Friday, September 28, 2012

John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk

The story is set in seventeenth-century England. It is a kind of poor boy up against unjust townspeople makes good plot. But it has a variety of elements and twists. The author combines history, social and religious elements, myth and food to take the title character from his small village after the death of his mother to the castle of a member of the peerage. There he becomes part of the household, successfully becoming a master chef and entangled with the willful young daughter of the manor. There is the usual cast of likeable and unlikeable, simple and scheming and downright nasty characters. The story spans several decades, from peaceful times through the English Civil War and afterward. It is a moderately enjoyable book but I did not think it lived up to the hype of the back cover blurb. I never felt drawn into the story or particularly connected to or sympathetic with the characters, except for one or two minor ones. Some years ago I read another book about this time period by a different author, complete with strong female and unexpected lover, somewhat parallel to this book, which engaged me much more.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal

I seem to have a knack for choosing books from the middle of a series. I picked up Princess Elizabeth’s Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal without spotting the bolded word return on the back cover, only noting “World War II” and “Churchill” and “code-breaking,” which were enough for me.  I hesitated at the publisher’s note inside, where I finally read closely enough to notice “brings back secret agent Maggie Hope,” but I needed a book to read that night and decided to throw caution to the wind.

I needn’t have worried, because MacNeal provides enough background in this, book two of her Maggie Hope Mystery series, for readers to be perfectly comfortable in Maggie’s world. (I did pick up the audiobook version of the first story about midway through the second just to fill in the gaps.)

Maggie is quite likeable, a thoroughly modern woman in a world not yet ready to fully embrace her. She has a degree in mathematics from Wellesley, and was set to pursue a graduate degree from M.I.T. (because Princeton would not admit women), when her life took a detour to London right as Britain entered the war. As this second volume begins, Maggie is attempting to qualify for MI-5, but is instead selected to protect Princess Elizabeth while posing as a maths tutor.

Overall, I enjoyed this story. MacNeal has a wonderful way with descriptive language and attempts to engage multiple senses. I found myself looking up perfumes the characters wore and wanting to hear the songs described. I am not terrifically fond of her use of the omniscient point-of-view. The multiple voices took me out of Maggie’s story, especially a throwaway paragraph on a minor character’s background. I would have liked a little more code-breaking and a more mysterious mystery. However, it was a fun read and I look forward to the next chapter in Maggie’s journey, due in the spring of 2013.

In the meantime, library lovers may relate to those in this picture MacNeal recently posted on her blog.

Princess Elizabeth's Spy is due out October 16th.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rawhide Down by Del Quentin Wilber

Rawhide Down is a detailed account of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981. Since Reagan has a connection to Galesburg, I chose this book as a recent title for the Galesburg Public Library’s adult book discussion groups. Love him or loathe him, Reagan is an important figure in American history, and the assassination attempt an important historical event.

I was a University of Illinois college student when Reagan was shot and I remember the day very well. Students on my dorm floor gathered around our small black and white television to watch the unfolding drama. The fact that two of the shooting victims, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and Press Secretary James Brady, graduated from the University of Illinois added interest to the story for us.

Although I keenly remember the event, I learned a lot from reading Rawhide Down. I gained a better understanding of the roles of many of Reagan’s key advisors. I learned more about Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s famous announcement of “As of now, I am in control here.” It’s amazing in hindsight to realize that the Secret Service did no screening of the spectators waiting for the President outside the hotel. The chaos inside George Washington Hospital as the four shooting victims arrived was particularly fascinating.

I was surprised at how worried government officials were that Russia might strike the United States during a perceived leadership void during the crisis. And I wondered if in today’s political climate we’d hear the well known operating room exchange in which Reagan said, “I hope you are all Republicans” and a die-hard liberal at the foot of the operating table responded, “Today, Mr. President, we are all Republicans.”

This is not a book about Ronald Reagan’s political life or legacy as president. Although it is clear that the author admires Reagan, the reporting for the most part is objective. My one complaint about the book is that the focus is almost completely on Reagan. I wanted to hear more about what happened in front of the Washington Hilton after Reagan’s limousine left the scene and about the effect of the shootings on the other victims. Still, I found Rawhide Down riveting. If you are interested in books about recent historical events or in Ronald Reagan, I recommend it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Last Dogs: The Vanishing by Christopher Holt

*This is an entry that one of our juvenile patrons here at the library did, I am just posting it for her.*

This book was about three dogs who go searching for their owners and all the other humans who have gone missing.  When I read this book, I liked how the author had the dog narrate and I also liked that even though it was narrated by a dog it still told us the colors of everything.  One of the things I disliked was that it was a cliffhanger.  I also disliked it because I thought it didn't have very many interesting parts.  But overall, it was a pretty good book.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Malice of Fotune by Michael Ennis

Art historian and author Michael Ennis' novel The Malice of Fortune deals with chaotic early 16th century Italy. Two historical figures, well-known Machiavelli and little-known Diamata, a courtesan, narrate the unfolding events surrounding the infamous Borgia family. There is Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) and his two sons, Juan and Valentino (Cesare Borgia.) The killing of Juan and the identity of his murderer becomes the pivotal focus of the narration. It is a complicated, labyrinthine story with elements of mystery, science, witchcraft and gruesome psychopathic behavior.

Ennis did lengthy, primary source research for his book. He deals with the psychological aspect of people and the nature of good, evil and fortuna - fortune - fate. Ennis demonstrates that Machiavelli was history's first forensic profiler, entering lives of historic figures in mental conversations to "ask them the reasons for their actions" transporting "myself into them entirely." While Machiavelli's famous book The Prince used Cesare Borgia a possible model for leadership, he was also aware of Borgia's malevolent nature and misused power. In his notes at the end of the book Ennis writes that Machiavelli preferred a more democratic, people-powered, representative approach to government which Machiavelli explored in his lesser known work Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy.

The Malice of Fortune is not light reading. While the book could be shortened, it was interesting to get a sense of the period and the history behind Machiavelli's The Prince. Ennis' book is a cautionary tale, a fictionalized interpretation of real people and events. It is filled with twists of deception, depravity and a dark sense of the ever-recurring presence of evil. Perhaps it is fitting that its publication date was 9/11/12.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Speechless by Hannah Harrington

Submitted by Brighton, teen reviewer:

Speechless is about a sophomore in high school named Chelsea, who can't keep a secret whatsoever. On New Year's Eve, Chelsea is at a party and is drunk, and runs into the master bedroom to use the bathroom in there, where she walks in on Noah and Andy making out. Noah and Andy leave, embarrassed.  Chelsea tells her friends Kristin, Warren, and Joey.  Joey and Warren leave to find Noah, and end up beating him nearly lifeless. Noah spends the rest of the book in the hospital.

Chelsea tells the cops what Warren and Joey did, causing everyone to hate her and terrorize her horribly... everyone except for Asha. Asha becomes Chelsea's best friend, and eventually introduces her to Sam (Noah's best friend). Chelsea falls for Sam, but can't tell him because she took a vow of silence when she reported Warren and Joey's crime to the cops. Chelsea visits Noah in the hospital to apologize and he even forgives her.  Later, at Winter Formal, popular guy Brendan gets voted Snow King and hands his crown over to Noah. Chelsea finally speaks, and she, Asha, Noah, Andy, and Sam all live happily ever after.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

Astrid Jones' feels like life is beyond her control.  Her mother somehow manages to be both distant and wildly overbearing, her father deals with his unhappiness by disappearing into a bong, and her love life?  Let's just say it's complicated.  Astrid is falling in love for the first time, but she's keeping it a secret, primarily because the person she's falling in love with is a girl.  Astrid doesn't know for sure what that means -- is she gay?  is she just experimenting? -- but she knows she'd like the freedom to figure it out, without having to fit into one of the many boxes everyone in her life keeps trying to force her into.

I thought this was a wonderful book, perfect for teens (gay, straight, or questioning) who are struggling to figure out who they are in the midst of an onslaught of societal pressures.  A.S. King does a great job of making Astrid's sexuality a part of the complexities of her character without using it as a defining characteristic, something that I think is important to the novel's message.  A secondary storyline in which Astrid sends love up to passengers flying overhead in airplanes (yes, it is as random as it sounds) is the book's sole weakness for me.

Ask the Passengers is available in October, 2012.

Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown

Submitted by Jordan, teen reviewer:

Lies Beneath is about a guy named Calder who is a merman. He and his mermaid sisters have devoted most of their lives to hunting down the man they accuse of killing their mother.  Calder's sisters develop a plan to get this man, Jason Hancock: they want Calder to seduce Jason's teenage daughter, Lily.  But the plan goes horribly wrong because Calder and Lily fall in love.  Calder's sisters get mad and decide to try to kill Lily and her family, and the book comes to a very suspenseful climax!

This book's plot sounds weird and kind of dumb, but it's actually not.  I'd probably recommend it to anyone, because it was really interesting.

Buddy by M.H. Herlong

Submitted by Sam, teen reviewer:

Ever since he was small, "Li'l T" wanted a dog.  He told everyone that.  One day, as Li'l T and his family were on their way to church, they hit a stray dog.  Li'l T decided it was destiny.  Then, Hurricane Katrina happened and Li'l T had to leave the dog, named Buddy, behind.  When they returned home, Li'l T was working really hard to find Buddy.  To see if he finds him or not, you'll have to read the book.

My Book of Life By Angel, by Martine Leavitt

Submitted by Sam, teen reviewer:

One day Angel, the 16-year-old main character of My Book of Life By Angel, went to the mall and met a guy. He saw her break a rule there and offered to buy her food.  Eventually he convinced her to let him buy her Chinese.  Every day after that she went to the mall and he was there.  His name was Call.  He continued to buy Angel food.  Then Call began giving Angel drugs, and she got kicked out of her house. She moved in with Call.  For awhile Call got everything he wanted from Angel -- that was, until he brought a little kid home.  Then Angel decided she had to save the little girl.  To find out what happens, you'll have to read My Book of Life By Angel.

Safekeeping by Karen Hesse

Submitted by Sarah, teen reviewer:

[Summary from the publisher] Radley’s parents had warned her that all hell would break loose if the American People's Party took power. And now, with the president assassinated and the government cracking down on citizens, the news is filled with images of vigilante groups, frenzied looting, and police raids. It seems as if all hell has broken loose.  Coming back from volunteering abroad, Radley just wants to get home to Vermont, and the comfort and safety of her parents. Travel restrictions and delays are worse than ever, and by the time Radley’s plane lands in New Hampshire, she’s been traveling for over twenty-four hours. Exhausted, she heads outside to find her parents—who always come, day or night, no matter when or where she lands—aren’t there. Her cell phone is dead, her credit cards are worthless, and she doesn’t have the proper travel papers to cross state lines. Out of money and options, Radley starts walking. . . .

From Sarah: Safekeeping is a good book.  The main character, Radley, is surprisingly realistic, except that she seems to be well versed in survival skills... which some people, well, weren't.  About a third of the way through the book she meets Celia, a quiet, moody person with a dark back story. Like I said, this is a good book but it has some flaws, like how it skips at random times. For example, it might jump from having a good time at a river to days ahead, when Celia reveals her dark back story.  Even with that, it is a good book and I would give it a 7 out of 10.

Safekeeping will be available in stores September 18, 2012.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth

     "Between interviews, they make us wait upstairs in a classroom.  We're left alone but we're aware that in a nearby office we are being discussed." 
     So begins Cold Light, a riveting story of a death that took place 20 years earlier, as told by the best friend of the dead girl.
     But what really happened?  Did Chloe and her boyfriend commit suicide?  If so, was it indeed for love?  Or because of something else?  Could she have been murdered?  Who was Chloe...really? What is the truth?  And who knows it?