Monday, October 31, 2011

Killing Yourself to Live.

by Chuck Klosterman, 256 pages.

I heart music manifestos. This book's premise is about a music journalist traveling across the US checking out the locales of death of famous rock stars, but really Chuck is taking you into the rambling thoughts he has about the women he's loved while on the journey...he says little about the places of the rock star deaths he visits. Good read, though not Klosterman's best. Very meandering...

Love, Magic and Mudpies by Dr. Bernie Siegel, 239 pages

With my motherhood impending and the months remaining until I have our baby girl dwindling away, I have been reading a huge amount of information on pregnancy, childbirth, and babies. Of all of those great resources (of which I have chosen not to blog about due to the small percentage of you that this information would benefit), I just finished my absolute favorite so far and just had to share it. Love, Magic and Mudpies focuses on the raising of children from birth to empty nest, what makes a happy home, and just how important love is when shaping the kind of adult your child will become. This component is the most difficult and, I think, most crucial element to parenting that I think a lot of people overlook.
Love, Magic and Mudpies is a how-to book by Dr. Bernie Siegel. I have never heard of Dr. Siegel before but it turns out he is an accomplished surgeon and counselor for those diagnosed with terminal illnesses, and after reading this book, I think he is an all around amazing human being. This book takes a beautiful not too preachy, or heavy, beautifully non-denominational spiritual approach to raising your children in a loving, safe, and non-judgmental environment.
I LOVED THIS BOOK. I think it is a must-read for anyone who just wants to be a better person in general or who yearns to see the beauty and fun in the world again. Not just for parents, Dr. Siegel urges, as he himself narrates his audiobook anecdotes wonderfully warmly, that this book can also be used for all of you who maybe were not raised in the most functional household, to re-parent yourself and learn to love yourself. I could go on all day about the value of this book. Even just the quotes by famous or influential people that he uses to open his discussion points are alone worth looking at. I will own this book. It is gorgeous. It will be my parenting bible.

The Litigators by John Grisham (385 pages)

Grisham's latest legal drama centers around the law firm of Finley & Figg. A small firm that consists of Oscar Finley and his junior partner Wally Figg. Finley is content to survive on small divorce and DUI cases, however, Wally is always looking for the big score and this time he is sure that he has found it with a class action suit that centers around a cholesterol drug that is allegedly killing people.

Into the mix comes rookie Harvard law graduate David Zinc, who after realizing how miserable he is, leaves the huge law firm where he used to bill $500 per hour to become an associate at Finley and Figg. Together, the three attorney's must work to tackle the firms biggest case yet, in hopes of becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams.

I am a sucker for a John Grisham novel, so when I saw this one was coming out I immediately put my name on the hold list, however, this is not your typical Grisham novel--it has a meandering pace and includes quite a bit of humor. While I enjoyed the story, I would not place it on my "to recommend list." Die-hard fans, like myself, will inevitable read it, but Grisham will probably not be getting any new fans from this one.

Killer Stuff and Tons of Money by Maureen Stanton, 326 pages

Anyone who has watched "Antiques Roadshow" has wondered what wonderful treasure resides in their attic or dreamed about discovering a priceless antique at a garage sale. Curt Avery is someone who makes his living buying and selling antiques. He had his love of antiques triggered by digging up old bottles as a young boy, spent time working at an auction house, and learning the hard way by buying "mistakes". This book looks at the world of dealers who troll flea markets, antique shows, and even Ebay now to buy low and try to sell high. Also discussed is how reproductions can drop the floor out of the market, changing trends, and how even Martha Stewart affected the antique market.

Fledgling by Octavia Butler, 310 pages

Shori wakes up, alone and injured in a cave, with no memory of who she is. Before she knows it she is killing animals and healing her injuries, but unfortunately not her memory loss. After finding a young man and becoming attached after drinking his blood, Shori discovers that she is not the young black girl she appears to be, but is instead a fifty-three-year-old "vampire" who has been genetically altered to be able to walk in the day. Her family has been wiped out in a horrific attack that she managed to survive. Will Shori be able to protect herself and her "minions" while she tries to find out who's responsible for the attacks before they strike again?
This was an interesting update of the vampire story, weaving science and historical lore in a new twist.

Teacher Crush by Kate William, 135 pages

Pretty and talented Olivia Davidson has always seemed independent. So it comes a total surprise to Elizabeth Wakefield when Olivia confides in her that she's lonely. Everyone she knows is going out with someone, and now she's ready for a new boyfriend. Then Stuart Bachman, a gorgeous artist, starts teaching at Sweet Valley High. Olivia takes his class and is completely swept off her feet by him. Soon Mr. Bachman is all Olivia thinks or talks about. And it looks as if he may return her feelings. Has Olivia found true love, or is she headed for heartbreak?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The 72 Names of God: Technology for the Soul by Yehudah Berg, 218 pp.

This is a book about the Shemhamphoresch, the 72-fold name of God and corresponding 72 derived angelic names encoded into the 14th chapter of Exodus in three 72 letter sentences all placed together. Each of the 72 names is ascribed to a 5 degree arc of the circle of the ecliptic (path) of our sun in the heavens. I have read it over the past year, keeping up with the reading for the angel in astronomical course of the time. The beginning of the book (before the angelic meditations) concerns the two ways to overcome all obstacles in our lives: Suffering or Spritual Transformation. A very interesting and inspirational book, filled with illustrations and colours.

Flamingo Fatale by Jimmie Ruth Evans, 445 pages

Wanda Nell Culpepper is a divorced, trailer-living waitress trying to raise her two daughters and grandson. When her ex-husband stumbles back into their lives, she wastes no time in telling the deadbeat dad to beat it. Unfortunately, the very next morning she stumbles across his dead body, skewered with one of her pink flamingo lawn ornaments. Now Wanda must work to prove her innocence before she ends up behind bars or worse.
This was the first murder mystery I'd ever read with a flamingo lawn ornament as the murder weapon. I must say, the world needs more trailer park detectives. This was a lot of fun, but at times it reminded me way too much of people I grew up with.

The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins, 325 pages

In the summer of 1897 a torso wrapped in oilcloth was pulled from the river off the Lower East Side by young boys. The discovery, followed by blueberry pickers finding wrapped limbs, set off a newspaper frenzy about this horrifying crime. Newspaper reporters raced to try to identify the body and stir up circulation, many times beating the police to clues. This case was mainly responsible for the creation of the tabloid as we know it today. This case had blood, sex, and lots of intrigue, everything needed to grasp the attention of not only New York but the whole country.
This nonfiction book was fascinating, not only giving a close-up view of New York police, but also the newspaper world at this pivotal time. Very well researched and written, a must read for true crime and American history buffs.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Todd's Story by Kate William, 215 pages

When Todd Wilkins and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Wakefield, land jobs as counselors at Secca Lake Day Camp, the summer is off to a great start-until Todd runs into a counselor named Kevin Holmes. Everyone else thinks Kevin is terrific-including Elizabeth. But Todd knows Kevin's secret: Kevin was in jail, and Todd helped put him there! Todd suspects that Kevin wants revenge, even though Kevin acts as if he's turned over a new leaf. When Kevin's around, Todd becomes edgy, defensive, and rude. Soon even Elizabeth is siding with Kevin. But when a crime wave hits Sweet Valley, Todd knows he was right all along. Can Todd expose Kevin's criminal scheme before Kevin gets his revenge...and hurts Elizabeth in the process?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ernie Pyle's War by James Tobin, 312 pages

Ernie Pyle was the go-to war correspondent during WWII for many Americans because he covered the common soldier. This book covers Ernie's career, starting out as an aviation reporter, then a travelogue reporter, and finally a war correspondent. I had never heard of Ernie Pyle, but by the end of the book I felt like I knew him. Ernie's columns had the same reaction for his readers, creating an impression of a common man who was everyone's neighbor, reacting the same way we would. This book brought alive a section of American history that I had really only knew based on watching The Waltons (sorry, this time period wasn't my favorite) but I will now be looking for other books to read on this tumultuous time. I'm very glad I read this for the library book club.

Soft Apocalypse, Will McIntosh, 239 pgs.

A quick and easy read, Soft Apocalypse is nevertheless a thought provoking tale set in the near future. The protagonist of our story is Jasper, a college graduate whose sociology degree does him no good in a financially ruined and collapsed society. The story takes place over a ten year period; each chapter reads almost as its own short story. Follow the tale of Jasper and his tribe as they struggle to keep their humanity in a dying world gone mad.Add Image

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Naughty in Nice by Rhys Bowen, 328 pages

A fun murder mystery set in 1930s England, with Lady Georgiana being thirty-fourth in line for the throne, and pretty much dirt poor. She is asked by the Queen to travel to Nice during the winter to try to recover a snuffbox that had been stolen. Georgie of course manages to stumble across a dead body and must try to find the murderer because she is considered a suspect. These books are always a lot of fun, a great treat for those who like light-hearted historical mysteries.

Left at the Altar by Kate William, 199 pages

Jessica Wakefield is living a double life. At the same time she and her twin sister, Elizabeth, are helping their new friend, Sue Gibbons, plan her wedding, Jessica's meeting secretly with Sue's fiance, Jeremy Randall. Elizabeth warns her to stay away, but Jessica can't help herself-she's never been so much in love! When Jeremy tells her he can't go through with marrying Sue, Jessica is ecstatic. But tragedy intervenes when Sue is stricken by a deadly disease, and torn by guilt, Jeremy decides he must walk down the aisle. Will Jessica stand by and let Jeremy say "I do"?

Jessica's Secret Love by Kate William, 197 pages

When Jessica Wakefield meets Jeremy, on the beach, she can't believe her eyes. He's everything she's always dreamed of and more. It's love at first sight for him, too, and they share an intimate kiss. Then Jeremy says he can't see her again, and Jessica doesn't know what to think. But soon she understands all too well. He's engaged to the Wakefields' houseguest! Sue Gibbons, daughter of Alice Wakefield's college roommate, has come to Sweet Valley to get married. She and Jessica become instant best friends, and Jessica knows she's going to love Sue's fiance. When she finally meets him and discovers it's Jeremy, she realizes how right she was! She does love Sue's fiance, and she wants Jeremy Randall, engaged or not for herself!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Lady Sophies Christmas Wish by Grace Burrowes, 404 pages

Sophie Windham has managed to steal a few days before Christmas for herself, alone at the ducal mansion in London. Little does she expect to be stranded in a snowstorm, with a baby, dependent upon a handsome stranger for advice. Vim Charpentier believes Sophie is the housekeeper, and an inappropriate, but beautiful, distraction before heading to an uncomfortable family gathering in Kent. With both "Lord Baby" and Sophie working their way into his heart, Vim knows he should resist falling in love, but passion and attraction work their forces upon not only Vim but Sophie also. Can these two overcome the expectations of their families, society, and their upbringing to even picture a future together?
Grace Burrowes has written yet another outstanding Regency romance featuring the Windham family with "Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish". Each book is well-crafted, making me laugh, tear up, and blush many times while reading it. This family has worked it's way into my heart, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next book in this series. I recommend reading them in order, not only to make them more enjoyable, but also because each book is a treat that shouldn't be missed.

The Virtuoso by Grace Burrowes, 397 pages

Valentine Windham is the youngest son in a ducal family, who has made it his life's mission to be as different from his brothers and father as possible. His talent and passion lays in playing the piano but when a hand injury demands that he stop playing, Valentine wonders what, if anything, he has to offer when music no longer is an option. Winning a dilapidated estate gives Valentine an excuse to throw himself into restoring the manor and farm. Ellen FitzEngle, is the widow who lives in a small cottage on the estate, who Valentine shared a passion-filled kiss with years ago, but has never forgot. Valentine woos Ellen, gaining her heart, but will he be able to gain her trust when both of them have secrets they are hiding. Ellen knows that she might be able to have a summer with Valentine, but there is no way they can have a lifetime together.
"The Virtuoso" by Grace Burrowes is the final book in the Windham brothers trilogy and serves as a wonderful stepping off point for the five sisters and their stories. This book was filled with wonderfully touching relationships, interesting and intriguing characters, witty and delightful humor, and steamy and romantic seduction, all coming together to create an outstanding Regency romance. Each book reminds of Georgette Heyer in the characters and dialogue with the romance stepped up. I ended this book sad that it was over, but glad I still have five sisters to watch fall in love.

My Boyfriend is a Monster: Made for Each Other by Paul Storrie, 126 pages

Frankenstein is reset in modern day Alaska in this fun and quirky graphic novel. Teen girls will definitely fall in love with monsters as long as they're tall, dark and handsome. I really enjoyed these books as a fast and great read. The artwork and storyline are outstanding.

My Boyfriend is a Monster: I Love Him to Pieces by Evonne Tsang, 127 pages

This graphic novel looks at teen love during a zombie apocalypse. I picked this up for my teenager and ended up reading it myself. The artwork was great, the storyline was funny and fast-paced. I really enjoyed watching Dicey and Jack fall in love. If you enjoy teen graphic novels and/or zombie books, this will be a must read.

Civil War Ghosts of Southwest Missouri by Lisa Livingston-Martin, 128 pages

Lisa Livingston-Martin is doing a presentation at the library on Thursday night so I was very interested in reading her book about local ghost activity. Her book centers on ghosts from the Civil War era in southwest Missouri. I hadn't realized that Missouri actually had a Confederate government at one point, with the governor having a state government in exile. This book focused more on the history than the actual ghosts, but gave a lot of information that I didn't know. I will be interested in hearing about her work with the Paranormal Science Lab and the Kendrick House.

Friday, October 21, 2011

How Not to Write, by Someone Who Doesn't.

by Delilah Des Anges, 104 pages.

This is a writing guide by my dear friend Aymei. She is a spectacular author and her tips on writing are blunt, simple, and useful. I've actually been writing a lot since I read this, hence the lack of reading posts. If you want to acquire your own copy, this book is only 3$ on as an ebook. It's also available on Amazon.

"The Sookie Stackhouse Companion" by Charlaine Harris, 8 discs or 480 pages

Yep, everyone's favorite telepathic waitress is back in this companion publication to the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris (and the inspiration for the HBO series "True Blood"). I snagged this audiobook to keep me company on a recent drive to Columbia. (I've always enjoyed the audio versions of the Sookie books and usually listen to them even after reading the books, as Johanna Parker's narration is perfection.) I was a tad disappointed. The best thing about the book was the brand-new novella "Small-Town Wedding," in which Sookie accompanies her friend and boss Sam Merlotte to the wedding of his brother in the small Texas town where they grew up. The novella features the return of a former lover of Sookie's and introduces readers to several new characters, many of the supernatural variety. It also addresses the extreme hatred and prejudice that many "supes" encounter from "non-supes." After the novella, everything else about the companion was kind of a let-down. Much of it was simply a timeline/summary of every novel in the series. Pretty boring, if you've read the entire series. There were transcripts of private conversations between Bill and Eric, which I might have enjoyed more had the narration been better. The book also contains things like a detailed map of Bon Temps, the recipe for Carolyn Bellefleur's famous chocolate cake, and all the branches of Sookie's somewhat interesting family tree. All in all, I'd rather just re-read or re-listen to the novels.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson, 309 pages

I will start off by saying that this was an extremely odd book. I'm still not completely sure if I liked it, but it did keep me intrigued and reading. Mr. and Mrs. Fang are artists, but not the type that create physical art, instead their specialty is performance art, almost shock art. With their two children Annie and Buster, who they refer to as Child A and Child B, they center their "performances" in malls, the best place to find crowds of people. The children have grown up with very different childhoods turning them into very creative but damaged people. After physical, emotional, and careers setbacks send Buster and Annie back to the family home, they must deal with their parents' issues and learn just what type of life and family they want and are willing to settle for.

Dirty Secret by Jessie Sholl, 328 pages

This was written by the daughter of a hoarder, when we think hoarder we picture the houses packed so full of trash and items that people die, found under piles that have collapsed. In this book I discovered that there are different types of hoarders, even animal hoarders. It was interesting to see how having a parent that is a hoarder will affect someone, Jessie has overcompensated by keeping very little, and forming almost no attachments to belongings. After reading this book, I know I NEVER want to get scabies, just reading about her dealings with it made me itch.

Investigating Eating Disorders (Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating): Real Facts for Real Lives (160 pages)

More reading for my research paper... :P

PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives by Frank Warren (288 pages)

While I was browsing teen nonfiction for books about eating disorders (see last post), this book caught my eye. I opened it up and flipped through a few pages and immediately wanted to check it out to see why it was full of postcards with people's deepest and darkest secrets written on them.

A man named Frank Warren had an idea. He started handing out postcards to people and leaving them in busy places. On them were these instructions: You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession, or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything - as long as it is true, and you have never shared it with anyone before. Be brief. Be legible. Be creative.

Apparently, Post Secret is a pretty huge thing, with several books and a website full of these beautiful, profoundly creative postcards. I was surprised I hadn't heard of it before!

Inside Out: Portrait of an Eating Disorder by Nadia Shivack (64 pages)

My English 102 professor assigned each of us a different disease/disorder to write a research paper on and my topic was anorexia. So while I was looking for books about eating disorders and such, I came across this title. It is a heartbreaking memoir of Nadia Shivack's lifelong struggle with bulimia and the effects it had on her.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Freshman by Corinne Mucha, 112 pages

This graphic novel features a look at being a 9th grader, with all it's obsessions with identity, popularity, raging hormones, feeling like every choice will determine the rest of your life, crushes, and all the other craziness of being a teen. One of the great things about this book was the artwork, it fit the mood perfectly, being almost teenagerish in it's drawing. All in all, this book reminded me of why I'm glad I'm not a freshman anymore.

The Real Macaw by Donna Andrews, 309 pages

Meg Lanslow hasn't stumbled across another dead body, instead it's a library filled with cage after cage of animals, including a macaw with a filthy mouth. Her father, grandfather and brother have "rescued" all the animals from the county shelter after it's rescinded it's no-kill policy. But when the co-rescuer turns up dead before driving the animals to their new homes, Meg must help find his killer and look for homes for these animals before the new shelter ends up permanently in her barn.
These books are always funny, mainly due to Meg's eccentric cast of family members. Donna Andrews' books are light, humorous mysteries, with not a lot of blood and gore.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Evil Twin by Kate William, 339 pages

Margo's monstrous plan is complete. She came to Sweet Valley to find a new life, and discovered identical twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield and their "perfect" family. If only Margo can get rid of one of them, she can take her rightful place in the Wakefield home. Now the moment Margo has been waiting for has arrived. The twins aren't speaking to each other. Sweet Valley is in chaos. Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield are out of town. Margo has just enough time to do what she needs to do. Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are in mortal danger.

Beware the Baby-Sitter by Kate William, 214 pages

Margo is making herself right at home in Sweet Valley, setting her evil scheme in motion. She's gotten a job at the day-care center, and is busy perfecting her imitation of identical twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. She's even fooled Todd Wilkins and Mrs. Wakefield into thinking she's Elizabeth. Now it's only a matter of time before Margo takes over Elizabeth's perfect life for good. Meanwhile, Winston Egbert was baby-sitting for a neighbor. Now the neighbor has disappeared. What's Winston going to do with a baby?

The Wedding by Kate William, 217 pages

Lila Fowler finally has the family that she always wanted: a father and a mother who loves her. And she can tell that despite their years apart, her parents still love each other. Now all Lila wants is to get them back together-and what Lila wants, Lila gets! Todd Wilkins can't keep pretending he's interested in Jessica Wakefield-especially when he's still in love with Elizabeth. But can Elizabeth ever forgive his betrayal? And Margo has seen the Wakefield twins-and the new life that could be hers. The only thing standing between Margo and her dream is murder!

The Verdict by Kate William, 218 pages

The verdict isn't in yet on Elizabeth Wakefield. But her twin sister, Jessica, has already convicted her and won't even talk to Elizabeth. Now that Jessica has Todd, will life ever be the same for Elizabeth? Pamela has transferred to Sweet Valley High to be closer to Bruce Patman, the boy she really loves. But Bruce still won't look at her. Pamela's made a final break with her past-but is it enough? Between building a relationship with his new female roommate, Billie, and being there for his troubled family, Steven Wakefield is completely worn out. It's clear that he can't do both-what will he do? Margo has arrived in Sweet Valley, and is ready to take over her new life-even if it belongs to someone else!

The Arrest by Kate William, 219 pages

Elizabeth Wakefield has been arrested-and her twin, Jessica, has finally stolen Elizabeth's boyfriend, Todd. The twins have drifted further apart than ever before-is there any hope of reunion now? Nicholas Morrow agrees to appear on the hot new dating show, Hunks. After two ridiculous dates, Nicholas is ready to give up on the idea of true love forever. But he still has one more date to go. Lila Fowler's mother has returned to Sweet Valley just when her daughter needs her the most. But how can she explain why she abandoned Lila? Can Lila learn to love the woman who left her all those years ago? And Margo continues toward Sweet Valley-leaving a wake of destruction!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Morning After by Kate William, 213 pages

A terrible accident has changed the Wakefields' lives forever. Will Jessica Wakefield ever come to terms with the tragedy? Bruce Patman has finally opened his heart to Pamela-but will he be able to ignore the malicious gossip about her wild past? When all of Sweet Valley finds out that Lila Fowler has lied about her guidance counselor, her life goes into a tailspin. Finally, Lila's desperate father brings home someone special to help Lila-the mother she never knew! But is it too little, too late? ...and three thousand miles away, a troubled young woman heads west-on a journey that will change Sweet Valley forever!

Red Glove by Holly Black (325 pgs)

Red Glove is the sequel to White Cat (the 3rd book, Black Heart, will be out in the Spring). In White Cat, we meet Cassel Sharpe, a young man whose entire family are curse workers (magic is real, you know) and con artists. Cassel believes that he isn't a worker, but that's only because his brothers are manipulating his memories so that he forgets being a worker and forgets that he's helping the two of them commit murders for the Zacharov crime family.

In Red Glove, Cassel has unraveled the mystery of his worker powers--he's a very rare, very powerful transformation worker--and the various plots of his brothers. Now, his older brother Phillip has been murdered by a mysterious woman wearing red gloves and both the feds and the Zacharov family want Cassel to work for them. On top of all of that, Cassel's life-long friend and crush Lila Zacharov is going to his school and has been worked by a powerful emotion worker (Cassel's mother) to love Cassel. Moral dilemmas abound.

I love these books. Like really love them. Holly Black is amazing and her books are amazing and the audiobooks read by Jessie Eisenberg are amazing and... it's all just really amazing stuff. Mystery and magic interwoven for really great reading.

The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines (342 pgs)

Iris is having a tough time of it lately. Her mother committed suicide after her pop lost his leg in the attack on Pearl Harbor; her pop who has largely been absent through her whole life is home, but is more than just physically injured; they've recently moved from the Upper East Side of New York to the Lower East Side; and Iris is about to enter public school for the first time in her privileged life.

In the midst of trying to fit in with a much rougher crowd at school, Iris begins to realize that Pop's detective agency (and the family's only source of income) is struggling. Pop isn't able to follow people as discretely or as quickly as he could before he lost his leg, so rent is late and money is really tight. Iris, being the plucky teenager she is, decides that she is more than capable of helping Pop out--whether he likes it or not.

When a boy from her school goes missing and Pop is hired to find out what happened to him, Iris is secretly on the job too! This requires her to befriend the "wrong" crowd, hang out in Harlem, and lie to just about everyone she talks to. Once the mystery is solved, will she be able to repair the relationships she damages along the way?

While the cover art is not something I think teens will flock to (I could be wrong, of course), I really did enjoy it. The period setting (1942) is well drawn and real, the characters are fully developed and fun (I particularly enjoy the 40's slang!), and the mystery is compelling without distracting from the other plot elements. A very good, quick read with a sequel coming out next year.

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones, 310 pages

Charley Davidson has a few jobs; private investigator, consultant for the police, but her oddest job is one she doesn't even get paid for, being The Grim Reaper. It comes with a few "perks" such as seeing dead people and healing fast, but it does have a tendency to leave people looking at you funny. Charley is involved in one of the biggest cases of her life, and there seems to be something dark and creepy involved, maybe Charley isn't the only supernatural-enhanced person around, and this one doesn't seem to play nice.

A Night to Remember by Kate William, 345 pages

Identical twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield have worked together to create the most perfect prom Sweet Valley has ever seen-but when a jealous conflict turns deadly, the twins' lives are changed forever! Since the death of his girlfriend, Regina Morrow, wealthy Bruce Patman has kept his heart closed to love. Then a mysterious girl steps into his life, and Bruce must decide if it's worth the pain to love again. When Lila Fowler thinks her guidance counselor is interested in more than her schoolwork, she puts his career and his reputation on the line. Will the truth come out before disaster strikes and changes the lives of everyone in Sweet Valley forever?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Human.4 by Mike Lancaster (240 pages)

Kyle Straker is one of the four people who were hypnotized during the town talent show. But suddenly, when he awakes, his world has been turned completely inside out. People are acting strange; telephones, computers, and televisions don't work correctly. They only show a strange series of symbols that Kyle believes is some type of alien language. But is this weird new world really a result of an alien invasion? A result of the hypnosis? Or something scarier than Kyle had ever imagined?

Human.4 was... weird. It was a quick read, but it seemed to me that not much happened in the story. It was kind of confusing, but not so much that I decided to stop reading. I'm still not sure if I liked the book though. I was hoping for a sequel to clear up some of my questions but the ending didn't seem to leave it open for one. However, if you love science fiction/alien invasion/weird conspiracy novels, I would tell you to give this one a try.

Elizabeth Betrayed by Kate William, 151 pages

When Elizabeth Wakefield has a chance to edit The Oracle, Sweet Valley High's newspaper, she's thrilled! Then a flu epidemic hits her staff, and Elizabeth is left with more than she can handle. Olivia Davidson's boyfriend, Rod Sullivan, saves the day with a great article. Elizabeth is so impressed, she accepts Rod's help on an English assignment. The next thing Elizabeth knows, she's accused of plagiarism-and kicked off The Oracle staff. Without support from anyone, Elizabeth is on her own to get to the bottom of this accusation. Can she clear her name before her reputation is ruined and she loses her job on The Oracle forever?

Among the Wonderful by Stacy Carlson, 459 pages

This was a fictionalized look at P. T. Barnum's museum in New York City, told from the viewpoint of one of his human oddities, Ana Swift, "the only giantess" and Emile Guillaudeu, the long-time taxidermist for the museum. The two viewpoints worked together to create a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at an interesting point in American history. I have always been fascinated by these human oddities and this introduced me to information I hadn't known about Barnum. He was definitely a larger than life character, who played on human nature to earn his living. If you enjoy books about American history, you'll want to pick this up.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (360 pages)

Thomas Jefferson is a great man. Not only is he a respected and powerful president, but he helped author the Declaration of Independence--where it states that all men are created equal. However, on the flip side, he owned slaves, including four that he fathered with his widowed wife's half-sister, and slave, Sally Hemings.

Everyone at Monticello knows that Thomas Jefferson is Beverly, Harriet, Madison and Eston's father, but nobody speaks of it. Beverly, Harriet and Eston are considered lucky because they are light skinned like their father and have been promised the opportunity to secretly join white society when they turn 21, but Madison looks more like his mother and he worries what that means for his future.

Narrated in three parts, first by Beverly, then by Madison and finally a young boy named Peter, who is close to the Hemings family, readers get the opportunity to see what life may have been like for Jefferson's invisible children and the other slaves living at Monticello.

While many have speculated on Thomas Jefferson's affair with Sally Hemings few have endeavored to write a children's book about it. Kudos to Kimberly Brubaker Bradley for not only endeavoring to write one, but writing a thoughtful and sensitive account of what may have happened and keeping it on level for upper elementary and middle school students.

Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories by Zack Whedon, 78 pages

I am a big fan of Dr. Horrible (who doesn't love Neil Patrick Harris) so I was excited to see this graphic novel. It is funny and enjoyable, it just lacks people bursting into song. But I guess you can't have everything. If you don't know who Dr. Horrible is, you need to smack yourself in the head, and then watch Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog on the web.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tempting the Highlander by Michele Sinclair, 343 pages

Raelynd and Meriel Schellden are twins, but as the oldest daughter, Raelynd's husband will become the next leader of their clan. To protect his people and his daughters from a weak and inappropriate suitor, Raelynd's father sets up a fake double engagement with the McTiernay twins. Crevan McTiernay is engaged to Meriel but he and Raelynd find themselves fighting an attraction neither can deny. But with his speech stutter, Creven knows he can never be clan leader, so he must step aside for his brother. Will these four people find happiness, or will they willingly sacrifice themselves for the good of their family and clan?
"Tempting the Highlander" by Michele Sinclair was not my favorite romance because from almost the very first page, it was pretty predictable. Everyone was manipulated in what was kind of unbelievable ways, with couples introduced in ways that ensured you knew immediately who was going to end up with who. If you are looking for a fast, light romance this will suit your needs though.

Are We In Love by Kate William, 156 pages

Annie Whitman's new stepsister, Cheryl, is finally having fun in Sweet Valley, thanks to the friendship of her neighbor Steven Wakefield. Soon everyone-even Steven's twin sisters, Jessica and Elizabeth-assumes that Steven and Cheryl must be a couple. After all, they're almost always together. Cheryl and Steven decide that perhaps they should give romance a try. But are they dating for the right reasons? Or are they only trying to prove something to the town and themselves?

Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey, 466 pages

Maria Antonia knew that as one of the many daughters of the empress of Austria, her fate was to be a political bride. After all, their Hapsburg motto was "Others wage war; you, happy Austria, marry." But little did she expect, that at the age of ten, she would engaged to Louis, grandson of the king of Paris, to be the dauphine. Maria Antonia must first though change not only her outward appearance but go through rigorous mental training to become suitable for France. Will she ever be able to measure up to everyone else's expectations, much less, determine who she wants to be?
Maria Antonia is better known as Marie Antoinette, but who she was has been mangled and altered over the centuries, leaving us with an overblown view of a vapid and selfish woman who cared only for herself, when that is far from the truth. "Becoming Marie Antoinette" by Juliet Grey is one of the best historical novels I've read, bringing a new look at one of history's most known and maligned women. This is the first of a trilogy, promising to become a must read series. I finished this novel with a new appreciation for Marie and Louis, hoping, like the author, that maybe everything would actually work out for these poor teenagers. My only regret when done with this book, is the wait for the next two.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, 470 pages

Samantha is pretty and popular, she and her three best girlfriends, in most ways, rule their high school as seniors. They are your typical mean girls: selfish, entitled, horrendous to those less popular, but always justifying it to themselves never truly thinking about or taking responsibility for the hugely detrimental negative impact they have on their "loser" victims. But all of that is halted on what is the last day of Samantha's life. That "Cupid Day", February 12th, on their way home from a party, the girls get in a car crash and Samantha dies. So starts this YA novel.

The resulting chapters feature Samantha, who wakes up each time on February 12th with the memory of the previous days, the previous deaths. She takes seven times reliving that day before truly figuring out what can save her and maybe even save her soul.
I really respect this book. It is maybe the most realistic portrayal of high school from a mean girl pack perspective I have ever read. Being a former member (slightly out-skirted, but still a part) of such a group myself, I can tell you that Oliver's description of these girls, their sins, and their selfish justifications are true and heart-wrenching. Although I always tried to be a good person, we all have started rumors, called names, or spread truths that were not our place and did it only to empower ourselves. And this book truly raises the question... why? and to what end? Is a good rumor really worth your victim's happiness in return?
I think this is an incredibly powerful book to share with a teen in your life, especially a teen girl. The repetition at times got a bit monotonous, but each day a new lesson was learned, which I thought was pretty brilliant. Also, the audio version can get a bit annoying because the voices of each teen are sort of exaggerated by the narrator. Above all, I'm so glad I read the book. Pick it up if you are interested in behavioral studies or a good suspenseful but realistic drama.

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin (368 pages)

In a future world where chocolate and coffee are illegal, water is expensive and carefully rationed, and postage has to be paid for emails, 16 year old Anya Balanchine is the daughter of one of the leaders of the chocolate mafia. Her parents are both dead, and she is in charge of taking care of her bed-ridden grandmother, her mentally challenged older brother, and her younger sister. When her ex-boyfriend is poisoned by chocolate that he got from Anya, she is thrown into the world of chaos and crime that she has been so carefully trying to avoid. But when your father was one of the most notorious crime lords in New York City, living a normal life is next to impossible. Especially when you add a forbidden love interest... who also happens to be the new Assistant District Attorney's son.

I loved Zevin's other novels, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac and Elsewhere. The premise of this story intrigued me, but the book wasn't quite what I expected. I did really enjoy it though, and thought it gave a nice new twist to the dystopian genre.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Power of Kabbalah by Yehudah Berg, 326 p.

This book was so interesting and entertaining, I got through it in two evenings -- pushing back my bedtime a little the past two nights. This book covers many aspects of Kabbalah in a short-chaptered, easy to read and understand manner. It covers a range of topics from Creation and the Big Bang (explained as Tzim Tzum, "Thread of Light" and "The Breaking of the Vessels" in Kabbalistic symbology) to the problems of Satan and self-destructive ego drives. The primary point come back to over and over is the path of spiritual transformation that lies in rewiring one's personality from that which desires to receive for the self alone into one that desires to recieve for the sake of sharing, thereby giving and receiving fulfillment in all actions. He includes many parables, one of which (conderning heaven and hell) I will recount:

A person was taken by an angel to see those in heaven and those in hell. Taken to hell first, the scene was that of a multitude of people gathered around a large table on which were the most delicious and filling delicacies which also filled the soul with joy; however, the only utensils were extremely long spoons and forks. As each person tried desperately to feed themselves with the utensils too large for them to hold and turn to their own mouths, they continually spilled the desired food and no one was satisfied and all cried in agony. Then, taken to heaven, the same setting emerged; however, those gathered around the table in heaven scooped the food up and fed it to the one sitting next to them so that all were fed, satisfied, and filled with joy.

Oh how I love the teachings of Kabbalah!!

Attack of the Vampire Weenies by David Lubar, 219 pages

David Lubar is the master of the funny, scary, ironic short story. I have read all five of his short story collections now, fighting my 9-year-old & 15-year-old even sometimes. This collection featured a variety of stories, including what real vampires are like, how to get a free pass out gym class, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat", family time, and a really creepy one about spiders. His stories are that perfect combination of funny and creepy, great for all ages. If you were a fan of the Twilight Zone, you'll probably enjoy this book.