Friday, September 2, 2011

Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips



2011/387 pages

Another one of Phillips' quirky southern charmers. This is part of the Wynette Texas series, but I jumped in midstream with this one. Phillips is one author who can always make me laugh.

After ruining her best friend Lucy's wedding to the town's favorite son, Meg finds herself stranded in Wynette without funds or transportation. She is forced to take menial, dirty jobs or face jail time for her unpaid motel bill. Phillips goes a bit far in arranging this scenario, which seems a little flimsy at times. However, her characters never fail to charm and amuse her readers. She has an ear for sharp dialogue so her books are especially fun to "read" on audio.

I had a bit of a hard time buying into the romance between Meg and her tormentor, Ted, but I was curious enough about Meg's predicament to hang on until the end. Remind me to never run out of gas and money in a tiny Texas town!

"Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived" by Rob Bell

198 pages

Millions of Christians have struggled with how to reconcile God's love and God's judgment. Did God create billions of people only to select a few to go to heaven? What about the people who have been hurt by Christians? Or the ones who have never heard about Jesus? These are troubling questions—so troubling that many have lost their faith because of them. Others who stay in the church might think about these things but feel too scared to voice their concerns out loud. Some just try not to think about it. But here, pastor and bestselling author Rob Bell asks: what if these questions bother us for a good reason? Is God trying to tell us something? Perhaps contemporary Christian views about heaven, hell, and salvation are distorted from what God intends. Bell uses a variety of Scriptures to support the idea that God wants everyone--every single person ever born--to be reconciled to Him one day, and because he's all-powerful, one day that will happen.

Needless to say, this is an extremely controversial idea that has earned Bell a lot of criticism and ridicule from the Christian community. I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. Although I don't agree with everything Bell says here, I think he does make some very good points and I got a lot out of "Love Wins." I won't get into the theology here, but I will say that Bell backs his ideas up with Scripture--his interpretation of it, that is. Of course, the mainstream ideas about Christianity are based on interpretation as well, so it's a matter of perspective. Some verses are clear-cut, but most require some level of analysis and then there's the matter of translation. In some cases, Bell makes some pretty big leaps in his arguments, but for the most part he supports himself well. I'm guessing that some of his most vocal critics haven't even read the book, as I've discovered that many of the claims against him aren't true--mainly, that he doesn't believe in hell or that there are people in hell (he certainly does). The bottom line is that this book will definitely make me examine my own beliefs and inspire lots of discussion, which is always good.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan



2011/307pgs

WARNING: This is the longest review ever-sorry about that! I guess I had lots to say!:)

About the Book: In a future where Earth is being destroyed, the hopes of finding a new planet to continue life is pinned on two ships-the Empyrean and the New Horizon. Waverly is the oldest girl on the Empyrean and wants a bit more to her life other than a proposal from Kieran, the oldest Empyrean boy. When the Empyrean is met up with their sister ship, New Horizon, the ship is abuzz with what the ship could want. Soon, the Empyrean is being mounted and all the girls are whisked away to a new life on the New Horizon.

As the oldest, Waverly knows she must fight for their survival and rights. The New Horizon has never been able to successfully conceive children in deep space and they want the girls of the Empyrean to help them create a new generation. Meanwhile, on the Empyrean, the boys are looking for a way to survive and save their friends and family. Kieran tries to take leadership of the ship, but is overthrown.

With Waverly and Kieran surrounded by enemies, they must each formulate a plan to save their ship and those around them.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: Glow is one of the big buzz books of 2011. I finished it a week ago and I'm still unsure what I thought about it. To make it easier for me to formulate my thoughts, I'm going to break this review down into what I liked and what I didn't like.

What I liked: I liked that Waverly is pretty kick butt and I can see her growing during the rest of the series into a nice, strong, female lead that you really want to cheer on. I also liked that the book is straight science fiction-this is scifi in space in the future-no genre mashups. There's a bit of romance in the book, but it's not a focal point. Instead the story is more about Waverly and Kieran and their respective trials of survival in their own way. Waverly is fighting a more psychological battle where Kieran is fighting more of a physical and spiritual one. There's a small hint that there might be a love triangle, but I'm holding out hope that that doesn't happen in future books, because I think the story is strong enough without it. (Also, the character that could possibly be in the love triangle is kind of a jerk, so I would have a hard time wanting Waverly to be with him.)

Glow is fast paced and the action starts very early on-just a few pages in, which makes for a quick, page-turning read. The story alternates between what's happening with Waverly and her ship and Kieran and his ship. The New Horizon is an interesting ship that will get readers talking for sure! Anne Mather is the leader, or Pastor, of the ship and it borderlines on a cult. She's a great bad guy because you never know who to trust or not, what to believe and you want Waverly to fight back. Kieran on the other hand is dealing with a ship that has been attacked, trying to keep up morale and find a way to save his ship, it's passengers and the missing girls. Kieran begins holding meetings and preaching sermons to boost morale. One ship has religion that is bad and harmful, another has a religion that is hopeful and healing.

There's an exploration of what people do to survive in tough situations, religion, trust, relationships, power vs. absoulte power and what is right or wrong and are there blurred lines at times. With everything that is going on in the plot, this one could be ripe for book discussions and dissecting the plot.


What I didn't like: (WARNING: I'm trying to avoid spoilers and be a bit vague, but there may be some spoilers here!!) At times I found the third person narrative and the alternating stories a bit frustrating. This meant the reader knows what is happening when the characters do not, which made their actions a bit hard to deal with since I knew more about the situation then they did. I also felt Waverly was unfair to Kieran and they should have just talked out a lot of things. I felt they never showed any understanding about each other and were both stubborn in their own ways. I know not everything could be wrapped up in one book since this is a series, but Waverley frustrated me by the end with her stubbornness to see everything as good or bad and never the possibility that some things are situational. She was so unaccepting of Kieran which really annoyed me, since I as the reader had been there with him through his trials as well. I also felt that Kieran was much more willing to listen to Waverly than she was to him. I understand that Waverly's situation gave her a bad experience, especially with religion, but she's so willing to brush off Kieran because of her own explanation and experience instead of understanding his side. I hope this gets explored more in the next books, as I think Waverly is being rash. She has issues with trust, which I guess I can understand, but I still felt she was being unfair by the end.

I didn't like that Seth was jerk-we know what happened as the reader because we're told in third person what was going on the ship. So we're told that Seth is not great. But then we're supposed to start to wonder about him and if he's really good or bad. Since we were told about what happened early on, I had a hard time buying into the fact that maybe he wasn't so bad. I think this would have been better with a different narration style.

The author is trying to set up a discussion of power and does power bring absolute power, which I think in some ways works and in others doesn't. Again, I had problems with this because of the way Waverly and Kieran's stories hang at the end of this book. Waverly refuses to trust and see Kieran's side, Kieran has a different viewpoint because of his own situation. Plus, I really hated how Seth was trying to convince everyone that Kieran was out for absolute power. The author makes note in the first two chapters that Kieran is the oldest child and oldest boy on the ship and it's known to everyone on the ship that he is in line to take over after the Captain. He's the Captain's protege. But when the attack happens and Kieran begins to lead, Seth questions him and tries to turn everyone else against him. He claims that Kieran is out for control and power and wonders why they didn't hold an election. Um, the ship was being attacked, people are dying and missing, and you want to hold an election? Plus, we've been told by this point several times how Kieran is in line to take over, so by rule of succession, Kieran taking over makes sense. This just really made me dislike Seth's character even more.

I also never really understood why they just took the girls. Why not take the boys too? If they could never have children, wouldn't having some boys on board help multiply their next generation like they wanted? The whole thing never really made sense to me-I would have wanted both genders to increase my population for sure.

The end doesn't wrap anything up, there are lots of questions unanswered and the cliffhanger is just a bit meh. It leaves you wishing the book was longer and that the whole story could wrap up if the characters would just talk to each other more!

Don't get me wrong-there were things I liked and I think the buzz that this one is generating is great. I like that science fiction, especially scifi set in space, is making a comeback. I think there will be lots of readers who are in love this book, but for me it was a middle of the road novel. I'll read the next books because I'm interested enough to keep going and I want to know what happens and I want answers to my questions, but it's not a book I'll be raving about.

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma



2011/348 pgs

About the Book: Chloe's older sister Ruby is the beautiful girl who everyone in town wants to be. Ruby always gets whatever she wants. When Chloe finds the body of a classmate, London, floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from Ruby. But Ruby always gets what she wants-and soon Chloe is able to return and London is alive. No one but Chloe seems to know the truth and Ruby seems to have a strange hold over London and everyone else in town.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: Imaginary Girls is a haunting, creepy and delicious book. It explores the bonds of sisterly love but adds a bit of horror to the story. It's contemporary but not exactly contemporary-it's hard to say exactly what genre it would fall under. It's easy to fall under Ruby's spell and I think this one has a good shot at making an award list come January. Right now it's in my top three picks for Printz! Highly recommended for book clubs-great discussion book!

Liesel & Po by Lauren Oliver



2011/320 pgs

About the Book: Liesl lives in a small attic room where she was banished by her evil stepmother. Liesl didn't even get a chance to say goodbye to her father who recently passed away. So when Liesl discovers a ghost named Po in her attic room, she hopes that Po can get a message to the other side for her father.

Outside the attic room, an alchemist's apprentice is watching Liesl from the street. Will wishes he could be friends with the girl in the attic and his daydreaming causes him to make a mistake-he switches his box of the most powerful magic in the world with the box containing the ashes of Liesl's father.

This sets off a string of events that lead Will, Liesl and Po on an extraordinary journey.


Sarah Teenlibrarian Says:
If you're looking for a book to hand over to middle grade readers who want something that's a lighter fantasy with some adventure, Liesl & Po is a perfect choice. I can see readers who really like this one, loving it to pieces and clutching it to them with each re-read. I think this book will have a dedicated fanbase of tween readers who devour it.

I really like when books have varying storylines that all twist together somehow and Liesl & Po has lots of those! I almost felt the book should have been called Liesl, Po and Will, because Will does play a big part in the story and I liked his eventual friendship with Liesl. There are lots of characters which means lots of stories and action to keep track of, but it never felt like it was too muddled in keeping each story straight. In fact, I felt the stories could have been drawn out even more. There were things that were mentioned that I wished were more fleshed out. What happened to the guards sister? What will happen to the adults in the end? Where did Po come from? I still had questions at the end!

Although I had my questions, the story is a beautiful one with themes of family, friendship, magic and finding peace. The writing is touching and heartwarming with the right touch of humor. The world is a magical one that feels a bit foreign and historical-think Victorian setting-as well as having a touch of today. The characters of Liesl, Po and Will are characters that readers will like and want to see succeed. The kids are good, the bad guys are bad, and things aren't always as they seem. There are some twists that while I found predictable, I think some tween readers will find a surprise. The whole book has a feel of a classic tale with ghosts, greedy adults, and kids looking for a home.

A nice addition to libraries looking to add to their middle grade fantasy collections. It could also be a good read aloud, since I think it would have appeal to both genders-it doesn't lean too "girl read" or "guy read." I would recommend to readers who enjoy fantasy or books that have an old classic storytelling feel to them.





Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles



2011/308pgs

About the Book: Luis Fuentes has always been the brother who is expected to be good and not get into trouble. He has ambitions to become an astronaut and his life has been about sheltering him from the gang violence his brothers grew up so he can achieve his dreams. But Luis has a side that makes him want to take risks, and there's no greater risk than Nikki Cruz.

Nikki Cruz has been hurt by guys in the past and she's not about to trust a guy like Luis-a guy she knows will only end up breaking her heart. Nikki has secrets that make her keep her guard up, but will Luis be able to break them down?

When Luis discovers secrets about his family, he has a choice to make. Will Nikki be enough to save him from a dangerous life?

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: Oh, those Fuentes brothers-they are so hot, how can you not love them all??:) Chain Reaction is another exciting entry into the Perfect Chemistry series, this time telling the story of the youngest brother, Luis. Chain Reaction is a great conclusion to the Perfect Chemistry series and has everything readers will be looking for. Steamy romance-check. Cute crushworthy boy-check. Some drama and surprises to keep readers guessing-check. Couple you want to see make it-check.

Where Alex and Carlos has bad boy streaks, Luis is more cocky and confident, but more of a good guy. He's trying hard not to get involved with the Latino Blood and is trying to stay out of trouble. Nikki isn't so much a bad girl, but instead a girl with secrets that provide her a reason to guard herself from guys. She doesn't want to fall again and get hurt. She's more independent than bad girl, but both Luis and Nikki have their "bad" streaks which makes their romance pretty steamy!

I wish we would have gotten to see their relationship develop more. I felt like in the previous two books, we really got to see the characters fall for each other and spend time getting to know each other. Luis and Nikki have that too, but we don't get to witness it as much-instead we're told about all the time they're spending together and witness they're very hot and heavy make out sessions. I felt like they spent a lot of time making out and that there connection was more physical than in the other books. The times that we do get to see them getting to know each other are sweet and I can see how they would fall for each other. I just would have liked to spend more time with them as that happened.

A treat for fans of the first two books is that we get to see Alex and Brittnay, Carlos and Kiara. I loved revisiting these characters and catching up with them and I'm sure any reader who enjoyed the first two will love these scenes.

There are some surprises in this book which added to the drama. I understood Luis and Nikki's motives, but most of the time I wanted them to stop being so dumb and tell them to just talk to each other already! They really liked making each other miserable and pushing each other away and then pulling back in. They have a lot of give and take which can be a bit frustrating. Serious, why wouldn't they just talk to each already??

While this is the conclusion to the series, the epilogues in each book I think leave it open for us to revisit the Fuentes family again in the future. Maybe we'll get lucky and we'll hear the kids stories next? I also felt that while Chain Reaction is part of a series, it could be read alone and the author does a nice job filling in details readers may need to know from previous books. Another great read full of drama and romance-hand this one to your romance readers who like their books with a bit of spice.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends

Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe
308 pages

This book definitely will go on my top 10 books for 2011. I am not normally a nonfiction reader but do like biographies. I think everyone will be surprised at the story of Rob Lowes life. His detailed stories of what it was like growing up, when his parents got divorced and what it was like to live down the street from the Sheen's growing up. It is riveting! He saw himself as a nerd in school and was always trying to figure out how to be the "cool" kid. He reads the audiobook version and it is really amazing. He doesn't seem to hold much back and really gives you an inside look at what it was like to be a young actor. His reading is great as you would expect but the voices he uses for characters like Cary Grant, Tom Cruise and Martin Sheen are really entertaining. I loved it and look forward to reading it again!

Buffalo West Wing

Buffalo West Wing, Julie Hyzy
305 pages

I love this series! This is book 4 in the White House Chef mystery series. This is a series that works through a pretty specific time line so you will want to read them in order - so that they make sense. Olive Paras the head chef at the White House has to deal with a myriad of details and issues everyday while cooking for the President, first family and world leaders. There is always something going wrong and Olivia is always involved to help solve the mystery. If you like the Diane Mott Davidson series you will like Julie Hyzy's White House Chef Mystery Series.

The Language of Flowers

The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh
322 pages

I was worred that this was going to be one of those books that drags you down every time you read a few chapters-- I am relieved to say that it wasn't. The story was wonderful with a great mix of emotion and a little suspenseful at times. The relationships of the characters was incredible I loved the ebb and flow of all the characters. What a great book - I see what all the buzz is about!

Yes Day! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld



2009/40 pgs

Once a year, no matter how silly the question may be, the answer will be yes! This is a fun concept and I think it would be fun to read as a family and then participate in your own yes day.

All the Things I Love About You by LeUyen Pham



2010/40 pgs

A cute, touching picture book about a mother's love for her son. This could be sappy but it never veers into sappy territory which made me very happy! The illustrations are wonderful and you can tell LeUyen Pham is the mother of boys! Parents will be nodding their heads along and laughing as they read this one to children.

Which Hat Is That by Anna Grossnickle Hines illustrated by LeUyen Pham



2002/36 pgs

Another great book for storytime! This one is a "lift the flap" book which gives it a nice interactive guessing component for storytime. And you can't go wrong with illustrations by LeUyen Pham! Plus, the hats are unique which adds a nice twist to the book.

My Book Box by Will Hillenbrand



2006/32 pgs

This book is great for toddlers and preschoolers. Plus, it has an easy built in craft that goes along with it as you can have children make their own book box!

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury



2008/34 pgs

Another toddler storytime book! Children love seeing babies and this picture book is full of them! I really like the multicultural cast of characters in the illustrations. The text has a nice rhyme and rhythm and repeats "ten little fingers and ten little toes" which gives children a chance to join in the story as well as have parents play with their children while reading. A new favorite!

Tip Tip Dig Dig by Emma Garcia



2007/32 pgs

Need a book for storytime about trucks? Tip Tip Dig Dig is perfect! Bright colors, large font, and easy vocabulary makes this a great toddler book.

Shoes for Me by Sue Fliess, illustrated by Mike Laughead



2011/24pgs

I love shoes, as does my niece, so I can't wait to share this book with her. Shoe shopping can be quite an adventure as this young hippo discovers. She's on the hunt for the perfect pair of shoes-we can all relate to that, right? The illustrations are bright and colorful and the variety of shoes the character finds adds a touch of fun. Could also be good for storytime.

Annie Hoot and the Knitting Extravaganza by Holly Clifton-Brown



2010/32 pgs

Recently there was a Twitter hashtag about hipster childrens books and Annie Hoot fits that perfectly! She's a knitting owl-how cool is that? The owl's don't appreciate Annie's talent so she flies all over to find animals that do. I told a friend who is a knitter about this book and she thought it was great-it combines her love for knitting with reading to her daughter which is a fun combination.

Lines That Wiggle by Candace Whitman illustrated by Steve Wilson



2009/40 pgs

An inventive picture book! What I liked most was the texture of the lines so kids not only see the lines wiggle around each page, but can feel them move as well. Great for a lapsit or for older readers to read themselves.

Sheep Out to Eat by Nancy Shaw, Illustrated by Margot Apple



1995/32 pgs

I found this while shelving picture books and it looked fun! Sheep go out to eat, but them complain about the menu. A funny book that preschoolers would enjoy.

I now pronounce you someone else by Erin McCahan



2010/272pgs

This book was just OK. I felt it would have worked better if the main character had been a college freshman instead of a high school senior. It's all about her meeting a boy (soon after she dumps her previous boyfriend-I think it was like the day after) and then soon they are engaged and planning a wedding. I know some teen girls who would get swept up in that idea, but I felt the story would have worked better if she was just a bit older. It's a nice book about identity though and could work for fans of chick lit.

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins



2011/338 pgs

Never did I think I'd fall in love with a boy named Cricket, but sigh..Cricket is pretty awesome! This is a companion to Anna and the French Kiss, so we get some glimpses of Anna and St Clair, but if readers haven't read the first book, this one stands on it's own.

I was a bit annoyed that Lola had a boyfriend-why do all of Stephanie Perkins characters have to be in a relationship? But without it, we wouldn't have much conflict I guess. It made it worse because in the beginning I kind of liked Max. I did like how it gave Lola something to work through and be conflicted over and her emotions felt real. I also really liked that she didn't immediately go for Cricket-she's a smart one that Lola!:) This is a nice coming of age story and romance that left me sighing in delight. More from Stephanie Perkins please!!

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher



2010/301 pgs

Written as a letter to the man who kidnapped her, Gemma recounts her kidnapping and her time spent in the Australian outback with Ty. She goes through a range of emotions and told she has Stockholm syndrome as she is conflicted with her feelings for her captor. Lucy Christopher messes with your head all throughout this book! We hate Ty with Gemma, but at the same time, we want to root for Ty and forgive him and view him as vulnerable. We understand Gemma's conflicted emotions. At times I wanted Gemma and Ty to end up together as twisted as that is!

It's not a book that everyone will love, but it's inventive and scary and totally deserving of the Printz Honor it received. It sucked me in and had me second guessing the characters and their emotions. I would highly recommend this one to book clubs-for older teens and adults. Lots of great discussion to come from it!

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman



2000/128 pgs

In my quest to read all Printz books, I picked up Stuck in Neutral. It's a memorable novel and while it's short, it packs a big punch and leaves quite and impression. I can see why it ended up a Printz Honor Book!

Sean has cerebral palsy and can't communicate with his family. But he remembers everything he hears and is actually very smart. He starts to wonder if his father is planning on killing him to end what he thinks is Sean's suffering. Sean is a memorable character and the author doesn't shy away from showing the hardships Sean's handicap has on his family. This is heartbreaking novel that will stay with you.

The Icing on the Cupcake

The Icing on the Cupcake, Jennifer Ross
319 Pages

I love "foodie fiction" and I especially love it when it has recipes. This book follows Ansley through a horrible break up with her fiancee in Dallas to a new life in New York. The intertwined stories of her mother, grandmother and grandfather unfold as she searches for who she really is and what she wants to do next with her life. The cupcake recipes are awesome too!!

Vagabond: Volume 23

by Takehiko Inoue, based on the novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, 204 pages

The Yoshioka attempt, with questionable success and some loss of life, to persuade Kojirô to fulfill their wishes. But with a cowardly, crazy, greedy Matahachi pretending to be a.) decidedly NOT the guy who almost burned their school down last year (although nobody's buying it) and b.) Kojirô's best buddy and only means of communication with the hearing world (although Kojirô's not helping him sell it at all), things certainly go in interesting directions, if not exactly according to the Yoshioka's (or Matahachi's) cleverly laid plans.

Matahachi, Matahachi, Matahachi. What are you doing, you stupid boy? If I weren't cracking up so much, I'd be sad for him and angry at his once again failing to do the right thing out of his deeply ingrained fear of not being good enough. Then again, I think I am sad and angry, too. His habitually self-defeating behavior is clearly rooted in guilt and an inferiority complex, particularly when it comes to Musashi, and he can't seem to give himself the chance to prove himself wrong. He sees powerful Kojirô as a way to start over, but he doesn't do it on the right foot or for the right reasons. And until he can tell the difference and act on it, I don't think Kojirô's going to look at him twice...and Matahachi's not going to be happy with what he sees when he looks at himself.

And just a couple of little details that illustrate why I love this series. In the course of ticking off the wrong people, Matahachi gets a little chunk of his bangs yanked out, and you can see the spot in every close-up frame he's in after that for the next 100+ pages. Also, the snowman. Hilarious and true to character and just more proof that Musashi and Kojirô are kindred spirits.

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You: Volume 4

by Karuho Shiina, 201 pages

Kurumi keeps trying to come between Kazehaya and Sawako, but her schemes keep backfiring in the face of Sawako's trust in her friends and herself. Meanwhile, Yano and Yoshida go on the warpath to get proof of Kurumi's true nature. But what will Sawako do with the truth? Answer it with her own, of course.

What makes one person special to another? You have to feel a little sorry for Kurumi. She plants questions in Sawako's mind and is then surprised when the girl works out an answer. Kurumi goes to such lengths for her one-sided crush, but all she does is smooth the way for her competition and throw up more roadblocks in her own path. That, and she makes Sawako cry, which should generate so much guilt that observers almost start to feel sorry for the perpetrator. Hee. And all the while Sawako's having her epiphany, poor insecure Kazehaya's worried he's being out-specialed by someone else--as if. :)

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer, and the Great Puppet Theater

by Dusty Higgins and Van Jensen, 167 pages

After the dramatic conclusion of the first volume, Pinocchio has wandered off with his current "family" to stake vampires with even more of a vengeance than before. But when his old enemies get their claws on his potential sweetheart, he also enlists the help of his old "family," what's left of a theatre troupe of living wooden puppets like himself, to get her back and find the mastermind behind the entire vampire plot.

More losses are in store for our stringless friend, but I don't think that will ultimately work in his opponents' favor, as it can only stoke the flames of his resolve to take them out, regardless of his physical form. As with the first volume, this one effectively combines jokes and drama and action with inky, scratchy, screentoned art to make an atmospheric, entertaining whole. I can't wait to see Pinocchio kick some evil boss patootie when the final book comes out.

Blade of the Immortal: Volume 1: Blood of a Thousand

by Hiroaki Samura, 184 pages

Manji is a masterless samurai longing to make up for the mistakes of his past. He's also essentially immortal, thanks to a mysterious old nun who took him and his mentally-broken sister in when they had nowhere else to go. Now alone in the world, Manji finds himself talked into playing bodyguard to Rin, a young swordswoman bent on revenge. If he can use her cause to help him in his own--to take out a thousand bad men for the hundred good men he guiltily dispatched in the past--he hopes to rid himself of the curse that is his immunity to death.

Manji's not just immortal in the basic "gets back up after being shot" sense. No, that would be too easy and too pretty. His brand of immortality often involves getting sliced in half, crawling after his lost limbs, tucking them in his belt till he can reattach them later, and still raining a hail of lethal blades at his gape-mouthed opponent. Nope, not pretty at all. Except it really kind of is. Samura's art is inarguably swell, all pencil-y and vibrant and realistically proportioned. He's got a flare for the artfully dramatic, but also a sense of humor and a heart, and his attractive, sympathetic characters draw you into their stories despite the high body count (and body-part count--dismemberment seems to be something of a theme).

Still ongoing, this series is one of the longest-running manga titles published in English, having started in the late 1990s, back before "flipping"--mirroring or otherwise manipulating the original right-to-left art to read left-to-right for western audiences--was passé. For whatever reason, Dark Horse has opted to maintain its curiously author-approved practice of combining different flipping methods, making for some continuity awkwardness, such as Manji's missing eye occasionally trading sides of his face. But, for the sake of such a good story, you learn to just go with it. That doesn't mean I don't secretly hold out hope the publishers will someday reissue the entire series-to-date in its original format, but in the meantime I will survive. I'd read good reviews for the series before and had it on my potential-reads list, but when I saw an oversized art book for it at the book store while killing time before my shift, I wanted so badly to know the story behind the mesmerizing characters and part with my meager funds for it that I immediately went to work and Mobius'ed the first volume instead. :) Woo hoo! Libraries are awesome.

"On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God" by Louise Rennison

243 pages

The end of "Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging" finds Georgia with a big problem: her parents have decided to drag the family to New Zealand (or, as she calls it, "Kiwi-a-go-go-land) for a month, just when she's finally snagged Robbie the Sex God! She can't bear to leave England just when things are starting to go well, as she's afraid the awful Lindsey will steal the SG back while she's gone. At the beginning of "On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God," Georgia successfully dodges the New Zealand bullet but loses Robbie anyway, as he insists that she's too young for him and breaks it off. Of course, Georgia can't let him go that easily, so she devises a plan: she'll use her entertaining admirer, Dave the Laugh, as a "red herring" to make the SG jealous. Of course, this only makes the situation more complicated. Meanwhile, Georgia is freaked out my her mum's continual flirting with a George-Clooney-looking doctor in her father's absence, and Angus is trying desperately to woo a pedigree cat from across the road.

If I were reading any other book with a teen character as self-centered and whiny as Georgia, I'd be totally annoyed and put the thing down. Rennison, however, makes it funny rather than bothersome. This second book in the "Confessions of Georia Nicolson" series cracked me up as much as the first. Instead of getting tired of the drama, I enjoyed it because there's always some wacky spin to it. Also, this book establishes a sort of love triangle that piques my interest, and my favorite characters--Libby and Angus--are just as goofy and hilarious as before. This is a quick, fun series that I will probably read through soon.

"The Kid" by Sapphire

384 pages

In this sequel to Sapphire's bestselling "Push," we meet Abdul Jones, the son of "Push's" heroine, Precious. We jump into his life on the day of his mother's funeral, when he's nine. From there, he jumps from foster homes to a Catholic orphanage for boys to the streets, enduring physical and sexual abuse all the way. We see him go from a sweet, inquisitive child to a tough, hardened young man who only looks out for himself. Throughout it all, Abdul focuses his energy on dancing and sets his sights on using his passion to pull him out of the dark world he's in.

I am glad I read "Push," even though it's super-depressing, because it opened my eyes to the horrible situation that a lot of real people are in and it's ultimately inspiring. However, I was really disappointed with this sequel. I felt awful for Abdul, but I really can't say that I liked him or connected with him in any way. Yes, I understand how he became the selfish person that he was. Almost anyone would be the same way if they were in his shoes. I think I didn't like him because I didn't see anything good or kind left in him. He seemed completely bitter and cynical to me, and although I can't blame him it made it difficult for me to like him, unfair as that might be. Also, I didn't feel much hope coming out of this story. Abdul has his dancing and I think that is supposed to be the uplifting part, but it didn't seem like the author ever made it seem like it would really work. Abdul is always so out of control and represses the experiences of his past so much that I didn't ever believe that he was going to get out of his situation. Maybe I just wasn't in an optimistic enough mood when I read this, but it seemed nothing but depressing to me. The only thing that kept me reading was the hope that it would turn out okay in the end, but I didn't feel good about the ending at all.

A Bride's Story: Volume 1

by Kaoru Mori, 191 pages

When Karluk's new bride Amir arrives in his village to meet her new husband and his family for the first time, eyebrows are raised--not so much at the youth of the groom (who's common enough at 12) but at the maturity of the bride (who's a somewhat shocking, almost-old-maid at 20). Aside from a moment of surprise at her age, however, Amir finds nothing but a warm welcome and acceptance in her husband's home, where four generations reside peaceably (if noisily) under one roof. Her new-found happiness may be short-lived, however, when her birth family, motivated by greed, reneges on the marriage agreement and demands her return.

This carefully researched, intricately drawn, and skillfully written manga set in the time-worn mountains and steppes of Central Asia is an example of social anthropology brought to life through the thoughtful depiction of these village-bound and nomadic peoples' traditions and culture. Amir is, as the author states in her afterword, very much a big-sister figure for Karluk at this stage, but if the thought of so extreme a May-December relationship puts you off, then find something else to read. I, for one, will happily stick with it. Amir is several shades of awesome. She can hit a running rabbit with a bow and arrow from the back of a galloping horse, as well as clean and cook it up; she can hear a lost lamb quietly bleating yards away in the long grasses; and she sews like nobody's business. Everything she knows she has learned from a life of hard work in harsh environments. Amir frets so much over Karluk when he catches a fever that one has to wonder if she's lost someone once before to what at first looked to be an innocent cold. Karluk, though young, is already showing himself to be a responsible, kind, and engaged future head of the family, though his wide-eyed, admiring, easily-embarrassed youth shines through when he's being mothered by his over-protective wife or praised by his beloved elders. The reader even has something of a stand-in within the story (though usually just in the background) in the form of a friendly, insatiably curious, unassuming Englishman who is clearly an anthropologist of some nature, living with the family and taking in all the details of their language, crafts, and daily lives that he can. This series' detailed art is consistently lovely (that cover, minus the color, is no more intricate or striking than anything inside, and I can only imagine how long it takes Mori to draw each panel), the character's endearing, and the story involving, creating a fascinating window into a rich, under-represented time and culture.

Manga-ka Kaoru Mori is probably best known for her award-winning (and Library Journal- and YALSA-recognized) series Emma, about a maid in Victorian England. This first volume of A Bride's Story was recently nominated for YALSA's 2012 "Great Graphic Novels for Teens" list and the series looks to be even more beautiful and ambitious than her previous historical works, so I'm excitedly awaiting volume 2, which comes out in October.

Winter Sea






by Susanna Kearsley, 536 pages

This story has 2 main threads: a novelist who is drawn to the Scottish coast and one castle in particular as she researches a historical novel loosely based on her family history. The other is the historical setting seen through the eyes of the author's characters.

Kearsley does a good job of tying the two stories together, though the patterns are strong enough to give an alert reader clues to where the story is ultimately headed. The historical parts in particular were compelling and well-researched. Kearsley is a talented story teller who has enough faith in her readers to avoid hurrying the intricate setting and plots.

Katie Up and Down the Hall

by Glenn Plaskin, 256 pages

Who can resist a face like this?

A recent convert to dog worship, Glenn Plaskin tells the story of how one little golden cocker spaniel pup changed his life for the better. And not only his life, but the lives of his neighbors as well. The book shows the softer side of New Yorkers. Unless you're a dog lover, this probably isn't for you. The overall effect is kind of like a cuddle with a warm puppy. Awww.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

by Muriel Barbery
325 pages

From Publishers Weekly
"Starred Review. This audio version of the surprise French bestseller hits the mark as both performance and story. The leisurely pace of the novel, which explores the upstairs-downstairs goings-on of a posh Parisian apartment building, lends itself well to audio, and those who might have been tempted to skip through the novel's more laborious philosophical passages (the author is a professor of philosophy) will savor these ruminations when read aloud. Tony Award–winning actress Barbara Rosenblat positively embodies the concierge, Renée Michel, who deliberately hides her radiant intelligence from the upper-crust residents of 7 rue de Grenelle, and the performance of Cassandra Morris as the precocious girl who recognizes Renée as a kindred spirit is nothing short of a revelation. Morris's voice, inflection and timbre all conspire to make the performance entirely believable. A Europa paperback. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved."
Yet another depressing story, I must have been in a mood in August. Parts of this book would have made more sense and been more humorous in the original French (i.e. tirades about grammar), but the story was touching and heartfelt.

A Dog's Purpose

by W. Bruce Cameron
319 pages

RFrom Publishers Weekly

"A tail-wagging three hanky boo-hooer, this delightful fiction debut by newspaper columnist Cameron (8 Simple Rules for Marrying My Daughter) proposes that a dog's purpose might entail being reborn several times. Told in a touching, doggy first-person, this unabashedly sentimental tale introduces Toby, who's rescued by a woman without a license for her rescue operation, so, sadly, Toby ends up euthanized. He's reborn in a puppy mill and after almost dying while left in a hot car, he's saved again by a woman, and he becomes Bailey, a beloved golden retriever, who finds happiness and many adventures. His next intense incarnation is as Ellie, a female German shepherd, a heroic search and rescue dog. But the true purpose of this dog's life doesn't become totally clear until his reincarnation as Buddy, a black Lab. A book for all age groups who admire canine courage, Cameron also successfully captures the essence of a dog's amazing capacity to love and protect. And happily, unlike Marley, this dog stays around for the long haul.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved."
Yet another dog book. I thought this was slow at first, but enjoyed the idea of a dog being reincarnated and keeping all of its "tricks". It is a very touching story of a dog and what he/she feels is the purpose of life.

The Art of Racing in the Rain

by Garth Stein
322 pages

From Publishers Weekly

"If you've ever wondered what your dog is thinking, Stein's third novel offers an answer. Enzo is a lab terrier mix plucked from a farm outside Seattle to ride shotgun with race car driver Denny Swift as he pursues success on the track and off. Denny meets and marries Eve, has a daughter, Zoë, and risks his savings and his life to make it on the professional racing circuit. Enzo, frustrated by his inability to speak and his lack of opposable thumbs, watches Denny's old racing videos, coins koanlike aphorisms that apply to both driving and life, and hopes for the day when his life as a dog will be over and he can be reborn a man. When Denny hits an extended rough patch, Enzo remains his most steadfast if silent supporter. Enzo is a reliable companion and a likable enough narrator, though the string of Denny's bad luck stories strains believability. Much like Denny, however, Stein is able to salvage some dignity from the over-the-top drama. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved."
I found this book heartbreaking but couldn't put it down. I've never been much of a dog person, but I seriously thought about getting one after reading this book.

This is Where I Leave You

by Jonathan Tropper
339 pages

From Publishers Weekly
"Tropper returns with a snappy and heartfelt family drama/belated coming-of-age story. Judd Foxman's wife, Jen, has left him for his boss, a Howard Stern–like radio personality, but it is the death of his father and the week of sitting shivah with his enjoyably dysfunctional family that motivates him. Jen's announcement of her pregnancy—doubly tragic because of a previous miscarriage—is followed by the dramas of Judd's siblings: his sister, Wendy, is stuck in an emotionless marriage; brother Paul—always Judd's defender—and his wife struggle with infertility; and the charming youngest, Phillip, attempts a grown-up relationship that only highlights his rakishness. Presided over by their mother, a celebrated parenting expert despite her children's difficulties, the mourning period brings each of the family members to unexpected epiphanies about their own lives and each other. The family's interactions are sharp, raw and often laugh-out-loud funny, and Judd's narration is unflinching, occasionally lewd and very keen. Tropper strikes an excellent balance between the family history and its present-day fallout, proving his ability to create touchingly human characters and a deliciously page-turning story. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved."

I really enjoyed Tropper's How to Talk to a Widower and this book did not disappoint. Tropper does a fine job spinning heartache into a humorous jaunt.

My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me

by Hilary Winston
240 pages

"Just when Hilary feels like her life is finally in order, she gets a sucker-punch to the gut: Her ex has written a novel based on their relationship in which he refers to her throughout as the “fat-assed girlfriend.” Her response to this affront is just one of the many hilarious stories in My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me--a laugh-out-loud, tell-all in which Hilary sets the record straight on all her exes." --Amazon.com

I could really relate to this book, not that my boyfriend wrote a book about me, but because it truthfully (and rather hilariously) portrayed the trials and tribulations of a romantic relationship. Also, she has a cat that acts almost exactly like my cat.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Between the Thames and the Tiber



by Theodore Riccardi, 317 pages

This is a collection of Sherlockiana set after Sherlock Holmes "retired". It is again narrated by Watson, but now the duo divide their time between foggy London and sunny Rome, hence the title.

Like the originals by Conan Doyle, this volume contains several stories. While the further exploration of the characters was enjoyable, I didn't seem to find much real detection going on. More like a series of vignettes than real adventures. Charming, but a little light and frothy.

A Game for Heroes

by Jack Higgins, 300 pages

I've been kind of stuck in a time warp recently: during World War II. It started with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, then it was on to Connie Willis's stunning time travel/historical fiction duo, Blackout and All Clear. I found the audio for this and since it was set in the Channel Islands during WWII, I gave it a go.

A quick read, it follows the adventures of reluctant British agent Owen Morgan at the end of WWII. A battled scarred veteran of the war in France, Owen is sent on a secret mission to St. Pierre, his former home, now in the hands of the Germans. Due to ancient grudges and treachery, Owen and his team of U.S. soldiers on the mission are captured by the Nazis. Old loyalties and new bonds are sorely tested by the S.S. villains, the foul weather and the tumultuous sea itself.

All in all, a fast and gripping read.




Unfamiliar Fishes

by Sarah Vowel
233 pages

"Many think of 1776 as the defining year of American history, when we became a nation devoted to the pursuit of happiness through self- government. In Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell argues that 1898 might be a year just as defining, when, in an orgy of imperialism, the United States annexed Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam, and invaded first Cuba, then the Philippines, becoming an international superpower practically overnight.
Among the developments in these outposts of 1898, Vowell considers the Americanization of Hawaii the most intriguing. From the arrival of New England missionaries in 1820, their goal to Christianize the local heathen, to the coup d'état of the missionaries' sons in 1893, which overthrew the Hawaiian queen, the events leading up to American annexation feature a cast of beguiling, and often appealing or tragic, characters: whalers who fired cannons at the Bible-thumpers denying them their God-given right to whores, an incestuous princess pulled between her new god and her brother-husband, sugar barons, lepers, con men, Theodore Roosevelt, and the last Hawaiian queen, a songwriter whose sentimental ode "Aloha 'Oe" serenaded the first Hawaiian president of the United States during his 2009 inaugural parade.
With her trademark smart-alecky insights and reporting, Vowell lights out to discover the off, emblematic, and exceptional history of the fiftieth state, and in so doing finds America, warts and all. " -- Amazon.com

I love Sarah Vowell and her dry, intelligent humor. I learned a lot from this book. Even though I was aware of the dastardly doings of the United States of America, this revealed so much more.

A Clash of Kings



Book Two of A Song of Ice and Fire, 761 pages
by George R.R. Martin

Mini-spoilers!

Volume 2 picks up right where A Game of Thrones ended. The title is spot on, because there are at least 5 contenders for The Iron Throne. Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons, a Targaryen and assorted clans are all jockeying for control of Westeros (also known as The Seven Kingdoms). Martin is an expert with interweaving intrigue, violence and even bits of mysticism in his novels. He is most deft, however, with arcane plots and wanton wickedness. Kind of an Anti-Tolkien, if you will.

HBO has picked this up for a second season, and the latest in the series, A Dance With Dragons, was just released. Martin's novels read like historical potboilers, or as I like to joke, The Borgias with Dragons. Just be prepared to wait and wait for the next installment. Better idea....go read The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss while you're waiting. You won't be disappointed.

About the artwork: noted fantasy artist John Howe has done artwork for the series, though most people know him from the Lord of the Rings books and films. I go online and pick out alternative covers, usually from the UK editions, for most of my reviews.




Juliet




by Anne Fortier, 447 pages

This is another bi-level story, one contemporary and the other historical, set in Renaissance Italy. A young American woman inherits a mystery but nothing else when her aunt dies. Yet the mystery supposedly leads to a hidden treasure somewhere in Italy. With nothing left to lose, Julie soon finds herself tracking down clues in the beautiful city of Siena. Her mother had been obsessed with the story of Romeo and Juliet, so Julie (named after Shakespeare's heroine, get it?) discovers that the Bard had it all wrong. The real Romeo and Juliet tragedy played out among the ancient families of Siena, not in Verona.

The historical part of the tale tells the "true" story of Juliet and her Romeo. Soon there are intimations that Julie's bloodline also goes back to old Siena. Hints of brooding enemies, modern and ancient, shadow Julie while she searches through Siena and her familial history. Is there really a treasure...will Julie live long enough to claim it....and what about Julie's evil twin?!

This reminded me of the romantic suspense written by authors like Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt. I enjoyed reading about old Siena and the lesser known aspects of the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet. What was kind of interesting for me was that so much of the play is embedded in my psyche that I didn't have to look up quotes or background. It's all back in the dustier parts of the old memory banks. With the exception of some obvious plot twists, I did enjoy the book, especially the historical parts. Over all, worth giving it a go.





How to Publish A Kindle Book





by Cynthia Reeser, 288 pages

The title on this one is self-explanatory. I bought this title after checking it out from the library. While this isn't recreational reading, it does give you detailed instructions about e-publishing with Amazon. Worth considering if you're dying to get your writing out there without going the traditional route.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Kamisama Kiss: Volume 2

by Julietta Suzuki, 192 pages

When she finds out that Kurama, a popular teen idol, has enrolled at her school, Nanami decides that hitting the books once more will be a good way to avoid the boredom of their quiet shrine home. Tomoe is not so keen on this plan, knowing that other spirits out there will target her as a tochigami, but he relents and lets her go--with certain conditions. But Tomoe forgets that as a powerful shinshi (a servant of a tochigami) he's not an unattractive prize, himself.

Privileged, arrogant Kurama's pretty funny, with his heavy eye-liner and "fallen angel from hell" idol persona. The fact that he's not really so terribly awful underneath the excess of attitude helps. Watching Tomoe pout about not getting to eat him is just as fun. I wasn't as interested in Narukami as an antagonist in the latter half of the volume, although her giving us the chance to see toddler-Tomoe (at least on the outside--inside he's still all his prickly grown-up self) get snuggled by Nanami and give dirty looks to Kurama makes it worth it. And when he gets his original body back, it's not exactly what Nanami's expecting, which points to more fun in the future.

Ôoku: The Inner Chambers: Volume 5

by Fumi Yoshinaga, 211 pages

Tsunayoshi already has an heir by her doofy but sweet concubine Denbe, but she still finds herself caught in the middle of the influence competition between her doting father and her wimpy consort, who each try to bring into the Ôoku men they believe they can control as potential concubines for her and therefore potential fathers of a future shogun. Tsunayoshi laughs at their ploys, leaving the government of the country to her lackluster privy council while she enjoys her time with her daughter, Matsu. But when fate forces her to change her priorities, the pressure of it all takes its toll.

I used to think I disliked Tsunayoshi, but now it's impossible not to sympathize with her. She loves her daughter, loves her father, loves her scary lady in waiting, loves her silly Denbe; everything she does that seems awful or selfish is mitigated by her experiences and the suffering we see her go through. When she finally breaks down in front of clever, ambitious Emonnosuke, the Senior Chamberlain of the Ôoku finds himself humbled before her strength as he reevaluates Tsunayoshi, himself, and their positions in this world. With that scene, I wanted to forgive her everything and warmed up to Emonnosuke as he proves himself more than just a smart man driven by self-interest.

As long as all these characters show me that they can actually care about another human being, I won't be able to hate on them. And Yoshinaga's skill with character development probably means I won't have the satisfaction of pointing at anybody as the "bad guy" for long. That she manages to seamlessly work in slightly-tweaked historical events, like the Forty-Seven Rônin and the Edicts on Compassion for Living Things, without compromising the world or characters she's so carefully constructed is just more reason to admire her and keep reading.

Vagabond: Volume 22

by Takehiko Inoue, based on the novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, 198 pages

After his fight with Yoshioka Seijûrô, Musashi's name is on everyone's lips. It's also painted on multiple challenges posted around Kyoto by every rônin looking to get famous. That, and Seijûrô's brother Denshichirô and the rest of the Yoshioka school are itching for revenge. But Denshichirô's men are not confident he can beat Musashi and so look for a way to take him on / out without injuring the school's reputation. If only they could find another highly skilled swordsman to fight in Denshichirô's place....

Ooh, exciting! Threads are getting pulled together as Matahachi, in hot water over his having set the Yoshioka school on fire last year and their having not forgotten (d'oh!), suddenly has visual confirmation that the owner of the name he has stolen is not, in fact, dead. And the Yoshioka lay eyes on the perfect proxy for Denshichirô. I wonder, though, if he can be convinced to do it? He seems a little preoccupied at the moment.... *giggle* Oh, why must Kojirô be so cute? It's so distracting, people forget--often to their cost--that he kills with that same smile on his face.

*sigh*

*covets books*

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann

349 pages

In August 1974, a mysterious young man walked a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center. That really happened, and in "Let the Great World Spin" Colum McCann creates up a collection of stories surrounding that event. Characters include a radical Irish monk who struggles with his own demons among prostitutes in New York City; a funky young artist who drives away from a hit-and-run; a group of mothers who meet to mourn their sons who died in Vietnam; and a 36-year-old grandmother who turns tricks alongside her teenage daughter. Each of these characters, as well as several others, tells part of their story as the perspective shifts back and forth among them.

If had to describe this book in only two words, they would be "beautiful and "heartbreaking." Cheesy as that sounds, it's the best way I can come up with. I found myself reading certain parts out loud to my husband. I loved having the perspective of all the different people and trying to guess how their stories came together at the end. I thought the characters were vivid and totally relatable, and I was satisfied with the conclusion. My only complaint is that there were a few loose ends--random characters we read about in the middle and then ever hear from again. All in all, though, a fantastic book that should be a great book discussion title.