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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Denise and Deborah's Summer Reading



An Available Man

by Hilma Wolitzer

In this tender and funny novel, award-winning author Hilma Wolitzer mines the unpredictable fallout of suddenly becoming single later in life, and the chaos and joys of falling in love the second time around. When Edward Schuyler, a modest and bookish sixty-two-year-old science teacher, is widowed, he finds himself ambushed by female attention. There are plenty of unattached women around, but a healthy, handsome, available man is a rare and desirable creature. Edward receives phone calls from widows seeking love, or at least lunch, while well-meaning friends try to set him up at dinner parties. Even an attractive married neighbor offers herself to him.

The problem is that Edward doesn’t feel available. He’s still mourning his beloved wife, Bee, and prefers solitude and the familiar routine of work, gardening, and bird-watching. But then his stepchildren surprise him by placing a personal ad in The New York Review of Books on his behalf. Soon the letters flood in, and Edward is torn between his loyalty to Bee’s memory and his growing longing for connection. Gradually, reluctantly, he begins dating (“dating after death,” as one correspondent puts it), and his encounters are variously startling, comical, and sad. Just when Edward thinks he has the game figured out, a chance meeting proves that love always arrives when it’s least expected.

With wit, warmth, and a keen understanding of the heart, An Available Man explores aspects of loneliness and togetherness, and the difference in the options open to men and women of a certain age. Most of all, the novel celebrates the endurance of love, and its thrilling capacity to bloom anew.


by Elmore Leonard

The revered New York Times bestselling author, recognized as “America’s greatest crime writer” (Newsweek), brings back U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, the mesmerizing hero of Pronto, Riding the Rap, and the hit FX series Justified.

With the closing of the Harlan County, Kentucky, coal mines, marijuana has become the biggest cash crop in the state. A hundred pounds of it can gross $300,000, but that’s chump change compared to the quarter million a human body can get you—especially when it’s sold off piece by piece.

So when Dickie and Coover Crowe, dope-dealing brothers known for sampling their own supply, decide to branch out into the body business, it’s up to U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens to stop them. But Raylan isn’t your average marshal; he’s the laconic, Stetson-wearing, fast-drawing lawman who juggles dozens of cases at a time and always shoots to kill. But by the time Raylan finds out who’s making the cuts, he’s lying naked in a bathtub, with Layla, the cool transplant nurse, about to go for his kidneys.

The bad guys are mostly gals this time around: Layla, the nurse who collects kidneys and sells them for ten grand a piece; Carol Conlan, a hard-charging coal-mine executive not above ordering a cohort to shoot point-blank a man who’s standing in her way; and Jackie Nevada, a beautiful sometime college student who can outplay anyone at the poker table and who suddenly finds herself being tracked by a handsome U.S. marshal.
Dark and droll, Raylan is pure Elmore Leonard—a page-turner filled with the sparkling dialogue and sly suspense that are the hallmarks of this modern master.-


Defending Jacob

by William Landay

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.



by Jean Edward Smith

"Stimulating and informative."

In his magisterial bestseller FDR, Jean Edward Smith gave us a fresh, modern look at one of the most indelible figures in American history. Now this peerless biographer returns with a new life of Dwight D. Eisenhower that is as full, rich, and revealing as anything ever written about America’s thirty-fourth president. As America searches for new heroes to lead it out of its present-day predicaments, Jean Edward Smith’s achievement lies in reintroducing us to a hero from the past whose virtues have become clouded in the mists of history.

Here is Eisenhower the young dreamer, charting a course from Abilene, Kansas, to West Point, to Paris under Pershing, and beyond. Drawing on a wealth of untapped primary sources, Smith provides new insight into Ike’s maddening apprenticeship under Douglas MacArthur in Washington and the Philippines. Then the whole panorama of World War II unfolds, with Eisenhower’s superlative generalship forging the Allied path to victory through multiple reversals of fortune in North Africa and Italy, culminating in the triumphant invasion of Normandy. Smith also gives us an intriguing examination of Ike’s finances, details his wartime affair with Kay Summersby, and reveals the inside story of the 1952 Republican convention that catapulted him to the White House.

Smith’s chronicle of Eisenhower’s presidential years is as compelling as it is comprehensive. Derided by his detractors as a somnambulant caretaker, Eisenhower emerges in Smith’s perceptive retelling as both a canny politician and a skillful, decisive leader. Smith convincingly portrays an Eisenhower who engineered an end to America’s three-year no-win war in Korea, resisted calls for preventative wars against the Soviet Union and China, and boldly deployed the Seventh Fleet to protect Formosa from invasion. This Eisenhower, Smith shows us, stared down Khrushchev over Berlin and forced the withdrawal of British, French, and Israeli forces from the Suez Canal. He managed not only to keep the peace—after Ike made peace in Korea, not one American soldier was killed in action during his tenure—but also to enhance America’s prestige in the Middle East and throughout the world.

Domestically, Eisenhower reduced defense spending, balanced the budget, constructed the interstate highway system, and provided social security coverage for millions who were self-employed. Ike believed that traditional American values encompassed change and progress.

Unmatched in insight, Eisenhower in War and Peace at last gives us an Eisenhower for our time—and for the ages.


Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper: What Not to Do When Keeping Bees (With Apologies to My Own)

by Bill Turnbull

Bill Turnbull had no intention of becoming a beekeeper. But when he saw an ad for beekeeping classes–after a swarm of bees landed in his suburban backyard–it seemed to be a sign. Despite being stung on the head–twice–at his first hands-on beekeeping class, Turnbull found himself falling in love with the fascinating, infuriating honeybee.
As a new beekeeper, Turnbull misplaced equipment for months, got stung more times–and in more places–than he cares to remember, and once even lost some bees up a chimney. But he kept at it, with a ready sense of humor and Zen-like acceptance of every mishap. And somehow, along the way, he learned a great deal about himself and the world around him.

Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper chronicles Turnbull’s misadventures (and brief moments of triumph) in the curious world of backyard beekeeping–and also highlights both the threat to our bee population and what we can do to help these vital little creatures do their wonderful work.-

An Everlasting Meal

by Tamar Adler

In this meditation on cooking and eating, Tamar Adler weaves philosophy and instruction into approachable lessons on feeding ourselves well. An Everlasting Meal demonstrates the implicit frugality in cooking. In essays on forgotten skills such as boiling, suggestions for what to do when cooking seems like a chore, and strategies for preparing, storing, and transforming ingredients for a week’s worth of satisfying, delicious meals,
Tamar reminds us of the practical pleasures of eating. She explains what cooks in the world’s great kitchens know: that the best meals rely on the ends of the meals that came before them. With that in mind, she shows how we often throw away the bones, skins, and peels we need to make our food both more affordable and better. She also reminds readers that almost all kitchen mistakes can be remedied. Summoning respectable meals from the humblest ingredients, Tamar breathes life into the belief that we can start cooking from wherever we are, with whatever we have.
An empowering, indispensable work, An Everlasting Meal is an elegant testimony to the value of cooking.

Young Adult

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

by Stephen Chbosky

standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective…but there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. since its publication, stephen chbosky’s haunting debut novel has received critical acclaim, provoked discussion and debate, grown into a cult phenomenon with over a million copies in print, and inspired a major motion picture. the perks of being a wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. the world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. of sex, drugs, and the rocky horror picture show. of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up. -

The Fault In Our Stars

by John Green

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love. -



by Paul Fleischman

A vacant lot, rat-infested and filled with garbage, looked like no place for a garden. Especially to a neighborhood of strangers where no one seems to care. Until one day, a young girl clears a small space and digs into the hard-packed soil to plant her precious bean seeds. Suddenly, the soil holds promise: To Curtis, who believes he can win back Lateesha's heart with a harvest of tomatoes; to Virgil's dad, who seems a fortune to be made from growing lettuce; and even to Mariclea, sixteen and pregnant, wishing she were dead.

Thirteen very different voices--old, young, Haitian, Hispanic, tough, haunted, and hopeful tell one amazing story about a garden that transforms a neighborhood.

An old man seeking renewal, a young girl connecting to a father she never knew, a pregnant teenager dreading motherhood.Thirteen voices tell one story of the flowering of a vacant city lot into a neighborhood garden. Old, young, Jamaican, Korean, Hispanic, tough, haunted, hopeful'Newbery Medal winner Paul Fleischman weaves characters as diverse as the plants they grow into a rich, multi-layered exploration of how a community is born and nurtured in an urban environment. . -

Marcelo in the Real World

by Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo Sandoval hears music no one else can hear--part of the autism-like impairment no doctor has been able to identify--and he's always attended a special school where his differences have been protected. But the summer after his junior year, his father demands that Marcelo work in his law firm's mailroom in order to experience "the real world." -

Juvenile Fiction



by R.J. Polacio

I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse. August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a New York Times bestseller, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.  -

The Unforgotten Coat

by Frank Cottrell Boyce

From the best-selling author of Cosmic and Millions comes an evocative immigration tale about two brothers trying to survive- a daring story that miraculously defies belief. When two Mongolian brothers inexplicably appear one morning in Julie's sixth grade class, no one, least of all Julie, knows what to do with them. But when Chingis, the older of the two brothers, proclaims Julie as their "Good Guide" - a nomadic tradition of welcoming strangers to a new land - Julie must somehow navigate them through soccer, school uniforms, and British slang, all while trying to win Shocky's attention and perhaps also an invitation to her friend Mimi's house. At times funny, this moving and simply told novella tugs at the heart-a unique story of immigration both fierce in its telling and magical in its characters. -


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Martha's Spring and Summer 2012 Picks


Local Flavor:


Rogue Island and Cliff Walk

by Bruce DeSilva

Two detective stories that hit close to home!  Both novels are set in Rhode Island and the main character, Mulligan, miscreant journalist from Providence, interacts with various low-life and vaguely familiar characters throughout the state. Reference to various locales and “Rhode Island types” make these a fun read for the Rhode Islander. Rogue Island treats us to a good facsimile of Rhode Island politics while Mulligan is on the hunt for a firebug in Mount Pleasant; Cliff Walk meanders through a web of prostitution rings, strip clubs and dive bars and the ubiquitous Rhode Island “mob” scene. Both books are enjoyable for the local flavor, though I would not classify either as “high literature”!

Icelandic Intrigues:


Ashes to Dust and My Soul To Take

by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

This author has also written just two books, but I would very likely pick up a third, if she writes it! Sigurdardottir takes up bizarre and ritualistic crime scenes and weaves them very nicely with an ongoing personal story concerning the main character, a female lawyer with a bent for crime-solving. While the storyline can become complicated, they are pretty much edge of the seat thrillers touching on the macabre – severed heads, ritual self-mutilation, sex therapists gone awry and what have you, in the Nordic tradition, apparently!

Schlock Horror:


Suffer the Children, Shadows and The Devil's Labyrinth

by John Saul

A prolific author of what I might call “entertainment reading”, I picked up three : Suffer the Children (his first), Shadows and The Devil’s Labyrinth. Suffer the Children was a gripping, ghostly, intense murder mystery, hard to forget.  The other two were set in private schools with a dark side, somewhat farfetched, but easy to read and still chilling. If you are looking for a twisted escape, most likely any of the novels by John Saul will fit the bill.

Best Medical Drama:


by Sanjay Gupta, M.D.

While I am not prone to reading novels of a medical nature, I had heard some good things about this book. It is classified as fiction, but based quite a bit on the day to day reality of the world of neurosurgeons. I found this book to be as high tension as any crime or mystery novel could be, though the main focus was medical mistakes made by the elite of all doctors. Each Monday morning, these doctors meet to discuss the life and sometimes death decisions they have had to make….the characters come alive and the moral issues raised are very thought-provoking. I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed this well-written book about a subject I normally would have avoided.

Best Francophile Read 2012:


Sacré Bleu

by Christopher Moore

All your favorite French artists rolled up into one very creative, rather humorous and fun to look at novel. Moore covers the years around Parisian Montmartre (approx. 1860-1890), including all the big names: Monet, Manet, Renoir, Pisarro etc…and creates an intrigue starting with the death of Vincent Van Gogh. It all has something to do with the “sacred blue” paint sold by the wandering paint vendor…bizarre, hardly plausible storyline, but too creative to pass up. This book also features blue print (not as hard to read as I thought), and wonderful reproduction images of many famous paintings as related to various plot scenes in the book. The characters are have real vitality, the dialogue is frequently quite comedic and the historical setting actually rather accurate. The whole book is like a work of art in itself – enjoy!

P.S. When you’re done with the book, you can watch the DVD “Moulin Rouge” (1952 version), depicting the life of Henri de Toulouse Lautrec and his lover. The film also stars Zsa Zsa Gabor. Very entertaining and also true to detail.


Antiques, the Amazon and Ferris Wheels:

Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: An Insider’s Look at the World of Antiques, Flea Markets and Collecting

by Maureen Stanton

The author shadows an antiques pro through his annual activities in the cut-throat world of buying and selling collectibles and antiques. Get an insider’s opinion on how to best profit from flea markets, auctions, yard sales, Ebay, and shows like Brimfield. Tips and tricks of the trade are shared – though, in the end, it seems like a pretty tough way to make a living. You can form your own opinion of the business upon completion of this very interesting book.

Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

by David Grann

This was an absolutely fascinating descriptive book concerning the life of explorer Percy Fawcett ending in the mysterious disappearance of himself and his Amazon expedition party of 1925.  Exhaustive research and a layman’s approach to the subject make this an easy read. At the turn of the century, large parts of the globe were still being explored and mapped – there was huge competition to be the first to cover the Amazon area and also to discover evidence of lost ancient tribes in the area. Percy Fawcett, and eventually his son, as well, mounted several expeditions, financed at first by the English National Geographic Society. Fawcett later became poverty-stricken, yet mounted his final exploration only to disappear forever.  Highly recommended read if the subject suits you.

            Devil in the White City: Murder and Madness and the Fair That Changed America

 by Erik Larsen

The “White City” in the title refers to the1893 World’s Fair, held in Chicago. The “Devil” refers to a serial killer who was active at the same era in Chicago. The Chicago World’s Fair (also known as the World’s Colombian exposition – as in Christopher Columbus), was meant to be a successor to, and better than, the Paris World Exposition of 1889, which featured the Eiffel tower.  The author takes you on a high-stress tour of the planning and production of the fair, while alternating chapters treat the story of one of America’s most notorious serial killers working out of Chicago at the same time. Many young women attracted to the glamour of the World’s Fair fell victim to this murderer, posing as a businessman and hotelier.





Monday, March 19, 2012

Martha's Winter 2011-2012 Picks

Top Secret Stuff to Read.....

An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base. Annie Jacobsen. Non-Fiction.
All the CIA, FBI and Air Force info you might not really want to know! Area 51, being the famous site where the Roswell aliens are now supposedly stashed, is discussed in detail due to recent declassification of certain former top secret materials relating to the government site. Based on interviews and research of the the newly available materials, you will learn about the development of nuclear bombs and their testing as well as our own incredibly expensive spy planes (total titanium), leading up to today's drones which currently cruise the altitudes above various countries. Alas, the 60 million or so pages relating to the Roswell aliens remain classified. You will have to read to the end of the book to discover the author's theory about the actual identity of the aliens...achieved through personal interviews of a former employee. The Russians might be involved...A detailed and good read, if you really want to know the truth about certain governmental activities.
Want to read actual declassified top secret documents? You can go to and have a blast!

Film of related interest: "Fair Game". Inner workings of the CIA, as an agent has her cover blown and her husband tries to fight the government for her support....

Top Secret New England Stuff to Read...

Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, The Ivy League and Hidden Paths of Power
. Alexandra Robbins. Non-Fiction.
"The Tomb" here is referring to the meeting place of the elusive Yale University club, the Skull and Bones. The "hidden paths of power" would refer to the high coincidence of Yale graduates who were, oddly, also members of this exclusive club, and, who, oddly, also became United States Presidents or who otherwise, oddly, have found rather high positions of authority in the political stratosphere of America. This book takes you through the developmental history of Yale University, from the initial conception of the college. Somewhat scary is the fact that Skull and Bones was there at the beginning and still continues to function. What you may not know is that several competitive secret societies exist on the campus, which have also produced a fair number of high-ranking officials. Women have rather recently been accepted into Skull and Bones.The author claims to have been a member of one of the "other clubs" and to "know people". Fascinating info about a very closed society, undoubtedly with many secrets, some of which you probably will not find in the book....

For the Francophiles...

Aristide Ravel Mysteries. Susanne Alleyn. Mysteries.

Easy-going mysteries set in pre-revolutionary France, with awesome Parisian historical detail. The books feature the character Aristide Ravel, writer turned semi-professional cop. Read about turn of the 18th century Free Masons, the monarchy, the Church, romance and more. "The Cavalier of the Apocalypse" (nothing at all apocalyptic about it), "Game of Patience" and "A Treasury of Regrets".

Madame Tussaud. Michelle Moran. Fiction.

Very well written fictionalized account of the famous Madame Tussaud wax museum and its "participation" in the French Revolution, 1789, Paris. The wax museum acted as a "three dimensional newspaper:", depicting current events and people in waxen form. A very gripping account of the King and Queen, Marie Antoinette and Louis the 16th. life at Versailles and "the Terror", as known by Parisian citizens at the time of their overthrow. Also, colorful portraits of the political characters involved in history at the time, many of whom "visited" the Tussaud's salons. The guillotine is alive and well in this book and gives one pause to think about the path to freedom and democracy, as the French did model their government on aspects of America's preliminary government.

Vampires Strike Again...

The Night Eternal. Guillermo Del Torro/Chuck Hogan. Fiction.

At last the third and final installment to the Vampire series!
Global apocalypse and takeover by the Vampires...David vs. Goliath....suspense, drama, a race to the end....and then Resolution! A must read if you have started the Strain Trilogy! (The Strain, The Fall)
See Del Torro films...always creative, touching and unusual. My favs: "Pan's Labyrinth", "El Espinazo del Diablo" (The Devil's Backbone" - do not be dissuaded by the cover picture of a gross is a ghost story, but is quite wonderful), Hellboy I and II!

Comedic Relief...

How to be a Wild, Wise, Witty Woman. Loretta LaRoche. Humor.
Way to brighten a dreary day! Listen to her in the car for hysterical, practical advice, full of optimism. Aimed towards women, but men will also get a chuckle from some excerpts!

Fashion Suicides:The highs and lows of the Fashion Industry....

Savage Beauty. Andrew Bolton. Exhibition catalog.

Upon the death of fashion designer, Alexander McQueen (suicide) last year, there was a retrospective show of his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City called "Savage Beauty. You can get the catalog book of the museum pieces, also called "Savage Beauty", see the fantastic range of his work and get a glimpse into his personal and professional life. The book also has a very cool cover - changing from skull to portrait of the artist. You can also go to Youtube and see live footage of his fashion shows...those shoes...yikes!
A friend of McQueen's and yet another fashion suicide...

Blow by Blow: The Story of Isabella Blow. Detmar Blow (husband). Biography.

Short, sad and very readable. Isabella Blow was involved in the initial success of Alexander McQueen, a proponent/advocate of the newest fashion talents... only to be used and forgotten in the end....involves the fashion business and aspects of the titled English aristocracy.

L'Amour Fou. Directed by Pierre Thoretton. Documentary.

The life of designer Yves St. Laurent, as told by his partner Pierre Thoretton.
Tragic and dramatic, just like his fashion collections. Very tastefully done documentary outlining Yves St. Laurent's fashion career, his descent into addiction and oddity, and his over-the top, unbelievable collection of art, recently auctioned off for zillions of dollars. True fashion trauma at its best, so engaging and so "triste" (sad), as one would say in French. Film in French with English subtitles.
P.S. Yves St. Laurent was not a suicide, he died of brain cancer.

Swedish Horror...

Let the Right One In. John Ajvide Lindqvist. Fiction.

Wow, Swedish creep at its' best! Author John Ajvide Lindqvist has successfully combined the elements of human depravity with a vampire twist in "Let the Right One In". An international best-seller, I can understand why. Eerie, believable, but unbelievable, read it if you enjoy horror once in a while (and don't turn off the lights!). Also see the movie (after the book) "Let Me In"...interesting visual interpretation of the text. Lindqvist has also written other books, among which I tried "Handling the Undead"- more mundane horror, but entertaining.

CSI (Crime Scene Investigation)...

The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science. Douglas Star. Non-fiction.

This was a truly fascinating book detailing the activities of the original crime scene investigators, in France, who diligently worked to create the profiling and testing that we now see weekly on crime investigation programs such as CSI and Criminal Minds on television. Though the title is a bit disturbing, essentially it refers to the tracking of a serial killer in the 1800's, upon whom much testing was later done to establish the parameters of "what makes a criminal a criminal". Everything from physical diagnostics to mental and social issues are graphically brought to light - questions of what does or does not constitute criminal insanity are discussed...forget the title, read the book!

On the lighter side...

Cat Mysteries Series. Lilian Jackson Braun. Fiction.

My father and I both picked up a Lilian Braun cat mystery at the same time, unknowingly - we both enjoyed the light, easy read. I started with "The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern" and my Dad with "The Cat Who Said Cheese".

I was curious about the author, as she has so many books on the library shelf, and I do like cats. My Dad has since gone to complete the reading of 26-27 of the books ! According to my Dad, the "cats helped solve a murder mystery by their actions and reactions, as if they knew more than the people". I, too, found this charming and intriguing. "Each chapter covers small town activity and a piece of the mystery...", says Dad, which, I would say, makes for a very pleasant afternoon read...though I might never catch up to Dad's 27 books!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Denise's Winter Picks

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Juvenile Fiction.

Emotionally intense wonderful story.

"Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line. Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better. Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope." -

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Young Adult Fiction.

Fast-paced and emotionally intense.

"In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games," a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed." -

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer. Fiction.

Emotionally intense. A wonderful book.

"Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey."

The Cellist of Saravejo by Steven Galloway. Fiction.

Emotionally intense.

"In a city ravaged by war, a musician plays his cello for twenty-two days at the site of a mortar attack, in memory of the fallen. Among the strangers drawn into the orbit of his music are a young father in search of water for his family, an older man in search of the humanity he once knew, and a young woman, a sniper, who will decide the fate of the cellist?and the kind of person she wants to be."

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Fiction.

Very slow. I gave in at 250 pages.

"At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.
Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others." -

The Face of a Stranger by Anne Perry. Mystery.

"His name, they tell him, is William Monk, and he is a London police detecive. But the accident that felled him has left him with only half a life; his memory and his entire past have vanished. As he tries to hide the truth, Monk returns to work and is assigned to investigate the brutal murder of a Crimean War hero and man about town. Which makes Monk's efforts doubly difficult, since he's forgotten his professional skills along with everything else....." - Kirkus Reviews

The Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley. Non-Fiction.

Informative and intriguing.

"Honeybees make decisions collectively--and democratically. Every year, faced with the life-or-death problem of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate, and consensus building. In fact, as world-renowned animal behaviorist Thomas Seeley reveals, these incredible insects have much to teach us when it comes to collective wisdom and effective decision making.

A remarkable and richly illustrated account of scientific discovery, Honeybee Democracy brings together, for the first time, decades of Seeley's pioneering research to tell the amazing story of house hunting and democratic debate among the honeybees.

In the late spring and early summer, as a bee colony becomes overcrowded, a third of the hive stays behind and rears a new queen, while a swarm of thousands departs with the old queen to produce a daughter colony. Seeley describes how these bees evaluate potential nest sites, advertise their discoveries to one another, engage in open deliberation, choose a final site, and navigate together--as a swirling cloud of bees--to their new home. Seeley investigates how evolution has honed the decision-making methods of honeybees over millions of years, and he considers similarities between the ways that bee swarms and primate brains process information. He concludes that what works well for bees can also work well for people: any decision-making group should consist of individuals with shared interests and mutual respect, a leader's influence should be minimized, debate should be relied upon, diverse solutions should be sought, and the majority should be counted on for a dependable resolution.

An impressive exploration of animal behavior, Honeybee Democracy shows that decision-making groups, whether honeybee or human, can be smarter than even the smartest individuals in them." -

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai. Juvenile Fiction.

"Fadi never imagined he'd start middle school in Fremont, California, thousands of miles away from home in Kabul. But, here he was, half a world apart from his missing six year old sister who'd been lost because of him, as they'd fled Afghanistan. Adjusting to life in the United States isn't easy for Fadi's family and as the events of September 11th unfold, the prospects of locating Mariam in a war torn Afghanistan seem slim -- impossible. Desperate, Fadi tries every hare-brained scheme he can think of to find her. When a photography competition with a grand prize trip to India is announced, Fadi sees his chance to return to Afghanistan and find his sister. But can one photo really bring Mariam home?

Based in part on Ms. Senzai's husband's experience fleeing Soviet controlled Afghanistan in 1979, Shooting Kabul is a powerful story of hope, love, and perseverance." -

The Great Cheese Conspiracy by Jean Van Leeuwen. Juvenile Fiction.

"Fed up with the slim pickings in their movie-theater home, Merciless Marvin the Magnificent and his mouse gang decide to hit the big time and pull a heist of such magnitude even Humphrey Bogart would be proud. The Target: a cheese store." -

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Denise's Picks

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. Fiction.

Fast paced and emotionally intense.

"When a white servant girl violates the order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she has come to call her family.

Orphaned while onboard ship from Ireland, seven-year-old Lavinia arrives on the steps of a tobacco plantation where she is to live and work with the slaves of the kitchen house. Under the care of Belle, the master's illegitimate daughter, Lavinia becomes deeply bonded to her adopted family, though she is set apart from them by her white skin.

Eventually, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. Lavinia finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds. When she is forced to make a choice, loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare, and lives are put at risk.

The Kitchen House is a tragic story of page-turning suspense, exploring the meaning of family, where love and loyalty prevail."-

A Day in the life of Ancient Rome by Alberto Angela. Non-Fiction.

Informative and illuminating.

"The roar of frenzied spectators inside the Coliseum during a battle between gladiators. A crowd of onlookers gathered around a slave driver. The wondrous plenty of banquets where flamingos are roasted whole and wine flows like rivers. The silence of the baths and the boisterous taverns . . . Many books have dealt with the history of ancient Rome, but none has been able to bring its readers so near to daily life in the Imperial capital." -

Sister by Rosamund Lupton. Mystery.

"When her mom calls to tell her that Tess, her younger sister, is missing, Bee returns home to London on the first flight. She expects to find Tess and give her the usual lecture, the bossy big sister scolding her flighty baby sister for taking off without letting anyone know her plans. Tess has always been a free spirit, an artist who takes risks, while conservative Bee couldn’t be more different. Bee is used to watching out for her wayward sibling and is fiercely protective of Tess (and has always been a little stern about her antics). But then Tess is found dead, apparently by her own hand."-

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. Fiction.

Denise loved this!

"The School of Essential Ingredients follows the lives of eight students who gather in Lillian’s Restaurant every Monday night for cooking class. It soon becomes clear, however, that each one seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen. Students include Claire, a young mother struggling with the demands of her family; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer learning to adapt to life in America; and Tom, a widower mourning the loss of his wife to breast cancer. Chef Lillian, a woman whose connection with food is both soulful and exacting, helps them to create dishes whose flavor and techniques expand beyond the restaurant and into the secret corners of her students’ lives. One by one the students are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of Lillian’s food, including a white-on-white cake that prompts wistful reflections on the sweet fragility of love and a peppery heirloom tomato sauce that seems to spark one romance but end another. Brought together by the power of food and companionship, the lives of the characters mingle and intertwine, united by the revealing nature of what can be created in the kitchen."

Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister. Fiction.

Another great read by the author of "The School of Essential Ingredients."

"At an intimate, festive dinner party in Seattle, six women gather to celebrate their friend Kate's recovery from cancer. Wineglass in hand, Kate strikes a bargain with them. To celebrate her new lease on life, she'll do the one thing that's always terrified her: white-water rafting. But if she goes, all of them will also do something they always swore they'd never do-and Kate is going to choose their adventures.

Shimmering with warmth, wit, and insight, Joy for Beginners is a celebration of life: unexpected, lyrical, and deeply satisfying."