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.