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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

DreamlandImagine waking up in the middle of the night on the floor, disoriented, clutching your leg in pain. How did you get there? Why aren’t you still asleep in bed? And what happened to your leg? After actually living through this frightening sleepwalking scenario, David K. Randall, a journalist for Reuters, decided to investigate his personal nightmare, determined to find out  how he could prevent it from happening again. His book, Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, leads us into the mysterious and occasionally bizarre corners of neurobiology, psychology, and sociology that deal with how and why we sleep.

 

Each chapter in this fascinating book deals with a different sleep conundrum, from sleep exhaustion in the military to the effect of artificial light on circadian rhythms to whether you can commit murder while sleeping. Over the course of the book a deceptively simple formula emerges—what you do while you are awake affects your sleep, and how you sleep affects your mind and body while you are awake. Intriguing tidbits of information sneak their way into the pages with such frequency that the reader marvels at how little she seems to know about such a vital bodily function. 

 

Though not a scientist himself, Randall’s forays into the realm of sleep science are well backed by an abundance of research, as evinced by the lengthy bibliography he includes at the back of the book.  His prose remains accessible, captivating, and often humorous while still keeping science at its core.  Dreamland provides an enigmatic taste of the often unsolved mysteries of sleep science that is sure to satisfy both the curious and the casual reader. 

 

Rachael

 
 

Fierce Women

Fierce Women

posted by:
August 24, 2012 - 8:30am

Tigers in Red WeatherTigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann is the story of two cousins growing up in Tiger House on Martha’s Vineyard. The first cousin, Nick, is getting married to the devilishly handsome Hughes when he returns from the war. But Hughes returns a different man, slightly distant and living in his own head. Nick requires variety and excitement, but what Hughes provides is stability and normalcy, and they begin to drift slowly apart. Helena is the second cousin, and she was engaged to a man who was killed in the war. She instead marries Avery, who works in Hollywood in the film industry. Later, Helena discovers that Avery’s sole purpose in life is to maintain a collection pertaining to a dead actress and this drives a wedge between the couple.

 

Years pass, and Nick gives birth to daughter Daisy. Helena has a son named Ed, and the children become good friends. One fateful summer in the late fifties, Daisy and Ed discover the body of a young maid left beaten, strangled and covered in a blanket. This discovery affects all of the residents of Tiger House. Relationships deteriorate, secrets are kept and then revealed, and the world spins off its axis.

 

Klaussman, the great-granddaughter of Herman Melville, creates a compelling story. It is told in five parts, each focusing on one of the characters, and several scenes are replayed featuring a different point of view. This technique allows the reader to get a clear picture of the troubles facing Tiger House as well as the extent of the dysfunction within. Because of the unique storytelling style and the strong character development, this would be a good choice for a book club.

 

Doug

 
 

Who Would You Choose?

Who Would You Choose?

posted by:
August 24, 2012 - 8:00am

I Couldn't Love You MoreDon’t be fooled by the cover. Jillian Medoff’s new novel I Couldn’t Love You More looks like a light beach read from the outside, but inside that cover, readers will find a challenging novel about family bonds and the choices we make. Medoff creates characters who feel very real, and she skillfully pulls readers into a story that will make them laugh and cry along with her characters.

 

All in all, Eliot Gordon is happy with the life that she has created with her partner Grant and their blended family. She loves Grant’s daughters Charlotte and Gail, who they are raising along with Hailey, their daughter together. Like her stepdaughters, Eliot comes from a broken home, and she has a complex but loving relationship with her mother and sisters. But when Eliot’s ex-boyfriend Finn, who she has always considered “the one who got away,” arrives in town, Eliot begins to reexamine her life. Finn’s appearance also leads to a series of events that culminates in the unimaginable. Eliot is forced to make a choice that no parent can fathom when two of her children are caught in a life-threatening situation, and Eliot can only save one. The rest of the novel explores the fall-out from Eliot’s split-second decision.

 

Praised by authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, I Couldn’t Love You More is funny, relatable, and wrenching. Medoff explores complex family relationships and the reality of being a stepparent with remarkable honesty and depth. This novel is tailor-made for book club discussions and includes a Reading Group Guide.

Beth

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Yes We Canada!

Yes We Canada!

posted by:
August 23, 2012 - 7:03am

America, But BetterIn these days of political polarization in the United States, an unlikely party has come to the rescue of our fractured populous. In America, But Better: The Canada Party Manifesto, humorists Chris Cannon and Brian Calvert lay out an “intervention from your continental BFF”. With the scantest of seriousness, the authors skewer American stereotypes on issues such as illegal immigration, gun control, obesity, and marriage equality. Starting with a cheeky foreword by none other than Abraham Lincoln, the witty and pointed observations about the direction of America are by turns hilarious and mildly shaming.

 

This is a quick read, peppered with sidebar promises of what will change if the Canada Party is elected to run the US: “We will continue building oil pipelines, but they will carry maple syrup. If there’s a spill, at least the animals will be tasty.” One chapter describes the benefits of combining similar cities within the two countries as a cost-saving measure, including Van Francisco, Queboston (two places where no visitors can understand the locals), and Dalgary. Another takes on corporations as people, use of the metric system, and of course, a primer on hockey. Wry, silly, and smart, America, But Better is a not-so-gentle nudge that pokes fun at American Exceptionalism, and the way the rest of the world views us as a nation.

Todd

 
 

We Will Rock You

MercuryThe Man Who Sold the WorldMickGet out your bell bottoms, glitter, and eyeliner and celebrate the music of the 1970s. Delve into the exploits of three rock gods in new biographies, just published in July. It doesn’t get much more fascinating than the life stories of Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger and David Bowie. Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury by rock journalist Lesley Ann Jones attempts to reveal the real Freddie Mercury. Jones traces his fascinating journey from a young boy raised in India and Zanzibar to the lead singer of Queen, one of the most successful super-groups of the 1970s. Jones depicts Mercury’s childhood, his rise to fame, and his friendship with Elton John. Jones traces Queen’s trajectory into super-group status, complete with the usual stories of rock and roll debauchery.  

 

The one and only Ziggy Stardust is the subject of Peter Doggett’s new biography, The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s. Doggett chooses to write about Bowie’s most influential decade. He begins his analysis with “Space Oddity” from 1969 and rounds out the book, covering Bowie’s 1980 LP, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). A rock journalist and critic for decades, Doggett is considered to be one of the few writers who could pull off an effective, insightful look at Bowie’s impact on music and popular culture. Indeed, this new biography has already garnered positive reviews. Library Journal calls it “a complete treat.” Rob Fitzpatrick from London’s Sunday Times says the book is “astonishing and absorbing.”

 

Few bands are as influential and long lasting as The Rolling Stones. Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Mick Jagger  is a candid “tell-all” of the flamboyant front man. Based on interviews with friends, family members and other musicians, Mick is gossipy and salacious. This one is for readers who are interested in Jagger’s sexual exploits, drug use, and opinions on everything from Lady Gaga to Kanye West.

Zeke

 
 

Friendship Matters

Friendship Matters

posted by:
August 22, 2012 - 8:05am

Flabbersmashed About YouBad AppleHorsefly and HoneybeeIn Flabbersmashed About You, by Rachel Vail, Katie Honors describes her hurt feelings when her “best friend in the whole entire world” plays with someone else at recess. Illustrator Yumi Heo’s bright childlike pictures capture Katie’s loneliness and bruised feelings perfectly. She’s “Flabbersmashed” about her best friend, but learns that playing with other children can be fun, too.

 

Bullying and loyalty are the two issues tackled in Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship. Mac was a good apple. One day, he fell asleep in the rain and Will the Worm got into his head (literally!) Will and Mac become fast friends. They have fun together flying kites, swimming and reading; but when Mac and Will return to the orchard, the other apples tease them and call Mac “rotten.” Even the crab apples won’t play with them. Will leaves the orchard in hopes that it will stop the teasing, but Mac is sad without his new friend. As an added conversation starter, the author tucks a bystander into the story in the form of a Yellow Apple. Yellow Apple doesn’t bully the friends, but doesn’t stick up for them either. The illustrations were done in oils on canvas.  It is written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway (Ernest’s grandson), whose beautiful artwork enhances Bad Apple’s message of ignoring bullies and staying true to your friends.

 

Horsefly and Honeybee by Randy Cecil tells a tale of enemies who must work together to defeat a common foe. Honeybee tries to take a nap in the same flower as Horsefly and a terrible fight ensues, leaving each with just one wing. Left vulnerable, they are both caught by a hungry bullfrog and must work together to escape. The new friends soon realize that there is room enough for both of them in the flower. Cecil also illustrates the book. Using oil on paper, he cleverly manages to show a myriad of expressions on the simply illustrated, bug-eyed characters, which is sure to delight the reader.

Diane

 
 

A Glee-ful Story

A Glee-ful Story

posted by:
August 22, 2012 - 7:55am

The Land of Stories: the Wishing SpellThe fairy tale world is one that is familiar to all of us. Hearing the words "My, what big teeth you have!" or "Somebody has been eating my porridge!" instantly transports us into a magical land of evil queens and brave heroes and heroines. Actor and debut author Chris Colfer takes readers on this journey in The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell.

 

Twins Alex and Conner have not had much magic in their lives lately. Their father was killed in a car accident earlier in the year, and their mother has had to work double shifts just to keep the family afloat. Quiet, bookish Alex has had an especially hard time since her father died, since she has no close friends other than her brother. Neither twin holds out much hope for a happy birthday until their oft-absent grandmother appears for a visit. Among the birthday gifts she brings is "The Land of Stories", the book of fairy tales from which their father and grandmother used to read during happier times. When Alex takes the book to bed with her and it begins to hum loudly and glow, the magic truly begins. The twins literally fall into The Land of Stories.

 

As they try to find a way home by collecting magical items for the Wishing Spell, Alex and Conner encounter many of their favorite characters. They are not exactly as they remember them from the stories, however; Cinderella was scorned by her people for being lower class, Goldilocks is a master swordswoman on the run from the law for multiple crimes, and the Big Bad Wolf Pack (descendants of the original) is working for the Evil Queen who tried to kill Snow White. Will the twins find all of the items in time to return home to their mother?

 

Colfer credits his grandmother for his writing skill, as she often edited his childhood writing by tearing it up and telling him he could do better. He infuses his Land with witty humor and quick action. Alex and Conner complement each other as the star-struck fairy tale fan and cynical wise-cracker respectively. Kids will love going along with them on the ultimate scavenger hunt and learning what happened to their favorites beyond “happily ever after.” The audiobook is narrated by Colfer himself, and his voice adds child-like humor and whimsical charm to his tale.

Sam

 
 

Once Upon a Time in the West

The Best Shot in the West Born into slavery in Tennessee in 1854, Nat Love left home to seek work when he was just a teenager, hoping to send money home to his large family. Patricia and Frederick McKissack's The Best Shot in the West: the Adventures of Nat Love describes how his skill with horses, willingness to work hard, and a fair amount of bluffing led to a career as an expert roper and marksman. He also became an acquaintance of Wild West legends such as Bat Masterson and Billy the Kid. This fictionalized biography is based on his memoir, published in 1907 after he had retired from the cowboy life and was working as a Pullman porter. Exciting episodes include bucking broncos, runaway horses, and Apache raids, not to mention his capture by hostile Native Americans, the drunken theft of a cannon from a U.S. Army fort, and the cowboy competition that gives the authors the right to call Love “The Best Shot in the West.”

 

Randy DuBurke’s muscular, colorful art features flying bullets, billowing dust, and driving rain. Panels tend to be large, the better to depict the wide open spaces of the Great Plains and the cattle, horses, and buffalo that Love lived and worked among. Exciting and picturesque, Nat Love’s life makes for a great graphic novel.

Paula W.

 
 

Not Just for Adults

Not Just for Adults

posted by:
August 21, 2012 - 7:55am

ChangelingPhilippa Gregory has launched a new series with her most recent novel Changeling. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl, among many other titles. This historical fiction, however, is written with the teen audience in mind. In a departure from her previous books, which were based on actual people from the era of Tudor England, Gregory decided to have some fun and develop a story around completely fictional characters. The novel explores the myths and superstitions that predominate the Medieval period, when the Church believed the end of days was imminent.

 

It is 1453, and these are dark times in Christendom. Constantinople, the religious capital of the east has just fallen to the Ottoman Empire. Evil seems to be infiltrating Europe from all sides, and for the most part, the church appears powerless to stop its advancement. Pope Nicholas V has established a secret group called the Order of Darkness, whose task is to travel the countryside and investigate strange happenings, discover the mysteries that plague the people, and report back to Rome. This is Luca Vero’s assignment. He is an Inquirer for the Church and in the first story alone encounters witchcraft, madness, and werewolves.

 

During his quest he is accompanied by his witty and entertaining manservant Freize, and Brother Peter, a clerk of the church. Through the course of their adventures they are joined by Isolde, a displaced noblewoman, and her best friend Ishraq, a Moor with whom she has grown up. This very diverse band travels together while Luca attempts to ascertain what people fear, and investigate unusual happenings in a constant search for the truth. Gregory has written an entertaining story with likeable characters that teens will enjoy. If you find your copy of Changeling is missing, check your parents' room!

Jeanne

 
 

Vigilante Justice

Vigilante Justice

posted by:
August 21, 2012 - 7:30am

The DemandsMark Billingham returns with The Demands, the tenth novel featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne. Police officer Helen Weeks walks into her local news agent, on the day that the shop owner, Javed Akhtar, is about to crack. He pulls a gun on Helen and takes her hostage, demanding that she contact Tom Thorne and persuade him to investigate a murder. Akhtar’s son Amin was arrested in an altercation that lead to a fatality and was sent to a prison for young offenders. There he was wounded in his cell and sent to the hospital wing, where he committed suicide. It was an open and shut case that did not warrant an investigation, but Akhtar is not so sure. He knows that his son could not have committed suicide and the only way to reopen the case is by taking drastic measures of his own. What follows is a knuckle-biting thriller as Tom Thorne hunts for the killer while Helen is trapped with a man who is at the end of his rope.

 

Fans of Billingham will remember police officer Helen Weeks from the stand-alone thriller In the Dark. Helen was pregnant with her son Alfie and was trying to solve the murder of her partner, Paul. Weeks is a strong, interesting character with a good sense of self preservation, and her return to the Thorne series is a welcome addition. Billingham’s writing gets better with each subsequent novel, and he is a master at building and sustaining tension and suspense throughout his novels. In the Dark works as a gritty police procedural and gripping suspense thriller that is sure to please. 

 

Fans of Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride or Ken Bruen will definitely enjoy these novels. Mark Billingham has truly entered the ranks of the best crime novelists of today.

Doug

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