Friday, December 31, 2010

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

A patron recommended this book for children. It is a timeless tale of love and sacrifice about a poor couple, Jim and Della, living at the turn of the 19th century. They love each other so much that they are willing to let go of their most precious possessions - Jim, his gold watch from his grandfather and Della, her beautiful long hair - in order to give the other a very special Christmas present... The story is touching and it reminds me of the true meaning of a gift.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

This is the biography of Nujood, a young girl from Yemen, a country in the Middle East. She comes from a poor family and was still a child when her father arranged for her to be married to a man 3 times her age. She tells her story with embarrassment and bravery. Unable to bear a life of beatings and cruelty she tries to get help from her family. Her family was unable to help her because they felt if she left her husband the family's honor would be damaged. She was asking everyone and anyone if they could help her. Her father's second wife told her she should go the courts. She felt her only choice for a better life was to seek help from a judge. This was really an unusual thing to do as almost half the girls in Yemen are married underage, and being children they have very little knowledge of what alternatives they have. Nujood's story is an encouragement to

other girls in her situation who might want to seek help.

Nujood's situation is still precarious. She lives again with her parents and siblings. They have some improvement to their lifestyle with moneys from her book and help from organizations, however Yemen, being in a war zone, is a dangerous place to live. So her education and future are up in the air. Nujood plans to keep trying by doing homework, being a good student, and working hard so that she might go to college one day.

This book was an eye opener. You really get a feel for what life is like for someone living in another culture and socio-economic background. You come away wishing you could help change deeply embedded customs and admiring this little girl for her courage.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Celebrate the Season 2010

This is a non-fiction book with many beautiful illustrations of how you can decorate and cook for for Christmas. First I just paged through the whole book enjoying the various crafts, table settings, gifts to make, beautifully wrapped presents,and recipes for tasty goodies. Then I decided to go ahead and use an idea for making tags for presents. I had gotten turquoise and red wrapping paper for all my presents, so the tags I made had a background of red or turquoise (which I salvaged from my scrap booking supplies). I glued on acrylic gem sparkles using the first initial of every family member that I was wrapping presents for. People with the same first initial have their names written on back of the tag. I snapped a whole in the top with a paper punch, and put a silver string through (stolen from my embroidery supplies). When all the presents are under the tree the tags add just a little bit of beautiful sparkle to make our holiday bright.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bound by Antonya Nelson

Bound is full of moral dilemmas. The characters must face up to their responsibilities, from their own pets to friends, families and the world they live in. After learning of her high school best friend Misty's death, is Catherine Desplaines obliged to be the legal guardian to Misty's daughter Cattie? Also, how can Catherine's husband Oliver justify his adulteries by thinking that he doesn't purposely seek for it, but love just stumbles upon him like an "accident?" Tying in the apprehension of the BTK serial killer in Wichita a couple years ago, Nelson's new novel makes for a thought provoking read.

Hell's Corner by David Baldacci

Oliver Stone is asked (by the government no less) to investigate a bombing that was successfully carried out right across the street from the White House. Which nasty group is responsible? Was the bombing an accident or a test, and is a bigger terrorist event planned? Oliver isn't completely comfortable working for the government that betrayed him, and finds himself misled and manipulated at every turn. He has the help of a competent and interesting British agent, but he is reluctant to involve the Camel Club. Nevertheless, he wants to solve the case, and it turns out he needs all the help he can get. Hell's Corner is a decent thriller, but not one of Baldacci's best.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

The economy has made things tough for Boston private eyes Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. Patrick is forced to take work he doesn't like and can't afford to take work that doesn't pay. Still, when a woman from his past asks him to look once again for her niece (Amanda McCready from Gone, Baby, Gone) who is now 16, Kenzie can't say no. It's a great tale you won't want to miss!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Confession by John Grisham

An innocent man sits on death row in Texas. His execution date is fast approaching. The man who is actually guilty of the crime is dying of brain tumor and decides to do the right thing and confess to the crime. With the help of a Kansas preacher and a committed defense attorney, he sets out to free the condemned man. It's a page-turning read with interesting characters and moral dilemmas. This would be a great book for discussion groups!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris, illustrated by Ian Falconer

Sedaris's latest book anthropomorphizes an array of animals, from a disturbingly brutal "vigilant rabbit" to a knowledge-seeking great horned owl which befriends a gerbil and a hippopotamus. With this, the author mirrors the human conditions and afflictions.
In the title story, the squirrel and the chipmunk are starting a relationship only to be discouraged by the chipmunk's ignorant family. Readers are also introduced to an alcoholic cat that loathes the prison's AA meetings. The stories are full of dark humor, as well as both gross and clever dialogues. At times the depiction is very graphic (warnings!) along with Falconer's illustrations, as in The Crow and the Lamb and The Motherless Bear. The creatures will linger long after I have finished reading their tales.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

This book is a story of two very different sisters who never understood thir cold distant mother. Anya, their mother, grew up in Russia but never shared the details of her hard life there in Leningrad during World War II. I started out listening to this as an audiobook and enjoyed the Russian accent of the character of Anya which stayed with me as I finished it in book form. The daughters wonderful, loving father dies but tells them they need to hear the rest of the fairy tale that their mother had told part of to them as children. Though their mother is reluctant they gradually hear the rest of the story from Anya and realize she is telling them of her life. Bonding builds and repairs the relationship. The historical information and the emotional elements in this story were satisfying.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Imagine when you take a bite of the food, you can detect the emotions of the cook. This is what happens to Rose Edelstein just before she turns nine when she bites into a slice of the lemon-chocolate cake her mother made. Contrary to Rose's mother's jovial appearance, Rose can "taste" her mother's desperation...
Rose struggles to cope with this uncanny ability at school and at home with her detached father and quiet brother, Joseph, who pulls off disappearing acts that worry everyone.
Aimee Bender weaves fantasy into reality in this novel. It also reminds me of growing up and finding one's place in the world, where some survive and some do not.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich

Is this a new series by Janet Evanovich? Could be! This book features Diesel, an occasional character from the Stephanie Plum novels, but everyone else is new. Unless you count the monkey. Lots of fun!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage is a long (766 pages) novel set in the near future. It's really two stories: first, a deadly disease sweeps the North American continent, wiping out the majority of the population and leaving many of the survivors less (or more?) than human. The second part is the story of one band of surviving humans, who are isolated, fearful, and ignorant of what is going outside their own community. It's an engrossing read, although I felt it ended too abruptly and without resolving many of my questions.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Apparition & Late Fictions by Thomas Lynch

This novel consists of 5 short stories. In Catch and Release, Danny, a fishing guide, took his father's ashes to their favorite fishing spots. What Danny did with the last bit of his father's ashes was shocking to me.
In Bloodsport, Lynch, having an undertaker's background, gave an insider's perspective on the embalming process and depicted Martin's inner struggles with the murder of Elena. Was it possible he could have helped and prevented her death?
Matinee de September offers a detailed description of the idyllic Mackinac Island and the Grand Hotel where Aisling Black, a widowed English professor, took a respite before fall semester. Awestruck by the waitress Bintalou's beauty, Aisling became obsessed with her...
I didn't care for Hunter's Moon and the title story Apparition. All 5 stories have the theme of death, and how the living cope with the departed. At times it is morbid, but we are assured that "life goes on."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

What is a dog's purpose? This sweet novel explores that question from a dog's point of view. This particular dog lives several lives. In each life, he (and sometimes he's a she) ponders his past experience and current situation in an effort to understand what he's meant to do. If you like dogs even a little, you will enjoy this book.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Icing on the Cupcake by Jennifer Ross

Meet recent graduate Ansley Waller, who thought she had her whole life figured out. When her finance Parish terminated their engagement in front of their friends, Ansley was humiliated and decided to leave Dallas for New York City to stay with Vivian, the grandmother she never knew.
The story continues with Ansley trying to open a bakery to sell cupcakes, as cooking was her passion and talent. Also, Ansley was trying to bridge the estranged relationship between her mother Hattie and Vivian.
The plot of this novel seems slow and unrealistic at times, especially the part about how Ansley set up her own bakery. But Ansley's determination was admirable. If you relish baking and collecting cupcakes recipes, you won't be disappointed. Ross has unique cupcake recipes - Green with Envy Cupcakes, Going Nuts with Coconuts, Taste of Spring Zucchini Cupcakes and more - after each chapter and provides some insider baking tips throughout the book.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Not Without Hope

This is not normally a book I would read but a patron suggested it to me after reading it in only a day. The book is called "Not Without Hope" and is written by Nick Schuyler.
February 28, 2009 4 large strapping young men including 2 professional
football players, a personal trainer and his best friend all go out into the ocean for a day of fishing. What happened next brings up many questions. The anchor gets stuck and they capsize the fishing boat trying to get free. 43 hours later only one survivor is found.
This book is his story on how the other 3 and he fought to survive only for him to watch one by one as the healthy, athletic men succumb to the elements. Nick has come under a lot of scrutiny for writing this book. One of the widows of the NFL players feels he has not been open with her about her husband's last days, but seemed to remember plenty of details for his book.
I found the book extremely open and honest and very believable. I felt no malice from the author at all. In fact I felt extreme sympathy. How would you handle having to explain every minute detail to multiple family members? What about the questions you would have to live with the rest of your life, like why God chose you to survive and none of your friends?
The book is one you can't put down once you start and truly makes you take a hard look at yourself and how you would handle such a situation.
I truly think no one would be disappointed reading this book, although it is a hard story knowing 3 extremely, physically healthy men ended up dying on a day that was supposed to be filled with fun.
Defiantly a book that makes you takes a good hard look at your own life and how you would handle such a situation.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

So Cold the River by Michael Koryta

An old-fashioned horror story, So Cold the River features an down-on-his-luck movie maker hired to make a film about a dying millionaire. As he travels to the man's hometown, he experiences hallucinations and vivid dreams. Is he losing his mind or seeing past events as they really happened? The suspense builds in a very satisfying way. I enjoyed it.

Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo

An entire Amish family is murdered and Police Chief Kate Burkholder sets out to solve the case. This one is a little too personal for Kate and she struggles to maintain her professionalism. This is the second in a series featuring Kate Burkholder and I'm hoping for more!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg

What is your sentiment towards high school reunions? If it is the final reunion, would you attend?

In Berg's latest novel, a menagerie of characters are determined to go to their last, 40th ,high school reunion. The group includes recently divorced Dorothy, Candy the homecoming queen, Lester the nerd, handsome Pete and the quiet Mary Alice. When the in-group and the marginalized collide, anything goes, even a brawl at the the dinner!

Berg has weaved an entertaining novel with their lives intertwined, romance rekindled and past misgivings forgiven. It is an enjoyable read!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

Although I loved the first two books in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest was a bit of a disappointment. Lisbeth Salandar is in the hospital recovering from the bullet wounds she suffered in the previous book, and her friends are all working to clear her name. Meanwhile, her vicious father still wants her dead and her homicidal brother is on the loose.

The story bogs down while Larsson explains Swedish constitutional law and politics, and there's a whole unnecessary side plot involving Erica Berger. Still, it's a must read for fans of the first two books.

Stieg Larsson passed away before this book was published. I will miss Lisbeth Salandar!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tinkers by Paul Harding

As George Crosby lay dying at home surrounded by his family, his life flashed randomly in his mind. He remembered growing up in the harsh New England winters, with his father Howard being an epileptic salesman. George's mother Kathleen never spoke of Howard's seizures which were very traumatic for their children to witness, especially the one at Christmas dinner. Howard made a fateful decision when he realized that his wife was going to send him to an asylum.
Harding, the recipient of the 2010 Pulitzer for fiction, wrote Tinkers in a non-linear progression. It depicted the lives of three generations, George as a clock-repairer, Howard the father and George's grandfather. At times the story was hard to follow, especially the parts about the mechanics inside a clock. But Harding wrote lyrically about nature and the human psyche. It is a thought provoking novel.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Eye of the Red Tsar by Sam Eastland

Pekkala was once the most trusted secret agent of Tsar Nicholas Romanov. But now, a decade after the execution of the Tsar and his family, Pekkala is Prisoner 4745-P in a desolate Siberian prison camp. He is released from prison and given a mission he can't resist: find out who really killed the Romanovs and locate the rumored survivor of the assassination. This is a great thriller!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

John Wayne Cleaver is an unusual teenager who feels he is destined to be a serial killer. He lives by a strict set of rules in order to avoid the behavior that he fears will lead him down the path of evil. When a real serial killer strikes his small town, John is both fascinated and terrified. And may be the only one who can stop the killer.

I enjoyed this book immensely. The "hero" is unusual and I wasn't sure I was going to be able to like him, but I was definitely rooting for him by the end of the story.

This book is the first of a projected trilogy. I look forward to the next installment!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

After her mother Dulcie Shelby died, 17 year old Emily Benedict left Boston for Mullaby, N. Caroline to live with the 'giant' grandfather she never knew. She was hoping to learn more about her mother's life. Befriending Dulcie's high school classmate, Julia, who was making cakes and deserts for her father's restaurant, Emily found out more about her mother and fell in love with Win Coffey, whose uncle shared a past with her mother. There were secrets to be discovered, and lessons to be learned. Allen has weaved a web of interesting characters for the readers to explore. This is a magical and enjoyable read!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

A serial killer is murdering young women in the small town of Painters Mill, Ohio. Kate Burkholder, the chief of police, is trying to catch the killer while keeping her own secrets hidden. This is a great page-turner!

Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson

Jenna Fox wakes from a year long coma with no memory, in a different house and a noticeable difference in the way she relates to her grandmother and parents. As the book progresses, Jenna's memory starts to come back in small pieces. Not only is this a great book for teenagers, but I have also recommend it from parents. At the end of the book you will ask yourself how far you will go to keep your children or loved one alive. Adoration of Jenna Fox is on the Iowa Teen Award Book List for 2010-2011.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat by David Dosa, M.D.

I was looking forward to reading this book as I learned of Oscar's uncanny ability to detect the "sweet smell of death" from the July 2007 New England Journal of Medicine article by the author. I wanted to understand Oscar better, but instead ended up learning more about dementia and Alzheimer's debilitating effects on patients and their families.
Oscar, one of the six resident cats, was adopted as a kitten by staff members and lives on the 3rd floor of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rhode Island, where Dr. Dosa cares for his advanced dementia patients. When Oscar senses that a resident is facing imminent death, he will jump on the patient's bed and stay with her. This in turn alerts the nurse to contact the patient's family. Sometimes Oscar is the only companion for the dying patient...
This is an informative and touching story about a gifted cat and the heartaches one grapples with when caring for loved ones with dementia. It also reminds me of the comforting presence of our pets.

Caught by Harlan Coben

A missing high school girl, an accused pedophile who may be innocent, and a reporter who wants to get the story right are all pieces in what adds up to be a great thriller. The characters are interesting, the twists are believable, and this is classic Coben. I loved it!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Deep Shadow by Randy Wayne White

Doc Ford and friends are back in a new thriller by Randy Wayne White. Doc, Tomlinson and Will Chaser are treasure hunting in a Florida lake when an underwater avalanche traps Tomlinson and Will with a limited supply of air. Doc works to rescue them while also battling two on-the-run convicts who want in on the treasure. Oh, and there may be a huge alligator or some other sort of lake-dwelling monster that wants to eat them all. It's great stuff!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Set during the London Blitz of World War II, The Postmistress tells the intertwined stories of three women. Frankie Bard is an American reporter in London trying to make her listeners understand the severity of the situation in Europe. In the small Cape Cod town of Franklin, Iris James, the postmistress, and Emma Trask, the local doctor's wife, hear Frankie's broadcasts but remain removed from the war. Eventually, all three women are impacted by the war in different ways. This novel is well written and I enjoyed it very much.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler

In Tyler's latest book, Liam Pennywell, a "retired" 5th grade teacher, woke up one day lying in a hospital bed. He couldn't figure out why he was there. His daughter told him that he was attacked in a home invasion during his first night in his new apartment. Liam desperately wanted to know what happened in the attack and wondered if he could find a "rememberer" by befriending Eunice, an assistant to the owner of a major developer in Baltimore.
Slowly Liam learned that he had been living a very detached life, devoid of passion and purpose. He never really enjoyed teaching 5th grade and was uninvolved with his family. He realized that he had "never been entirely present in (his) own life" (p.263.)
The conversation between Liam and his grandson Jonah was quite touching. Did Liam notice that he was drawing parallels to Noah in the Bible, simply wishing to remain "afloat?" This is a low key novel showing a lonely man's fear to connect.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Roses by Leila Meacham

Billed as the next Gone With The Wind, Roses is an epic family saga set in East Texas. It centers around Mary Toliver, who inherits her family's cotton plantation at the age of 16. Passionate and hard-headed, Mary devotes her life and energies to the land, even forsaking the great love of her life to save the plantation. The first part of the book is told from Mary's point of view. In the second section, we hear the story from the point of view of Percy Warwick, the man who loved Mary but didn't marry her. The final section is about Rachel, Mary's great-niece, who expects to take over the family farms after Mary. I wouldn't put Roses up there with GWTW, but it's a mighty good read. If you like old fashioned family sagas, you'll enjoy this book.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog by Lisa Scottoline

Scottoline normally writes best-selling novels featuring lawyers. She also writes a humorous column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and this book is a collection of those columns. Scottoline writes about the concerns of women "of a certain age": family relationships, pantyhose, eating right, and making sure your roots are the right color. Most of the columns are quite funny, and I laughed out loud many times. She also writes about the deep love she has for her mother, her daughter, her dogs, and her women friends, and these columns can be quite touching. I really enjoyed this book! It's a quick, light read and easy to pick up and put down as you have time.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

This story is told from the perspectives of 12 year old CeeCee, who witnessed the deterioration of her mother Camille's mental illness. When a tragic "accident" ends Camille's life, CeeCee is picked up by her wealthy great-aunt Tootie to live with her in Savannah.
CeeCee learns to come to terms with the abandonment of her father and the grief of the loss of her mother. Surrounded by the love and wisdom of the housekeeper Oletta and Tootie's circle of friends, CeeCee flourishes. This is a colorful novel about the friendship of women and letting go of the hurtful past. As Oletta aptly put, "Don't go wastin' all them bright tomorrows you ain't even seen by hangin' on to what happened yesterday... Just breathe out and let go" (p.290.) It is an enjoyable read!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Driftless by David Rhodes

Driftless is set in the small, isolated town of Words, Wisconsin. It follows the stories of several of the townspeople, including a farm couple who are fighting corruption in their milk cooperative, a passionate young pastor, a promising musician, and two elderly sisters. At the center is July Montgomery, once an outsider, who is now a cherished member of the community. The characters are well drawn and the reader quickly comes to care about all of them. It's a novel about small town life, about love and compassion, and about community.

Driftless is the All Iowa Reads selection for 2010. It should generate some great discussions!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I like Jodi Picoult’s books but when Nineteen Minutes was released, it was one that I did not think I would ever read. I was senior when the Columbine shootings took place and the thought of reading about a school shooting did not interest me. However, Nineteen Minutes is more than a story of a school shooting. It is the story of Peter Houghton who spent his school years being bullied, being in the shadow of his older brother and never feeling like he fit in. Peter’s one and only friend is Josie Cormier, also feels like she has never fit in. She does not know her father, her mother is a judge and being a judge means you have a proper way of acting in public. Peter loses his best friend and protector when entering middle school when Josie becomes part of the popular clique at school. One of the lines in the books really struck me was that Josie does not have friends but has alliances, because at any moment anyone of them could be on the other side. I found myself caring about Peter and thinking back to my own high school experiences and how others were treated. Picoult’s books have a lot of characters and jump from past to present, this can be somewhat confusing but it keeps the book moving. A good read if you are a Picoult fan.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This is a very good book! Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's, it tells the intertwined stories of three women. Two of the women are black maids in white households and the third is a privileged white woman who recognizes the prejudice in her world and wants to write about it. Don't be intimidated by the length of this book--it reads quickly. It would make a great book club discussion book.