheduled to be published on July 10.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Orphan Master by Jean Zimmerman

Relatively well written, filled with historic period detail, the murder mystery The Orphan Master nevertheless disturbingly deals with gruesome pathologic killings based on a flesh-eating Algonquin Indian folklore demon. The story takes place in the mid-1660s in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. Author Jean Zimmerman weaves political tensions into her story as the colony is on the cusp of being overtaken by the British. Details of everyday life, habits, commerce and power struggles are interesting. But the co-developing love story does nothing to diminish the brutish nature of the sick crimes portrayed. The book’s cover calls the story “Lively, fast paced, and full of colorful characters….a dramatic page-turner.” Such light-hearted descriptions ignore the darkness of the story. It is not for the sensitive reader.


posted for reader C.C.

EarthFlight by John Downer

EarthFlight by John Downer shows incredible images of birds in flight from the birds' point of view. The makers travelled around the world using imprinted birds, ultralight planes, and tiny cameras to capture what it's like to be in the sky with flying birds for a BBC program.

The images are incredible and the text interesting. However, I'm sure you really need to see the video to truly appreciate the images. EarthFlight the book is a tantalizing glimpse at what the video must be like. The BBC DVD is not yet out in the US. I really look forward to watching it (and buying it for the library's collection) once it is available. In the meantime, EarthFlight is available for checkout at the library. If you like birds or have ever wondered what it's like to fly with them, I think you will enjoying browsing through EarthFlight.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Some Kind Of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

This is a story intersperced with quotes about folklore to give us the thought that this world is posssibly true.   The Fairy/Elf world has always been a world we have told stories about and was a possibility because generations have believed in it.
Our story has an engrossing idea that keeps you reading.  Has a girl become a fairy after being with them for six months (in her mind's record) or twenty years (in her family's record) ?  We follow Tara in her return to a home and family she has struggled to find again.  But, life has changed and more years have passed for which she cannot account.  All have grown older and moved on without her.  All but Richie who loved her and suffers now because she has come back different. 
A magical tale to hold your reading interest is what we see in "Some Kind of Fairy Tale".

Mary E

Saturday, May 26, 2012

See You at Harry's, by Jo Knowles

See You at Harry's tells the story of Fern, a 12-year-old girl who feels invisible when surrounded by the craziness that is her family.  Her older sister is surly and detached, her older brother is consumed with avoiding the school bullies that torment him, her father spends his time dreaming up obnoxious advertising schemes for the family business (a diner/ice cream parlor named - you guessed it - Harry's), and both of her parents spend whatever spare moments they have left doting on Fern's 3-year-old brother Charlie, a Gerber cherub of the highest order who is adored by everyone he meets.  Fern just wants to be normal, to fit in, and to get just the tiniest bit of positive attention from... well, from anyone, really.  But when an unexpected tragedy strikes the family, any hope of normalcy flies out the window.  The family is plunged into grief, and what's worse: Fern feels responsible.

Lauren Myracle, in her review blurb for this book, said "Sometimes your heart has to break before it can heal."  That pretty much sums up my experience of reading this book.  Fern's story broke my heart -- I mean, really, it ripped it right up into little pieces -- and then somehow, by the end of the book, it was whole again.  Jo Knowles created such wonderful characters; I was instantly drawn into their world and cared deeply for them.  The story was perfectly paced, making for a quick read.  I would have finished it in one sitting, had I not needed to take periodic breaks to go cry and hug my babies.  Let me be clear: this is one seriously sad book.  But it is also a beautiful book.  I can't recommend it highly enough.

Fated, by Alyson Noel

Submitted by Sharon, teen reviewer:

Fated follows Daire Santos, a 16-year-old girl who sees things people normally wouldn't see.  When she gets to live with her grandmother, she finds what she's never found before.  I loved this book!  It sucked me in.  What I loved most about Fated is that Alyson Noel created such a world where you (I definitely did) could lose yourself in.  I'm definitely waiting for the next book in the series.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Golden Voice by Ted Williams

A Golden Voice is Ted William's story of his descent from a position as the number-one drive-time DJ in Columbus, Ohio to 17 years of homelessness, crack cocaine addiction, theft, pimping, and begging.  While it could be a useful read for those struggling with addiction, it is nowhere near a fresh, interesting, or well-written enough story to justify yet another tell-all memoir with a national marketing campaign.  In fact, much more interesting than Ted's story is that of his girlfriend Kathy, of which we only get brief tastes here and there.  I've listened to the You-Tube clip that gave him another chance at a decent life, and he does have a great voice, but it's way too soon to put a period on this and call it a story of "redemption."  Let us know in a few years, Ted.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Taken by Vicki Pettersson

Fallen angels and rockabilly lifestyle collide in this fantasy fiction book.  Grif (the angel) and Kit (the rockabilly reporter) become friends after Kit's best friend is murdered.  Through twists and turns and a thick plot the author creates a fabulous mystery in the depths of Sin City itself: Las Vegas, Nevada.

When I was reading this book, I found the beginning to be slow at first, but as I progressed I became thoroughly pleased with the mysteriousness of the plot. It had me reading til the end.  I do have to say it is not a book for the wholesome people out there as certain parts of the book are risque. I would be interested to see  what happens next with these characters. 

Emerald City by Alicia K. Leppert

A despondent young woman grieving over the loss of her mother is saved from a half-hearted suicide attempt by a mysterious and other worldly stranger. If this description interests you, you are the audience for Emerald City.

I enjoyed reading it, but there were no surprises in the plot or character development. It is set in Seattle, and I liked the references to Seattle locations and landmarks.

The narrative switches from Olivia in first person to Jude in third person, and I found that distracting. I would have preferred the voices of Olivia and Jude to alternate or for the whole story to have been told in third person.

Emerald City reminded me of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, although it does not have Twilight's emotional resonance. I'd call it "Twilight light." It seems poised for a sequel, but can also stand alone if none is ever written. If you enjoy paranormal romances, I recommend Emerald City.

For another take on Emerald City, see Hillary's review here:

Friday, May 18, 2012

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent is the second book in a series set in a damaged but recognizable future Chicago. 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 Tris does just that. Most of the first novel, Divergent, covered the training she had to 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.) The first book closed with a big battle.

I enjoyed the first book but found it a little draggy (see my full review here: ). The second book does not drag but moves at a fast pace, introducing new characters and situations as we get to know better some of the characters who survived the battle in book 1. Insurgent ends with a Big Reveal that does address one of my questions from the first book - how does society get broken into factions?

If you enjoyed The Hunger Games and are looking for another dystopian series, I recommend this series by Veronica Roth. You need to start with book 1, Divergent; this is not a series you can easily start in the middle.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

House of Stone by Anthony Shadid

Pulitzer Prize winning news correspondent Anthony Shadid writes about his experience of rehabilitating the age and war-damaged home of his great grandparents in Lebanon. Unlike any television show about house renovations, House of Stone goes beyond descriptions of setbacks, procurement of materials, no-shows and delays by contractors and workmen. Anthony Shadid also interweaves the history of the house, the people who built and lived in it with the history of the town, the region and the country of Lebanon. He tells about a variety of people who work on the house and live in the town. His narrative spans decades of turmoil from the early twentieth century to the present. Sometimes the turmoil was in personal relationships. Sometimes the turmoil was and is of national and international making, affecting families, separating them from each other, from home.

In renovating his great-grandfather's house, Shadid sought to repair not only it but something of himself after spending years in war-torn Iraq. While Lebanon is hardly a sanctuary of peace, the inspiration and connection to the house provided Shadid both insight to a lost way of life and a found sense of renewal. His writing captures location and personalities with poignancy as well as dry humor.

Posted for reviewer Cynthia H.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

 Wow. Amped by Daniel H. Wilson is a great and thought-provoking book. It hits the ground running and hardly pauses for breath.

The book opens with a twenty-nine-year-old math teacher perched on the roof of his high school, pleading with one of his students not to jump. It’s some time not too far in the future. Medical implants called amps are in use throughout the world. At first, they were used to control epileptic seizures and artificial limbs. Then a government program brought them to children and others suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome and low IQs. The amps can assist with medical issues, but Neural Autofocus implants can also amplify intelligence.

The young woman on the roof has an amp and has lost a case before the Supreme Court, which declared that “implanted citizens are not a protected class.” The math teacher has an amp too, but only to control his epilepsy. His amp is only for medical purposes. At least that what he’s been told.

A quasi-religious group called Pure Pride and led by a charismatic senator arises, protesting the use of amps. Members of Echo Squad, a secret military organization with a special class of amps, are suspected of terrorism. Offices are bombed. Medical research is seized. People with amps are herded into ghettos and stripped of their rights.

Scattered throughout the book are fictional court cases referencing real ones (like Brown v. Board of Education), news updates from the BBC, CNN, and various real newspapers, acts of Congress, a recall notice from the Food and Drug Administration, and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. These have the effect of making the book seem like a nonfiction memoir of real events rather than a novel.

Amped feels current and relevant, and it touches on all kinds of societal issues. Although they are not mentioned, Amped will make you think about such issues as U.S. immigration policies, the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control and abortion, and the fight over health care. It will make you remember Oklahoma City and 9/11. And it will make you think about charismatic leaders pushing their own agendas and what personal demons might lay behind their actions.

But don’t let all this talk about heavy issues put you off Amped. It’s a great read, fast-paced and with interesting characters and plenty of plot twists. It will make a great book for discussion, whether at a formal book club or around your dinner table.

There is an added bonus for those who live in Galesburg. The book is divided into parts, and each part starts with a quotation from a real person. Part 2 opens with Carl Sandburg’s poem The Hammer.

I read an advance release copy of Amped. It is scheduled to be released on June 5.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Stitch Before Dying by Anne Canadeo

Nothing screams rainy weather comfort to me like settling down with a cozy mystery. Yes indeed, the cozy mystery is my supreme guilty pleasure. When I’m feeling depressed by dreary weather I find myself drawn to mysteries about handicrafts, cooking, and little hamlets on the Eastern Seaboard. I have yet to find another series that can fulfill my cuddly-read desires quite like Anne Canadeo’s Black Sheep Knitting Mysteries. Each of these tales centers around five friends of varying ages and interests brought together by a shared love of knitting. My only gripe about this series is that Canadeo could really use an editor besides spell check. The tendency for her books to contain a handful of easily caught errors has almost turned into a game of sport for me. How many typos can I nab this time, Canadeo? All silliness aside, the true appeal of the Black Sheep series lies in the Black Sheep Knitters and the trials and tribulations of this close-knit circle of friends. In A Stitch Before Dying the crew takes off for a spa vacation only to have all hopes of relaxation dashed when a killer strikes, leaving the Black Sheep Knitters rocked and wondering who might be next.

If you enjoy a good campy mystery, I would highly recommend trying out Anne Canadeo and the Black Sheep Knitters. Not only are the Black Sheep Knitters endearing, but the storylines are compelling and often surprising. Canadeo also kicks the kitschy awesomeness up a notch by including links to knitting projects mentioned in the book and recipes from the characters. Crafts, cooking, and reading: the cozy trifecta.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

Why are all the fairy tales about the girls? Why do all the fairy tale heroines seem to end up with Prince Charming? If you believe The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, it’s all the fault of the lazy bards who wrote the songs. They couldn’t be bothered to get the names of the heroes straight; they just called them all “Prince Charming.”

In The Hero’s Guide, we meet Gustav, Duncan, Frederic, and Liam – the princes of Rapunzel, Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, respectively. They are not exactly “charming,” at least not all of them. (But then, the four princesses are not all we’ve been led to believe in fairy tales either.) Each prince starts off on his own, with his own troubles to deal with, before eventually running into all the others and forming a league of princes. They don’t like each other very much at first, but as they spend time together – fighting monsters, planning rescues, getting captured by and then escaping from bandits - they learn to appreciate the individual strengths that each prince has.

The Hero’s Guide is funny and smart. (“Here we are, the four Princes Charming. All together in one place!” says Duncan. “Prince Charmings,” Gustav counters. “No, Princes Charming,” Duncan corrects. “‘Prince’ is the noun; that’s what gets pluralized. ‘Charming’ is an adjective; you can’t add an S to it like that.” “It sounds stupid,” Gustav replies.)

I read an advance copy of The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. The book jacket says it’s for grades 3-7. I’m an adult no longer classified by my school grade, and I found the book entertaining and charming (yes, pun intended). If you like new angles on old tales, you may enjoy this book. The ending hints at sequels, to cover further lessons on becoming a hero and to resolve some unresolved romance issues, and I look forward to more adventures with the league of princes.