Saturday, July 28, 2007

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje

From the writer of The English Patient and Anil's Ghost comes this compelling story that takes us from the gold country of northern California to the backrooms of Nevada casinos to the south of France. In the 1970's of northern California, Anna and Claire work with their father on their farm with the help of Coop, a young man adopted into their family by their father. An act of violence drives the family apart, and as the story moves back and forth through time and place, we see how each one has managed to grasp a tentative hold onto the present that is built on the rough hewn memories of the past. Intimate, poetic, and compelling, Divisadero is a hauntingly beautiful novel that will be hard to forget.

Ammunition by Ken Bruen

Inspector Brant is back in the latest of this hard boiled detective series. After offering his own brand of justice on the streets of southeast London, he may have made a few enemies. When he is the target of a botched hit in a local pub, even his own coworkers ask themselves how he's managed not to get shot at before. The answer, quite simply, is that if you come after Brant, you'd better kill him the first time, because you really don't want to find out what happens next.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Up Close and Dangerous by Linda Howard

Bailey Wingate just wanted to go on vacation. Two weeks of rafting with her brother and his wife seemed like heaven. So you can image how upset she is when the plane she is on decides to crash unto a mountainside. Cam Justice was at home sleeping when is partner called and asked Cam to cover a flight because he was sick. Cam agreed and next thing he knows he is saving himself and Bailey from completing crashing into a mountain. After the crash, Bailey gets a unconscious Cam out of the airplane and bandages his head and warms him up. After Cam regains consciousness, he realizes that the plane was sabotaged. Bailey is despised by her late husband's two children. Of course, it doesn't help that she is three years younger than Seth, the son, and in charge of their monthly allowance. Bailey and Cam come to the conclusion that one of her stepchildren might by involved. With the will to survive and the promise of love, Cam and Bailey will do anything to survive and find out who was behind this horrific incident.

Another great book by Linda Howard. She always has the right amount of suspense and romance in her books. My absolute favorite by her is Mr. Perfect.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Inferno Collection by Jacqueline Seewald

The quintessential librarian mystery! The main character, an amateur sleuth, is an Academic Librarian who spends her days hunting down a murderer and her nights sleuthing for graduate students at the Reference Desk. An interesting amalgam of 'librariana' and quickly paced mystery. The term, 'Inferno Collection' refers to those items that used to be kept behind the desk because they were deemed by the librarian to be too ribald or too fragile to allow unqualified access. A more mysterious discovery of the items in this collection, and their meaning might have added a more 'Da Vinciesque' flavor to this story. Instead, the author adds a little more than necessary of other things by incorporating Satanic worship and a love story that doesn't really talk much about what the character is feeling. Wouldn't we all rather know what a librarian is really feeling behind all that professionalism?

The Sunday List of Dreams by Kris Radish

Every Sunday, divorced Connie Nixon has created her "list of dreams," or list of things she would like to accomplish but seems too afraid to actually follow through. She will soon be retired and believes she has the rest of her life all figured out: she will be selling her house, moving to a condo, and filling her empty days by working part-time as a consultant in the medical field.

In order to sell her house, Connie begins by cleaning out her older daughter's bedroom, and it is there that she makes a startling discovery. Her seemingly straight-laced and estranged Jessica is actually the CEO of a a successful sex-toy store for women in New York City.

Now it is time to put her list of dreams in to action, starting with dream #7, "recapture Jessica." Connie takes the next flight to NYC, and what she thinks is just a short visit to reconnect with her estranged daughter turns into a journey of self-discovery, where she learns how to find true happiness and conquer her biggest dream of all: love.

Although the concept of the story is intriguing, Radish really doesn't deliver. Too much of the story is dedicated to Connie's own introspection and self-actualization, and because of this, the reader only knows Connie from her perspective, and doesn't really get to know Connie from her interactions with other characters. It seems like Radish had her own agenda here, and an enticing read this does not make.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott

Marshall Field Jr., the only heir to the founder of the well-known department store, is found bloody and slumped over in a chair. He claims that he accidentally shot himself while cleaning his pistol, but rumors circulate that he was actually shot while paying a visit to the one of the most notorious brothels in Chicago in the early 1900's: the Everleigh Club.

And so begins the rich and well-researched history of Ada and Minna Everleigh, two sisters who relocate from Omaha to open a brothel in the infamous Levee district of Chicago. The Everleigh Club becomes known for its decadence and glamour, where clients can feast on a gourmet buffet while having their ultimate sexual fantasies fulfilled. Unlike the other resorts of the district, the sisters demand that their harlots receive a full medical inspection and that thievery and drugs are strictly forbidden. The club's above-standard reputation brings in millionaire clients from overseas princes to the city's playboys.

Despite the sisters attempt to bring about class in an otherwise unsavory industry, they are continually met with opposition from the Levee's other brothels who are trying to drive out the competition to politicians, reformers, and religious zealots who deem the Levee district to be the breeding ground for vice, debauchery, and white slavery.
What makes this such an interesting and compelling read is that it is a true story. Fans of Erik Larson's Devil in the White City and anyone interested in the early 1900's will revel in this gritty story of a truly fascinating time in Chicago history. Why is that we are just learning about this now?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Witch of Portobello by: Paulo Coelho

This book is the account of the life of Sherine Khalil, also known as Athena. The daughter of a gypsy, Athena finds herself traveling the world to try to find the meaning in her life when the Catholic God is denied her after years of devotion. Through her trials she discovers the power to live and embrace life fully and to live through suffering and compassion in grace and to touch many people with a message of love and emotion. She discovers the feminine face of God and the love it compels, not through strict dogma, but through emotion and living life out instead of restricting it. Her travels take her many places and she finds herself with many teachers to help her find the path that is hers physically and spiritually. Her enigmatic life and personality enthrall all those around her, and her spiritual practices create animosity between her and her neighbors, who coin the term Witch to her instead of trying to understand. This book is the trials and perseverance Athena went through to find the one path all her own; and the battles she fought against a bitter and ignorant society that wished to take everything from her.

This book was very interesting, it is told, not from Athena's perspective, but from all the people she met and dealt with, it is a chronicle of interviews from people that help create the story and fully shape the complex and confusing character of Athena. It is a push and pull process, with stories being built up, and torn down, with the good mixed with the bad so that you can understand fully Athena and her vision of a free spirituality based on compassion and love instead of strict rules and hate.

Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles by Fancine Prose

Prose, a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction titles for over 25 years, starts and ends this brief book with the tragic death of Michelangelo Merisi Da Caravaggio at the age of 39. There is no doubt about how the story is going to end, but the journey is fascinating. Prose weaves the tumultuous life of Caravaggio, his extraordinary works and Roman society together and paints a brilliant picture of life in Rome during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Apparently, he was quite a bad boy in Roman society with countless run-ins with the law, frequent brawling and carousing with fellow painters, frequenting prostitutes and often finding himself homeless and broke after wearing out his welcome in Villas across Rome. Because of the tumultuous nature of his life, his paintings became more and more true to life. He cast aside the notions of the day that Christ and the Saints of the Roman Catholic Church must be painted to appear perfect and unapproachable. Caravaggio often used street merchants, prostitutes and fellow painters as models in his works to keep his art grounded in real human suffering. This caused quite the stir in Rome and left a touch of scandal on nearly every one of his paintings. Several times his works were rejected by the churches who hired him to paint grandiose masterpieces above their alters and precepts because the models used in the paintings were "vulgar" or because the subjects depicted in his paintings appeared so real that the emotion invoked was too much for display. Examples of such works include "Death of the Virgin", "Conversion of St. Paul" and "St. Matthew and the Angel."

The only fault to this book is that there aren't enough pictures. Her book contains only 5 pages of images, which are completely inadequate for the number of paintings she describes at length. I am sure it is probably due to copyright laws, but it is very disappointing. In all, this book is a quick, enlightening read for anyone interested in art, history or Italian culture.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Anatomy of Fear by Jonathan Santlofer

Nate Rodriguez is a police sketch artist. He is very good at getting witnesses and victims to open up and describe the perp. There is a killer loose in New York who is killing people and leaving a sketch of the death with the bodies. Terri Russo is in charge of the case. She asks Nate to help by looking at the sketches. Nate is able to garner details from the witnesses and slowly make a face of the killer. With visits to his grandmother, guilt over his father's death when he was a teen, and a budding romance with Terri, Anatomy of Fear, is a great suspenseful novel.

What is real neat about this book is that we see the sketches as Nate does them. The book isn't just from Nate's point of view, but also Terri, the killer, FBI agents and many more. The book leaves us hanging about another case that was brought up but hopefully Jonathan Santlofer writes more books featuring Nate and Terri.

The Marriage Game by Fern Michaels

Samantha Rainford just got served divorce papers. The crazy thing about that is she just got back from her honeymoon. She soon finds out that she isn't the first. She is the fourth Mrs. Rainford to be dumped after her honeymoon. After Sam,who is an accountant, gets over the initially shock, she decides to join the FBI with her best friend Slick, who is a former supermodel. After training to be an FBI agent for eight months, both Sam and Slick wash out. Sam for her lack of upper body strength and Slick for her weak trigger finger. As they leave the FBI, they decide to call the former wives of Douglas Rainford and figure out why he dumped them. The next morning after a drink filled night, Sam wakes up to find a strange man has broken into her house. The man offers her and Slick the opportunity to go to a mountain and learn to be mercenaries for the United States. They agree only if the other ex-wives can come too. They all go to the mountain and are taught all the skills they need. Pappy Havapopulas is the leader and a Greek god. Sam excels at the program. Eventually, Pappy and Sam fall in love. When the year long program is done, the wives decide to use their training to get payback at Douglas.
This was not the best book by Fern Michaels. It is never really explained why an accountant would join the FBI. Also, the whole idea of the book is very far fetched. If you like to suspend reality and love revenge, then you just might like this book.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Love @ First Site by Jane Moore

Jessica Monroe is furious when her friends give her a posting on an Internet dating service as a thirty-fourth birthday present. After all, she's cute and has an interesting job, and when she is ready she should be able to find someone without cyber help! After much persuasion she agrees to give it a try -- only to find herself on a series of disastrous dates that leave her broke from being stuck with the restaurant checks. She’s ready to stay single and just hope that the smart, funny, sophisticated guy she’s looking for will wander by. But when a serious glitch happens in her sister Olivia's life, she tells Jess that she is getting through it because of the love of her husband and family – so Jess decides to give the dating scene one more try. Will Jess ever find a man who meets her expectations?

Just the hilarious comedy of modern day dating antics would be worth the read, but Love @ First Site is really an endearing book that captures what we all are searching for – love from family, loyal friends, and a relationship that lives beyond the first spark.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Kate Shugak Series by Dana Stabenow

If you enjoy the Native American mystery series of authors such as Tony Hillerman, Jean Hager, and the Thurlos, you won’t want to miss Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series.

The first effort in the series, A Cold Day for Murder, won Stabenow an Edgar Award in 1993. Here we are introduced to Kate Shugak, a former investigator for the Anchorage DA, having returned to her Aleut roots living a hermit-like subsistence in the Alaskan bush on a 160 acre homestead she shares with her husky-wolf mix canine, Mutt. She has left the city after an emotionally and physically life-changing encounter during her last case. After a visit from her former-boss and lover, Jack Morgan, she is persuaded to begin a new career as a PI for hire, and take on a case of a missing Park Ranger.

The big star of the series is the evocative Alaskan environment. Stabenow, a native to Alaska, uses landscape, weather and history to create a rich atmosphere that can’t help but draw you in to the arctic settings, native life and culture. The author also weaves in a vein of political life – the politics of the tribe, village, state and federal government – and how this interplays in Alaskan life.

The charming, and often alarming cast of characters, headed up by Ekaterina “Kate” Moonin Shugak herself, are by turns delightful and terrifying. Fiercely independent and psychologically wounded, Kate’s personality is a complex mixture of modern thinking and ancient tradition.

The local denizens of the nearby town of Ninilta on the surface are vaguely reminiscent of the quirky cast from the popular TV series, Northern Exposure. However Stabenow builds these characters and richly develops them over the course of the 15 book (so far!) series, with a focus on their Native and Russian heritage and backgrounds. Kate’s grandmother and assorted “aunties”, a group of small wizened women in their eighties, play critical dramatic and comedic roles throughout the series, often emphasizing the importance of elders and tradition in native society.

Add to the mix the assortment of murderous loners, renegades and psychopaths who Shugak must track down in the course of her investigative work, and you’ll get an idea of the breadth of characters and depth of characterization this series has to offer.

The Plainfield Public Library owns a number of the later titles in this series including: Hunter's Moon, A Grave Denied, A Taint in the Blood and 2007's A Deeper Sleep. Earlier titles in the series can be requested through the catalog, or with help from library staff.

The Bright Side of Disaster by Katherine Center

When a complete stranger dies in a plane crash, it sets a series of life changes in motion for a nine-month pregnant Jenny Harris. As it is getting closer to her due date, her fiance, Dean, becomes more and more emotionally distant. He disappears just days before she goes into labor, leaving only a note confessing that the girl who died in the plane crash was someone from his office, someone he was falling in love with.

Although devastated and heartbroken, Jenny quickly adjusts to life as a single mother and an acquaintance with a new neighbor becomes just the friendship Jenny needs. Just when the line between friendship and romance begin to blur between Jenny and Gardner, Dean comes back into town. Now Jenny has to make the toughest decision of her reunite her family or to follow her heart.

Center's debut is predictable, but reader's will admire Jenny's resilience that enables her to survive motherhood alone and will be hoping for the happy ending she deserves.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss by Gina Kolata

Don't let the word science scare you away from reading this fascinating examination of the history of weight loss studies and the weight loss industry. Gina Kolata manages to explain even the most complicated scientific processes in such an accessible way that I could not put this book down. Kolata researched every weight loss study imaginable and manages to make the findings not just readable to the average person but interesting as well. She doesn't necessarily uncover any big, dark secrets, but she brings to the forefront the reality that the billion-dollar weight loss industry doesn't want you to know--genetics plays a significant role in our level of fatness/thinness. There's proof and it's being ignored by the scientific community as well as the myriad companies that profit off our failures. Kolata states that scientists have already discovered the peptide on the chromosone that makes people fat--the trick now is finding a way to alter that. It may not be that far away. This eye-opening book will change the way people of all shapes and sizes think about weight and will-power. While the message is sobering, it's not entirely pessimistic--it's about being realistic.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

For anyone who has come to a “crossroad” in their life brought on by death or loss of any kind, job, relationship, friendship, and you are questioning the meaning of life, why we are here, what our purpose is, I recommend this read.

Sometimes, life brings us to something we just don’t understand. We get confused and nothing makes sense. For you, that are finding yourself in that place, take a moment, breath, open your head and heart and read this book.

I think, and believe, that you will find much comfort and understanding and a strength in you, that you thought, may have been lost. It’s easy, to fall into a dark place, when life throws you a huge curve. It’s a place we need to go, to feel that pain, live it, accept it, and then take that deep breath and move on. If you find that you are in that place, and stuck in negative thoughts, hang on, read this book, watch the video, and I promise you, it will help you to move upward and forward, change those negative thoughts into positive and productive ones. Just remember to open your mind and heart and allow it to flow into you.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Plague Tales by Ann Benson

This is the first in a series called the "Plague Trilogy" by Benson. The novels follow a modern surgeon, Janie Crowe, who must re-educate herself as a forensic anthropologist after an apocalyptic transformation of human society caused by rampant and sudden effects of drug-resistant bacteria; a period referred to as, "The Outbreaks." Through a series of bad timings, Janie unearths a bit more of the past than she anticipates. Benson's trilogy delightfully provides an insightful parallel story centered on Alejandro Canches, a Sephardic Jewish physician who becomes entangled in both a possible cure for the bubonic plaque of the 14th century, and the equally dangerous court intrigues of the French Pope's palace in Avignon and Edward III's Windsor Castle. The action is plenty fast in both the 'real time' and parallel stories and compels the thoughtful reader to ponder on our own medical freedoms and dangers.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

It Must be Magic by Jennifer Skully

Lili Goodweather talks to animals. Well not so much talks but can see the images in an animal's mind and interpret it and vice verse. When Lili moves next door to the Rutlands, she finds herself being asked to find out what is wrong with the family cat, Fluffy. When she communicates with him, she realizes that Fluffy has witnessed a murder. Single dad Tanner Rutland doesn't believe Lili, but agrees to search the woods with her to look for a dead body. When the body is found, Tanner is still skeptical of Lili's ability, but his twelve year old daughter, Erika, and his dad Roscoe believe. They also believe Lili is perfect for Tanner.
With a little matchmaking, mystery and hot love scenes, It Must be Magic, is a summer read that will have you believing in magic.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Emma (Volume #1) by Kaoru Mori

Set in Victorian England, the young William Jones works for his family's wealthy mercantile business. When William makes a visit to his old governess, he meets her maid, the beautiful Emma, and there is an instant attraction. He offers to buy her new glasses in an attempt to court her, but Emma is reluctant to accept the generous offer. A few days later, William's friend and the price of India, Hakim, pays a visit to William, and causes some competition, as he is quite smitten with Emma as well. Emma seems to have many potential suitors, but turns them all down. When William's father wants him to marry the rich girl from the ball who is of the same "class," and William refuses, tensions begin to rise.

Emma is a chalk full of romance and intrigue that is set to a classic English backdrop which will appeal to Manga readers or readers of classic love stories who are willing to try an alternative format. There are currently four books in the series.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home is Bechdel's graphic memoir about her relationship with her emotionally distant father, Bruce Bechdel, and her life growing up in a funeral home in the 1970's, which she eventually dubbed the "fun home."

Bruce isn't exactly a family man, and his main focus in life is restoring their Victorian home. It is shortly before his death at forty-four that Alison's mom reveals that Bruce was a closeted homosexual who had relations with their former babysitter. This timely revelation coincided with Alison's own homosexual discovery, and yet despite this commonality, it seems that the only way Bruce can connect with Alison is through the great works of literature, from Joyce's Ulysses to Colette's Earthly Paradise.

Readers will be blown away by Bechdel's eloquent prose that explains both the tragedy and ironic comedy that was her life. Fun Home is a graphic adaptation for memoir enthusiasts.

Dedication by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

What would you do if your ex became a famous recording artist at your expense? If you were Katie Hollis, you would make him regret his entire existence. That is the "plan" anyway, but it is becoming much more complicated than Katie had anticipated.

Katie's first love, first everything, Jake Sharpe, left her with no explanation shortly after their senior year of high school. He moved west and became famous singing songs about not only their most intimate sexual moments but also about Katie's mother's infidelity, which ultimately brought shame to her and her family. Now in her thirties, Katie gets a call from her best friend Laura informing her that Jake is back in town, and she soon discovers her plan is much more complicated, especially when everyone has a something to lose.

The chapters in the book alternate between past and present, which keeps us engaged as we wonder what will happen next, but are left hanging until the story goes back to where it left off. I was pleasantly surprised at how much heart the story had, and I could really empathize with Katie's "coming of age" experiences, from her first crush to her first love.

McLaughlin and Kraus also co-wrote Citizen Girl and The Nanny Diaries, which will be a feature film staring Scarlett Johansen set to be released in September.

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland

In an attempt to reclaim his status in the Impressionist movement, Auguste spends everything he has on a canvas so large it takes two men to prepare it. He has eight weeks to accomplish the work that will either return acclaim to the Impressionist movement or destroy his career.

Susan Vreeland returns to the art world to bring us an intimate view of the story behind Auguste Renoir's masterpiece, Luncheon of the Boating Party. On a cafe terrace, overlooking the banks of the Seine, Renoir adds the layers of paint that will hint at the lives that are woven together as they model for this vivacious portrait. Vreeland creates the rest of the narrative, bringing to life the true personalities of the 14 characters, including the women that Renoir says he must love in order to paint. You will enjoy every moment of the Parisian Sundays spent with Alphonsine, the genteel daughter of the resort owner, the fussy and temperamental Circe, and the naive 19-year old Aline, that Auguste would later marry.

Vreeland's other historical offerings include Girl in Hyacinth Blue, and The Passion of Artemesia.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Green Mill Murder: a Phryne Fisher Mystery by Kerry Greenwood

“The Green Mill Murder,” is the fifth novel in the series of mysteries featuring the flapper and amateur sleuth, Phryne (rhymes with piney) Fisher. Phyrne is a particularly appealing sort, fond of jazz, dancing, drinking, and other 1920’s devilish behaviors in Melbourne, Australia while maintaining a reputation for impeccable crime solving and fair to middlin’ bi-plane piloting.

This adventure begins with a gentleman literally dieing on the dance floor at the end of a marathon; discovers the true nature of trumpeters, and ends with a whole other take on the “Man from Snowy River.” Greenwood provides enough authentic fabric and features of the time and place to provide any reader with a delightful sojourn in 1920’s Melbourne and Victoria at large. Alpine Nat'l Park

Monday, July 2, 2007

Death by Pantyhose by Laura Levine

Jaine Austen has found herself involved in a murder mystery. Again. Jaine is a freelance writer. Since her last interview for a big time job was a complete disaster, Jaine takes a job writing jokes for a comedienne, Dorcas. Jaine goes to the Laff Palace to catch Dorcas do her act. She finds out Dorcas isn't very funny and at the end of her act she cuts up a pair of pantyhose and throws them into the audience. Before Jaine can even begin helping, Dorcas is arrested for murdering a fellow comedian. She is found over the body with pantyhose tied around his neck. Jaine doesn't believe she is guilty, and agrees to find the really killer. Putting up with mood swings from her cat, Prozac, a possible romance, and wacky emails from her parents, Jaine comes up with a slew of suspects. Will she figure it out in time or will Jaine end up a victim of the pantyhose killer? Death by Pantyhose is a very funny, light mystery.

This is the sixth book featuring Jaine Austen. While it is a series, the books do not need to be read in order. The first book is This Pen for Hire.