Sunday, September 25, 2011

61. State of Wonder - Ann Patchett

Harper, 2011
HC $26.99, TPPL
for:  adults
353 pgs.
Rating:  5

First Line/s:  The news of Anders Eckman's death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope.

Setting:  First 50 pages, Minnesota; remainder of book, the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, particularly west of Manaus, where the Lakashi tribe live.  Contemporary.

Dr. Marina Singh:  American mother, Indian father, born and raised in Minnesota with her mother, visiting, as a child upon occasion, her father in Calcutta.  Trained until residency as a doctor - on obstetrician, then switching to pharmacology and working for Vogel Pharmaceutical.  Now 42, she shares an office with fellow cholesterol researcher Anders Eckman and is seeing her boss, the head of Vogel, in secret, since that's how Mr. Fox wants it kept. As a secret.

But Anders, after being sent on a mission to find a Vogel researcher in the Amazon of South America, dies of a fever in the rainforest.  And it's Marina that's sent to figure out what happened and how the vague research of Dr. Annick Swenson is progressing.  It's not easy to find Dr. Swenson, who has made sure that her location in the jungle is a total secret.  Dr. Swenson had been Marina's mentor in her med school days, and there's a mysterious connection between the two that we slowly discover. Marina's search for Dr. Swenson and what happened to her friend and coworker becomes quite a story.

Magnificent writing.  Fascinating setting.  A mystery to solve.  A great amount of research.  And a satisfying story, that I hated to end.
Marina thought of the crickets and the meadowlarks, the rabbits and the deer, the Disney book of wildlife that slept in the wide green meadows of her home state.  "No bullet ants," she said.  Her scalp was soaked, her underwear, the ground beneath her feet loosened as streams of water sluiced between the trees.  The heard a high whistle piercing through the thunder and wondered if it was their imagination.  Imagination played a major role in the jungle, especially during a storm.
What a wonderfully satisfying story, the perfect way to pass a weekend of laziness.  I read her Magician's Assistant awhile ago, I've got to put some of her other's, particularly Bel Canto, on my upcoming radar.

Friday, September 23, 2011

60. Sweethearts - Sarah Zarr

Little Brown & Co., 1988
paper $7.99
220 pgs.
for: YA
Rating:  3.5

First Line/s:  A dripping faucet.  Crumbs and a pink stain on the counter.  Half of a skin-black banana that smells as old as it looks.  If I look at these things and at nothing else, concentrate on them and stay still, and don't make any noise, this will be over soon and I can go home without Cameron's dad ever knowing I'm here.

OSS:  When Cameron Quick reappears in Jennifer Harris' life after being the closest of friends as children, she is thrown for a loop.

Setting;  A ruralish area in Salt Lake City, contemporary times.

Cameron and Jennifer were best - and only - friends when they were young and they were both outcasts and bullied and unhappy.  They had each other, and that made their lives a lot better.  But then Cameron and his family disappear without a word, and Jennifer is left unsettled and wondering...for years.  She sheds weight, gains confidence, changes schools, and has a good life.  And then Cameron reappears.  Mysteriously.  And keeps disappearing, then reappearing.  Jen has a great boyfriend, lots of great friends, a stepfather that has helped stabilize her life, but with Cameron's reappearance she thinks, rethinks, remembers, and makes some interesting choices and decisions. 

Some of those memories involve learning about and watching the abuse that Cameron's father inflicted upon his family, particularly his son, and once, on her.  This was a very interesting book to read.  I kept thinking I'd already read it, but it must have been some of the scenes reminded me of other stories, because I'm quite sure I haven't read this before.  Okay.  Checked and saw that I read it when it first came out.  Guess it wasn't as memorable the first time around....

MOVIE - Horrible Bosses

Sheila hated it and left early....that says a lot....
wide release 7-8-11
R (1:37)
at Crossroads with Sheila
RT 70 cag 74 (It wasn't THAT bad...)
Director:  Seth Gordon
Warner Brothers
Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey

Three employees are having terrible times with their bosses.  Their plans to "off" them, of course, go awry, and there are quite a few laughs.  For some reason, the Jennifer Aniston dentist really turned me off, I'm not sure why.  And Kevin Spacey was great and justly hated.  Colin Farrell was....well.... Colin Farrell!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Olivia's Birds: Saving the Gulf - Olivia Bouler

illustrated by the author
Sterling Children's Books, 2011
HC $14.95
32 pgs.
endpapers - vertical lime green stripes zentangled

Olivia Bouler is 11 years. old.  She loves birds and draws them simply and beautifully.  An aspiring ornithologist, she was devastated by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and offered her help to the Audubon Society -- sending bird paintings to contributors.

So far, this young lady has earned $150,000 for the Save the Gulf campaign!

For the first 23 pages, Olivia describes, discusses, and shows different birds, including some weird birds, birds in their habitats, fierce birds, beautiful birds, and endangered and extinct birds.  Though the information is certainly not complete, it is simply stated, written in a font that is fun to read, and is a great start for kids who are interested in helping the plight of our world.

Bravo, Olivia!  You're an inspiration.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Beatrice's Dream - Karen Lynn Williams

A Story of Kibera Slum
photos by Wendy Stone
HC $17.95
Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2011
24 pages
Rating:  4
Endpapers:  Purple with vertical streaks

Kiberia is a huge slum in Nairobi, Kenya.  There are no roads and almost no electricity, plumbing, or drinking water.

13-year old Beatrice lives here with her brother and his wife.  Both her parents are dead.  But she's lucky to go to school every day and dreams, even in her extreme poverty, of becoming a nurse.

This simple photo journal tells of her daily life.  Well, the words are simple.  It's the photos that show her life.  A good one to share with my fourth graders when studying Africa and discussing poverty.

56. Divergent - Veronica Roth

First in a new series
Katherine Tegen Books (Harper Collins) 2011
HC $17.99
for:  Young Adults
487 pgs.
Rating:  4

First Line/s:  There is one mirror in my house.  It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs.   Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair.

Setting: Chicago, somewhere in the future.
OSS:  Beatrice Prior has come to the vital point in every 16-year-old's life, when they must choose one of society's five factions  in which to spend the remainder of their days.

Dauntless (the brave), Candor (the truthful), Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful/happy), and the Erudite (the smart).  Beatrice has been born and raised as an Abnegation.  She loves her family - her parents and her brother, Caleb.  But when the time comes to choose the faction in which she best fits, it's more than difficult.  Because if she chooses anything other than Abnegation she will have to leave her family, her home, everything she knows.....forever.

In a story that intertwines a somewhat recognizable dystopia with rethinking the parameters of war and peace, we watch the initiation of Beatrice (who renames herself "Tris") into a new and exciting faction, where she finds new friends, new foes, (a boyfriend, of course), and a life that she could have never imagined.

I read this in one day....staying up late.  Tris is a great character, brave, smart, loving....and really, quite real.  I was quite drawn to her.  You had your stereotypical nasty peers, lots of action and adventure, and the requisite layers of bad guy vs. good guy. It's left so that you know there will be sequels.

Friday, September 9, 2011

55. Pray for Silence - Linda Castillo

Book No. 2 in a series set in Ohio's Amish Country
Minotaur Books, 2010
HC $24.99 TPPL
for: Adults
Rating:  4
First Line/s:  Officer Chuck "Skid" Skidmore wished he hadn't indulged in that last cup of coffee.  If it wasn't for the new waitress at the diner, he would have stopped at just one.  But damn she was cute.

Setting:  Contemporary Ohio Amish Country (a tourist town)
One sentence summary:  Ex-Amish Police Chief Kate Burkholder,with the help of State Bureau Investigator John Tomasetti (with whom she has an off-again on-again relationship since her last big murder investigation), investigates the brutal murders of an entire Amish family.

This one is pretty gritty...a whole family tortured and murdered.  Mother and father, a baby, two sons, 10 and 14, and two daughters, 15 and 16.  The girls' murders have been particularly horrendous, and Chief Burkholder is reminded of her own past.  She relates to Mary Plank, the 15-year old who appears to be the person whom the murder revolves most around.  She finds Mary's diary that explains her affair, her drinking, and the unspeakable things that were done to her while she was under the influence.  But she's very much in love. However, she never names her lover, or gives enough clues so that Kate and her crew can pinpoint him.

There are a number of suspects, and as they gather more clues, getting closer and closer to the killer, it's pretty hard to put the book down.  I can remember being grossed out by the first book, although this one is pretty graphic and horrendous, it's a good...but sad....murder mystery.  It's been over a year since this was published, so I'll have to check and see how prolific Linda Castillo has been!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

54. Darkness Becomes Her - Kelly Keaton

Simon Pulse, 2011
HC $16.99
274 pgs.
for:  Young Adults
Rating:  4.5

First Line/s: Under the cafeteria table, my right knee bounced like a jackhammer possessed.  Adrenaline snaked through my limbs, urging me to bolt, to hightail it out of Rocquemor House and never look back.

Setting:  Over a decade after the 2009 hurricanes ruined New Orleans, now called New 2.  It's no longer part of the USA, and it's home to people that are.....different.

One sentence summary:  Ari, a 17 year-old searching for her mother and her roots, discovers the horrifying legacy that has been passed down to her through centuries of tormented women.

Yes, this one held my attention completely.  I guess I enjoy these dystopian adventures.  This one, of course, includes the smolderingly handsome love interest. Sebastian is the interestingly different part vampire whose family is one of the Novem, the ruling elite of the new New Orleans.  However, Ari holds a power that she doesn't understand at all - many people that she encounters, the ones that know of her mother, show that they are ... afraid ... of her.

I slowly figured out the mystery before it was revealed, but it was fun doing so.  Someone with more of an interest/background in Greek mythology would probably figure it out long before I did.  But I'll read the sequel when it comes out, A Beautiful Evil, coming in February, 2012.  It will continue the adventure, I'm sure.

If I knew New Orleans, the layout and the history, it would be even more enjoyable, because the description is excellent.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Yuvi's Candy Tree - Lesley Simpson

illustrated by Janice Lee Porter
Kar-Ben Publishing, 2011
HC $17.95
32 pgs.
Rating:  3.5
Endpapers:  Gold
Title page: all-over gold with painting of burro
Based on a true story from 1980's

Yuvi is traveling from Ethiopia to Jerusalem, stopping at a refugee camp and being flown from there to Israel.  They have no food, drink muddy water, and are robbed many times.  There is a donkey that she is able to ride for part of the way, but most of the way is on foot.  She dreams of trees made of candy, and when she arrives in Israel, she finds her candy  tree -  a tree covered with juicy, sweet oranges.

This was a really nice story, but I wish it had a little more....I guess it's good for very young children, but might be even better with just a little more information, it needs to be a tiny bit grittier to see the hardships, distance traveled, and unease, I didnt' feel like it had that, it seemed more like a simple trip to go to Israel.

52. The Other Rembrandt - Alex Connor

Silver Oak Publishing, 2011
Pap $14.95
for adults
392 pgs.
Rating:  4
First line:  His body was bent over, his head submerged in the confines of the basin, his knees buckled, trousers pulled down.
Setting:  London, Amsterdam, and New York
OSS:  Marshall Zeigler, who has always avoided his family's interest and business in the art world, finds himself pulled into it when his father is brutally murdered.

The entire story revolves around letters that Rembrandt's mistress, Geertje Dircx (oh, how I wish I knew how that was pronounced) wrote while she was incarcerated in a prison/asylum.  She tells of the Rembrandt, and of Rembrandt's students who, under Rembrandt's tutelage and instructions, painted portraits in his style and passed them off as the great master's.  The letters have been secretly held by Marshall's father, Owen, and could change the whole world of Renaissance art.

Four murders take place surrounding these letters, and Marshall has to piece it all together.  Woven into the fabric of the story are the letters that Geertze Dircx wrote.  She had been treated horribly by Rembrandt, and had secrets to tell, of Rembrandt's cruelty, of an illegitimate son, also a painter, and of the art scams pulled off by Rembrandt.  And, apparently, some of this is based on actual hints and facts that have been passed down through the years!

There are many characters, and we must decide who to trust, who is telling the truth, who has secrets of their own to hide.  I figured out the culprit about 2/3 of the way through the book, but the surprise twist at the end surprised me, and keeps me wondering still.  The book kept my attention and made me think.  I liked it.