Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cathy's Ring


Cathy's Ring is a fast moving read that will appeal to mature high school and college students alike. Although I am long past high school, I did find Cathy's read to be a short book that kept my attention from beginning to end. Illustrator Cathy Brigg did an outstanding job with the illustrations throughout the book. They were very clever, eye-catching, and artisic. I enjoyed the illustrations just as much if not more than the story.

In Cathy's Ring, the central character is an Asian girl whose life is being threatened by an immortal. She has stolen a secret serum that can transform him from immortal to mortal. Her friends come to her aid and help her, while her boyfriend decides to end his immortality on his own by taking some of the serum.

Sex and drugs are briefly mentioned, but there are no actual incidents involving either.

The authors have an exceptional skill in writing for young adults, this being their third book in this successful series. I haven't read either of the first two books, Cathy's Book, or Cathy's Key, but I would recommend starting with those first.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Charlemagne Pursuit by Steve Berry review


The Charlemagne Pursuit by Steve Berry held a lot of promise as an interesting story. Coming in at just over 500 pages, and expecting that the main character Malone would go to Antarctica, I was very intrigued. But, despite an interesting premise, picturesque settings including the Biltmore Estate, Europe, and Antarctica, and being the third book in the series, I just didn't feel the book lived up to what it could have been.

The quasi-historical portions of the book were serious thought-provokers, that being the primary reason I was interested in reading this book. I love historical fiction as well as alternate history. I felt far too much of the book was devoted to the "plot" of a mother pitting her daughters against each other and Washington politics. The characters were underdeveloped, which was suprising considering how long this book was. But, with too many plots going and too many characters the author was hindered in making any character or any plot seem realistic.

The final twenty percent of the book is riveting. That made all the time I spent reading this book worthwhile. The chapters are short, most being only 3-5 pages, so if you only have a few minutes here and there to read throughout the day, and you enjoy thrillers, I would recommend this book to you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The American Patriot's Almanac


The American Patriot’s Almanac is a fantastic way for families to talk about American history one bite at a time. I was worried that this book would be overwhelming in scope and depth at 515 pages, but instead I found it to be a pleasant read at one page per day.

The book consists of a one page a day synopsis of an important historical event that took place on this date in history. For example, December 16th has four paragraphs summing up the events of the Boston Tea Party. Following this, is five single line other significant historical events, arranged chronologically, such as:

1773 Massachusetts colonists stage the Boston Tea Party

1811 The first of the New Madrid earthquakes, a series of incredibly violent quakes centered near New Madrid, Missouri, occurs.

1835 Fire roars through New York City, destroying approximately 600 buildings.

1944 German forces launch a surprise attack in Belgium, beginning the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last major offensive battle on the Western front.

1972 The Miami Dolphins become the first NFL team to go unbeaten and untied in a fourteen-game regular season; they go on to defeat the Redskins in Super Bowl VII.

When I first started reading this book about a week ago, I was always surprised to learn what took place on this date in history. My husband is a big history buff and I’ve never been able to talk history with him before because I didn’t have the vast reserves of trivia knowledge that he had. Now the gap is closing in! Every month historical documents are included, word for word, such as the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, The Gettysburg Address, as well as famous prayers and poems, such as the Franklin D. Roosevelt's D-Day Prayer, the Prayer for Memorial Day by Ronald Reagan, and I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman.

Most significantly though, my ninth grade son is literally eating this book up at breakfast. He sits down with his bowl of cereal and opens up the book to today’s date and absorbs the information. I would recommend this book for middle school and above. If you can get your child to read the daily page, it would give your child a good foundation in America’s history in about three minutes a day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Joker One - An Iraq War Memoir worth reading


Joker One is the all-too-true story of a young Marine Lieutenant assigned to the most dangerous city in Iraq in 2004.

The book is very nicely organized with a full list of characters, a map of Ramadi along with the proximity to Baghdad, and a glossary of military terms. It also includes a platoon hierarchy chart.

Lt. Campbell walks the reader through the long process of getting a Marine platoon ready to go to war while facing the very real possibility of any or all of his young Marines dying.

The first half of this book is a slow read unless one is fond of endless military organization and platoon tactics. The second half takes a dramatic, often deadly turn filled with as much action as any war memoir I can recall.

I enjoyed this book by first time author Donovan Campbell because it helped me to truly understand the preparation, sacrifice, and real danger faced by our soldiers everyday. Soldiers, veterans, and anyone wanting to understand a soldiers point of view in this war will find what they are looking for in this book.

The Dragonfly Secret by Clea & John Adams


Colorful and reassuring, The Dragonfly Secret is a children's book about a mom and dad who lose their little boy. The little boy befriends a dragonfly named Lea. Lea wants to know where the little boy is from and what his name is, and he tells her she will find out soon if she can help him by doing three things.

Along the way, the dragonfly meets the little boys grandparents and they give her the next set of instructions. Finally, the little boys parents come to the garden to grieve the loss of their son, and the dragonfly helps the boy by landing on his cap brought to the garden by his mom. Lea also touches the teddy bear brought to the garden by the little boys dad.

Finally, the parents understand that their little boy is communicating with them through the butterfly, and it assuages their grief. The couple call out "David, we love you!", and so the dragonfly learns the boys name as well as the fact that he exists in the afterlife.

The story is gently told with loving illustrations. Although I have found most reviewers feel this is a book for grieving children, I feel it would be more helpful to parents grieving the loss of a child. My seven year old read it and did not quite understand what was going on, although she really liked the dragonfly and the illustrations. Once I explained it to her she understood. The story is perhaps better for ages 8/9 and up, especially grieving adults.

The Tutu Ballet by Sally Lee


My daughter, a sucker for cute animals and ballet immediately fell in love with this book. This book speaks to inclusion and diversity by the authors choice of characters. Fillipo the Fox is a male ballet dancer, Belinda the Bear still has her baby fat, and of course all of the animals are a different color.

The pastel artwork is absolutely fabulous and several pages stand alone as an artistic experience with very little text.

In the story, each animal has a different talent which gives the ballet teacher a challenge when putting together a recital. In the end, each dancer showcases their extraordinary talent such as twirling, jumping, kicking, and plier (what is the correct verb for plie?). The ballet students are cheered on by their parents at the recital.

This book would be a wonderful read for aspiring ballerinas, as well as preschool and kindergarten age children. Sally Lee shines as an artist and keeps the storyline simple for young children.

I would recommend this book for ages 3-6. Young readers may have trouble reading the book because the font runs letters together. My only suggestion would be to improve the font in future editions.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Best of 2008 in Literature


This time of year everyone is putting out their "Best of" lists so I thought I would add my favorite reads of 2008 to this blog. I read 43 books in 2008 (excluding children's books). Five books made my Best of 2008 in Literature list, primarily because for me to put a book on my list it has to be absolutely outstanding, appeal to a wide range of readers, and hold long-term value as literature. If you haven't yet read these books, I give them my highest recommendation.

Click on the title below for my full review.

1. The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
2. The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
3. A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
4. The White Mary by Kira Salak
5. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (no review written yet)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bringing the New Testament to Life for children


Word of Promise Next Generation - New Testament: Dramatized Audio Bible is a brilliant production that will capture your children's attention and make the New Testament much more accessible to youth. Coming in at only 24 hours of audio, this would make ideal listening any time of day.

There are two versions of this set. The first set is 20 CD's which will play on your home or car CD player. The other set is 3 mp3 CD's, which can be played on a computer or uploaded to any MP3 player. Some newer car and home CD players will also play mp3's, just check for the mp3 logo.

Unlike the Inspired By series (which I love) my daughter prefers listening to this as she goes to bed each night. The ambient sounds, special effects, and musical compositions give this set the feel of a high quality audio book. I love the fact that she goes to sleep hearing the word of God.

The one and only complaint that I have is that this version uses the International Children's Bible which I am not very familiar with. Some of the translation sounds a bit odd, but I do understand the publisher is trying to target this set to the 6-14 year old age group. That being said, this is an absolutely wonderful, affordable gift for children. Children can listen while doing chores, homework, going to bed, or just riding in the car. It makes the New Testament so accessible that I wouldn't be surprised if my children begin to memorize their favorite parts.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Lost City of Z by David Grann


The Lost City of Z by David Grann is one of the best true-life adventure stories I’ve ever read. In this book author David Grann embarks on a journey around the world in search of documents, clues, interviews, and a jungle trek through the Amazon to uncover what he can regarding the disappearance of Colonel Percy Fawcett in the Amazon jungle in 1925.

Colonel Fawcett is best known for his Amazon jungle exploration activities in the early twentieth century. He was renowned for his strength, stamina, immunity, and will power; all qualities that made him the last great Victorian era explorer. Unlike many other explorers, he chose to travel in small, hand-picked parties and readily befriended the natives. While most explorers were exploring the rivers by boat, Colonel Fawcett often trekked over land with machete in hand through dense rainforest with little food and massive insect problems day and night.

At one point Colonel Fawcett becomes obsessed with finding El Dorado, the city of gold, he called Z. David Grann makes unearths diaries, documents, logs, and letters to bring the reader into the jungle to experience Colonel Fawcett’s account of his travels and the quest for Z. Colonel Fawcett’s companions journals and letters are also used to show what it was like to be in his exploration party and to give first hand accounts of what the Colonel was like.

This book was incredibly educational yet exciting to read. No doubt any reader will feel like they are in the jungle suffering the heat, hunger, humidity, and incredible awesomeness of the Amazon. The end of the book provides an exhaustive chapter by chapter bibliography and reference section. Even though this book read like a novel, it was based in truth and should be a gem to those interested in the early twentieth century European exploration of South America.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Heretic's Daughter


A family's struggle for life, liberty, and happiness during the Salem Witch Trials

Kathleen Kent holds great promise as an historical novelist as evidenced by her debut novel The Heretic’s Daughter. In the Heretic’s Daughter, readers will see the Salem Witch Trials through the eyes of an accused child witch and her family. The author takes us deep inside the horrid conditions of the jailed accused and a family’s struggle to stay alive. It is there, in the last half of the book that the author shows incredible skill in storytelling. I was shocked and saddened to learn how the accused were left jailed, in chains, hungry, and confined in unsanitary surroundings. A couple of incidents are sure to be completely heartbreaking to everyone who picks up this book.

This book brought to me a new appreciation for our current justice system and religious freedoms. My primary criticism of this book is that the chapters are incredibly long. I don’t like picking up a book and not being able to finish a chapter in a sitting. Many chapters in this book will take an hour to read. It would have been nice if the chapters were shorter. Despite a slow and awkward beginning, once I was halfway through the book I was completely immersed in the storyline and finished the book quickly.

In my opinion, this is a must read book for fans of early American historical fiction.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun


Miles from Nowhere is one of the most startling and brutally honest books I’ve read in a long time. Author Nami Mun skillfully takes her readers deep into the heart of New York City’s world of young runaways. Using and episodic approach through the eyes of a young Korean teenager named Joon, she brings us face to face with some of Joon’s darkest days.

In so many ways this book was very heartbreaking as Joon moves through the episodes unloved, unwanted, and alone. At times she is surrounded with junkies, thieves, prostitutes, and sexual predators. Through most of the book Joon is using drugs and living day to day in shelters, motels, abandoned buildings, and on the street.

As horrific as all of this sounds, Nami Mun has almost poetically written these stories in such a beautiful way that I found it very easy to relate to her character Joon. She tells just enough for you to feel the pain and the episodes bounce off of each other so well it’s not hard to fill in the blanks.

I don’t want to let on too much about the book because the book because there is beauty and hope to be found in this book, but only Nami Mun can tell this story well.

My only two criticisms are that I would have liked to have seen each chapter dated to give the reader a better idea of how much time has elapsed between each chapter and how much Joon might have matured. There are hints, but I would have still preferred a stated date at the beginning of the chapter. I also wish the book was longer. This book is a short, easy read, and the pages flew by quickly in anticipation of a better life for Joon.

Reflections of God's Holy Land


Reflections of God's Holy Land

A Personal Journey Through Israel

by Eva Marie Everson and Miriam Feinberg Vamosh

"A journey through Israel North to South, Sea to Sea, from the heart"

Reflections of God's Holy Land is a wonderful journey through the historical landscape of Israel through the eyes of a Christian woman, Eva Marie Everson, and through the eyes of a Jewish woman, Miriam Feinberg.

Each location is introduced in a comprehensive way providing scriptural passages and photographs, followed by Miriam explaining the biblical importance of the location. Eva Marie then journals her feelings, impressions, physical sensations, and experiences. Accompanying each location are multiple photographs in varying size. Unlike most tour and travel books, the photographs found within are striking in their simplicity and unique perspective. For example, a photograph might focus on a rock or a stream or even a shaft of wheat which transports the reader to see the fine details that surrounded our Christian and Jewish ancestors.

At the beginning of the book is a map which I found extremely useful as I journeyed with Eva Marie and Miriam throughout Israel, from the southernmost point to the northernmost point, and to the Mediterranean Sea and to the Dead Sea.

For those that have been to Israel to those that long to go, this is a wonderfully detailed gift-quality hardcover book measuring 10.5” tall by 9.25” wide. The book has a very personal feel to it, unlike so many tourism books that promote goods, services, sightseeing, and lodging.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Sword by Da Chen


The Sword by Da Chen was an enchanting Chinese fairy tale that tells the story of Miu Miu, the daughter of a famous sword maker who was murdered because the Emperor did not wish anyone else except himself to ever own such a beautiful sword as the one Miu Miu’s father made for him.

Miu Miu sets out to avenge the murder of her father in order to fulfill the destiny her mother mapped out for her. Her travels are both delightful and dangerous, and Da Chen beautifully writes with such fluidity the story seems to flow out onto the pages. I’ve read many fairy tales, and this ranks among the most well told I’ve ever read.

Even more intriguing than the fairy tale of Miu Miu and her betrothed Ting Tong, is the opening twelve pages that tell of an ex-convict named Ar Kin who returns to the village after serving a twenty year sentence in Siberia. I wish more had been written about Ar Kin. I found him fascinating and I was left wanting to know more.

My biggest criticism of this book is that the end wrapped up too quickly and too neatly. Da Chen could have easily written two different endings and up until the end of the book, I wasn’t quite sure which way it would go.

I found every part of this book to be tastefully written, and would not hesitate to recommend this book to any adult or child 11 years and up.

The Triumph of Deborah


The Triumph of Deborah provided an interesting portrayal of the early conflicts between the Canaanite people and Israelites, and the important role Deborah played in attaining peace. Although nearly all of this novel is a fictional in nature, it provided a glimpse into a little talked about time period in Israelite history that is vastly different from today’s society in terms of economics, justice, education, and human rights.

Much of the novel focuses on Barak, a reluctant battle leader, and his earthly desires for women and prosperity. He is torn between two women, the one he loves, and his trophy wife. The story is rich in detail, and treats the reader to a story rich with romance, historical tidbits, and just enough conflict to keep it interesting.

Three women play prominently in this story, Asherah, the Canaanite daughter of the defeated and deceased King Jabin; Nogah, the secret daughter of King Jabin; and Deborah, the Israelite Judge and Prophetess. Barak has throws his values out the window and pursues each women in turn, before finally realizing his true love.

Deborah remains level-headed, honorable, and wise throughout the novel. It’s easy to see why she is so admired and respected. At every turn she unselfishly helps anyone in need, and her heart reaps the rewards eventually.

The character I most liked was Nogah. I found her life to be so fascinating as she moved from slave to Kings daughter, to maid, to scribe, to wife. She leads her life in the best way she knows how despite the odds against her at every turn.

Very little of this book focuses on the Jewish religion, instead it’s more about a time period in Israelite history. The writing is at times very formal, but I believe that adds to the overall historical romance feel. I'm not normally a big fan of romance novels, but I do enjoy biblical history and historical fiction, so this was a pleasure to read and certainly enriched my understanding of this time in history.

The White Mary by Kira Salak


The White Mary ranks in my top 5 books of the year. Provided I got past some obvious but indirect disdain for Christianity at times, the story itself was and adventure worth taking.

The novel is about Marika Vecera, a foreign journalist, who ventures into the most remote, most dangerous places she can find. In doing so, she seems to toss her soul from place to place hoping something, or someone that can awaken its true purpose and she can ultimately find joy and love.

Marika is a strong female character, who loses her Mom not physically, but in mind, when her Mother loses her mind. She has already lost her father, so Marika goes to live with relatives, and by thirteen, wins a scholarship to boarding school, where she finds herself on her own from that point on. Her hero through her school years is foreign journalist Robert Lewis. Robert Lewis is assumed dead due to a suicide note, and in researching a biography she is penning about him, she uncovers clues that he may still be alive.

Marika sets out on a treacherous journey through the forests of Papua New Guinea, where amazing events, scenes, people, and places play out in a story that dwarfs the likes of Indiana Jones and other adventure tales. With Marika’s guide Tobo beside her most of the way, Kira Salak provides two voices for this captivating journey of the body and the spirit.

If you love adventure and the exploration of other cultures and places, you’ll love this book.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane


The Given Day was one of the most interesting and complex books I’ve read in a long time. Most central to this book is the story of Danny Coughlin, a Boston police officer caught before, during, and after the famous 1919 Boston Police Strike. Alongside him are a vast array of characters, from dirty politicians to his two closest confidants who hide a sordid past, and everything in between.

Also just as important to the novel is Luther Lawrence, a black man on the lam from Tulsa, Oklahoma after being blind sided by being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. The lives of Luther and Danny intertwine to create a captivating story of friendship that defies race, economic status, and social norms. Luther is perhaps the warmest character in the book, and he comes to confront his past with honor and courage when a lesser man would have run.

The final integral character is Nora, a young lass that’s run away from her hopeless life in Ireland. Her past catches up with her just as she almost finds happiness, nearly destroying her life once again.

The lives of these three characters weave their stories within the lives of police officers, co-workers, family members, neighbors, politicians, and anarchists to create a vivid portrait of so many historical events that occurred in 1919 including the mind boggling Molasses flood, the May Day riots, and ultimately culminating in the city-wide Police strike that brought the city to a grinding halt with out of control crime and riots everywhere.

These three characters manage to extricate themselves from the situation pretty much intact, but the cost is high, almost too high at times.

This is an epic novel, which should be of great interest to fans of historical fiction, Boston history, early NAACP history, as well as the labor movement. Although there was little sunshine in this long 700 page novel, if you can tolerate that, you will probably come away with a greater appreciation for the brilliant crafting of this famous time period in the history of Boston.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

First Daughter by Eric Van Lustbader


First Daughter is a fast moving political thriller, penned by NYT Best-Selling author Eric Van Lustbader. The novel starts off with the ending rather than the beginning, which adds great intrigue throughout the story. That was a very clever move, because the ending was so horrific that I just had to know what could have led up to these events.

Central to this novel is character Jack McClure. The author takes us a on a fascinating journey through Jack’s life, a dyslexic ATF agent who is put into the service of the Secret Service just as the President Elects daughter goes missing from her college dorm room. His job is to find her and bring her safely home. His past becomes eerily linked to the present, and to the missing daughter of the President Elect. Murders, people, and places almost too neatly relate back to Jack McClure throughout this novel. I felt that there were simply too many coincidences to make the story believable. Alas, that is the beauty of a novel rather than real life.

The final 25 pages are almost magical. The writing style is fluid and uncomplicated. If you are looking for your next contemporary political thriller read, this book should fit the bill very nicely.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher


Okay, it's all my fault I misunderstood what this book was about. I take full responsibility. I was thinking this was a novel based upon the style, artwork, and overall presentation of this book. I imagined a whodunit novel with twists and turns and clues to piece together as I read it. I was excited to say the least at the prospect of reading this book.

Instead, I found out about 60 pages in that this is in fact a history book! Not even historical fiction, real history! I kept wondering as I read this book when the story was going to start, but once I got into the frame of mind that I was reading a well researched history book the reading became a bit more manageable as I changed my expectations.

If the names Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes excite you, then this book would be a great addition to your library as it expands upon the early development of detective work and the origins of procedures, terminology, and the fascination with such work and the authors who write the stories.

At the core of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher however is a real story about a real detective and a real little boy who gets murdered. Along the way readers are sure to pick up a plethora of knowledge and a deeper appreciation and understanding of the birth of modern day detectives.

Monday, July 21, 2008

One More Year: Stories by Sana Krasikov


One More Year by Sana Krasikov was an interesting glimpse into the lives of immigrants from the former Soviet Union to the United States. The eight stories presented cover a vast array of age groups, educational backgrounds, and economic status.

What I liked most about this book is that each short story was uniquely different. My favorite story was the last one, and unlike the rest of the stories, the final one was the longest at forty two pages, and took place in Moscow. Each short story presented a character at a life changing point in their life. Loneliness, love, aspirations, and family are all very strong themes woven throughout the stories. Every character put forth was so humanly imperfect and realistic.

A Russian glossary would be a helpful inclusion in this book, as well as a map to help the reader more clearly understand the context of these stories. Overall, a very well written and enjoyable book that I would recommend.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Glimmer Palace by Beatrice Colin


Release Date: July 24, 2008

The Glimmer Palace by Beatrice Colin is one of the most engaging books I’ve read in a long time. From the first twenty pages I knew this was going to be a book I was going to want to read slowly, soaking in all of the details.

Lilly Nelly Aphrodite was born in the final moments of the nineteenth century in Germany. The book follows her life from a Catholic orphanage in Berlin and brings to life in fine detail her life over the course of the next thirty four years.

Poor Lilly constantly struggles with love, employment, poverty, and friendships while Germany struggles with it’s own problems. Lilly’s sweet innocence is eclipsed by the harsh world she lives in. Not having any family to help her out of difficult situations, she always finds a way to solve her problems, and maintains a long term, but sporadic friendship with another orphaned girl throughout the book.

I felt the first three hundred pages of this book were very well written, but the last quarter of the book becomes almost of summary of success mirrored by tragedy, written more as an accounting of events rather than a story. Regardless, the entire book is very well written.
Overall, this should be a very enjoyable book for readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially early twentieth century Germany, or for fans of the cinema, as much of this book revolves around the cinema.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Testimony by Anita Shreve


Testimony will be released on October 21, 2008. Pre-order here.

Testimony by Anita Shreve was an easy, short read. Despite the fact that it was just over 300 pages, most chapters are only 2-3 pages thus leaving plenty of white space. If you have a short attention span, or only a minute here and there to read, this book will be an easy read for you.

Anita Shreve did an excellent job of transporting the reader inside a prestigious boarding school in Vermont where parents pay thousands upon thousands of dollars per year in order to keep their children safe from the general population of the public schools. However, things are not as clean cut and straight laced as one might think.

The book opens to a scene of the headmaster receiving a video involving three of his students having sex with an obviously drunk fourteen year old girl. That sets the stage for a series of regrets for parents, students, and administrators alike. In the end, only one character remains likeable, the little mentioned police officer. The headmaster makes a series of blunders that hurt the students and the school. The girl doesn’t quite tell the truth in order to avoid punishment by her parents that just end up shipping her off to a school in Texas. The boys regret their behavior, and a tragic discovery is made. The book is a series of journal entries, mental thoughts, and interview responses given by the various parties and woven into the landscape of a novel.

I left this book with an empty sick feeling while at the same time rejoicing in the fact that I decided not to send my son to an elite private boarding school in the Northeast.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Aviary Gate by Katie Hickman


In The Aviary Gate by Katie Hickman, graduate student Elizabeth Staveley is researching captivity stories from the late 16th century when she comes across a four hundred year old manuscript tucked inside of a book in the Oriental Library Reading Room at Oxford University. Knowing the treasured, never before told story she is about to uncover, she transcribes the manuscript before turning it over to the library staff.

While tied up in a frustrating relationship with a suspected womanizer, Elizabeth takes off from Oxford and flies to Istanbul to further research the story of Celia Lamprey, the daughter of an English sea captain who dies at sea leaving her to eventually be sold into the harem of the Sultan of Constantinople. While a controversial member of the Sultans harem, she discovers that her fiancee, Paul Pindar, whom she was supposed to marry prior to being sold into captivity, is in fact in Constantinople as the secretary to the English ambassador to deliver a gift to the Sultan thus opening English trading opportunities.

The story is woven between the present day and the year 1599 in Constantinople (now present day Istanbul). The story of the secret life inside the harem has been well-researched and very intriguing, although the present day story of Elizabeth lacked a little intrigue. Other notable, fascinating characters in this book are the Valide Sultan (Sultan’s mother), the black eunuch guards, and Jamal al-Andalus, an outstanding astronomer. Overall, this was a very rich, exotic, and interesting read, especially since I enjoy historical fiction.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff


The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
Available August 5, 2008. Pre-order here.

I really enjoyed reading The 19th Wife. In fact, it was one of the best books I've read this year. The author, David Ebershoff, skillfully weaves a tale back and forth between the roots of ninteenth century polygamy and a modern day polygamist murder mystery.

Much of the book focuses on the nineteenth century beginnings of polygamy and the Mormom faith, and at first I was put off by this, being more interested in today's headlines than historical fiction, but as I moved through the book I found myself more and more captivated by the very compelling story of Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young's nineteeth (disputed) wife.

This book is woven with so much historical fact that it becomes hard to seperate fact from fiction, but I do believe the author tried to accurately portray the events as much as possible.
Just a few of the highlights and themes in this book include a couple of "lost boys" who were kicked out of their community for small indiscretions, left abandoned on the streets at a young age. Their stories are wrought with pain but end nicely. There are also a few instances of modern day escapes from the polygamist community; some forced and coerced marriages; and a consistent theme of hurt feelings as the husbands take on additional wives. This book covers these stories and so many more it would be difficult to touch on all of them in a short review.

I have never read a nearly 600 page book in just four days, but that is just what I did with this book. I felt a very emotional connection to this book and it's characters and I hope to read more from this author.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry


The Lace Reader
Release Date: July 29, 2008

The Lace Reader is a story largely narrated by Towner Whitney, who hails from a quirky, old money family in Salem, Massachusetts. We quickly find out that Towner is struggling to deal with mental health issues brought on by childhood trauma. She is a very likeable character who tries to do the right thing but never knowing if she is really getting the big picture.

The first hundred pages of this four hundred page novel moved so slowly that I wondered when the novel would pick up. But, based upon the reviews I had previously read, I knew it would be worth it if I could get past them and into the thick of the story.

Towner is summoned back to Salem, Massachusetts in 1996 when she learns her dear eighty five year old grandmother has gone missing. She was the one rock Towner had that provided a stable, loving environment and truly looked out for her best interests. When she goes missing and Towner shows up in town after a thirteen year absence, a series of events unravel including the disappearance of a young, pregnant runaway, the death of her grandmother, her uncle being put into jail, her old boyfriend showing up and taking advantage of her. Towner’s new found friend, a police officer named Rafferty is her new rock, helping her through rough times she encounters in Salem.

All the while the book is spiced up with a rogue religious group, a circle of fascinating witches, tourists, friends, islands, boats, and family. Since the book is set in Salem, Massachusetts, the author wove true historical information and places throughout the book, and accurately separates fact from fiction in her disclaimer.

What makes this novel so captivating is the way the author takes the readers senses and emotions on a road of self discovery through the voice of Towner Whitney. I highly recommend this well-written book for book clubs, but be forewarned, you must get through the first hundred or so pages before anything starts to make sense or become interesting.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tuesday Thingers: Discussion Groups from Library Thing


Do you belong to any (besides Early Reviewers)? Approximately how many? Are there any in particular that you participate in more avidly? How often do you check?

I belong to quite a few but I find most are not as active as ER. I especially like the Historical Fiction, Science Fiction Fans, and Kindley groups, and I find the Bookcases group to "interesting". There is never a shortage of obscure, creative bookcase pictures to look at. The funniest group by far is the Librarians who LibraryThing. They have three threads in particular that I find to be so funny. Here are the links for your enjoyment:

Strange Bookmarks
Creepy Requests from Patrons
Funny Request from Patrons

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson Review


The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson is set in 1938 Edinburgh, Scotland. The main character is Sophie, a fifteen year old student at boarding school. Unlike a traditional historical fiction novel, this book is what has been deemed “alternative history” and presents the reader with a parallel universe in which 1938 Scotland has fuel cell automobile technology, an Institute that re-programs the brains of young women so they can serve high ranking officials without any emotions, and other advanced inventions.

Spiritual mediums are commonly used by government, police, and private citizens to speak to the dead and receive messages. Sophie even discovers that she is a medium and uses her insights to uncover a slew of mysteries surrounding recent bombings, a murder, even what goes on behind closed doors to reprogram women as young as sixteen.

Several prominent historical figures are mentioned such as Freud, Pastor, Houdini, Nobel, Kelvin, Bell, and even one mention of the 12 dancing princesses. In this book historical scientists are especially respected and powerful.

Overall, I found the book to be well-written and interesting. Young readers 14-19 fascinated by science, mysteries, and history may particularly enjoy this novel. This is the first novel author Jenny Davidson has written for teens.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly


The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

Release Date: October 14, 2008 (pre-order here)

The Brass Verdict is one of the very best books I have read in the last few years , bar none. The premise is simple yet very intricately woven throughout its easily read pages. The main character, a well loved character from several other novels, inherits a law practice and a big big time case from a murdered lawyer. The novel follows the main character as he masterfully defends all his new clients, balances his personal life, ex wives, little daughter, rehab, and a detective that is trying to keep him alive for several professional and personal reasons.

I will not give too much away in that it will ruin the suspense and the very unpredictable ending. The author has written around 20 novels all in this genre and over the years has developed the characters as well as any author I have come across, even better than my favorite author, Tom Clancy. I have already ordered the Lincoln Lawyer, the book before the brass Verdict because I am so involved with the characters this author has developed for my reading enjoyment.

The Brass Verdict is all about story telling on the harsh streets of LA, there are no punches pulled and you will get a dose of reality, violence and a touch of humor in the pages as they unfold before you. I am now a fan of Mr. Connelly and the novels he writes are now going to be permanently on my reading list.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Double or Nothing: How Two Friends Risked It All to Buy One of Las Vegas' Legendary Casinos


Double or Nothing by Tom Breitling and Cal Fussman

Imagine building an Internet business during the dotcom boom/bust and selling it to Microsoft for millions. Now imagine buying the famous Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas and selling it in less than a year and half for hundreds of millions. Now imagine you are barely in your 30s and you are doing all this with your very best friend. This is the story of one of Las Vegas' most dynamic duos, two young guys from different backgrounds coming together to own the world.

The Book tells the story in autobiographical form of Tom, a simple hard working boy from Minnesota, and his friendship with Tim, a local Vegas boy who has gambling in his blood. The two formed a bond that has lasted throughout the last 20 years and will be around till one of them passes on to the big casino in the sky. The pages of the book offer the reader an insight to a world that most of us will never be in: a world of fast cars, movie stars, corporate jets and millions of dollars wrapped in cellophane being bet on one roll of the dice.

I enjoyed this book and I would have loved to have been a part of the world written in this book. The authors tell this story at about an 8th grade reading level which allows the book to be finished in a few hours. The book is not just about Vegas, it is about a time in financial history that was exciting and may never be duplicated, I hope you enjoy this book.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar


Warning: some spoilers, but certainly not giving away the ending:
The Space Between Us is a beautiful yet depressing novel that realistically captures the everyday relationship between the Indian social classes. Having lived in a similar situation growing up, Thrity Umrigar breathes life into a story lived by untold millions.

In The Space Between Us, Thrity Umrigar weaves a story between the lives of Serabai, a Parsi middle class widow; and Bhima, her domestic servant for several decades. Serabai's extremely abusive and controlling husband dies suddenly leaving her to finally experience peace and happiness in her family life. In contrast, Bhima's husband loses three fingers on his hand and is left unemployed and unable to support his family. He turns to alcohol and then leaves her taking her only son with him. Bhima is forced to move to a tin shack in the slums without even running water, electricity, or private bathrooms. Her daughter and son in law die of AIDS in a poorly run underfunded government hospital leaving Bhima to raise her granddaughter.

Serabai lovingly cares for Bhimas granddaughter providing her with an education that is abruptly halted and her life possibly forever changed for the worse.

The Space Between Us goes from bad to worse as tragedy, pain, and hopelessness take over. The really depressing part is that this story is just a snapshot of the real situation taking place in many third world countries as well as India.

I highly recommend this book to book clubs because it is so thought provoking and can lead to some serious conversations and observations. I really look forward to reading additional books by this author. Ms. Umrigar has an unusual ability to breathe her characters to life. Her descriptions are rich, colorful, and full of texture. She does not waste a single word in the entire book.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Promise of the Wolves by Dorothy Hearst


Promise of the Wolves by Dorothy Hearst

"A wonderful tale that captures the spirit of the wolf"

Having read Clan of the Cave Bear and the subsequent books in the Earth’s Children Series, I was eager to read this book that has been compared to Clan of the Cave Bear. This is the first book in a trilogy Dorothy Hearst is writing called The Wolf Chronicles. It is also her first novel.

In Promise of the Wolves by Dorothy Hearst, Kaala, a young pup is born of outside blood, and to complicate things further, she bears the mark of the moon. She struggles with her desire to gain pack approval, while dealing with her strong calling to be with and protect humans. Dorothy Hearst captures the voice and spirit of the wolf well throughout hunts, disagreements, fights, and the joy of being a wolf. There are so many fascinating characters in this book. Tlitoo, a raven, interacts with the wolves spouting cheeky poetry in a humorous and wise manner. The Great Wolves Jandra and Frandu mysteriously appear, disappear, protect, and keep secrets from Kaala and the other wolf packs. A spirit wolf magically appears and helps Kaala at her most desperate hours.

What makes this book so interesting and is that it tells the tale of the relationship between wolves and humans 14,000 years ago from the wolf point of view. There have been other books written from the human point of view the feature wolves, but this book is unique. Ms. Hearst has created a distinct work that I’m sure will develop a strong following. It was a joy to read.
I recommend this book to anyone ages 12 and up who is interested in wolves and prehistoric North America. This book would make an incredible Disney movie. If you love wolves, or if you wonder what a Disney movie would be like if wolves were the central character, then I think you will enjoy this book.

Yellow Fever by Steffan Piper


Yellow Fever by Steffan Piper

"A tale of deceitful love among modern day Generation Y"

Haven't we all had that one special relationship that meant everything to us but was doomed from the start? Enter the world of Steffan Piper, a police officer, and his strip club dancing girlfriend. Yellow Fever weaves a tale that leads us through the streets of L.A., behind the doors of a strip club, and secret police investigations. I felt the imagery and character development put forth were vividly portrayed. I would have liked to have seen a more in-depth look at the police side of the book, but ultimately, the is a novel of deceit and love, of which there is plenty.
Unlike stated in the book description above, I don't think you'll despise all the characters in the end. Steffan, the police officer and part-time gossip columnist is very likeable, but somewhat naïve out of his own self-preservation. When he finds out the truth at the end, I feel like closure is eminent in his life and he deserved to know the truth.
This modern day writer of the problems that plague gen-x and gen-y has written a novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat wondering what the next move will be in this deceitful game of love. I look forward to more writings by this author.

Weight Watchers Start Living, Start Losing: Inspirational Stories That Will Motivate You Now


I have read just about every diet book ever written. In fact, I consider myself somewhat of a diet scientist. I can explain in detail why (or why not) many different diet plans work. Despite this, people will fail over and over because something most diet books don't address is the emotional side of eating.

Weight Watchers Start Living, Start Losing: Inspirational Stories That Will Motivate You Now includes over 60 short, 2-3 pages success stories written by weight watchers members in their own words. The stories are grouped into various categories such as, "Family Matters", "New Brides, New Moms", "Working Nine to Five", "It's a Guy Thing", and many more. I believe that most people will be able to closely identify with one or more of the categories.

Each person sets up their story with when their weight battle began, when their moment of inspiration to start Weight Watchers occurred, how they felt at meetings/after meetings/doing ww online, and closes with how the weight change has impacted their life. Tidbits of their obstacles and how they overcame them are interspersed with great advise for anyone wanting to live a healthy life.

Throughout the book people share their insights and wisdoms that helped them to become successful with their weight battle. My favorite was when someone called their food "a bowl of calories". Wow, it's hard to look at food the same after you read this book.
I can see this book being used as a wonderful tool to keep dieters and members of weight watchers on track by being able to read a short success story in just a few minutes and knowing that they can do it too. This book is an easy read in 3 evenings, or readers could read an inspirational story or two a day while applying the wisdom gleaned from these weight loss success stories.

A Golden Age, A Novel by Tahmima Anam


" A Golden Age is an historical fiction novel you will not soon forget!"

A book about a far off land, a war, and a widow... I was certainly expecting a thrilling, suspenseful, maybe even adventurous novel through the sights and sounds of east Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
In contrast, even though this is a very short novel, the author seemed almost afraid to delve into creating a page-turning brutal war novel. This felt like a slow read through the highlights of Rehana Haque's life. Further development of the sights and sounds of this first novel by Tahmima Anam would have taken the reader further into Rehana's world. In doing so, Tahmima Anam could have created a beautiful, vivid landscape set against the pain and stress of war. I really think she missed a great opportunity in this.

Also, other than Rehana Haque's character, the other characters are only mildly developed, leaving the reader wanting to know more. I commend the author however for her storyline, I think this would make a very incredible screenplay. I felt the story itself is truly worthy of a voice, and this book was on a must read list. I was unfamiliar with this historical war, the Independence War of Bangladesh, and the author did a wonderful job of bringing this story to the novel reading public.

If you enjoy historical novels, or are looking for a quick read, this book might interest you. The last 1/4 of the book is fantastic, where author Tahmima Anam really shows her talent for the pen. I would have liked to have seen an included glossary, as many terms are thrown around as if they are English, and nothing will disrupt a novel like going to your dictionary to look up a word. For reading flow, it would have been nice to include that, as well as a pronunciation guide to the names. Those things would have helped the reader to connect more closely to the story. I hope to see many more books by Tahmima Anam, she is a truly promising young author.
I should note that this book would be excellent college reading. It's short enough and has passages subject to interpretation.

Easy Money by Liz Pulliam Weston


"Easy Money , a book for those who like Vanguard"

Easy Money is an easy read that is very informative. It is written from a conservative investors approach. This book is a very useful tool for someone who knows nothing about investing. It lays the ground work for the first phone call you'll make to Vanguard, because when all is said and done, they will help you much more than reading this book. (Ms. Pulliam shamelessly promotes Vanguard all throughout the book, making me wonder if she has worked out a special arrangement.)

Easy Money is the very first step an investor should take no matter which level they are at because it lays the groundwork down in a very understandable format on or about the high school reading level. This read is by no means exciting and may take you several days to read it because you will want to put it down and digest what you just read. One should read this book twice if their financial future is in doubt.

Several topics that are discussed in length include:

Everyday investing
Day to day frugality

The author is obviously well versed in investing and investment strategy but seems to lack any sense of adventure. She is a true conservative in her investment strategy which will serve 99.9% of the readers of this book.

On a scale of 1-10 I give this book a 2 for overall enjoyment but I give this book a 9 in the must read category for financial security.

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz


A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
Release Date: February 12, 2008

I was expecting an obscure story, based upon the synopsis I had read, but I have to say after reading A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz my mind not only hopped aboard the train wreck called the Dean family's life, but I also soaked in the brilliant philosophical prose of this new writer.

I found myself reading passages again and again for fun, and laughing despite the unfortunate events in this novel. Steve Toltz brilliantly wove everyday humor and observations into the fabric of a bizarre, slightly possible story.

This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. The writing style is fresh and unlike anything else I've ever read. I don't want to give away any of the spoilers, they are just too juicy, but I will tell you there is love, death, fire, suicide, crime, depression, self-hate, asylum, prison, three continents, booz, sex, nightclubs, bars, coming of age, rat poison, explosions, mazes, a foster home, books, and so much more. It's so juicy you'll want to read it twice!

Hundred in the Hand by Joseph Marshall III


"Fascinating perspective of a story we thought we knew"

Many years ago I went through my "westerns" phase reading several different westerns about how America was settled. I always wondered about the Native American perspective, and I was very eager to read Hundred in the Hand by Joseph M. Marshall III. As far as I know, this is the first historical fiction novel about the west as told from the Native American perspective.

The story is told through a fictitious Lakota Indian named Cloud. The story is about the Fetterman Massacre, a battle that took place on Dec. 21, 1866, also known as Hundred in the Hand by the Lakota. For the most part, I began to relate to the Lakota's since the story is told from their viewpoint, but occassionally the author throws in a perspective from the white side for balance.

It was refreshing to see the Lakota as everyday people like you and me, rather than then savages portrayed by western film and literature I am familiar with. It was also very interesting to me that the cover art work displays the white man as blue silhouettes but the Lakota are in full color. The author definately knew what he was doing, had a goal in mind when writing this book, and ultimately accomplished his goal.

One thing I really liked about this book is the included glossary, calendar, and maps. So often historical fiction novels leave these important features out.

The publisher says this is a first in a series of novels, and I expect them to do very well, and I look forward to reading more by this author.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Do the Math #2: The Writing on the Wall by Wendy Lichtman


The Writing on the Wall is about four middle school girls who very realistically face the same problems all middle school girls face including dealing with bullies, parents, and teachers; while trying to maintain friendships and accept the consequences for their actions. Most importantly, the girls grow up little by little as life teaches them lessons. Since I have also been a victim of some of the exact bullying behaviors recently, it was interesting to see how she resolved the issues. I also resolved my issues in a very similar way and was initially a victim for nearly an identical reason.

In The Writing on the Wall Tess, an exceptional math student is on the Math team and the school newspaper. A fire is started in Mr. Z’s classroom, and Tess uncovers the culprit through the use of clever math. She knows there are four distinctly identifying truths that the culprit must possess, and by breaking the law and getting into trouble, she is able to determine who the arsonist is. Surprisingly, the arsonist is not who she suspected, nor is the person feeding her clues who she suspected. In the end everything works out like it’s supposed to.

Her enduring relationship with her grandfather is of great comfort to her when she needs support, and her blossoming romance with Damien are comforts to her when she needs someone to lean on.

I recommend this book to any 7th or 8th grader, male or female because it is a modern day version of the old Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys series. Kids today are more likely to relate to this book because it is set in their time with their issues and surroundings.

All That Road Going: A Novel (Hardcover)


If you've ever taken a Greyhound bus trip overnight or cross country, chances are you will be able to relate to All That Road GOING by A.G. Mojtabai. On the other hand, if you've never experienced the pleasure of riding on a Greyhound bus cross country, sit back and relax in the comfort of your own home while author A.G. Mojtabai takes you there through her rich descriptions and extensive character development in the mind altering reality of travel via Greyhound.

The first 40 pages or so had me wondering if author A.G. Mojtabai in fact had a story and where she was going with it. I was about to throw in the towel when of all places I got stuck at the airport for an hour and had some time to kill. Luckily, I had this book along for the journey.

For the most part, the characters in this book are trying to get to a better place, away from their hurts and pains so they can make a fresh start in a new city. One is going to revisit an his hometown where anyone who would have known him is now dead. Another is on board because he doesn't know what else to do while his dying common law wife lies dying in a hospital bed. There are also two children aboard, ages 6 and 8 who are being sent unaccompanied by their alcoholic, co-dependent mother to live with their aunt. A young 15 year old girl is heading home one day post partum after giving birth to a baby she was forced into giving up for adoption. There are more characters as well. The author touches on their thoughts, emotions, and actions, one by one, as the Greyhound bus continues down the never ending road. The author makes no apologies for the characters thoughts on race, class, or lifestyle choice. This is the real world of Greyhound travel.