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Display Name: Ryner
About me: I'm a tea-drinking library girl, geocacher, blogger, photographer, scrapbooker and Muse fan.
Reading Interests: Historical fiction, fantasy, science, skepticism, romance with real plots, and anything else that catches my eye.

Ryner's Book Lists
Cooking with Kids (8 titles)
Cookbooks with kid-friendly recipes, designed to get your little one interested in how meals are created in the kitchen
Just thaw and enjoy! (23 titles)
Cookbooks designed for the make-ahead or freezer cook
Larger than life: legendary characters (4 titles)
Books I've read and enjoyed about the lives of gods, heroes of folklore and other legendary characters

Another recommended title not available at the library
* In Camelot's Shadow (Zettel)
Across the fabric of time (9 titles)
Books I've read and enjoyed in which time-travel plays a role
Wartime fiction and nonfiction (15 titles)
Books I've read and enjoyed that are set during wartime
Show all 9 booklists by Ryner

Ryner's Comments    
Cover ArtThe Splendour Falls
by Kearsley, Susanna
Emily arrives in Chinon, France, enthusiastic about a holiday with her offbeat cousin Harry, and checks in to the Hotel de France. Within the first few days she becomes acquainted with a number of the establishment’s eclectic collection of lodgers -- the Whitakers, a wealthy American couple from the South; youthful brothers Paul and Simon, pausing in Chinon on an adventure around the world; Thierry, the bartender and nephew of the hotel proprietors; and Neil, a professional English violinist. Harry, however, is nowhere to be found, and his absence is starting to become worrisome.

I delayed for several weeks writing a review of this book, so the memory of some detail may be fading, but my own dawdling also tells me a little something about my enjoyment -- i.e., if it took me this long to get around to composing my thoughts, it’s probably safe to conclude that it wasn’t one of my favorites. As a thriller it was passable, and I admit I did enjoy the sense of place evoked by Kearsley’s prose. However, the romantic angle seemed forced and awkwardly tacked on as an afterthought. Worth reading for fans of Kearsley’s writing, but nothing to shout about.   posted Aug 24, 2014 at 11:03AM

Cover ArtThe sixth extinction : an unnatural history
by Elizabeth Kolbert
Part origins of paleontology and part in-depth news report on the state of life on the planet today, Kolbert lays out the case for mankind being the catalyst for what will ultimately be the sixth devastating extinction in Earth’s history, from the first mastodon teeth found in New York to the millions of bats and amphibians dropping dead at our feet today.

I found the first four chapters that deal with the history of human understanding of paleontology and extinction to be immensely fascinating -- from the light bulb moment that there could possibly be species that once existed but are no longer alive today (previously unthinkable!), to the gradual refinement of the very idea of extinction and its causes. Subsequent chapters were equally riveting, highly depressing and more than a little infuriating -- like Silent Spring, it’s the kind of book that could serve as a wake-up call and effect change, but undoubtedly won’t be read by sort of folks in a position to do so.   posted Aug 7, 2014 at 3:56PM

Cover ArtWritten in my own heart’s blood : a novel
by Diana Gabaldon
Where to begin? Having waited five years since the previous book in the Outlander series, I was admittedly lost during the first 20-30 pages. The story lines slowly came trickling back into memory -- and they are many! Smack dab in the middle of the American Revolution, Jamie Fraser has just returned to Philadelphia to find that, thinking him drowned during a voyage from Scotland, his wife Claire had married Lord John Grey (for her own protection, of course, but very soap-opera-like, that). Before the three can resolve their personal issues, the war tugs them in various directions. Meanwhile, back(?) in 1980, Brianna is on the hunt for her kidnapped son while her husband Roger, also searching, somehow ends up in 1739 and discovers something he didn’t think he was looking for.

Diana Gabaldon is a genius storyteller. The depth and breadth of her characters and the detail surrounding their lives, never ceases to leave me in awe. I don’t know how she keeps it all straight in her head -- I gave up trying to keep track of the numerous peripheral military characters and to which faction they belonged, and thankfully it in no way detracted from the story. The delicate scenes in which Jamie confronts the unusual circumstances surrounding John and Claire’s marriage were exceptionally memorable. I wonder again at this conclusion of this book, as I have with the others, will John ever find happiness? I’m not sure I can wait another five years to learn what happens next.   posted Jul 26, 2014 at 10:25AM

Cover ArtThe shadowy horses
by Kearsley, Susanna
Accepting an invitation to work on an archaeology dig sight unseen, Verity Grey heads up to Eyemouth, a small village in southern Scotland, where she is introduced to a number of other people with varying interests in the dig: Peter Quinnell, an eccentric owner of the estate and an archaeologist himself, convinced despite any concrete evidence that his property was the site of an ancient Roman military camp; Adrian Sutton-Clarke, a surveyor whom Verity had dated some time ago; Peter’s attractive but unfriendly granddaughter Fabia; David Fortune, another archaeologist from the local university who immediately catches Verity’s eye; and the mysterious young boy Robbie from a nearby cottage. When she begins to hear the sound of phantom horses’ hooves outside her window at night, Verity realizes that this is going to be no ordinary dig.

I love the subtle but satisfying way in which the author connected The Firebird to this book, but I’m afraid that if I weren’t already interested in archaeology myself I’m not sure how much interest it would have held. The characters were sort of disappointingly predictable, and I also found myself wishing that the sentry had ultimately played a more prominent role, as the element of magical realism is what has drawn me to Kearsley’s books up until now. Overall, worth reading, but not one of her best.   posted Jul 23, 2014 at 11:54AM

Cover ArtSplendor
by Anna Godbersen
As this final book in the Luxe series begins, Henry Schoonmaker has joined the army but due to his father’s far-reaching influence, and to his frustration, he finds himself safely out of harm’s way in untroubled Cuba. He is unaware that Diana Holland has liberated herself from the constraints of New York society life and followed him, earning her keep by engaging as a barmaid. Back home, Elizabeth (née Holland) Cairns is finding that the security and promise of happiness she believed to finally have found are being threatened by evidence of something shady and unfathomable. And when Henry’s wife Penelope discovers back in New York City that she has attracted the attentions of a visiting European prince, she finds that she isn’t so bothered that Henry has abandoned her after all.

Hardly anyone lives happily ever after, but this was a decent and appropriate conclusion to the series. My instincts felt somewhat vindicated upon reading of Elizabeth’s troubles -- something hadn’t seemed quite right, but I was for some reason doubtful that the author was going to go in that direction. I appreciated how the author ultimately treated Diana and Henry’s relationship -- realistic if not satisfying. Penelope’s comeuppance was brilliant.   posted Jul 8, 2014 at 11:31AM

Cover ArtThe impossible lives of Greta Wells
by Andrew Sean Greer
Following her twin brother Felix’s death and her split with Nathan, her partner of ten years, Greta’s physician suggests electroconvulsive therapy to combat her feelings of depression and loneliness. What Greta doesn’t expect, however, is that each of the sessions somehow transports her into other versions of herself in one of several alternate time periods, including Greta of 1918 and Greta of 1941. In each of these separate realities, her close family and friends remain consistent, but their lives have played out differently, and Greta gets the feeling that her counterparts are trading places with her and living her 1985 life just as she is spending time in theirs. What happens when the twenty-five procedures have concluded?

I really relish stories about time travel, although I suppose Greta’s experience is something more like dimension travel. I wondered constantly about the other Gretas and what they were thinking and feeling. I was sort of expecting them leave notes for one another or otherwise attempt to communicate in some way, if only to share the feeling of "WOW! Isn’t this crazy what is happening to us?" I enjoyed the book, though it fell a little short of "unputdownable."   posted Jul 2, 2014 at 12:17PM

Cover ArtHotel Transylvania : a novel of forbidden love
by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Having grown up in the country, young Madelaine de Montalia arrives in 18th-century Paris to be introduced to society while living in her aunt’s opulent household. She is immediately whisked from event to lavish event, all the while catching the attentions of numerous eligible men, including some with potentially sinister intentions. She finds she is inexplicably drawn to the charming, kind Comte de Saint Germain, who seems vastly different in some way from all of the others.

I’d never heard of this title (or series) before picking up this book, and yet I can’t imagine it wouldn’t have been at least somewhat popular when it was published in 1978. It has it all: intrigue, deception, romance, violence, treachery, forbidden fruits, elegance. And vampires -- not the sparkly, beautiful, tormented vampires of contemporary literature, but a vampire who is, other than being sophisticated and wealthy, just trying to get through the live(s) fate has dealt him, in reality an incredibly lonely existence.   posted Jun 29, 2014 at 2:49PM

Cover ArtThe name of the star
by Johnson, Maureen
With her parents temporarily teaching American law at an English university, Aurora (Rory) has enrolled at Wexford, a private school in London. Just as she is getting acclimated to the school, her roommates and English customs at the start of the school year, the city is stunned by a murder. The victim was killed in the same location and in the same manner as Jack the Ripper’s first victim in 1888. When several more copycat murders are committed over the course of the next month, each occurring on the same day, in a similar location and by a comparable method as those from the tragic events of 1888, London goes into panic mode while also simultaneously welcoming the media spectacle. After discovering that she has seen a strange-looking man who was invisible to everyone else, Rory begins to fear for what role she may play in the mystery.

The Name of the Star was both charming and engaging, though I was initially dubious about the subject matter, not being especially enthusiastic about ghosts or the supernatural. I really enjoyed the authentic feel of Rory’s first-person narrative from a teenage perspective in the way that the teenagers in Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park rang slightly false. Looking forward to the sequel.   posted Jun 29, 2014 at 1:57PM

Cover ArtEvery Secret Thing [electronic resource].
Kate Murray, a Canadian reporter on location covering a murder trial in London, is suddenly approached by an elderly man who offers to tell her about another murder that occurred many years ago. Oddly, he also asks after her grandmother. Tragically, only moments after offering Kate his card and beginning to walk away, he is struck by a passing car. An investigator by nature, Kate resolves to uncover further details about what the man was trying to tell her, but before long she realizes that there is someone else out there who doesn’t want any of it to come to light.

I selected this book because I’m lately in the middle of a Susanna Kearsley binge. It is somewhat different, however, from her other works, and I realized later that it was originally published under a pseudonym, perhaps for that reason. The big reveal at the climax was unsatisfyingly disappointing, though I can’t quite put my finger on why. All in all, was moderately enjoyable, but thrillers aren’t typically my thing.   posted Jun 29, 2014 at 10:58AM

Cover ArtMariana
by Kearsley, Susanna
While touring the English countryside with her family as a child, Julia glances out the window and states, "That’s my house." Years later, she happens to drive past the same house and immediately stops the car to look around. When she discovers it’s actually for sale, she arranges the purchase without so much as taking a step indoors. Sometime during the process of unpacking and moving in, Julia has an episode in which she is transported back in time into the mind of Mariana, a young woman who lived in the same house during the 1600s, and experiences Mariana’s every thought, feeling and action. When she comes to back in her house again, she realizes that not only has equal time passed in the present while she was "gone," but her actions must also have corresponded to those of the past because she now finds herself in another part of the house with no recollection of how she got there.

I was expecting to like this book far more than I did based on my previous Kearsley experiences; unfortunately, it doesn’t quite compare to The Winter Sea or The Rose Garden. The ending was sweet but abrupt, and left me unsatisfied. I would have appreciated if the final scene had been fleshed out a bit more, as to be more convincing.   posted Jun 23, 2014 at 7:48PM

Cover ArtEnvy : a Luxe novel
by Anna Godbersen
As Envy begins, we rejoin New York City’s young, social elite in early 1900 as they continue their lives of opulence, secrecy, unrequited love, ruthless ambition, clandestine affairs, limitless elation and miserable despair. Penelope Schoonmaker (née Hayes), having achieved her most fervent and obsessive desire of ensnaring Henry Schoonmaker as her husband, is finding that the sport isn’t nearly as fun when her captured prey now pretends she doesn’t exist. When she hears of Henry’s plans for a fishing trip in Florida, Penelope immediately invites herself and orchestrates the train trip into a major social event of the season. Elizabeth Holland isn’t enthusiastic about traveling after her recent, heartbreaking ordeals, but is forced to accept and wear a brave face. Her sister Diana, on the other hand, is thrilled at the opportunity, for it means she may be able to steal some covert moments with Henry.

This series is so fast-paced that it’s surprising to be reminded that the first three books span only a few short months in the lives of these young adults. I’m still not certain what Diana sees in Henry, and the number of times she doubts him in this book, only to be reassured and mollified shortly thereafter, started to get tiresome after a while. It was nice to see some hope of happiness for Elizabeth, and I’m eager to begin turning the pages of the final book to find out just what Diana is getting up to.   posted Jun 23, 2014 at 2:15PM

Cover ArtRumors : a luxe novel
by Anna Godbersen
As Rumors opens, we are reminded of the state of things when the first novel in the series, The Luxe, concluded: Elizabeth Holland, daughter of one of New York City’s finest families and engaged to Henry Schoonmaker, successfully faked her death and joined her one-time servant and true love, Will, in California. Her sister Diana and Henry have in the meantime fallen for each other, but can meet only furtively given that Henry was only recently engaged to her sister. Penelope Hayes is just as determined as ever to secure Henry for herself, but is confused as to why he no longer responds to her advances. Carolina Broud, once a humble servant in the Holland household, has now secured a wealthy benefactor and inserts herself into high society by selling information about her former employers.

I enjoyed this sequel just as much as The Luxe, though I’m not convinced there is anything special about Henry (other than his wealth). He comes across as kind of slow and dull. Although Penelope is depicted as the villain in this series, she too is disappointingly one-dimensional. That said, it’s still most definitely a page-turner. I was stunned (shocked!) and heartbroken by the climax at the train station, having not seen that coming at all.   posted Jun 18, 2014 at 1:44PM

Cover ArtThe rose garden
by Susanna Kearsley
Following the death of her sister, Eva travels from Los Angeles to Cornwall, and to Trelowarth House where she and Katrina spent many fond summers of their youth. During the first few days of her visit Eva has a number of unsettling experiences, including overhearing men’s voices speaking in a nearby empty room and footpaths that wink in and out of existence. As the episodes grow more frequent, and she one day abruptly finds herself within Trelowarth in the company of an attractive man in curious clothing who is clearly surprised and suspicious at her sudden presence, Eva begins to realize she is in fact repeatedly journeying to Trelowarth’s past, when it was a smuggler’s haven.

This was a fun, light, stand-alone novel, perfect for escapist summer reading. I enjoyed the detail about the location, both present and past, and there is always something magical about a time traveler’s dawning realization during those first few moments in the past/future as they begin to get their bearings -- this story was no different. My only quibble: Novels involving time travel always demand some suspension of disbelief, but I found some of Eva’s interactions with the characters from the past, who both knew about and accepted her origins, somewhat unsatisfying when they rarely expressed any curiosity at all about the two hundred years that would have transpired between their own lives and Eva’s birth in the 20th century.   posted Jun 16, 2014 at 5:46PM

Cover ArtGodless : how an Evangelical preacher became one of America’s leading atheists
by Barker, Dan.
It’s hard to imagine a more fervent believer than Dan Barker, a born-again Evangelical preacher and missionary from the age of 17. You might expect he’d be the least likely to lose his faith, but lose it he did -- from coming out as an atheist on Oprah in 1984 to becoming co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The initial autobiographical portion of the book eventually gives way to both philosophical arguments (e.g., how a being cannot be simultaneously both infinitely merciful and infinitely just), appeals to logic and detailed descriptions of biblical inaccuracies and contradictions that refute the idea that it is the word of an omniscient, divine being.

I listen occasionally to the FFRF’s weekly podcasts, but I’m not a particular fan of Barker as a host. I find his smug personality and flat humor rather off-putting and, while he’s admittedly a gifted musician, I find most of his compositions almost unbearably corny. If it weren’t for the show’s fascinating guest interviews I wouldn’t be listening at all. That said, Barker is much more likable and convincing on paper, and I wholeheartedly recommend this book. I enjoyed the philosophical reasoning, and I was also particularly fond of the chapter titled ’Dear Theologian,’ a monologue of existential questioning directed from God to his human creation.   posted Jun 12, 2014 at 4:21PM

Cover ArtThe Luxe
by Anna Godbersen
Luxe, the first in a series of four teen novels, offers a glimpse into the opulent lives of New York City’s young and wealthy near the turn of the 20th century. The tale is told from varying perspectives, including that of Elizabeth Holland, the demure outwardly perfect daughter of one of New York’s most respected families; her younger sister Diana, something of an firecracker though generally content until now to dwell in Elizabeth’s shadow; Penelope Hayes, a daughter of a nouveau riche family not above scheming to achieve her lofty ambitions; Henry Schoonmaker, a bachelor from another of the city’s oldest and most honored families and considered a prize catch by society ladies; and finally Lina Broud, Elizabeth Holland’s personal maid, who on one memorable evening witnesses a compromising event that will alter the lives of all the others.

Story aside, learning about the expected behavior of the social elite of the day was both fascinating and horrifying. The very idea that a young woman’s only aspirations in life would be to appear attractive and charming enough to snag a wealthy husband is for the most part a foreign concept today. Admittedly, the ambitions of their affluent male peers, who would not themselves perform a day’s work during the course of their lives, are hardly more admirable. That said, I couldn’t put this book down and look forward to continuing the series.   posted Jun 10, 2014 at 2:19PM

Cover ArtChain reaction
by Elkeles, Simone.
In this third and final installment in Simone Elkeles’ Perfect Chemistry series, we finally get to meet Fuentes brother number three, Luis, who is a good kid from the south side of town working toward an ambitious future in astrophysics. He has so far avoided involvement with the gangs that permanently scarred his brothers, but now that his family has moved back to Fairfield he isn’t sure how long he can escape their notice. Nikki Cruz lives with her parents on the wealthier, north side of town and feels little to no connection to her Mexican heritage. Due to a painful event from her past, she is disillusioned about Latino guys and, frankly, guys in general. When the two meet in school, Nikki wants nothing to do with Luis, but he’s intrigued and not going to give up easily.

It was a relief that Elkeles deviated refreshingly from the formula she used for the first two titles (Latino bad boy meets good white girl). Instead, here we have "good Latino boy meets moderately-rebellious Latino girl." The story takes a somewhat unbelievable turn toward the end, but overall it was more satisfying than Rules of Attraction.   posted Jun 9, 2014 at 6:50PM

Cover ArtRules of attraction
by Simone Elkeles
In this sequel to Perfect Chemistry we meet tough-talking Carlos Fuentes, who has just moved to Colorado from Mexico to live with his older brother, Alex, in order to finish out his senior year of high school. Kiara Westford is a clever, tomboyish, outdoorsy girl with a propensity for fixing up cars. As a peer guide to new students, Kiara is paired up with Carlos in order to acquaint him with his new surroundings, though once she meets Carlos she is no longer looking forward to the assignment. Carlos had hoped to distance himself from his gang affiliations in Mexico, but in only a matter of days someone has set him up for a drug bust at his new school, and he is required to live with Professor Westford, who also happens to be Kiara’s father, as part of his release agreement. Carlos and Kiara: now under the same roof?

Rules of Attraction is painfully similar in formula to Perfect Chemistry, although Kiara is thankfully somewhat more fleshed out and human-like than Brittany. Carlos and Kiara’s relationship seems to periodically jump to new intensities with nothing leading up to it, leaving me wondering several times if I had missed something. Their relationship feels flat and empty.   posted Jun 6, 2014 at 3:35PM

Cover ArtPerfect chemistry
by Elkeles, Simone.
Brittany is a high school senior from the wealthy north side of Fairfield. She is captain of the pom squad and her boyfriend is captain of the football team. They are the school’s golden couple. Alex is a gang member hailing from the gritty south side of town. When he was just six years old, he saw his father shot with his own eyes as part of a drug deal gone bad. When fate (in the form of their chemistry teacher, Mrs. Peterson) tosses them together and requires them to become lab partners, neither is pleased. Brittany would rather partner with her boyfriend, while Alex doesn’t see the point in the class at all, seeing as he has no real future anyway. Forced to be in each other’s daily presence, it doesn’t take long for Brittany and Alex to begin seeing beyond their initial assumptions.

While Brittany’s parents are disappointingly and stereotypically cold, aloof and exacting, Elkeles does a commendable job depicting teenagers acting like teenagers -- drinking, swearing, making stupid decisions, having sex, etc. -- without whitewashing the teenage experience or making it politically correct (à la Twilight) . Where she fails in REALLY annoying fashion is in dialogue. Whenever Alex or anyone else from the south side is speaking, the g is dropped off verbs ending in -ing (e.g., walkin’, thinkin’, tryin’). This pattern is so prevalent that it seems like the Elkeles simply ran a find/replace command through her word processor to automatically convert instances of ing to in’, even in places where it sounds ridiculous and unnatural. While it may not win any prestigious literary awards, Perfect Chemistry is both smoldering and unputdownable.   posted Jun 6, 2014 at 11:34AM

Cover ArtThe firebird
by Kearsley, Susanna
Nicola is a buyer for a prestigious London art gallery. She also carries within her a secret, innate gift of psychometry: merely by touching an object she can draw forth scenes involving people and places from its history. When a woman asks for assistance in verifying the authenticity and provenance of carving that according to family lore had been given to one of her ancestors by Empress Catherine of Russia, without thinking Nicola reaches out to touch it. She is immediately struck by a vision of the Empress Catherine speaking to a young woman named Anna. Nicole now knows that the carving is genuine, but how can she prove it without revealing her secret to the world? Seeking advice and possibly assistance, she heads first to see Rob, an old friend with similar talents.

In The Firebird, Susanna Kearsley spins another compelling tale that is ingeniously and seamlessly woven into the loose ends of The Winter Sea, the first novel in this series. How I love a good historical mystery! I also must repeat the sentiment expressed in my review of the first novel: That my library categorizes this novel as primarily a romance is doing it a disservice, making it invisible to a greater potential audience. This fantastically detailed story could definitely stand alone (though perhaps not be quite as enjoyable) minus the romantic story line.   posted Jun 2, 2014 at 1:54PM

Cover ArtA discovery of witches
by Deborah Harkness
While performing research at an Oxford University library, Diana Bishop encounters a manuscript that appears to be enchanted. Diana is herself a witch, but she has suppressed and refused to use her abilities throughout her life, and therefore has no interest in the magical document -- so she returns it to the library to be refiled. She soon learns that her actions have caught the attention of a number of other people, including several other witches and Matthew, a disagreeable vampire, who would like to get their own hands on the manuscript for reasons Diana doesn’t fully comprehend. Diana finds herself being trailed everywhere she goes as she tries to figure out who to trust and why she plays such an important role in the manuscript’s future.

I was captivated by Diana and Matthew’s developing relationship and had high hopes for this story until about halfway through. At that point, I happened to read a particularly scathing review, which compared Matthew’s control over Diana to that of Edward (a la Twilight) over Bella, and I have to admit that once it was pointed out in such detail I suddenly couldn’t help noticing for the duration of the book, and their relationship no longer seemed so romantic. I think I’m still curious enough about where the manuscript plot is going to read the sequel.   posted Jun 1, 2014 at 3:24PM

Cover ArtThe winter sea
by Kearsley, Susanna
Carrie McClelland, an established author of historical fiction, arrives in a small coastal Scottish town to begin work on her next novel. She rents an old cottage from a local and settles in, welcomed with open arms into the village and simultaneously into the owner’s family. As she commences writing, the story seems to pour forth effortlessly from her fingers as though it were telling itself, and Carrie is both stunned and disturbed when, upon researching further some of what she’s written, she discovers names, dates and places that she thought originated in her own imagination were uncannily accurate.

I’d heard positive things about this book the past few years, but hesitated to pick it up, fearing an unsatisfying lack of substance given its "Romance" classification at the library. After reading it, I’d argue that it actually ought to be in general fiction, given that the plot would not cease to have meaning if not for the romantic elements of the story line. The Winter Sea is definitely a page-turner, the sort of book I began reading only on breaks at work, only to find myself toting it home as well, despite already having a book in progress there. I was sincerely disappointed when it ended, wanting more. Happily, it appears to be the first in a series, so I’ll be off very shortly to check out the next.   posted May 13, 2014 at 10:31AM

Cover ArtThe house girl : a novel
by Tara Conklin
The House Girl simultaneously tells the stories of two women separated by time, place and culture. Josephine is a house girl, a slave on a failing Virginia plantation. With her mistress in rapidly failing health, Josephine begins to orchestrate her escape into the sympathetic arms of the Underground Railroad. Lina is a present-day New York lawyer who begins work on an assignment involving slavery reparations, and her mission is to find the "perfect" living descendant to serve as plaintiff in the case. An emerging controversy surrounding the authorship of a collection of antebellum paintings may be her most promising lead.

Through the first two thirds of the book I was interested but not necessarily wowed. Then things really started to get interesting! I’m a sucker for stories involving or solving historical mysteries. When the tale took an interesting twist with merely a few dozen pages to go, I eagerly wondered how the author would manage to resolve this new question mark. In addition, there is such a high level of detail that I had to remind myself a number of times while reading that this was a work of fiction. Recommended!   posted May 4, 2014 at 11:47AM

Cover ArtRedefining girly : how parents can fight the stereotyping and sexualizing of gir
by Wardy, Melissa Atkins
You don’t have to be a card-carrying member of the feminist movement to be disturbed by the ubiquitous presence of products and messages bombarding today’s young girls -- products and messages that stereotype along gender lines and sexualize girls from a very early age. Have you shopped for a newborn gift lately? I was frustrated myself in discovering that it’s nearly impossible to find products that don’t polarize genders immediately from birth -- baby boys wearing colors and clothing depicting toughness, bravery and strong personality, while girls are stuck with clothing that communicates sparkly sweetness, vapid cuteness and, well, frailty.

Melissa Wardy wrote this book in an effort to assist parents in combating the barrage of messages being sent to young girls -- messages that limit what girls should aspire to be or look like, messages that prescribe the personalities girls should have, and messages that suggest what colors or toys girls should find appealing. And she is right: once you begin to notice the phenomenon, you start seeing it EVERYWHERE. Wardy has advice for parents who wish to initiate conversations or address concerns with a child, family members, friends (and their parents), teachers and retailers, and many valuable sample talking points are included.

Thank you, Melissa Wardy, for writing this book! I also recommend Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter for additional reading and insight into this discouraging shift in our culture.   posted May 4, 2014 at 9:39AM

Cover ArtEleanor & Park
by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor & Park’s friendship begins when Eleanor is unable to find an empty seat on the school bus and Park, with a mutter and a scowl, reluctantly makes room. Day by day, their connection grows, from awkward silence to hushed but animated discussions around comics and music, until they inexplicably find themselves in a relationship. Eleanor is awkward and penniless, living in a dysfunctional family; Park struggles to fit in in his own way as a child of Irish and Korean parents, but he and Eleanor somehow seem to fit together.

Eleanor & Park is a cute, somewhat fluffy read, though with some darker undertones. While the personalities, actions and fears of these two teenagers felt genuine, at times the internal dialogues seemed forced and unreal. However, I considered that it could perhaps be due to how far removed I am myself from the thoughts of a teenager! I think I expected to love the book a bit more than I did, and was for a while leaning toward a three-star rating, but when I recall how enthusiastically I looked forward to my next opportunity to read during my breaks at work, that feeling boosts it up to a solid four.   posted Apr 11, 2014 at 12:03PM

Cover ArtThe Lewis and Clark journals : an American epic of discovery : the abridgment of
by Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806)
On May 14, 1804, at the request of President Thomas Jefferson, Captain Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark set out on perhaps the greatest overland adventure in United States history. Their charge was to navigate the Missouri River from St. Louis as far as they could, then reach by any means possible the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, they would be documenting botanical, ecological, biological, geographical and ethnological and cultural experiences as they met and interacted with the native american tribes and observed the new flora and fauna of the west. The party included thirty-one other individuals, most with military experience, and a few interpreters -- among them the famed Sacagawea. The expedition was tremendously successful, particularly when viewed from the 21st century. They experienced their fair share of travel-related aches and pains, accidental wounds, and diseases such as dysentery, among other things. Lewis himself was unfortunate enough to be shot in the thigh by "friendly fire" (an amusing incident for the reader, but which could just as easily have been tragic). It’s astounding that only one man died -- and he from appendicitis.

At over 400 pages (abridged!), this is a fascinating and incredibly documented adventure story transcribed from the actual diary entries of the expedition members. I rarely found it dry or boring, and suspect that perhaps the slow or uneventful parts were already edited out. English spelling was not yet standardized at the time, and this is evident in some paragraphs where the same word is spelled in a number of different ways, depending apparently on what the writer felt like in the moment. Some of the more intriguing passages involve the interactions between the men and the tribes they meet. Their reception is most often congenial and welcoming, if also a bit wary and, considering what we now know about the United States’ future relations, somewhat disturbing. Lewis and Clark’s inner thoughts are thick with eurocentric superiority punctuated by rare, brief glimpses recognizing a shared humanity.   posted Mar 31, 2014 at 1:39PM

Cover ArtFreddie & me : a coming-of-age (Bohemian) rhapsody
by Dawson, Mike
In his autobiographical graphic novel, Mike Dawson illustrates his boyhood years and his experiences as a transplant from England to New Jersey. More importantly, and nearly as big an influence in his life, he is also a passionate fan of the band Queen. Mike’s recollections of events and interactions in his young life are very often tightly entwined with Queen’s own history and songs.

Freddie & Me especially resonated with me because I, too, am (or at least once was) a Queen "superfan." Mike and I appear to share a number of the same experiences (and frustrations), including being the same age and therefore both being sophomores in high school the morning when we learned of Freddie Mercury’s untimely death. We both regret never having the opportunity to see Queen live, but both saw Queen Paul Rodgers in concert in 2005 as a sort of consolation. We both appreciated "deep" tracks more than the singles that went on to be their greatest hits, and we both had mixed feelings about how the film Wayne’s World brought Queen to the forefront of American teenage consciousness but regretted that no one seemed to appreciate the genius beyond that single song. Finally, on one of Mike’s high school panels he’s wearing a Tommy t-shirt, and I wonder whether he, like me, also went to see that musical.

Having said all that, Freddie & Me may not hold a great deal of appeal to readers who are not fans of Queen or not already followers of the author’s previous work. The more everyday aspects of the story were in themselves not particularly fascinating.   posted Mar 21, 2014 at 9:29AM

Cover ArtLife after life : a novel
by Kate Atkinson
Ursula is born...and dies. In an alternate reality, she is born again, grows a little older, but dies yet again. Over and over. Sometimes she is faintly aware of "past" experiences and is able to make a different choice to avert imminent danger or her own demise; at other times she perishes and must begin her life over and try again. Is fate driving her toward the ultimate task of snuffing out a great evil, and she will be forced to keep trying until she gets it right?

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I appreciated the original premise, though the first half was a bit of a downer -- the sense of doom was palpable, and as in a horror film I knew the monster was coming but didn’t know just when it would strike. It also left me with some existential questions: Was Ursula really fated for a heroic act, or was it merely an opportunity that came along as part of her greater existential anomaly? How many lifetimes would it take for one to be utterly tired of one’s own existence?   posted Mar 18, 2014 at 9:20AM

Cover ArtSearching for Tamsen Donner
by Burton, Gabrielle.
Gabrielle Burton has a bit of an obsession with Tamsen Donner, who was the wife of George Donner and a prominent member of the eponymous and tragic Donner Party of 1846. In 1977, as part of her research for a novel she plans to write, Gabrielle packs her husband and five daughters into their station wagon and sets off from Illinois to retrace the steps of Tamsen Donner on her fateful journey West, passing the same landmarks, sleeping where Tamsen slept, and attempting to view the landscape, over 100 years later, through the eyes of those early pioneers.

I especially enjoyed the Burton family’s own travelogue chapters, reminiscient of some other travel adventure memoirs I’ve read, but I think I wished that it the rest had been fleshed out more, and for that reason I struggled with whether to rate it three or four stars. Regardless, it sounds like Gabrielle Burton has an amazing family dynamic and five strong, confident, incredible, kick-ass daughters.   posted Feb 25, 2014 at 12:08PM

Cover ArtLewis & Clark
by Bertozzi, Nick.
In Lewis & Clark, Nick Bertozzi relates the adventures of the renowned Lewis and Clark Expedition in graphic novel format, from Thomas Jefferson’s initial assignment to Meriwether Lewis in Washington, D.C. and the party’s final glimpse of white civilization in St. Louis, to the Pacific Ocean and back again two years later. Their journey, while at its core a scientific endeavor, would also prove invaluable in recording the locations, culture and social codes of the many Native American tribes they encountered and whose lands they traversed.

Lewis and Clark themselves are depicted as refreshingly human -- certainly not the rugged outdoorsmen or supermen one might assume the leaders of such an enterprise must be. Clark is more cautious and rational; Lewis is volatile, emotional and haunted by his own personal demons. The relative success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition is kind of amazing seen through 21st-century eyes. Although they encountered their share of hostile situations and bad luck, and were at times low on provisions, it’s incredible that more men were not lost (in stark contrast to the Donner Party tragedy 42 years later). Then there is Sacagawea, the legendary Shoshone woman who served as a guide. It’s important to remember that, although revered today as a heroine and a symbol of female worth and independence, she was by no means a participant by choice. Her scenes are distressing in their likely accuracy. I’m curious now to read the expedition journals myself.   posted Jan 31, 2014 at 2:48PM

Cover ArtThe secret Eleanor : a novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine
by Holland, Cecelia
Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most powerful women in European history. The Secret Eleanor is not a life story -- it jumps right in during her unsatisfying (and failed, if producing a male heir is the measurement of success) marriage to King Louis VII of France in the middle of the 12th century. When Henry, son of the Count of Anjou, pays a visit to Louis’ court, Eleanor is smitten by the younger man, attracted to both his appearance and his potential claim to power, the English throne. After a single illicit meeting between the two, Eleanor commences the scheming required to have her marriage to Louis annulled.

I was disappointed by the first few chapters of TSE. The initial scenes read distinctly like bad fanfiction, and I was dubious about being able to stomach the whole book. However, I’d read another of Cecelia Holland’s works and, since I have a hard time abandoning books anyway once begun, I forged ahead and ended up enjoying it better than expected. The story’s biggest weakness is how unlikable several of the main characters are (including Eleanor herself), although since they are based on what we know of actual historical figures, perhaps this can’t be helped. I appreciated the focus on Eleanor’s sister Petronilla, and the way the book’s title could be interpreted in a number of different ways.   posted Jan 29, 2014 at 1:44PM

Cover ArtThe heretic’s daughter : a novel
by Kathleen Kent
9-year-old Sarah Carrier’s tale begins in 1690 as she travels with her family from the town of Billerica to a new home in Andover in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Tragically, in what will ultimately be the root of poor future relations and suspicion in their new community, one of Sarah’s brothers is unknowingly the bearer of disease. Sarah’s mother, Martha Carrier, is bold, irreverent, outspoken and a bit mysterious -- traits that in the late 17th century, on the eve of the Salem Witch Trials, are dangerous for any woman.

I read this book hot on the heels of a fictionalized account of the Donner Party. Since the core facts of both of these events are common knowledge, I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to comment on the sense of foreboding the reader experiences -- people are going to die. The innocent beginnings of the novel, when the true depths of Sarah’s misfortune were yet to be revealed, was somewhat of a mental struggle, but it began to fade as I sunk deeper into the story. The author herself is a descendant of the real Martha Carrier, and the family stories passed down from generation to generation were the inspiration for her research and writing.   posted Jan 29, 2014 at 9:54AM

Cover ArtA million nightingales
by Susan Straight
As the story begins, Moinette is a 14-year-old slave on a Louisiana plantation. She is "yellow" (i.e., of mixed race), and has always lived with only her mother in le quartier (slave quarters), but is one day moved into the main house to be the personal handmaiden and hairdresser to the owner’s teenage daughter, Céphaline. When Céphaline succumbs to disease, Moinette is only a reminder to her parents of their loss, and without warning Moinette is uprooted from the only life she has known.

Many nights I did not get enough sleep because, while reading in bed, I simply could not stop reading. There are many, many bite-sized sections within each chapter, each tantalizingly entreating, Oh, you know you have time to read just one more tiny, tiny piece! Look how small the next passage is! (repeat 53x) I appreciated the author’s skill at storytelling in such a way that I was unable to guess what was going to happen next -- that I was even conscious of this made me aware of how even original plots are often somewhat transparent. A Million Nightingales is heartbreaking, but Moinette also has her triumphs, small and large.   posted Jan 21, 2014 at 9:52AM

Cover ArtImpatient with desire : a novel
by Burton, Gabrielle.
Wagons, ho! It’s 1846, and the East is awash in California fever. Tamsen Donner, her husband George and their five daughters form a wagon train with a number of other families, intent on heading west from Illinois. Disastrously, nearly everything that could go wrong does, and coupled with a handful of unwise decisions, the entire party of more than eighty people -- most under the age of 18 -- find themselves stranded without provisions in the Sierra Nevada mountains for the winter. Tamsen narrates their plight, as well as flashbacks to earlier events in her life, through her journal entries.

The Donner Party. I’d heard of it, knew that it was a horrific event in pioneer history, but wasn’t really familiar with the details. This is an intriguing read, though the experience is clouded by a sense of foreboding -- you know it is not going to end well. I was inspired afterward to learn more about the Donner expedition -- what was documented, and what was imagined by the author? Although events toward the end become painful to read, I recommend it to fans of historical fiction. The book is laden with an unfortunate title evocative of a steamy romance, so it could easily be missed by its potential audience.   posted Jan 11, 2014 at 3:56PM

Cover ArtOutlander : a novel
by Gabaldon, Diana
Claire is a WWII nurse just reunited with her husband Frank following the war, enjoying what is, in effect, a second honeymoon in Inverness, Scotland. While exploring a local henge one morning, Claire hears a buzzing noise, experiences dizziness and faints near the standing stones, waking up roughly 200 years in Scotland’s past, smack dab in the middle of a skirmish between a small group of fugitive Scots and the English. She is initially apprehended by an English Captain, Jack Randall, who looks uncannily like her husband and thinks her a spy. She is shortly thereafter "rescued" by the Scots and, although suspicious of her and solicitous not quite to the point of friendliness, they escort Claire to their home, Castle Leoch. At the castle she is given a room and otherwise treated like a guest, but is not allowed to leave. Although attempting to return to the 20th century is foremost in her mind, she bides her time by exploring the castle and using her nursing skills to administer to its inhabitants, becoming acquainted with them all, including the young Jamie who was among the original party she encountered and severely wounded. Will Claire eventually succeed in returning to the henge outside Inverness? Will she want to?

I first read Outlander in 2004, and only recently picked it up for a re-read (something I rarely do). Diana Gabaldon’s writing is meticulously detailed and engaging, and I have regarded Outlander ever since as one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read. Even now, I could hardly bear to put the book down each night before bed, and I fell in love all over again.   posted Jan 11, 2014 at 12:21PM

Cover ArtMistress of the monarchy : the life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster
by Alison Weir
The life of Katherine Swynford is a fascinating and mysterious one. Born in what is now Belgium, she actually spent much of her childhood in the English court of Edward III. Widowed in her early 20s, she would become the lifelong mistress of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and brother to the king, sparking one of the most renowned and scandalous love stories in European history. Katherine and her children by John (who would ultimately be legitimized by royal edict) are ancestors of the Yorkist kings, the Tudors, the Stuarts, and every other British sovereign since, as well as nearly every monarch in Europe and no fewer than six U.S. presidents.

Nearly everything that has been discovered about Katherine Swynford must be indirectly inferred and deduced from the records of others, as virtually nothing from her personal effects survives today. As a reader, I was alternately amazed by the great deal we can still learn about someone who lived more than 600 years ago, and dismayed by how much has been lost and that we will never know. It’s unfortunate that Katherine, due to the era in which she lived, gets a bad rap merely for falling deeply in love and acting on it, something we might all do in a similar situation. Like me, it seems that many readers come to this book having previously read Katherine, the popular 1950s work of historical fiction by Anya Seton. Weir references Katherine in her book, but gently reminds us that, although popular and well-researched, it was nevertheless a work of fiction. Mistress of the Monarchy is a compelling read, particulary as a companion to Katherine.   posted Jan 10, 2014 at 12:25PM

Cover ArtI know who you are
by Eide, Duane A.
I picked up this book because I found out it was written by my high school English teacher. In short, a 10-year-old boy is witness to a crime that haunts his sleep for more than a decade. Later in life he meets a woman who he discovers shares his nightmares -- she was the victim. Can they resolve their collective emotional and psychological baggage and forge a relationship?

Having a connection to the author, I really wanted to enjoy this book. Alas, it was a painful experience -- and not in the way the author intended. The endless spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors were dismaying, and all the while I kept wondering how this could be the work of an English teacher.   posted Oct 24, 2011 at 6:31PM

Cover ArtBury my heart at Wounded Knee : an Indian history of the American West
by Brown, Dee Alexander
Quite possibly the most painful (and shaming) book I’ve ever read.   posted Oct 14, 2011 at 10:42AM

Cover ArtThe land of painted caves
by Auel, Jean M.
A huge disappointment. The first two thirds read like a tour guide to prehistoric caves of southern France -- no plot, no action, just descriptions of many, many cave paintings. When finally something actually does begin to happen near the end of the book, it’s a painfully-contrived plot device that leaves the reader shocked and dismayed. No loose ends foreshadowed in previous books are tied up. This is how the series ends?   posted Apr 27, 2011 at 10:07AM

Cover ArtAnimal, vegetable, miracle : a year of food life
by Kingsolver, Barbara.
Barbara Kingsolver and her family embark on a year-long culinary adventure in which they endeavor to eat only food products grown within the county in which they live in the Appalachians. The idea, with a few key exceptions, is to either grow it themselves or purchase from local farmers. Barbara details what each of the months look like from a production and consumption standpoint, her daughter Camille weighs in with vignettes and recipe ideas, and her husband Steven contributes from an environmental and scientific standpoint.

Their tale is both inspiring and disheartening. I somewhat regretted reading this book in the winter as it made me yearn for a farmers market, all of which are still several months from opening here in Minnesota. Learning some of the truths about agriculture -- in particular the seed industry -- in the U.S. was extremely dismaying. However, this is the type of book I wish I could hand to everyone I know to read.   posted Feb 1, 2010 at 8:24PM

Cover ArtThe other Boleyn girl : a novel
by Philippa Gregory
When Mary Boleyn, whose entire family are courtiers in the court of Henry VIII, catches the king’s eye while in her mid-teens, her uncle sees an opportunity to advance the family fortunes. Thus far, the king has not produced a male heir for England via his wife Catherine. Having no choice in the matter, Mary acquiesces and becomes the king’s lover, ultimately bearing him two children. However, while she is recovering from the birth of her second child, her family suddenly turns its focus to her sister Anne, upon whom the king’s eye has newly fallen. Mary’s fate is largely forgotten as all eyes are on Anne Boleyn. If she could convince the king to abandon his wife and marry her, how the family fortunes would rise!

I’ve enjoyed most of Philippa Gregory’s works as her storytelling makes it difficult to put the books down. This is especially true of this book. Despite unproven and possibly fanciful conjectures by the author, the story is fascinating and great for an escapist experience.   posted Jan 27, 2010 at 9:03PM

Cover ArtThe coral thief : a novel
by Rebecca Stott
In 1815 young Daniel Connor, a medical student, has just arrived in Paris to further his studies when he finds he has been robbed by a fellow stagecoach passenger -- a mysterious woman surprisingly well-versed in natural history. Now lacking the documents and specimens needed to secure his post, Daniel must solve the mystery of the woman and why she would want a book manuscript and bits of coral.

I found this story to be enjoyable but not exactly riveting. I’m a fan of natural history myself, so it was refreshing to read about it, not merely as part of a work of fiction, but with an enlightened and sympathetic viewpoint. I haven’t yet decided whether to pursue Stott’s first novel, Ghostwalk.   posted Jan 10, 2010 at 8:54PM

Cover ArtThe Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Katniss lives in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian version of the country formerly known as the United States, now called Panem. For citizens outside the capitol district, life is tough and resources are scarce. Once a year, a national lottery is held, the "winners" of which, all children between the ages of 12-18, must enter an arena and do battle until only one contestant remains alive: the winner. This year, it is Katniss who will represent her district in The Hunger Games.

The premise of The Hunger Games is both fascinating and compelling. It reminded me in a morbid way of Shirley Jackson’s short story "The Lottery," but has more than enough original elements to stand completely on its own. Throughout, I couldn’t help but wonder how the author would handle the winner achieving the goal without shocking readers with ruthlessness.   posted Dec 17, 2009 at 3:33PM

Cover ArtYour amazing newborn
by Klaus, Marshall H.
This book was highly recommended by the instructor of my childbirth preparation class, and it is indeed a fascinating read. The authors have spent many years researching the behavior and innate abilities of newborns, demonstrating that commonly held misconceptions such as a newborn being unable to recognize its parents or interact with them in any meaningful way until it’s older are simply untrue. The reader will find the evidence both surprising and astounding. I’m currently awaiting the birth of my first child with even more eagerness and anticipation than prior to reading this book.   posted Dec 14, 2009 at 10:55PM

Cover ArtAn incomplete education : 3,684 things you should have learned but probably didn
by Jones, Judy
Always looking for a learning opportunity, the cover/title caught my eye at the library where I work. The authors attempt to present missing and overlooked but important general knowledge of a variety of topics ranging from science and religion to art, music, literature, history and psychology, many details of which were either not taught or forgotten during one’s school days.

This is an imposing tome. It took me about four months to get through it while reading it only at work while on breaks. Realistically, I don’t expect to retain the entire massive amount of information I just took in permanently, but getting a refresher on such a wide variety of subject areas was both enjoyable and enlightening.   posted Dec 5, 2009 at 10:57AM

Cover ArtSisters in war : a story of love, family, and survival in the new Iraq
by Christina Asquith
Sisters in War follows the struggles and accomplishments of three women during US-occupied Iraq following the Iraq War. Manal is an Iraqi ex-pat from the US who returns as an aid worker. Heather is a US Army reservist who arrives in Iraq believing that she can personally make a difference and that her country has Iraq’s best interests at heart. The heart of the story, however, lies with Zia, a young, educated Iraqi woman who finds employment with the US headquarters in Baghdad. Despite the propaganda depicted in broadcasts outside Iraq, not everyone in the country is welcoming the American occupation with open arms. Zia experiences not only resentment from fellow Iraqis at her association with the Americans, but ultimately both her and her family’s very lives are put at risk.

Although Zia’s story was compelling, it’s hard to imagine how many other young Iraqi women are in similar threatening or oppressive situations whose stories will never be told. I also found it nearly impossible to come away from the book without a continued feeling of dismay and hopelessness for the Iraq situation. Worth reading, but don’t expect closure of any kind.   posted Nov 26, 2009 at 12:59PM

Cover ArtJulie and Julia : my year of cooking dangerously
by Powell, Julie.
Feeling stagnant in life and work, Julie Powell is suddenly inspired to cook her way through Julia Child’s famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking -- a huge feat in itself, but she aims to accomplish it in just one year. Throughout her project Julie records her successes and not-quite-successes in an online blog, inviting the entire world to accompany her on the journey.

A "365 project" -- of any kind -- is the type of endeavor that warms my mildly OCD little heart, and I was both entertained and impressed by Julie’s dedication. I can’t imagine what the grocery budget looked like for that one year!   posted Nov 26, 2009 at 12:40PM

Cover ArtAn echo in the bone : a novel
by Diana Gabaldon
In this sizable tome, Diana Gabaldon continues the saga of Claire and Jamie Fraser and their nearest and dearest. Claire and Jamie are trying to make their way to Scotland from revolutionary America, while Breanna and Roger are adjusting to life back in the 20th century.

Although the ending left a bit too much up in the air for my taste, Gabaldon’s prose is, as always, richly detailed and enchanting. It will be a pity to eventually see this series complete.   posted Oct 25, 2009 at 11:54AM

Cover ArtJohn Adams [videorecording]
by Hooper, Tom.
This series was quite well done and educational, offering a much more engaging perspective on the Revolutionary War era than the impersonal chronologies typically included in a textbook.   posted Oct 8, 2009 at 10:50AM

Cover ArtDon’t know much about mythology : everything you need to know about the greatest
by Davis, Kenneth C.
Davis has put together a fairly entertaining book of world mythology, presented in a more engaging way than a typical school text. The entire globe is covered, but it’s a bit thin in some areas (e.g. Asia and Africa). I was amused but unsurprised that some currently practiced religions are treated as myth here (e.g. Hindu), but no mention is made of Christianity or Islam, whose verity could be considered equally suspect. Still, educational and well worth reading.   posted Sep 17, 2009 at 8:25PM

Cover ArtZelda’s cut
by Philippa Gregory
Author Isobel Latimer has always taken pride in her literary work. Unfortunately, esteemed literary prizes don’t necessarily equate to blockbuster sales by the public -- or many sales at all, in fact. To rescue her household from bankruptcy after her ailing husband becomes obsessed with installing a swimming pool, Isobel swallows her pride and writes a sensational novel under a pseudonym and, with the help of her agent, some new clothes and a wig, adopts a completely new persona, Zelda Vere. With the success of her new book and personality, Isobel is tempted to become Zelda, who is far more sophisticated and exciting than dowdy old Isobel.

First, this is a terrible book. It’s impossible to even like Isobel, and you can see the train wreck coming from a mile away. The scenes in which Isobel and her agent take turns "playing" Zelda, in particular on the television program, are completely unbelievable. The ending boggles the mind.   posted Sep 15, 2009 at 9:41AM

Cover ArtInfinity on high [sound recording]
Not their best album, but there are a few catchy tracks, including #7 (Thnks fr th Mmrs).   posted Sep 10, 2009 at 3:17PM

Cover ArtLooking backward
by Bellamy, Edward
In Looking Backward Julian West, a member of Boston’s upper class in the late 1880s, falls into a deep, undisturbed sleep and wakes up in the year 2000. After his initial shock and denial at his situation, in this new Boston of more than 100 years into the future, he discovers that the class conflicts and social disparity that plagued the country in his day are completely eradicated. All citizens live in harmony, and each has what he needs to be content, with little need for excess.

The premise of a book of this nature -- imagining what society might be like 100 years from now -- had me eager to pick it up, but a couple of things were lacking for this reader, one of which is perhaps unfair. First, several chapters in which West and his host family discuss the nature of the current social system are dry as a bone. While I was interested in the workings of the new society, the way it was presented was really a snooze-fest. Second, and this may not be entirely fair of me given the book was originally published in 1888, I was hoping for the author to think of some really crazy changes to life in the year 2000. I realize that one can use only what is currently on the cutting edge in one’s own time to project what the future may hold, but some part of me was still disappointed that the only music around in 2000 is classical, and the language spoken, especially among young people, is exceedingly stiff and formal. The author got points for revealing that women are also members of the workforce, but lost a few while noting that women don’t do the same jobs as men. Worth a read, but I’m not sure it’s going to continue aging well.   posted Aug 18, 2009 at 9:03PM

Cover ArtPlatero and I; an andalusian elegy.
While not a style of literature I typically read, Platero and I was a charming book. It is essentially a set of short vignettes, each a brief glimpse into the daily life in the Andalusian countryside of a man and his companion Platero, a donkey. Many of the narratives are addressed to Platero himself. Part of my enjoyment was guessing who the narrator is and what his background might be, based on subtle clues in the text.   posted Aug 18, 2009 at 8:34PM

Cover ArtSkin trade
by Laurell K. Hamilton
In this installment, Anita actually gets to do some work outside the bedroom, which was a refreshing change but, unfortunately, not very interesting. The plot was not strong enough to keep me from noticing the author’s ceaseless use of the phrase "as if...", and the frequency with which Anita’s companions commented on what she was thinking -- not saying aloud -- made me want to tear my hair out.   posted Aug 18, 2009 at 8:13PM

Cover Art21st century breakdown [sound recording]
It took a couple of listens-through for this album to grow on me, and I ended up liking it pretty well, in particular track #9 (Peacemaker). My only complaint, if it even is one, is that three or four of the songs have strings of notes nearly identical to other Green Day songs, and it bothered me a little initially (then I got over it :D).   posted Jul 13, 2009 at 2:04PM

Cover ArtLost horizon
by Hilton, James
While in the midst of a flight in the far east, the four passengers suddenly come to the realization that their small craft has veered off course, and that they are essentially being kidnapped. The flight eventually culminates in a landing in a desolate location high in the Himalayas and the pilot’s death. The four are met by residents of a nearby lamasery, Shanri-La, and are hospitably invited to stay until another means of returning home presents itself. The lamasery offers delicious food, comfortable living, a vast library, natural beauty and stimulating conversation. The only thing it doesn’t seem to offer is a way to leave.

I enjoyed this quasi-adventure story and appreciated some of the philosophical questions it provokes. Like others, I felt the last few chapters were somewhat weak, but they were marginally redeemed after I reread the first chapter over again when finished. The novel holds up fairly well for its time, and is the origin of the mystical place name Shangri-La.   posted Jul 1, 2009 at 6:09PM

Cover ArtAbnormally attracted to sin [sound recording]
I wasn’t impressed after my first listen-through, but since I didn’t have any other CDs checked out I ended up listening to it in my car for about a week. Now that all of the songs are more familiar, I’ve found that I am quite fond of a few of them. This album is definitely of a different style from Amos’ earliest work, but it is charming in its own way.   posted Jun 26, 2009 at 9:46AM

Cover ArtHow the states got their shapes
by Stein, Mark
Mark Stein walks the reader through a virtual geographic tour of our fifty states, describing how each of them got its unique northern, southern, eastern and western borders.

While initially interesting, by the time the reader is about halfway through, it starts to feel repetitive. For example, once you’ve read about how Iowa got its northern border, reading about how Minnesota got its southern border feels redundant. Still, an interesting lesson in history and politics.   posted Jun 24, 2009 at 2:15PM

Cover ArtHarvesting the heart
by Jodi Picoult
Immediately upon graduating from high school, Paige leaves her father a note and hops on a bus to New York. Working as a waitress in a small cafe, she meets Nicholas, a medical student who feels oddly drawn to her fresh innocence. Almost before he realizes it, Nicholas has asked Paige to marry him, to the utter disappointment of his wealthy parents. Paige continues working to support Nicholas through school, but when she has her first child, she begins to have doubts and is revisited by feelings and memories of her own childhood, in which her mother abandoned her at a young age.

I work in a library and, for several years, seeing the Jodi Picoult books fly off the shelves like hotcakes has made me wonder what all the fuss was about. I still don’t understand. I wasn’t feeling sympathetic toward any of the characters. Perhaps this wasn’t her best work, but I’m not sure how interested I am in trying another.   posted Jun 24, 2009 at 2:03PM

Cover ArtLucky girl
by Hopgood, Mei-Ling
Mei-Ling Hopgood always knew she had been adopted -- hard to miss since she was Chinese and her Michigan parents Caucasian! During her happy childhood she never wondered much about her biological family. After graduating from college and becoming a journalist, a chance encounter with the nun who hand-delivered her from China into the arms of her adoptive parents opens a door into her past. Mei-Ling then has to ask herself whether she wants to learn about her biological family, whether she wants to meet them, and how close she’s willing to get to the family she’s never known and who gave her away.

While reading Mei-Ling’s story, I appreciated her background in writing. A memoir relating someone’s interesting story is so much more enjoyable when well-written. I questioned her seemingly rapid plunge into the arms of her Chinese family, in that I think if it were me I’d have been a mite more cautious initially.   posted Jun 23, 2009 at 9:42AM

Cover ArtFrom under the cork tree [compact disc]
A solid album. Better than their first. Standout tracks include ’Of All the Gin Joints in the World,’ ’Dance, Dance,’ and ’Sugar, We’re Goin Down.’   posted Jun 17, 2009 at 8:59AM

Cover ArtSociety without God : what the least religious nations can tell us about content
by Zuckerman, Phil
In his book Society without God, Phil Zuckerman challenges an assertion made by religious fundamentalists: that religion is the only thing that keeps humanity from falling into moral and ethical bankruptcy. Zuckerman takes a job teaching for a year in Denmark, one of the most secular nations on the planet, and finds that rather than being rife with moral depravity, corruption, crime and instability, its citizens actually rank among the happiest and most peaceful according to a variety of UN statistics.

I took copious notes while reading, as there are many quotes and anecdotes worth remembering -- an excellent and refreshing read.   posted May 29, 2009 at 1:45PM

Cover ArtFortune’s favorites
by McCullough, Colleen
This third volume of McCullough’s ’Masters of Rome’ series concerns Lucius Cornelius Sulla’s rise to Dictator of Rome and his eventual retirement, as well as the budding careers of both Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar. I enjoyed this work more than the second book, but not quite as much as the first. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s fiction, because the minute details seem very real.   posted May 28, 2009 at 4:06PM

Cover ArtDead and gone
by Harris, Charlaine
Sookie is back! Unfortunately, someone has just crucified her sister-in-law. Was it because Crystal was a were-panther, or did someone have a more personal ax to grind? To complicate matters, Sookie’s fae ancestry is causing some additional disruption in her life.

This installment was pasable. Sadly, I’m finding the faery storylines to be wholly uninteresting, so I’m somewhat relieved that this may be the last we hear of that. I’m a little curious where the Sookie/Eric relationship is going -- something tells me that good ol’ "happily ever after" isn’t in the cards.   posted May 27, 2009 at 8:42AM

Cover ArtOutcasts united : a refugee team, an American town
by Warren St. John
When Clarkston, Georgia, became a favorite for refugee relocation organizations, it started a chain of events that would change the town irrevocably. It’s one thing when a refugee population originates from the same country; but in Clarkston’s case, most of the refugees had little in common with each other, much less with Clarkston’s American citizens. Seeing the many children in need of safe recreation choices, Luma Mufleh, a passionate soccer coach and an immigrant herself, decides to organize several soccer teams just for refugee kids. In addition to providing instruction in the game, Luma also requires that her players spend a portion of practice time getting tutored with schoolwork. Her biggest challenge, however, is breaking through the Clarkston red tape and suspicion just to find fields for her kids to practice on.

I’m not really a soccer fan, but this is more than just a story about kids playing soccer. It’s inspiring to see the kids bonding despite having vastly different cultural, linguistic and ethnic backgrounds. However, the seeming lack of overall support these kids and their families receive, as well as the cold reception as they are just plopped down into an American town, is also disheartening.   posted May 16, 2009 at 10:21AM

Cover ArtThe little house
by Philippa Gregory
After learning she’s pregnant, Ruth Cleary reluctantly agrees to abandon her career in the city in order to move with her husband Patrick to a cottage adjacent to his parents’ property in the country. When her son Thomas is born, Ruth feels a disconnect between herself and the infant, and finds the responsibilities of caring for a sleepless baby and running her household alone overwhelming. Her perfect in-laws interpret her struggles as an embarrassing indication of mental instability, and Ruth agrees to spend a few weeks under a doctor’s care. Returning rested and optimistic, Ruth soon realizes that the task before her of proving herself "well" again to her husband and in-laws will be endless.

I am of two minds about this book. The plot itself is not wholly engrossing or compelling, but I enjoyed the ambiguity of the characters’ personalities. There were several times that I thought I knew exactly where the story or someone’s personality was going, but then something else would happen to check my assumptions. It was tempting, but ultimately impossible, to make black and white characterizations. For that, I rate the book higher than I might otherwise have.   posted May 1, 2009 at 2:40PM

Cover ArtLive in Chicago [sound recording]
I usually find live albums somewhat of a disappointment, but this is phenomenal! A live performance provides an opportunity to really find out who has solid talent and who is merely “studio enhanced.” Panic at the Disco, and in particular Brendon Urie, absolutely have it. It’s amazing that Urie still has a voice by the end of the show after belting out these tunes.   posted May 1, 2009 at 9:01AM

Cover ArtAlex & me : how a scientist and a parrot discovered a hidden world of animal int
by Pepperberg, Irene M.
This is the story of Alex, an African Grey parrot who was the subject of Irene Pepperberg’s 30-year experiment in animal intelligence.

As someone who is convinced we humans do not give other animals due credit when it comes to intelligence, I was ready to be wowed by Alex. While Alex’s intellect was impressive, Pepperberg’s writing left something to be desired. To start, it takes her 50 pages (of a 226-page book) to actually begin the story, and spends entirely too much time talking about herself. I was disappointed in the book’s brevity and overall lack of detail about his leaning progress, particularly when it came down to technique and the methods used to test his intelligence. I would happily have digested a book twice this size in exchange for more fascinating detail.

For another, better written take on avian intelligence, try ’Wesley the Owl.’   posted Apr 28, 2009 at 3:48PM

Cover ArtEyes open [compact disc]
One of Snow Patrol’s better CDs, I think, along with A Hundred Million Suns. I’d heard several tracks on the radio previously (Hands Open, Chasing Cars), and the rest combine to make a pretty well-rounded album.   posted Apr 21, 2009 at 1:59PM

Cover ArtStrange little girls [compact disc]
An OK album, though not nearly as enjoyable as Little Earthquakes. Several of the tracks were kind of catchy (Strange Little Girl, New Age, I Don’t Like Mondays), although I really couldn’t stand ’97 Bonnie & Clyde.   posted Apr 21, 2009 at 1:55PM

Cover ArtWesley the owl : the remarkable love story of an owl and his girl
by O'Brien, Stacey
What a charming book! When an owlet with nerve damage shows up at the Cal Tech laboratory where Stacey O’Brien works, a colleague encourages her to adopt it and care for it at home. With the understanding that raising an owl is a potential commitment of over a decade, O’Brien nevertheless agrees, and proceeds to document all aspects of Wesley’s (the owl) incredible, 19-year life with her.

As a reader, I greatly appreciated O’Brien’s background in biology. Without it, this would merely have been another story about a human and a pet. Instead, she is able to offer frank, scientific insight on Wesley’s behavior and intelligence. I definitely have a newfound admiration for owls.   posted Apr 13, 2009 at 5:22PM

Cover ArtSend : why people email so badly and how to do it better
by Shipley, David
In their book Send, Shipley and Schwalbe pick apart email as a communication medium, including deciding when it is appropriate and how to use it productively. They also examine email anatomy and provide tips for how to compose more effective messages.

While it was fairly comprehensive, as a seasoned email user I didn’t find very much new information that I didn’t already know or hadn’t already figured out myself. One good point that struck me, however, was the section on Cc:ing and the phenomenon where the more people copied on a request for action, the less likely any one of them is going to act. I’ll be keeping that in mind!   posted Apr 9, 2009 at 12:24PM

Cover ArtFallen skies
by Philippa Gregory
When Stephen Winters meets Lily, a young theater singer, he thinks she’s just the woman he needs to make him forget about the horrors he experienced during WWI. Lily isn’t particularly attracted to Stephen, but after her mother dies, marrage -- despite threatening her suddenly promising career -- seems like the best of her very few options.

As a reader, I didn’t find many compelling reasons to like either Stephen or Lily, and found by the end of the book that I didn’t care what happened to either of them. Unfortunate, since I’ve enjoyed some others of Gregory’s works.   posted Apr 8, 2009 at 3:40PM

Cover ArtWoman : an intimate geography
by Angier, Natalie.
Who knew human anatomy could be so fun? Ms. Angier is like an informative and witty museum tour guide, taking the reader on a stroll past living exhibits of all uniquely feminine aspects of human physiology. A fascinating and revealing book that should be read by every woman (and probably men too!).   posted Mar 27, 2009 at 10:30AM

Cover ArtThe world is flat : a brief history of the twenty-first century
by Friedman, Thomas L.
This is one of those books where, about halfway through, I began to wish I’d been taking notes. Thomas Friedman argues that due to universal increases in access to technology, the earth -- if not physically -- is flattening with respect to growth and opportunity, becoming a much more level playing field.

It took a few chapters for Friedman to really engage me, but I was soon both engrossed and alarmed. It becomes crystal clear that in order for the US to maintain its powerhouse economic leadership in the world community, it must adopt a much more active, rather than complacent, attitude or eventually be trampled by any of several other rapidly growing economies currently nipping at its heels.   posted Mar 27, 2009 at 10:23AM

Cover ArtTake this to your grave [compact disc]
by Fall Out Boy (Musical group)
Not quite as catchy as their album ’Folie a` deux,’ but worth a listen. Although Pete Wentz gets all of the glamor attention, vocalist Patrick Stump clearly has most of the talent.   posted Mar 18, 2009 at 4:45PM

Cover ArtThe grass crown
by Colleen McCullough
This the second novel in McCullough’s ’Masters of Rome’ series, which brings to life in meticulous and imaginative detail the history of the ancient Roman Republic. Although Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla take center stage, young Julius Caesar, albeit still a wee boy, makes his first appearance. McCullough somehow makes even the military campaigns interesting, and I’m generally not a fan of military history.   posted Mar 9, 2009 at 7:03PM

Cover ArtSongs for polar bears [compact disc]
I gave it 1+ listens through, and didn’t really find any memorable songs. Snow Patrol seems to be pretty hit-or-miss for me.   posted Mar 4, 2009 at 8:37AM

Cover ArtFinal straw [compact disc]
There were a few good tracks on this album (Chocolate, Run), but much of it wasn’t very memorable.   posted Mar 2, 2009 at 3:04PM

Cover ArtWhen it’s all over we still have to clear up [compact disc]
I didn’t find any of the tracks on this album memorable, even after playing through it several times. That’s too bad; I do like some of their other tunes.   posted Feb 16, 2009 at 2:16PM

Cover ArtThe Pineapple Express [videorecording]
by Apatow, Judd
Pretty humorous, but this film was ultimately about 30 minutes too long. It took a dive with about 40 minutes to go by turning into an action movie (and not a very good one), and suddenly wasn’t interesting, fun or even funny any longer.   posted Feb 11, 2009 at 10:45AM

Cover ArtFolie a deux [sound recording]
I’ve been listening to this album for the past few days in the car, and it’s taken me by surprise! I’m not terribly big on their image, and the Ashlee Simpson connection gives me some consternation, but I’ll admit it -- I’m a new Fall Out Boy fan. They remind me quite a bit of Panic at the Disco, and in one song I swear I heard Brendon Urie himself making an appearance (it’s true, he’s in the credits). Definitely worth a listen.   posted Feb 5, 2009 at 9:24AM

Cover ArtHoneymoon in Tehran : Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran
by Azadeh Moaveni
Azadeh Moaveni is an Iranian-American journalist raised in California. This is the story of her 2-year visit to Iran as a foreign correspondent. Her work is a delicate balance between reporting the truth and being under the omnipresent, threatening eyes of her government “minders,” who are on the lookout for stories critical of the Iranian administration. After finding love unexpectedly, her personal life is an even more delicate balance hiding her pregnancy (in Iran, an unwed, pregnant woman can face dire legal consequences) until such time as she can plan and execute her own wedding.

At times, I felt I might have benefited from reading Moaveni’s previous book, Lipstick Jihad, if only to provide some additional background information regarding her earlier life and career.   posted Jan 30, 2009 at 12:42PM

Cover ArtThe cosmos rock [sound recording]
I adore Queen, but I’m not a fan of Paul Rodgers. Queen simply isn’t Queen without Freddie Mercury. Rodgers, who admittedly has some pretty big shoes to fill, has given a decent effort but he just isn’t right in the role. I wish that they would have given their 1/2Queen + Paul Rodgers band a brand new name rather than continuing to call themselves Queen. Not only is Mercury missing, but John Deacon opted not to participate as well in these new endeavors.

The only track that might be worth listening to on this album is #2 Time to Shine. The rest doesn’t feel like Queen at all.   posted Jan 28, 2009 at 10:17AM

Cover ArtA hundred million suns [sound recording]
While I didn’t love every aspect of this album, I enjoyed it enough to consider purchasing it. Many of the tracks are catchy, although none of them come across to me as standout hits. I’m intrigued now to listen to some of their previous work.   posted Jan 27, 2009 at 9:12AM

Cover ArtWarning [compact disc]
This is definitely one of Green Day’s better albums. Several of the catchier tunes include the title track ’Warning,’ ’Minority’ and ’Castaway.’ While I wouldn’t call myself a fangirl, there is something inherently appealing and compelling about Billie Joe’s vocals. What talent!   posted Dec 20, 2008 at 9:51AM

Cover ArtThe jewel of Medina : a novel
by Jones, Sherry
When A’isha is nine and Islam in its infancy, she marries the prophet Muhammad and would go on to become one of the great women in Islamic history. Despite her youth, A’isha finds herself the favored wife, advising and supporting her husband, while simultaneously doing her own maturing, discovering her own strengths and combating her weaknesses.

Although it was interesting to see how the author chose to pin a personality onto such a huge historic figure, I didn’t feel the reader was given enough meaningful glimpses into Muhammad and A’isha’s relationship to understand why she was so favored. A’isha’s actions and thought processes seem at some times to be beyond her years, and at others very typically reflecting her tender age. I enjoyed the opportunity to read about a culture and time period I was fairly unfamiliar with, and it would be interesting to read other historical fiction from the same era.   posted Dec 18, 2008 at 2:29PM

Cover ArtLittle earthquakes [compact disc]
by Amos, Tori
Besides being a powerful debut album in its own right, this one also has sentimental value for me. A style that often comes across for other artists as pretentious, Tori Amos pulls off with sincerity and passion. Standout tracks include ’Silent All These Years,’ ’Happy Phantom,’ ’China’ and ’Leather.’   posted Dec 12, 2008 at 11:53AM

Cover ArtIn search of the Dark Ages
by Wood, Michael
Michael Wood’s chapters focus primarily on successive rulers during the Dark Ages (AD 500-1000), and he provides additional background information to assist with understanding the context. This book would serve as a good jumping-off point for anyone interested in finding out even more about the time period and its personalities. While reading, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how much we know from so long ago, yet at the same time be saddened by how much more we will never know.   posted Dec 9, 2008 at 11:25AM

Cover ArtEscape
by Carolyn Jessop and Laura Palmer
Reading about how Carolyn Jessop succeeded in freeing herself and her children from the clutches of her abusive husband, a high-ranking member of an extreme polygamous religious sect, was both inspiring and dismaying. After all she’d been through, I’m not certain I’d have had the courage and energy to escape in the same situation. In addition to being a tale of one woman’s triumph, this book serves as a warning about the dangers of fundamentalist religion of any nature.   posted Dec 4, 2008 at 12:44PM

Cover ArtOh no [compact disc]
This album is worth a listen, but I didn’t like it enough to consider purchasing it. Fans of alternative rock will recognize a few of the songs from radio play, and the music video for the song "Here It Goes Again" is a hoot and a half (find it on YouTube).   posted Dec 3, 2008 at 8:50AM

Cover ArtThe kid : what happened after my boyfriend and I decided to go get pregnant : an
by Dan Savage
This is the true story of how Dan Savage, a popular sex columnist, and his boyfriend Terry decided to adopt a newborn baby and take on fatherhood.

This was suggested to me as an "irreverent read," and boy was it! Savage’s frankness about both the adoption experiences and his relationship was refreshingly shocking and eye-opening. I’d happily pick up another of his books.   posted Dec 1, 2008 at 3:21PM

Cover ArtPerfect symmetry [sound recording]
After my first listen-through of this album, I have to say I was unimpressed. It’s a far cry from Keane’s ’Hopes and Fears’ piano rock days. That said, I usually listen to an album 5-10 times to ensure I’m giving it a fair chance, and it has since grown on me. The track ’Better Than This’ continues to make me cringe, but I’ve grown fond of ’The Lovers Are Losing.’ Tom Chaplin’s voice doesn’t seem as clear as it used to be, but this album is still worth a listen.   posted Nov 14, 2008 at 8:45AM

Cover ArtKushiel’s dart
by Jacqueline Carey
Phèdre was born and has been trained in the Night Court, which specializes in services of the "night" arts. The unusual red mote in her eye marks her as one pricked by legendary Kushiel himself. As soon as she is old enough, Phèdre enters the service of Anafiel Delaunay’s household, and begins a career in both her distinctive arts and one of political intrigue.

The book’s setting is a world which shares our history only up until the advent of Christianity. Instead, the cards of history fell in a very different way. Readers will recognize Europe and some of its peoples and geographic regions, but it’s very, very different.   posted Nov 7, 2008 at 12:03PM

Cover ArtThe world of King Arthur
by Snyder, Christopher A. 1966-
After reading The Mists of Avalon, I picked this up to learn more about the "real" King Arthur. There is scant evidence for a king of his legendary magnitude, but many tall tales originate with a spark of truth. We may never know. This is a great resource for discovering more about the Dark Ages in which Arthurian legend began.   posted Oct 31, 2008 at 11:52AM

Cover ArtThe black parade is dead! [sound recording]
For a live album, this was above average, although I didn’t get a chance to watch the accompanying DVD. I’m not a big fan of live albums, so I’m not sure why I keep checking them out! I’m a little puzzled why MCR has decided to abandon tunes from this album -- this recording is supposedly the last time these songs will ever be performed. That’s too bad, some of them are amazing.   posted Oct 14, 2008 at 10:03AM

Cover ArtSweetsmoke : a novel
by David Fuller
Sweetsmoke is the Virginia plantation where Cassius has lived his entire life in slavery. Although his relatively elevated status gives him some amount of freedom, such as driving to town alone, he’s still treated with disdain by both his master and fellow slaves. Cassius’ routine is interrupted one day by news that a close friend has been murdered, and he is determined to unravel the truth of the crime, although it means he’ll have to push the limits of his bondage, and therefore risk his life.

Sweetsmoke was a satisfying and educational read, although not overwhelmingly compelling.   posted Oct 13, 2008 at 7:59PM

Cover ArtThe wise woman
by Gregory, Philippa.
After Catholocism becomes outlawed under England’s Henry VIII, a convent in northern England is looted and burned. Alys, a young nun, manages to escape undetected and flees to the decrepit home of Morach, the local wise woman who had once taken her in as an abandoned infant. Alys reluctantly resumes her training with Morach, and as their reputation for healing grows, Alys is summoned to heal the aging local lord, who decides to keep her on as his clerk upon discovering her education. Thus begins Alyns’ ill-fated entanglement with the local ruling family.

Gregory’s weakness in her earlier novels is clearly the unlikability of her heroines. While I felt some sympathy for Alys early on, by the book’s midpoint I began to feel she deserved her misfortunes.   posted Oct 8, 2008 at 11:47AM

Cover ArtHere we stand [sound recording]
Not nearly as catchy or fun as their previous album, ’Costello Music.’ It’s possibly worth a listen if you’re a fan, but I didn’t feel that any single tracks stood out, and it’s not going on my wishlist.   posted Sep 25, 2008 at 9:42AM

Cover ArtThe mists of Avalon
by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Arthurian Legend, as old as the hills, is given new life in this epic story told from the perspective of the women of Camelot, rather than the men. It was at times both refreshing and shocking, and I was pleasantly surprised to see non-Christian beliefs painted in a frank, sympathetic light. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to pick up this book. It has inspired me to read some of the more traditional Arthurian tales in order to compare them.   posted Sep 23, 2008 at 10:48AM

Cover ArtMental-floss presents Forbidden knowledge
by Pearson, Will
This is an entertaining collection of irreverent (and "naughty," as the cover claims) bits of history, easily digestible in small chunks and perfect for sampling over the lunch hour.   posted Sep 16, 2008 at 3:09PM

Cover ArtA thousand splendid suns
by Khaled Hosseini
In ATSS, Hosseini weaves together the stories of two women, Mariam and Laila. Mariam grew up in a rural hovel, the illegitimate child of a wealthy man in the city. Her lifelong dream is that her father would one day acknowledge her as his daughter. On the other side of the country, Laila lived with her progressive and erudite parents, who supported her education and had hopes of a bright future in which she could make her own choices. The Afghan Civil War dashes Laila’s dreams, but brings these two women together as they both find themselves unhappily married to the same man.

My initial impression was that the story was somewhat predictable, but the climax was pleasingly surprising. Hosseini’s works, in addition to being engaging reads, provide enthralling peeks into Afghan history.   posted Sep 15, 2008 at 6:29PM

Cover ArtNine parts of desire : the hidden world of Islamic women
by Brooks, Geraldine
Having spent a great deal of her career as a journalist in Islamic countries, Geraldine Brooks has had the opportunity to get to know the cultures intimately, especially from a woman’s perspective. Her accounts of both intriguing and appalling aspects of Muslim women’s lives are frankly presented. Although the reader is at times made to feel an agenda, even one to sympathize with, the author does a decent job of simply presenting the facts as she has experienced or observed them. Recommended.   posted Sep 5, 2008 at 2:42PM

Cover ArtBreaking dawn
by Stephenie Meyer
As Breaking Dawn begins, Bella is about to get all she’s been waiting for: marriage to Edward, and then, finally, conversion to a vampire in order to join him in immortality. The first goes off without a hitch, but something wholly unexpected occurs during their honeymoon in paradise.

This conclusion to Bella’s story was worth reading, but ultimately a disappointment. Every loose end or uncertainty was tidily wrapped up into a even-better-than-perfect package, and everyone was blissfully happy. It was just too much to swallow. I’d hoped for more grit. And "Renesmee" ranks up there with "Jonayla" among the most gag-inducing invented names in literature.   posted Aug 28, 2008 at 1:57PM

Cover ArtSundays at Tiffany’s
by Patterson, James
When Jane was a little girl, her imaginary friend Michael kept her company and provided the love and support she never received from her mother. But on her ninth birthday, he disappeared. Now in her early thirties, Jane catches a glimpse of someone in a bar who looks uncannily like her imaginary childhood friend. Impossible!...?

This was my first James Patterson experience. I had higher hopes for the story given its unusual premise, but everything simply came together too smoothly to be satisfying (aww, it turns out her mother really did love her!). Passable fare for a fluffy beach read.   posted Aug 25, 2008 at 4:19PM

Cover ArtFrom dead to worse : [a Sookie Stackhouse novel]
by Harris, Charlaine.
Sookie is back! Major change is afoot in leadership in the vampire community of Louisiana, and Sookie Stackhouse, your average, run-of-the-mill telepath, is once again in the middle of it whether she likes it or not. Sookie’s romantic interests are also increasingly complicated since her boyfriend Quinn is MIA, her ex-boyfriend Bill seems to be trying to win her back, and she is having trouble denying an attraction to Eric.

I was unimpressed by the first 1/3 of this book, but thankfully the story picked up satisfactorily after that. I never cared much for Quinn, so I’m glad he’s out of the picture!   posted Aug 20, 2008 at 4:12PM

Cover ArtI brought you my bullets, you brought me your love [sound recording]
I’d consider this first album by MCR their weakest. Although there are hints of the genius to come, the overall effect is marred by excessive screeching. I still can’t decide whether it’s worth purchasing or not.   posted Jul 25, 2008 at 12:33PM

Cover ArtDefinitely dead
by Harris, Charlaine
In her sixth book, spunky telepath Sookie Stackhouse once again finds herself getting involved with the supernatural community of Louisiana. This time, she’s headed to New Orleans to sort through the apartment of her deceased cousin, but not before being mysteriously attacked by shapeshifters and receiving a summons from the Queen of Louisiana, a vampire. Sookie also gets a new love interest in this installment, and it will leave you eagerly looking forward to the next.   posted Jun 5, 2006 at 6:08PM

Cover ArtDon’t look down
by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
A cute, fun, action-packed and romantic tale that takes place on a movie set where Lucy, the new director, has been hired mid-production to finish up shooting the stunt scenes. She has no idea what she’s truly in for! Having just the right amount of fluff, this would make a great beach/vacation read.   posted Jun 6, 2006 at 11:44AM

Cover ArtThe Seventh moon
by Marius Gabriel
Another superb tale by Marius Gabriel. Having enjoyed "The Original Sin," I was interested in sampling more of his work. Upon initially reading the cover flap, I wasn’t sure if I could get into this story of Francine, a woman who survives WWII experiences in southeast Asia but tragically loses her young daughter. I don’t have any special interest in war stories or Asia. However, any reservations I had disappeared as I was quickly sucked into the story. It’s sadly unfortunate that many of Marius Gabriel’s books are no longer in print.   posted Jun 7, 2006 at 10:13AM

Cover ArtHouse of many rooms
by Marius Gabriel
Rebecca is recuperating in Nepal after a mountain climbing accident when she learns that Therese, the daughter she gave up for adoption thirteen years ago, is suspected of setting the fire that killed her adoptive mother. She concludes that her best chance of helping Therese is to reappear in her life as a nanny, telling no one her real identity. Rebecca soon realizes that something is not quite right with the entire family. Unfortunately, Marius Gabriel is not at his finest in this book. The first three quarters were excellent, with a fantastic buildup of suspense and intrigue. The ending was a bit of a let-down, and it felt incongruous with respect to the rest of the book.   posted Jun 12, 2006 at 2:24PM

Cover ArtDragonwyck
by Seton, Anya.
At the age of 18, Miranda has been invited by wealthy distant cousin Nicholas Van Ryn, whom she’s never met, to move to his estate and serve as governess to his young daughter. Initially, it seems like a wonderful opportunity to learn and experience life of a different social standing to Miranda, who grew up on a farm. Before long, however, she finds herself attracted to Nicholas and, despite the presence of his gluttonous wife, the sentiment appears to be mutual. This is one of Anya Seton’s earlier works and focuses less on historical events than some of her other books, but I still recommend it.   posted Jun 17, 2006 at 10:52AM

Cover ArtThe Misted cliffs
by Catherine Asaro
The Dawnfield family returns in this second book of magic and political conflict in the fictional land of Aronsdale. Chime and Muller’s daughter Melody (Mel) has grown into a beautiful, headstrong young woman. To prevent an army from the neighboring Misted Cliffs from invading her homeland, she agrees to wed Cobalt Escar, son of Varquelle, ruler of the Misted Cliffs. Despite the cruelty and darkness in the Escar family, Mel is able to find a seed of good in Cobalt and begins to nurture it. Varquelle and Cobalt, however, are not satisfied in their desire for conquest. I recommend this book to fans of romantic fantasy. However, many of the characters are quite two-dimensional and predictable.   posted Jun 17, 2006 at 2:28PM

Cover ArtMy year of meats
by Ruth L. Ozeki
I surprised myself at how well I enjoyed this book about the production of a television program bringing American culture, values and, yes, meat into Japanese households. Although it is a work of fiction, if even a fraction of the information presented about the US beef industry in the book is true, we should be terrified.   posted Jul 17, 2006 at 6:32PM

Cover ArtThe Nameless day
by Sara Douglass
I enjoyed Douglass’ "Threshold" a few years ago and looked forward to trying some of her series. This is the first book in the series "The Crucible," which takes place in the 14th century in the years following The Black Plague, an interesting and turbulent period in Europe. Thomas, a Dominican friar, is visited by St. Michael, who tells him that demons abound in Europe and that it is his life’s task to stop them. Although I didn’t love it, I’ll definitely finish the series. Another wonderful book that takes place during this time period is "Katherine" by Anya Seton.   posted Jul 21, 2006 at 10:38AM

Cover ArtDanse macabre
by Laurell K. Hamilton
I’m sorry to say Ms. Hamilton just doesn’t have it anymore. What began as a great series has become an uninspiring and confusing mess. The characters spend the entire book discussing their supernatural powers, interrupted only by incredibly uninteresting sex scenes. Although I simply don’t find Anita Blake interesting anymore, my completist personality will of course compel me to suffer through her next book anyway.   posted Jul 27, 2006 at 2:11PM

Cover ArtBeast
by Napoli, Donna Jo
This is the tale of The Beast -- that is, what happened to him before he met Beauty. The world is so vividly depicted I could amost see and taste the world Donna Jo Napoli describes. I wish there was such great Teen Fiction being published when I was a teenager!   posted Jul 31, 2006 at 6:10PM

Cover ArtThe Wounded hawk
by Sara Douglass
In this second book in her Crucible series, Sara Douglass continues her tale of a slightly alternate reality in 14th-century Europe in which Thomas Neville has been told that the fate of Christendom rests on his success in disrupting the plans of demons infiltrating the ranks of European courts. As times passes, however, the distinction between good and evil becomes ever hazier. The books are much more focused on history than on religion, and this is a fascinating period in European history. I should also say that all of the books in this series have fantastic cover art.   posted Aug 7, 2006 at 1:29PM

Cover ArtThe War for the oaks
by Emma Bull
This urban fantasy started out great, with Minneapolis rock musician Eddi finding herself chosen as a pawn in the eternal war in the world of faerie, a reality she hadn’t even known existed. The otherworldly battle scenes were the weakest part of the story -- it was much more interesting to see Eddi’s relationship with her protector develop, as well as that of her band. While it was fun to read a story set in the Twin Cities, after a while the many, many familiar locations being introduced and described got a little much. Regretfully, I wanted to like this book more than I actually did.   posted Aug 8, 2006 at 4:49PM

Cover ArtGreen darkness
by Seton, Anya.
Green Darkness was a best-seller back in the early 1970s when it was first published, and it’s just as good a read today. It is the story of Celia, a young American woman in England who suddenly suffers a mental and emotional breakdown triggered by a visit to an old manor, where she had been murdered in a previous lifetime. In order to bring her back to the present, the physician attending her takes her back 400 years to relive this tragic life.   posted Sep 5, 2006 at 11:14AM

Cover ArtCast in shadow
by Sagara, Michelle M.
Once an impoverished and homeless orphan, Kaylin has worked toward becoming a Hawk, the equivalent of a police force in her world. The recent deaths of local children hit entirely too close to home as she becomes involved with trying to discover who/what is causing them. Although I haven’t come to expect greatness from Luna books, this was disappointing. I spent most of the book confused -- not only about the immediate goings-on, but also about the entire plot in general. I didn’t feel I had enough information or understanding about the world the protagonist lives in or even about Kaylin herself for the story to come together and make sense. Also, fans of other books published under Harlequin’s Luna imprint will be disappointed in the absence of any romantic element to the book whatsoever.   posted Sep 11, 2006 at 2:51PM

Cover ArtByway eateries of Minnesota
by Warner, George
This book is a nice resource for the Minnesota road-tripper as it highlights eateries that might otherwise be missed by a traveler unfamiliar with an area. One minor detail that became slightly repetitive is the author’s apparent obsession with mashed potatoes. It should be noted is that this book was published in 2000, and so many of the establishments listed have closed, moved or changed their names. However, often a new restaurant worth trying will open in the same location.   posted Sep 21, 2006 at 12:13PM

Cover ArtYossi & Jagger [DVD]
by Fox, Eytan.
Touching, tragic and based on a true story, this film was not quite what I was expecting. As it begins, Yossi and Jagger are already in the middle of a full-blown relationship, so there is little insight into how their relationship sparked and developed. There is also little character development, but this would have been difficult given the film’s very short playing time. Worth a watch, but something was missing.   posted Oct 2, 2006 at 12:49PM

Cover ArtPopulation, 485 : meeting your neighbors one siren at a time
by Perry, Michael
You know that small, faded town you pass through on your way to Somewhere Else? These are the folks who live there. Having grown up in New Auburn, Wisconsin, but moving away to make his way in the world, writer Michael Perry returns home some years later and joins the local fire department as a way of reconnecting with his community. In the book he alternates between relating his experiences as a small-town volunteer firefighter and first-responder and giving fleeting glimpses into the lives and personalities of some of his teammates and fellow residents. The detailed emergency calls were fun to read about, but more than once I made the mistake of reading while having lunch! I generally don’t pick up many non-fiction books, but I read this as part of the "Eden Prairie Reads" community program (   posted Oct 5, 2006 at 10:21AM

Cover ArtThe Winthrop woman
by Seton, Anya.
Anya Seton has certainly done her homework in researching this story of Elizabeth Fones, a true historical figure in 17th-century Puritan New England. Despite marrying into the powerful Winthrop family of Boston, Elizabeth has difficulty conforming to expectations for a woman, nearly risking her very life in a time of suspicion, violence, religious zeal and political anxiety. Eventually, she is forced to flee from New England entirely with her tormented second husband, although this new life brings her little peace. Although her troubles are by no means over, with her third and final marriage Elizabeth finally has an opportunity to marry for love. Ms. Seton has an amazing way of bringing characters from the past to life. I highly recommend all of her works.   posted Oct 9, 2006 at 5:47PM

Cover ArtThe Bronze horseman
by Paullina Simons
In June 1941 Tatiana is a 17-year-old girl living with her parents in Leningrad, just as Germany begins an invasion of the Soviet Union. A chance encounter at a bus stop seems like fate when she meets an army officer named Alexander and they both instantly sense an unearthly connection to each other. As Alexander helps her home with her groceries they both discover, to their horror, that Tatiana’s sister is Alexander’s girlfriend. Tatiana is unwilling to hurt her sister, but neither can she deny her own attachment to Alexander. Meanwhile, Leningrad is under a blockade, winter has arrived, and food supplies are dwindling. The Bronze Horseman is one of those stories that sucks you in right from page one. I could hardly bear to put it down when my breaks at work were over. It is definitely the fastest 637 pages I’ve ever plowed through!   posted Oct 12, 2006 at 2:48PM

Cover ArtAbundance
by Sena Jeter Naslund
Having enjoyed Naslund’s "Ahab’s Wife" previously, I was looking forward to her new historical fiction about Marie Antoinette. The story begins as 14-year-old Marie, daughter of the Empress of Austria, journeys to France to wed the 15-year-old Dauphin (Louis XVI); and ends with her memorable death at the guillotine during the French Revolution. Throughout I had to keep reminding myself that, although intensely researched, this was a work of fiction -- it was like reading the intimate thoughts from someone’s diary. I felt both sympathy for Marie and the royal family and pity at their self-absorption and naïveté. The reader is not made to think they are truly evil or ruthless people, but that the fault perhaps lies in how they are raised in a world of true opulence; isolated, untouched and unaffected by the reality, and often the plights, of the average citizen.   posted Oct 28, 2006 at 11:58AM

Cover ArtHades’ daughter
by Sara Douglass
With Hades’ Daughter, Douglass kicks off her 4-book series "The Troy Game," in which descendants of the ancient Trojans journey to a new, foreign land where, with the assistance of The Game, they begin to build Troia Nova. Along the way, they capture Cornelia, a Greek princess who is brutally forced into marriage with the Trojans’ leader Brutus. Brutus ultimately plans to abandon Cornelia for Genvissa, the woman whose mystical powers will ensure that he and she will reign as king and queen. Unfortunately, none of the main characters are particularly likeable, so I didn’t find I had much emotional investment in their well-being. Also, "The Game," referred to many, many times, remains even at the end of the book a somewhat confusing and nebulous concept. I do like Sara Douglass, so I’ll still finish the series.   posted Oct 30, 2006 at 6:21PM

Cover ArtSorcery & Cecelia
by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
This is a charming tale of magic and intrigue, told through the correspondence of two young cousins, Cecelia and Kate. Soon after Kate leaves for a Season in London, both girls find themselves involved in a mystery concerning an enchanted chocolate pot. A fun story in a magical alternate reality.   posted Nov 20, 2006 at 7:37PM

Cover ArtGod’s concubine
by Sara Douglass
Gods’ Concubine is the second book in Douglass’ ’Troy Game’ series, and it was definitely more engaging and enjoyable than the first. This time around, a thousand years have passed, and the characters we met in the first book have been reborn into the age of William the Conqueror. In fact, Brutus is William himself and Cornelia is the queen of England, wife to Edward the Confessor. Coel is reborn as Harold Godwinson (Harold II) and in a cruel twist of fate Genvissa has been reborn as Harold’s wife. Other characters from the first book are also reborn and find themselves drawn once again into the struggle for control over the Troy Game, which has itself been lying and waiting for a thousand years. This combination of fantasy and historical fiction is an intriguing way of presenting a time period in history. The reader is left guessing, and possibly researching further, as to which details are real and documented and which are purely the product of the author’s vivid imagination.   posted Dec 3, 2006 at 3:23PM

Cover ArtAmbulance girl : how I saved myself by becoming an EMT
by Stern, Jane
Jane Stern, a middle-aged woman with all kinds of issues ranging from phobias and depression to anxiety and being overweight, tells the tale of how she did the unexpected (even to herself) and became a volunteer EMT for the small town of Georgetown, Connecticut. A writer by profession, Jane infuses her experiences responding to calls, riding in ambulances with victims and on-scene traumas with just the right amount of poignancy and humor. Readers may very well be inspired to become EMTs themselves.   posted Dec 13, 2006 at 5:55PM

Cover ArtThe perilous gard
by Pope, Elizabeth Marie
Kate Sutton, at the order of Queen Mary, has been sent to live in a lonely, remote castle called Perilous Gard. Upon arriving, she learns of the mysterious disappearance of a small girl that occurred a few months prior, and of the strange behavior of the castle's residents. Rumor has it that the child had been abducted by Fairies. Having little else to occupy her time, Kate makes a bold decision to try to solve the mystery herself. The story was a little dry, and the romantic element felt a little too pat at the end, but the story was otherwise charming.   posted Jan 3, 2007 at 10:26AM

Cover ArtThe River’s gift
by Mercedes Lackey
Ariella lives a somewhat sheltered life in the family manor, under the watchful eye of old cousin Magda. Spending her free time in the forest, she discovers she has a talent for healing the woodland animals. Indeed, one day a handsome, wounded Kelpie, a water-living, magical creature in the shape of a horse, requires her assistance. Soon after, Ariella's world is shattered when tragedy befalls her father, and she is sent off to marry a horrible cousin. The River's Gift is filled with many, many predictable and clichéd story elements. However, for me it was a short, sweet escape from mundane reality during my lunch break.   posted Jan 3, 2007 at 10:42AM

Cover Art7 deadly wonders
by Matthew Reilly
A ragtag team of protagonists embarks on an amazing adventure, searching ancient ruins around the world for lost artifacts by deciphering riddles in ancient texts and disarming hundreds of booby traps along the way, Indiana Jones-style. There many, many holes in the storyline as the adventure progresses, not the least of which is the premise for the plot itself. The suspension of disbelief required on the part of the reader is far too great for a book not labeled fantasy. You’ll constantly roll your eyes and mutter, “Yeah right, give me a break.” Also, where was the editor? The overuse of italics and exclamation points alone is painful to endure.   posted Jan 12, 2007 at 1:51PM

Cover ArtFreakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
by Levitt, Steven D.
The front cover says, "Prepare to be dazzled." While I wasn’t quite to the point of dazzlement, I nevertheless found this book quite fascinating. The author explores how seemingly unrelated things are, in fact, connected, and how others that seem to be related actually aren’t. It was a quick read, definitely a page-turner, and my only complaint is that it was simply too short. While I’m not an economist, it seemed that Mr. Levitt is merely scratching the surface of "the hidden sides of everything." I hope a sequel is in store.   posted Jan 21, 2007 at 4:14PM

Cover ArtThe Constant princess
by Philippa Gregory
From the moment of her birth, Katherine (Catalina) of Aragon, daughter of the well-known Spanish rulers Ferdinand and Isabella, has known that her destiny is to be the Queen of England. Upon coming of age and marrying Arthur, the Prince of Wales, she is pleased to find love in a marriage born of her parents’ political tactics, and that she and her husband share the same dreams and ambitions for the land they will eventually rule together. However, her happiness is short-lived when she tragically loses Arthur to illness. A deathbed promise and a colossal lie result in her marriage to Arthur’s younger brother Harry (eventually the infamous Henry VIII), but unless she can produce an heir to his throne, her position is still insecure. The book seemed to end rather abruptly, and the later, still important, events in Katherine’s life are merely glossed over. However, it is still a rich, enjoyable read.   posted Jan 26, 2007 at 12:00PM

Cover ArtOne way ticket to hell-- and back [compact disc]
I was skeptical about this CD at first as I had listened to The Darkness’ first album, Permission to Land, and didn’t care for it at all. With this album, however, The Darkness has grown on me and I highly recommend it -- especially to fans of Queen. At times I get the feeling they’re actually channeling Queen through their harmonies, Dan Hawkins’ guitar, and Justin Hawkins’ falsetto. You’ll either love the falsetto or hate it, but you’ll have to admit the guy’s got talent! My favorite track is ’Hazel Eyes,’ which has a sort of Celtic-gone-wild feel to it.   posted Jan 29, 2007 at 7:21PM

Cover ArtThe No. 1 ladies’ detective agency
by Alexander McCall Smith
What a charming book! It had been on my to-read list for some time, and I regret that it took me so long to get to. Precious Ramotswe is a clever, plucky woman in her 30s who decides to open a detective agency -- the only such agency run by women -- in her native country of Botswana. Although business is initially slow, the locals soon warm up to the idea and Mma Ramotswe takes on cases ranging from missing husbands and stolen cars to false fathers and fraudulent doctors. Getting to know Mma Ramotswe is a hoot, as is meeting her friends and clients. Throughout it all, Botswana's beauty and charm subtly take center stage.   posted Feb 22, 2007 at 10:34AM

Cover ArtThe Passion of Artemesia
by Susan Vreeland
In this work of historical fiction, susan Vreeland paints a vibrant portrait (pun intended) of the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, an actual 17th-century woman painter in Italy. Raped by her father's friend Agostino Tassi, who is also her painting tutor, Artemisia is humiliated and her reputation in ruins when Tassi is all but exonerated in the crime. To escape Rome and its cruelty, she arranges to marry Pietro Stiattesi, a Florentine painter. In Florence, Artemisia realizes success in her art, painting biblical figures from a uniquely feminine perspective, and becomes the first woman accepted into Florence's Accademia dell'Arte. However, from her jealous husband Pietro, who has not found equal success in his art, she earns only resentment. This was a relatively quick read which inspired me to learn more about Artemisia and her contemporaries, and I look forward to trying more of Vreeland's historical works.   posted Feb 26, 2007 at 5:47PM

Cover ArtDivine by choice
by Cast, P. C.
This sequel to ’Divine by Mistake’ continues the adventures of Shannon Parker, originally sucked from her schoolteacher life in Oklahoma into an alternate fantasy reality in which she is betrothed to a real-life centaur and revered as a goddess incarnate. Just as she is settling into and growing to love her new home and hunky husband, Shannon is uprooted once again and deposited into her old world to fix the trouble caused by her "double," a not-so-nice mirror image of herself who caused all this world-switching in the first place. Enlisting Shannon’s help is her husband’s double, who is just as handsome as he is. While the story is fun, the author’s ultra-casual writing style can be extremely irritating.   posted Feb 26, 2007 at 7:36PM

Cover ArtOn a pale horse
by Piers Anthony
What if death, time, fate, war, nature, evil and good were not mere concepts but offices held by actual people, like any other occupation? In this first book in Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series, a young man, Zane, is despondent over the abysmal state of his life and the poor choices he’s made, and decides to kill himself. Just as he’s about to pull the trigger, however, he sees the image of Death enter the room, having come for him. Instinctively, Zane shoots the intruder instead, discovering afterward that Death is an office, and that he who kills Death becomes Death. The story follows Zane as he begins to learn the ropes, collecting the souls of those who are destined to die. His new job is always interesting, if not always easy, and he receives help and advice from Mortis, Death’s pale horse. I initially enjoyed this series in high school and just recently decided to give them another try to see how well they hold up 15 years later. The premise is just as fascinating today, but the writing feels a little stiff, especially dialogue.   posted Mar 5, 2007 at 5:50PM

Cover ArtWideacre : a novel
by Gregory, Philippa.
After enjoying Gregory’s “The Constant Princess,” I decided to go back and read her works in chronological order. From the time she could sit alone on a horse, young Beatrice Lacey has grown to love and learned everything there is to know about the land of her father’s estate, Wideacre. To her young and naïve eyes, her father is grooming her to someday run the estate, and it is a shock when she realizes that she, just as all other ladies of Quality, must eventually marry and leave the estate. This is the story of the severe and unbelievable lengths Beatrice goes to in order to secure her place at Wideacre forever, only to tragically bring about its eventual ruin. By far the biggest flaw in this book is that most of the characters, the heroine(?) in particular, are extremely unlikable. I will continue the series.   posted Mar 12, 2007 at 7:36PM

Cover ArtDruid’s sword
by Douglass, Sara
In this final book in Douglass' Troy Game series Jack, Noah and their friends are living in London under the German air raids of WWII. After millennia of living only to complete the Troy Game, the terrible reality of its true nature compels them to destroy it. However, they are stymied with the realization that Noah and Weyland's daughter Grace's fate is tied to that of The Game -- she will also be destroyed. A pale, mysterious woman offers a dangerous alternative which will also risk Grace's life but is their only hope. Reading the first three books in the series, starting with Hades' Daughter, is an absolute must. Although I did, the series never felt fully coherent to me -- there are many characters, who change identities during four different time periods, to keep track of, as well as the myriad plot details having to do with The Game itself. I did not come away feeling that I truly understood The Game, which detracted from my overall satisfaction upon finishing. As does the rest of the series, this book suffers from awful cover art.   posted Mar 13, 2007 at 3:39PM

Cover ArtThe Pillars of the earth
by Ken Follett
This is the colossal story of how the fictitious, 12th-century Kingsbridge Cathedral in England was dreamed of, designed, built, rebuilt and finally achieved its ultimate glory. The entire cast of characters, down to the very mundane aspects of their lives, is painted realistically and in great detail. I really appreciated that the author poured his heart and soul into telling the entire story, despite it resulting in a quite lengthy and intimidating book. I reveled in the amount of detail offered -- it only served to fascinate me further about this time period. The only thing that could have improved the story is if Kingsbridge Cathedral had been real.   posted Apr 11, 2007 at 10:56AM

Cover ArtBearing an hourglass
by Piers Anthony
Norton is the man who became Time. Grieving for a love lost and spending his time aimlessly wandering, he accepts the opportunity to become the immortal incarnation of Time. This means living his life backwards with respect to the rest of the world, and assisting Fate in navigating and repairing the great tapestry of life. Norton discovers that it also means extricating himself from the devious traps laid by The Father of Lies himself. I first read Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series in high school and thought they were superb. I’m now reading them again and, while I still find the premise of Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Good and Evil being mere offices fascinating, the more experienced reader in me is viewing them with a more critical eye.   posted Apr 20, 2007 at 10:34AM

Cover ArtWith a tangled skein
by Anthony, Piers
What if death, time, fate, war, nature, evil and good were not mere concepts but offices held by actual people, like any other occupation? Although initially opposed to her arranged marriage to a 16-year old, 21-year-old Niobe accepts and eventually grows to love her husband Cedric. When Cedric sacrifices his life in place of a death that was meant for her, Niobe, heartbroken, accepts an invitation to become Clotho, the youngest aspect of the immortal incarnation of Fate, whose responsibility it is to weave the threads in the great tapestry of life. While learning her new role, Niobe also learns that she herself has become entangled in the insidious plots of Satan, the incarnation of Evil.   posted May 3, 2007 at 1:54PM

Cover ArtAll together dead
by Harris, Charlaine
In this latest installment of the Southern Vampire series, Sookie Stackhouse, our favorite telepathic waitress, finds herself drawn once again into the world of the Louisiana undead. This time she has a new love interest, the shape-changing weretiger Quinn, but just as they’re getting to know each other better Sookie’s talents are requested by the vampire Queen of Louisiana at a national vampire summit several states away. Sookie fans will know that this event won’t go off without a hitch! Although the story was predictable at times, Sookie is as plucky as ever. I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of Quinn -- I’m still holding out for Eric!   posted May 17, 2007 at 12:33PM

Cover ArtBlack holes and revelations [compact disc]
Not as strong as their Absolution album, but solid Muse. There is a little more complexity to their style here, which is one of the elements I most appreciate in music. It’s a little lighter than I’d like on piano, but what is there works well. Standout tracks for me are "Take a Bow" and "City of Delusion." ROCK!   posted May 17, 2007 at 1:48PM

Cover ArtOrigin of symmetry [compact disc]
Muse’s second album is an adventure in style and sound, from the tinkling piano introduction of "Bliss," to the rocking and rollicking "Plug In Baby," to the jazzy, lilting "Feeling Good." Joining Freddie Mercury, Matthew Bellamy has quickly become one of my favorite musical geniuses. I have experienced Muse’s four albums in a somewhat reverse order (3,4,2,1), which makes me curious how my perceptions might have been different had I gotten to know them chronologically. I highly recommend all of their albums.   posted May 21, 2007 at 3:58PM

Cover ArtIronside : a modern faery’s tale
by Black, Holly
Teenager Kaye is a changeling, a faery swapped with a human baby in infancy, and was raised by humans and believing she was human as well. In the first book, Tithe, she learned her true nature. As Ironside begins, Kaye receives some deceitful advice just as her boyfriend Roiben, the faery king, is about to be coronated. Having had a bit too much to drink and not thinking clearly, she mistakenly follows the advice, setting into motion an impossible quest she must now undertake. Along with Roiben, some other favorite characters from previous books also play meaningful roles in Ironside. Recommended, even if you’re no longer a teen -- I’m not. :)   posted May 21, 2007 at 5:27PM

Cover ArtMarie Antoinette
by Antonia Fraser
Antonia Fraser’s well-researched work details the known facts in the life of Marie Antoinette – from her grand childhood as the daughter of an empress, to her marriage to Louis XVI and her life as France’s queen, to her tragic and ultimate downfall with the start of the French Revolution.

Although I would recommend it to history fans, the book took me longer to complete than a book of this size normally would, partly because there was simply so much information to digest. I was also occasionally bored with the more political details. However, I find it amazing that we do know so much about Marie Antoinette and these events that occurred more than 200 years ago.

Compared with Abundance, a work of historical fiction published in 2006 by Sena Jeter Naslund which complements this one fairly well, Fraser’s Marie Antoinette is a more sympathetic character. In a rather stark contrast to popular opinion, both of her contemporaries and her reputation persisting through history, she is painted very nearly as an innocent victim of circumstance. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between.   posted May 31, 2007 at 4:22PM

Cover ArtLuncheon of the boating party
by Vreeland, Susan
This is the story of Renoir’s famous painting ’Luncheon of the Boating Party,’ a work completed on the balcony of the restaurant La Maison Fournaise, just outside of Paris. Combining historical fact with Ms. Vreeland’s vivid imagination we learn how the painting came into existence and how the models were chosen and gathered, as well as a sense of the time and place. The models’ identities are largely based on historical fact, but as with all works of historical fiction the author uses her vivid imagination in guessing their conversations, relationships and emotions. There is something compelling about an author bringing to life the story of a work of art. The characters become familiar and spark curiosity about who they were, the location becomes a real place one could visit, and the art itself becomes an intimate friend. Vreeland’s background in and her passion for fine art is clearly a prerequisite in producing a story like this. The descriptions of the colors, clothing and food I can only describe as “delicious” and caused me to nearly feel that I was actually there among them.   posted Jun 4, 2007 at 12:15PM

Cover ArtThe God delusion
by Dawkins, Richard
In his latest work, Dawkins explores the delusion humans in nearly all societies have shared throughout history – that of religious beliefs. In one interesting chapter, Dawkins postulates several possible and quite interesting evolutionary origins of religion that may help to explain why it has developed alongside civilization. He also addresses the absurd notion that religion is the root of morality, and demonstrates how traditional arguments in favor of God’s existence are actually hollow products of wishful thinking. The underlying, despairing theme throughout the book is how, even today in the 21st century, religious beliefs persist in complete absence of reason. This is a very readable text; the reader need not be an expert in philosophy, biology or theology to appreciate it. It is an excellent resource for those having doubts about faith and who would like support in “escaping from religion” (to use Dawkins’ own phrase) and thinking for oneself. I made my own break for it some time ago.   posted Jun 19, 2007 at 9:15AM

Cover ArtRose daughter
by Robin McKinley
In Rose Daughter, McKinley expands on and enhances Beauty, a book she wrote twenty years earlier. Both are retellings of the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. I actually liked Beauty, the shorter work of the two, better as Rose Daughter didn’t add anything meaningful that wasn’t already there. Part of what’s missing for me is the natural progression in Beauty’s relationship with The Beast – i.e. from fear to love through trust and compassion. In this book Beauty shows little or no terror at being completely uprooted from her family and forced to cohabitate with a beast-like creature. As a result, her ultimate love for this creature is less satisfying to the reader than it could have been. Still, I recommend it to readers who continue to enjoy the magic of fairy tales, adults included.   posted Jun 21, 2007 at 2:17PM

Cover ArtTwilight
by Stephanie Meyer
Wow! Twilight sucked me in (no pun intended) from page 1 and didn’t let go. 17-year-old Isabella (Bella) moves from her mother’s home in Phoenix to live with her dad in rural Forks, WA. She has little trouble making friends in her new town, with the exception of her peculiar but dazzling lab partner Edward, who alternately expresses aloofness, interest and hatred (not necessarily in that order) toward her. Intrigued and unable to resist the mystery, Bella studies and attempts to befriend Edward, ultimately confirming her growing suspicions that he isn’t exactly a normal teenager – and is very possibly dangerous.   posted Jun 25, 2007 at 6:48PM

Cover ArtKindred
by Butler, Octavia E.
Dana, a 20th-century black woman, is suddenly and inexplicably sucked into the past, to a Maryland plantation in the early 1800s, in order to save the life of a young white child who would eventually live to be one of her forebears. Over and over, she returns to the future for barely enough time to reorient herself before she is transported into the past to rescue him yet again. Between each of her visits, several years have passed in the past, and the child grown older. Her visits become not only lengthier, but, especially for a black woman in the 19-century South, more and more dangerous. As Kindred opens with a bang, the reader can’t help but become immediately absorbed, getting a glimpse of how the book ends before even learning how it begins.   posted Jun 27, 2007 at 11:25AM

Cover ArtOne thousand white women
by Jim Fergus
In 1854, a Cheyenne chief proposed an admirably forward-thinking plan to the US government that would foster cultural understanding and assimilation between Native Americans and whites: one thousand willing white women to be exchanged as brides for Cheyenne warriors. This is the story of one white woman’s experience had the US government taken the proposal even halfway seriously. Our heroine, May Dodd, can’t imagine anything worse than the insane asylum she’s currently living in, and with some excitement enlists herself in the “Brides for Indians” program. She faithfully journals her extraordinary experiences living with the Cheyenne and of her new husband Little Wolf, unaware of the legacy she will leave behind. A fun and engaging read -- one can’t help but wonder, ’What if?’   posted Jul 13, 2007 at 10:32AM

Cover ArtMedical apartheid : the dark history of medical experimentation on Black America
by Washington, Harriet A.
If your faith in humanity is already at an all-time low, don’t expect this book to be in any way uplifting or to provide any hope for the future. It is, however, very worth reading, bringing to light the many, many medical transgressions suffered by African Americans in the US, from the medical torture of slaves who could not object, all the way up to pharmaceutical company experiments in the 20th century whose objectives, procedures and side-effects were not disclosed to (and, in fact, were purposely kept from) their subjects.   posted Mar 12, 2008 at 11:53AM

Cover ArtMarch : a novel
by Geraldine Brooks
In March, Geraldine Brooks takes on an intriguing and perhaps one of the most difficult genres: that of a companion novel to a better-known work. In this case, the original is Alcott’s Little Women.

Mr. March, the male head of the family who is absent for most of LW, here gets his own story as he serves as an army chaplain in Virginia during the Civil War and is ultimately severely injured by rebel outlaws ransacking plantations. In between chapters, the reader also learns a great deal about March’s youth before settling down. March is an interesting story on its own, and made more fascinating when combined with LW. Faithful LW readers will definitely find some surprises.   posted Mar 24, 2008 at 7:48PM

Cover ArtThe thrall’s tale
by Judith Lindbergh
Katla, whose mother was a Christian Irishwoman kidnapped in a Viking raid, has grown up a thrall (slave) in Viking Iceland. When her master Einar decides to follow Erik the Red to establish a Norse settlement on Greenland, Katla is taken along. Unfortunately, she finds herself on the receiving end of unwanted attention from Einar’s son Torvard, who savagely rapes her. An old seeress, Thorbjorg, accepts Katla into her own home instead, but Katla is pregnant and her tale of anguish is only beginning.

This book was awful, one of the few books I’ve been tempted to abandon unfinished. The narration alternates between Katla, her daughter Bibrau, and their new mistress Thorbjorg. This style does not work here, and their pretentious, rambling, internal monologues are exceedingly tiresome. I got the distinct impression that the author performed meticulous research in preparation, but then made sure she inserted every single thing she learned somewhere into the book. This makes for some awkward passages that feel more like a lecture in Norse Mythology. This is a fascinating time in world history, but it could be done so much better.   posted Apr 4, 2008 at 10:52AM

Cover ArtI-empire [sound recording]
This, Angels & Airwaves’ second album, isn’t quite as fun as their first, and while Mr. Delonge’s vocals and the music itself are still compelling, the songs still suffer from empty and somewhat pretentious lyrics. "Love Like Rockets" and "Secret Crowds" were two of my favorite tracks. Mildly recommended.   posted Apr 25, 2008 at 9:09AM

Cover ArtVirgin earth
by Gregory, Philippa.
This sequel to Earthly Joys focuses on John Tradescant (the younger), gardener to the King of England during the tumultuous reign of Charles I. Desiring merely to garden rather than take sides between the king and parliament, he sails to Virginia to gather new and exotic plants for his collection. There, assisted by a young Powhatan girl, he finds himself drawn into this virgin land’s raw beauty. When the natives and the new English settlers go to war, John finds himself pressured once again to take sides in a conflict he wants nothing to do with, and must decide who he really is.

I greatly enjoy Gregory’s prose, and never fail to get sucked into the period – this book is no exception. Some of John’s relationships are unsatisfactory, and the ending is heartbreaking. I was inspired to learn more about Mr. Tradescant and his minor role in history.   posted Apr 25, 2008 at 3:43PM

Cover ArtThe first man in Rome
by Colleen McCullough
A hefty tome (896 pages) of historical fiction which details the military and political career of historical figure Gaius Marius (157 BC - 86 BC), as well as the history of Rome during his lifetime. It sounds dry, but it was actually quite fascinating. It just took me ages to get through because there is so much detail -- not to mention learning Roman naming conventions, which are at first very confusing, and keeping track of the many, many characters. I think I’ve just learned more about ancient Rome than I ever learned in school – not surprising, since it was probably close to nothing. After finishing the body of the story I continued, working my way through the 94-page glossary (slightly dry, but it is helping to round out my understanding of the Roman world). Looking forward to taking on the rest of the series.   posted May 12, 2008 at 5:38PM

Cover ArtThree girls and their brother : a novel
by Rebeck, Theresa
The title is fairly indicative of the book. Three gorgeous, red-headed, teenage sisters (Daria, Polly and Amelia) have just become swept up in their first big modeling break with The New Yorker magazine, while their brother Philip is left on the sidelines, unsure of how to cope with the changes and how he fits in.

Each sibling narrates a part of the story; unfortunately, their voices all sound exactly the same, and I couldn’t identify with any of them (nor did I find I wanted to, actually). The author chooses to take the most irritating verbal mannerisms of teenagers today, without a care for proper grammar, punctuation or sentence structure. Here is a sample sentence: "Which I know sounds like fun? But honestly is kind of boring." The book is dripping with this kind of sloppy, slangy language. I read this as an advance reading copy from the publisher -- one can only hope the book saw further editing before its official release. I couldn’t wait to be finished with it.   posted May 12, 2008 at 5:39PM

Cover ArtPretty odd [sound recording]
From the 2 or 3 songs I had heard on the radio from their first album, PATD came off as musically interesting but kind of, well, snotty -- forgivable, since they were teenagers just out of high school at the time. If not for the recognizable voice, I might have thought this second album was the product of a completely different band. The songs move in directions from rock to folksy to a harpsichordish ballad. I am particularly fond of tracks 1, 2, 5, 8, 13 and 15 (that’s a lot, I know, but they’re good!). I highly recommend it as somewhat eclectic rock. These kids are talented; I hope to hear more from them in the future.   posted May 12, 2008 at 7:21PM

Cover ArtThe host : a novel
by Meyer, Stephenie
Wanderer is the name of a tiny alien whose species is recolonizing Earth by physically inserting themselves into the minds of human hosts. Usually, the host’s own consciousness is suppressed, but Wanderer still hears her host Melanie’s thoughts and occasionally even finds herself struggling to retain control of the body. Moreover, to her horror, she begins to share some of Melanie’s dangerous emotions, such as sympathizing with a pocket of human rebels who have so far avoided “implantation.”

I eagerly anticipated this book’s release as I was looking forward to seeing what else Ms. Meyer could do beyond Twilight. The premise itself was really interesting and unlike anything I’d read before, but compared with her other series I’m not sure why this book was published for adults. It might as well also be for teens, given the age of the protagonist and the level of interpersonal drama.   posted May 21, 2008 at 10:19AM

Cover ArtKonk [sound recording]
There are a couple of catchy songs on this album ("Mr. Maker," "Tick of Time"), but on the whole I’m finding that The Kooks just aren’t my thing. This CD isn’t being added to my wish list.   posted May 28, 2008 at 8:43AM

Cover ArtThe oracle glass
by Judith Merkle Riley
After witnessing her father and grandmother dying under questionable circumstances and suffering a brutal attack by her money-grubbing uncle, Geneviève Pasquier leaves her Paris home, intending to commit suicide. She is stopped at the river by La Voisin, one of the most famous witches and poisoners in French history, who offers to take her as an apprentice under a new, invented identity: that of a 150-year-old fortuneteller. In this time of the Sun King (Louis XIV), whose royal eye wanders constantly, Geneviève’s own fortune can easily be made through her services to high society ladies vying for the king’s attention.

Riley brings to life an intriguing era in French history, whose poison scandals are well-documented. Many of the characters are actual historical figures. Very enjoyable.   posted May 28, 2008 at 9:02AM

Cover ArtPeople of the book : a novel
by Geraldine Brooks
Hanna Heath, an expert book conservator, is summoned to Sarajevo to repair an ancient Jewish text. A few microscopic samples she has extracted from within the book’s binding lead her on an amazing journey to uncover the book’s colorful history since its creation over 500 years ago. On the way, Hanna also learns something about her own family secrets.

Brooks presents an intriguing historical mystery, but without the overt sensationalism of a book like The Da Vinci Code. PotB reminded me a little of Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue, which is a story of the “life” of a painting, rather than a book.   posted Jun 2, 2008 at 3:30PM

Cover ArtDusk and summer [compact disc]
I checked out this CD because I thought it had the track ’Vindicated’ on it. Turns out that track is only on the bonus version of the album. I didn’t find much else that struck my fancy, although several of the songs were familiar. Overall, the album "In the Shade of Poison Trees" is superior.   posted Jun 10, 2008 at 9:48AM

Cover ArtLove marriage : a novel
by Ganeshananthan, V. V.
Yalini is a young woman whose family emigrated from Sri Lanka during the Sri Lankan civil war, and she narrates the stories of her relatives and ancestors.

The stories of are presented in no particular order with respect to timeline and characters, and I found it difficult to keep track of who was who. For the size of the book, Love Marriage took me a disproportionate amount of time to get through. It is essentially a lot of background information and no plot -- not my kind of fiction book.   posted Jun 10, 2008 at 12:05PM

Cover ArtBlood noir
by Laurell K. Hamilton
The latest Anita Blake installment features Anita joining Jason on a trip to North Carolina, providing emotional support as he visits his dying father. Of course, bad guys appear, and people get bloody.

I keep hoping Ms. Hamilton will take some of her critics’ (and fans’!) advice to heart and the series will improve, but alas! The first scene reads like bad fan fiction, and it’s pretty much all downhill from there, including the usual inane “As You Know, Bob” dialogue. Anita’s constant pregnancy scares are getting kind of old now. At least this book is shorter than the previous ones!   posted Jun 12, 2008 at 4:24PM

Cover ArtBlack Wave : A Family’s Voyage of Adventure and the Tragedy That Saved Them
by John Silverwood and Jean Silverewood and Malcolm McConnell
Both having a love of sailing, John and Jean Silverwood dreamed of one day taking their children on the sailing adventure of a lifetime. Finally, in 2003, after putting everything financially toward this goal, they purchased a 55-foot catamaran and set sail indefinitely. Taking a leisurely route through various Caribbean ports of call, they eventually sail through the Panama Canal and into the wide open Pacific. Nearly two years into the trip, they meet with disaster when the boat runs aground on a coral bed during a storm and begins to disintegrate.

Parts of this book definitely make it difficult to stop reading. The shipwreck scenes were especially riveting. Unfortunately, their impact was negatively tempered by in-chapter flashbacks to prior family life and earlier scenes from the trip. I also didn’t find myself nearly as compelled by John’s contribution to the story, which seemed like more of an afterthought.   posted Jun 16, 2008 at 3:35PM

Cover ArtMorality for beautiful girls
by Alexander McCall Smith
Mma Ramotswe, Botswana’s only female detective, is back with her usual charm and even more mysteries to solve, both professionally as well as in her personal life. A government official believes his brother is being poisoned, and a beauty pageant official needs help determining which girl is more deserving of winning. What’s more, Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni, Mma Ramotswe’s fiancé, is acting strangely, but her assistant Mma Makutsi proves herself capable in more ways than one. Wonderful and highly enjoyable. I’ve also heard that the audio renditions of the book are superb.   posted Jun 23, 2008 at 5:15PM

Cover ArtH.A.A.R.P. [sound recording] : live at Wembley Stadium, London, 16 June 2007
Live albums aren’t really my thing, but if you’re a Muse fan it’s certainly worth a listen. The set also includes a DVD of the concert, which includes additional songs not on the CD. Unlike a lot of singers whose studio recordings are vocally enhanced, Matt Bellamy sounds just as talented live.   posted Jun 30, 2008 at 12:51PM

Cover ArtCostello music [compact disc]
I picked up this album on the recommendation of a colleague and really enjoyed it. I recognized one track, ’Flathead,’ from the radio, and several others are catchy as well. The Fratellis exude a kind of sincere, contagious exuberance that will have you bouncing and singing along. Great for commuting music.   posted Jun 30, 2008 at 2:17PM

Cover ArtThe isle of glass
by Judith Tarr
This first book in Tarr’s The Hound and the Falcon trilogy is a work of alternate history, taking place in England during the reign of Richard I. Alf, a monk at St. Ruan’s Abbey, is an elfin changeling left there as a baby, and despite his fair looks and that he never seems to age, only a few are aware of or suspect his true nature. When an injured rider arrives at the abbey one evening, it becomes Alf’s turn to play the part of messenger and ambassador to Richard I in order to prevent war among neighboring lands.

Although I wasn’t completely wowed, I like Judith Tarr and I’m looking forward to reading the next part in the series.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:27PM

Cover ArtThe harlequin
by Laurell K. Hamilton Hamilton
Readers of the previous Anita Blake novels know the drill by now: Just as Anita & Co. are coming to terms with their increasing supernatural abilities and increasingly complex relationships, a new, mysterious and dangerous threat arrives in St. Louis that they must deal with and ultimately defeat.

Anita’s internal dialogue has become more and more annoying, and her companions have an irritating tendency to comment aloud on what she is thinking - not because of any psychic abilities they have, but because the author has allowed her train of thought to intrude, making for sloppy and unrealistic conversation among the characters. The only reason I continue to torture myself with this series must be the eventual sense of completion I foolishly hope to attain. I suspect I’m also holding out for the series to redeem itself somehow.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:32PM

Cover ArtThe man in my basement : a novel
by Walter Mosley
When we meet Charles, an African-American man living in his family’s stately ancestral home on Long Island, he’s not only down on his luck but feeling altogether directionless. One afternoon Anniston Bennet, a small white man, shows up on his doorstep with an unusual request – to live in Charles’ basement for 65 days. For this Charles would be paid handsomely, and after some deliberation he agrees, but it isn’t long before he has reason to suspect that Anniston’s lodging request is a bit more complex and bizarre.

This was my first Mosley work, as he is primarily a writer of mysteries. Basement is a small book, making for a quick read, and I enjoyed it pretty well. The nature of the ending took me by surprise, although looking back I should have seen it – or something – coming.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:35PM

Cover ArtNew moon
by Stephenie Meyer
As New Moon, the sequel to Twilight, begins, a bloody incident at Bella’s 18th birthday party forces Edward to conclude that, as a vampire, by his mere nature his presence is dangerous and that he’s compromising her safety. Edward and his family leave town and Bella is devastated and spends several months despondent before finding new companionship in Jacob, a family friend. But she is surprised and hurt when, after a few months, Jacob also begins acting strangely.

New Moon doesn’t quite measure up to Twilight, but it’s an enjoyable read. I’m still not convinced that Bella and Edward are actually in love – Edward seems to be influenced more by Bella’s “scent,” and Bella by Edward’s glamour, though I suppose if they’re both happy, what’s the difference? I’m looking forward to Eclipse.

Ms. Meyer acknowledges both Muse and My Chemical Romance as inspiration for this book. How cool is that?   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:38PM

Cover ArtSpindle’s end
by Robin McKinley
In this retelling of the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, baby Rosie is whisked away and carefully hidden by fairies for nearly twenty-one years in an attempt to thwart the curse laid upon her by a vengeful evil fairy: That she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into an eternal sleep.

I really enjoy McKinley’s beautiful prose. Her descriptions are vivid and lifelike. However, I found the story in this retelling slow and a bit dry.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:39PM

Cover ArtPersepolis
by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis was my first graphic novel (or, in this case, graphic autobiography) experience. It is the childhood story of Marjane Satrapi, who was a young girl of liberal parents during the Islamic Revolution in Iran in the 1980s.

Satrapi’s drawings are simple yet poignant, and reading about her experiences and culture so foreign to me was at the same time both fascinating and dismaying. I hope to read more of her works.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:41PM

Cover ArtPersepolis 2 : [the story of a return]
by Marjane Satrapi
After spending several years studying and living a wild lifestyle in Austria, Marjane Satrapi returns to her native Iran, where the effects of the Islamic Revolution are still going strong. Home again, she struggles to find herself, returning to school, falling in love, exploring ideas with new friends, and discovering more about her family’s history, all the while trying to avoid The Guardians of the Revolution.

Persepolis 2 is just as enjoyable as the first, and I look forward to reading more of Satrapi’s work.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:42PM

Cover ArtThe favored child
by Gregory, Philippa.
In this second book in the Wideacre trilogy, Julia and her cousin Richard have grown up together among the ruins of their family estate and have always planned to marry, despite their guardians’ disapproval. When, as a teenager, Julia begins to demonstrate a talent for working with the land and its inhabitants, Richard grows resentful. After all, only one of them can be the rumored favored child, the true heir to Wideacre.

Gregory’s early works are starting to remind me of V.C. Andrews’ style of near-horror stories, only with richer detail and better writing. I really wanted to strangle Julia for her stupidity at times. Yes, she was confined within the role of women in her time, but had she told someone – anyone! – what was happening, at least some of the tragedy might have been avoided.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:44PM

Cover ArtTipperary : a novel
by Frank Delaney
Tipperary tells the life of Charles O’Brien, an Irishman, traveling healer, proponent of Irish independence and man of some passion. His story is told by the 21st-century narrator who finds some of Charles’ personal effects in an old trunk donated to a library and, curious, begins to research his life.

From with his childhood on an Irish farm and apprenticeship to a local herbalist, we follow Charles to France where he attends Oscar Wilde at his sickbed and also falls in love, and back to Ireland where his life’s crowning achievement is overseeing the restoration of an ancient Irish castle fallen into disrepair and ruin. Meanwhile, the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War are transpiring in the background and, on occasion, in the foreground as well.

I found this an enjoyable read, with just a one small quibble. Having the narrator, who punctuates episodes from Charles’ life with additional historical information of interest to the reader as well as an account of how his research is progressing, is a bit confusing and somewhat jarring initially. Just as the reader is becoming engaged with one storyline, the perspective changes and one must guess who’s speaking. Otherwise, this period in the history of Ireland is fascinating and was almost entirely new to me, having very little idea of Irish history prior to independence. The parallels to slavery in America – Irish Catholics were forbidden to write and could be deported for owning books – were a complete surprise. I would definitely read more of Delaney’s works.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:46PM

Cover ArtScience 101 : geology
by McMenamin, Mark A.
This one caught my eye since I’m a girl who can’t resist a shiny new book about geology. It’s a fairly general book covering aspects of the science of geology – the study of the earth – with interesting photos and illustrations. Topics are generally confined to one two-page layout, rather than spilling halfway onto another page. I felt this unnecessarily condensed some topics to fit, while others seemed to have been needlessly expanded to fill the requisite two pages.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:47PM

Cover ArtThe things they carried : a work of fiction
by Tim O'Brien
The Things They Carried was the 2007 selection for the Eden Prairie Reads initiative ( I was a little hesitant at first, unsure of how well I’d enjoy a collection of Vietnam War stories. The book is less about gunfire and battles won or lost, and more of a peek inside the head of the men involved – doubt, terror, obsession, camaraderie, death, survival instinct, the psychological turmoil of going home, and ultimately, for some, closure.

Although considered a work of fiction, one gets the feeling that all of the stories have some basis in reality. In fact, several times the author refers to himself as being present in the stories. As a reader, I felt some frustration in not being able to determine what was true.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:48PM

Cover ArtMeridon : a novel
by Gregory, Philippa.
Throughout her entire life Meridon has sensed that she doesn’t belong in the life she’s leading, that ‘Meridon’ isn’t even her real name, and that she has a real home somewhere, waiting for her. She’s grown up in a gypsy lifestyle with her beloved sister Dandy and their step-father, a horsetrader. Leaving their step-father, Meridon and Dandy join a traveling circus and are finally able to start saving some money of their own, but just when things are going well an unthinkable tragedy strikes, leading Meridon to seek her true heritage.

This is a somewhat satisfying conclusion to the Wideacre trilogy. It certainly is more uplifting than the previous books. There are times that the heroine is rendered unlikable to the reader, and some of her actions seem contrived as merely plot devices. Overall, it was an interesting, if occasionally disturbing, series -- not bad for an author’s first works.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:49PM

Cover ArtThe kite runner
by Khaled Hosseini
Amir is the privileged boy, living in a large home in a wealthy area of Kabul, Afghanistan. Hassan is his servant and constant companion although, separated by social class and cultural stigma, they can never truly be friends. When the Afghan Civil War begins, it signals tremendous changes – though in very, very different ways, neither of their lives will ever be the same.

I fully expected to be blown away by this book given all the hype surrounding it in the years since publication. The first half was riveting, but it seemed to lose some momentum later on. I’d still heartily recommend it, especially for the presentation of Afghani culture and the fascinating competitive kite-flying events, something I’d never heard of before.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:50PM

Cover ArtLord John and the brotherhood of the blade
by Diana Gabaldon
I eagerly look forward to any of Diana Gabaldon’s new works as her prose is so vivid and meticulously detailed. Lord John, a soldier who began as a peripheral character in her Outlander series, is now getting a full-fledged story of his own as he endeavors to solve the mystery of his father’s death. Complicating matters somewhat are the imminent marriage of his mother and the arrival of his new step-brother, in whom Lord John finds a kindred spirit, in more ways than one.

I wished to enjoy this book more than I did, but in the end I had to admit that even Gabaldon’s way with words couldn’t make up for the lack of energy and excitement surrounding Lord John’s detective work. His soldiering and personal affairs, on the other hand, were the more intriguing aspects of the book.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:51PM

Cover ArtA respectable trade
by Philippa Gregory
Accepting that she doesn’t have any better prospects at the age of 34, Frances Scott enters into a marriage of convenience with a Bristol trader. She is soon after presented with a shipload of African slaves and instructed to school them in English and domestic duties so that they may be sold as servants to wealthy English households. With time, Frances begins to doubt the common assertion of the time that the slaves are animals and cannot be educated. One in particular, Mehuru, challenges everything she has been taught about the slave trade.

Gregory’s prose is once again breathtaking and meticulous. Unfortunately, the story itself was lacking in some areas. Frances is not much of a heroine; she isn’t particularly likable and never seems to have an opinion of her own. I wasn’t convinced of Frances’ and Mehuru’s love, having observed them seemingly going from distaste to affection with nothing in between.

Mehuru was by far the most interesting character, and I regret that we are not allowed to get to know him better. The most entertaining parts of the story involved his acclimatization to English society. Amusing are the scenes in which he is demonstrated comparing inferior aspects of English culture to those of his homeland (and the reader is forced to agree), and his descriptions of how ghastly the pale English people look. My favorite quote: “She is a white woman,” he said, trying to reassure himself, discounting his insight. “They all look sick to me.”   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:52PM

Cover ArtLetters from the earth : uncensored writings
by Twain, Mark
I picked this up solely for the first story, "Letters from the Earth," but I ended up reading through the entire book and find I have a new appreciation for Twain’s humor and satire. Letters was very entertaining, although the religiously inclined may not find it funny at all. However, I’m not, and I did! Some other portions worth a read include Eve’s autobiography (revealing!), an amusing critique of James Fenimore Cooper’s writing style, a parody of an etiquette manual, and The Damned Human Race, which demonstrates the ’descent’ of man. Twain died in 1910, and this collection of essays and short stories was not published until 1962.

Oh, and Mark Twain referring to "hot young blossoms" amused me to no end.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:54PM

Cover ArtEclipse
by Stephenie Meyer
Bella is nearing graduation, which, if she has her way, will also coincide with the end of her humanity. However, the closer that time draws near, the less confident she is about her decision: Is it too soon? What sorts of things does she want to have a chance to experience while still human? Complicating matters are signs that Victoria, the vampire with a lethal vendetta, is coming back for her.

Wow! I was surprised to enjoy Eclipse so much since New Moon didn’t grab me as much as the first book in the series, Twilight, did. Now things are really getting interesting in the relationship department!   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:55PM

Cover ArtThe hound and the falcon
by Judith Tarr
The Hound and the Falcon takes place in an alternate reality in which the kingdom of Rhiyana, somewhere in Europe alongside traditional countries, is inhabited by the faerie folk. The first part of this tome, The Isle of Glass, I read as a separate work, reviewed separately. The latter two books bring Alf, our protagonist, first to Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, and then back to Rhiyana and Italy as his heritage is threatened.

This book was my nemesis for some time as it took me ages to finish. I was interested in the world Ms. Tarr created, but the story was quite dry and could not hold my attention for long.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:56PM

Cover ArtAmerican gods : a novel
by Neil Gaiman
What happens to gods when their followers lose interest and eventually forget them? In this work of urban fantasy Neil Gaiman explores this idea, introducing the reader to Shadow, a man recently released from prison and who has learned his wife has just died. Beginning life again essentially from scratch, he agrees to begin working for a man named Wednesday. Wednesday is preparing for a coming battle between the ancient, traditional gods (himself, Anansi, Easter, Czernobog and Ibis, among others) who have been forgotten in favor of the new “gods” of the modern, industrialized world (technology, cities, etc.).

As the reader, I wanted to know a little more about the characters (the gods) and their stories and motivations. This was my first Gaiman experience and, while I highly enjoyed his writing style, I wasn’t completely in love with the story. I’d definitely read another of his works.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:57PM

Cover ArtMaus : a survivor’s tale
by Art Spiegelman
In Maus, Art Spiegelman illustrates his father Vladek’s story -- of growing up as a Jew in Poland, persecuted and eventually captured and sent to Auschwitz during WWII. While portraying tragedy, Maus also manages to have a certain amount of beauty and humor, due partly to the various types of characters being rendered as different animals (e.g. Jews are drawn as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, etc.). Whenever Vladek and his wife attempt to pass as Poles, they are charmingly drawn wearing pig masks. The scenes portraying Art’s relationship with his father are touching and feel very authentic. I’m looking forward to reading Maus II.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:59PM

Cover ArtEmbroideries
by Satrapi, Marjane
In this slim volume, Marjane Satrapi gives us a peek into intimate conversations among Iranian women today. Her poignant drawings illustrate that, despite having to dress and conduct themselves conservatively outside the home, these women gossip and discuss sex in humorous, frank, and occasionally crude language with the best of them. Great fun!

Satrapi’s Persepolis books are also wonderful.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 8:59PM

Cover ArtGirl in hyacinth blue
by Susan Vreeland
Girl in Hyacinth Blue is a series of vignettes chronicling the reverse history of a fictional Vermeer painting of the same name. Vreeland’s colorful portraits of Dutch life, from the wealthy to the poorest peasants, spanning several hundred years, are fascinating. I wouldn’t have minded delving further into each of the tales, and the only other thing that could have improved the book was if the painting, which plays a silent, starring role in each of the stories, really existed.

GiHB was enjoyable, but was a small disappointment after Vreeland’s breathtaking Luncheon of the Boating Party.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:00PM

Cover ArtMaus II : a survivor’s tale : and here my troubles began
by Spiegelman, Art.
In Maus II, Art Spiegelman continues his father’s horrific story of persecution and imprisonment in Auschwitz during WWII. Mr. Spiegelman has an enviable talent for simple drawings that convey complex ideas and feelings. Scenes with his father seem all too real – both amusing and a bit sad. Great series, I’d recommend it to anyone.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:01PM

Cover ArtLamb : the gospel according to Biff, Christ’s childhood pal
by Moore, Christopher
Lamb is an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek depiction of the life of Jesus, as told through the eyes of his best friend Levi (Biff). More than merely a retelling, it fills in the missing years of Jesus’ life between birth and messiahhood. Who knew he’d spent time studying in India and China? All your favorite Holy Family members, disciples and apostles make appearances, including Mary Magdalene (Maggie). It didn’t quite live up to my lofty expectations -- I didn’t fall out of bed laughing -- but great fun for anyone with a sense of humor, regardless of beliefs.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:02PM

Cover ArtNever kiss a stranger
by Ker, Madeleine
Working as a live-in personal assistant for an author, Laura is awakened one night by the sound of someone breaking into their hotel suite. When she yells for help, the masked burglar kisses her to keep her quiet, then leaves. Who is he and what was he looking for?

Laura is a pretty but empty-headed, naïve and self-deprecating – the most annoying kind of heroine(?). I picked this up because Madeleine Ker is the pseudonym of one of my favorite authors, Marius Gabriel. It was my first foray into graphic novels in which the book is read back to front, which made for an interesting experience but took some getting used to. Disappointingly, it confirmed my suspicion that pulp romance written by a talented author is still empty, unfulfilling, pulp romance, even when “printed in flirty pink ink!”   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:04PM

Cover ArtBrighid’s quest
by Cast, P. C.
On a quest to escort the orphaned New Formorians (children born with wings) back to the land of their ancestors, Brighid, a centaur huntress, discovers a complication she hadn’t anticipated: her quest companion, the warrior Cuchulainn, needs her help as well. Still grieving from the death of his love, it’s begun to threaten his soul.

I enjoyed this series’ first book, Elphame’s Choice, reasonably well, so I thought I’d give this one a try. Unfortunately, it’s too predictable and not especially satisfying. I think I’m through with P.C. Cast.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:05PM

Cover ArtPoison study
by Maria V. Snyder
Next in line to be executed for murder, Yelena is instead offered a chance to live – only by accepting the potentially lethal position as official food taster for the Commander of Ixia. Rather than face a more certain death, she opts for the only slightly less dangerous choice and begins her position recognition training under the tutelage of Valek, the Commander’s Second. She’s a quick study, but it becomes clear early on that someone is trying to get rid of her.

Although I enjoyed it, this book didn’t quite live up to the potential I thought the premise held. I still intend to read the sequel, though.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:06PM

Cover ArtOn Chesil Beach
by Ian McEwan
On Chesil Beach is a short story about one young couple’s disastrous wedding night. It is the 1960s in England, and Edward and Florence have just tied the knot. In their honeymoon hotel room they’re both nervous, but for very different reasons.

I didn’t find the story entirely believable, especially for the time period. I couldn’t imagine a young couple not talking about any of these things, or even recognizing that there might be a problem! They also didn’t seem to really know each other as intimately as a couple in such a situation should. I had a hard time sympathizing as I was kind of irritated with the absurd level of non-communication.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:06PM

Cover ArtTracking trash : flotsam, jetsam, and the science of ocean motion
by Burns, Loree Griffin
While published for children, Tracking Trash is definitely readable by all, and is especially poignant for anyone who would like to think that trash/litter just eventually disappears. The discovery of a floating garbage dump in the ocean the size of Alaska attests to the contrary. A few years ago I had a sudden realization myself at how dependent we are on plastics. Look around you right now: What isn’t made of plastic? It’s astounding. Two facts that will stick with me: No organism on earth can digest plastic, and plastic doesn’t naturally break down into anything – except smaller pieces of plastic.

This book inspired me to go green in several ways, including putting a stop to purchasing bottled water.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:08PM

Cover ArtLord John and the hand of devils
by Diana Gabaldon
Lord John Grey, a minor character from Gabaldon’s Outlander novels, stars in this collection of short stories and novellas and is provided with various mysteries to solve. As usual, the stories are enjoyable, although at some point the thought occurred that an oddly disproportionate number of the people LJ encounters, both women and men, seem to want him. In the third story, I was worried that Ms. Gabaldon intended to kill him off. I’ve grown fond of Lord John, but I can’t help but wonder if he’ll ever find true happiness in love.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:09PM

Cover ArtHave you found her : a memoir
by Erlbaum, Janice
Having made her way in the world, Janice Erlbaum decides to give something back to the homeless shelter at which she was a resident herself in her youth. While teaching beading classes to the young women, she befriends Sam, a resident who is both brilliant and disturbed. Janice quickly finds herself emotionally invested further and further in Sam’s rehabilitation and deteriorating health.

Have You Found Her takes the reader on an engaging rollercoaster ride. Ms. Erlbaum’s husband Bill is either painted in an especially positive light or is an incredibly accommodating individual. I’m not sure I would have been as tolerant in the same situation! I regretted not finding out what the real story/mystery was involving Sam’s father, as that may have provided some answers or some kind of closure.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:10PM

Cover ArtEarthly joys
by Philippa Gregory
John Tradescant (the elder) was one of the most skilled and famous gardeners in English history. He originally makes his mark creating gardens for Sir Robert Cecil before moving to Essex to work for the infamous George Villiers, favorite of kings James I and Charles I. Eventually, John’s talents are requested once again – this time by King Charles himself. Philippa Gregory brings John’s love for gardening and botany, as well as his yearning to discover and procure new species of flowers and trees, to life in such a way that the reader can easily share in John’s pride and fulfillment in his humble occupation.

My one complaint about the story is that John seems to step wholly out of character when it comes to Villiers, becoming decidedly wishy-washy and taking leave of his senses in a way that seems otherwise incompatible with his personality, even taking into consideration their lord/servant relationship. Despite this, I’m eager to read the sequel, which focuses on his son John Tradescant (the younger).   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:11PM

Cover ArtGod is not great : how religion poisons everything
by Hitchens, Christopher
Hitchens, like the recent works of Dawkins and Harris, implores 21st-century thinking individuals to reconsider the traditional views and roles of religion. Hitchens’ angle, however, is to demonstrate the ways in which religious beliefs do more harm on the large scale than good – and he is convincing. Religious influence clearly poisons humanity politically, physically, emotionally and in undoubtedly more subtle ways as well. I recommend Hitchens, as well as the authors listed above.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:12PM

Cover ArtKabul Beauty School : an American woman goes behind the veil
by Deborah Rodriguez
Debbie Rodriguez went to Afghanistan in 2001 originally as part of a humanitarian group. In Kabul she soon became sought after for her hairdressing background, which gave her the idea of opening a beauty school for local women whose new skills would enable them to earn additional income for their families. The struggle to find funding for the school, in addition to all of the cultural and political hoops to jump through in Afghanistan itself make for a fascinating story. At the end I found myself wanting to know more about what happened afterward, about Debbie’s Afghan husband, their life there, etc.

That said, I fervently regret reading a more recent news article before writing my review as it has dampened my enthusiasm for the book somewhat. As of June 2007, Debbie has apparently left Afghanistan and her husband for good, and many of her former students fear for their lives since the book’s publication. It was a great story, but I now wonder if some of the book’s resolutions weren’t quite as rosy as suggested.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:13PM

Cover ArtWorld without end
by Follett, Ken
As in Pillars of the Earth, to which WWE is the sequel, the city of Kingsbridge is brought to life with colorful, boisterous, endearing and occasionally excruciating detail. The story begins approximately 200 years after PotE. At 1,000 pages, it’s a hefty tome to lug around, but it’s a relatively quick and absorbing read.

In several ways WWE was almost like reading the first book over again. The protagonists’ and antagonists’ names have changed, but at times I felt, mildly disappointedly, that I’d read it all before. Still highly recommended as Follett’s prose is breathtaking as usual, but make sure you read PotE first.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:15PM

Cover ArtGod is dead / Ron Currie, Jr.
by Currie. Ron
In the first chapter, somewhere during the Sudanese conflict in Darfur, God assumes the form of a woman armed only with a bottomless sack of sorghum and is killed by the Janjaweed. Subsequent chapters offer glimpses of how the world reacts in the years following God’s demise -- from child worship to child anti-worship, to a bizarre world scenario in which Postmodern Anthropologists and Evolutionary Psychologists are the factions battling it out in World War ?.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:15PM

Cover ArtGods behaving badly : a novel
by Marie Phillips
Gods are only as powerful as the number of mortals who believe in them. As expected then, in the beginning of the 21st century, Artemis, Apollo, Aphrodite and the rest of the Greek pantheon are weak as kittens. However, they continue to exist, sharing a flat in London, leading dissatisfying mundane lives and trying to devise a way to regain their lost power and influence. Enter two unwitting mortals, a cleaner and her would-be boyfriend, and the result is a hilarious and crazy adventure, complete with heroic deeds.

I was a little bit bothered that the mortals seemed never to have heard of Greek gods. A lot of time has passed, but we still recognize the names. That was the one disconnect for me. Otherwise, I was impressed with this entertaining debut novel.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:16PM

Cover ArtThe translator : a tribesman’s memoir of Darfur
by Daoud Hari
In 2003, the Sudanese government began systematically terrorizing, attacking and destroying rural villages in the Darfur region. Witnessing the slaughter of family and friends, Daoud Hari, a young Zaghawa tribesman, escaped across the western border to neighboring Chad. Well-educated by Sudanese standards and fluent in English, Arabic and Zaghawa, Hari then began his selfless work as a translator, sneaking international journalists back across the border into Sudan, all of them risking their lives in order to document the genocidal war in Darfur.

Hari’s experiences are told in gentle, simple prose, like that of a favorite storyteller. His story is horrific, heartbreaking and inspiring.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:17PM

Cover ArtTears of the giraffe
by Alexander McCall Smith
In this second book in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Mma Ramotswe is newly engaged to her friend Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. Her fledgling detective business in Gaborone, Botswana, is doing well, and she takes on several new cases, including those of a cheating wife and a son who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. She also learns that her secretary, Mma Makutsi, has some detecting talents of her own.

What is quickly becoming one of my favorite aspects of the books is the subtle ways the author provides small morsels of cultural information to the reader. Although chances are small I’ll ever be fortunate enough to visit myself, I feel like I’m slowly getting to know Botswana.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:18PM

Cover ArtCooked : from the streets to the stove, from cocaine to foie gras
by Henderson, Jeff
In Cooked, Jeff Henderson recounts his unlikely rise from a crack dealer in San Diego to a well-respected chef in a prestigious Las Vegas restaurant. His ambitions and inspiration came to him while serving a drug-related sentence in federal prison, and upon his release he put 100% of his efforts into educating himself, gaining experience, and convincing influential people in the restaurant business to take a chance on him.

Jeff’s gritty memoir was fascinating to me, someone to whom most of his life experiences are completely foreign, and I had a difficult time putting it down between sittings. One can’t help but admire his strength and resolve in making his dreams come true despite a past he wasn’t proud of.   posted Jul 7, 2008 at 9:19PM

Cover ArtInfidel
by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Beginning with her childhood in her native Somalia, she candidly recounts her life and relationship with her family as they flee their war-torn country for Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and finally Kenya, where she spent many of her teenage years. Ayaan escaped an arranged marriage by fleeing to Holland, and eventually became a Dutch citizen and member of Parliament.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s autobiography is amazing and difficult to put down, and learning about Somali culture through her eyes was intensely fascinating.   posted Jul 21, 2008 at 5:47PM

Cover ArtMan after man : an anthropology of the future
by Dixon, Dougal
Although somewhat fanciful and largely conjecture, this "anthropology of the future" is also based on science and what we know of evolutionary history up until now. Some of these future humans are hard to swallow, but nature has already created bizarre variations that surprise us. It’s good lunchtime entertainment, and although the book was written nearly 20 years ago, we are still experiencing many of the same social and environmental concerns today that are mentioned in the book.   posted Jul 21, 2008 at 2:23PM

Cover ArtThe world without us
by Weisman, Alan
What if the entire human race simply disappeared from the planet one day without warning? This scenario is exactly what Alan Weisman posits in this book as he speculates in detail how Earth might cope with what we’ve left behind and recover from our activities. How long would a skyscraper stand? What would happen to suddenly unmanned nuclear power plants? How would the environment recover? What types of human artifacts would linger longest?

I was enthralled by the detail and research Weisman presents, and wished the book could have been even more in-depth. However, by far the strongest sentiment I took away was that of dismay at how poorly we have treated our home. It would probably serve us right to get evicted!   posted Jul 17, 2008 at 3:15PM

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