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Antarctica or Bust

Antarctica or Bust

posted by:
September 21, 2012 - 8:01am

Where'd You Go BenadetteBernadette Fox—mother, wife, one-time architectural prodigy—has disappeared, and it’s up to her thirteen year-old daughter Bee Branch to put together the clues as to her whereabouts. Where’d You Go Bernadette is a brash satirical novel, told in a series of emails and other correspondence from various characters that relay the circumstances leading up to Bernadette’s flight.

 

Bee’s reward for a perfect report card throughout middle school was her own idea: a family trip to Antarctica. (She’d much rather have an expedition than a pony.) But her parents don’t quite share her enthusiasm. Bernadette, the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant at the beginning of her career, suffered a crippling setback when her Twenty Mile House (built from materials sourced within 20 miles of its location) met a vengeful demise. She retreated from the world of architecture, setting up house with her husband Elgin Branch, a techie wunderkind project manager for Microsoft whose TEDTalk is the fourth most viewed video on YouTube. Increasingly antisocial and generally testy, she abhors dealing with her fellow Galer Street School moms, a petty group she refers to as “gnats.” No one in Seattle knows that Bernadette is a genius in self-imposed exile who has hired a virtual assistant in India to deal with the overwhelming details of her life. How can she handle Antarctica? How can Elgin take a vacation when his team is working overtime on Samantha 2, a brain-computer interface?

 

Author Maria Semple, a former sitcom writer for shows including Arrested Development and Mad About You, has written a wickedly entertaining sendup of over-doting parents, the politics of private schools, the importance of keeping up appearances, the zeitgeist of Microsoft, and all things held sacred by the upper middle class Seattle intelligentsia. But at the heart of this novel are the relationships between a mother and daughter, and a husband and wife who appreciate each other in spite of it all.

Paula G.

 
 

Love Triangle in the Texas Panhandle

Love Triangle in the Texas Panhandle

posted by:
September 21, 2012 - 7:03am

TumbleweedsTumbleweeds by Leila Meacham is one part romance, one part saga and one part character study, but in all parts a ripping good read. Cathy Benson is orphaned while living in California, and sent to live with her grandmother in Kersey, Texas. There she is befriended by John Caldwell and Trey Don Hall, two boys who also have absent parents. They become her protectors. In high school, the boys become the stars of the Kersey football team and seem destined for greater things. Kathy shows a knack for science and medicine and throws herself into her studies. Both boys are deeply in love with Kathy, but it’s Trey who makes the first move, and he and Kathy become high school sweethearts. A secret between John and Trey threatens their futures and their friendship, and an unexpected event changes the lives of the three friends forever. The novel follows the threesome through high school, college and careers, and ultimately their return to town at age forty for a reunion.

 

Meacham creates three sympathetic characters, and the reader is privy to information that each character knows but seems unwilling to share with the other two. This builds suspense as the reader waits for the secrets to be revealed. There is enough information and character development to strengthen the motivations of the characters, and each decision stays within believability.  Readers will enjoy getting to know the three friends, spend time with them, and care what will happen to them in the future. Tumbleweeds is a wonderful look into a world of small town dreams, friendship, love, and growing older. Meacham’s previous novel, Roses was also a reader favorite, and she is a writer to keep on any must read list.

Doug

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A Journey through Time

A Journey through Time

posted by:
September 20, 2012 - 8:30am

Shadow of NightShadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s All Souls trilogy, was released this summer to the delight of her fans. It continues the story of historian/witch Diana and geneticist/vampire Matthew who met and fell in love in A Discovery of Witches. They go back in time to Elizabethan London to continue their search for the alchemical manuscript Ashmole 782. Upon their arrival, they meet Matthew’s friends from the School of Night, all well-known historical figures like Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe. Their spellbinding journey takes readers to England, France, and Prague. Diana continues her magical education while facing the dangers of being a witch in that time period, and much more is revealed about Matthew’s past and his family.

 

This series has enchanted readers with its blend of magic, history, and romance. Shadow of Night picks up right where the series-starter A Discovery of Witches left off, so readers new to the series will need to start with the first book. The series is flavored by rich historical detail. The author’s passion for history comes as no surprise, though. Harkness is a professor of history at University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Some of the lingering questions from the first book of the series are answered in Shadow of Night, but many more are left to be explained in the final book of the series.

 

Harkness’s knowledge of wine is evident in her novels, especially A Discovery of Witches. Many readers may not realize that in her spare time, she shares her love of wine on her award-winning blog Good Wine Under $20.

Beth

 
 

A Banquet for the Senses

Alyssa Harad has a secret: she is obsessed with perfume. She owns a dizzying array of tiny bottles of scent, tucked away in shoeboxes, drawers, and what she calls her “perfume closet”. She plans her vacations around visiting exclusive boutiques stocked with the rarest and most coveted perfumes, elixirs so precious that she can barely dream of affording a sample, let alone an entire bottle. She became so entranced that she wrote a book, Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride, that describes her gradual emersion into the decadent world of perfumery. 

 

Harad is not the most likely person to develop a fixation for such a sensuous and rather commercial subject.  After spending years obtaining a PhD in English, Harad thought she knew who she was—literate, feminist, more likely to spend money on books than on beauty supplies.  But she was also drifting, aimless, searching for an avocation that would spark her passions. Oh, and did she mention she was getting married? To distract her from her life and her upcoming wedding, Harad embarked on a voyage into the mysterious and complex realm of perfume, where she found a community of bloggers, commenters, perfumers, and retail salespeople who share her preoccupation with all things olfactory. Her descriptions of how the different notes of a perfume unfold over time are exotic and imaginative. She can paint images, evoke memories, and plunge into the unknown, all from a single drop of fragrance.

 

As her wedding date draws near, Harad reconciles her conflicting feelings over her marriage and her obsession, leaving her more grounded and more fully present in her own life. Coming to My Senses is a personal journey of rediscovery, remembrance, and recognition that will tease your senses and soften your heart.

 

Rachael

 
 

Downton Abbey’s Competition

Call the MidfieBBC’s new series based on Jennifer Worth’s best-selling memoir Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times broke viewer records when it attracted 9.8 million viewers for its opening episode. The show’s popularity only grew from there with later episodes overtaking Downton Abbey’s record ratings. The ensemble cast, including Jessica Raine and Vanessa Redgrave, brings to life the harsh living conditions in London’s poorest slums in the 1950s. The memoir that inspired the series was recently rereleased in time for the show’s US television premiere.

 

At age 22, Jennifer Worth moved into an Anglican convent to work as a midwife to the poorest women in East London. The world she describes is almost unimaginable to modern audiences. Few people had cars, so children typically played in the smaller side streets where there was no traffic. Large families lived in small two-room apartments, many of which had cold running water but no indoor bathrooms. Antibiotics were new and rarely used, and nearly all births took place in the patient’s home.

 

Armed with only a bicycle and bag of supplies, Worth and the other midwives from Nonnatus House delivered 80-100 babies per month in their patients’ homes. Although the details of her patients’ lives and their living conditions are sometimes difficult to read, Worth also brings humor and hope to the stories. Told in her unique voice, Call the Midwife is filled with colorful characters from the nuns and midwives to the patients themselves. This frank and sometimes graphic memoir brings to life a fascinating piece of history. Call the Midwife will air in the US on PBS beginning Sunday, September 30th, and will be released on DVD in November. To get a taste of the show, check out this trailer.

Beth

 
 

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

posted by:
September 19, 2012 - 7:55am

Fairest of AllBeauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run AwayYoung readers who fondly remember fairy tales will fall in love with two new titles that add a modern spin on classic childhood favorites.

 

In Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski, ten year old Abby and her younger brother Jonah discover an antique mirror in their new house. The magical mirror sends them back into the Snow White fairy tale and the duo is responsible for tangling this tale so that there might not be a happily ever after. Mlynowski’s version is funny and contemporary with enough changes to spice things up. Three of the seven dwarfs are women and one has pink hair! Comical hijinks result as the two kids try to fix what they botched, resulting in a hysterical read. The swift pace combined with Abby's quick wit and a real sibling relationship will grab readers from page one. This is a wonderful start to the Whatever After series which promises future magical adventures behind the looking glass.  

 

Wendy Mass also fractures a favored tale with Beauty and the Beast: the Only One Who Didn’t Run Away, the third entry in her popular Twice Upon a Time series. Beauty is a twelve year old dealing with self-esteem issues and a name which she thinks doesn’t reflect reality.  Prince Riley is a gangly bagpipe player who ends up on the wrong end of a witch’s spell and suddenly starts growing fur and sharp nails. Both have superstar older siblings who outshine them in everything. Mass set her version of the story in a medieval kingdom, but her two protagonists are pleasantly modern and relatable. Told in alternating chapters by Beauty and the Prince/Beast, the pace of this quest story is quick and filled with adventure and romance.

Maureen

 
 

It's Not Personal, It's Business

Mr Big: a Tale of Pond LifeMr. Big: a Tale of Pond Life, the cover reads. But when one delves into it, the reader finds this graphic novel by Carol Dembicki and Matt Dembicki is so much more. It begins innocently in springtime as the pond comes to life. The authors show the inhabitants of the pond in a natural light, reminding the reader that life and death are regular parts of the pond ecology. Nighttime in the pond is illustrated using stunning artwork to describe the nocturnal inhabitants’ hierarchy. This simple lesson about life in a pond suddenly twists into a dark tale of revenge when Mr. Big, the resident snapping turtle, quite naturally eats two curious young fish that swim too close. Just another example of the cycle of life in the pond? Not this time. The mother of the young fish refuses to take this one lying down. She pulls together some other pond dwellers – the frogs, other turtles, even the ladybugs – and puts a hit out on Mr. Big. A murder of crows is up for the job, but do they have an ulterior motive? Soon there are ominous sightings of a monstrous fish that can walk on land and fly through the air!

 

Throughout the story, the authors weave together layers of drama and intrigue. The hypocrisy of the frogs as they blithely swallow insect after insect while condemning Mr. Big for eating other creatures; the danger a little mosquito can pose; and the damage done by the introduction of non-native animals to an ecosystem are all subtly imparted to the reader. The rebelling animals remain nameless, yet their thoughts and fears are imparted to the reader via thought bubbles and dialogue. Mr. Big, the only named character, is silent, yet the reader is left with the impression that for Mr. Big "It’s not personal, it’s business." Adults and older children alike will find something to enjoy in this nuanced graphic novel about the perils of messing with Mother Nature.

Diane

 
 

Tell Me Something Worse

Tell Me Something Worse

posted by:
September 18, 2012 - 8:00am

The RaftIn this year of the anniversary of the Titanic’s ill-fated voyage, survival at sea has been a common theme. In S.A. Bodeen’s deceptively simple novel The Raft, the clear-cut lines between life and death become as blurry as heat rising from asphalt, when a young girl struggles to stay alive. Fifteen-year-old Robie’s method for overcoming her fears has always been to ask people to "tell me something worse", but what do you do when there is nothing worse?

 

Robie lives a life that many her age would kill for. Her parents are research biologists, and the family lives on Midway Island, west of Hawai`i. Robie is home-schooled, makes her own schedule, and hangs out with naturalists and National Geographic photographers. When she gets bored, she hops a plane to Honolulu to visit her uber-cool aunt AJ. She is returning home from her aunt’s when the unthinkable happens—the engines fail and the small plane plummets into the sea. Robie and the co-pilot, Max, are the only survivors. Adrift in a leaky raft with an unconscious pilot, Robie is on her own. While food, water and the elements are the major physical concerns, keeping herself mentally present is proving to be an even greater challenge. As her body grows weaker, it becomes all-too-easy to simply close her eyes and give up. Max won’t let her do that, however, and he wakes just often enough to force her to stay alert, alive, and ready for rescue.

 

Bodeen is the author of many books for teens, including the best-seller The Compound. She ventures away from her usual science fiction fare with The Raft, but keeps firmly grounded in marine biology for her descriptions of ocean and island wildlife. Readers will be absorbed but also torn between lingering over the vivid details and rapidly turning the page to discover Robie’s fate.

Sam

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Free As We’ll Ever Be

Free As We’ll Ever Be

posted by:
September 18, 2012 - 7:55am

Pushing the LimitsDebut author Katie McGarry’s edgy new contemporary novel Pushing the Limits was written for older teens, but it is also attracting the attention of Romance readers.

 

Echo Emerson and Noah Hutchins are high school seniors brought together by Mrs. Collins, the new social worker who has taken on their cases. Each of them is facing serious struggles. During Noah’s freshman year, both of his parents died, and he and his two younger brothers were placed in separate foster homes. He hates the system and is desperate to find a way to bring his family back together. Echo is dealing with the loss of her brother Aires, a Marine killed in Afghanistan. She is also trying to understand another event that rocked her world. During Echo’s sophomore year, something happened while she was visiting her mother. What happened that day left Echo’s arms badly scarred, but she can’t remember anything about it. No one will tell her the whole truth, and a restraining order now prevents her from having contact with her mother. Rumors about what happened to her have made her a social outcast at school. As Echo and Noah fall in love, they both search for the truth and work to repair their own lives.

 

This novel takes on loss, mental illness, and family dynamics. Echo and Noah are both damaged people, but despite their unusual circumstances, they are also both relatable characters. The narration alternates between their points of view, giving each of them a unique voice and perspective. Pushing the Limits marks Katie McGarry as a hot new author to watch.

Beth

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Past is Present

Past is Present

posted by:
September 17, 2012 - 8:45am

The Cutting SeasonAttica Locke’s highly anticipated new novel The Cutting Season is an atmospheric murder mystery that weaves together two stories, skillfully drawing readers between past and present. A gripping story of race, love, and politics, The Cutting Season grabs readers from the first page. Caren Gray’s family has been connected to Belle Vie, an antebellum plantation in Louisiana, for generations. Unlike the neighboring farm where migrant workers harvest sugarcane, Belle Vie is now an historic estate open for tourists and social events. Caren lives on and manages the estate where she catches glimpses of the plantation’s dark history every day. When a murdered woman who worked on the neighboring farm is found in a shallow grave on Belle Vie, local police begin an investigation that Caren feels isn’t being handled properly. She digs deeper, asking questions that lead her to Belle Vie’s past. As she learns more, she starts to see parallels between the current murder and the disappearance of a former slave named Jason in 1872. Caren is unearthing secrets that someone may kill to keep hidden.

 

This novel is the first book in HarperCollins publishing’s new Dennis Lehane Books imprint. Lehane says of Locke’s writing, “I was first struck by Attica Locke's prose, then by the ingenuity of her narrative and finally and most deeply by the depth of her humanity. She writes with equal amounts grace and passion. After just two novels, I'd probably read the phone book if her name was on the spine." If The Cutting Season is any indication of what readers can expect from Lehane’s imprint, it will be very successful.

 

Beth

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