Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gold by Chris Cleave

Gold is about 4 people going for the gold in two different circumstances. 3 are cyclists with the Olympics on their minds and 1 is a little girl with an illness with a golden heart full of love. Zoe and Kate met when they were 19 at the cycling center where they learned how to train their bodies to be the fittest possible to achieve record breaking and gold medal winning speeds.  Now at 32, each of them are trying to earn their spots to compete in the 2012 Olympics.  However, when Kate's daughter Sophie suddenly takes a turn for the worse she is faced with a tough decision. Make her daughter proud and compete in the Olympics or give up her dreams to spend time with her daughter?  What would you do for the ones you loved?

Sophie on the other hand doesn't want to get in her mother's way of being an Olympic competitor and therefore does not tell her family when she is feeling worse and worse each day.  She says winning gold would make her feel better. Will her decision be the last one made? What will her mom and father think? Read to find out!!

Gold is a book that will make you rethink all of your relationships with friends, your spouse, your parents, coworkers, anyone. I think it is a really good book to read especially with the Olympics coming up.  I enjoyed reading it.  It is fast-paced with your several heart in your throat moments.  It was hard for me not to become caught up with the characters in this story. I enjoyed reading it.  

I think the description that Amazon has for this book sums it up nicely
 "Echoing the adrenaline-fueled rush of a race around the Velodrome track, Gold is a triumph of superbly paced, heart-in-throat storytelling. With great humanity and glorious prose, Chris Cleave examines the values that lie at the heart of our most intimate relationships, and the choices we make when lives are at stake and everything is on the line."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rescue by Anita Shreve

Everyone has that friend who is only attracted to jerks, hot messes, the fix up case. Peter Webster is maddeningly one of those people. Rescue details the ups and downs of Peter’s love affair with Shelia, the woman he met at the scene of a drunk driving car accident. Yes, Shelia was the drunk. Peter the responsible, knight-in-shining-armor EMT. *smacks forehead* What could possibly further thicken the plot of this disaster romance? Why a baby, of course! Fast forward eighteen years, and Shelia is predictably not in the picture. Peter is raising their daughter, Rowan, alone. Now Rowan is picking up some nasty habits herself, leaving Peter to turn to his past for help. While not as engaging as some of Shreve’s other works like Testimony and The Pilot’s Wife, Rescue will keep you on the edge of your seat and rooting for Webster the whole way. 

Get a copy of Rescue by Anita Shreve:

An Echo Through the Snow by Andrea Thalasinos

An Echo Through the Snow by Andrea Thalasinos

As I sit to write this review of the book I finished 4 days ago, I can’t remember how it ended.  This is not a good sign.  I remember struggling through the first half of the book, thinking the character acted, thought, and related in a much older manner than the 18 years she was prescribed.  She had a brief career in cosmetology, a brief pregnancy, a brief grief from the miscarriage, a brief drama with the boyfriend/ex-boyfriend.  And then her story really started about half way through the book. The real story is a girl being given undeserving time and resources by a couple who loved dogsled racing.  Their love for the sport, animals, speed and competition becomes her love.  The stability this provides for her allows her to overcome her brief life traumas, heal relationships and dare to love again. 

The Echo part of the book was far more intriguing and was portrayed by the telling of another woman’s story 70 years prior. The interplay of the two stories was quite interesting. I much preferred reading the storyline involving the Chukchi people of Siberia to the ones set in Wisconsin, modern day. Partly, because the “rural” Wisconsin town of less than 2000 people had all sorts of amenities that real small towns don’t have. The author missed the mark on the reality of small town, rural life. However, she did a superb weave in tying the two stories together.  Much thought was given to the details and it made me smile as I figured out where the patterns were taking me.

While it seems cliché to deem it a “decent first attempt” at a novel, that’s about all the praise I can give it.  It seemed there were several good storylines, but they lacked the development that drew me to want to keep reading.  As a film, it might be a success. The short snippets of story in the first half of the book could be portrayed quickly as background using sight and sound as entertainment allowing a person to tolerate the lack of depth.  

For the reader who loves dogsledding, the landscape and climate of the Northern US, or is interested in learning about the love of the sport, this book might be a refreshing drama.  For me, I kept trying to like the book but ended up disappointed. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is a quiet book with incredible tension that pulled me in from the first page. The narrator is Julia, a girl in middle school who lives with her parents in California. One day, experts announce that the earth’s rotation has changed, and the time of “the slowing” begins. “The freeways clogged immediately. People heard the news, and they wanted to move. Families piled into minivans and crossed state lines. They scurried in every direction like small animals caught suddenly under a light. But, of course, there was nowhere on earth to go.”

The book follows Julia and her family over the coming months and years as the earth’s rotation slows. Once I started reading it, I could not put The Age of Miracles down. The author does an excellent job presenting a plausible series of events on earth after the slowing begins. Days and nights become longer and longer, and humans and animals are affected in various ways. People struggle to carry on despite their worry and fear. Relationships falter.

The strain as the planet continues to slow gets more and more intense, and that’s what kept me reading. I felt like I too was living through 24 hour periods of sunlight followed by 24 hours of dark.

The Age of Miracles is a book driven almost entirely by character and world building. There is very little plot. The author is a good writer. She is able to believably capture the emotions of her characters and has a wonderful way with words. As the earth’s rotation slows, gravity is also affected, and the birds are among the first species to start dying and becoming extinct. While Julia and her father are taking a walk, her father spots a seagull. “I hadn’t seen a live one in weeks,” Julia says. “It did seem amazing, in that moment, that there had ever existed a creature with the power to fly.”

The last two chapters left me somewhat unsatisfied, and I was a bit puzzled by the title. It is taken from this passage: “This was middle school, the age of miracles, the time when kids shot up three inches over the summer, when breasts bloomed from nothing, when voices dipped and dove. Our first flaws were emerging, but they were being corrected. Blurry vision could be fixed invisibly with the magic of the contact lens. Crooked teeth were pulled straight with braces. Spotty skin could be chemically cleared. Some girls were turning beautiful. A few boys were growing tall. I knew I still looked like a child.” One of the questions throughout the book is how the main character’s childhood would have been different without the slowing, but the book is not enough about a normal middle school time period for the title to make sense to me.

However, that is a minor quibble. If you like good writing and getting sucked into a “what if” scenario, I recommend The Age of Miracles.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon

Place: Istanbul, Turkey
Time: 1945

Businessman and sometimes undercover agent and courier for the United States war effort, Leon Bauer is drawn into the increasingly complex post-war era of the emerging Cold War. Joseph Kanon, author of the bestseller The Good German, titles his new book Istanbul Passage. The title could refer not only to Istanbul’s historic, geographic location at the mouth of the Bosphorus, but also to the twists and turns Leon Bauer takes as he tries to navigate the world of espionage. He is faced with choices, dilemmas, dangers and various layers of allegiances, some kept, many broken. Although untrained in the world of deception, Bauer is adept in adjusting to each change. In the course of things he has changed. He has tried to do the right thing in spite of having only bad options and choices available. In the end he realizes he is not the same man he was when he first came to Istanbul with his wife some years before.

Having lived in Turkey for two years and visited Istanbul, I could appreciate Kanon’s depictions and details of the city. Like a complicated pattern of a Turkish carpet the story weaves local color with the twisted scruples of various characters as well as the blighted nature of a world emerging from war and knotting itself even tighter into a new one. Critics have rightly compared Kanon to authors John Le Carré and Graham Greene. Istanbul Passage provides intrigue and action as well as thought.

C. C.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer

Three Cups of Deceit sheds light on the myth of Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson. Krakauer, a well-known author of a number of excellent books, was conned by Mortenson along with many others. According to Krakauer's well-researched book, the accounting at the Central Asia Institute (Mortenson's charity) is highly suspect, and his books are filled with exaggerations and lies. Krakauer says that, were expenses reported honestly, "CAI's fundraising and administrative expenses would actually exceed 50 percent of its annual budget."

One of the things Mortenson has done is purchase tens of thousands of copies of his books to hand out for free at speaking engagements. A "significant number" were purchased using CAI's Pennies for Peace program ("contrary to Mortenson's frequent assertions that CAI uses 'every penny' of every donation made to Pennies for Peace to support schools"). By buying his books at retail, Mortenson earns royalties and augments his ranking on bestseller lists. In addition, many of the schools that have been built are called "ghost schools" because there is no support after the schools are built. "Even more alarming is the fact that a significant number of CAI school exist only on paper," writes Krakauer.

This is a disturbing book, especially since the information in it does not seem widely known. I highly recommend this book for anyone considering support Greg Mortenson's charity.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Red House by Mark Haddon

The Red House by Mark Haddon tells of a week’s vacation for eight family members in a rented English countryside house near Wales. Wealthy brother Richard has asked his estranged sister, Angela, and her husband and their three children, to join him and his new wife and step-daughter. In addition to luggage for the stay, each person has brought their own emotional and situational baggage with them. Through each of the character’s individual narrative voices, the reader learns, in rather an impressionistic manner the family members’ thoughts, opinions and troubles. Spoken words are not put into quotation marks as is usually done in novels. Rather they are italicized. Problems are not solved but are definitely aired and discovered. A few characters come to new insights about themselves and their relationships with others.

As each segment of the story is presented, the reader pieces together the history and nature of the characters, through their interactions with family members and friends, past and present, somewhat like a puzzle. The novel combines elements of tragedy and comedy with sensitivity. Descriptions are also done with an impressionistic verbal brush. The book is an inventive approach to modern life, relationships, growing up and learning to mature.

When I finished I wondered what would happen to each of the family members - the parents, the teenagers, the eight-year-old boy - as they drove off at the end of their holiday. At the close I also realized that the author has used the color red as a subtle accent throughout the book, from the color of the rented house to the car of the cleaning person coming to ready the house for the next renters. The house may be cleaned, but the lives of renters may still be in disarray.

Posted for reader C.C.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Submitted by Sharon, teen reviewer:

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry is a book that will literally pull you in.  She describes scenes and characters so well that I felt like it was a movie playing in my mind. Noah is just a typical guy on the outside, but soon you find - with twists and turns - what his high school experience has been like. Echo, in school, was thought of as "Miss Popular," until one year her life changed. Together Noah and Echo go on a long, intriguing, emotional journey to find what they never knew they needed.

Pushing the Limits will be published July 31, 2012.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a solid, well written book. A young girl discovers that she can sense the emotions of the people who made the food she is eating. The mother who seems so happy is filled with longing and emptiness. Rose learns to cope with her skill, relying on the impersonal factory-made items in the school vending machine for most of her sustenance. She learns more about her mother, her father, and herself. We watch the relationships among the members of her family, which includes a distant older brother. Her father won't - or can't - go in hospitals. Her brother keeps disappearing in an empty, thorough, disturbing way.

Narrated by Rose, the book has a strong and compelling voice. There are lovely, lyrical passages and phrases throughout the book. While I was not completely satisfied by the ending, I definitely recommend this book for readers who like literary fiction with a twist.

Friday, June 8, 2012

City Of Women by David R. Gillham

This is a very believable World War II story of the worries and fears of the women of Berlin in Germany, circa 1943.  The main character is drawn into an awareness of the cruelties being perpetrated,  in most instances , to others she knows and meets in her ever growing circle of women.  You feel the suspense of being watched and needing to watch out.  Also interwoven into her life are the men she likes and those she loves. 
A gripping and powerful story you don't want to put down.

Mary E.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

False Memory by Dan Krokos

Submitted by Jordan, teen reviewer:

This book is about a girl named Miranda. One day she woke up on a park bench with no memory of who she was or why she was there.  Then she met a guy named Peter who seemed like he knew what was going on.  She and Peter and two other people she was apparently friends with found out that they were supposed to be used as weapons against people. They also found out some surprising things about themselves. I can't say more without giving anything away.  This was a very good book and you should definitely read it.

False Memory will be released August 14, 2012.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

This is for young adults or the young at heart or just anybody who loves a good fairy tale.  It is a story of Delilah and Oliver.  Oliver is a character in a fairy tale that Delilah reads.  She falls in love with him and it just so happens that Oliver wants to be released from his book.  Is Delilah crazy for trying?

This book was an enjoyable read.  I love a good fairy tale and that exactly what this was.  It is told in three different perspectives: Oliver's, Delilah's and then chapters from Oliver's story Between the Lines.  Anybody who wants a lighthearted and fun read should read this book. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Man with the Baltic Stare by James Church

                The Man with the Baltic Stare is the fourth entry in the series about Inspector O, a policeman in North Korea. The series is written pseudonymously by a former intelligence officer with experience of North Korea and North Koreans who also posts on current events and policies adopted towards that closed off country, and one of the joys of the series is not only the glimpse into its culture but into the thoughts, attitudes, and ways its citizens, government and ordinary, react. It takes us far from the stereotype of mindless automatons devoted to the leader and the cause, but this is far from its only advantage.
            At least one critic has commented on how the series reminds him of the work of Raymond Chandler. This is partly because of the character of Inspector O, the first person narrator. Many authors have attempted to imitate Philip Marlowe, the wise-cracking, rebellious detective of The Big Sleep, but I don’t think this is imitation, but more like convergent evolution. It is true that both bounce around in investigations that are sprawling and confusing, with many interested parties that relate in ways and for reasons that the investigator must figure out, and that one of the major talents of both is doing just that, but where Marlowe’s imitators leave a trail of bodies (in all the novels, if I remember correctly, Marlowe himself killed just one man) and women behind them while drinking themselves into oblivion and overdoing the similes Marlow used so well, Inspector O is not a gunman, is only at a distance involved with women, and looks for a good cup of tea. He can be remarkably disrespectful to many of the powerful characters he meets, something he gets away with because of his investigative talent, which is occasionally needed, and partly because his grandfather was a general and hero of the war, and his brother, with whom he is on truly bad terms, is still a power in the party. While he occasionally wisecracks, Inspector O more often gets almost insanely (given the society in which he lives) stubborn or angry, but just like Marlowe, perhaps even more, also does things that get him into far more trouble than he would otherwise be in. The other similarity, particularly in this book, is the skill with which he describes ordinary people and events that are a joy to read even where no major plot event is happening.    
In The Man with the Baltic Stare, something new is added. We begin somewhere around 2016, after O has retired and gone to live on a mountain, with instructions not to talk to anyone, and since he has had to build his own house, the hope on the part of the people who sent him there that he would not survive retirement. (Could something like this be where the retirement systems for Illinois teachers will end up? No: there aren’t enough mountains.) He has, as everyone reminds him, been out of touch when he is made to come back for one last case, and what he eventually discovers after being astounded by some of the changes around him is that the regime is at last lurching towards collapse, and the vultures, South Korea, China, somewhere in the background Russia, and even a nasty coalition of gangsters, are all circling around waiting to feed on the carcass. Each has its representatives, some in alliance, and all trying to use O, who is told to investigate a particularly nasty trunk murder in Macau where the chief suspect is someone they wont name. O spends more time dealing with the players and trying to stay alive and get back to his mountain, hoping to come across a home-grown faction, than he does solving the murder, but solve it he does, ending up in a confrontation with some of the nastiest players. Along the way he displays an intensified stubbornness which is explained part way through the book.
This is a mystery, a book of espionage and intrigue, and a piece of speculative fiction by someone who knows the country well, and it is written at an even higher level than the previous entries. Characters recur from other novels, which is a good excuse to suggest going back and reading the previous entries, starting with The Corpse in the Koryo, but that isn’t necessary. Another entry in the series, featuring O’s nephew but with O still a character, called A Drop of Chinese Blood, is due in November, and I can’t wait, partly because O’s nephew is an official in the Chinese intelligence service just across the border from China.
All the books in this series are worthwhile, but I think this one is most so.

Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown

Submitted by Lucas, teen reviewer:

Overall, I liked the book Lies Beneath. While I would not say that the book was amazing, it was well worth the read.  The basic plot is that a merman and his mermaid sisters go to try and avenge their mother's death by killing this guy called Hancock. Their plan is to try and have the main character (named Calder) seduce one of Hancock's daughters so that Calder can get close to Hancock and lure him out into the water where the merpeople can drown Hancock. Of course, the majority of the plot is Calder trying to seduce the daughter and eventually falling in love with her.

As you can probably guess from the fact that these merfolk are trying to kill someone, these aren't the happy, helpful Disney merfolk. These are cold-blooded murderers who crave positive emotion, as they can't produce it themselves. To get their fix, they kill humans and absorb their happiness and joy. The main character seems to be the only merperson who is not completely OK with this setup.

This book sort of reminded me of Twilight without the sickening loads of romance told from the perspective of Edward. Also, Edward's family is evil and trying to get Edward to kill Bella's father.

Action wise, this book isn't great. The main (the only, really) source of conflict in the book is that Calder eventually falls in love with Lily and has to decide between his love for her and his loyalty to his family. On top of all of this, Lily is beginning to figure out Calder's secret.

In conclusion, I would recommend Lies Beneath to any slightly morbid Twilight lover who thought that Twilight was too romantic.  I also think that those who like a lot of emotional tension and internal conflict would like this book.  Lastly, those who don't really care what they read as long as it has a good writing style, deep characters, and a fairly engaging plot (I say fairly engaging because it is kind of slow until the end) would definitely like this book.  For people who like a lot of action and adventure in their books, though, stay away!

Lies Beneath will be released on June 12th, 2012.