Friday, June 3, 2011

"Walk Two Moons" by Sharon Creech

280 pages

Thirteen-year-old Sal is on a road trip from Ohio to Idaho with her wacky grandparents, and they ask her to tell them a story to pass the time. So she begins to share the tale of her friend Phoebe, whom she met when she and her father recently moved from their farm in Kentucky to a suburb in Ohio. Sal tells Gram and Gramps about how Phoebe's mother ran off, mysterious messages began to appear on the doorstop, and family secrets came out. As she tells the story, details about Sal's own life come out: she and her father moved to Ohio after Sal's mother left their farm and headed for Idaho to "discover her true self" and her father found the home haunted by memories of his wife. Now her father is dating a new woman named Margaret, whom Sal doesn't like. We learn that Sal and her grandparents are taking the same route that Sal's mother did, and Sal hopes to bring her mother home even though her father says wishing that is like "trying to catch fish in the air." As their journey continues, the story takes several surprising turns.

This was one of my favorite books in my later elementary school years, but I hadn't read it in years and had forgotten almost all of the details. I loved it just as much when I read it this time. Sal, who narrates in first person, is charming and lovable, as are many of the secondary characters (I LOVE Gram, Gramps, and Ben!). I like the way that story goes back and forth between Sal's and Phoebe's, and the twist at the end. There are some heartbreaking moments, but I like the end. This is definitely remaining on my childhood-favorites list.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

2010/528 pgs

About the Book: Calla is an alpha, a leader for her pack and she always follows the rules. She's known she's been meant for Ren, another alpha from a neighboring pack. Their union is approaching and Calla knows she has to go along with it, but when she meets Shay, a human boy and new student at school, Calla's rule abiding life begins to fade. With Shay, Calla begins to uncover secrets about her pack that were meant to stay hidden and she begins to question everything she's ever known about her pack-and her role in it.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: Nightshade is a good paranormal novel and especially good for readers wanting a new paranormal series to get hooked on. There's plenty of action and romance. There's a love triangle, of course, but I didn't have as many problems with this triangle as I have with other novels. I think because Calla isn't just picking between two guys, but instead she's picking between duty and loyalty to her pack and her own life and choices.

What really sold me on this book was the werewolf mythology that Andrea Cremer has created. It was unique and different enough from other paranormal novels and it kept me interested. I also enjoyed the writing-Ms. Cremer is a talented author and it was the detail, the descriptions, and the world building that kept me reading and made this book stand apart from other werewolf stories.

It is part of a series and the ending does leave you with a bit of a cliffhanger so readers will be eagerly awaiting the next volume in the series which is out this summer!

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

2011/608 pgs

I can't say much about this one, since there's a strict laydown date for this book in September! But I will say that it's a must read for 2011-add this one to the top of your wish list!! Brian Selznick excels at creating parallel stories that work together-one in words and one in pictures-and the two come together in a beautiful, magical way.

The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin

Are you scared of spiders? Heh, good luck with this one!

I am a card carrying member of the arachnophobia club. I've run into a spiderweb while mowing and come out of my panicked state in my neighbors yard having mowed over their shrubbery.  I've sprayed an entire can of scrubbing bubbles on one spider because I couldn't stop screeching long enough to see if it was already dead. I don't do spiders.

So, that I'm telling you this is a horror/thriller book worthy of your attention is a big deal. Nicholas is a haunted man both mentally and literally. Blaming himself for his wife's untimely death, he moves back to Australia to live with his mother. He had hoped the move would also stop his visions of ghosts reliving the final moments of their lives in the location of their demise. It didn't. To make matters worse, returning to his childhood home brings up memories of events and the woods that helped shape him into the shattered man he is today.

What I liked about this book was the combination of building tension as the story unfolds coupled with the intelligent almost poetic prose that made the reading experience incredibly visual and evocative. The characters are well-developed and I didn't realize it until the end but besides Nicholas, almost every supportive character in the book is a woman. I do not think this a coincidence. I had to read in small doses and only during the day but towards the end, it was impossible to put down and I read well into the night...and then didn't sleep for two days. Creepy, haunting and unforgettable.  2010, 374 pages.

Aurelia by Anne Osterlund

2008/256 pgs

About the Book: Aurelia is the crown princess, next in line to rule Tyralt. She would rather be like the people in her kingdom-free to roam, do what she wishes, and come and go as she pleases. The king wants her to marry for political gain, Aurelia wants to escape, and someone in the castle wants her dead.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: Aurelia is a great historical mystery with a hint of romance. The storyline is engaging and the mystery is slowly revealed throughout (although I'll admit, I did have the mystery figured out!). Aurelia is a strong, likeable character and she's easy to cheer for. A good pick for fans of historical mysteries.

The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

2010/352 pgs

About the Book: Violet Ambrose has always been able to sense the bodies of the dead-and the impression left behind by those who kill them. When a string of murders occur near Violet's town, Violet finds herself closer than ever to the victims-and the murderer.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: The Body Finder is a decent mystery and suspenseful novel and great for teens wanting something more than just a romance. But this one is romance heavy. There were times I felt the romance overtook the storyline more than anything else and it was several chapters before we got back to the mystery aspect. It's an engaging story and teens looking for a romance with something more should enjoy it.

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

2010/368 pgs

About the Book: Abilene has just arrived in her father's old stomping grounds, Manifest, KS. He doesn't think hopping trains and traveling is a good life for a young lady, so he's sent Abilene to Manifest, a town he stayed in as a boy. In her room she stumbles across a box with mementos and a box of letters from a boy named Ned, who lived in Manifest the same time as Abilene's father-and who claims a spy once lived in Manifest. As she gets to know the town, the people and Manifest, Abilene uncovers the truth she is looking for and more. Told in various time periods with different narrators, Moon Over Manifest is the story of a girl and a town and how the two can change each other.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: I wasn't familiar with this book until the January ALA when it was announced that Moon Over Manifest was this year's Newbery winner. The crowd was stunned and confused since this was a quiet little book that didn't receive much attention when it was released. I'm so glad it caught the Newbery committee's eye! It's a fantastic debut that deserves lots of attention.

The book is told mainly from Abilene's point of view (in the 1930's), but we also hear from the past (1917-1918) through newspaper articles, letters and Miss Sadie's "divining". The stories connect and it was a bit predicitable how the stories would weave together, That didn't matter though-I still enjoyed the book and was eager to see how everything would tie together. I loved the flashes to the past and how the author would relate what was in Abliene's present to what she had learned about.

This book had the feel of a classic and is a lovely old fashioned book that I want to read again and share with others. I listened to this on audio and I loved that the audiobook featured different narrators for different aspects of the book. This added to the richness of the story and made the whole book really come alive.

I'm glad this one won the Newbery so it's getting attention it deserves. A wonderful pick for the Newbery!

Oresama Teacher: Volume 2

by Izumi Tsubaki, 189 pages

Secret former delinquent Mafuyu and her current delinquent classmate Hayasaka get manipulated by their homeroom teacher into joining the Public Morals Club, the kids who usually stand at the school gate and make sure everybody's following the dress code. Their first mission? Nothing to do with uniforms. Crush the toughest delinquent on campus! If Mafuyu's going to avoid (another) expulsion for fighting--and keep clueless Hayasaka out of trouble--she'll have to do a little thinking before she starts swinging.

I laughed at the scene where Mr. Saeki first tries to suggest a club the two could join. They know him well enough not to trust him, and immediately dive out the nearest exit (that would be the window, for Mafuyu) before he can say it. From the looks of things, though, none of the other clubs would have been much safer, anyway. The Craft Club, for instance, consists only of giant, glowering, domestically-gifted boys who try to physically coerce a terrified Hayasaka into joining when they realize he's a natural at embroidery.

Most of this volume revolves around Mafuyu trying to keep her fighting skills a secret, even from Hayasaka, but it's the real reason she doesn't want him or anyone else to know that gives this otherwise slight tale a little depth. Until she figures out what she's really after, however, the reader will be left a little muddled as the field of potential friends / mentors / suitors expands without offering many hints as to who means what to her (or what she means to them).

Moonglass by Jessi Kirby


About the Book: (from cover) When Anna was little, she and hermother used to search for sea glass, but since they looked at night, theycalled it moonglass.

Now, ten years after her mother'smysterious death, her father is working as head lifeguard on the same beachwhere her mother grew up and her parents first met and fell in love. Reluctantto get close to anyone (including her father) and not pleased about having tostart at a new school, Anna begins to spend more time alone, running the lengthof the beach and wondering about who her mother really was. After meeting alifeguard named Tyler,she slowly lets her guard down and together they start exploring the abandonedhouses that dot the beach.

But when learning more about hermother's past leads to a painful discovery, Anna must reconcile her desire forsolitude with ultimately accepting the love of her family and friends.Moonglass is a dazzling debut from an undeniable talent.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: Moonglass is a contemporary debut about a girl searching for answers about a mother she hardly knew. It's an emotional story and one I would hand over to fans of Sarah Dessen and contemporary romance.

There is some romance, but it's not central to the storyline, so it doesn't feel like it's only a contemporary romance. This is more Anna's journey to discovering the truth about her mother and coming to terms with her past. Anna is a likable main character. I liked that she was strong and smart, yet also had awkward moments when it came to Tyler or making new friends. She just felt normal and real, which I liked. I also loved that I never found her to be whiny or complaining-instead her emotions felt real and they never felt over the top which I appreciated.

The supporting characters are fun, but I wish some of them could have been fleshed out just a bit more. I would have liked to spend more time with Jillian, Ashley, Andy, and even Anna's father. I would have also liked a bit more about Anna's mother. We get glimpses of her here and there, but I felt like that part of the story could have been drawn out a bit more as well. I think I expected to learn more about her mom since it seemed like there was a big mystery about her, but maybe it not being a huge twist or surprise lends to a more realistic story.

Moonglass is a bittersweet, emotional story and a solid debut from author Jessi Kirby. The ending is powerful without being sappy and the whole book had a nice realistic quality to it, which made me like it even more. I'm sure this one will have fans at my library as soon as I booktalk it! A good pick for libraries looking for contemporary fiction, Moonglass is a debut worth checking out.

Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg


About the Book: Annie Taylor is finding that no one is attending her charm school classes anymore and she's bored. Convinced that there is fame and fortune waiting for her, this 62-year-old woman decides to have an adventure. She comes up with the idea of floating over Niagara Falls inside of a barrel. The barrel makers think she's crazy at first, but Annie shows them her detailed plans and believes she's found a way to survive. With a publicist hired, Annie travels to New York and excites the crowd about her upcoming journey. Will she survive the trip over the falls?

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: May means school visits to promote the summer reading program at my library. As part of my visits, I take books along to booktalk to the students and I'm always looking for something that's new and will get the tweens and teens excited. When I heard about Queen of the Falls I knew it would be one of those great booktalk books that would get the students talking.

Queen of the Falls is a short non-fiction. The illustrations are great, as can always be expected from Chris Van Allsburg. He brings Annie to life and gives the illustrations so much detail, they're easy to pour over-and great to show off during booktalking! The fact that the story is non-fiction and based on an event that no one has heard much about-if at all-adds to story. The premise sounds like it's a made up, tall tale, but the fact that it's true adds to the allure. I think this is especially true for tweens whose eyes seem to grow wide when I mention it's true!

I wish there had been a bit more to the book and maybe a bit more detail added about
Annie Taylor's life. This might be a case where there just wasn't enough source material to really flesh the story out more and Chris Van Allsburg does a fantastic job with what he does have. The book is entertaining and engaging and a memorable read.

While an easy non-fiction, the story is something that I think will have wide-appeal and I plan on booktalking it all the way up to high schoolers. Each time I talk about the question is always "but does she survive?" and I love when a book really engages the audience like that! Annie Taylor has quite a story and she's an amazingly daring woman and I'm glad her story has been told!

Instructions for a Broken Heart by Kim Culbertson

2011/304 pgs

About the Book: Three days before her drama club's trip to Italy, Jessa stumbles in on her boyfriend with Natalie aka "the boob job." Now taking off to the most romantic city in the world. Jessa has a front row seat to Natalie and Sean's relationship. To help her move on, her best friend Carissa has sent along twenty envelopes titled "Top Twenty Reasons He's a Slimy Jerk Bastard," that Jessa is supposed to open along her trip. Each envelope includes instructions that are supposed to help Jessa get over Sean and maybe find herself along the way.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: I had high hopes for this book. The premise sounded cute and reminded me of Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes or maybe even P.S. I Love You. Unfortunately, the book ultimately fell flat for me.

I know Jessa is heartbroken, but the book is so full of her angst and not being able to get over Sean, that it grows a bit old. Maybe I would have felt sorry for her, but instead I felt she was a flat character who was whiny, annoying and she never seems to notice she's in Italy! I would love to travel to Italy and instead of enjoying her trip, Jessa spends the trip wallowing in self pity. I just couldn't feel any sympathy for her. I also never knew exactly why she was in Italy. She was there with her drama club, but why? What reasons did they have for going to Italy and what was the point of the trip? I guess I wanted more backstory and more details.

All of the characters suffered from being underdeveloped and there were too many of them to keep track of. So many of the characters and the plotlines seemed to start and then go nowhere. Things were thrown in, mentioned briefly, but then never developed or touched on again. Jessa is supposed to bond with another girl on the trip who finds her boyfriend cheating, but this never goes anywhere and is only mentioned a couple of times. There's a mean chaperon from the group Jessa's school is paired with, but her storyline never seems to have a point. She comes in, complains, and then leaves. Other characters are introduced, barely spoken to, and then be part of a major plot device that happens because they showed up. This never worked for me because I felt like I never knew any of the characters and never cared enough about any of them. I also felt the plot wandered around so much it never found its groove to really make it work. There were so many moments that fade out and stop just when the action is about to start. Overall I thought the plot had too much that was trying to happen and ended up getting lost along the way.

Carissa's notes and letters could have been fun, only they ended up being cruel and rude. Most of her reasons ended up not having anything that really would be to help Jessa (at least I thought) but instead pointed out what a jerk Sean was. Then we find out secrets Carissa has been keeping from Jessa about Sean. Honestly, at this point, I thought Carissa was a horrible friend, but instead we're supposed to forgive her and cheer on the power of girl friendship instead.

I also had issues with the suggestions that maybe Jessa made Sean cheat on her and she brought it on herself because she's ambitious and "busy". Jessa believes this line and part of her thinks that she deserved to be cheated on because she couldn't be everything Sean wanted or make enough time for him. This just really bugged me, especially since Jessa never seems to come to any sort of self discovery, but instead seems down on herself the whole time. I never felt like she came out of the trip or the experience any stronger than before.

Of course, there's supposed to be a bit of romance with a boy she meets on the trip, but there was hardly any interaction with them, I just couldn't believe it. I never saw anything that would make Jessa interesting let alone attractive to him. He's hardly in the book and I just didn't believe any possible relationship developing with them. Really, I only kept reading because I had hopes it would get better and I wanted Jessa to end up with her best guy friend who was delivering her letters.

This book might work for readers who like contemporary novels with a exotic location, but it just wasn't for me.

I'm A Shark by Bob Shea


Sharks aren't afraid of anything! The dark? No problem! A bear? That's easy! A spider? Wait...did you say spider???

Shark claims to be big and brave, but he has a fear too. A humorous take on fears that's perfect for talking to kids. The illustrations are bright and colorful and cartoonish which makes the book even more fun.

Rrralph by Lois Ehlert

2011/40 pgs

Dogs can talk-it's true! Just ask Ralph-he'll talk to you! Ralph can tell you the answers to all sorts of questions. A hilarious picture book with wonderfully creative collage illustrations, Rrralph would be a great call and response book for storytimes. It's also perfect for any young reader who loves jokes and books with a great sense of humor!

The Umbrella by Ingrid Schubert illustrated by Deiter Schubert

2011/40 pgs

A wordless picture book about a little dog who finds an umbrella that takes him on a worldwide adventure. The illustrations are fantastic! The book is wordless, so readers get to tell their own stories to go along with the dogs adventures. A fun picture book-hand this one over to ages 4+ and they'll pour over the illustrations and love narrating what's happening!

Piggy Pie Po by Audrey and Don Wood

2010/32 pgs

You can't go wrong with Audrey and Don Wood! Here they offer up three short stories about Piggy Pie Po-a silly, messy, playful pig. The stories are fun and short enough that you can just one or all three. A charming book that features simple stories and rhymes. Good for ages 3+

Tumble by Maria van Lieshout

2009/48 pgs

Tumble is a cute little (and I mean little-it's smaller than your typical picture book) picture book. It's the story of two polar bears who are out walking in the snow when they come across something new. But the first bear doesn't want to share. While it's a cute book, it reminded me of a sweet, psychology book that's written for adults-like a picture book version of Who Moved My Cheese. Maybe kids will enjoy it, but it's not a book I would rave about to a group of kids.

Mother Goose Picture Puzzles by Will Hillenbrand

2011/40 pgs

This is a rebus picture book of mother goose rhymes. It's cute overall, but some of the pictures were a bit odd and unless you knew the rhyme, you wouldn't know what the rebus picture was trying to tell you. The illustrations are nice and it's a good introduction to using words with pictures, I just thought some of the puzzles were a bit weak.

The Loud Book by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Renata Liwska

2011/32 pgs

There are all kinds of loud! Good louds and bad louds and even embarassing louds! This companion to The Quiet Book is just wonderful! Both books rank among some of my favorite picture books. The text is minimal and the illustrations help capture the emotions and situations that are being discussed. A wonderful book to read with kids and discuss!

Tiny Little Fly by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Kevin Waldron

2010/32 pgs

A tiny little fly is on the loose-and we all know how annoying those can be! The fly lands on and taunts various animals, who try to swat the fly away. I can see this book becoming a storytime favorite-large text, bright pictures and a charming story.

Miss Dorothy and her Bookmobile by Gloria M. Houston, illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb

2011/32 pgs

OK, I'll admit I'll pretty much like almost any picture books with librarians, but this one is one of my new favorites! Miss Dorothy is a spunky librarian-one we can all aspire to be like. She doesn't let the fact that her husband takes a job in a small town without a library stop her-instead she creates her own bookmobile and keeps the library running! A touching story and a memorable librarian!

I Must Have Bobo by Eileen Rosenthal, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal

2011/40 pgs

What happens when your cat steals your toy? A little boy must find his sock monkey and keep him away from his sneaky cat! A cute debut picture and a great addition to the missing toys picture book collection. I Must Have Bobo would also be a fun readaloud for preschoolers-who I'm sure can relate!

Clink by Kelly DiPucchio illustrated by Matthew Myers

2011/40 pgs

Clink is a robot who was made to make toast and play music at the same time. But of course, technology moves fast and soon Clink is outdated and unwanted. Clink waits patiently in the robot shop until a boy shows up and belives that Clink just might be the robot for him.

A fantastic picture book and one of my favorites of 2011! Wonderful, bright, colorful illustrations, a fun and heartwarming plot and characters you want to cheer for.

The Great Moon Hoax by Stephen Krensky illustrated by Josee Bisaillon

2011/30 pgs

In order to sell papers, the New York Sun told a story about the moon in 1835. They claimed a telescope had found all sorts of things on the moon and the newspaper boys had lots to talk about and sell that day. This is a fun look at an interesting story in history and readers who like a good laugh would be sure to like it. My only complaint would be that at times I wasn't able to tell exactly what time period the story took place.

Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House by Libby Gleeson, Freya Blackwood

2009/32 pgs

I had high expectations for this book since the cover mentioned various awards the book had won. It was a cute story, but I expected a lot more. The illlustrations were nice and I liked how we got a good look into Clancy and Millie's imagination, but I thought Bella and Stella Come Home was a better take on moving and imagination in picture books.

Night on the Range by Aaron Frisch, illustrated by Chris Sheban

2010/32 pgs

A young cowpoke wants to be a real cowboy and spend a night on the range. But a night on the range can be full of spooky sounds and strange critters-can a cowpoke be brave? A cute, sweet story that's great for young boys to read with their fathers. My brother went through a cowboy phase when he was in kindergarten and this book reminded me a lot of him then. There are some pages with lots of text, so it's a longer picture book-I would suggest it for ages 4+.

Scare a Bear by Kathy-Jo Wargin

2010/32 pgs

How would you scare a bear? Rhyming text gives readers various situations and outcomes for trying to scare a bear and what might happen. Reminiscint of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, this was a cute read, but not my favorite picture book.

Me and You by Anthony Browne

2010/32 pgs

A fun picture book that tells Goldilock and the Three Bears stories. We get both sides of the story in parallel stories and pictures. Good for ages 4+

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Kishnaswami


About the Book: Dini's parents have just announced that they're moving to India for two whole years! Dini can't believe her parents are making her move away from her best friend Maddie and now she has to miss out on the Bollywood dance class she and Maddie were going to take. But India is home to Dini and Maddie's favorite movies and their favorite Bollywood star, Dolly Singh. Dini's parents aren't moving to Bombay, the movie capital of India, but instead to a small town called Swapnagiri. Surprises are ahead for Dini as she discovers that her favorite star might be closer than she thinks-and Dini has a plan to meet her idol.

Sarah TeenlibrarianSays: Our summer reading theme this year for the kids program is One World, Many Stories, and I can't wait to highlight The Grand Plan to Fix Everything as a great read for our theme! Ms. Kishnaswami transports readers to Swapnagiri and throws us right into a storyline that is a wonderful nod to Dini's favorite Bollywood films.

I did think at times Dini seemed a bit younger than an eleven-year-old and at the beginning the narration seemed a bit simplistic. But it picked up and got better as the story went on, so maybe I was just being a bit picky at first.

The story is mainly about Dini, but there are many supporting characters that appear and we learn about their stories as well. It's a somewhat silly story and you have to suspend some belief, but that's the charm of the book. The book really does read like a script for a Bollywood film complete with some zany and charming characters, a romance, random happenstance and coincidence-I even expected the characters to break out into song!

Dini might be eleven, but I would hand this one over to early tween readers looking for a funny, light story that will take them to a new part of the world. The book has fantastic illustrations that accompany the story and the book is fast paced-I read it in one sitting. There's plenty of humor and madcap fun to keep readers engaged.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

by Tom Angleberger  160 pages

A group of sixth grade friends are trying to figure out whether Dwight, the class weirdo/outcast, really has an Origami Yoda that can use magical powers to give advice, or whether it's just Dwight talking in a funny voice with a green paper wad on his finger. The story is written in a notebook style with cartoons like the Wimpy Kid series. Tommy is collecting "case files" from his classmates to determine whether Origami Yoda is real. Are Yoda's magical powers the only way Dwight could give good advice? Tommy needs to know so he can decide whether he should ask a girl to dance at the PTA Fun Night. This is both a fun story and a good picture of the awkward, self-conscious middle schooler learning to make his way through friendship and how to talk to girls.

Whose Body?

by Dorothy Sayers  224 pages

Whose Body? is the first in the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy Sayers. We meet Lord Peter, who is much smarter than his mindless, foppish exterior would lead you to believe. He uses this to his advantage to work as an amateur detective: "assisting" Inspector Charles Parker of the Scotland Yard. It's a fun combination of quirky characters including Bunter, Lord Peter's valet, and his mother the Dowager Duchess, and a gruesome mystery.

The story begins with a dead man found in a bath tub, naked except for a pair of pince nez, and the adventure continues including a missing financier, anatomical dissection, and the best way to navigate across London rooftops.

The Peach Keeper

by Sarah Addison Allen  288 pages

Sarah Addison Allen combines romance, mystery, and magical realism in the small town setting of Walls of Water, North Carolina. The book alternates between the stories of two women: Willa Jackson runs a store in town and feels like an outsider, even though she grew up there. Paxton Osgood, who was the most popular girl in high school, is trying to find her place as an adult. The reader will enjoy the themes of women's friendship and coming to a relationship with a strong sense of self-worth. At the same time, there is a southern gothic mystery element when a body is discovered on the grounds of a restored haunted house. This is both a gentle read as well as an intriguing mystery.

"Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain" by Portia de Rossi

308 pages

In this memoir, Portia de Rossi (actress from "Ally McBeal" and "Arrested Development," and wife of Ellen DeGeneres) chronicles her nearly lifelong struggle with anorexia and bulimia. From the time she was a child, she fluctuated between binging, purging, and starving herself. When she began to pursue a modeling/acting career, the pressure she felt to stay thin and to hide the fact that she was a lesbian pushed her further and further into her eating disorder. "Unbearable Lightness" tells the story of how she hit rock-bottom, slowly learned to accept her body and her sexuality, and eventually fully recovered.

I often have trouble relating to celebrities, even ones with big problems, because they live in such a different world than most of us. I don't feel like that about Portia, though. She's incredibly honest in the book and that made her seem like an ordinary person, stumbling through life like the rest of us. Her feelings come across as very real and very raw. Although her struggle was exasperated by her Hollywood career, it's obvious that her self-loathing and troubled relationship with food began long before she started acting and go deeper than superficial concern about her appearance. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to know what's going on in the mind of someone with anorexia. I can't decide if this story is good or bad for those who have eating disorders, though. It might be bad for some people who are still deeply wrapped up in anorexia or bulimia because there are lots of references to Portia's actual weight and specific disordered behaviors that she had, and that's almost always bad for people with anorexia to hear. On the other hand, I think this story would be a great inspiration to people who are in the process of recovering from an eating disorder.

Cutting for Stone

by Abraham Verghese  688 pages

Cutting for Stone's main focus is on Shiva and Marion Stone, twin brothers growing up in Ethiopa, but it is also an epic saga that includes the backstories of a variety of characters. We learn about their biological parents: Dr. Thomas Stone, an English physician who runs the Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa, and the late Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a nursing nun. We also meet their foster parents, neighbors, and the patients in the clinic. The novel takes place during the politically tumultous years of Hailie Selassie's rule and it includes a lot of Ethiopan culture and history. The two brothers both pursue medical careers in very different ways, and in different parts of the world. The author includes very vivid descriptions of medical procedures that might be too much for some readers. The reader will be compelled to see what happens to the vividly-described characters. There is foreshadowing of tragedy throughout that culminates in a dramatic ending.


by Graham Moore, 350 pages

A two level mystery, combining a modern literary mystery set in the community of Sherlockian scholars with a period piece starring Conan Doyle and his Watson, Bram Stoker.

For me the most interesting part of this book is the afterword of the author, where he talks about the real life mysterious death of a prominent Sherlockian in London. Truth is sometimes more bizarre than fiction.

As for the rest of the book, I didn't find any of the characters compelling or likeable, with the exception of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula. For fans of Sherlockiana, I would recommend Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series, starting with The Beekeeper's Apprentice. King's Holmes is aloof and brilliant while remaining a sympathetic character.

Name of the Wind

Volume One of the Kingkiller Chronicles
by Patrick Rothfuss, 722 pages

Read Jenny E's review for more detailed explanation of the characters and plot. I loved the first person narration of a legendary character called Kvothe, from his days as a child in a traveling troupe of Edema Ru to his swift rise into the Arcanum of the University in Imre, the acclaimed capital of wizardry. Kvothe is by turns charming, insolent, brave and fool-hardy. He has a good heart, but that doesn't stop him from being the victim of malfeasance by an aristocratic bounder who is envious of Kvothe's superior talents.

I am already reading book two of the series, The Wise Man's Fear. Kvothe once again is being threatened by malevolent forces. Rothfuss is such a skilled story-teller that I am already anxious for Book 3.

School of Night

by Louis Bayard  352 pages

School of Night fits into a category I like to call Shakepearean adventure: a modern day thriller based on documents/clues from the Elizabethan era. The current caper story includes a lost letter from Sir Walter Raleigh, alchemists' gold, secret ciphers, and a treasure map. Henry Cavendish is an unsuccessful Elizabethan scholar, and finds himself in the middle of scholarly intrigue, ruthless antiquities collectors, and a mysterious, and beautiful, security consultant. Henry has to use his knowledge of the School of Night, a secret debating club formed by Christopher Marlowe, Raleigh, and the scientific genius/alchemist Thomas Hariot, to solve the mystery. The book builds suspense as it alternates between the present day and Elizabethan stories, and results in a dramatic ending.

Game of Thrones

Volume 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire

by George R.R. Martin, 694 pages

I started this a while ago on a friend's recommendation, but got distracted. With Sean Bean starring in the debut of the HBO tv series, I had more incentive to finish it, and I am glad I did.

Martin has created vivid settings and varied cultures, and a byzantine plot line. The Tudors and Borgias don't have anything on the corrupt rulers of the Lannister family. Opposite them you have the flawed but compelling characters of the Stark family, Lords of Winterfell in the icy North. One of the Stark mottoes is Winter Is Coming, which doesn't quite evoke the dire warning it is. In the Seven Kingdoms, the seasons can last a dozen years or more. As the novel opens, summer is waning, and winter is coming.

Someone told me that Martin was inspired by the War of the Roses in Britain, and the houses names sound similar, Lannister for Lancaster and Stark for York. The armies clash, plots are hatched, rulers dispatched while up in the far north beyond The Wall, a malevolent force is on the move...south.

I enjoyed the complexity of the plot--you are never sure which characters will prove true-hearted or not. I am already into the next book, A Clash of Kings. One warning: the series isn't finished yet, and Martin is famed for keeping his fans waiting....and waiting.


by Lisa Gardner  480 pages
Alone begins with Bobby Dodge, Massachusetts police sniper, called to the scene of a hostage situation. After he kills a man who seems to be about to shoot his wife and son, Bobby deals with the psychological aftermath of the shooting, and is accused of colluding with the widow, Catherine Gagnon. She is dealing with her own psychological baggage as a childhood abduction survivor, and as the mother of a child suffering from a mysterious chronic illness. The suspense builds as we follow several story lines, including characters such as a crooked judge, the pedophile who abducted Catherine years ago, and D.D. Warren, the police detective who appears in several of Gardner's other books.

Started Early, Took My Dog

by Kate Atkinson  384 pages

This is the fourth book in the Jackson Brodie detective series. Brodie is semi-retired and returns to his hometown of Leeds to trace the biological parents of Hope McMasters. The theme of adoptees continues as we meet Tracy Waterhouse, a retired police detective who works a retail security job. Worried about the fate of a small child she sees at the shopping center, she finds herself buying the child from a habitual offender she knows from her police work. The author alternates between past and present, and between the viewpoints of Brodie, Waterhouse, and Tilly, an actress suffering the early stages of Alzheimers. This is both a satisfying mystery as well as a character driven story in which we learn more about Brodie's murdered sister, ex-wives, children and the dog he forcibly adopts from an abusive owner. Brodie is an interesting character, and I hope that Atkinson will continue to write more about him.


by Karen Russell  336 pages

Swamplandia is a tourist attraction in the 10,000 Islands in southwest Florida that's seen better days. Ava Bigtree, 12, is trying to figure out how to grieve after her mother's death from cancer, and how to help her family resurrect their dying business. Ava is a vivid and sympathetic character, who is forced by her father's benign neglect to become self reliant. As Ava trains to become an alligator wrestler like her mother, she also has to deal with her sister, who is in love with a ghost, and her brother who runs off to the mainland to work for a rival theme park in an attempt to raise money for his family's debt.

 As the children become exposed to the outside world, they learn what an isolated existence they have been living, and realize they need more help than their father can provide. This is primarily a quirky coming of age story, but it also contains Ava's nightmarish (and disturbing) journey through the swamps with the Birdman, who turns out to be a very sinister character. I enjoyed Swamplandia's vivid characters and settings, but I would have preferred a more hopeful ending.

"The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery" by Eric Foner

426 pages

Abraham Lincoln's views about slavery and African Americans in general are often misunderstood. Here, Foner examines Lincoln's speeches, writings, law career, and political decisions to show what the 16th president really thought about what was probably the most controversial issue of his time. It's clear that Lincoln's views were more complex than many people realize: while he hated slavery, he also publicly rejected political and social equality for blacks, hesitated to emancipate slaves and accept black recruits into the Union army, and advocated sending blacks to overseas colonies instead of allowing them to integrate into American society. However, his opinion of slavery and African Americans did evolve throughout his life, especially during the Civil War, and he became more determined to free the slaves and improve their situations as he got older. Also, Foner argues, Lincoln went further than any president before him to represent the rights of black people in America, and his presidency marked a shift in the way Americans thought about race, rights, and citizenship.

I learned a lot from this book, and much of it surprised me. Abraham Lincoln is often deified as the "Great Emancipator" (from my perspective, at least), and while part of this reputation is deserved, he wasn't as revolutionary as some of us are taught in school. I didn't realize how racist some of Lincoln's views were. That said, he was still progressive in the context of his political and social environment, and he did become more sympathetic to the African-American cause as time went by. I think Foner does a good job of taking lots of historical details and turning them into an interesting narrative, and I enjoyed this book all the way through.

Gideon's Sword

by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, 342 pages

In their most recent collaboration, Preston and Child have created a new protagonist named Gideon Crew. He is younger and more reckless than FBI Special Agent Pendergast, the beloved hero of their other joint series.

(Mini-spoilers follow)

Crew witnessed a horrific event in childhood, which impells him into a world of danger and risk taking as an adult. But just when he retires from being a notorious art thief, a bizarre shadow organization rather forcefully recruits him to make contact with a defecting Chinese scientist. Mayhem and murder result while Crew is being tailed by a notorious Chinese assassin bent on obtaining the same important scientific discovery.

Gideon is smart and likeable and the plot is adrenalin-stoked. However, I didn't find his character as interesting as Pendergast. For me, Pendergast is like an Elvish (think Tolkien, not Keebler) Sherlock Holmes. Incredibly strong, swift and remarkably brilliant, Pendergast is still my favorite hero for a thriller.

If you haven't been spoiled by Special Agent Pendergast, you will probably enjoy Gideon Crew's adventures. That means I am assuming there will be more novels starring Crew. In the meantime, you could check out the first in the Pendergast series, Relic.

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross

A very literate mystery, this story weaves the story of Sam Sheppard (of which numerous books and tv and movies have been made...think The Fugitive) and the story of a New York couple and another side story about a detective and his spousal issues into one really interesting story.  At times, it's difficult to tell which story Adam Ross intends to make the main one and for folks who don't like books that "jump around" from story line to story line, I would recommend avoiding this one.  But if you like your mysteries wrapped in studies of human behavior and observations of the marital condition, then you'll enjoy Mr. Peanut.

I Has A Hotdog

One hundred plus pages
A companion volume to I Can Has Cheezburger? for dog lovers.

Adorable puppies, demon dogs, fluffy, scruffy, lean or pudgy pups, LOL Dogs will make you grin and chuckle.

A fun way to spend what otherwise would be a boring afternoon or evening.

May stats

A friendly reminder to compile your stats for May as soon as possible! This makes life so much easier for me, I'm totally willing to send chocolate! 

Also-If you have books you've read in May but do not get them posted today PLEASE backdate them to May or they will be counted as June reads. 

Many thanks!

The Soul Thief

The Soul Thief (The Soul Thief)The Soul Thief by Cecilia Holland  304 pages

The Soul Thief is the first in Holland's series of Viking novels set in the tenth century. When an Irish coastal town is raided, nearly the whole town perishes. Corban, who had been banished for failing to fight for the High King, survives. He travels to Jorvik (York) in search of his twin sister, Mav. Their psychic connection, and other mystical elements, are found throughout Corban's series of adventures. He meets King Eric Bloodaxe, who was responsible for killing his family, and becomes wrapped up in the rivalries between kings and sorcerers. Corban matures over the course of his quest, and builds a group of friends that help each other survive the terrible conditions created by the brutal king. The author spends more time describing the life of the lower classes, though she also provides details about some of the actual Viking rulers of the period. This is the first of a six book series, and its ending leaves the characters ready for a new adventure.

Desires of the Dead

by Kimberly Derting
355 pages

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Body Finder (I actually cried at the ending). I had high hopes for this and though not entirely disappointed, I grew tired of the silly teen romance. Maybe I'm just growing bitter in my old age.

Violet has a special power, she can see the "echoes" of those that have died and imprints on those that have killed them. In the first novel, Violet finds herself involved in the hunt for a serial killer and soon becomes his target. In Desires of the Dead, she is harassed by a jealous classmate, contacted by the FBI and getting more and more serious with her new boyfriend, and best friend, Jay. Though there is a mystery to solve, most of the time is spent going over the trials and tribulations of young love. I do recommend this if you've read the first one and I will probably read any continuation of the series.

Monday, May 30, 2011


by Ally Condie
384 pages

In a Utopian society, Cassia Reyes has just turned 17 and is going to the Match Banquet to receive her match assignment, the person that has been chosen for her to marry and procreate with. Unprecedentedly she is matched with her best friend Xander. After the ceremony, once she is home, she views the Xander's biography and another boy's face appears at the end of the video. She knows him too. Now she starts to question the validity of her match to Xander as well as the control the Society has over everything and the rules they enforce.
I found this to be a very quick read, somewhat reminiscent of other young adult, near-future, rebellious teenager novels. Some comparisons can be made between Cassia and Katniss from the Hunger Games novels, though Katniss is far more advanced rebellion-wise. My only complaint is why do so many young adult novels these days have to be set up for an entire series. Sometimes I do want the story to end.

The Onion Girl

by Charles DeLint
506 pages

OK, I didn't finish this book. I only got to page 179. I picked it up because several books I've read lately mentioned it in the Acknowledgment or referenced it in some way and I was curious. I really wanted to get into it, but I just wasn't grabbing me.
I won't be counting this in my page count because Jen said she "won't reward me for giving up" but I wanted to post this to see if anyone can convince me to finish it or if I was right to "give up."

The Pleasure of My Company

by Steve Martin
176 pgs

In this novella, Martin introduces us to Daniel Pecan Cambridge, a young man with OCD. His habits and compulsions obviously affect his relationships with the many women in his life. He is infatuated by they real estate agent across the street but can't seem to find the right way to ask her out. He is obsessed with the Rite-Aid pharmacist but it takes hours to see her since he can only cross the street where two driveways are directly across from each other. He is supported financially by his grandmother, since she is the only one who understands him. And he is studied by a therapist-in-training, Clarissa, who eventually turns his life and routines upside-down.
I thought the descriptions of Daniels quirks and problems were humorous but his struggles were portrayed with compassion. You came to understand why someone would have to leave a certain amount of light bulbs lit so their combined wattage always totaled 1,125. And you're rooting for Daniel as his life begins to turn around.

Our Father Who Art in the Tree

by Judy Pascoe
176 pgs

Our Father Who Art in the Tree explores the hardship and grief of a family shortly after the father dies. The family is slowing falling apart when the only daughter, ten-year-old Simone, discovers she can hear her father talking to her from the top of the Poinciana tree in their yard. Eventually she convinces her distraught mother to climb the tree to see for herself.
Through these conversations in the tree, time and a massive storm, the family begins to heal and cope with the loss of their patriarch.
I came across this in passing at the library and found it to be a touching story. I had to look up the poinciana tree, since I had never heard of it. They have beautiful red-orange flowers.