A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism by Slavenka Drakulic

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Nov 162012
 

In her book, A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism, Slavenka Drakulic uses small animals to tell the reader about the realities of life under the Soviet Union.  Drakulic, who was born in occupied Croatia, has written extensively about Communism and life in the USSR, and has also published other books like this one, which use fiction to tell about the realities of life under an oppressive regime.
In this book, your guides include a mouse, a parrot, a bear, a cat, a mole, a pig, a dog, and a raven.  Each of these animals tells a different story, with the mouse living in a history classroom and the talking parrot belonging to a brutal Marshal from now-divided Yugoslavia.  Using animals to tell about the horror and banality of the USSR seems silly, but the stories that are told by the animal narrators really serve to bring to light many of the facets of the USSR and the countries that came out of it in a way that people from the West in general, and the United States in particular,  might not have previously thought about.

Koki, the parrot, tells the reader “in order to impress them even more, he lived in the former king’s palace in Belgrade.  A Communist revolutionary living in a palace; that is what I call not only stylish but smart.  After all, his people were used to being ruled in a monarchic tradition, no?”  In this small space, the parrot helps the reader to understand the ways in which the rich and the leaders in the Soviet Union took the best and the most valuable possessions and properties for themselves, and how they justified that action.

In another section, the mouse asks the visitor to the museum to “think of how people lived — hundreds of millions of them — with a feeling that an interrogation room had been installed in their brains.  You could not see it, but it was there… The system of surveillance and self-control lives off fear and suspicion.  It is a simple and efficient psychological mechanism that turns people into liars — and, therefore, into accomplices of the regime”  This section gets at the the idea of self-censorship and how it worked in the Soviet Union in a rare and clear manner.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for information about what really happened in the USSR.  It is fiction, so it won’t give you a timeline or a series of dry facts, but it will provide a window into the minds of the people of the Soviet Union and how they suffered under and survived Communism.

THE GIRLS OF ROOM 28

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Feb 222012
 
 THE GIRLS OF ROOM 28  is a memorial to the  girls who lived together in one room, in one building at the children’s camp at Theresienstadt, a transit camp a short ride from Prague. While this was not a death camp, many died there or left there by rail to their deaths in Auschwitz. This is a very  emotional telling of their lives in the ghetto and often how they arrived there at the hands of the Nazis. They were young, mostly 12-14 during their stay in Room 28. They were trying to grow up in these terrible times. Today fifteen or so of the women who survived meet yearly to remember and share the best of times they have had as survivors.The book is filled with resources: photos, journal entries, drawings, copies of documents. It is an amazing resource even beyond the tribute the materials pay to friendship and love.  In the beginning of  this book one of the survivors remembers what the young girls had promised each other as they were forced to leave Room 28:”On one of the first Sundays after the war we shall wait for each other under the Bell Tower in the Old Town Square in Prague.” This is what Flska and her companions had promised one another when they had to say goodbye in Theresienstadt. They reinforced their promise with words that resonated like an incantation and a secret password.You believe me, I believe you.
You know what I know.
Whatever may happen,
you won’t betray me,
I won’t betray you.These women carry all of the young girls with them, even today, until the last one is gone. Throughout their mutual experiences, they are bound to those who are no longer as well as  each other. Theirs is an covenant  that goes beyond space and time.

A  experience that binds these women and many others from the Children’s Home in Theresienstadt was the children’s production of “Brundibar”. On July 7, 1943 there was a transport of children from the Prague orphanage. After a performance of The Bartered Bride in their honor, Rafik Schachter and Rudolf Freudenfeld decided they would cast and perform the children’s opera Brundibar at Theresienstadt. This process was magical and as many children as possible took part in it. This is an opera of triumph, of good over evil. Young children won out over an evil adult. The first performance was on September 23, 1943 and there was an audience of over three hundred. It was magical and the performances continued weekly until the last performance in August 1944.
Visit  an excellent site on the opera here.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

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Feb 022012
 
  
  This 2005 novel is about the friendship between two Chinese women in mid-19th century rural China. I found it  wonderful to feel as if I was part of their world and totally accepted their view of life as my own. I decided to review this book since it has received much more attention now that it has  been adapted into a movie.
 Snow Flower and Lily are friends, but their friendship was not by chance. When they were only seven years old, a marriage broker arranged a contract in which they agreed to be friends for life. They did not live in the same town and Snow Flower came from a more prosperous family than Lily, but Snow Flower visited Lily often, and learned to do household chores as well as the complicated embroidery that all young Chinese girls did in preparation for their future marriages. Yes, both of these girls, as well as the other girls in their households had bound feet. The pain must have been awful. Yet, it was an accepted part of being a woman in those times, and mothers who wanted their daughters to marry well had to force their young girls to go through the agony.

 A woman’s world was completely different from the world of men. Their lives were that of isolation. In order to communicate, they actually had a secret written language. This language has been documented and did exist. It is the only known language in the world to have been developed exclusively by women for women. The two girls would write to each other in this language on a fan which they sent back and forth to each other. Both of them had hopes for a bright future.

As the girls grow up we share their experiences of marriage. They didn’t meet their husbands until the wedding day, and their function in their new households was only to bear sons. Mothers-in-law were usually hard, overbearing  taskmasters and were always critical of them. But if they were married to the eldest son, they would, one day, become a mother-in-law themselves. And so their lives were that of stoicism and acceptance. This was the only way for them to live.

Lily was fortunate to end up in a good marriage. She produced boy children, and, through the years, she and her husband got to know each other and accept each other. However, the person she was closest to in the world was Snow Flower and they communicated throughout their lives. In contrast, Snow Flower’s life was a harsh, terrible situation, I shudder to think of it. I am saddened even more when I think of the rift between them when they were in their thirties. Lily does something that she regrets for the rest of her life. The book, in fact, is told in the first person through the eyes of Lily, who lives on to old age.

The author, Lisa See, is part Chinese and has researched this novel impeccably. She even traveled to rural China and interviewed many people, including experts on the secret writing. Times have changed and Chinese women no longer bind their feet, but interviews with elderly women regarding this practice as well as marriage rituals and food preparation add the essential authenticities that are the basic building blocks of this book.

I enjoyed this book: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan  and although I know that it will appeal mostly to women, I know it would add to every one’s understanding of a culture that is no more, and a lifestyle which once defined China.

Made in the U.S.A

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Jan 202012
 
 In Spearfish, South Dakota, with their mother long dead, the McFee siblings teenage Lutie and her younger brother Fate live with three hundred pound Floy Satterfield; their runaway father’s former girlfriend. However, their lives take a spin when their guardian drops dead at the local Wal Mart. Lutie, who began shoplifting  when she was booted from the high school gymnastics team due to unfair influences, persuades her eleven year old brother to give up the TV shows and global warming because they have two choices: flee in Floy’s ancient car or allow the state to place them. They decide to find their  estranged dad whose last known address is Las Vegas in some dive hotel.
 In Las Vegas, they begin to learn nasty truths. Their father cannot be found. Fifteen year old Lutie obtains fake working papers and dead-end jobs so she and her brother have food and shelter of sorts. However, Luties choices seem to be taking them straight to the street sharks which include child molesters, rapists, drug addicts and other abusers. While Lutie heads down a terrifying trail Fate is spending his days in the public library. Where he learns there is someone watching out for them;former aerialist Juan Vargas “adopts” the pair as his redemption and takes them to his family in Oklahoma where they run the Vargas Brothers Circus. Juan carries guilt, but his grandma has love for all three that might help each find sanctuary if they reach out to her and one another.

 MADE IN THE U.S.A. is an interesting character driven tale that argues it takes a village to raise children. Readers will feel for the McFee sibs, who are neglected while their guardian lived and after she dies.These two children  make dangerous decisions  out of fear. What happens to Lutie in Vegas shows the real sinful underbelly of the city, Fate is faced with things no child should have to see. Billie Letts brings us face to face with what family really can be and some of the hard roads we travel to get there.

The Weird Sisters

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Jan 042012
 
 
  The Andreas family pulled me in.  A family of readers, they had books in all rooms; while most children fought over the television this family immersed themselves in books. Three sisters, each named for famous Shakespeare works; Rosalind,(Rose) Bianca(Bean) and Cordelia(Cordy). Professor Andreas chooses to express emotion by quoting the Bard, his obsession with Shakespeare is a dominant factor with the family and leaves the sisters feeling they have much to live up too.
   There are some heavy topics tackled by The Weird Sisters.  After living their own lives for the past few years the three sisters are all back under their parents roof, the main reason for this being their mothers illness. You quickly become aware each sister has their own agenda for escaping to their childhood home. All three  sisters are very individual characters with separate personality traits and flaws. As a reader I could relate to each of them. Each sister feels as though their other sisters are favoured more than them and better than them in some way because the reader gets to see all characters thoughts and perspectives.
  The way this book is narrated has left some confusion, some have thought it was the voice of Cordy but that is not the case. It is all three sisters in a first person narrative.  it does take some getting used to but with the concept of the book it is very well done.
  The Weird Sisters title draws on the fathers love of Shakespeare and is a reference to the three witches in Macbeth. The infamous quote “”Double,double, Toil and Trouble, parties burn and Nonsense bubble.””

MATCHED

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Dec 192011
 
Welcome to a world with no worries. A world where life’s major decisions are all made for you, who you love, where you work, even when you die. There are 100 songs, 100 poems,even films you can watch. Welcome to the future; The Society.In Ally Condie’s  first book, Matched brings us into this new world introducing us to Cassia on the eve of her Match banquet. The day the Society takes her data and determines who her optimal mate will be. Every thing in the society is based on control, and data they monitor every move you make, decide your meals, all for the optimal health of every person in the Society. Their explanation being that before we had access to too much information via technology.  So they took control and citizens of the Society now  reside  in cities spending their life knowing all major decisions will be made for them.Cassia has waited for this day, when she is matched at her banquet things seem to be clicking into place. Her match is her life long friend Xander. Most matches are not from the same province so it is considered highly unusual but very celebrated. Each person is given a micro chip containing information about there match. When Cassia gets home to look at her card Xanders face appears, then flickers and a different face appears. What in the world? She knows this face too.This sends Cassia reeling into a discovery that her world; the way she has grown up may not be as perfect as she thought. Torn between what society says and love wants. Where words are powerful and some things may feel safe, but you discover they are constricting and you want to break free.

I encourage many to delve into Cassia’s world in Matched and continue her journey in Condies sequel, Crossed.  Matched  brings the dystopian romance which will leave you at the edge of your seat for more!

The Help

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Dec 122011
 

 

 

THE HELP BY KATHRYN STOCKETT

Kathryn Stockett’s first novel; “The Help” is considered one of the years best. This is the story of a young white woman,Skeeter Phelan growing up in Jackson Mississippi in the 1960’s and the black maids, Aibileen and Minny who work for white families in the town. Aibileen is the older, wiser maid who loves the children she cares for, Minny is a younger, sassier maid who has trouble keeping work and struggles to support her own five children.

I personally enjoyed this novel, I like the way it was written from the perspective of these three different women. Skeeter is a woman who grew up with a  maid who she faithfully stayed in touch with while studying  journalism and literature at Ole Miss. Then the letters suddenly stop.She tries to find answers when she returns from school but without avail, so she stays busy with her friends Hilly Holbrook; head socialite and Elizabeth Leefolt who jumps at Hilly’s every whim.

In the beginning of the story Minny works for Holly Holbrook and her aging mother while, Aibileen has been working for Elizabeth Holbrook . After scandal which leads to Minny being fired and having no luck finding another family to work for. A new woman, Celia Foote enters the picture who the other “proper ladies” consider no good “white trash.” Aibileen helps Minny find employment with Celia, who attempts to keep it a secret from her husband. Many different relationships get tied up and messy, Skeeter is wanting to know what happened to her old maid,Constantine as well as working on her career in journalism. She finds a position at the Jackson local paper writing advice columns on house cleaning, something she herself has no knowledge of. With permission from Elizabeth Skeeter begins asking  Aibileen’s advice for her column and a slow tentative friendship develops. Which begins the enticing idea for a tell all book from the maids perspective of working for white women in Jackson Mississippi.Thus begins a life of sneaking around and betraying trusts to bring out these women’s stories.

This  story exposes the “what people think” ideals of 1960’s Mississippi. Hilly Holbrook was a representation of the opinion machine and gossip mill that “mattered” in segregated life. With misplaced courtship, sass or sympathy;a step across the imaginary color barrier an entire life could be made or ruined.

A well written novel set in a historical time, “The Help” is a wonderful look at the radicals of times long ago and how far we have come. Life held hardships and fear along with grace and goodness. Stockett captures both in this complex reality and I believe shows the invisible barriers we have crossed and how much we could have together by crossing the lines.

Breaking Silence

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Dec 052011
 

 

Breaking Silence
by Linda Castillo

This is the third in Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder books, focusing around former Amish police chief Kate Burkholder.  Kate is a police chief in a small Ohio town with  a significant Amish community.  Kate’s community suffers horrible hate crimes on the Amish, and she must delve into the secrets of her community in order to find the truth, and put a stop to the crimes.

This book is similar to the first two books in the series, although it is milder and much less gristly.  However, the themes are the same, the characters and their interpersonal dynamics are the same, the cold, slushy, wintery weather is the same… Although Castillo writes a good book, this book is not remarkably different from her first two enough to classify it as an excellent read.  It’s high time Castillo develops the characters more, and let them let go the tired drama they’ve experienced in the first two books.  And for pete’s sake; change the weather!

 

 

 

Trickster Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection

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Dec 022011
 

TRICKSTER: NATIVE AMERICAN TALES – A GRAPHIC COLLECTION, is the winner of this year’s Aesop Award (conferred annually by the Children’s Folklore Section of the American Folklore Society upon English language books for children and young adults, both fiction and nonfiction):

http://www.afsnet.org/?page=Aesop

All cultures have tales of the trickster—a crafty creature or being who uses cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief. He disrupts the order of things, often humiliating others and sometimes himself. In Native American traditions, the trickster takes many forms, from coyote or rabbit to raccoon or raven. The first graphic anthology of Native American trickster tales, Trickster brings together Native American folklore and the world of comics.

In Trickster more than twenty Native American tales are cleverly adapted into comic form. Each story is written by a different Native American storyteller who worked closely with a selected illustrator, a combination that gives each tale a unique and powerful voice and look. Ranging from serious and dramatic to funny and sometimes downright fiendish, these tales bring tricksters back into popular culture in a very vivid form. From an ego-driven social misstep in “Coyote and the Pebbles” to the hijinks of “How Wildcat Caught a Turkey” and the hilarity of “Rabbit’s Choctaw Tail Tale,” Tricksterprovides entertainment for readers of all ages and backgrounds.

Along with compiling and editing the book, artist Matt Dembicki illustrated one of the featured trickster tales. Dembicki is the founder of D.C. Conspiracy, a comic creators’ collaborative in Washington, DC, and has won acclaim for his nature graphic novel, Mr. Big. He currently works as an editor for a higher-education association.

Come in and check out Trickster and our other graphic novels today!

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch

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Nov 292011
 

 

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch
by Alison Arngrim

 

Ever watch Little House on the Prairie?  How did you feel about Nellie Oleson?  Did you love her?  Hate her for the mean things she did to Laura?  Have you ever wondered just what Nellie was like in real life?

 

Wonder no more, and read this remarkable and likeable autobiography of Alison Arngrim!  Alison played Nellie on Little House and dishes on what life was like living part time in the 19th century on everyone’s TV screens for years.  Did Alison, playing Nellie, and Melissa Gilbert, playing Laura, really fight like that in true life?  Who was the nasty one on the set?  What was it like to dress up and play on the prairie every day?  How did the rest of the cast interact with each other?  Was Michael Landon the Pa they all needed?  Find out that, and so much more in this engaging autobiography!

 

Alison writes a funny and endearing story, and you’ll find yourself smiling at her inner strength and her strong character through her words.  She is honest and forthright in her book, and tells of life lessons all of us can learn from and enjoy.

 

Check out Confessions of a Prairie Bitch today!

 

 

 

Alas, Babylon

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Nov 232011
 

 

Alas, Babylon
by Pat Frank

 

Alas, Babylon… that was the secret pass phrase.  The pass phrase shared by two brothers, only to be used when times are dire, when the world is stark, when the world is coming to an end.  Mark is in the military, and he sees a horrible future only moments away.  He calls his brother, whispering the secret phrase.  Randy knows just what to do, and begins to prepare.

 

Alas, Babylon is written in the middle of the Cold War era, and tells the tale of what our land would be like after the ravaging of nuclear bombs.  Bombs explode, taking out all the major metropolitan areas and destroying life as we knew it to be.  In a small section of Florida, a small community of people survive the holocaust, and must rebuild.  Although Randy thinks to prepare after his brother’s warning, he finds he doesn’t think of all the things this new society needs.

 

This book is very well written, is remarkably authentic, and the depth of research behind the storytelling is clear.  The struggles and strife of the small group in Florida will catch you and wrap you deep into their story, and make you think twice about what’s going on in the world, and what’s in your pantry.  Things you never even considered become horrible problems, and things we would think of don’t even matter two bits.  This is a great book!

 

Check out Alas, Babylon today!

 

The World Ends In Hickory Hollow

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Nov 182011
 

The World Ends in Hickory Hollow
by Ardath MayharThe lights went out. Not an uncommon occurrence in the country, and life goes on.  Naturally, the Hardeman family went about their business, until they went into town.  Town was empty, not a soul in sight.  No one around.  Everyone gone.  Come to find out, the world ended, without a bang, without fanfare.  Tucked away, caring for themselves, the Hardeman family missed the bombs that fell, ending civilization as they knew it, and ending the lives of those in the towns and cities.  But tucked away in their hollow, the Hardeman family begins to find some of their neighbors, and begin to build a tight knit community that works together for the common good of the whole.  That is, until the Ungers find them.
The Ungers were a wild bunch, always drinking and partying and letting their children run half wild.  They were the rowdies, the rough ones, but now, they’re the really bad news in the neighborhood.  The Ungers are no longer just out for a party.  Now they’re out for blood.
In The World Ends In Hickory Hollow, we watch a small group begin to build a community and persevere against horrible attacks by the Ungers as they kill everyone in sight and loot the community’s hard fought goods.
Check out The World Ends In Hickory Hollow today to read about the Hardeman’s journey and survival of the fittest after the world falls apart!

 

 

The Maze Runner

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Nov 152011
 

The Maze Runner
by James DashnerIt all begins in a box… Thomas wakes up, flying high into the sky in a dark, black box.  He ascends into the heavens and is deposited in yet another box, but this box is filled with boys of all ages.  Everyone has a job.  Some grow food.  Some raise and harvest animals.  Some do the cooking.  Others, the cleaning.  And a few, well, they run.

This box is surrounded by a Maze.  A maze filled with creatures… oozing, bulbous creatures covered with metal stingers and spikes and claws… creatures that chase the boys with one intent – to kill them.  A maze that changes, every night, so no matter how much the runners run, no matter how they remember the path, every day it’s different.

And it’s all coming to an end.  Thomas’ arrival is quickly followed by Teresa’s arrival, and with her comes a note, “She’s the last one.  Ever.”

So Thomas decides, that no matter what, he’s to be a runner.  He will run the maze.  He will find a way out, before they all die.

Check out The Maze Runner today, and get hooked on this excellent first book of the Maze Runner Trilogy!

 

This World We Live In

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Sep 292011
 

This World We Live In
by Susan Beth Pfeffer

This is the final book of Pfeffer’s riveting trilogy “Last Survivors.”  This book takes us back to Miranda, from book one, and her journal entries.  A year has passed.  Her family has struggled to hang on.  Through the ups and downs, deaths and traumas, they have prevailed.

And then, company arrives.  It’s Miranda’s father and step mother, and a motley crew collected on their journey.  Enter in Alex and Julie, from Pfeffer’s second book in the series.  They’ve left New York, and after their own troubles, begin to seek a brighter future.

Alex is willful and set in his decisions.  Julie is willful and insisting on her freedom.  Miranda just wants her family together.  But she finds herself drawn to Alex… but the choices he must make… will Miranda be one of them?

This is the conclusion to Susan Beth Pfeffer’s “The Last Survivors” trilogy, and brings together the shattered lives of a climactic devastation we should hope to never experience, and through this story, we begin to see the rebuilding of a new way of life in the face of loss and desperate circumstances.  Pfeffer pens a great story, and these books are enjoyable, if not a little frightening, reads.

Check out This World We Live In today!

 

The Dead & The Gone

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Sep 222011
 

The Dead & The Gone
by Susan Beth Pfeffer

This is book two in her “Last Survivors” series, and is the story of Alex and his sisters.  Alex, Julie, and Bri live in New York City when the moon is hit by the asteroid, pushing the moon dangerously close to the Earth, causing such global climate change that civilization is altered horrifically.  Alex’s family is gravely affected, not only because civilization stalls, food begins to disappear, people get sick, but also because his Father was in Puerto Rico, and his Mother was across the city in Brooklyn.

Alex struggles to take over the care of his sisters as the man of the house, doling out food, struggling to find the supplies they need to survive, while fighting to stay alive in the city, willing, hoping, and praying their parents will return.

Will they make it?  Do Alex’s parents return?  How to they survive the harsh, cold winter in New York City?  Come check out The Dead & The Gone today and find out!

Life As We Knew It

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Sep 162011
 

 

Life As We Knew It
by Susan Beth Pfeffer

This is a great book!  Miranda writes in her journal –

May 16th
“All of a sudden this moon thing is the biggest thing ever… Wednesday night we’re all going to be outside watching the asteroid hit the moon.”

May 18th
“I know I can’t explain, because I don’t really know what happened and I sure don’t know why.  But the moon wasn’t a half moon anymore.  It was tilted and wrong and a three-quarter moon and it got larger, way larger, large like a moon rising on the horizon, only it wasn’t rising.  It was smack in the middle of the sky, way too big, way too visible.”

And so it happens.  The moon is hit by an asteroid, and is pushed out of its orbit, closer to Earth.  Through Miranda’s journal entries, you see what happens when civilization is affected by the significant climate changes an altered moon thrusts upon the Earth.

Will they make it?  Will they find food and be safe?  Come check out and read Life As We Knew It today and find out!

If I Stay

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Sep 092011
 

 

If I Stay
by Gayle Forman

Classified as a Young Adult novel, one would assume that this is another pulpy, quick read, but that is definitely not the case!  This book has the makings of great literature… the story is poignant and rich, and Forman’s writing is clear and well done.  The story wraps you in so fast, and then you find yourself losing sleep over the twists and turns of the story.

Divulging much about the plot will detract from the suspense of the story, in my humble opinion, as I feel the book is best read not knowing much about it before beginning to read.  Essentially, Mia has a typical teen age life and a promising future, but everything changes… and she must face a terrible decision that will hurt either way she chooses.  The story centers around one day in her life, around an incident so tragic that it is truly life altering.  During that day, Mia explores her past life, and the choices she has to face, and to make.  I know that’s not much to go on as far as a book review goes, but I can say that this is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Author Gayle Forman writes for all ages a classic story that is rich and full and will inspire her readers.  This book cannot help but make you reflect on your own life, the choices you have, and to appreciate the gifts we may often overlook.  This is a definite Must Read.

 

 

 

Earth Abides

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Aug 242011
 

 

Earth Abides
by George R Stewart

Something happens while Ish recovers from a rattlesnake bite.  Ish is a graduate student of ecology in California, and while hiking in the mountains is bit by a rattlesnake.  He manages to make it back to his cabin, where he eventually recovers.  Then, Ish heads down into town, but no one is there…

Set in the 1940s, this book tells the tale of what happens when a killer illness removes most of the Earth’s humans.  Ish finds himself alone in the world after his recovery.  He travels all the way across the country to New York, just to see what has become of the country, and his journey shows the different way the few survivors re-create their worlds.

Ish returns to California and begins to collect people, who begin to invest in a settlement and community.  As the intellectual of the group, Ish wrestles with the ‘what ifs,’ struggling to think of ways to shape his new community into a bright future.  Throughout the book, we see glimpses of the collapse of our man made artifacts as Earth retakes her land.  We also see how new societies grow, and how from certain perceptions, religion arises.  Ish tries very hard to steward his group into a future of sustainability and growth, and through the tale of his life we learn that Earth Abides.

Check out this great classic and others at the library today!

 

A Discovery of Witches

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Aug 172011
 

 

A Discovery of Witches
by Deborah Harkness

 

By now, we’ve all seen the profusion of vampire and otherworldly creatures appearing in today’s pop literature.  Most of the books in this genre are geared toward young adult readers, and much of the writing is vapid and shallow, with too much emphasis on teen angst and juvenile interpersonal relationships, and are scant on action and/or plot substance.  However, this book is strikingly different.  The author, Deborah Harkness, is an accomplished academic writer of history, and her experience with detailed and thorough writing appears in her storytelling.  Harkness writes an amazing story full of twists and turns and subplot developments that leaves readers solving the immediate mystery while slowly working towards the mysteries overarching the entire plot.

 

Diana is a historian, studying alchemy, and finds herself in Oxford stumbling deeply and suddenly into a mystery of epic proportions.  She is long descended from the witches of Salem, and finds herself fighting for her life and the life of her newfound love in this story.  Diana must come to terms with what she believes versus the reality in which she lives, throwing herself into a chaotic new place she never envisioned, learning things she fought to the core of her being as unacceptable.  While the audience enjoys the story of her solving the mysteries first discovered in the Oxford library, the audience watches Diana fall deeply in love and forced to reassess herself and change to meet her new world.

 

This book is incredibly stunning, and is one of those page turners that leave you aching for more long after you’ve finished the last page.  Hopefully, it’s the first in a long series of adventures, as Deborah Harkness weaves a detailed and enthralling story full of rich history and interpersonal character development and associations.  This book will leave you wanting more, and eagerly waiting for the next book penned by Harkness’ hand.

 

Check out A Discovery of Witches and other mysteries today!

 

 

 

Pray for Silence

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Aug 092011
 

 

Pray for Silence
by Linda Castillo

Pray for Silence is the second book in Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series.  Kate Burkholder is the chief of police in a small town in Ohio’s Amish country.  But she’s a unique chief of police, in that she was born Amish and lived Amish for her formative years.  This makes Kate ideal as the chief of police in a community populated by both the society that most of us know, and the Amish way of life.

But the book is deeper than the interplay between the two cultures of the Amish and the English.  Linda Castillo writes an amazing and addicting story, bringing her characters to life and the Ohio countryside into vivid detail.  This is the second story of Kate Burkholder’s adventures.  The first, reviewed last week, is a grim and horrific crime spree of murders across the Painter’s Mill landscape.  The story Castillo writes isn’t focused only on the crimes, but on the tangled past that Kate has as a former Amish woman.  This story is the continuation, in a way, elaborating more on Kate’s present life as the chief of police in light of a new mystery to unravel.

At the center of the story is sweet Mary Plank, a young girl head over heels in love with an outsider to the Amish world.  Her mystery man is handsome, dashing, and adoring, but…. twisted and cruel.  Mary is subjected to horrors no young woman should have to face at the hands of the beloved man she desperately wants to marry.  Her story ends in her murder, and that begins our tale.  Kate Burkholder must step into the Amish world and uncover all of Mary’s secrets in order to identify the brutal killer of sweet Mary Plank.

Not to be outdone by her first book, Linda Castillo again writes an exciting and addicting mystery crime novel, and this story will keep you glued to your most favored reading chair!

Check out Pray for Silence at the library today!

 

 

 

 

Sworn To Silence

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Aug 012011
 

 

Sworn To Silence
by Linda Castillo

Sworn to Silence is a gritty crime novel by Linda Castillo.  Set in Ohio’s Amish country, detective Kate Burkholder is faced with deep secrets from her past in light of gristly murders of the present.  Kate walks a delicate balance, with feet in each world – one in the Amish world she grew up in, and the other in the modern world in which she is the chief of police for her tiny town.

Linda Castillo writes a gripping, fast paced, addictive, and very dark crime novel.  You’ll begin this story and immediately be sucked in, turning each page as quickly as you possibly can, forgetting to eat or sleep or anything else!  This story, while dark and terrifying, is engaging and you will sit on the edge of your seat awaiting the unraveling of every little detail.

But beyond the fast paced crime story, Linda Castillo accurately portrays the life lived in a small Amish town.  The author obviously did extensive research to learn about the ways of Amish living, and her research paints a vivid and real life picture in which her story unfolds.  The attention to detail coupled with the excellent writing and storytelling makes this a must read book!

Check out Sworn To Silence and other mystery novels at the Portneuf Library today!

 

 

Who Were They Really? The True Stories Behind Famous Characters

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Jul 252011
 

 

Who Were They Really?
by Susan Beth Pfeffer

 

Who Were They Really is a collection of very brief biographies of famous literary characters.  The book’s intended audience is the young adult reader, but readers of all ages will enjoy learning more about who Peter Cottontail really was, and how he came into existence.  Susan Beth Pfeffer collects 12 characters famous from our childhoods and paints pictures of who they were and how they came into existence, or how they created their famous literary characters.  In this book, read more about Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear, and even Mother Goose.  Susan Beth Pfeffer writes clearly and her short biographies are enjoyable and insightful for every reader.  Learn about your favorites, and discover new characters and authors in this great book.

 

Check out Who Were They Really? and other great biographies today!

 

 

What So Proudly We Hailed

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Jul 202011
 

What So Proudly We Hailed
by James Howard

What would you do if the country was plunged into chaos, and nothing worked the way it should?  This is the story of what happens when America suffers a horrible attack on the nation’s power grids, crippling the US and sending her countrymen into complete civil disorder.  Money is no good, and bartering takes over.  But what do you have to trade?  Vigilantes and local militia set up camps and run neighborhoods, but who controls them?  The only solution in Jason Ribault’s mind for his family, is to take to the Carolina coast.  Jason and his family shore up on their small cabin boat and snug into the Low Country’s barrier islands to wait out the danger and the terror of what becomes of America when her government completely topples and loses control.

This book is particularly frightening, because the scenario, and even bits of the scenario, are completely plausible.  Something like this might happen any day… are you ready?

Get sucked into the amazing page turner today, and start really thinking about the value of what is to become tomorrow!

What So Proudly We Hailed

 

The Sweet Relief of Missing Children

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Jul 152011
 

The Sweet Relief of Missing Children follows the lives of several teens and preteens over two generations. As you may have guessed from the title, this is not a “feel-good” story. each child is faced with many different challenges that overwhelm them. A good example is Paul – renamed Pax – who, try as he might, can never run far enough away to be free of his negligent mother’s memory, and Grace the average mother who, as a teenager, swore that she would never marry. Each character whirls along their own little path, meeting each other in unanticipated ways, then moving on, slightly lessened by the experience.

Despite the negativity of the stories, Sarah Braunstein executes the book amazingly well I and highly recommend this book. Admittedly, this book is not for everyone. If you prefer the happy fuzzy books, or if you do not like reading about teenagers in adult situations, this is not the book for you. If, however, you read books for a well written story and like to feel the characters reach out and pull your emotions, then The Sweet Relief of Missing Children should be the next book on your list.

Review written by Josh Barnes, Portneuf Library Staff

 

 

 

Virals

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Jul 072011
 

Virals
By Kathy Reichs

Ever watch the show Bones? Have you ever read any of Kathy Reichs’ books that the TV show Bones was based on? Well, Kathy Reichs started writing young adult fiction, her debut YA novel being Virals. Virals follows the common themes prevelant in today’s YA fiction of otherworld creatures in today’s society.  Virals centers around the story of a group of teens who rescue their favorite wolf pup from a research laboratory, and the mystery they must solve to answer the questions about the mystery they uncover.  The teens, while rescuing their beloved pup, are exposed to a virus that permanently alters their DNA giving them werewolf like abilities.  These new abilities the teens have cause them to struggle to get along amongst the normal people of society, but at the same time, the same abilities help them to uncover the mystery they find about the research station near their homes.

Reichs is a fabulous author that writes a fast paced and engaging story, and this novel is no different than her Bones books.  The book draws you in and keeps you wrapped up and wanting to turn every page to follow the adventures of the kids in the story.  The book is well written and fast paced, yet sprinkled with a hefty dose of the science behind what happened to the kids.  The science is clearly written and is a great flourish to the storyline.

Overall, this is a great book for young adult and adult readers alike.  Come in and check out Virals today!

 

Jun 162011
 

Upstairs Girls: Prostitution in the American West
By Michael Rutter

Upstairs Girls demystifies the stereotype of the “hooker with a heart of gold” so popularized by film and media in the twentieth century.  We’ve all seen the western movies showing the fancy dance hall girls, but that necessarily wasn’t always the case.

Author and historian Michael Rutter brings forth historical documentation describing and explaining the real truth of the prostitution profession in the Wild West.  Broken into three parts, Rutter details the truth behind the varied levels of prostitution, as well as the Dance Hall Girls and the Purity Movement as  correlations to prostitution, and finishes with biographies of popular western prostitutes.  Rutter explains how women found themselves in the situation of choosing the “Sisterhood,” as well as the different classifications of prostitution in the old west.  Not every woman was able to work her way into a fancy brothel with beautiful dresses and fine furnishings, and Rutter illustrates all conditions, no matter how horrific, including the Chinese sex trade so often overlooked by popular media.

In addition to learning about the history of prostitution in the Wild West, enjoy biographies of many famous wild women, from Calamity Jane to Fannie Silks to Ah Toy.  Read about your favorites, and discover new women to admire.  Many rose to positions of significant power from their wits alone, like Ah Toy.  Ah was put into the Chinese sex trade as a young woman, but using her sharp mind, she fought her way to the best position of power a woman could, even in the face of Chinese persecution.  She even took cases to court, a rarity even for prestigious white women of her time!  Read Ah Toy’s story in this fun book, and many more!

Check out Upstairs Girls and other great books about the Wild West today!

The Badge

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Jun 092011
 

The Badge
By Jack Webb

So, you remember the show Dragnet, right?  Well this book, written by the same Jack Webb, highlights many of the stories featured on Dragnet that were not appropriate for the television audience.  These stories were classified as too violent or too sensational for TV, so Jack Webb documented them here.  But, this book is more than just the hidden stories behind the famous TV show and its episodes.  This book goes into the elaborate inner workings of the LA Police Department.  Webb explains, in detail, what each rank of officer does, and what his daily work life was like.  Webb also explains a significant amount of LA history, as well, showing for the reader how the common icons of today’s LA came about.  The book is rich with the stories, and even richer in painting the portrait of the giant metropolis of LA.  The caveat? The book was written in the fifties, and published in 1958.  Thus, this book is truly a window back in time, showing us what life was really like living in the beginnings of the urban sprawl that is now Southern California.  Webb’s book is a testimonial to the underbelly of the squeaky clean image of the 1950s, and is a real eye opener to read.

Check out The Badge and more great crime fiction today!

Why We Get Fat

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May 042011
 

Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It
Gary Taubes

This is an interesting book that caught my eye when it came in our door.  Like many, I’m a bit on the pudgy side, and although I love my job, I know that part of that reason is that I spend a lot of time just sitting at this computer in my office doing stuff.  A far cry from the barn work I did for years and years.

So, like many, I’m always interested in ways to cut back on my total body mass.  I eat fairly well, and I exercise, but like many, that’s not enough to keep me slim.  So what’s the answer?  Well, I think that answer varies from individual to individual; we are all so different.

This particular book, though, lays the blame of today’s obesity squarely on the shoulders of refined carbohydrates.  We’ve all heard about the Adkins diet that eliminates all breads, grains, and sugars, and this book talks a lot about why that works, and how those pesky carbs impact our bodies.  Essentially, our bodies were not designed for the high sugar and high carbohydrate diets we have today.  Our bodies were designed to eat differently, that being what we would hunt or gather.  Biologically, our bodies weren’t made to eat white bread pumped out from factories or the amount of candy and soda we eat.

Author Taubes does extensive research pointing to many medical studies and articles regarding how humans react to the highly refined diets we eat, which is an interesting explanation as to why the carb free diets work for some people.

The book is quite interesting to read and offers more information than you’d expect from a diet book, but really, this is not a diet book.  There are not recipes or steps or a process for making yourself thin or lean, rather, just information on how the process of eliminating carbohydrates works on the human body.  As I read, I kept waiting for the magic answer, but found it came pretty late in the book.  Was it fascinating?  Yes.  Did it answer a lot of questions on why restricting carbs works?  Yes.  However, if you’re expecting any structure or recipes or rules or anything of the sort typically found in diet books, you’ll not find it in this one.  Once you have the information you need from this book, you do have to go forth and find recipes and other carb restricting diet structures to give the process to follow through with the information presented here.

Check out Why We Get Fat for more info!

 

Dirty Secret

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Apr 042011
 

Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding.  By Jessie Sholl.

Have you ever watched the show Hoarders?  Have you ever known someone in your neighborhood who had just too much stuff?  We all have, at times, but without understanding why people held on to so much stuff.

This is a facinating journey into compulsive hoarding, seen and told through the eyes of a daughter of a compulsive hoarder.  Jessie’s mother keeps stuff.  She always has, and has always had difficulty keeping things organized and neat.  Jessie tells the story of her mother’s hoarding as an adult, during a crisis with her mother’s health, with insights into what her life was like growing up.  The author shows us how hoarders live and think, and she explains, even pointing to scholarly information and definitions, what hoarding is and how it is affected by psychology.

Dirty Secret is a great read, and you feel compassion for the author as well as her mother and other family members.  The story is shocking and real, and the lessons are well learned.  Jessie Sholl is an excellent author who writes a tale worth reading.  The journey taken through this book is one of healing and understanding as a daughter explores her mother’s hoarding and forgives the hold the hoarding has had on her life.

Find Dirty Secret on our non-fiction new book shelf today.

 

 

Bedside Book of Bad Girls

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Mar 252011
 

The Bedside Book of Bad Girls is written by historian Michael Rutter and is a historical retelling of our favorite outlaw cowgirls and madams from the Old West.  Rutter’s storytelling is enjoyable and engaging, and he draws the readers into the lives of such famous western women as Calamity Jane, Belle Starr, and Little Britches and Cattle Annie.  In addition to some of the more famous names, Rutter tells the tales of lesser known women with non-traditional, colorful pasts.

Rutter explores documents and histories to reveal the truth behind the women of the Wild West.  So many have tangled and extensive lives, yet the truth hides behind the legend that gave them their fame.  Rutter works very hard to discover the truth of the lives of these famous characters in order to set the record straight, yet explaining how the wild tales came about. The author delves into archives to find pictures  to illustrate his biographies.

Rutter distills extensive research into lively tales that are only a  handful of pages long, indeed making this an excellent bedside reader.  One will dream dreams of our historic Wild West after reading one of these 21 stories each evening!

Find the Bedside Book of Bad Girls today!