Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Blog Exclusive

You read it here first. The titles for the Winter Book Club 2011 are:

January - Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

February - Still Alice by Lisa Genova

March - Room by Emma Donoghue

April - The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

May - The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Call 609-399-2434 x5226 OR email

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Up from the Blue by Sue Henderson

I heard about this book during a recent readers advisory workshop for librarians. Everyone raved about this debut novel and since I was lucky enough to score a free copy, I decided to give it a shot.
The story is told through the eyes of young Tillie Harris, a plucky girl who's not afraid to speak her mind. Set in the 1970s, life at the Harris household is strained at best. Tillie's father is in the army developing missile technology. He's about as strict as you can imagine. Tillie's mom suffers from crippling depression, spending the majority of her days in bed. Tillie idolizes her mother and doesn't fully understand her situation. When the family moves to Washington DC, Tillie's mom disappears and the things just go from bad to worse...
Overall, I liked this book. There have been comparisions made between Tillie and Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird and that's a pretty apt description. She's a very likable character and you want to root for her within her dreary surroundings.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Every once in awhile, I enjoy a nice long saga. Double points if it's historical fiction. In the past, I've enjoyed Ken Follett's historical works Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, so I figured I'd check out his latest book Fall of Giants, which is the 1st book in his new Century Trilogy. Fall of Giants details the events leading up to and including World War I through the eyes of several different characters. What's interesting about FoG is that these characters are all not only from different socioeconomic situations (e.g. an Earl, a suffragette, a poor mining community), but also from different countries as well (Allies as well as German), so it was definitely enlightening to view the war through various lenses. The bulk of the novel deals with a lot of military talk, so if that's your thing, great. For me, at times, it seemed a little tedious. Despite that, Follett is a decent storyteller and his depictions of battle were very cinematic. As par for the course, Follett throws in a lot of unneccessary sex scenes into the mix as well.

It's probably safe to say that the other books in the trilogy will be about World War II and Vietnam, but who knows? At the rate, I'll definitely check them out.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ape House by Sara Gruen

In Gruen's debut novel Water for Elephants, readers fell in love with the titular elephant Rosie. In her second novel Ape House, a similar fondness occurs with the aforementioned apes. The cast of bonobos live happily in their Language Lab under the watchful eye of scientist Isabel Duncan. They are able to use sign language to communicate and enjoy playing around with visitors and the other scientists. Everything is going great until the lab gets bombed and the apes mysteriously disappear.

Once the dust settles, Duncan is horrified to find out that the bonobos have been sold to a television producer who has casted them in their own 24 hour reality tv show. Joining forces with a newspaper reporter, an exotic dancer, animal activists and other research assistants, Duncan takes on the fight of her life to rescue her bonobos and give them the proper kind of life they deserve.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

One Day by David Nicholls

Fans of the movie When Harry Met Sally will undoubtedly love One Day. Nicholls takes a peek at the lives of goody two shoes Emma and bad boy Dexter on the same particular July day over the course of 20 years or so. Each year brings lots of new changes to their friendship as the two of them grow and mature over the course of the 2 decades. Will they eventually wind up together?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage is a heady mix of all things that are currently hot in the reading world as of late: vampires, the end of the world, political tension and violence. So it makes sense that it would be a great book for summer, albeit lengthy at 700+ pages. What starts off in the not so distant future as a gov't science experiment quickly escalates into the apocalypse for mankind as the subjects of said experiment turn out to be bloodthirsty monsters. Fast forward nearly 100 years later to a small colony of humans struggling to stay alive. The key to all of this is a little girl named Amy. Intrigued? You should be.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

The final novel in Larsson's trilogy is just as action packed as its 2 predecessors. Hacker genius Lisbeth Salander is stuck in the hospital after being shot and buried alive while on the outside, governmental agencies, police officers and ex spies are all pissed that she can't just DIE already. And so, they continue to plot even worse things against Lisbeth once she eventually does recover. Lisbeth's main defender against all evil-doers is journalist Mikael Blomkvist.

The extremely interesting thing about this novel is that it is so fast paced despite the fact that the heroine is in the hospital 95% of the time. What's even better is that the action is completely believable - no one is jumping off of buildings or setting bombs off; everyone actually uses their brain and nothing more advanced than a computer.

Larsson (who unfortunately died before finishing the complete saga) provides a very satisfying conclusion to his trilogy.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

From Booklist:

"Soli’s debut revolves around three characters whose lives are affected by the Vietnam War. Helen Adams comes to Vietnam in the hopes of documenting the combat that took her brother from her. She immediately attracts the attention of the male journalists in the region, and quickly falls into an affair with the grizzled but darkly charismatic war photographer Sam Darrow. As Helen starts to make her own way as a photographer in Vietnam, drawing as much attention for her gender as for her work, Darrow sends her his Vietnamese assistant, Linh, a reluctant soldier who deserted the SVA in the wake of his wife’s death. While Linh wants nothing more than to escape the war, Darrow and Helen are consumed by it, unable to leave until the inevitable tragedy strikes. The strength here is in Soli’s vivid, beautiful depiction of war-torn Vietnam, from the dangers of the field, where death can be a single step away, to the emptiness of the Saigon streets in the final days of the American evacuation. --Kristine Huntley"

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

Golden Richards is just like your average guy. He worries about money, getting older and trying to avoid a mid-life crisis. The kicker? Golden is the titular polygamist with 4 wives and 28 children (+ or - a few stillborns and miscarriages). And as one might expect, life in the Richards house (or houses as the case may be) can get a little chaotic. The book focuses on just a few characters in the house - Golden, his 4th wife Trish and son Rusty. Each family member has their own proverbial crosses in life to bear - Golden tries hard to live his life by the Principle, desparately trying to avoid an affair with his boss' wife. Trish struggles with the loneliness comes with being part of a polygamist family. And Rusty just wants to be noticed and not humilated on a daily basis by his obscenely large family. Udall's book is funny and just an overall a good story about the American family. Fans of the TV show Big Love will probably enjoy it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman

I like Sarah Silverman in small doses because the potty humor can get old after awhile. I always thought she stole the show with her bit in the film The Aristocrats. So I picked up her memoirs with the notion that it'd have its fair share of snarky laughs and foul potty humor. In that sense, I was pretty dead on.

Bedwetter starts out like standard memoirs - Silverman spends a lot of time talking about her childhood and zany family. What I found to be the most enlightening portion of the entire book was her adolescent battles with depression and yes, bedwetting. For once, Silverman uses just enough humor to relay how these traumatic experiences have affected her.

My only gripe memoir was that once Silverman reached a certain level of fame, she resorts to a whole lot of name dropping (with one exception involving a sweet anecdote about Chris Farley) and not much else. There are also a lot of pretty gross photos of her and her TV show cohorts.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

As a rule, I'm not a big fan of suspense and/or mysteries. However, once in awhile, it's nice to break out of a comfort zone and try something different. I had read Flynn's Sharp Objects awhile ago and enjoyed it, so it made sense to try her new book. Dark Places centers on the grim murders of the Day family back in 1985. Libby, our heroine and a young child at the time, managed to escape and her testimony was enough to convict her older brother Ben of the crime. The book shifts back and forth between the events that led up to that fateful day and the present day Libby. Everything is going along, until Libby gets involved with an underground crime group that wants to get to the truth of the murders. Did Ben really kill his entire family? Or was it someone else??

All in all, it was a very quick paced read and the tension held throughout the entire novel. As one could expect, adult Libby has some major psychological issues as a result of the murders. Despite being so flawed, you can definitely sympathize with her and the novel's conclusion is very satisfying.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler

Even though I don't watch her show, I like Chelsea Handler. She's kind of bitchy and a little mean spirited and as long as it's not directed at me, I sort of enjoy that type of humor. In her latest book, Handler discusses playing mean tricks on her boyfriend, takes her big bodyguard on vacation to see if she can hook him up with a tourist, and spends a lot of time commiserating with her siblings about how awful their father is. Yes, it's mean and kind of juvenile, but still good for a chuckle.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Sam Kingston is an ordinary teenager - self absorbed, heavily concerned about her popularity, disinterested in school...the usual. Everything is hunky dory with Sam until she gets into a horrific car accident on the way home from a party. However, instead of dying, Sam is forced to relive her last day alive over and over again (a la the movie Groundhog Day) As Sam tries to change the events that caused her death, she undergoes a major transformation as she re-evaluates the important things in life. Gradually, things like a hot boyfriend and looking a certain way lose meaning compared to spending moments with family and true loves.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a very quick read and there were lots of tense moments.

Monday, March 22, 2010

So Much for That by Lionel Shriver

Whenever anyone asks me for some of my favorite authors, 9 times out of 10 I will throw Lionel Shriver into the mix. We Need to Talk About Kevin is on my list of favorite books of all time (and proved to be one of the most sucessful book discussions that the library's book club has ever had), and The Post Birthday World messed with my head for weeks afterwards. The thing to keep in mind when reading Shriver is that she (and yes, Lionel Shriver is a female) evokes such deep emotions and feelings in all of her works, though they usually err on the negative side.

The same can be said for So Much For That. Shep Knacker has been saving for years in the hopes of retiring to a remote island off of the African coast. The time has almost come for him to leave when he finds out his wife Glynis has mesothelioma and needs him to keep working in order to retain health insurance. The fact that Glynis is kind of a bitch merely adds to the frustration. Throughout the novel, Shep relies on his friend Jackson for support mainly because he has been through the insurance ringer for years- his daughter suffers with a congenital disease. And so, as Glynis and Shep's bank account continues to wither away (and Jackson's marriage begins to disintegrate), the reader is pulled deeper and deeper into their misery.

And yet, despite all of this, the book is quite moving and ends on a more upbeat note than one could imagine. Though the book is exceedingly dark and depressing, the love and devotion that Shep shows Glynis is truly inspiring. It's a hard book to read, content wise, but the story and Shriver's language is lovely.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

One of the best things about reading Jodi Picoult is that she's so consistent. You always know what you're going to get whenever you read any of her works: the family drama (usually involving a fiercely devoted mother, an ignored sibling and some poor child with a disability or medical problem), the lawyer-with-a-heart-of-gold character, a tense courtroom scene and some contemporary references sprinkled here and there. And while some might say that "consistency" is just a nice way of saying "formulaic," I would argue that there is something quite comforting in being able to rely on a decent reading experience.

This time around, Picoult focuses on her attention on Aspergers Syndrome, which occurs on the low end of the autism spectrum. Jacob Hunt is an 18 year old kid trying to fit in with everyone else. His social skills teacher, Jess, encourages him to ask girls out, make normal conversation and eye contact and attempt to empathize with others. His mother, Emma, is his biggest champion. However, one day Jess goes missing and is eventually found dead. Whats worse is that Jacob, who is an avid CSI fan and forensic science hobbyist, might have played a part in this grisly case. The scary thing is that because of the Aspergers, Jacob exhibits symptoms similar to psychopaths and serial killers.

As usual, I enjoyed this book, though I was definitely able to figure out the ending long before it actually arrived. The dialogue is a little cheesy, as usual. The most interesting part though, I found, was the portrayal of Jacob. Having known several individuals with Aspergers, it was very enlightening to see things from his point of view as well as having to see what his mother had to deal with on a daily basis.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

World Without End by Ken Follett

Acting as a follow up to the epic Pillars of the Earth, World Without End continues to follow the lives, tragedies and successes of the citizens of 14th century Kingsbridge. This time around, Follett's main characters are a group of young friends - brothers Ralph and Merthin, independent Caris and crafty Gwenda. As the four age throughout the book, each character becomes intertwined with each other as they each take different routes in life - knight, builder, healer and farmer. Kingsbridge is well known throughout the area for having a beautiful cathedral (built in POTE) and there is much drama when it comes to how the priory is run. Things don't get any better when the Plague hits.

Though this is a really really lengthy work, it goes by exceptionally fast. I still have the same qualms with this one that I did with POTE (unrealistic dialogue and character life spans, etc), but it was still a very enjoyable read.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

This is the selection for the upcoming March book club. I had originally read TTW several years ago and fell in love with it (oddly enough, before I became a librarian). Henry and Clare have had an unorthodox relationship to say the least. As one might infer from the title, Henry is a time traveler (and a librarian!). Clare met Henry when she was a little girl when he traveled there as a middle aged adult. They meet again when Clare is 20, but Henry has no idea of their relationship, though she has known him all her life. And so, a passionate affair begins between the 2 of them as they struggle to work out a relationship that is plagued by Henry's absences and Clare's former knowledge. It sounds confusing, but things make sense after awhile.

On reading this a second time around, I wasn't as captivated by the romance as I was before - if anything, the book (and Henry/Clare's relationship) seemed more depressing than anything else (I wonder what that says about me?). There's also a whole lot of sex described, which was kind of gratuitous after awhile. The ending is still just as heartbreaking as ever.

At any rate, it's always fun to re-read a good book and see things from a different perspective. I'll be showing clips from the film as well, so it'll be an interesting discussion on the 6th.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

Maybe because it's winter and that's a naturally dreary time of a year, but I enjoy a good dystopic novel every once in awhile. The Unit filled that hole quite nicely. Set in the near future, Dorrit, a 50 year old woman with no family or children, enters the Second Reserve Bank Unit. The unit is a government established program for elderly "dispensibles," or those without families, to donate their vital organs and participate in clinical trials and pharmaceutical experiments. Though it's a terrifying place, the unit is set up to be quite comfortable to its residents - plenty of free food, accessible health care, expensive clothing and spacious apartments. When Dorrit falls in love with another resident, she begins to question the whole notion of the Unit...and that's when things start to get a little bleak. There are bright spots throughout the novel, but overall, as the genre dictates, the book is kind of depressing.

A Walk in the Woods:rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

It's a simple premise -what would happen if you attempted to hike the entire Appalachian Trail with nothing more than the stuff you could keep on your back? Memoirist Bill Bryson decided to try such a feat and A Walk in the Woods was created. As Bryson and his trusty friend Katz struggle to make their way across the Northeast, they encounter lots of random people, animals and hidden towns along the way which make for amusing anecdotes. Bryson also spends a fair portion of the book discussing the history of the Trail itself and the National Park Service.

This book was chosen for the February Adult Book Club - it'll be interesting to see what everyone has to say about it (and if they have hiking stories to add themselves!)

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I received a recommendation for this book through a friend (now Young Adult librarian) from college. She described it as a mix of the book Hunger Games (see previous review here) and the film Cube, which is a really trippy sci-fi film from the late 90s. Her description was actually pretty spot on, though I'd probably throw in some references to Golding's Lord of the Flies as well.

The Maze Runner is the first in Dashner's trilogy and is centered on Thomas, a young man who wakes up one day to find his memory has been erased. He has been transported to a new strange place, called the Glade, which is basically a huge field/meadow in the center of a large and complicated maze. The area is populated solely by teenage boys. Every night the doors surrounding the Glade are shut and the walls of the maze move into a new pattern. Daytime runners try to tease out the puzzle, but must return to the Glade before the doors close or else awful creatures will hunt them down and kill them. Thomas' arrival sparks controversy with the boys as they struggle to find their way out.

Seriously, this book was pretty awesome - lots of suspense and action. Though the writing is nothing great, the characters are all fairly multi-dimensional and Thomas is a hero that you genuinely want to root for. All in all, a fast and enjoyable read.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

This is the first selection for the Adult Book Club's Winter Session. I chose it because with all this yucky cold weather, we could use something fun and zany. The fact that it's set in New Orleans merely adds to this madcap adventure about the life and times of Ignatius Reilly. Ignatius is a fat, flatulent, opinionated scholar (he frequently cites Boethius) who lives with his frazzled mother who is desperate to get her son out of the house and out of her hair. Lots of weird things happen throughout this book and everything comes together quite nicely at the end. I'll be curious to see what everyone thinks at the next Book Club meeting.